That's some fancy footwork 


In addition to having a low-grade hangover and a smashing case of tinnitus, I'm feeling a little guilty because this past weekend I missed seeing a dance competition I really wanted to see because I went out two nights in a row dancing. Well, also drinking.

The new downtown Back Booth was celebrating St. Patrick's Day, and when a place sets its event apart by calling it The Swollen Liver Festival you kind of have to tilt a few, partly just in homage to the name. But my favorite part was dancing. Some of you have hobbies such as drugs or going to church, things in which you're driven to indulge on a regular basis or else you don't feel like yourself. My routine need is to go out and shake it like a dog trying to dry off.

Well heeled

And it's because I like to dance that I thought it was inspired, even brilliant, that Carlos Santana has come out with a line of women's shoes. The standard band swag of T-shirts and stickers is just fine, and I have no problem with stars like 'N Sync marketing themselves on everything from candles to yo-yos. But when I speak of Santana, I'm talking about a real musician, not a conglomerate that is essentially product itself.

Having a critically lauded artist lend his name to a line of shoes in which you can dance to his music, well, it just makes sense, like if you could buy Barry White-brand sheets, J-Lo prosthetic butt extenders or Kenny G earplugs. Matches can seem like they were made in heaven, even if they were made in a marketing department.

Santana sells other products, too, from the standard T-shirts to hats and ties (not unlike the now famous Jerry Garcia neckwear). But on santana.com you can also find out how to get Santana congas, bongos, stationery, calendars, greeting cards and even journals with aphorisms from poets, Buddhist monks and Sufi teachers. That means Santana is essentially as well-merchandised as Harry Potter, even though the goods are less publicized.

The women's footwear, though, is really the most spot-on idea, and the shoes themselves are really quite attractive. Dancer or not, Santana fan or not, anyone with any fashion sense would wear them. There's the Mamba, a chunky-heeled, studded sandal with an image of Carlos on the soles; the Rhythm, an open-toed sexy black-satin sandal accented with a chunk of rhinestones; and my personal favorite, the Sun, a calf-high suede boot patchworked in different colors of purple. It's nice stuff; much nicer than you'd expect to find piled up on a table next to the beer tent where you might buy your rock-star memento.

Aside from it being a clever concept for a musician to peddle dancing shoes, there's another aspect to this whole Santana marketing machine that takes the sting out of the word "marketing." And that is the Milagro Foundation. According to the web site, Milagro, which means "miracle," was set up by Carlos and Deborah Santana in 1998 to support learning programs for disadvantaged kids. It provides grant money to cultural and educational organizations, funds that come primarily from the Santana family and its "musical organization."

So the shoes you buy aren't just lining a rock-star pocket but actually go toward creating some good in the world. There have been grant recipients all over the country, and here in Florida the Boys and Girls Clubs of Okaloosa and The Non-Violence Project, "an e-project to significantly change attitudes toward violence among young people and provide alternatives to violent behavior," have benefited from the group's generosity.

Out with the sneaks

Santana is performing in town this Saturday, March 23. And if you're going, maybe knowing about Milagro will make you feel a little less anxious about spending all that money on tickets or merchandise. It's quite a class act, really, that the Santana family has put this organization together in such a low-key manner, parceling out money discreetly.

We get used to hearing about underhanded, sneaky, scandalous behavior in institutions that are supposed to be virtuous beyond reproach, from the Olympic judges to the Catholic Church. How nice it is to come across an organization that doesn't trumpet its virtue, but just works at it quietly. You know what they say; when people are actually doing something, they have less need to talk about it.

Personally, I will not be there this weekend -- I did enough dancing to last a while, and anyway, I have blisters. That's what you get for buying cheap. Maybe next time I'll be dancing in Carlos' shoes.


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