Beneath the glacial white fibreglass arches of the performance stage, an uneasy silence settles over the crowd. But there is something thin and eager in the air, and for a moment, each pair of dancers are but twin flames capering about, salutary and proud in their passion for salsa.
For the 9th year running, the Intertertiary Salsa Competition (ITSC) has been organised by NTU CAC’s own Salsa En Sync. Bringing together dancers from across various institutions in Singapore, ITSC 2019 promised a night of masterful yet fiery salsa from each pair of performers. With such rigorous standards, one can only have judges who are likewise as learned in the literati of the salsa world: Elsa Kim (an accomplished salsa dancer from South Korea), Eddie Lim (a prolific salsa director, former Singaporean representative to the World Salsa Congress), and Jared Koh (distinguished resident choreographer at the Evoka Dance Company).
And away they go.
Sequins shimmering in the beams of the spotlights above, the first pair, Asheley & Phy, glide across the dance floor, transfixing the audience with their agility. The next pair, Mae and Josh, described themselves humbly as “fiery steps leave a smoulder in your hearts…”. They certainly didn’t disappoint. As Josh spun the weightless Mae, we watched with jaws dropped, the chutzpah of the pair who mimicked each other’s movements perfectly.
Crowd favourites, the third pair Celine & Ashley, come out strong, wowing us with their superb choreography and upbeat energy. Mixing samba with salsa into their routine, NTU Salsa En Sync members, Giselle and Haikal, cha-cha’ed adroitly across the white linoleum, vermillion outfits a spill of colour against their competitors’ outfits. Spontaneous in their spicy salsa, the two cartwheeled perfectly, tearing up the dance floor with their mutual chemistry. They end their routine just as perfectly, sticking the landing and breaking into wide charismatic smiles, to enormous applause.
The fifth pair, Poe and David, started their routine strong, with David performing a perfect full-body spin of Poe. Clad in shimmering white and silver costumes, the two were stunningly graceful as they twirled on the dance floor, performing a rather gentle salsa. The pair’s specialty was “impressive stunts”, and they definitely delivered, dazzling the crowd with their flawless executions.
Before even making their entrance, Joelle and Akash, the final pair of the night, already received roaring applause from the crowd. Both sported costumes of a deep red, embedded with countless diamantes, which the pair said represented the number of times they trained for the competition. But the diamantes on their costumes weren’t the only testament to their hard work — their dancing was fierce, packed with sharp movements and showcased the most insane stunts of the competition.
After the short intermission, the audience members were soon left breathless as guest performers from the JJ Bachata Ladies Team took to the stage to introduce us to “Bachata”, a sensual street Latin dance. The all-girls group captivated the crowd with their seductive routine, which was soon followed by the JJ Abdel and Lety Bachata Flow Team’s equally steamy performance.
As the event drew to a close, the prize ceremony commenced.
Starting with the pairs who were awarded a Certificate of Participation, which were Giselle and Haikal, followed by Asheley and Phy, and finally David and Poe.
Celine and Ashley snagged the spot of second runner-up, followed by Mae and Josh, who danced their way into first runner-up, leaving Joelle and Akash as the pair who were crowned the grand winners of ITSC 2019. The applause was deafening as the competitors received their prizes, and after a quick photo-taking session, the champion couple were invited back to the dance floor to grace us with an encore of their winning performance. To us, ITSC represented the best of salsa. It didn’t have to, but it spoke to us of hard-won triumphs and its intransigence of blazing fury. We see the dimming lights and restless nights in closing dance halls. We hear the rolling shutters and the growing mutters of homesick security guards. And as the lights dimmed, brought down to nary a flicker, we recalled the timeless beauty of a pair blooded by their salsa ichor.