I love latin music; salsa and cha cha in particular. There's just something magical about the rhythms and the beats that make me want to get out on the dance floor. It must run in my Filipino blood. Filipinos love to dance as much as we love rice and adobo. I remember learning how to do the basic cha cha steps with the help of Salsoul Orchestra and Sergio Mendes & Brasil 66. As a kid, I would host dance parties in my bedroom with my cousins. In high school, I would fall in love with the Filipino swing - a disco version of salsa and swing. I must also get some of the passion from my mom who spends her winters in Buenos Aires so she could dance the tango in the streets of its birthplace.
It was about a month and a half ago when an impromptu conversation in my office with the hotel's f&b directors led to the idea of hosting a latin dance party. I knew it would work, but never in my wildest dreams that our first party would result in 700 salsa revelers in downtown Grand Rapids. I contacted my friend, Raquel Salas, who convinced the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and several latino leaders and publications to partner with us. Through my involvement with the upcoming Dancing with the Make-A-Wish Stars, I met Casey Reed of Salsalogy Dance Academy, who would jump on board immediately. We contacted Rob Mulligan of the band Grupo Aye, who despite the short notice, was able to commit his entire ten-piece band to our event. An event like this wouldn't be as successful without the help of media stars, Rachael Ruiz of eightWest, and John Gonzalez of the Grand Rapids Press. Patron Tequila agreed to be a beverage sponsor. I also enlisted the help of Jimmy Le and Todd Ernst to help promote the event on facebook and twitter. Of course, I made sure that all the hotel's social media channels were buzzing the word out into the community. So in a matter of weeks, Salsa Pachanga was born. The date was set for Friday, May 14.
On the night of the event, several groups of people started arriving 30 minutes prior to the party's 8 PM start time. By 9 PM, there were over 300 guests already in the International ballroom of the JW. By 10 PM, We were up to 500 guests. We topped the 700 range shortly after 11:30 PM. The organizers and I were in awe of the most beautiful sight we've seen in this city's downtown - a very diverse group of people ranging in ethnicity, color, age, income and size. There were Dominicans, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Colombians, Argentinians, Cubans, Filipinos, Vietnamese, Europeans, Africans and caucasians all in one room celebrating this moment of unity through music and dance.
Grupo Aye was simply amazing. They played three invigorating sets with very little rest in between. There wasn't a single song where the dance floor wasn't full. Even I got into the music, Dj'ing in between band sets. Casey Reed conducted dance lessons throughout the evening. Rachael Ruiz and John Gonzalez conducted the salsa contest narrowing the field to the top ten couples. Patron tequila was flowing, but to our delight, everyone was well behaved.
I had to savor the moment at one point when I was on stage photographing the crowd. I just couldn't believe that what was once a brainstorm idea has now transformed this city into truly a global (and sexy) one. Congratulations GR! Can't wait for the next Pachanga.
Be the first to know of the next Pachanga date by following JW Marriott Grand Rapids on facebook, eightWest and Gonzo on GR Press.