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London, New York, Madrid, Rome - these cities are home to thriving salsa dancing communities that hold international salsa dancing congresses annually. Israel is no different, with Eilat having hosted an annual International Mediterranean Salsa Congress for the past six years. With a production budget of over NIS 200,000 and a list of participants numbering over 2,500 from across Israel and the world, this year's congress in April was no small event.
Lior Peled, producer of the Mediterranean Salsa Congress since its inception, has been the backbone of the quest to bring the international salsa scene to Israel and to give Israel the opportunity to gain recognition in the international salsa community.
After his release from the army, Peled took a backpacking trip through South America and fell in love with Latin dance. Ever since, he's dreamt of bringing salsa dancing to the forefront of the Israeli arts scene. According to Peled, he's "seen the art of salsa dancing spread quickly across Israel." In recent years, his goal has focused almost entirely on getting the international salsa community to appreciate Israel's contribution to the scene.
Like Peled, many Israelis have taken up salsa dancing upon their return from lengthy backpacking trips. Others, originally from Argentina and other Latin American countries with Jewish communities, have joined the Israeli salsa scene following their aliya. Still others caught the salsa fever upon their return from trips to the United States and Europe where salsa dancing has already taken froot in major cosmopolitan cities.
Some suggest that the Israeli salsa dancing scene has grown exponentially over the past few years because of the stark similarities between Israeli and Latin American cultures. There are noticeable similarities between the underlying beats of typical Latin music and the Israeli Mizrahi music genre - a reason why some Israelis might find salsa so catchy. But the similarities go further. It is arguable that both are home to people who are warm and open to strangers. Both are also blessed by an unrelenting sun, something that seems to be a basic ingredient for the proper short-skirted, high-heeled, sexy Latin dance. It is no wonder Eilat has always been home to Israel's salsa congress.
D.J. Roy Mimram, manager of the Israeli Salsa Organization and the Web site www.salsa.org.il, regularly mixes the beats at salsa dancing parties in Tel Aviv and Beersheva. According to Mimram, the salsa scene began in Israel in the early Nineties at universities across Israel. The first major salsa moadon (club) in Israel was Club Focus, which opened in the early Nineties adjacent to Tel Aviv University, drawing students.
Since then, the scene has expanded into Israeli city centers, though some salsa dancing clubs still meet at Hebrew University, Ben Gurion-University of the Negev, University of Haifa and the Technion. Ironically, Tel Aviv University, the place where salsa got its start, no longer has a salsa dancing club, partially because Tel Aviv itself has become the hub of Latin dancing in Israel. It has six operative salsa dance clubs, while Jerusalem has two, Haifa has one, and several are scattered across Israel, mainly in the center of the country in cities like Ramat Gan, Herzliya and Netanya.
A typical night at any one of Israel's salsa clubs starts off in the early evening with salsa dance workshops for every level-from beginner to advanced-lead by professional instructors. The fun then begins when its time to try out the new salsa steps at the open party throbbing with the Latin salsa rhythm late into the night. Secular twenty-somethings are primary drawn to these clubs.
The next salsa event to hit our shores takes place in July. Israel's third annual Fiesta festival is scheduled between July 3-5 at Tel Aviv's Park HaYarkon. Garnering 65,000 visitors and participants in 2005 and 100,000 last year, this year's Fiesta is expected to be bigger than ever, drawing in Israelis from across the country and international visitors from across the world. Both seasoned salsa dancers and those without the slightest clue about the sexy steps of salsa dance will come together for the event, participating in and watching the salsa, samba, tango, flamenco and cha-cha dancing. Professional performances by dancers from 45 Latin dance schools across Israel will strut their skills, and workshops on all forms of Latin dance will draw in beginner and intermediate level dancers.
Very few who attend their first salsa lesson or party stop there. The salsa scene in Israeli is contagious, and Latin fever is on the rise.