“Hmmm … a country music band leader running a dance weekend event! What would someone like that know about line dancing?” you might ask when you hear about the Tim Gillis Dance Weekends, “And, in any case, we don’t dance just to country music any more.” Legitimate comments BUT these weekends have been going on successfully for years so it seemed to me that they must certainly offer something that appeals to line dancers. So it was with much curiosity and interest that I accepted Tim Gillis’ invitation to teach at his Summer Dance & Party Weekend.
We drove down from Toronto so we could check out the sights on the way down – it’s around an eight hour drive. The initial portion of the trip was familiar and then we hit Pennsylvania and the Pocono Mountains. What a beautiful drive with lush wooded rolling hills as far as the eye could see. Reaching the sloping foothills, we encountered endless fields of corn and handsome stone European style farmhouses proclaiming their German heritage. Interspersed were quaint antique and Americana handicraft stands and stores, plus signs proclaiming handmade quilts for sale. This is the land of the Mennonites and the Amish and their amazing quilts are known world wide.
Reading itself is a very pleasant little town and has everything you might need plus a huge Outlet Mall just 1/2 mile from the hotel. Indeed, bring an extra suitcase as I am sure you won’t leave here empty handed! There is lots of do in and around Reading. There are some great golf courses (so my husband tells me!), check out the quaint covered bridges, get fresh veggies and fruits from the many farmers’ markets, visit Daniel Boone’s homestead, the Reading Railroad Heritage Museum, or alternatively check out the drag racing at the Maple Grove Raceway. There are lots of small villages close by, each with their own distinct personality like Kutztown or Stroudtburg Village. Want some exercise (besides dancing!)? You could try hiking, swimming, kayaking, cycling in Nolde State Forest. Bird lover? Watch for hawks atop Hawk Mountain. City slicker? Just head east for an hour and you’ll hit Philadelphia, the birthplace of the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution. Visit the Liberty Bell and other historical sights plus shop, shop and shop even more! The list is endless so if you’ve got a family that doesn’t dance, bring them along and they can do their own thing!
But I was here to dance. As we arrived at the Inn on the Thursday evening, dancers had already started checking in wanting to take advantage of Tim’s special Thursday night offer which included room, evening dance, breakfast and morning workshops. The Inn is spread out with corridors of rooms moving out from the Lobby so you don’t have to be constantly waiting for elevators to get to your room. The ballrooms are in a separate section so the bedrooms are very quiet. They are also attractive, modern and roomy with lots of space in which to spread out your dancing shoes and outfits!! The Inn Staff were friendly and efficient.
Friday action started with Welcome parties, both by the Pool and in one of the Dance Rooms, with an Open Bar and tables loaded down with hors d’oeuvres from 2:30-5 – music going at both spots. Great size pool by the way – a lot of people enjoyed it and headed out for the late night swim from 11:30-1:30 a.m. as well. Workshops went from 3:45-5:30 and then dinner was served in both the dining room and one of the Dance rooms followed by a choice of dance spots. You could either kick up your heels to the Tim Gillis Band in the Ballroom or dance to a DJ in another room. At 9:30 the dance instructors demoed the dances they would be teaching over the weekend and then I got the dancers up to start the dancing with ‘Good Times Roll Around’ a circle mixer. You could then dance to 2 a.m. with a choice of two rooms, or you could head down to the lively Karaoke Party ably hosted by Dominic Trimboli. If you were hungry, coffee and pastries were served later in the evening. This was the pattern set for the weekend. It was like being on a cruise! You need never leave the Inn. The food was fresh and plentiful. Full buffet breakfasts and lunches each day with a sit-down three course dinner in the evening. (By the way, the strawberries were so sweet; they were those big red ones that look good and are often tasteless but these were wonderful!!)
But let me back up a little to the Tim Gillis Band. As you can imagine, I wanted to know how this connection with the line dancers started. I managed to catch Tim as he whizzed around the hotel. He is definitely a man with stamina and he watched out for the dancers from early morning til late at night. Tim told me he and his band have played on the country music circuit for many years. When the line dance craze started in the 80’s, Tim noticed quite a few line dancers among his followers. He hooked up with their instructors so he could ensure the Band would offer music the dancers would enjoy. Subsequently a hotel in the Catskills invited the Band to be the entertainment at a dance weekend and a few hundred of the band’s followers turned up. However, Tim wasn’t happy with how the dancers were treated so a mate of his, Happy Bernie, who organized polka weekends, introduced him to the Fallsview Hotel fifteen years ago and that event is still going strong with a loyal following. Tim then added the event in Pennsylvania in the summer and a Spring event in the Catskills.
As far back as 1978 Tim appeared on the Grand Ole Opry and the Band has opened for such stars as Vince Gill, Kenny Chesney, Joe Diffie, Patty Loveless, Marty Stuart and many others. They performed at Madison Square Garden with Ricky Van Shelton, Merle Haggard, George Strait and Alabama and were also the first country music act to perform on the QE2 luxury cruise ship. Ten years ago, Tim created and produced a real Branson Style stage show for the New York tri-state market and it plays to sold out audiences. Most of the members of the band have been with Tim for many years and a talented crew they are. Ben Lawson plays steel guitar, Dave Frost Sr on bass guitar, Jon Kjear on keyboard, Jim Heffernan on lead guitar, Gary Olear on fiddle, Chris Gillis (Tim’s son) on drums and Judy Lyn Ricci and Lucy Simms on vocals with Joanne Frost on background vocals were terrific. They played for an hour on Friday and Saturday evenings and it was a real pleasure to listen and dance to a live band. Having a band definitely added something a bit different and special to the weekend. At the same time, Tim is definitely very aware that many line dancers prefer to dance to a DJ and even during the time the band played there was a Dance room available with a DJ at the helm.
I imagine your next question will be “So what impact does this have on the workshops offered?” Tim asks that half of the dances taught be to country music or offer country music alternatives but after that it is up to the instructor. So there was a mixed bag of interesting dances taught for all tastes. In addition, a new program offered at this event only and as part of the package, called ‘3 Steps to Success’, was taught by Max Perry for beginner dancers. The idea behind the program is that once a dancer learns the basic steps thoroughly and well they will gain confidence and progress much more quickly. The response was very positive and Max told me that three of the people who attended had never line danced before. After taking the program (6 hours long) they went to some of the classes and were thrilled to be able to tell him that they understood the dance instructions and could join in with the other dancers. We certainly need beginner dancers attending these events and this seemed a terrific way to let them know that there’s a place for them here.
So ….. on to the instructors. Doug & Jackie Miranda, in from California, are crowd pleasers for sure and it was a relief to see Jackie looking well and fit after her recent bout with illness. These two are a lot of fun to take classes from and my particular favourite of their dances was ‘Boogie Fever’ – it got everyone up on the floor. Jackie had her fashionable designer jeans and jackets for sale. The nearby washroom turned into a non-stop change room and soon many of the dancers were proudly strutting the corridors in their ‘Jacaranda’ jeans. Peter Metelnick flew over from the UK especially for the event but jet lag never slows Peter down. He was as energetic and active as ever with a full slate of dances to teach. ‘Black Samba’ was the one that attracted the dancers who like a challenge but everyone seemed to have fun with ‘Lookin’ 4 Trouble’. And, of course, Joanne Brady as always pulls in a crowd and everyone leaves her classes with a smile on their face. Joanne, with her irreverent sense of humour and personal touch, makes learning a dance, whatever the level from ‘Hit The Road!’ to ‘Black Horse’, just pure fun. Max took time out of his beginners’ sessions to teach some dances as well including one of my favourites at the moment ‘Solo Humano’.
Rosie Multari was obviously a favourite of the dancers here. She took on instruction for both line and couples and I was very honoured that among the oartner dances she chose to teach was ‘Dance-Zone 4 2’ which, together with Toronto instructor, Tammy Wyatt, I adapted from my line dance ‘Dance Zone’. For the line dancers she taught ‘My First’ which won the choreography competition at the Tim Gillis March event and was written by popular New York instructor, Lynne Martino. She also did an excellent job of teaching ‘Go Greased Lightning’ and the dancers did a great job of performing it in the evening show.
The couples instructors worked hard as well and were a very friendly bunch. Mike & Dodie Serben taught both line and couples and Mike also did an excellent job on his DJ stints. George Winchell & Debbie Adams, Mal & Linda Zerden, Jeff Lemier & Joanna Bell were a lot of fun to be around. There was no conflict whatsoever between the couples and line dancers and, in fact, having the two enhanced the event.
My fellow Canadian, Gerard Murphy, and I were the newcomers to the event. Gerard’s zany sense of humour amused the dancers who were eager to see the choreographer of ‘The Way’ and ‘Crabbucket’. I saw dancers enjoy the funky ‘Get Your Groove On’ and ‘Probably on Thursday’. I thoroughly enjoyed teaching at this event (see the names of the dances below). My thanks to the dancers who made me feel so at home. By the time I left, I felt like I was part of the gang. What a welcoming, friendly bunch.
Saturday night was show time and now I’m moving back to Rosie Multari and husband Bruno. I had met this pleasant couple a few times at events but didn’t really know much about their background. I did know that Rosie is Scooter Lee’s right hand woman for ‘Dancing For the Dream’ and has also written some successful line dances. What I didn’t know was that Rosie and Bruno at one time had their own theatre company so it was only natural that Rosie should produce the shows for the Tim Gillis events. That said, when I heard there was only going to be two one hour rehearsals I wondered how anyone, however talented, could pull off a show under those conditions. Rosie came with a concept; as Tim was turning 60 over the weekend, she decided to do a spoof of Tim’s life. In those couple of hours with input from the talented staff, she calmly delegated, organized and persuaded everyone to take on a role. We had a Pink Punk Band, armies of ex-wives and girlfriends, the dismal Celtic Dancers, the Pink Panther group, even a ballet troupe – I bet you didn’t know that Doug, Peter and Max were ballet dancers in another life! The audience was doubled over with laughter – you definitely have to check out the photos. All this was moved along by Rosie as MC and Vinny (Bruno) as the seedy mafia type producer!! In between there was some lovely dancing performed by the couples instructors and a fun country medley by Doug & Jackie. It was an excellent show and worth the price of admission alone!
It was then time to dance with the choice of two rooms. DJ Bronco Jim did an excellent job in the ballroom. He kept the demos moving fast and smoothly on the Friday and then the performance music was extremely well organized. Bronco designed Tim's website and it's excellent, do check it out. He’s a man of many talents. The DJ duties in the second room were very competently shared between Mike Serben and Charles & Ginny Frasco who were also new to the event. A very friendly couple, they told me how much they had enjoyed being a part of the team. All the DJs were responsive and open to requests and a wide variety of music was played from the simple fun dances to the more challenging. I think everyone got an opportunity to dance. Dancers were very tolerant of each other – I thought it was a terrific atmosphere. Sunday brought workshops in the morning plus open dancing until mid-day. There was a plentiful buffet breakfast in the morning and then a buffet lunch that thoughtfully included fillings for sandwiches for people wanting to take a lunch on the road but there was also pasta, roast beef, salads, and fruit.
So let me recap. This was an event that stressed fun, friendliness and inclusivity. For me an event is all encompassing. For sure I go to learn from instructors/choreographers I’ve heard of and admire. However, I also go for the opportunity to meet new dancers as well as to socialize and catch up with dancing friends I haven’t seen for a while, all in a pleasant environment. It’s a welcome break from our busy lives, an opportunity to relax, laugh, dance and have fun. This event hit all those points. Tim was a terrific event organizer. He obviously genuinely cares about his dancers and appreciates the fact that many of them have attended his events for many years. All his efforts went into ensuring their needs were met and that they left satisfied and happy. Certainly, if I can be taken as an example of an attendee at the event, I left exhausted but on a high! Make sure you mark down this event for the same time next year. Bring your dancing shoes, swim suit and a big smile! Everything else will be there waiting for you.
PS The event had one of the best Schedule booklets I have seen which also included the step sheets for all the dances taught. There was a well laid out table of contents with instructors and DJs bio, (e.g. Joanne Brady ……. Page 6) then the Dance Step Descriptions by Instructor (e.g. Peter Metelnick: Black Eyed Samba …………..page 19). In the middle was a special pull out section for the workshop schedule/rooms which included a legend for ‘Level of Difficulty’ and a column for notes alongside the workshop schedule so you could make notes on the side during the demos. Everything was at your finger tips.
Dances taught: (written by the Instructor unless otherwise noted)
Black Horse by Kate Sala
Cute! Cute! Cute! By Kathy Gurdjian
Hit the Road!
King of the Road, by the Amatos
San Antonio Stroll by Jo Thompson
10 Good Reasons with Alison Biggs
Black Eyed Samba with Alison
Hanging On with Alison
Lookin’ 4 Trouble with Alison
DOUG & JACKIE MIRANDA
Kind of Hush
Live for Today
Love Will Keep Us Alive
To The Limit
Dance-Zone 4 2 (Circle & In Line) by Vivienne Scott & Tammy Wyatt
Don’t Let Go
Funky Country by Kathy Heller
Go Greased Lightning by Michele Burton & Michael Barr
Me and My Gang by Suzanne Wilson
My First by Lynne Martino