“Why on earth would you want to take ice hockey sticks to Vegas?” my hockey playing son asked but with a rather resigned air as if he was thinking that on second thoughts this is my mother I’m talking to and she does do some rather weird things!!! “And you want me take out ‘even in Texas’ and replace it with ‘even in Vegas’ in the song?” This was the beginning of my preparation for the Vegas Dance Explosion and I’ll tell you a little bit more about these rather peculiar requests to my patient son further along.
Some people ask why I go to events because after all our teachers can teach us any dance we want to learn. And that's true, but they are missing the point. If we were only interested in learning dances we could stay at home and watch videos or read step sheets and learn. But what would be the fun in that? And fun and fellowship are the key. The organizers of the Vegas Dance Explosion, Doug and Jackie Miranda, understand this concept completely. Even though this is a huge event, it still has that personal touch and there are many options for the dancers for pure and simple enjoyment.
Think of the wagon trains that used to cross the country, well the trailers that Doug and Jackie and their volunteers have to load up and haul over from San Bernardino encountered some of the difficulties that the old timers did! This year two of the trucks broke down and there were 3 blown tires. The journey took over 4 hours longer than it should have done and the convoy finally arrived in the wee small hours of the morning. For the Wednesday workshops and dance, the floors were laid in the Grand Pavilion in the Conference Centre at the Riviera Hotel as a large event was taking place in the Royal Pavilion. Doug & Jackie had been assured that this event would be taken down quickly. Unfortunately this didn’t happen and the Mirandas and their hard working crew had to work all through the night putting down the floors in the new rooms, setting up the sound systems and so on. It was an exhausting undertaking. But the Mirandas and their volunteers are dedicated and determined people and although there were some hiccups in the morning, pretty soon everything was running smoothly.
This event starts early in the week. It is spread over five days and all the dances are taught twice. The timing allows for touring the Strip without thinking that you are missing out on something! There certainly is plenty to see, each year there is a new and exciting hotel to check out. Just hop the Deuce for $5 for 24 hours and you'll be able to travel to Paris, Venice and New York in short order! But back to dancin'! An interesting addition to this event was the number of specialty workshops offered. You could learn hip hop and funk from champion dancer Joanne Wong from Malaysia, or if you would like to dance like the Amatos (and who doesn’t? Including me for sure!) you could take their dance styling technique workshop. Max Perry also gave a styling workshop which has proven popular in the past and there was a ‘weight loss through hypnosis workshop’ given by hypnotist Don Spencer. I gather he could also use hypnosis to help dancers remember dance steps ... I imagine he must now be a millionaire with everyone registering for that one!
Dancers had a choice of two workshops each hour from 2-7 on Wednesday. For the rest of the week there were usually five workshops each hour with a ninety minute lunch break and then a two hour dinner break. There were ive instructors' demos only on the Wednesday evening as CJ tirelessly videoed all the dances and they were shown, constantly repeating, on the TVs in the hotel rooms. It worked very well and dancers told me that they really enjoyed watching the demos in the comfort of their own rooms. Other hotels guests also noticed and popped by to check out the dancing and the vendors. Another brilliant initiative from Doug and Jackie.
There was a theme every evening and it's very entertaining to see everyone's costumes. You see, this is the
FUN!! Wednesday brought everyone out with their leis for Hawaiian Night whereas Thursday was International Night. There were dancers from all over the world at the event and this mix was reflected in the entertainment which ranged from dramatic Japanese modern dance, to an excellent precision Irish/US demo team, to Austrian waltz, French folk dance, Brits hit Vegas, Malaysian hip hop, Chinese fan dance, American Yankee Doodle Dandy and sign reading dances. Now you can find out about the significance of the ice hockey sticks. Well our Canadian contingent showcased the best of the best of Canada’s hockey players and a right motley crew they were!! Even though they were entertaining a crowd of well behaved line dancers there was a skirmish that the ref had to break up! Good job the Canadian rodeo team had also decided to come along and they took over the floor rolling into ‘Rodeo Rock’ (even in Vegas)! We sure had fun.
Friday evening was the 'Night Before Christmas' and everyone wore their PJs ready for their cookies and milk! Doug had arranged for a local choir from Coronado High School in Henderson, Nevada to entertain us and then he had brought along his toys for this special occasion. They included a whole army of toy soldiers, Raggedy Anne & Andy, Potato Head, Michael Jackson, Spiderman, GI Joe, Roy Rogers & Dale Evans, M & Ms, Ken & Barbie plus the magical Tinker Bell. (You can work out who was which toy and email me and I'll let you know if you are right!) It was an evening of terrific dancing and wonderful entertainment .... more fun! Saturday was 60s night and the Village People came along -- both the male and the female versions! Sunday was the special Awards Night (see winners below) with everyone dressed to kill and this also produced more terrific performances and the grande finale was a hypnosis session. The debate is still going on as to whether the participants were REALLY hypnotized or not!!! I should add here that we just have to hope that no TV producers ever come to this event as we'll no doubt lose Doug to host one of those chat shows! He keeps us laughing the whole time!
And, of course, you'd like to know about the instructors. We certainly had an international cast. Vincent & Felicia Chia have taught at the Explosion since its inception. They are very well liked and their dance performances are excellent and thoroughly enjoyed by the audience. Talented hip hop dancer Joanne Wong from Malaysia was new to the event. Although she only looks about eighteen I discovered that Joanne has been running a major Worlds Competition Event in Malaysia for the last five years. This was Lina Choi's second time of instructing at the event. She and her dancers charmed us with their colourful and graceful performances. Lily Setsuko and Farly Iguchi are a delightful couple, first time teaching at the Explosion. Their routine on International Night with their fellow Japanese dancers was most impressive. Young Philip Sobrielo from Singapore has become a crowd favourite. He's a terrific dancer but also a very approachable instructor and talented choreographer.
A most pleasant and friendly individual, Christine Barr-Matesa from Austria is a hard working instructor. She tried to attend as many classes as possible so that she would have an assortment of dances to take back to her dancers. Meanwhile Celine & Thierry Schmitt brought along quite a crowd of French dancers for their first experience of Las Vegas. Poor Thierry completely lost his voice at the beginning of the event and still hadn't got it back by the end but it didn't stop him smiling! These two are a lovely couple.
The UK had representation in Craig Bennett, John 'Growler', Jo & John Kinser and Peter Metelnick & Alison Biggs. A modest, unassuming young man, Craig is a talented choreographer and taught 'The Dance', one of the most popular dances at the event. 'Growler' is always fun to be around and you never know what he might turn up wearing! He was also the DJ for the beginners room and did an excellent job. 'Growler' didn't just put on the music, he danced in the front so people could follow him for almost every dance and also quickly taught other beginner dances so that the room was always lively. I don't know where he got the energy from but the beginners and others who just wanted to relax with their dancing certainly appreciated him. An attractive and talented couple, Jo and John can turn their hand to instructing both line and couples. They are also talented choreographers with dances that the dancers enjoyed. Very popular and experienced instructors Peter and Alison always bring in the crowds as they know there will be some terrific new dances to learn and this event proved to be no exception. Alison also very capably took over the controls of the sound system in the open dance room and kept the dancers happy there.
From the great white north, aka Canada, we had Judy McDonald, Marthe Thibeault and myself. Judy has taught at the Explosion before and as an experienced judge and well known choreographer is always involved in judging the choreography competition. She also had new dances to present to happy dancers. Marthe hails from Sudbury, Northern Ontario, and they sure know how to enjoy themselves up there if the Subury crowd is anything to go by!! Marthe is a lovely dancer and it's a pleasure to watch her on the dance floor. I had a lot of fun teaching at this event and would like to thank everyone who came to my classes for their support and enthusiasm. In addition thanks to all those people who came up for a chat, I'd like to say how much I appreciated your friendliness and warmth. As well to those dancers for kind words about 'No Tricks' and 'Pirate On The Run' which I wrote with Kim Ray. I was also thrilled to see 'Ami Oh' pack the dance floor every night.
Now to present the home-grown talent in alphabetical order. The very popular and charming Barry & Dari Anne Amato need no introduction and this year they walked away with the most Dancers' Choice Awards. Together they won the 'Advanced Dance of the Year' -- 'Tainted Love' with Joey Warren, 'Team Choreographers' and 'Show Stoppers'. Barry also won 'Male Choreographer'. I do hope they have enough room on their mantelpiece for all those awards! Michael Barr and Michele Burton flew in from California bringing that laid back, relaxed manner with them! Dancers flocked to learn Michael's latest hit 'Doors of Life' while they also enjoyed Michele's 'Sergio & John' written with Michele Perron. Indomitable young woman, Melissa Daum drove one of the massive trailers from California. Melissa told me she got a little nervous when part of a load had to be transferred over when another trailer broke down. This meant that her load was extra heavy pushing down on her tires. If she can do that, I reckon instructing must be a piece of cake!!
Kathy Hunyadi had two hats at this event, instructor and sales woman! Kathy and Max sell very attractive and unusual charms which are proving popular. Kathy brought back 'Shake Yourself Loose' at this event to the dancers' delight. Winner of the Choreography competition last year, Lynne Martino is one of those positive individuals whose enthusiasm is catching. Lynne had an excellent new dance to present this year. Doug & Jackie took time out of their hectic schedule to teach as well. If I won a lottery, I wouldn't want to win a million, I'd just like to win the ability to dance like Jackie! It was a joy to watch her dance 'The Rock'; what a great dance that is. As well as creating dances, Guyton Mundy is also gifted at creating props for the shows. Guyton's role as Spider Man in the 'Toy Show' will be a memory to latch onto when you need a smile! Max Perry doesn't need any introduction. He was the popular winner of the 'Male Instructor of the Year' Award. This year Max brought back the popular 'Blue Finger Lou' which filled the floor. The very likeable and friendly Scott Schrank had two dances which won in last year's choreography competition and dancers were eager to learn his latest offerings. Joey Warren is a terrific dancer and a very pleasant young man. The dancers were keen to learn some of Joey's moves!
The Shows were followed by plenty of choice in Open Dancing. Louie St. George kept the floor moving in the Main Ballroom. In addition Louie set up the sound equipment in all the rooms, plus coordinated the music for all the shows. It's a huge job. Louie sure knows his stuff and we very much benefit from his skill and superior technical knowledge. The 'All Request' all-day dance room was most successful and became a meeting place. It was a good size, with an excellent floor and attractive with the vendors around the edge. Jill Babinec with her mischievous smile was the main DJ here and was cheerfully open to any requests. Ellen Kiernan as well as Alison did a good job of taking a turn at the controls during the day and keeping the floor moving. As I mentioned earlier, 'Growler' led the Beginner room and there was also a 'Play Your Own CD' room. Other rooms were available for instructors to review although the 'All Request' room seemed to be the spot where dancers practiced anything they had learnt, often led by the instructor.
As you can gather there were lots of options for all levels of dancers. Combine this excellent event with the excitement of The Strip and you have a winning recipe. There was also a team of very capable and willing volunteers which included Doug's family, Ruth & Norman (Doug's parents) and Julie (his daughter). Ruth told me that Doug gave her red T-shirts and black track pants and told her he needed costumes for the toy soldiers!! She put her creativity to work and you will see the colourful results in the photos. The volunteers at the registration were always pleasant and smiling and the young women who put down the dance floors did a great job plus there was endless work to be carried out behind the scenes, feeding and looking after the instructors and so on. And, of course, you have Doug and Jackie at the helm, organized, dedicated, responsive, tireless, and gracious hosts. They did an absolutely wonderful job and for sure you must mark down November 19-23 in your 2008 Calendar. Keep an eye out for the Themes on Doug & Jackie's website so you can check out your local charity shops for costumes!!! Do come and join in the FUN at the Vegas Dance Explosion.
2007 DANCERS CHOICE AWARDS WINNERS
*Beginner Dance: Rio by Diana Lowery
*Intermediate Dance: Cry To Me by Paul McAdam
*Advance Dance: Tainted Love by Barry & Dari Ann Amato and Joey Warren
*Horizon Award: Christopher Petre
*Humanitarian Award: Val Keller
*Dancer's Friend Award: Carol Craven (inducted into the Dancers Choice Awards' Hall Of Fame)
*Regional Instructor Awards: Chris Haddock and Jaci Gecelter
*Team Choreography Award: Barry & Dari Ann Amato
*Male Choreography Award: Barry Amato
*Female Choreography Award: Jo Thompson-Szymanski
*Male Instructor Award: Max Perry
*Female Instructor Award: Joanne Brady (inducted into the Dancers Choice Awards' Hall Of Fame)
*Male Personality Award: John Robinson (inducted into the Dancers Choice Awards' Hall of Fame)
*Female Personality Award: Joanne Brady
*Show Stopper Award: Barry & Dari Ann Amato
Many Congratulations to all the winners.
DANCES TAUGHT (Choreographed by the Instructor unless otherwise noted):
BARRY & DARI ANNE AMATO
Sexy Oreo with Jackie Miranda, Maurice Rowe
Doors Of Life
Rock With You
Love Is Alive by Birthe Tygesen
Takin' Off The Edge
Charanga by Rachel McEnaney
Stop And Go
Sugar Cane Shack by Violet Ray
No Mans Land
She's Like The Wind
Across the Universe
Funkafied Blues by Jo Thompson Szymanski
How Long by Jo Thompson Szymanski
Sergio And John with Michele Perron
VINCENT & FELICIA CHIA
A Touch Of Love by Simon Ward
Watch Me Go Go Go with Simon Ward
You're My Only Care
La Isla Bonita
Take A Chance On Me
After Life with Kelly Bradshaw
Soul Train by Maurice Rowe
Boom Boom Boom by Ross Brown
Have I Told You Lately?
My New Life by John Offermans
Rollin' With The Flow
Freakshow On The DanceFloor with Todd Lescarbeau
Loving You Waltz
Shake Yourself Loose
Go Go Carlita
You're My World
JO & JOHN KINSER
An It's Crazy with Mark Furnell
Do It Well
Hey Big Spender
In The Air Tonight
Good To Be Us
Little Cuban Pete by Forty Arroyo
Great job by all the competitors.
The winners will teach at next year's event.
Winner: Loud Country by Ephraim Kirkland
Winner: Dance Right Now by Ruben Luna
Runner-Up: Human by Deron Pardue
Winner: Imagine by Rainy Dae
Runner-Up: Shim Sham Boogie by Susan Clark and Bonnie King