As some of you might realize by now, as much as I love Toronto in all other seasons the icy cold of the city's winter is not something I look forward to with much joy!! However this winter my husband Michael and I had the good fortune to escape to the warm climate and tropical landscape of Southern California with some great line dancing thrown into the pot - a little bit of heaven to be sure!
We left snow and below zero temperatures to land in Los Angeles to warmth, blue skies and palm trees. For those of you who have never been to LA , let me assure you that you could spend a long time here and still have attractions left to see! There are famous attractions like Disney Land, Universal Studios, Knott's Berry Farm and star-spotting in Hollywood but you should also visit the spectacular Getty Museum, walk along Venice Boardwalk and drive up Pacific highway checking out the beautiful beach communities like glamorous Malibu where the stars hang their hats.
However this visit we were heading off to the desert, to the verdant oasis of Palm Springs surrounded by the towering San Jacinto mountains. What a impressive and interesting place this is. You can hike the stark, rocky gorges and desert lands which surprisingly are homes to fascinating plant and animal life. By the way, did you know that a tarantula bite won't kill you although unfortunately there are a few snakes who live here who could!! As a contrast there are numerous spectacular golf courses spotted across the valley floor. At the same time shopperholics will have a fine time, there are also vast numbers of restaurants which accommodate every taste bud and plenty of entertainment options including casinos. More importantly, I discovered there is line dancing in a couple of the casinos!!
It was at the Fantasy Springs Casino that, after marching straight past the slot machines, I found a room full of enthusiastic line and couples dancers with their delightful and encouraging instructor Dottie Nelson. One of Dottie's students is the son of the owner of the casino. Bruce loves line dancing and offered to donate a bicycle to a children's charity for every dance he learnt and this past Christmas donated 46 bicycles. The dancers really enjoy dancing to fast country but Dottie has thrown in some funky dances as well. As soon as she heard that I taught, Dottie had me up on the stage teaching 'Fiddlesticks'! What a friendly bunch of dancers they were and I certainly enjoyed myself. The next week I headed out to teach at the Agua Caliente Casino where Dottie also teaches. This is a predominantly beginners' class which takes place in the bar which overlooks the casino so the music merges with the jangle of the slot machines! Curious gamblers abandoned their machines to attempt this intriguing form of dance!
So now that I was warmed up it was time to enjoy and teach at 'Gotta Dance' in San Bernardino. Many of you will know of Doug and Jackie Miranda. They are talented choreographers and dancers and, as well, organize a number of popular dance events. This was the second year for 'Gotta Dance' and the star studded instructor list included Rachael McEnaney (UK), Barry & Dari Anne Amato (Nashville), Bill Bader (Canada), Joanne Brady (Delaware), Mark Cosenza and Glen Pospieszny (Chicago) and Bob & Trish Boesel (Northern California).. The event was held in the attractive Radisson Convention Center. Each hour, starting early Friday afternoon, there were two classes to choose from, however each dance taught was repeated during the weekend so no one would miss anything. I thought this was an excellent idea as well as the instructors' demos which gave the dancers a preview of what was going to be taught. The excellent dance floors were courtesy of Doug who told me that, after having all sorts of problems with rented floors, he had made his own floors and kept them stored in his mother-in-law's three car garage!! Good job she doesn't drive!!
So on to the dancing. I was delighted to join Canadian legend Bill Bader and Grant Gadbois in their demo of Bill's 'Canadian Stroll', a beginner's dance that all can enjoy. Bill has written some excellent beginners' dances recently and always chooses good music. In her own fun-loving style, Joanne Brady also taught some beginners' dances including 'Cajun Thang' by Jo & Rita Thompson. Great music and catchy dance for 'Cotton Fields' by Barry Amato and we had fun with Dari Anne teaching 'Bump, Bounce, Boogie'. 'Poetry in Motion' by MIL taught by Rachael McEnaney, rather described Rachel's dancing I felt! I found out that a while back Rachel had a boyfriend in Southern California and used to fly in on almost a monthly basis. However at the time she didn't realize there was any line dancing locally. She did wonder if the relationship might have continued if she had been able to dance as well on these visits!
Jackie taught her and Doug's lovely, flowing 'One Dream' . It certainly would be a dream to dance like Jackie! I thoroughly enjoyed Mark Cosenza's 'No More Excuses', fun moves and foot tapping music. 'Chain Reaction' by Glen Pospieszny was well received by the dancers while Trish Boesel did a good job of teaching 'Gotta have Faith' and dancers enjoyed Bob Boesel's 'Drops of Jupiter'. I had fun teaching as well and got a particularly nice response to 'Fiddlesticks' and 'Wishes'. In all 27 dances were taught with an excellent selection for all tastes and levels. What friendly dancers there were at this event from all over California, Arizona, Oregon and from as far away as the north eastern US. They made me feel very welcome.
The Saturday evening meal catered by the hotel was excellent with plenty to go around as people went up for seconds and thirds!! The evening show started off with unsuspecting 'volunteers' co-opted by Doug for the balloon game .... words could not describe this adequately, you had to be there! We were then thrilled by Rachel's dance performance and delighted as always by Jackie's graceful moves. We enjoyed a duet by the Amatos and were treated to a practice run of the routine they were to dance at the Linedancer Awards in the UK later in February. Boy are those attendees in for a treat. What a fabulous performance.
It was then, of course, time for the dancers to take over the floor. I really enjoyed Doug's MC role as he kept us all laughing and he was also an excellent DJ. He seemed to be constantly aware of the floor and made every attempt to ensure that we all got a chance to dance. When dances came on the floor that had been taught during the day, he handed the instructor the microphone so they could call it. That way no time was wasted with any more instruction and it gave the dancers a fighting chance to recall the steps! I thought that worked out very well.
All in all, it was an excellent, well organized event. Doug and Jackie were wonderful hosts, welcoming, friendly and sensitive to the needs of the dancers. As well as organizing other events in California and Hawaii, Doug and Jackie will now be holding events in Las Vegas -- you can shuffle and vine your way between the slots and the dance floor!
But that wasn't the end of my dancing ... the next week I headed off to an RV (Recreational Vehicle) camp venturing across the mountains to the outskirts of the small town of Hemmet. A special workshop had been arranged by Paul and Karla Dornstedt with Bill Bader teaching and Bill had suggested that I come along and teach 'Fiddlesticks'. The hall in the camp was large and bright with an excellent dance floor and packed with dancers who had come from all around the area. They were obviously loyal fans of Bill's who loved his dances and appreciated his friendly manner and experienced teaching.
I knew that there are many RV sites all over the US but I hadn't realized that there is a large permanent RV community of line dancers. Paul and Karla told me that when they retired initially their plan had been to travel until they found a spot they would like to live in permanently. However, that was ten years ago and they are still traveling .. following the weather and the dancing! For the last seven years they, together with 15 other RV dancers, have spent the summer in Canada traveling 75 miles from their site each Monday to attend Bill's class.
The RV communities have line dance 'rallies' across the country which consist of five days of dancing and partying and they travel from one event to another. I guess you would call them modern day wanderers and what an interesting life they lead! Many of them attended a weekend event in Palm Springs in February organized by Russ & Gloria Gunn. I could only go the dance but saw many familiar faces there. I was told that some had their RVs parked in the parking lot. Not far to go for a rest if your feet got sore!
It was at this dance that I met 70 year old Ruth from Vancouver who had driven two days solidly from 3 in the morning to 6 in the evening on her own to attend the event and was returning as soon as it finished! Normally she and her husband winter in Palm Springs but because of illness he wasn't able to make the trip. However, Ruth wasn't going to miss it! I think she has to get the prize for the most dedicated line dancer I have come across! Can anyone beat that?
My next visit was to Pasadena and what a lovely little town with a quaint high street. Well known instructor, Gene Morrill's class was in the community centre just off the high street. Gene is an energetic, enthusiastic instructor who has been teaching for 13 years. Gene's dancers were obviously very fond of him and I found out that he is also a match maker! I was introduced to a young couple, Maggie and Wang, who met dancing with Gene and subsequently asked him to give away the bride. What a great class to teach, high spirits with 'Fiddlesticks' and graceful moves with 'Wishes'.
Lou Ann Schemmel's advanced class meets in a dance centre in Orange County on a Wednesday night. Lou Ann is known for teaching the latest hot dances from the workshops. I was rather nervous about teaching at a class like this but I was pleased to find out that, although it is indeed a demanding class, Lou Ann taught in an experienced, relaxed, low key manner and obviously enjoyed herself as did her dancers.
Talented young choreographer/instructor, Bracken Ellis, had just come back from the Boston when I taught at her class near San Diego. She showed us her lovely waltz which came first in the phrased section of the choreographer competition there. It is great to see young people capably taking on the responsibility for dance classes.
My last teaching engagement was the Tuesday evening session of the San Diego N/Line Dancers run by friendly and welcoming Shirley King and Carol Roland. What a great class. Held in a large hall upstairs in a Legion called Padre Gold, it was packed with enthusiastic dancers obviously enjoying themselves. Shirley spends the first hour of the evening playing golden oldies which fill the floor. Aside from the teaching, during the rest of the evening she intersperses the latest hits with ongoing floor fillers. Obviously a winning formula as fairly new dancers mixed happily with more advanced dancers indicating the non-intimidating atmosphere that Shirley and Carol aspire to. It was a lot of fun to teach this responsive crowd of dancers.
All too soon it was time to leave but I was happy with the knowledge that line dancing is alive and well in Southern California. So ... when the chill of next winter starts to bear down on you, pack your suitcase with your dancing shoes and come 'California dreamin' - you won't regret it!
List of Dances taught at Gotta Dance together with Instructors:
Barry & Dari Anne Amato:
'Funky Town', 'It's My Life'. 'Cotton Fields' by Barry Amato
'Bump, Bounce, Boogie' by Barry and Dari Anne
'Forever Dance', 'Step Back', 'Tumblewood 2', 'Canadian Stroll' and 'No Trippin' by Bill Bader
'Dit Dot Ditty' by Fred & Ro Lord
'Rock 'n' Roll Cowboy by Michele Burton & Michael Barr
'Swingin; Thing' and 'Cajun Thang' by Jo and Rita Thompson
'Drops of Jupiter' by Bob Boesel
'Gotta Have Faith' by ShaBeDa
'Sway' and'No More Excuses' by Mark Cosenza
'Dance, Dance, Dance' and 'Poetry in Motion' by MIL
''My Guy' by Rachel McEnaney
Doug & Jackie Miranda:
'One Dream', 'Hey Now', 'Swoop', ' by Doug & Jackie Miranda
'Chain Reaction' by Glen Pospieszny
'Fiddlesticks', 'Get Back (In Line!)', 'Step to the Rhythm' and 'Wishes' by Vivienne Scott