"I don't gamble," I would tell friends who enthused about Las Vegas, "and, after all, a hotel is just a building with bedrooms in it". At least that was how I felt until I finally ended up therein November 2004!! It all started with a phone call from Doug Miranda in the Spring about a new event he and Jackie were going to hold in Vegas. I had taught at Doug & Jackie's 'Gotta Dance' in San Bernardino in January and thought what impressive, welcoming event directors they were so I was delighted to be invited to teach at this new venture. As the months went by a number of dancers from Ontario expressed their interest in heading down to the event and by the time November rolled around there were over 30 dancers from the "great white north!" preparing to fly down to the Vegas Dance Explosion.
But let me back up a little. Although Doug & Jackie are well known in California and the surrounding States, it is only over these last couple of years that many other dancers have come to know them. During this time they have traveled to many events throughout the US to teach and have always taken the time to get to know the dancers they have met on their travels. It was this personal touch, I feel, that encouraged dancers to take a chance on this new event. In fact so much so that although initially Doug and Jackie had hoped that 300 dancers would attend, ultimately they had to cut registration off and 620 dancers finally descended upon the Palace Station Hotel.
Located just off the Strip, I think the Hotel was a wise choice for the event. Although not small, it was not so big that finding your way around was a challenge!! There is a choice of rooms. The Tower rooms were more modern and a little more expensive. We stayed in the Courtyard rooms and were happy with them. They were close to the swimming pool and exercise room so my husband, Michael, could do his workouts while I was doing mine on the dance floor!! The hotel offered a plentiful, inexpensive buffet which was located right by the Banquet Halls with a wide choice of other restaurants and fast food places downstairs in the Casino. Eat well then dance it off seemed a perfect combination!!
The six workshop rooms were close together so it was easy to pop from one to the other. Doug brought his own floor for the ballroom ... yes that's not a mistake!! Jackie's mother has a three car garage but doesn't drive so it is home to the Miranda dance floor! During the week Doug had to sand and shellac the floor ready for its trip. Laying it down is not an easy job and is very time consuming. There was also a bit of a panic when they found out just the weekend before the event that the hotel didn't have enough dance floor. But Jackie didn't panic and she was soon on the phone checking out places in Vegas that would rent wooden dance floors. She ended up using the LA company who had supplied floors for them pre the Miranda-made floor and I thought the floors were good in all the rooms.
Thursday afternoon the volunteers started work and there was much to be done ... preparing, painting and putting up the decorations, blowing up balloons, sorting and stuffing registration envelopes, unpacking and sorting out different style T-shirts and so on. Doug and Jackie have a devoted team of dance friends who cheerfully took on whatever chores were needed and made it fun. It also made them aware of the enormous amount of work that had preceded the event. There was obviously much thought that had gone into making this event dancer friendly from the name tags attractive design, large print with name and dancer's country plus choice of pinning on or hanging around the neck to the fact that every dance taught was repeated in the schedule. I had first encountered this concept at 'Gotta Dance' and raved about it then. Although it must involve a lot of work on Doug & Jackie's part, it is an excellent idea and well worth it for any event both big and small that offers more than one workshop each hour. It gives the dancers a second opportunity to learn a dance(s) they might have missed earlier or to have another go at a dance they didn't quite get in the first place. At the same time it limits the number of dances taught at an event (especially the larger events) to a more manageable level while still giving choice. Certainly the feedback I got from other dancers about this system was very positive.
There was an air of excitement as dancers started checking in on Thursday picking up their packages. Attractive event T-shirts in a number of styles designed by Jackie were soon on display on the dance floor as popular DJ Mike Sliter with his able assistant Roxanne Ashley got the floor moving. A new event concept which proved popular was a set dance list for the Thursday and Friday evening dances which was posted on the event website beforehand. Over 40 DJs and Instructors had been asked to send in 10-15 of their group's favourite dances. Mike had gone through these and pulled out the most popular dances for the main list. To allow more flexibility, another room had been set aside where dancers could play their own CDs and on the Friday and Saturday evenings rooms had been set aside for Instructor reviews so there was quite a choice. Having the set list meant that dancers could head to one of the other rooms for a while and know when to return to the ballroom to dance one of their favourites. The Saturday evening dance was all request. Maurice Rowe and Jill Babinec took over from Mike to take care of the die-hard dancers (which included Jackie!) until the wee hours of the morning.
As has become the norm at many events there were Instructor demos (Doug & Jackie have been doing this at their events since 1998) and the workshops started at 10 on Friday morning going through to 3 on Sunday afternoon. There were scheduled lunch breaks on Friday and Saturday so dancers wanting to eat wouldn't feel they were missing anything!! Even here Doug and Jackie had thought of everything. As an option, dancers who didn't want to take a break could order packed lunches which they could take into an open dance room during the lunch period.
There was a mix of instructors from all over the world for the dancers to learn from. It was fun to meet friendly Kelli Haugen from Norway and join her on the floor for her dance 'Sugar and Pai' . I also enjoyed watching her teach 'Ghostbusters' (by Hadisubroto, Sarlemijn) a fun Halloween dance! Multi-talented Yvonne Anderson from Scotland was a crowd favourite with many of her dances ('Suds In the Bucket', 'Sky Full of Angels' etc......) on the floor. "A Deeper Love' and 'I Ain't No Quitter' got rave reviews. Meanwhile, new to me were Vince and Felicia Chia, a lovely couple from Singapore. They have been to two other events organized by Doug & Jackie. Doug & Jackie in turn have acted as DJ, MC and host at two of Vince and Felicia's New Year Eve parties in Singapore as well as their First Dance Funtasia Event this past June in Malaysia. With a ballroom background, their graceful dancing was a delight to watch while the dancers enjoyed Felicia's 'I Found You'.
Simon Ward from 'down under' racked up the energy level. His enthusiasm, energy and natural friendliness delighted us all. He is so much fun to have around. 'Shimmy Shack' filled the floor with action and laughter while the flowing 'Dancin' With Keys' brought out Simon's softer side. From across the pond, well known talented choreographers and enthusiastic, friendly instructors, Peter Metelnick and Alison Biggs needed no introduction. 'Dreams of Martina' and 'Romantasy' filled the evening dance floors and their workshop classes filled for the more advanced 'Round Round Baby' and the toe tapping 'Make Your Mind Up'.
There was strong representation from north of the border with popular instructors Michele Perron and Bill Bader from Western Canada. Michele's dance 'Push' is a huge dance hit right now and her classes were full for 'Left Feels Right' and 'JS Soul'. Michele's dances reflect her diverse dance background which includes tap, ballet, jazz, swing, latin, ballroom as well as line. Bill is one of the pioneers of the line dance scene and many of his dances have become standards on the dance floor. At the evening dance 'Cowgirl Twist' took us down memory lane filling the floor with dancers and smiles. Bill is a regular visiting instructor in Australia and dancers enjoyed 'Give It A Whirl' which he wrote with Rosalie MacKay and 'Two Minute Walz' jointly written with Jan Wylie. I was fortunate to have some very friendly and patient dancers in my classes and taught 'Good To Me', 'Wishes', 'Diamond in the Rough' and 'Wings'. (Thanks to everyone who came to my sessions, you were a delight to teach.)
The US is a vast country and many of the American instructors traveled quite a distance to teach at this event. Scott Blevins, and Windy City Event Directors Mark Cosenza and Glen Pospieszny, flew down from Chicago. Scott, as always, gathered a crowd. His latest dance 'What It is' has quite a following already and many of his dances filled the evening dance floor. I was delighted to walk down memory lane with Scott's 'Swing Time Boogie' one of my all-time favourites. Looking like he was enjoying himself, Mark treated the dancers to his latest 'Under the Boardwalk' to a great track while dancers had fun with Glen's teach of 'Burning Down the House'. Talented young Byran McWherter also traveled from the northern US. Bryan's smooth, flowing 'Imagine' has packed the dance floors for a while now and dancers were happy to learn his new creation 'Get on That'. I bumped into Bryan's mother who took one of his classes and was understandably very proud of her son. She hails from New Brunswick, Canada, so we Canadians are delighted to count Bryan as (at least partly!) one of our own!
There was Florida representation with Max Perry, Kathy Hunyadi and Guyton Mundy. Dancers were eager to tackle Max's challenging 'Waltz Is The Key'. Max's classes are always informative with his emphasis on technique and the importance of understanding correct dance moves. 'Slow Burn', which Kathy co-choreographed with John Robinson, brings dancers running to the dance floor so they can catch that quick beginning and not miss one step!! Dancers enjoyed Kathy's dances 'One Night Will Do' and 'Montego Bay'. Guyton was a new instructor to many of the dancers here and they packed his classes to learn "Lose It' and 'Sum'm Sum'm' (my personal favourite). Guyton is a very talented funky dancer and choreographer, but he is also an excellent instructor and is patient with those of us who can't quite move our bodies like he can!
California was represented by Doug and Jackie, who took time out of their busy schedule to teach, and Mike Sliter. Doug & Jackie's dances are wide ranging with something for everyone from the flowing, graceful 'Let It Be' to the fun 'Little Patch of Heaven' and 'Scotch Mist'. They are both excellent instructors and make their classes fun. Mike was new to me although I had heard about this popular Northern California instructor. He's also a choreographer and we enjoyed his 'That's What You Get'. Wearing many hats at this event, Mike was chief DJ as well and did an excellent job with good humour and patience. I swear he didn't sleep!! He was there late at night and first thing in the morning!!!
In addition to the workshops there was a choreography competition with 14 choreographers competing. There was a high standard of dances so I don't know how the judges managed to make their decisions. But they did and the two finalists were Noel Castle and winners Maurice Rowe and Melissa Daum.
The Saturday evening brought the Dinner/Show. We were encouraged to dress as our favourite cartoon character and gales of laughter greeted many of the costumes! The meal was one of the best I have had at an event. This was quite a feat bearing in mind that there were 460 diners. We then adjourned to the ballroom for the show. First there was the costume parade and another of those small details .... each dancer who had dressed up received a stuffed toy. Then the show started and Doug informed us that there were talent scouts in the audience. This no doubt explained the seriousness with which the instructors tackled their performances! Tom Cruise (Risky Business!) is no doubt looking over his shoulder right now as are the Village People who better shape up with the new hot version now on the scene!! Check out the photos so you will understand why, by the time the instructors had finished their auditions, our stomachs were aching with laughter! I don't quite know if it will be possible to top this show!!!
Altogether, this was a wonderful event. I know emphasis is often put on the dances taught at events but I am going to be a bit of a renegade here and say that if we wanted just to learn dances we could stay home and go to our regular classes. There has to be more to make us want to use our hard earned money to travel to an event and then spend a weekend in workshop rooms. The main reason for me is to have fun and enjoy myself with like minded people which includes the Event Directors and Instructors. With this event, it was clear that Doug & Jackie's focus was to organize an event that all dancers of every level plus dance and music taste would enjoy on and off the dance floor. And as far as I am concerned they achieved this in bushels!! There were great dancing possibilities for all, fun loving entertaining instructors, lots of laughter and Event Directors who were always visible, smiling and attentive, open to suggestions, willing to be flexible, who welcomed the dancers with open arms and stayed by the Registration desk at the very end to bid us all goodbye and wish us a safe trip home..
On top of this I am now going to return to the first sentence of this report ... Vegas!! I now know that Vegas hotels are not the norm!! Just visit the Venetian, Caesars Palace, Paris or the Bellagio and you are transported to another world. There are numerous shows and concerts to go to, many of which are free. Plus lots of great shopping and eating. In addition, a short drive takes you to the impressive Hoover Dam, the Valley of Fire with its brilliant sandstone formations that are more than 150 million years old or hike the Red Rock Canyon which is one of the most photographed places in Southern Nevada. And these are just a few of the things you can do. So next year add a few days to the Vegas Dance Explosion and you will have a wonderful trip. It's not to be missed.
PS I am going to add a little story here which is indicative of the dedication and determination that is part and parcel of the line dance creed!! Earlier in the year 8 dancers from Sudbury, Northern Ontario (Canada) decided they would save up so they could all go together to the Vegas Dance Explosion. It would be the first big event they had traveled to outside of Ontario and they were very excited about it. Their excitement mounted as the date came closer and soon it was the evening before their flight. At 10 p.m. the phone rang and an official sounding voice at the other end informed them that their flight from Sudbury to Toronto had been cancelled because of fog. You can imagine the shock and dismay that rocketed around the room. But this is where true grit came to the forefront! Next thing they were on the phone and by 2 a.m. they were traveling in a limousine (that cost $650!) to Toronto to catch their flight to Vegas.
After the long drive, they were exhausted but relieved to reach their goal only to march up to the check-in counter to be told that their seats on the Toronto/Vegas flight had also been cancelled!! At this point any normal person would have sat on the floor and wept but not this gang ... they were unwavering! Finally the airport staff said they could fit an extra five passengers on the flight. That was not good enough; one for all and all for one was the dancers' motto! Suffice to say, the airline staff finally recognized that they had encountered an immovable object in these eight dancers and seats were found for all of them!
Check out the photo of Cinderella and the seven dwarves and you will see these stalwart dancers having the time of their lives. They reckoned the Vegas Dance Explosion was well worth all the aggravation and upset they had encountered in their determination to dance.