Wednesday 22 February 2023

Twenty Five years of the Thames Salsa Cruise

Twenty Five years of the Thames Salsa Cruise

My, how time flies!

As we approach the Thames Salsa Cruise’s 25th Anniversary on Sunday 21st May 2023, I’d like to offer a few reflections of this very special event that’s been part of the London Salsa scene for quarter of a century.

I’d also like to offer my heartfelt appreciation to everyone who’s come on the cruise over the years. You’ve made it what it is: A beautiful, fun evening of joy.



How it began:

We were having a good year. I was teaching salsa nights in the West End, City of London and a couple of venues in North and North West London.
I was also editing the Email Salsa News which was a salsa events listing email magazine, that went out weekly.
Fliss, AKA DJ Felicidad and I, decided to celebrate with a salsa picnic by the river in Jubilee Gardens next to Embankment station.

We quickly realised that promoting this free event was taking as much effort as promoting a profit making event with as much reputational risk if things went wrong. (We found out on the day that picnics are banned in Jubilee gardens!) It was time to take a risk and hire a boat as an add-on to the picnic. The idea of the Thames Salsa Cruise was born. Four hours of Sunday afternoon cruising the Thames and back in time to get home ready for Monday.


The Party:

I believe dancing should be fun, not some exacting, elitist, performance based art form!
This informs how I teach and the events I run. One time many , many years ago, a couple arrived at the pier, sauntered up and announced they were Latin champions and required VIP status. My response would have failed any customer service exam (including Rian Airs). Needless to say they did not board :)

The Boat:

Although it was the same boat back then, HMV Royalty, a veteran of the first world war, was less well appointed than she is today. She had a cambered i.e. sloping dance floor so that any liquid: spilt drinks, river spray, body fluids etc., would run to the sides. This made dancing interesting! Quickly we adopted the idea that if your partner was shorter than you, they stand in the middle and vice versa!

We also had to hump a PA system from wherever we could park to the boat and back. Back then I mounted two CD Walkmans in a black attaché case with a small mixer. I had many enquiries from other DJs as to where they could buy one.

Mambo Number Five

Given the cost and the dance floor it was vital to remind everyone that the Thames Salsa Cruise was not a club night. There was far less boat traffic back then so after a while everyone got used to the floor and we stopped being special. I had a cunning plan! Fliss put on Mambo Number Five and I would lead an animation (line up) that deliberately rocked the boat by everyone running from side to side. This was discussed with the skipper first to ensure it was perfectly safe. By the way, they test the buoyancy annually by placing tonnes of weight on one side to tilt the boat well beyond its maximum capacity. They also ultrasound the hull for cracks and carry at least double the life saving equipment needed for the capacity.

Anyway Mambo Number FIve was a success and we’ve repeated it on every cruise ever since. Sometimes it's good to be a little silly :)

The River Thames

The Thames has changed so much since we started. It's almost hard to imagine but when we started the London Eye, Millennium Dome, Shard, Headlamp, Walkie Talkie, Emirates Cable Car, Greenwich Meridian Laser and so many more things we're simply not around! It feels as if they've been built just for you to see as you dance the night away.
One of my hack lines is that the Thames Salsa Cruise has been going longer than Shakespeare's Globe Theatre!
“Smooth runs the water where the brook is deep” Henry VI, Part II


Back in 2009 I spent a week editing a video of the Cruise. It’s still a very good representation of what it’s like. If you recognise yourself in the video, let me assure you that you haven't changed a bit :)

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