Fukuoka Now’s new Editor and dance enthusiast, Jess McHugh, shook her hips to the international beats of Isla de Salsa yesterday. Here’s her insider’s guide:
Salsa, tango, bellydance: the Isla de Salsa is a spicy mix of international booty-shakers. The sun shone its own smile down on the laughing and dancing crowds celebrating Isla de Salsa’s 19th year. The atmosphere truly embodied the “borderless” spirit of the festival, as everyone cheered on the dancers and musicians, and then joined in the group dance sessions (which turned into a form of energetic, erotic aerobics class, which will probably be my workout for the month). Many started freestyling with cha cha, salsa, mambo, and dance styles didn’t really fit into any conformist box, but were great nevertheless!
Ricardo, Augustina and Claudia returned to the stage; three salsa dancers who have thoroughly captured the hearts and souls of Fukuokans (fans were even waiting with banners). They did not disappoint; with feet so swift, they were threatening to give the speed of light some competition, while sporting some of the best costumes of the day. I was not alone in loving the belly dancing duo, Georgina and Ahlam, whose hypnotic body undulations caused many to temporarily lose their voices from all the appreciative woohoo-ing. They mixed all kinds of music to create a showcase that demonstrated how flexible a form belly dance can be. All these dancers will be performing both Saturday and Sunday.
An unexpected favourite for many was the Strange Reitaro Travel Swing Orchestra, who jumped and danced their way around the stage and then down into the crowd. Their version of When You Wish Upon A Star somehow both invited headbanging and jiving feet.
Michael Blanco y Su Salsa Mayor brought the house (well, beach) down as the main act, absolutely smashing his first tour in Japan. Havana’s most powerful musical ‘machine’ won everyone over with their zest for life and booty shaking (which actually drove many girls to tears of excitement). Every time I thought they would need to take a break (which I certainly did) they just came back with an even stronger, more energetic, more hip-revolving song! What’s more, every single one of them is extraordinarily talented,with each instrumentalist getting the opportunity to show off his Latin fire at some point; be it with a powerful drum solo or the best performance of the Running Man I’ve ever seen (a classic dance move which is a personal favourite of mine).
Best of all, Michael and his platoon of partyers will be playing again on Sunday! So go check him out if you love salsa, or just music really…
Don’t let the professionals have all the fun! Whether your status is hardcore or newb, just grab the nearest guy or gal and start twirling around the dance floor – it makes for a hilarious, exhilarating atmosphere. Or join in when the favourite recurring star dancers take to the stage to lead one of their improv dance classes. One session resulted in a massive and incredibly confused conga, with everyone moving and laughing.
If you need a little liquid courage, or even just fuel for the booty-burner, then there’s plenty of food and drink stalls to choose from. The Beach Bar’s mojitos were popular with parched salsa-fanatics, and a large array of other cocktails, chu-his and soft drinks were also available (plus beer, of course). We loved the long American-style fries; we weren’t courageous enough to try garlic anchovy or mentaiko mayo flavour, but the double cheese fries were devoured in seconds! The multi-coloured kakigori (splashed with every flavour from mango to matcha) was also a big hit, refreshing with an aftertaste of rainbow; great since the sun was not in any hurry to leave the party.
If you need to catch your breath, there’s plenty of other things going on at the festival.
Shimane Slackline Crew have staked out a spot for showing off their gravity-defying feats, somersaulting and diving onto an extremely bouncy cable. Festival-goers are offered the opportunity to try this acrobatic activity for themselves (starting on the considerably lower baby rope), but don’t be disappointed if you’re not backflipping within minutes. It’s quite difficult enough just to walk on the thing…
This year’s Isla de Salsa commemorative shirts are being made by hand using glitter and stencils. Just place your order at the stall, where you can even pick the colours they’ll use (and you can bring your own vest/shirt, to reduce the cost). Just get there early – they were sold out of their own supply of t-shirts by the time I got there. (But you can buy t-shirts of previous Islas at the Information Desk, and for only ¥500.) We also loved the temporary tattoo stall, where you can deck yourself out in gold temporary jewellery, or have flowers/butterflies/other pretty traditional themes airbrushed onto your skin. The bikini weather certainly gives you lots of options as to where to show it off. We ended up going for an impromptu dip in the sea, which was a great and popular way to cool off, but did result into some chilli-red sunburn for all the swimmers. Be sure to pack some good sun cream, if you’re planning to go on Sunday!
It was a fantastic experience to be amongst so many people who love dance, music and letting their hair down on the beach. There’s still one day left, so get down there and enjoy the sun, sea and salsa!
There’s still one day left, so get down there and enjoy the sun, sea and salsa!
Isla de Salsa is held at Seaside Momochi, Jigyo-hama in Fukuoka.
• Nishitetsu Bus from Hakata or Tenjin to “Seahawk Hotel” leave every 10~15 minutes.
Bus Stop #1A- in front of Mitsukoshi, #A- in front of Hakata-ekimae, and #5, Hakata-eki kotsu center 1F.
Please get off at the “Sea Hawk Hotel Mae” or “Yahoo Dome Mae”.
• From “Tojin-machi” station, (exit No.3). 10 minutes’ walk to the Seaside Momochi.
>>>Isla de Salsa 2015 <<<
Seaside Momochi – Jigyohama
August 8th (Sat.) and 9th (Sun.)
Adult: ¥4,600, Students: ¥2,300
Open: 12:30 / Start: 13:00 / Close: 21:00 * Schedule is subject to change
Official website: www.isla-de-salsa.jp/