History of Salsa in Belgium
This page tells the history of salsa in Belgium. It sometimes will be a personal view of the origin of salsa as we lived it or of some other people who's names are mentioned in the text or below. It is far from complete, therefore we will be very glad if you could send us your personal story as how you saw those early days when salsa wasn't widely spread throughout Belgium.
François Dom :We started our “salsa career” with Geert Geert Audenaert, Belgian champion Latin professionals. At that point he was co-owner and instructor at dance-institute Step-In at Aartselaar. Must have been September 1994. Apparently it was the first time he gave salsa-lessons, in fact guess it were 10 classes of merengue and 5 classes of salsa, I think.. I believe that at that time, also Lincoln Severino and Louis Ortega were already active in Antwerp on the salsa-scene. The next year in February, we followed a workshop by Lincoln. Again a year later, Geert had taken intensive courses himself on salsa, and he started with more classes … and also there we were present. After those days, we attended courses with Lincoln for about 2 years (merengue, bachata and salsa); we must have been at least 30 couples at the start! After classes, many of those couples continued the evening dancing at the at that time well-known Bodeguita or the Azucar in the Grote Pieter Potstraat. Then came Sergio with his very small Isla del Sol (originally at the Zilversmidstraat, later in the Minderbroedersrui) and in 1998 the Cuba Bella opened its doors. The bigger parties in Antwerp were mostly organized by Salsa Titanico, at the start in Café Local, later on “the boat” (Diamond Princess). They had their peak moments when the parties were in a location in Deurne, where Percy (founder of Salsa Titanico) managed to host artists such as Oscar de Léon, Victor Manuel, Rey Ruiz,....
In 1998, Edie, the salsa freak, had a tour through Europe and if I remember well, in September/October 1999, Salsaweb Belgium was created on the web. This was an initiative of Johan Hofman. This coincided with the publication of my own "Latin dance" website (salsa in Antwerp). So, very soon, I dediced to merge with Salsaweb and became officially coworker during the Carribean Indoor of 2000. Salsaweb existed about 10 years and during that period was “the bible” for Salsa in Belgium.
Ronan Valgaerts :"My story starts in 1998 when I heard for the first time about the “Antilliaanse feesten” and I decided to go there with some friends. The salsa virus caught me immediately and decided to follow some salsa classes. By coincidence a friend of mine showed me a small flyer about salsa classes in Kaggevinne (close to Diest) by Carl Rivera. Never a moment of doubt in my mind, and so I started dancing salsa and up to now have never stopped. After the first courses, I continued with some classes still by Carl in Leuven and did several workshops a.o. with Lázaro Noriega and Jesus Cobas. And of course, can’t miss mentioning the unforgettable rueda meetings in the cheeseshop of Wilfried (Dj El Rubio).
Of course what are salsa classes if you don’t put them to practice, so I started looking for locations where I could go and dance salsa outside of classes. And soon I started to cross the country to cities like Antwerp, Brussels, Hasselt, and many more. In the early stages of the salsascene, there were not that many occasions. There were a.o. the Azucar and Isla del Sol in Antwerp. And a few places in Brussels.
And then, I arrived
on “the boat” (Diamond Princess - Salsa
Titanico), nice environment, but
too small and all but leveled dancefloor. But
I did have fun there. Café
Local was also one of the places
I visited. Still now a beautiful location, where
in my early salsadays I stood more next to the
dancefloor than on the dancefloor, full admiration
for the dancers. Once in a while I dared dancing
merengue or Bachata, but salsa was then way out
of my league. I never missed the parties in the
Pianofabriek in Brussels. Salseros from all over
the country came there.
Javier Arenas :My Salsa-story starts in 1992 (still a minor) with the band Sabor a Mango, a group of Chilian musicians in Antwerp. Salsa was in its early stages and they were one of the first Salsabands in Belgium together with Grupo Chambo (they still exist) and 2 more bands that ceased to exist.
In 1992 "La Bodeguita (Casa Baila)" was the most popular Salsa Café in Antwerp where every Friday live music was played, a kind of jam sessions. Musicians came and started playing. Around 1994, La Tropical, another salsa café found its origin. Gent had El Duke, a small salsa location also with livebands. Brussels then already had the well-known Los Romanticos. Around1998 Salsaparties were organized at different locations with livebands and Salsa Dj's.
Sabor a Mango split in 1995. Some of their musicians started in 1996 with Proyeccion Latina and I started in 1998 with Doble Impacto. In 1996 together with other music lovers (vzw Benny more), we started bringing bands to Belgium from Cuba over the summer months. We started with the Cuban band La banda XXI. Later a real booking agency took over their concert organization in Europe. A few musicians from La Banda XXI remained however in Belgium and this is how Doble Impacto was born in 1998. Around 1999 Salsaweb.be was founded, the first online Salsawebsite. This is when I met André from (SalsaInfo.nl) who then was a photographer and he owned the website Salsalamanca.nl.
Creating websites got to me and in 2000 I started with Latino.i8.com a Salsa website for Antwerp. Around 2002 I created LatinMusic.be and Salsainfo België, so, not just for bookings, but also for Salsa info. The rest of the evolution is well known.
Bob Van Laerhoven :Let’s start with an awful cliché : an old “sasa” of 57 and a “klets” like me is the owner of a failing memory. Therefore, there will hardly be any chronological order in the story of my salsa life, but whatever I remember still makes my bones filled with rheumatism glow of pleasure. Salsa to me has always been a step in a different world. As small Flemish writer, my nose is always somewhere in a book and salsa is the ultimate antidote when the characters start to dance in front of my eyes.
I got introduced to salsa when I was on assignment by the Standaard Magazine as reporter to follow the tracks of Hemingway on Cuba. One night I was sitting in a bar where people were dancing and a mulatto lady pulled me on the dancefloor, despite my red cheeks and attempts to helpelessly say “no thank you”. Her lady friends, completely delighted, were cheering her when she tought me the basic steps of salsa and merengue. At the end of a sweaty but unforgettable evening she told me I was not a “pato” (duck), a compliment that cheered me up such that I could kiss her hand, which in the end I did.
Back home, I really had the urge of finding someone in the neighbourhood of Turnhout to teach me salsa. Faith brought me to the Otterstraat in a pub of which I forgot the name of, where a boy from, euhm, Latin America (yeah sorry, I forgot the country and his name) was teaching to about 5 couples. The atmosphere was amazing, such that we decided to practice with all couples in a hangar behind the house of one of the classmates in Merksplas. My hunger was not stilled yet, and I wanted to follow more classes. That’s how I ended up with Louis Ortega and his dance café Azucar in Antwerp. In those days, Louis was a phenomenon : his relaxed, sensual style made the women stand in line to have a chance of dancing with him. I followed some classes with him and the nights of dancing in Azucar still ring warm nostalgia in my little hairless chest (read heart). But I was a perfectionist and always wanted more, better, also with regards to styles. I remember the first time I came to Cuba Bella being so much impressed by a.o. “cheese farmer Wilfried” (currently wellknown as dj. El Rubio). I stood for hours behind a pillar, peeping and jealous as hell, not daring to put one foot on the dancefloor. My senses were stimulated and I arrived with Sergio in Isla del Sol in the Zilversmidstraat. Sergio, a nipping little devil, was the man who introduced me in what was later identified as the LA-style of salsa dancing. We did not know it then, but the smartass had learned via videos all the combinations that he introduced and which were quite different from the Cuban style. I also have sweet memories fom the second Isla del Sol (close to the Antwerp red district). At that time, people who danced salsa got to develop a sense of “family”. Dancing was not a technical shinig, but everybody was having a ball on the dancefloor, and people were not showing off. If you feel that this is nostalgia talking, rest assured it is, but that’s the way I feel.
As all things in life, one thing led to another. Marvelous dance parties on “the boat” Diamond Princess with its famous, non-leveled dancefloor, big shows in Deurne, cafe Local. I gradually lost the (small) base of Cuban style that I had mastered and started to pay attention to different types of salsa, including street moves, body rolls etc. I followed private lessons with Chrisje, and with lady dance friends I went to Mike O. in Brussels, to the Dutch salsachampion Brian in Hasselt in La Candela, we drove to Mi-Dushi in Kapellen where Sunday nights ended through salsa into one big and sweaty party (and oh yeah, after that we had to return all the way to Turnhout, but knowing what we had, this was a pleasure). At a certain moment the bug really got to me and both Linda (a salsa friend) and myself started driving to The Hague for private lessons with Eric Lalta, a very strict dance teacher, by Oh my god, what a style he had. Before that, we also already took about 30 classes in Tilburg with Gerald Fraay from Curaçao, also very rewarding. I’ve always been someone who needed quite a few lessons to get the body moving in the right direction. I’ve learned a lot from every teacher, but especially from Oscar Bonilla with his classic mambo-sytle on 2, Paul Baarn with his “flow salsa”, Giovanni Torres with his macho moves and Leo silk Garcia with his super soft style.All these lingered in my memory. Cause my memory has probably more holes than Dutch cheese, I’m sure I’m forgetting some important names. You see, here you already have a few that appear out of the blue : Morry from the Netherlands, a fine teacher, Supermario from England, Joe Werleman, international performer in salsashows, who gave us private lessons in a shop that sells wooden floors in Tilburg. OMG, sniff, sniff, where are the good old days ?
Lately I’m living around Gent. Even though the salsa scene came to live a bit later than in Antwerp or Limburg, Gent and surroundings have made a stepchange and are now also on the map for salsa dancing. Gaetan from Brussels has introduced my friend Caroline and myself to the passionate salsatango and more recently we were witnesses to one of the most beautiful performances ever seen: Sebastien Massaro with his salsamba-style, an incredible virtuoso. Salsa is continuisly evolving and I am a big fan of mixing styles, such as the Aussie Marchant Birch with his “Alchemy way”, Paul Baarn, really a worldclass dancer and a shining example to me, with his “flow salsa” and Nuno and Vanda with their saltango. No doubt I’ve still forgotten without intention so many names and places, but they definitely are in the collective memory of so many salseros/salseras in Flanders and the Netherlands. When I grow old and will sit in my wheelchair, dementing and dolce far niente, I’m sure my head will still go up and down to the rhythem of a sultry mamo. I promised this to myself and what I promise, I normally always do.
Bob Van Laerhoven (Last book "Eeuwige Liefde " – eternal love")
Dj El Rubio :Dirty Dancing (1987) and Salsa : The Motion Picture (1988) led to putting mambo and salsa on the agenda of the former danceschool where I was active. So my first moves to latin-music that back to that period. I could have never thought this would be my style of living, though those moves were nothing compared to what later would be seen on the dancefloor in the salsascene. Also the typical music was hardly available in those days. One thing is certain, the bug got to me those days and never got out of my body. I was running a busy and time consuming cheeseshop and it took till 1996 until the dormant virus really got me good. For many people a divorce is a turning point in their life, and for me this was no different. A few hours after carrying the last piece of furniture of my ex-wife outside, I was already enjoying the latino atmosphere in the "La Bodeguita (Casa Baila)" in Antwerp. You quickly get to know new people and the salsa course in the Bodeguita must have had at least 30 pupils, led by Albin. It was all very basic, but the atmosphere was superb, everything was possible, nothing was forced. Artificial and technical dancing was non-existing, quite a relief after years of danceclasses. Not long after that I also took classes with Lazaro Noriega and then you automatically roll into the world of salsa.
In those days there were hardly any occasions to practice what you learned, so when there were no classes, we searched with our growing group of salsa friends a place to practice and dance. And given I had behind my cheeseshop quite a big room/kitchen, we started getting together there on Tuesday nights. And hence I started buying my first latin music. I did this via Cuban friends I got to know, people who travelled to Latin-America, through Raphael, steward with Sabena flying to New York regularly, etc… Raphael is the same guy who later started organizing Hangar 26 on Sundays. Those “behind the cheeseshop nights” started to become famous and salseros and salseros started to find their way to our evenings. Even then I already realized that those days and atmosphere would never come back. I had a dear neighbor then who I kept awake all these Tuesday nights with my merengue and salsa music. His name is Pepe Gonzalez, now Dj Pepe Axxes. And my former girlfriend’s brother mentioned one night that there was an empty property in the Pieter Potstraat, on top a Cuban (Jaime) was working for him and he wondered whether it could be worth its while to open a Cuban Bar in Antwerp. Guess what, from the opening night, I was already sitting at the counter of Cuba Bella. A bit later Eddy and Jaime would continue Cuba Bella on their own. And after 5 years, Onidio and Nadine took over.
In the meantime, salsa had become bigger everywhere and without realizing I started my career as DJ El Rubio. playing at different parties. In this same period, Salsa Titanico with Percy and Els organized some memorable Salsa parties in Alpheusdal. Also evenings with concerts by artists like El Gran Combo, Manolito, Victor Manuelle, Celia Cruz, DLG, Rey Ruiz etc.. were organized on invitation by Titanico or Eduardo from the Bodeguita.
And of course we can’t forget the Antilliaanse Feesten that became bigger and bigger year after year. Spell out everyone and everything is impossible. I’ve been thinking for the last 10 years that this is a great thing that can’t last, but if I would count all salseros/salseras in Belgium I realize we can go on dancing for years. The cheeseshop is a thing from the past and weekly I’m still DJ Rubio, standing behind the turntable with as much feeling as before, enjoying the beautiful music. I’m not cured yet : Viva la Salsa