ST CROIX — A Celebration of Latin and Caribbean Culture. St. Croix has been seeing several firsts in 2023 when it comes to festivals and events celebrating the island’s unique culture. The latest addition to the lineup is the inaugural Virgin Islands Salsa Festival, which aims to celebrate the depth and diversity of the territory’s Latin heritage and Caribbean culture. The event was founded in 2022 by Alexander Emanuel, under the non-profit organization Cruzan Dance Company. Since 2003, Cruzan Dance Company has been known as “the Virgin Islands Pulse of Movement,” focused on taking dance to the next level. As a formally trained dancer, Emanuel started the company as a dance school for children ages three through adulthood. In 2013, they closed their doors when the Hovensa Oil Refinery closed. Emanuel knew this wasn’t the end of this chapter and reemerged in 2020 as a nonprofit organization.
Born and raised on St. Croix, Emanuel always embraced his connection to the Latino and Caribbean culture thanks to his family’s roots in Puerto Rico and St. Kitts. Passionate about salsa and the culture, he wanted to explore how to fuse his love of dance with everything that was Caribbean and Latino. That’s when Virgin Islands Salsa Festival was born. What started as a two-day event in 2022 has grown into a six-day event in 2023 supported by various entities and organizations throughout the St. Croix community.
This year’s growth was made possible thanks to a supportive Board of Directors and event team. “Each day has a different theme designed for that day, making it a perfect outing for families, friends, colleagues, and the entire community.” Emanuel credited Assistant Director of Virgin Islands Salsa Festival, Aymee Santana, as an instrumental figure in planting several ideas in his head that put the gears in motion. Event Silver Sponsor Mutiny Island Vodka was also influential in the festival. “Shawn Henderson of Mutiny Island Vodka suggested the salsa and chips competition, and the idea just took off!” Bring the Heat, The Salsa Making Competition will kick off the week of festival events on Tuesday, July 25th, and will be held at Sion Farm Distillery, where Mutiny Island Vodka is made. Other events include Burn the Floor, an electrifying salsa social dance competition, and Fiesta Caribeña, the 12-hour Caribbean Block Party featuring music, culture, food, and lively performances from Joey Hernandez y PR es Salsa and Virgin Islands soca and calypso artist Nikki Brooks. This year’s festival supports the Women’s Coalition of St. Croix, with a portion of the event proceeds going towards their mission to continue the fight against domestic violence and the mental health crisis in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The event will also honor three women who have made amazing impacts in the community — Dr. Clema Lewis, Executive Director of Women’s Coalition, Vice President of Cruzan Dance Company’s Board of Directors, Elaine “Pinky” Schuster, and Careel Shillingford, a twenty- year supporter of Cruzan Dance Company.
Virgin Islands Salsa Festival was made possible thanks to funding from the Virgin Islands Council for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts. The festival will take place from July 25th to July 30th. To learn more and see the entire event lineup, visit www.visalsafestival.com or follow them on Facebook and Instagram at @visalsafestival.
Written by Anquanette Gaspard firstname.lastname@example.org