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[Julia Zhou/The Summer Pennsylvanian] As part of Philadelphia's annual Fourth of July celebration, Friday, July 2nd was marked by a fireworks show at Penn's Landing in Old City.

Few cities are as closely associated with American independence as Philadelphia. And few cities celebrate the Fourth of July in a bigger way.

Philadelphia welcomed over 3.5 million people this past weekend for its annual Fourth of July festivities, which featured concerts, a parade, ice cream, the traditional fireworks display at the Philadelphia Museum of Art -- and a record-breaking salsa dance.

"Our celebration is the largest July 4th celebration in the country," said Dava Guerin, spokeswoman for the festivities, estimating the total attendance as "between 3 and a half million and 4 million people."

This year's events began a full week before the holiday, beginning on June 27 with an arts festival in Manayunk and a gospel concert at The Mann Center for the Performing Arts later that night.

The week continued with over 30 events leading up to Sunday, which included the presentation of the Philadelphia Liberty Medal to Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai, as well as the fireworks show and concert at the art museum.

"We wanted to make sure everybody in the city had the opportunity to get involved so we chose different neighborhoods," said Guerin.

This year, the events also had an international flavor, incorporating many different cultures.

"We had gospel, salsa, opera -- there was music from a lot of different cultures," said Guerin.

The festival also attracted sightseers from abroad, while maintaining its appeal with area residents.

"I think we had a pretty good group of tourists and we had a lot of people who were residents as well," she said.

New -- and very popular -- this year was last Saturday's Salsa on the Parkway event, during which a portion of the Benjamin Franklin parkway was shut down to accommodate a throng of dancers.

"It was really fun to see," said Guerin. "People were really happy. People were dancing in the streets."

Salsa on the Parkway also proved to be a record-breaking cultural experience. Over 4,000 enthusiastic salsa fans clad in bright red salsa T-shirts broke the old record of 3,858 salsa dancers set in Barcelona, Spain.

"We've had 4,000-odd people come in today. It's been a very exciting record-breaking event," said Mecca Poweol, a staff member who registered dancers.

As with many of the other events, a number of food stands were set up for the big dance, dishing out a continuous supply of hot American fare and cold treats, such as smoothies and Irish Ice.

The event was well-organized, as salsa dancers and security personnel attested, especially because it was the first dance of this magnitude ever held.

"I'm really impressed with the organization of the event," said a security officer who did not wish to be named.

The singer keeping the dancers on their toes was La India, a "Nuyorican" singer from the Bronx.

La India's traditional Latin music, infused with bold emotion, set the mood for the evening. Loud, rhythmic and very energetic, she kept the crowd enthralled with her performance.

The six hour event, from early afternoon to dusk, highlighted in more ways than one the diversity of Americans that celebrate the independence of their nation.

Indeed, the series of eclectic musical events proved to be popular.

"It was really, really unbelievable. Every one of our events was without exception filled completely," Guerin said.

After the gospel concert opened the festival last Sunday, there were R & B, blues, salsa, swing and dance music concerts each day during the week.

In addition to entertainment, there was also an educational component to the festivities. Organizers initiated a series of public readings designed for children called "Go 4th and Learn," held in various locations throughout the city.

For those who wanted to brush up on their salsa before the big dance, the festival sponsored several workshops during the week, including one near Penn's campus at International House. And while the Salsa was a highlight, there was also a serious side to the weekend. "When you have people like Hamid Karzai ... there' s nothing more moving than that," said Guerin. "You have such a wonderful feeling about this city."

"It really brings home the fact that the world is such a huge and such a small place at the same time," she said.

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