CALI, Colombia, Sept. 29 (Xinhua) -- After a six-day dancing carnival, the 14th World Salsa Festival was wrapped up on Sunday in Colombia's Pacific coastal city of Cali.
Nicknamed "the Salsa capital of the world," Cali draws thousands of dancers each year to compete against the best at the annual event.
"Salsa is to Cali what tango is to Buenos Aires (Argentina)," according to Humberto Valverde, a local biographer of Salsa stars like Celia Cruz and Jairo Varela.
The festival is more than just about dancing; it is a way to help the city's underprivileged youth channel their energies into a positive activity that helps build the community, he said.
"The (Salsa) schools do a great job in that, because 90 percent of the dancers come from marginal neighborhoods," said Valverde, adding that "having them admitted to the schools means saving them from crime and prostitution."
Since the festival kicked off on Tuesday, 12,000 people flocked daily to the Coliseo El Pueblo, or Town Coliseum, in south Cali, making it one of the world's biggest festivals of its kind, which drew dancers from eight countries including Ecuador, Costa Rica, Russia, Romania, Italy and Chile.
According to Juan Pablo Benavides, a Salsa expert and the festival spokesman, Cali should thank its large population of African descendants for making Salsa a popular musical genre here.
"Cali is comprised of Afro-descendants and indigenous people, (and is) fertile ground for listening to the drum and other music with clear African heritage that was blended in New York and brought to the city by sailors," Benavides said.
Along with Puerto Rico, Cali is one of the leading producers of famed Salsa groups, such as Grupo Niche and Guayacan Orchestra.
"We have the best Salsa dancers, and we have a culture where foreigners come to find the (dance) academies and the people to learn how to dance," said Benavides.
Salsa has become an important engine of economic activities in Cali, promoting the "nightlife industry, the people who make the costumes, those who make the dance shoes, do the makeup and make the musical instruments, and Salsa researchers and writers," said Benavides.
Local children have more than 100 Salsa dance schools to choose from, and many go on to join international entertainment companies, such as Cirque du Soleil.
"We trained a lot with a lot of discipline, and each day we learned the value of being disciplined, steadfast and strong, and that no matter what, you have to keep at it," said Dayana Estefania Dias, one of the winners of the Cabaret Salsa dance contest at this year's event.
"This is about determination, discipline and love," said Dias.