Chelsie Bonifer has salsa in her soul — but not the kind you eat with guacamole.
The Pendleton-area salsa dancer brought home sixth-place honors at the recent World Latin Dance Cup in Miami in the female solo division.
This was only Bonifer’s second competition. At the first — the Portland Salsa Congress in July — she won the right to compete at the international level. The dancer headed to Florida, excited to drink in the experience and mingle with the world’s best salsa stylers.
Bonifer had discovered the dance during a college study abroad trip to Vienna when she stumbled on a salsa studio run by Columbians. Already a student of everything from Highland fling to belly dancing, she fell in love with the energetic dance style. Entranced, she studied Latin Dance in Argentina and Brazil and eventually performed with a San Diego salsa troupe and taught in Germany.
Bonifer, a Weston-McEwen High School graduate, resisted competitions until she knew her salsa would sizzle.
In Miami, Bonifer, 28, marveled at how each culture has produced its own flavor. Japanese dancers incorporated ceremonial traditions and costuming, while Italians exuded passion and sensuality. Columbians were colorful, but serious.
Though the dance has Cuban roots, Bonifer said salsa is now booming in Asia.
“Everyone’s got salsa fever,” she said.
Costumes, heavy on bling, ranged from tux and tails to a nude leotard with strategically placed gold leaves. Many featured rhinestones or Swarovski crystals. Bonifer wore a costume crafted by Alice Johnson, a translator at Tamastslikt Cultural Institute. The outfit featured cut glass beads and fringe and reflected Bonifer’s Walla Walla and Cayuse heritage.
Bonifer kept her nerves in check as her turn to dance loomed closer. She watched other dancers find their zone before performing. One man sat cross-legged, eyes closed and palms upward. A female dancer did ninja kicks.
When she heard her name, she danced to Guajira Sorpresa by the Echo Park Project. While salsa has a reputation for fast footwork and high-speed spins, Bonifer opted for something a little different this time.
“While fast and spastic is sometimes more appealing to audiences,” she said, “slow and controlled is actually harder and requires a lot more skill.”
Afterwards, she felt she had danced her best.
“I went up there and did my thing and people cheered,” she said.
The sixth place finish, not quite enough to get her into the finals, was gravy. So was the bonding with dancers from all over the world. Bonifer, who runs the Red Pepper Dance Company in Walla Walla, said the experience will stay with her for a while.
Contact Kathy Aney at email@example.com or 541-966-0810.
This story originally appeared in East Oregonian.