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Salsa duo snag world title

Alfonso Caldera, the international award-winning salsa dancer, has done it again.

Alfonso Caldera, the international award-winning salsa dancer, has done it again.

The Richmond dance instructor just snagged his third world salsa title in the professional division at the 7th annual Portland World Salsa Championship, June 10 to 12, with his partner Jessica Shatzko. The pair defeated tough competitors from Venezuela and the United States.

Caldera spoke to the News about how this spicy, sexy Latin dance genre changed his life. On his own, Caldera left his native Managua, Nicaragua when he was only 15.

"At the time, my country was going through a civil war and as soon as a young man was able to hold a gun, the Sandinistas would recruit you," said Caldera. "I was desperate to leave."

He got into salsa dancing quite by accident. It was the early nineties. Caldera met a young woman from Costa Rica and her two brothers, who were national salsa champions. The three would drag him to downtown Vancouver nightclubs to salsa dance and he was hooked.

Salsa is a dance genre that originated in Cuba, and it's a fusion of mambo, danzon and other Cuban dance forms. Most people know salsa as a hot and sensual dance form.

Caldera credits much of his early success on the dance floor to his years of martial arts training.

"When I was young, I had great martial arts instructors who worked me really hard," he said. "I took that discipline onto the dance floor.

"I connected with salsa and found I picked up the rhythm very easily. It's one of the most popular styles of dance in Latin America, and being from Nicaragua, you are born into the culture of dance."

Today, his wins are numerous, including Mayan Salsa Champion, World Salsa Champion three times over, and first place winner in the prestigious 2002 Miami World Salsa Federation.

Six years ago, Caldera founded Bravo Dance Company, where he is a director, choreographer and dance instructor.

It's also where the sultry dancer met and mentored his dance partner, 17-yearold Shatzko. "I met Jessica nearly two years ago when she came to attend one of my classes," said Caldera.

"I had been looking for a dance partner for three years because my former partner moved to L.A.

"Jessica's a natural. For the competition we trained at least three times a week and then closer to the competition, every day for a month."

The pair danced their way to first place with the song by renowned Latin mambo king, Tito Punte.

"The judges look at the complexity of your moves, your style, elegance and speed," said Caldera, who added he conducts dance classes all over the Lower Mainland and teaches workshops in Los Angeles. "The tough part about competing is to keep your routines fresh and unique."

Meanwhile, the prize for winning the world's best in Portland is round-trip airfare and hotel accommodations for both of them to head to the 2nd World Latin Dance Cup this December in Las Vegas.

When the News spoke to Caldera in 2008, after he had danced his way into Michael Buble's video, Save the Last Dance, he had said: "Salsa dancing is emotion-driven dancing, it gets into your soul" - something he still believes today.