On May 25, 2017, the Salsa world lost a most important person. Over the past 25 years, Albert Torres had become a recognized name, a brand associated with Salsa dancing, with live music, and with dance “congresses” of worldwide reach. Having kept his health conditions private, he fell ill unexpectedly (to most of us) and passed away on the eve of what should have been his 19th Salsa Congress, or Salsa Fest, in Los Angeles.
Albert was born in Brooklyn, New York, and at age 12 moved with his family to Puerto Rico, where the love for Salsa that his mother had instilled blossomed. In 1993 he was cast as a dancer in both the movie Mambo Kings and for the Oscars’ show. Four years later he had similar participations in the films Out to Sea and Dance with Me. In 1998 he held the first Salsa Congress in Los Angeles and more recently he’d started The World Latin Dance Cup, which provides a platform for over 1,000 dancers from more than 41 countries to compete with their choreographies.
His passing shocked the global Salsa scene. Grieving comments poured on social media from every corner of the world. Dancers thanked him for the chance to shine that he gave them, musicians for the doors he opened around the world, and his friends mourned him at deep and personal levels.
I met Albert 18 years ago, when I was quite new to the Salsa scene in Los Angeles, and when I first volunteered to put in a few hours of work in exchange for access to the Salsa Congress. Debby Farley was in charge of the volunteers, who were assigned to various administrative jobs, such as tending to the ticket booth, moving boxes from one place to the next, or whatever was needed to make the event work smoothly. To newbie me, Congress looked like a well-oiled machine. In retrospect, I was part of Albert’s only second Congress, a rather new endeavor.
In preparation for this article, I asked Debby about her memories of Albert. “I met Albert almost 30 years ago at Club Miami Spice,” she said. “We all went to the same places then because there were only a few, so we would run into each other often. At the first Congress 19 years ago at the Hollywood Park Casino, I noticed a backlog at the door so I jumped in to help. Three hours later I was still there, so I told him I could get things organized. He took me up on it and for 10 years I was in charge of volunteers and registration, until I retired. I met wonderful people who remain my friends to this day. That was part of Albert’s magic – connecting people from everywhere. I know his vision changed the lives of thousands of folks around the world. We were close friends who shared amazing dances, crazy jokes, and just wonderful times. It’s really hard to express how much love I had for this man and I will miss him forever,” concluded Debby.
Over the years my own involvement with Salsa grew. I started a website dedicated to Salsa in Los Angeles (VidaSalsera.com), developed a closer interaction with Albert, and started to advertise and sell tickets for Congress. For several years, in the months just prior Congress, we would meet at a coffee shop to exchange moneys and name-lists and he would tell me about his immediate upcoming trip, be it to Japan, Dubai, Canada, or wherever else the next Salsa Congress brandishing his name would be. I grew to know him as a man bursting with energy and one without prejudices, who loved people, literally, from every place in the globe. His eyes shone brighter when we talked about the musicians that would be performing, or about the youngsters from a far away country who would be traveling to LA for their first dance show. We would be dealing with the Congress due to happen in a few months, but he already had an entire plan in his head for the Congress of the following year. He had an unmatched spirited determination.
It’s been only three weeks since his passing, and his memory remains fresh with us in Los Angeles. He was in our minds this week in particular, as June 14 would have been his 61st birthday. Two events are scheduled to celebrate Albert’s life. The first will be held on June 24, at 10 am, at the Agape International Spiritual Center in Culver City, Los Angeles (see flier below). If you are not in LA, but would like to be part of the celebration, please join the livestream by following this link.
A second event will be held on July 20 at Club Mayan in DTLA, when a group of LA’s best musicians will collaborate in his honor.
Albert’s course on Earth may be complete, but his legacy must remain. He would like you and me to continue to dance and to gather to the music that he loved – Salsa. So let’s dance.