Salsa will change your life! says Thomas Stadler – Salsa Switzerland this weekend
February 20, 2008 § 2 Comments
Do you like to attend festivals? Do you like to meet all sorts of people, dancers and instructors? Have you ever thought about who’s behind the scenes of the organization of such an event? Read about the anecdotes that happen on such events! Find out, if that really is a dream job!
We have a special priviledge to hear it from first hand. Find out how one of the five most important Salsa Congresses in the world happens? Meet the owner and director of the Salsafestival Switzerland, which takes place this weekend in Zürich:
Thomas Stadler – Event promoter and Salsa instructor since 1991. President of the Salsa Association in Zürich for many years. Carrier of the West Coast Salsa Congress Award.
1. Thomas, tell us how you first met this dangerous girl, called Salsa?
In the 80’s my father left home to live in different places of Latin America. So my brothers and me spent much vacation time to see him in a number of Spanish speaking countries, including the Dominican Republic. It was exactly on the 4th of January 1988, when some girls from his neighborhood took me dancing Merengue and Salsa to a club nearby.
2. I guess she (salsa) really got under your skin, since you do so many different things for her: teaching, organizing, awarding, promoting etc. 😉 I was addicted from the first second. Watching people dance Salsa was a jaw-dropping experience for the pale young Swiss guy that I was then. When I returned, I went through a university career and I even worked in the industry, but Salsa never left my mind. I took the first available lessons in Zurich, went to clubs, started teaching, and there came a point where I was so absorbed that I decided to leave the ordinary life behind me and work exclusively for Salsa.
3. Do you still teach salsa?
In the 90’s demand in Zurich was so strong that I worked up to 40 hours per week in different schools. In 1995 I moved to Zug, town near Zurich, and started up my own Salsa dance school Latin Promotion. When I met my wife, I gradually gave my classes away to colleagues who now work for me. Teaching and a partnership don’t mix well, you know. Nowadays, I just teach a night per week to stay in touch with Salsa students.
4. How was the idea of ‘Salsafestival in Switzerland’ born? In 1995 I got a very unexpected phone call from an enthusiastic guy called Eli Irrizarry. He had the idea of bringing Salseros of the entire Salsa world every summer “home” to the cradle of Salsa, which in his eyes was Puerto Rico. I believe he called it “Congreso mundial de la Salsa”, today’s famous Puerto Rican Salsa Congress. I thought he was crazy 😉 In 2001, one of the first European congresses was organized in near Germany, so I went there, only to find that the who-is-who of the Zurich Salsa scene (instructors, promoters, etc.) went there, too. Many started thinking of producing a Swiss version then.
5. Are you involved from the beginning? No. Honestly, I would never have started this project. It was just too big. Two friends of mine rented the massive Kongresshaus, and started organizing. They soon found out, that they needed an awful lot of support. So another friend of mine and me got into the project and we all worked our a… off the next five months. Later the team separated and I kept the Kongresshaus event.
6. What does it mean to be a director of a salsa congress? What are your job assignments?
It basically means that you marry an event. If you’re already married, your wife will oppose 🙂 In my case, I already organized 3 congresses before I married my wife…. Seriously now: If you organize a small congress, you’ll do a lot on your own and this is a lot of work that may or may not pay out. If you organize a big event, this means that you do even more on your own, apart from that you have to conduct a team, and all this may lead to financial disaster if you screw up or the odds are just not with you. If you organize a very big event like Zurich, it may become a bit more comfortable, if you’re lucky enough to find the dream team like mine. The most important thing for a director is to find people who all do their job better than yourself.
7. Is that your full-time job?
It’s a 100% job, which doesn’t mean I work all year. For 4-6 months I work day and night. After a festival I usually take a long break. Then I focus again on the development of my dance school, and soon I go to other congresses for promotion of the next event again.
8. I noticed you have a big staff helping out with the festival. How many people and how long does it take to prepare?
I’m the head of a team of 5. My dream team covers the 4 fields: organization, promotion, production and administration. Before and during the event we direct close to 100 staff members. They distribute flyers, translate texts, drive artists, care for the workshop rooms, organize the backstage area, give out wristbands, escort VIPs, sell festival T-shirts, organize the wardrobe, check security exits, handle our Mercado shops, stand-by for medical emergencies, coordinate big screen contents, film or photograph our event, place direction signs on the walls, setup internet connections, exchange foreign currencies, organize water and sandwiches for artists and other staff members, and about 81 other things you have to think of.It doesn’t take very long to organize this because we work with mostly the same people year after year again.
9. Is it hard to coordinate all this instructors and performers?
This year we have 30 instructor couples and more than 30 shows. The workshop plan and the show list are not so complicated, but we collect them at the airport, we shuttle them to the location for workshops and rehearsals, so the whole hotel and driving part is very complex as many of them come later or leave earlier, come with or without partner, and of course you need to be prepared for a number of last minute changes each year. As an average 3 teams/couples arrive with their suitcases following a day late, which has effect on the show plan, and sometimes means we take them shopping.
10. Could you say any of this instructors have the “fame deasease” (meaning they get really selfcentered and need a loooot of attention)? How do you deal with that?
Unfortunately, some get there. At that point, we simply don’t invite them anymore. The point is, that my entire staff works already very hard the whole weekend and they deserve to work with cooperative artists. After each festival I always ask for feedback from all staff members. Also, there are many fabulous Salseros out there just waiting for that gap to show their talent.
11. Do you have any interesting anecdotes you could share with us?
Of course, there’s a lot of problem solving anecdotes. Share one of the worst moments in my life: Some years ago, a former partner hired an amateur team to work in the huge Kongresshaus wardrobe. On Friday night, an unlucky guy of that team started to distribute the Saturday number tags with the intention to speed up the process. Instead he found a lot of hooks already occupied and consequently started using just any of the numbered hooks. By the time, everybody was watching the shows, we had a 1232 piece puzzle broken apart in the wardrobe. The next two hours two dozen staff members were busy rearranging the wardrobe, mostly with two pieces on one hook. When the first guests came down with their wardrobe number, my staff simply brought the 2 pieces of that hook and without hesitation everybody grabed their respective belongings. The rest was brought back to the hook. Most guests didn’t even realize the mishap, a few had uncomfortable waiting time, but eventually no jacket was lost.
12. Was festival management your dream job or did it somehow just happen?
It did definitely somehow just happen! It is no dream job. Skiing instructor is a dream job 😉
13. What are your (personal) future goals?
I’m constantly working to gain more time for my growing family. I have a loving wife, two boys, 3 years and 3 months old, and they need to receive the family time they deserve. I do this by structuring the event carefully and delegating parts of the work wisely.
14 . What are the plans with your congress?
The congress is running great and we have a fantastic feedback, so I plan to go on and develop the congress in small steps. In the past we experimented with seating, ready-on-Sunday-DVDs, master classes, etc. And we introduced a lot of innovations to stay like the pre-party, the info desk, the Stargate shows or the 100% non-smoking event (first in Switzerland), the fully integrated promotional code, free WLAN acces, free massages, Salsa chocolate and a lot of other stuff I only realize when I see other congresses’ websites. In the future, we will not reinvent the Salsafestival, but of course we want our guests to look forward to surprising experiences every year, along with the usual perfect organization and hospitality.
15. Are there any special delights participants will get on this year’s congress?
On Friday, the New Swing Sextet from New York is playing in Europe for the very first time. I’m sure, that they will get a lot of bookings after my promoter friends see them play on our stage. Then the Swinguys have prepared a special act that will not be seen anywhere else on the world. We feature a total of 8 world and Europe premieres of absolute top groups. With our in-house open-end afterparty we deliver almost 24h Salsa a day. If you want to get a real Salsa flash: Get it here!
I bet it’s hectic in the last weeks before congress, so a big Thank you for your answers and good luck with the festival! 🙂
You’re very welcome! See you in Zurich!