NEW YORK — Pop singer Gloria Estefan is like a cross-cultural goodwill ambassador, at once a poster girl for family values and a symbol of triumphing over adversity.
Since her career began with the group Miami Sound Machine, she has had a dazzling succession of hit singles, ranging from such dance songs as "Conga" and "Rhythm Is Gonna Get You" to schmaltzy ballads such as "Cuts Both Ways" and "Reach," the current single that was also the theme song of the Olympics.
She has released two bestselling Spanish-language albums. She's been married to the same man for nearly two decades and has two children. In 1990, she weathered a serious bus accident.
After a hiatus of five years (following the accident and a pregnancy), Estefan is currently embarked on a major tour, which recently sold out New York's Madison Square Garden for three nights.
The show was a love fest, with the singer receiving the kind of adulation that befits a pop diva, and enough flowers to stock a wedding reception.
Although Estefan is not a particularly gifted singer technically, she has learned how to put on a show; this three-hour extravaganza featured a nine-piece band, four backup singers, and three dancers. Obviously ready to party (the evening began with the crowd of roughly 20,000 dancing the Macarena), the audience ate it up.
Carefully mixing ballads with up-tempo numbers, Estefan led the band through a well-paced evening, including a generous sprinkling of Spanish numbers that kept the crowd (a large percentage of them Hispanic) on their feet.
During the song "Along Came You (A Song for Emily)," a song about her infant daughter included on the new "Destiny" CD, she showed baby pictures and generous selections of home movies that elicited a chorus of oohs and aahs from the audience.
But the highlights of the show were the dance numbers, enlivened by generous amounts of pulse-pounding percussion that revealed the Afro-Cuban influences on Estefan's music.
Leading the audience through a variety of dance styles, from merengue to samba to disco, she turned the Garden into the world's largest dance party.
*Gloria Estefan performs in Miami Beach, Fla., on Sept. 21 and 22. Her Miami concert will be broadcast on HBO on Sept. 21 at 10 p.m EDT.