"HEAVY SNOWSTORM BLANKETS THE CITY" blared the headlines in the local Toronto newspaper on Tuesday March 1st. . But obviously the snowplow drivers had their priorities straight and knew that we were due to head down to the Ft. Wayne Showdown on Thursday because the roads were completely cleared by then! What relief we all felt as we packed everything but the kitchen sink into the van. You've got to be prepared for all eventualities when you head off to a dance event after all!
And this was a very special event. The memories of the fun we had last year were still fresh and we were eager to begin our journey. .But I should give you a little bit of history. Last year Barry & Dari Ann Amato and Jamie & Barney Marshall took over the reins of the Showdown and passed the line dancers' critique with flying colours, doing a fabulous job as the new kids on the block. But could they maintain that success was foremost in our minds. Certainly we had great faith in their abilities hence our commitment to an over eight hour drive to Ft. Wayne. But I met many people who came from even further distances. Ft. Wayne's central location in mid-western USA makes it accessible for dancers to drive in from the surrounding States of Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and Kentucky. However, there were dancers who flew in from all over the US, from Canada, Japan and the UK.
After we settled into our comfortable room in the Holiday Inn,. (I should add that this year a plentiful continental breakfast was included with the room cost or you could throw in $6.95 for a full breakfast buffet which was very good value.) we headed to the 'Welcome Dance' in the hotel. The large room was full of dancers meetin' and greetin' and the excellent dance floor was packed. Besides allowing for the stretching of stiff limbs, it was also a great opportunity to pick up registration packages early. What incredible value for money this weekend is. For $50, we danced from Thursday night through to 1 p.m. on Sunday when we were treated to a Broadway Show,but more about that later.
A regular shuttle service from the hotel takes dancers to the impressive Scottish Rite Building just minutes away. Curious about this building which is so imposing and unusual in the centre of Ft. Wayne, I found out that it was built in 1924 to be used by the community for speakers, theatrical productions and banquet facilities. The classic art deco Auditorium with its sunburst ceiling held over 2,400 people while the Banquet Hall could seat over 2000. The Shriners only used it a few days a year. I read that the façade of the building was designed to "throw about the beholder an atmosphere of the orient and yet give it a logical setting in the midst of a modern American city". The Building was well used until the Depression when it went into receivership. Ups and downs followed and at one point a developer proposed to convert it into a bowling alley but fortunately the Mayor at the time had more foresight! As the 70s, 80s, and early 90s, came along other more modern entertainment and banquet centres were built in the city and the Scottish Rite lapsed into obscurity. However in the late 90s the Scottish Rite Leaders decided to fight back and undertook a multi million dollar renovation to update the building. As the necessary funds are raised the building is renovated one project at a time. As far as I am concerned it now looks pretty darn good but at the same time you feel like you are stepping back into history as you pass through the doors.
The space works extremely well for a dance event. With an amazing number of talented line and couples instructors, 54 in all, and six classes every hour, a lot of rooms are needed. However, even the smallest room was a decent size and the Auditorium stage was excellent for the larger classes which were also fun to watch if you needed a moment to put your feet up! There was such an amazing choice that one dancer told me that, after agonizing over which class to go to, she had just decided to stay in her favourite room and enjoy whichever instructor turned up!
No, if you hear dancers yelling that they're heading off to 'My Favourite Martian', they're not going to watch the TV show! In fact, they're heading off to a dance class with a smile on their faces passing others heading off to 'The Honeymooners'! There is a fair amount of shuttling around the building but dancers this year seemed to have discovered the elevators that make the journey from one room to another much easier on the legs! I rather enjoyed this wandering around. There were loads of great vendors' booths to spend money on, the Celebrity Silent Auction to check out and there were no end of people I bumped into whom I might not have seen otherwise. It was a terrific opportunity to catch up on the news, find out what dances and classes were being enjoyed and make new friends. And always one of our hosts would be at the front desk calling out a cheerful comment as you passed, together with friendly, helpful volunteers ready to respond to questions or comments with a smile.
As you can imagine, it was impossible to get to every class but I had fun as always in John Robinson's class. He is a most entertaining instructor and his enjoyment of dancing communicates itself to the dancers. I heard a lot of buzz about 'The Days of Disco', a new dance co-written with Michael Barr. Fresh from the enormous success of the 'Las Vegas Dance Explosion', Doug & Jackie Miranda are favourites with the dancers and 'Little Patch of Heaven' is one of those "feel good" dances. Michael Barr and Michele Burton from Northern California drew a crowd eager to learn from these talented choreographers. 'If the Shoe Fits' and 'Fusion' seemed to be dancer favourites. Guyton Mundy from Florida always packs his classes with dancers eager to learn how to move like he does! 'Cadillac Ride' appealed to the funky crowd but my favourite, which was not on the schedule, was 'The King' which looked like a lot of fun.. Michele Perron from Canada wore two hats teaching both couples and line. To the delight of the dancers in one of Michele's classes, Nancy Hays sang 'Man, What a Man' while they stepped the line with a dance written by Michele. I should add what a great singer and entertainer Nancy is. Her latest CD is excellent with lots of great dances.
As always, Joanne Brady kept her classes laughing, Judy McDonald had toes tapping with 'Dipstick' while Bryan McWherter got dancers going with his popular 'Get On That!' I was also honoured to be invited to teach again and would like to thank those patient dancers who came and had fun with me in my classes. Jamie and Barry took some time out of their busy schedule to teach 'Atlantis' and 'Hillbillies' respectively. Both dances were crowd pleasers. There were some new faces this year including Craig Bennett from Manchester in the UK. A talented dancer and a very pleasant, softly spoken young man, Craig was very impressed with the event. Surprised by the number of workshops and the different types of classes, Craig told me that in the UK the tendency is for everyone to be in the same class. He saw the advantage of the choice for the dancer but did add that dancers might not be willing to try out a new instructor if there's a well known 'name' just down the corridor! Suffice to say there were enough dancers who were impressed with Craig and wanted to learn his dances! He reckoned there seemed to be a wider range of dances and types of music in the US and there were many dances that he didn't know. On the other hand, he noted that although there were young people at the event, in the UK there are many dancers as young as six who attend events and he has quite a number that age in his classes. Craig himself started line dancing when he was 9 and went to a class with his Mum. He was immediately hooked and hasn't looked back. These are just a few of the dedicated instructors who put their energy into ensuring that the dancers had a good time. I heard excellent feedback on the quality of the instruction both line and couples
Meanwhile, another option for those with tired feet, was to sit in the Auditorium on the Saturday afternoon and watch the Choreography Competition. A number of these spectators told me they had thoroughly watching the competition and felt there were some excellent dances demonstrated. The competition was brought back at the dancers' request and I heard many positive comments. As far as I gathered, competitors were happy with the categories chosen, felt the judging and criteria used was open and fair and that their efforts were appreciated and respected. They were delighted with the presentation and the thoughtful awards.. The winners of the different divisions had the opportunity to teach their winning dances on the Sunday. Check out Carole Daugherty's website Chance to Dance for the results
But, of course, after all that intense learnin' dancers just want to hit the floor in the evening and with DJ Louie St. George behind the controls the dance floors were full. I don't know how Louie does it; he never seems to sleep!! The Thursday dance in the Holiday Inn went late , and on the Friday night there was an 'after hours' party that also went on into the wee small hours. However, Louie was back behind his equipment first thing each morning. The DJ role is the trickiest job going. There were pages and pages of requests and Louie had to try to balance the dances so that everyone got a chance to enjoy themselves. At the same time he was dealing with a time constraint as the dance had to finish exactly at 12 midnight. Hats off to him, he did a wonderful job of mixing old with new, funky with country, slow and fast. It was also most entertaining and in some cases, side splitting, to watch the instructors on the floor. That John Lindo sure is one heck of a lead, especially if his follower is Guyton or Brian Barakauskas if you weren't there you've missed action of which dancing legends are made!!! Meanwhile delightful Jill Babinec kept the swing room swinging while Tim Hand together with Alice Daugherty kept the 'All Request/Pattern Partner' dancers busy.
But the best was yet to come. Sunday morning excitement built to the countdown for the "Save The Scottish Rite Movie Palace" benefit contest! I had a sneak preview at the rehearsal and wondered, as I had the year before, just how the show would come together in the few hours the instructors had to prepare. The script had been sent out beforehand but there's a big gap between reading something and then performing it! Plus there were spontaneous creative inspirations that led onto different paths. Suffice to say, as I took up my place in the front with my trusty camera, I was as eager as the rest of the audience and a little apprehensive. I needn't have worried! What a superb show! We marveled at the wonderful dance performances, then roared with laughter at some of the antics of our instructors. I don't think I will ever forget the gang in boxer shorts, Jamie and Joanne and their 'head over heels' somersault and crowd favourite Wally Wallenowski (aka Doug Miranda) as he warbled away! We were captivated by Barry as the 'Scarecrow' from 'The Wizard of Oz' and charmed by Dari Anne's rendition of 'Somewhere Over The Rainbow'. The pot of gold was most definitely in the Auditorium that Sunday afternoon. It finished too soon; we were all holding our breath waiting for more. What an amazing performance. If you have never been to the Ft. Wayne Showdown, it is worth attending for the show alone. Seeing such talent makes you proud to be part of our dance community. Many congratulations and heartfelt thanks to the performers who did such a tremendous job.
As everyone dispersed Barry, Dari Anne, Jamie and Barney were there to wish them a safe journey. They did a superb job with this event. They had listened to comments from the year before and adapted accordingly which resulted in an extremely well organized, smooth flowing event which had lots of choice and something for all levels of dancers and all tastes. The foursome were wonderful hosts. Welcoming and responsive to comments and requests they went out of their way to accommodate the dancers. An event like this is a tremendous amount of work and takes an enormous amount of time and effort. We are so fortunate to have such capable and dedicated people like the Amatos and Marshalls willing to take on this responsibility. Let's make sure they know how much we appreciate their efforts! Don't miss out next year -- get your room booked, your registration mailed and wear in those new shoes so they'll be ready to go for the Ft. Wayne Showdown 2006!