Salsa needs heat in Hawaii


POSTED: Friday, June 19, 2009

What will it take to get you, the general audience, to take in some top-notch salsa music and dancing?





        9th annual Puerto Rican Culture and Salsa Festival

» When: 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. today


» Where: Planet Hollywood, 2155 Kalakaua Ave.


» Cost: $20


» Call: 347-7453


» When: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. tomorrow


» Where: McCoy Pavilion, Ala Moana Beach Park


» Cost: $25 general admission; free for keiki 12 and under


» Call: 285-0072




That's the main concern for organizers of the Puerto Rican Culture and Salsa Festival, which enters its ninth year this weekend. Despite dwindling attendance, organizers hope that visiting guest dancers and musicians from the mainland, plus the appearance of Hawaii's own championship salsa duo, will buoy interest in the long-running event this year.

A benefit for the non-profit Hispanic Center of Hawaii, the guests—brought in with the help of Albert Torres of Los Angeles—feature homegrown Angeleno singer-musicians Johnny Polanco and Chino Espinoza (backed by Hawaii's own Son Caribe), and international salsa dance champions Edwin Rivera and Emily Alabi, who will also be workshop instructors.

Hawaii has its own regional champions as well in the brother-sister dancing team of Judah and Sunshine Oschner, who hope to qualify once again for the World Salsa Championships in Orlando, Fla. next year.

“;They are great ambassadors of the dance,”; Torres said by phone last week from a salsa qualifier in Portland, Ore. “;Judah and Sunshine have proved that they represent Hawaii well in international competition.”;

Working 42 weeks out of the year promoting salsa in contests around the world, Torres said that “;Hawaii is something special to me, as it reminds me of my own island of Puerto Rico—the beauty of its people and it being so laid back there.”; He added that he's not made any money out of helping the Hawaii festival and does it to help the local organizers and their non-profit center.

One of those local organizers, Nancy Ortiz of Alma Latina Productions, wants people to understand that “;this event is a fundraiser, and in order to get the caliber of entertainment to come to Hawaii, we need to cover some of their costs. Fortunately, Albert Torres is the number-one promoter in the salsa world, and he offers the talent a trip to Hawaii (with hotel accommodations) to come to our festival and perform.

“;Hawaii is the 'melting pot' of the Pacific,”; she said. “;However, we are not like Puerto Rico, Miami and New York where the Latino communities are bigger in numbers and salsa music is in the clubs seven days a week and festivals are created every month. Here, we work hard so that our Hispanic community is visible in music, dance, food and culture.

“;This is one of the events that keeps us alive and able to share all of this with our brothers and sisters of Hawaii,”; Ortiz said.

JUDAH OSCHNER has been there since the festival's original inception as Salsathon in 2001, and he hopes his home state will continue to host a salsa qualifier for the world championships as it has since 2006.




Hawaii's Annual Summer Salsa in Paradise
        » www.hsblinks.com/cs



The Oschner siblings were Hawaii winners in '06 and again last year; Judah and his friend and previous dance partner Natalie Ho Talamoa were guests at the '07 championships in Las Vegas.

As the reigning champions rehearsed at Talamoa's Kaneohe dance studio last week, Judah talked about his progression as a dancer from being a break-dancer during the 1980s, through Brazilian capoeira and his last 12 years doing salsa.

“;I'm hoping it was the downturn of the local economy that interest slowed down for the festival,”; Oschner said, “;but I'm also hoping that things will shake out for the better with the talent coming in this year.”;

Oschner believes he and his sister have excelled in competition “;because we dance with the music with more passion. That's because we understand the (Spanish) lyrics and can better interpret the music in our dance. It's not about just the basic moves. We enjoy it and I think it shows in our dancing.”;

“;We also want to represent as much of Hawaii in our dancing,”; added Sunshine. “;Last summer, we even threw in some hula-style moves.”;

The 36-year-old Oschner and his 28-year-old sister admit to being perfectionists. Considering they were free-styling their dance moves at their initial rehearsal last week, just throw in some added exercise programs and they should be in fine form this weekend.

“;We plan to represent Hawaii, with some added flash, in our costumes,”; he said. “;Because Sunshine is so short, we have to make our moves bigger, since we're used to dancing so tight.

“;We have to use the whole stage. Remembering to keep straight lines and good posture, our two-minute routine can feel like an eternity.

“;I have no problem admitting that I'm the frame and she's the picture,”; Judah said.