World Salsa Championship Dance Documentary 6 Years in the Making — Q and A with COLD NIGHTS HOT SALSA Filmmaker Edwin Gailits
Film Courage: Did you go to film school?
Edwin Gailits: I went to Ryerson Photo Arts school in Toronto. I made some interesting16 mm films when at Ryerson but ending up eventually focusing on still photography. I still recall my film teacher saying to me, after I revealed I was going to pursue the still photo stream, that many great cinematographers were first good still photographers. In fact he encouraged me to develop those skills. I was impressed by this attitude and those sentiments stayed with me.
“Victor and Katia [the film’s subjects] were very good dancers, possessing what I saw was championship ability. But equally important, they also presented a sense of authenticity and comfort in front of the camera. They were open to me and responded to my serious aim to make a film. This did not appear to frighten or close them off from me, just the opposite.”
Edwin Gailits, Filmmaker COLD NIGHTS, HOT SALSA
Film Courage: How did you get into the Salsa dance scene?
Edwin: I went on a holiday to Cuba and discovered salsa music and dance everywhere I went. While staying in a B&B style home stay (Casa Particular) in old Havana, I discovered many who came to Havana to learn salsa dancing. Over breakfast I heard stories from other guests at the Casa in which romances were formed on the dance floor and I started to envision the romantic charm of salsa.
It was around this time I thought perhaps I could make a film about salsa in Cuba. But after returning home to Canada, I explored what might be happening in Toronto. I knew there were many Cubans living in Toronto, and I started going to clubs where Cuban bands played and the room was filled with salsa dancers. This experience was very similar to the clubs I visited in Havana, and I started to think maybe I didn’t need to make the film in Cuba.
Film Courage: What is your favorite Salsa style?
Edwin: At first I was attracted to Rueda de Casino, which is a unique Cuban salsa dance done in groups. It was quite breathtaking to see 8–10 dancers moving together through intricate patterns on a very fast beat, with each dancer anticipating the next move of the dancer across from them, and then adding some personal signature to their moves.
Later I fell in love with the On 2 style of salsa, which is danced in pairs. The number 2 refers to the second beat within the music, when stepping to the beat. There is a great deal of room for self-expression when dancing On 2, and many of the moves can be very sensual. The On 2 style developed as the dominant salsa dance style in New York City.
Film Courage: How did you first meet Victor Alexis (Contreras) and Katia Morales?
Edwin: Not long after I started exploring salsa dance in Toronto clubs I learned there was an upcoming event (Canada Salsa Congress ) in the city where many salsa dancers would attend. The Canada Salsa Congress also included a competition to crown the top salsa dancers in Canada. It was remarkable to me, because I had no knowledge this world existed, that more than 2,000 salsa dancers would descend on Toronto and meet under one roof to perform on stage, watch others perform and compete, but also social dance until 4:00 am on consecutive nights.
I was captivated by Victor and Katia’s Canadian Championship winning performance in the On 2 division, and met with them a short time later that evening. They were clearly rising stars in the salsa world. They came across as very down to earth and natural on camera. It was during this first meeting that I learned they were planning to go to the Third World Salsa Championship in Florida, and this is when I first started to think maybe there was a film to be made about a dancers journey to the World Salsa Championship.