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Overcoming trials to take top spot

Local salsa dancers bring home first place from championship

An early captivation with conga rhythms has developed into a lifelong love of salsa dancing for local international salsa champion, Alfonso Caldera.

With his new partner, Jessica Shatzko, in tow, Caldera recently brought home a first-place win at the Portland Salsa Congress last month in the professional division competition -which is now his third world championship. But it wasn't such an easy shot because his partner suffered a broken foot for the entire four-day competition.

"After the warm-up, we ended up picking to go first; it was really hard," he said. "I felt like I was going to have a panic attack."

Caldera said he was extremely worried and doubtful about this win because the two had arrived in Portland after driving all night. A lack of sleep and an incident where Shatzko not only broke her foot, but had to dance without any bandages, only exacerbated his anxiety.

"I had not competed for a couple of years," he added. "I was not sure if we'd do a good job or not. Ö I promised my students if I didn't win I wouldn't come back."

Despite his worries, the two led the score sheets with a big gap over the competition, according to Caldera.

"The difference between our scores, we were way ahead," he said. "I couldn't believe it."

"It was kind of a weird experience."

The two have been dancing together as partners for only a short while. Caldera found Shatzko when she attended one of his dance classes, adding that he recognized a spark in her and it led to their eventual partnership. He hadn't had a partner for a few years after his last one had moved to another city, making it impossible to find time to practise.

"I already got her to be a world champion," Caldera said of his new partner.

Shatzko, 17, has a history in dance, but from other backgrounds, such as tap, jazz and hip-hop.

This competitive win was the first experience for her on salsa's world stage.

"She's a hard worker," he said. "She never complained about her foot, she just did it. She was motivating me a lot."

According to Caldera, what sets him apart from other world salsa champions is his particular style, called bravo.

"It's a more sharper style of salsa dancing," he explained. "It's more flashy, more technical, more body posture. The

main difference is the guy looks more manly and the girl looks more sexy and flashy."

In the future, Caldera and Shatzko will participate in other upcoming world-class championships in Las Vegas and San Francisco. Caldera started dancing 15 years ago and has taught for 10.

"It has given me confidence and strength; it got me in shape and has helped me to stay healthy in body and mind, and that's why I share my passion and experience with all my students," he said on his company's website.

Caldera added that if everything goes well, Shatzko intends to apply for Canada's So You Think You Can Dance? program next year.

"She'll win," Caldera said of Shatzko's intention to be on the show.

His dance company has started drop-in salsa classes across the Lower Mainland, including a venue in Burnaby. Caldera is a World Salsa Federation and International Mayan Salsa champion dancer.

For more information about Caldera's Bravo Dance Company, visit www.bravo

"The nice thing about salsa dancing is it's a really nice, fun, social dance," he noted.