Did you know that Las Vegas started as a stopover on the pioneer trails to the west? It was only when the Hoover Dam was built in 1935 that people decided that it might well be a good place to call home. Gambling was legalized around the same time and along came the casino hotels initially run by the ‘mob’; makes you think of the movies for sure. It was in the 1960s when billionaire Howard Hughes invested in Vegas that other legitimate corporations followed suit bringing us to the Las Vegas we know today.
So much for your history lesson, let’s jump forward to November 2009. At this point, the Vegas ‘Strip’ is home to showy, extravagant, colourful, flamboyant, glitzy, over-the-top Casino Hotels that form a Disney World for adults! You don’t have to be a gambler to enjoy Vegas; there are numerous restaurants and shows that can keep you busy 24 hours a day. However, if you’re a line dancer, your main focus will be the Vegas Dance Explosion hosted by Doug and Jackie Miranda at the Riviera Hotel and Convention Center.
Since Doug and Jackie first started the Explosion five years ago, their lives have changed dramatically. They moved from California to Tennessee and opened their own Theatre and Show in Pigeon Forge. As you can imagine, the venture has taken enormous dedication and energy and many people were concerned that the two would be unable to continue with their Line Dance Event. However, no need to worry, Doug and Jackie were there in full force this year with over 600 dancers attending and the two have confirmed their commitment to the Explosion.
This event starts early in the week, Wednesday afternoon to be exact, and continues until the Sunday Evening Show; the last dancers finally called it a night at around 2:30 a.m. - I gather that's a record for the Sunday night (or should I say Monday morning!) All the workshop classes are repeated so if you decide to head off to see Cher one afternoon (or one of the many other shows Vegas has to offer) you will be able to catch up on dances missed another day. Another plus of this event is that there are two hour breaks for everyone for lunch and dinner. A nice opportunity to catch up your friends and not feel that you are missing out on something!
There is always an international flavour at the Explosion and the instructor list certainly reflected this. The talented Niels Poulsen from Denmark already has a fan club in the US and his classes were packed. This was my first opportunity to meet Roy Verdonk, from Holland, and what a bundle of energy and good humour he is with a smile for everyone. Regulars from the UK, Peter Metelnick and Alison Biggs, always pull in large classes and many of their dances filled the floor here in Vegas. Alison also did an excellent job as DJ in the request room. Jo and John Kinser also flew over from the UK with two of the most popular dances on the dance floor. Lots of smiles with ‘Bad Influence’, great dance, and concentration with the more advanced ‘Hell If I’. Their contra dance ‘Abidi-hi-bidi-hop hop’ created much merriment which is an excellent recommendation! Philip Sobrielo flew over from Singapore. He is a very talented young man who, aside from teaching classes, offered a techniques session and choreographed routines for both Toy Store 2 and the Instructors’ Showcase. Philip is very approachable, friendly and patient even with those not too sure how to do a body roll!
I guess you can count me in as ‘international flavour’ flying down from Canada. I’d like to thank everyone who filled my class on Thursday for ‘Fool In Me’ and ‘Sweet Little Things’ and then, when the floor was so full, carpet danced for ‘Go Mama Go’ on Friday! I had fun with the beginners also, teaching ‘Do That Again?’ and ‘Island In The Sun’. It was lovely to catch up with dancers whom I hadn’t seen for a while and to also make new dancing friends.
So now to the talented US contingent. Michael Barr and Michele Burton had a banner event with full classes and Michael winning the ‘Male Instructor of the Year’ Award. Congratulations Michael, well deserved. ‘Rain Against My Window’ and ‘Rumba Breeze’ were very popular on the dance floor. Guyton Mundy was in good form (ask him for a rendition of ‘Sweet Caroline’!) and ‘Roomba’ filled the floor. Mark Cosenza popped down from Chicago and among the dances he taught was the winning ‘Beginner Dance of the Year’, ‘Mama Maria’ by Frank Trace. Ruben Luna from California is an outgoing, gregarious instructor with a great sense of humour. The dancers were happy to learn ‘If I Could Change’, Ruben’s choreography competition winner from ‘Windy City’. Ruben was also this year's winner of the Vegas ‘Horizon’ Award. Vegas LD Explosion Choreography Winner 08, Wil Craig is a smooth dancer and his dance ‘Swim Away’ looked equally smooth and interesting.
Down from her new home in Michigan, Amy Christian-Sohn is a charming instructor, talented choreographer and a very graceful dancer. Her ‘Jai Ho’ looked lovely on the dance floor. Scott and A.J. Herbert, Event Organizers of Pike’s Peak Line Dance or Bust in Colorado, got the dancers movin’ in the beginners' room as well as also teaching one of their own dances 'Sailing Away'. Jackie Miranda took time out of her busy schedule to teach a couple of classes including ‘Booty Music’ (choreographed with Jo Thompson Szymanski and Judy McDonald) which won the Professional Choreography Competition at Windy City. Meanwhile lucky for us Pennsylvania sent down Michael Diven! Mike is a hard-working, funny and entertaining DJ, instructor, and all round nice guy. He is also a talented choreographer and taught his creations ‘Yours’, ‘Cowboy Cassonova’ and ‘Off The Hook’. Hard-working Bev Carpenter was keeping the beginners happy. It was like visiting a comedy show when I dropped in to see what was going on. The banter between Bev and the dancers kept everyone in stitches. Ellen Kiernen was the industrious DJ in the beginner’s room and also taught there and added in some pattern partner dancing. It was a friendly, cheerful room to be in.
There was lots of choice for evening dancing as well. Louie was at the helm in the Ballroom and also tackled the enormous task of organizing equipment in all the rooms and the music for the shows. There was an all-request room, the beginners’ room and also a posted playlist room capably organized by Canadian Sue Hall. Posters of the playlist, with the times at which the dances were to be played, sat on easels in front of the ballrooms and dancers raced back and forth between the rooms to make sure they danced their favourite dances! There was a very good response to the concept and Doug announced it will be up and running again next year.
The Choreography Competition was fiercely contested and the caliber of the dances was extremely high. I was one of the judges for the Intermediate/Advanced Phrased section and we agreed that literally all the dances submitted were excellent. I gather that the competition for the Beginner/Intermediate Non-Phrased was equally close. Many congratulations to the winners, see the results below. This is a good way to get your choreography ‘out there’. The choreographers teach their dances to the Judges in a workshop setting as well as to anyone who is interested in learning them. I saw a number of instructors asking the contestants for their step sheets with plans to teach the dances.
Themes usually abound in Vegas and on Friday we all entered the 50s! Then pajamas on for Saturday night and ‘Toy Store 2’. With Doug as MC anything can happen, and it did! The Toy Soldiers were the first to venture out (Mark Cosenza, Ellen Kiernan, AJ & Scott Herbert). However, I don't know if their rather jazzy 'March of the Toy Soldiers' would pass muster on a parade ground! They called out to the other toys that the coast was clear and non-stop action followed! Tinkerkbell (me!) turned up with bright purple hair, Captain Hook (Ruben Luna) lost his hand in a sword fight with Peter Pan (Bev Carpenter), Michael Jackson (Philip Sobrielo) returned to earth, while Buzz Aldrin (Michael Diven) had trouble leaving it! Two Firefighters (Michael Barr & Michele Burton) kept the smoke at bay while candies (Peter Metelnick & Alison Biggs, Jo and John Kinser) sprouted legs and camouflaged soldiers (Guyton Mundy, Niels Poulsen, Wil Craig, Amy Christian-Sohn) made their drill sergeant happy! The European Ken and Barbie (Roy Verdonk and girlfriend Nisrin) impressed despite language misunderstandings (!) and 15 year old Cristin, a professional cirque performer in Vegas, held us in awe with his amazing juggling of large metal cubes. All this time Doug's magical Doll House, that he told us could make all his dreams come true, had been sitting on the dance floor. At this point in the show Doug opened the doors and pulled out a little doll dressed in overalls and a pink hat. As all could see, there was nothing else in the doll house. Doug then closed the doors and proceeded to spin the house around slowly to the music "Do You Believe In Magic". Of course we all believe and that belief was richly rewarded when Doug stepped away and a life size doll (Jackie Miranda) popped out of the house and danced with him. Definitely magic!!! All in all, very satisfactory!
Sunday evening the Ballroom was full to watch Michael Keating, the magician whose show "Masters of Magic" currently plays at Doug & Jackie’s theatre in Tennessee. The instructors worked hard learning and performing the illusions (Natalie Mundy, Amy, Philip and Jackie), some gathering bruises in the process of clambering in and out of boxes! Assisting him were Jo Kinser and Michele Burton, as well as John Kinser and Wil Craig who rolled the huge illusions off and on the stage. The Illusions were driven by trailer from Tennessee all the way to Vegas just for this event! Jackie told me that it was a condensed version of the show that she is in with Michael 5 times a week. Sworn to secrecy, she enjoys performing in his show and has a whole new respect for Magicians' Assistants! After every act, there was a ‘How on earth did he do that?!’ I was in the front row taking photos and it definitely seemed like pure magic to me. Also do ask Michael Diven about his yellow bandana (aka as a banana!)
Following the show, Doug announced the winners of the Dancers’ Choice Awards, see the list below, with thanks to Peggy Hall, Chairperson of the Awards Committee and her volunteers. We’re fortunate to have such talented choreographers, instructors and dancers in our line dance community and we should acknowledge and celebrate them all. With over 2800 votes cast this year, it was a great show of appreciation. The grande finale was the ‘Instructors’ Showcase’. Michael & Michele, Guyton, Amy and Jo & John Kinser entertained the audience. Then Philip brought Michael Jackson back to life with some Bad Boys and Ghouls as his back-up group! Some more dancin’ and then time to pack-up the dance floors and send tired dancers off for some sleep!
This was a most enjoyable event. There were lots of classes to choose from during the day but at night it was time simply to dance or be entertained. A great addition to this event was that the demos of the dances were played on the hotel's in-house TV 24 hours a day so you could make your workshop choices in comfort. The longer time span for the event allows lots of time to check out all the activities on the ‘Strip’, maybe take in a show, eat at one of the numerous restaurants or buffets, do some shoppin’ and still have time to dance. The dancers who come to this event are a relaxed, low key and friendly bunch. Keep an eye on Doug & Jackie’s site www.djdancing.com for the 2010 date; then pack your dance shoes and lucky dice and head down to Vegas next November!
PS I bet many of you don’t know that Doug is an ordained minister and wedding officiant and put on this official hat to marry Lily and Farley Iguchi from Japan during the event. There were 19 guests who had traveled from Japan to be at the wedding and there wasn’t a dry eye at the ceremony; the Bride looked gorgeous and the Groom very handsome. Then 9 of the 19 jetted off to Tennessee to stay at the Miranda's home for three days! What a memorable visit it was for them. Check out the photos.
RESULTS OF THE DANCERS’ CHOICE AWARDS
Sue & Kathy
Jo Thompson Szymanski & Deborah Szekely
Jo Thompson Szymanski
‘Mama Maria’, Frank Trace
‘Tango Cha’, Jo Szymanski & Deborah Szekely
‘Coochie Bang Bang’, Scott Blevins
Karen Hedges and Valarie Keller
‘Remember MJ’, Mae Neihouse
‘Moonlight Madness’, Double Trouble
‘Sunglasses’, Tajali Hall
‘And I Love You So’, Lily Iguchi