Adele Plantamura is running ‘The Great Big Party’in June”, I was informed, “and it should be fun”. I conjured up my images of Adele from previous encounters. I remembered her as a capable, competent individual who always seemed to be doing something at events. She could be at the registration desk greeting people with a cheerful, friendly welcome or calmly organizing the behind-the-scenes activities at a performance while everything was mayhem around her. Alternatively she could be behind a laptop screen inputting information to ensure that schedules were accurate or name tags legible. I recollected having a conversation with her at one event and thinking that her idea of how an event should be run matched mine. Although Adele is from below the border, she so often seemed to be breathing the Toronto air (muggy though it might be!) that I felt sure that she must have become an honorary Canadian! Certainly she is a terrific supporter of our Ontario line dance community. So I was happy to send in my registration form and encourage local dancers to also go along.
The event was held in two connecting hotels, the Sheraton Parkway North and the Best Western Parkway situated in Markham, an area on the north east boundaries of Toronto. It’s very accessible to the highway and is an easy drive from the main airport. The hotels were excellent. Very big and attractively decorated with restaurants and cafes available within but also there was a large choice of restaurants and fast food outlets just on their doorsteps. Dancers told me they had comfortable rooms with a microwave, fridge and coffee maker so they were all set!
I had tended to think of Markham as a suburb of Toronto so I was intrigued to discover that it was founded in 1791 by European emigrants who homesteaded and also developed successful agricultural industries. It seems that they were quite a feisty political bunch as well as hard working and between 1828 and 1836 on five occasions they elected the great rebel leader William Lyon McKenzie as their member of the Legislative Assembly. But let’s fast forward to the 21st century to where, although Markham is still rich in fertile farmland, according to many sources it is Canada’s pre-eminent high technology centre, known worldwide for innovative products and services.
OK, OK, I know … there she goes again. You say, “We want to know about the event!” Well, there were two rooms for the workshops and evening dances. Starting at 6 on the Friday evening there were workshops through to 9 in both rooms and then the dancing started and finally wound down at 4 a.m.!! The upstairs ballroom, the Grand Richmond, was a good size, with aliens in prominence to keep the dancers on their toes! DJ Louie St. George kept the crowd moving here. Along the corridor and down the steps took you to the Vaughan room which had an entirely different feel. Lower ceiling and long with two smaller dance floors separated by pillars, this room had a more intimate feel. The dancers were kept happy in this spot by local DJ Lynn Warden.
The Saturday morning started at 9 moving along until 6. During the lunch period of 12-2, Adele introduced the interesting concept of two hours of review of dances taught so far. Dancers really seemed to appreciate this and many of them had brought a brown bag lunch so they could eat and take advantage of this opportunity at the same time. We were given from 6-8:30 for the dinner break with the evening show starting at 8:30. We were treated to a performance by a local flamenco group, and then our talented instructors hit the floor! John Robinson showed us how ‘Clouds In My Eyes’ should be danced and then we thoroughly enjoyed Guyton Mundy’s entertaining dance bio which won 2nd place at the Line Dance Showdown in Boston earlier this year. I bet you didn’t know that Guyton used to get into huddles at his high school proms!!
It was then time for the dancers to hit the floor and many raced between the two rooms. Both DJs ably varied the music played and the dancers ultimately chose the room they felt most comfortable in. Louie, as always, brought his own brand of high energy, enthusiasm and humour to the floor. Meanwhile dancers enjoyed Lynn’s friendly, open manner in the lower room.
“So who taught?” you might well ask. In response I’ll tell you that there was a good mix of local and imported talent and I’ll tackle them in alphabetical order!! Scott Blevins is no stranger to the Ontario dance scene and his dances are enormously popular on many of our floors. His dance movements are scrupulously emulated as dancers aspire to his distinctive dance style. Quite a few of Scott’s dances are beyond the more ‘regular’ dancer but ‘Freaks to the Floor’ was a dance that we could all tackle and have fun with and it filled the floor. I loved the movements and music of ‘Replay’. It reminded me of one of my all-time favourites ‘Have Fun Go Mad’ which Scott taught on the Sunday.
Double Trouble (aka Cathy Montgomery and Kathy Kaczmarek) are the talented duo who pack the crowds in at Nashville North in Georgetown just outside of Toronto. Both are very experienced teachers and also well known choreographers and it shows in their teaching. They keep us laughing and then despite ourselves we find we have absorbed the dance steps with no effort! They are supporters of our local talent and amongst the dances they taught we enjoyed ‘Nothing On’ by Eddie Buckley and their own jointly choreographed ‘Sweet Little Girls’.
Local instructor Lewis Lee has been in the music business for 15 years as an MC and DJ. He started teaching line dancing in 1998 and has been bringing in big crowds ever since. If you want an entirely different dance experience head out to one of the Chinese restaurants at which he instructs. The food is wonderful and you’re given so much you have no alternative but to dance it off!! Lewis is also a choreographer and treated the dancers to his own dance ‘Rhythm of the Rain’.
Bill McLeod has been dancing and competing successfully for a number of years now. He has two World Championship titles under his belt which include the 2004 World Advanced Crystal Male Line Dance Champion. As you can imagine, Bill’s classes in Mississauga attract many dancers who want to be able to dance like him! He also choreographs and we were treated to his own advanced dance ‘Shook’.
I can remember when Zandra McCallum was arm wrestled into taking over a line dance class in Burlington when the incumbent instructor had to leave. She was apprehensive and unsure of her ability to follow a very capable instructor. But she needn’t have worried; she’s an extremely competent instructor and has a loyal following. She has also taught at other local events in Ontario and been well received. Zandra has a reputation for choosing good dances to teach and this event was no exception. Out of the six dances she taught I particularly enjoyed ‘Black Horse’ and the nice and easy ‘Love 2 Cha Cha’.
I was delighted to hear that Dan Morrison was teaching and I would get an opportunity to watch him dance yet again! He is a fabulous dancer from Orillia, Ontario and a very talented choreographer. Many of Dan’s dances are favourites on our local dance floors. Dan along with his partner, Ben Genereaux, organize the Fall Fair Line Dancin’ Extravaganza, (see the review of last year’s event on this site) which is a really fun event in a lovely part of this Province. ‘My Sister’ is a beautiful dance and piece of music but I still need to practice the footwork for ‘Who’s Eyes’!!
There was a fair amount of excitement when talented Guyton Mundy hit the stage as quite a number of the dancers attending had never seen him before. We had told them, “You just gotta see Guyton dance” and here they were!! He did not disappoint! “There is no way I can move my body like that” they smilingly lamented, ‘but it is so much fun watching! He’s wonderful!” A patient, clear instructor, Guyton is very encouraging to the timid dancer who is willing to have a go and on the Sunday he instructed at a workshop devoted to technique. I loved the title “I Can Move Like This…So Can You!!! ‘I Play Chicken with the Train’ brought dancers running to the floor laughing as they went and the more difficult ‘Playa’ provided a challenge.
Nova Scotia talent, Gerard Murphy is a crowd favourite. He’s a frequent visitor to Toronto but has also traveled across Canada and to the US and UK to teach and judge. He has had many choreography successes including his current enormous hit ‘The Way’. Tall and lanky, with legs that seem to go on forever, Gerard is a bit of a renegade when it comes to teaching and you are never quite sure what he will do or say!! Suffice to say you always have fun and dancers enjoyed all his dances including the fun ‘Island Hopping’, and his sequel to ‘The Way’ entitled ‘Evidence’.
Nothing like having parents who are avid dancers and instructors to set you on the right path! Debi Pancoast from the US even taught line dances written by her parents, ‘Cuban Walk’ and ‘Sailor’s Dream’. Debi’s background includes many forms of dance including ballroom disco, jazz, ballet and more. She got into line dancing when her parents moved and she was persuaded to take over their classes. A lovely dancer, it seemed appropriate that she give a technique workshop which was much appreciated by those attending.
Last but most certainly not least we learnt from John Robinson!! John is a household name in line dance circles!! What a talented man he is but also a bundle of fun and energy and a terrific addition to any workshop. With numerous successes behind him as both a dance competitor (including winning the prestigious ‘Line Dance Male Showcase Champion’ title) and award winning choreographer writing such dances as ‘Dangerous’, ‘Hot Potato’ and many, many more which still fill our floors, you might think he would be entitled to rest on his laurels! But not John, he still maintains the energy level and enthusiasm that he started out with. He taught a mix of dances for all tastes and levels. To mention just a couple, dancers clearly relished the challenge of ‘Clouds in My Eyes’ whereas one of my favourites ‘Keep It Burnin’’ gathered new fans.
With my Lois Lane hat on, I wandered around and checked out what dancers had to say about the event. Everyone I spoke to said they felt it was very well organized. They appreciated the fact that Adele made them feel so welcome and felt that a lot of effort had been put into the decoration and other ways to ensure that they enjoyed themselves. The only fly in the ointment was the humidity which made the dance floors somewhat sticky but line dancers are resourceful people and quite a few slipped those little ‘cut-off sock things (!)’ over the top of their shoes!! But this didn’t spoil the dancers’ enjoyment. They were delighted to be part of such a successful event. It was terrific to meet dancers from the US, from as far away as California, and dancers came from all over Ontario as well with many staying to the very end at 5 on the Sunday after another full day of workshops and dances.
Thank you so much to Adele for taking this event into your capable hands and producing a Great Big Party that was full of fun, energy and enthusiasm and was enjoyed by all levels of dancers. I’d also like to express appreciation to the volunteers who helped the event run so smoothly. It will be an event not to be missed next year.