UPDATE: See my thoughts on the World Latin Dance Cup vs the World Salsa Summit.
This week I attended the 6th Annual World Latin Dance Cup, which is one of the largest salsa and Latin dance competitions in the world. Organized by Albert Torres, organizer of the LA Salsa Congress and many other salsa events, the WLDC has grown each year and draws over a thousand competitors from around the globe.
However, I am disappointed to say that this year was the worst World Latin Dance Cup I have attended. And I say this as someone who has a huge respect for Albert and his team for their contributions to the worldwide salsa community and the tremendous amount of work that they put into organizing this gargantuan event.
I truly appreciate all the work their team puts into this event, but in all honesty, the 2015 World Latin Dance Cup was the most poorly organized salsa dancing event I have ever attended. And from what I have heard from other attendees and competitors, I’m not the only one who thinks so.
Below is my experience of the 2015 World Latin Dance Cup, and where the event went wrong. I have tried to keep this post constructive, and included ways in which the organizers can improve future events, but my apologies if some of my frustration comes through. Hopefully Albert and his team can take this feedback and not repeat the same mistakes for future events.
Before The Event
The 2015 World Latin Dance Cup was a mess before it even began. To provide some context, the website for the WLDC (worldlatindancecup.com) didn’t even exist until the end of June. That means prior to June, there was no website where potential competitors could find any information about the event.
Even once the website was put up, it was still not possible to book tickets for the event for many months. Competitors had to e-mail and PayPal Albert Torres directly in order to register for the event. Can you imagine hundreds of competitors PayPaling a single event organizer? Not exactly a scalable system.
The website was also never up-to-date. The only location that regular updates were posted to was on Facebook. The organizers of the event don’t seem to realize that the typical post by a Facebook page only reaches 2.6% of your fans. That means that at 28,000 fans, the typical update posted to the WLDC Facebook page only reaches 700 people. Facebook posts are also difficult to search through and navigate.
This was a problem because the details of the event kept changing and it was impossible to keep up with. This became a major issue when the event schedule was completely changed a month before the event. At the end of October, I e-mailed Albert about the event schedule because it was not posted anywhere. He responded with the schedule, which was later posted to the website in the middle of November.
Then, literally a month before the event, the schedule was completely changed. By then, many competitors, including many of my teammates, had already booked their non-refundable plane tickets. Because of the last-minute schedule change, many competitors could not make it in time for their competition dates, which later became a huge problem.
The World Latin Dance Cup needs an up-to-date website, period. This is the 21st century and people find out information about events through websites. Having an up-to-date website for an event of this scale is critical. People need to be able to register for the event through a website, not via e-mail.
Secondly, Facebook is a poor means of mass communication. Not everyone uses Facebook, and not many people see stuff that is posted there. The primary means of communication should be an up-to-date website. E-mail is also a secondary form of communication that can be used which has a much wider reach than posting things on Facebook.
Finally, changing the schedule of an event of this size a month before the competition is crazy. You guys have a year to plan for this event, the schedule should be locked and posted by August at the latest so that people can book hotels and flights.
Sunday – Registration
Registration was an absolute nightmare this year. We arrived a day early to register our team, had already registered and paid online, and brought our receipts like Albert asked for, and it still took us 3 hours to get the team registered. This is with only a dozen people trying to register and 6 people behind the registration table registering people.
This is not to knock on the staff, who are all great people, but the system that they set up was absolutely broken this year. At no other event that I have attended does it take 3 hours just to get registered, especially when we’ve already paid for the event and have receipts.
The registration process did’t improve much at all during the entire event with registrations regularly taking more than 2 hours. Sometimes the room would get so full that they would have to kick people out, who’d already been waiting for hours, and tell them to come back later.
Invest in a better registration system. Seriously. An organization that puts on some of the largest salsa events in the world should be able to do better. Ideally, the registration process should be as simple as scanning a QR code and putting on a wrist band.
The staff also needs to do a dry run of their system at least a few weeks before the event begins. They should have someone on their team go through the registration process before the event begins to ensure that it works, testing out different scenarios. If it takes them more than 30 minutes to register, that’s going to be a big problem with hundreds of competitors.
Monday – Qualifiers
The first day of the World Latin Dance Cup was also a big mess. Our team signed up to qualify for a number of divisions, but when it came time for roll call, dozens of people were missing from the roster, including several of my team members, even though we’d already registered the day before.
Team names and even competition numbers were even messed up on the roll sheets, and there were two separate rooms for qualifiers, which made things complicated for competitors qualifying for multiple divisions taking place in separate rooms.
Then, when it came time for the competition (which was over an hour late) we found out that for most of the divisions we wouldn’t even have to perform at all, because there were less than 5 entrants, so we would go straight to the semi-finals. So all the time the girls on our team spent getting into costume and doing hair and makeup was wasted.
The system for generating roll sheets needs to be tested extensively before the event, because there were a ton of errors. These problems should be fixed before the event starts, not on the actual day of the competition.
People who are competing in qualifiers should also have to register to compete at least a day before the event. People who register to compete the day of the competition completely throw everything off and cause delays for everyone. If you want to compete at an international dance competition, you need to register early.
Tuesday – Semi-Finals
The second day of the competition was not much better than the first. The competition began over an hour late again, and again there were errors and omissions on the roll sheets, which became recurring themes throughout the competition.
The semi-finals were supposed to be live streamed over the internet, but because the video people were not able to set up their equipment in time, the first half of the competition was not streamed or recorded, which included all the divisions that we competed in.
Another major issue was that the semi-finals for amateurs was originally supposed to take place on Wednesday, but got moved up to Tuesday due to the last minute schedule change. That means that many people who had booked their flights expecting to compete on Wednesday were not able to compete in the semis on Tuesday.
What ended up happening was that for these divisions, whoever was there competed on Tuesday, with the other half of competitors competing on Wednesday, effectively splitting the divisions in two to be judged on two separate days. I have never heard of a dance competition where a division is split between two separate days and judged by a completely different set of judges. This just introduces too many variations in judging quality, which we saw the following day.
The results of the competition were also never posted online or announced anywhere. They were simply written down on a sheet of paper and posted on a bulletin board in the lobby. This was done for all rounds of the competition including the finals, with no updates to the website at all. If you search for results from previous competitions (this year was the 6th) you also can’t find any of them on the website either. What kind of competition doesn’t post any of the results?
Get registration straightened out and make sure the competition starts on time. It’s embarrassing that people have come to expect the competitions to start late at such a major event, especially when it is being streamed live to audiences around the world.
Don’t change the schedule at the last minute, and don’t split divisions between two days. That introduces variability in judging and is unfair to competitors.
Update your website. Seriously. If you are going to type up the scores and results of the competition anyway, take an extra minute or two to upload them to your website so that people from around the world can actually see the competition results.
Wednesday – Semi-Finals part 2
The 3rd day of competition began over an hour late again, no surprises there. Our team’s name did not appear on the roll sheet despite having qualified in March and registered on Sunday. Not a promising start.
The judging of the split divisions also became a big issue on Wednesday. On Tuesday, there were 7 judges judging the competition and on Wednesday night there were only 3. The head judge assured us that this would not impact the judging because the scores are averaged, but that’s not how math works.
If you have a smaller sample size, there is a greater variability in the system and less reliability in the results. Fewer judges mean scores being skewed much more easily. Having different teams in the same division judged by different judges is by definition not judging each team equally.
Looking at the results from the competition, we saw more teams from the first day moving onto the finals than from the second day, the scores from the first day were higher than scores from the second.
I don’t want to come across as a sore loser here, but when our team has trained for months, and spent $3000 on air faire, $2500 on hotel, and $2000 in registration fees, the least we can expect is fair officiating.
What is also frustrating is that the score sheets are not shared until the end of the competition. This makes no sense. Having access to score sheets would better allow us to assess the fairness of the judging as well as allow competitors to improve themselves between rounds by working on the areas in which they were deficient. Instead, all we are given is a single aggregate number which doesn’t tell us anything.
Inexplicably, only 6 teams from the amateur salsa teams category went on to the finals, despite the fact that it was the largest division in the amateur category with 21 teams competing. Other categories had 10 couples or more making it into the finals, which seems inconsistent & backwards and also made the finals take forever.
Don’t split up a single division to compete on separate days. If people aren’t able to attend on the day of the competition, the entire division should be pushed back so that everyone is being judged equally. Better yet, don’t make last minute schedule changes that make people miss their divisions in the first place.
The judges scores should be posted immediately so that dancers can see exactly how they were scored and where they need to improve. The WLDC supposedly improved their judging system this year (and charged everyone $2 per division for the privilege) but I saw no evidence of improvements.
It’s hard to trust that the numbers presented are accurate without seeing the score sheets, and it’s hard to trust an organization that has made errors in virtually every other aspect of the competition.
UPDATE: It looks like the scores were screwed up in at least one category. The eventual winner of the men’s soloist division was initially eliminated in the semis due to a math error. The error wasn’t noticed until he complained to the judges. How are we to know there weren’t other errors in the scoring without seeing the score sheets?
In no other sport are scores kept a secret from the competitors. I would like to see more transparency from an event that strives to be the top international competition for salsa and Latin dance.
The number of teams/couples that make it to the finals should be fair and consistent across all divisions. Dozens of couples shouldn’t be making it into the finals and making the competition go on past midnight.
Aside from the poor way in which the competition was run, there were other issues with the WLDC this year as well. The competition this year was extended to a full week, with registration opening on Sunday and the competition going until the following Sunday. This allowed the competition to include more divisions as well as conclude competition earlier than in previous years.
While this makes sense in theory, it also comes at great financial cost to the competitors, especially amateurs. Amateurs who wanted to qualify for a division (many of which can be qualified only at the event) would have to arrive on Sunday or Monday and stay until at least the finals on Saturday. That’s a full week that competitors have to take off from work, and a lot of vacation days to use up right before the holidays.
Amateur competitions this year also got pushed up earlier in the week this year to just Monday and Tuesday. That means that an amateur competitor could qualify on Monday, get eliminated on Tuesday, and then have to stay for the rest of the week, not the best experience.
The cost of hotel also becomes an issue when the competition is so long. At the advertised hotel rate of $215 for 7 nights, that comes out to $1,505 for a week, which is more than a month’s rent in most parts of the world. It’s amazing to me how many people attend from poorer parts of the world given the prohibitive cost of the competition. Many international competitors ended up booking hotels and Airbnbs to save money.
What’s worse, the “discounted” rate of $215 is actually higher than what is advertised by the hotel itself, which has rates starting at $149. They even tried to charge $50 extra for competitors not staying at the event hotel, which sounds like a pure money grab, especially after hotel rooms sold out! This is the only event I have attended where the event rate is actually higher than the regular hotel rate. It is not at all the “best deal around” as advertised on their website.
Condense the competition back to 5 days to bring the cost down for competitors (especially for amateurs and international competitors). Be honest with your pricing and provide actually good hotel rates so that people can afford to stay in them.
With the rise of competing competitive dance events such as the World Salsa Summit and World Salsa Championships, the World Latin Dance Cup needs to keep costs down if wants to remain affordable to amateur and international competitors.
That concludes my long-winded rant about the 2015 World Latin Dance Cup, which again was the most disorganized event I have ever attended. I write this not to disrespect the event organizers or judges, who I believe have the right intentions, but to share the concerns shared by many attendees so that future events can be improved.
Here’s hoping for a better experience in 2016!