Tomas Guerrero of El Espirito de la Salsa or The Spirit of Salsa

Tribeca Film Festival: Spicy Times for Salsa Lovers

Tomas Guerrero of El Espirito de la Salsa or The Spirit of Salsa
Tomas Guerrero at The Tribeca Film Festival

People love salsa — and not because it’s a delicious condiment, and not because it’s a fun word to say (though it really is). No, at last night’s Tribeca Film Festival world premiere of the documentary El Espiritu de la Salsa (The Spirit of Salsa), it was abundantly clear that New Yorkers love themselves some salsa music and, more importantly, some salsa dancing. Big time.

The film — about a Harlem-based salsa instructor named Tomas Guerrero who prepares a rabble group of dancing novices for a public performance — opened a series of Tribeca Film Fest “Drive-In” movies being shown Thursday, April 22, through Saturday, April 24, on a behemoth outdoor screen at the World Financial Center plaza (Big screens tonight and The Birth of Big Air tomorrow night). And the pre-screening atmosphere was electric … one might even say spicy.

Men and women of all different ilks, colors, sizes and shapes shook their hips, bobbed their heads, bit their lips in concentration (before breaking into wide grins) as a salsa band rocked out in front of the stories-high screen. We’re pretty sure some nearby squirrels were moved to shake their acorn-breakers (that’s squirrel for “moneymakers”), though those bushy tails were kind of a liability.

Tomas is very proud of Santo Rico's debut at the Tribeca Film Festival
Tomas is very proud of Santo Rico's debut at the Tribeca Film Festival

Aware of our own limited dancing skills, my companions and I relegated our direct involvement with salsa to using it as a topping for the nachos we consumed at an outdoor table at the nearby restaurant, Southwest NY.

We were tossing back Corona numero dos (that’s Espanol for No. 2), when Spirit of Salsa star Tomas Guerrero just happened to walk by — so of course we accosted him for a quick chat. He graciously obliged, sharing his thoughts on the film’s inclusion in the Tribeca Film Festival.”

“Being featured here — the prestige of it — is actually a dream come true,” Guerrero enthused. “Because the salsa world is a bit underground. It’s become more mainstream throughout the years, but it’s not as mainstream as Broadway, jazz, ballet and some stuff. This is something that’s on a higher plateau, so it’s an accomplishment in itself. So we’re really proud to be here.”

Speaking about the appeal of salsa for the students he teaches in the movie — which include people as diverse as an ER doc, a cop and a 60-year-old couple learning to dance for the first time, Guerrero references the healing power of dance — a major theme of the film. “Everybody comes from a different struggle. They turn to salsa because somebody broke their heart, or they want to get over a past love, or they met a new love and they want to learn how to dance.”

If you’re feeling like it’s too late for you to get in the salsa ballgame, take heart. Before jetting off to judge a dance competition at the back end of the World Financial Center Plaza, Guerrero confesses that he isn’t a lifelong salsa expert. “Salsa kind of chose me. I used to go out dancing socially, and then just happened to get really into salsa. And one day I was asked to teach a group.” He laughs heartily. “I was like, ‘Are you sure?’ This was 1995. But once you catch the fever, it’s like you don’t stop.”

So what are you waiting for? Grab those dancing shoes and get yourself up to Guerrero’s Santo Rico Dance School. Oh, and leave the nachos behind.

And, in the meantime, check out our review of El Espiritu de la Salsa (The Spirit of Salsa), which Jenn calls “one of those movies that can totally change your life if you just let it.” Powerful stuff.

About Tom

Tom is a writer and editor with a love of movies, books and all things Battery Park. He's also an avid runner with a soft spot for sunset runs on the Esplanade and sunset beers, well, pretty much anywhere.