It all started with a message in the guestbook on my website 'Stay in Line' from a young line dance instructor called Chris Watson. He had read about my visit to Sydney and wanted to invite me to Tamworth on my next trip. At that time a "next trip" seemed far away but two years later we were back again. As we didn't make our decision until the last minute, by the time I got in contact with Chris most of the accommodation in Tamworth was taken. However, Chris told us not to worry; somewhere, somehow he would find a bed for us.
"All the accommodation booked ....... in a small town in Australia", you might be saying, "How could that happen?" Well, the Tamworth Country Music Festival is the biggest in Australia and in fact, I was told, one of the biggest in the world. Tamworth is Australia's Nashville and such is the prestige of the event with country music fans that visitors book their accommodation from one year to the next so they will not be disappointed. Camping sites are also packed with tents and caravans. Thousands of people travel from all over Australia for the opportunity to see and hear their country music favourites in person and check out potential stars-in-the-making! Australia's big Country Music Awards, the Golden Guitars, are presented here as well but it is just one event among around 2500 events in over 100 different venues.
Whatever your taste, from bluegrass, ballads that pull on your heart strings, rollicking blues, wailing harmonicas, toe tapping fiddles, it's here. Want to listen to some bush poetry which traces the roots of Australia's heritage or join in a sing song; you can do that too. Big Australian names like Kasey Chambers, Adam Harvey, Beccy Cole and Jedd Hughs were amongst the attractions. Homage was also paid to Slim Dusty, one of Australia's most prolific older country music statesman, who passed away last year. On top of which, very importantly to me, you can watch the superb performances by the competitors at the Line Dance Association of Australia Championship, learn some dances from well-known Australian instructors or just hit the floor at the socials.
I learnt that the LDAA has been around for ten years. Their Advisory Council is composed of what they call "Line Dance Ambassadors". These Ambassadors represent their State. They are expected to be very involved in club events either coordinating individual events or attending events run by other groups. Their role on the council is advisory in terms of issues of importance at both the national and local line dance level. This, then is the group that runs the Championship. The competitions are held in a large auditorium and run for the whole week starting with the heats and leading up to the finals. You can find the impressive list of winning competitors and the many different categories they compete in on the LDAA website http://www.linedance.org
As we were only there for a couple of days I didn't get an opportunity to watch much of the competition but what I did see was of a very high calibre. The dancing was more traditional than what you might see in North America or the UK, and represented line dancing at its best. Indeed the athleticism and coordination of the dancers was extremely impressive. I was fortunate to watch a demo one evening by a team of four young men and two young women who called themselves "Cowboys & Angels" which matched anything I have seen anywhere else.
Meanwhile at other venues across the town, there were workshops by local instructors and each evening brought a choice of three or four different socials (dances) to attend run by different DJs. I had fun with DJ Kelvin Dale whom I met on my last visit. Always sporting colourful shirts, Kelvin is hard to miss and his warm, encouraging manner has gained him a loyal following. Chris and Kelvin held an afternoon fund-raising dance to which I was invited to teach. It seemed appropriate to teach my dance 'Good To Me' choreographed to Australian Keith Urban. Lots of smiles what a nice group of dancers to teach.
There was a surprise visit by Simon Ward along with Rachel McEnaney of MIL in the UK who was visiting relatives in Sydney. They gave an afternoon workshop and joined the dancers on the dance floor at two of the evening dances. Although most of the dances are written by Australian choreographers, MIL dances are popular and the dancers were delighted to meet Rachel.
My impression was that the local choreographers were the stars. Everyone seemed to know who had choreographed what dance and the DJs usually made a point of announcing if a choreographer was in the hall and, even if they were not, often asking if the dancers knew who wrote a certain dance. I was told that up until the mid 90s most of the dances were written by US choreographers but that has now completely changed as the Australian line dancers have embraced their own talented choreographers.
I should add at this point a note about the hardiness of the Australian line dancers!! I had been warned that it would be hot in Tamworth but even so I was not prepared for the fierce furnace that enveloped me when I stepped out of our air conditioned car! Within five minutes I felt completely sapped of any energy!! We could manage wandering slowly down the main street checking out the buskers and intermittently sipping on an ice cold drink but some of the dance venues were not air conditioned and yet the dancers danced!!! What an impressive bunch! They all told me that "You get used to it" but I was not so sure!!!
But let me take you back a bit to our lack of accommodation! Upon arriving at Tamworth we found that Chris and his very supportive mother Judy had gone over and beyond the call of duty and were going to put us up at their home. Chris gave us his bedroom and camped in the living room. Judy Watson, a most delightful, hospitable person, made us very welcome. We soon found out that we were right in the thick of things in this household! Chris is only 18 but has been line dancing for ten years and instructing for six. He is a young man who will go far. His dedication to line dancing is only matched by his energy, organizational and promotional abilities, and people skills. Chris's natural charm with people of all ages and abilities is a delight to behold. His energy never seemed to flag. He was involved in dance activities all week from early morning to late at night. For example, he was involved in the Tennis Club Ball on the Friday night which finished at 1. He then headed with a group of dancers to dance to live music at one of the country venues coming home at 4 a.m. At 6:30 a.m. he was up again organizing his 'Dare 2 Dance' float for the Saturday morning parade. This was a huge job yet it all came together and was the liveliest float in the parade. Chris was in the US last year and will be making a few teaching trips there this year. Do go and see this impressive young man. Also check out his award winning dance 'Jump-In' .. it's really fun.
All too soon it was time to hit the road back to Sydney. If you're heading down to Australia in January at some point, it would be worth your while to head out to Tamworth to enjoy both the dancing and the country music, both with a unique Australian flair. Just remember to pack loose, cool clothing, a hat, lots of sun block and you'll be right, no worries!!!