PEOPLE have been dancing to express themselves artistically since time immemorial, resulting in the invention of many types of dances, including the poco-poco, a line dance which is very popular in Miri.
At the international level, among the popular dances are ballet, jazz, country and western, whereas Latin dance is partner dance competition jargon, referring to the types of ballroom dance and folk dance that originated in Latin America.
Before 2017, Latin or Afrolatin dance was little known in Miri nor did many world-class Afrolatin dancers know where Miri or even Malaysia is. But with the introduction of Miri Afrolatin Dance Fiesta (MALF) in 2017 and the recent Third MALF, Miri is now on the world tourism and dance map.
Moreover, Miri boasts many tourist attractions, including Mulu National Park, a world heritage site.
Although MALF started as a social dance gathering, it has grown into an international event, attracting many world-famous Afrolatin dancers.
MALF 2019 (Feb 28 to March 3) saw some 100 participants on stage, including 14 locals – and internationals from over 20 countries.
The renowned artistes comprised the pair of Curtis Seldon and Carola Tauler from France and Spain respectively, Albir Rojas from Panama, Saranga Kasun Dias from Sri Lanka, Yassin Mutati from Kenya, Jeff and Alex from Italy and Malaysia respectively, Max Ahmad from Singapore, Sanjay from India, Dewa and Gungis from Indonesia, Gupson Pierrie from Canada, and Selva from Malaysia.
Curtis, Carola, and Albir are among the best Kizomba instructors and performers while Pierrie and Selva are also famous deejays.
The youngest performer was 18-year-old Sabahan Nathan Liew, who partnered his teacher, Artini @ Tini Sisamdin, also from Sabah.
In MALF 2018, among the top participating artistes were Sara Lopez, the world number one Kizomba Queen from Madrid, Spain, and Jorjet Alcocer, the world famous Salsa and Bachata Queen from Houston, Texas.
Dr Safrina Othman, a multi-disciplined medical doctor, is the founder of MALF. Mirians, in particular dance enthusiasts, are lucky to have the 38-year-old, who not only cares about her patients’ health but also the happiness of MALF enthusiasts and the general public.
“I’ve loved to dance and sing since small but never had the opportunity to take formal classes until four years ago when my best friend, Dr Zainil, invited me to attend Salsa class in Miri. I immediately fell in love with the dance and I’ve not stopped since.
“My present teacher and dancing partner is Ramil Lopez Fernandez. We travel together to dance festivals to learn various AfroLatin dances – the new routines and combos – and teach them in my newly-opened studio, La Danza Fitness & Dance Studio,” she told thesundaypost at MALF 2019 gala dinner on March 2.
Why Afrolatin? Dr Safrina explained, “In almost all the dance festivals I went to, many of the international participants asked where I came from. They have never heard of Miri before. That’s when I started to make Miri known and share my dancing passion.
“Besides, dance festivals give locals the opportunity to be involved in an amazing atmosphere.”
She said as MALF aimed to promote Malaysian cultures, she was happy to see many of the artistes wearing batik and kebaya, including those from India, during the 2019 Fiesta.
“We had about 100 participants and 60 per cent were not Malaysians,” she noted.
Dr Safrina’s views were shared by many, including Assistant Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture Datuk Lee Kim Shin, Datuk Lorna Chan from ‘Moving Communities’, and artistes such as Carola and Sara as well as Liew and Tini.
According to all three international Afrolatin dancers and instructors, Carola, Sara, and Jorjet, before being invited over, they knew very little about Miri and Malaysia.
Miri was Jorjet’s first Asian destination while Carola made her first dance appearance in Malaysia in the Resort City.
“I join dance festivals every weekend, especially in Europe – all big-scale festivals. I have travelled to many countries and that’s the amazing thing about my career, otherwise I wouldn’t have known about Miri,” Carola said, adding that she was optimistic MALF would grow into an international event as Dr Safrina and her team are excellent organisers.
“Miri is fantastic and I want to come back to dance here and explore this beautiful city, including its pristine diving spots,” she said.
Officiating at the gala night, Lee expressed confidence the fiesta would develop into a major world dance event.
“I suggested that Dr Safrina form an Afrolatin society or club to get more people to help organise bigger future MALFs. For this, I have assured the support of my ministry, the Sarawak Convention Bureau, and the Sarawak Tourism Board,” he said at the function, attended by Piasau assemblyman Datuk Sebastian Ting, Miri Mayor Adam Yii and his wife Rita Lau, and Rurum Kelabit Sarawak president Dr Philip Raja.
Chan, meanwhile, noted that MALF not only promoted Latin dancing but also Malaysian cultures.
“When I saw the theme – Batik and Kebaya – on the invitation card, I was instantly attracted. It was an opportunity to showcase our traditions at the function and to the world. The performers were so elegant in their batik. Simply fantastic.”
Inspired by the success of MALFs, Dr Safrina assured the fiesta would be held in 2020 and beyond as long as there was demand from dance enthusiasts and strong support from the government, relevant agencies, and sponsors.
“I feel relieved and glad it’s over and successful. Everybody had an enjoyable time. That’s the most important thing. It’s the reason why we hold this fiesta – to bring joy to the people. So if I had achieved that, I would be very grateful and happy.”
She thanked her team and all involved in helping to make MALF 2019 a success and appealed to them for continued cooperation and support.
Liew, his mother Joyce Lee, and their teacher Tini strongly support the festival, saying Afrolatin is for everyone.
“Nathan and I took up Afrolatin only in 2017. We dropped ballroom dancing which I learned in 2007 while Nathan was young.
“We partnered only in 2018. Other dance enthusiasts too can easily pick up Afrolatin,” said Tini, who has tutored Liew and Joyce in Kizomba and Salsa.
According to Dr Safrina, MALF 2020 is scheduled from Feb 27 to March 1.
“We might get Albir again. Curtis and Carola also want to come back. So I’ve invited them. They are the best and very professional. They brought up the mood of the whole festival.
“It’s great to have great artistes coming back and also new ones like Alien Ramirez.”
Ramirez from Bayamo, Cuba, is a 25-time World Latin Dance Champion and a world renowned dance instructor – the first female to win the WSF (World Salsa Federation) Salsa Shines Championship in 2010.
Dr Safrina assured more activities would be organised for MALF 2020, including an excursion to Mulu National Park and other places of interest in Miri.
“My hope and aspiration are to promote Miri as an important world dance destination to boost the tourism industry besides uniting people of different nationalities. Moreover, dancing is a way to destress.”
She said besides looking forward to MALF 2020, Afrolatin enthusiasts could join Latin or Afrolatin Dance Fiestas not only in other parts of the world but also the Southeast Asian region, including Malaysia.
Among the upcoming events are the fourth Vietnam International Latin Festival, starting Thursday (March 28), and the Alia Festival in Kuala Lumpur from July 25-29.