"We know Michael likes to play the tables but we never imagined you as a gambler”, friends said when they heard about my upcoming trip to Las Vegas. They looked quite perplexed when I agreed with them. “So why would you go to Vegas then?” they asked. In actual fact, as I found out last year, Vegas has tons more to offer besides gambling. Just the experience of wandering through Paris, Venice, New York, and the Sahara without having to travel across continents is worth the trip alone! These incredible hotels are amazing and a delight for the eyes. This year I was looking forward to checking out the latest addition to the strip – the Wynn. In addition, there are numerous free or relatively inexpensive shows and performances that could keep you entertained for weeks as well as spectacular shows like Cirque Du Soleil and world renowned performers like Celine Dion, Elton John, Billy Joel and many, many more.
However, as far as I was concerned, what drew me to the city was more exciting than anything else that Vegas had to offer and that was the Vegas Dance Explosion 2005. Word had spread about the enormously successful first year of the event at which over six hundred dancers had kicked up their heels in 2004. This year Doug and Jackie Miranda had decided to expand the event to six days to allow dancers more time to come and go as they enjoyed both the dancing and the experiences that Vegas has to offer. Over 700 dancers thought this was a great idea and gathered together to enjoy this terrific event. There were dancers from over 16 countries in attendance.
The lobby of the Palace Station Hotel rang with cheerful hellos and chatter as dancers greeted one another and caught up on the latest news. That is the wonderful thing about line dancing events. Even though dancers might only meet once or twice a year the bonds that are made during these events are very strong and warm friendships are formed. The hotel offered accommodation in either the Tower or Courtyard. This year the Courtyard rooms had been attractively renovated and although they don’t have a view, they are reasonably priced and are close to the swimming pool, hot tub and fitness centre as well as the casino. The Tower rooms are very smart and have great views. The event took over a whole section of the hotel so it was self contained and became a community unto itself.
But before it got to this point, I should say that the amount of work needed to organize an event of this size is exhausting to even consider. As some of you might recall, Doug had made his own dance floor which is housed in his mother in law’s three car garage. This had to be transported, along with paperwork, decorations etc., etc., from San Bernardino, California to Vegas. This was all carried in a laden large trailer and a separate truck. As an aside, I should add that Doug & Jackie had been traveling in Europe and to Singapore instructing shortly before this event so how they managed to do all that was necessary I don’t know; I can only surmise that they never sleep!! Fortunately, Doug & Jackie have a circle of devoted and loyal friends who cheerfully took on many varied tasks and made them fun. During the event I would see them running around moving this, putting up that, blowing up balloons, folding T-shirts, working on the computer, preparing meals for the instructors, clambering up a ladder over there, putting down the middle part of the ballroom dance floor ready for the evening dance, then taking it up again for the classes the next day. The list was endless, with tasks often continuing until the wee small hours of the night and covering the full six days. Many, many thanks to these terrific volunteers. As a result of their hard work, as the dancers came though the doors each day, all looked calm, peaceful and welcoming.
As we entered, we discovered a colourful lobby full of balloons and flags hanging from the ceiling. The registration desk was a model of efficiency with friendly, smiling faces there to greet us. The registration packages contained the workshop schedule together with an attractive name tag (large print – thank you, Jackie!) that included the dancer’s country and/or State. It made for a great conversation opener – just one of the many thoughtful touches that permeated this event. Jackie’s attractively designed dancewear was available to purchase at the front desk and there were also vendors selling boots and other dance clothes.
The event started Tuesday afternoon and three classes were offered every hour. For the rest of the week dancers had a choice of six classes each hour. Every class was duplicated. The Mirandas initiated this concept which I think is brilliant. It is a lot of work to organize but, as far as I am concerned, well worth the effort. It gives the dancers the opportunity to catch a dance a second time around and also limits the number of dances taught so that it is not completely overwhelming. That said there were over 100 dances taught of all levels and to all types of music. There was a definite choice for everyone.
The days started at 10 and there was a lunch break so that no one would feel they were missing anything! A very inexpensive but plentiful and fresh buffet restaurant is located just a few feet away from the entrance to the event. At the same time there was open dancing in one room for those addicts who didn’t want to take time off to eat! There was also a dinner break each day before the evening dance. There was choice again for evening dancing. Louie St. George was at the controls of the Main Ballroom while there was a play list for a second room and instructor reviews in the other rooms. Dancers ran from one room to another! There were also demos of the dances being taught the next day to give the dancers some help in deciding which classes to take.
I must emphasize that I could only manage to attend a few classes and there were many other dances I would have loved to have learnt after seeing them in the demos. I have listed all the dances taught below. Despite their onerous workload, Doug & Jackie took time out to teach their flowing ‘You Can Dance’ which filled the floor every night. Amy Christian’s ‘Feels So Good’ was a big floor filler, no doubt sending many dancers off to check out Tai Chi classes! ‘Drivin’ Me Crazy’ by the Kinsers and Amatos brought dancers running to the floor as did ‘Bomshel Stomp’ which is SO much fun and was taught in her own inimitable fashion by Joanne Brady. Paul’s ‘Careless Whisper’ and Rachel’s ‘Freaky Girl’ attracted a good crowd as did ‘Home’ led by Bryan McWherter (with the cheeky grin!). Crowd favourite John Robinson introduced a new dance of his -- ‘Aquarius’ -- and the talented duo of John and Kathy Hunyadi wrote a new dance together called ‘What a Trip’ which attracted attention. There is always one of Kathy’s dances filling the floor and this year it was ‘Shake Yourself Loose’.
Max Perry took dancers happily down memory lane with his beautiful ‘Salseria’ while Simon Ward, who has energy and enthusiasm for ten, took us to Ireland with his ‘Irish Waltz’. Bill Bader’s ‘Mama Jazz’ filled the floor – such funny lyrics, don’t forget to listen next time you do this dance! Meanwhile Mark Cosenza’s ‘You're My World’ was popular and dancers flocked to Glen Pospieszny’s class to learn ‘Hernando’s Hideaway’. A delightful couple, Vincent & Felicia Chia, took the dancers down ‘Singapore River’ while Judy McDonald from Canada taught her funky ‘Hollaback’ and Kelli Haugen all the way from Norway had everyone laughing with the contra dance ‘I4C Fun Push’. Maurice Rowe’s ‘After Party’ (Windy City choreography finalist) went down well as did ‘Father’s Waltz’ which Melissa Daum taught. I was honoured that ‘Clap Your Hands’ was nominated for ‘Beginner Dance of the Year’ and I saw lots of fun variations of it on the floor.
But it was time to let go in the evening and the dance themes were so much fun with everyone joining in with gusto! Wednesday brought dancers out with hawaiian shirts, luaus, straw skirts and other colourful outfits. The ballroom was transformed into an Hawaiian island and soon everyone was in the party spirit! A local master baker cum dancer from Vegas donated an absolutely delicious pineapple cake which together with margaritas delighted our palates! Thursday evening started with a talent contest and then during the evening we were treated to an absolutely stunning performance by Rachel McEnaney and Paul McAdam. What amazing dancers these two are.
Flappers and Gangsters in dazzling outfits turned out for the Friday Evening Dinner Show. Cameras didn’t stop flashing all evening! The show again featured a great performance by Rachel and Paul while the instructors (including me although quite a few people didn’t realize I was there as my hat kept falling over my eyes!) treated the audience to a new form of dance for those with wobbly legs, called chair dancing. It is no doubt going to sweep the nation! Wally Walenski’s multitude of cousins also turned up to entertain us (if you don’t know Wally check out the photos from the Ft. Wayne Showdown!), while at the same time we found out that John Robinson has great legs and a tie suits Judy McDonald! The finale was a very touching tribute to the veterans and members of the armed forces present.
The final of the choreography competition took place with a showdown between the winners of the heats of the phrased and non-phrased sections. Zac Detweiller competed with his dance 'Cocoa Puffs' against winning dance "Up, Side, Down' written by Marthe Thibeault. Scott Schrank with 'That Was Then' competed against Sobrielo Philip Gene who won with his dance ‘Hollaback Girl’. Marthe and Philip won a money prize and a teaching spot at next year’s event. I should add that Paul & Karla Dornstead won the Beginners' division of the competition with 'All Of Me'.
But there was no end to the partying and Saturday brought everyone out in their nightwear – walking through the casino in pajamas, nightdresses and hair curlers no less! It was a sight for sore eyes! UK Instructor, John Rowler (Growler) from the UK elicited a few gasps when the back of his pajama trousers seemed to slip during a dance and something was revealed! Someone told me that when she smacked it, it felt rather strange and she left a dent! Your guess as to what “it” was!
All too soon, Sunday came around and with it the ‘Dress to Impress’ Dancers Choice Award Dinner and Show. The dancers looked absolutely superb in their finery – the attendees at the Oscars were nothing on us! The Awards were announced and presented with much cheering from the audience (see the results below) and we then enjoyed a Show which displayed the many talents of Barry & Dari Ann Amato as they sang, danced a superb routine and also had us in tears of laughter with their comedy skits. Is there nothing these two can’t do? They are extremely impressive and not to be missed. It is always a pleasure to watch Max Perry and Kathy Hunyadi dance together and then Jackie & Lilian demonstrated some nimble bamboo dancing with Grant Gadbois and me attempting to keep the poles moving in a timely fashion so neither of them ended up tumbling head over heels. This responsibility was made more stressful when Joanne Brady and Maurcie Row gamely attempted this form of torture to the audience’s delight!! There were tears in all our eyes as John Robinson dedicated his performance to Jo Thompson in her courageous fight against her serious illness. What a splendid evening. The dancers then took over the floor and just didn’t seem to want to leave however exhausted they felt! It was a very touching moment for me when I said my goodbye and the dancers filled the floor to join me in ‘Wishes’.
Of course, an essential part of the whole proceedings is the music and DJ Louie St. George was behind the controls of the sound equipment the whole time. He was one of the last to leave and one of the first back in the morning. He was constantly keeping a check on the equipment in all the rooms as well as preparing music for the show performances and then keeping the floor moving every single night for the dances. I always maintain that the role of line dance DJ is one of the most difficult as it is virtually impossible to cover all the requests that are made. Just keeping up to date with the dances constantly coming out and the wide range of music that we now dance to must be a full-time job. We are very fortunate that we have such competent people like Louie who are willing and able to take on the job.
But, as Louise said to me, he is in awe of anyone who decides to run an event for us. It is a very risky undertaking both in time commitment and financial risk and fraught with pitfalls. We should be doubly thankful then that Doug and Jackie took on this enormous six day event – it was superb. There was something for everyone to enjoy. To the dancers’ eyes, it ran smoothly like a well oiled machine and any little problems were quickly responded to. Doug & Jackie were always around -- at the reception desk smiling and welcoming us, joining the dancers on the dance floor, checking out the rooms, instructing, chatting with the dancers and partying! This was apart from all the behind-the-scenes activity that was essential to the success of the event. All the time they were working to ensure that their guests (the dancers) enjoyed themselves. And, what I particularly liked was that they, themselves, seemed to be having a great time with us. That kind of feeling from Event Directors rubs off. After all if they are enjoying themselves after all that hard work how can we not?! What an absolutely terrific couple with a well deserved extremely successful event. It will definitely be on many dancers’ calendars for next year and does sell out fairly quickly so keep your eyes open for next year’s dates and send in your registration form as soon as you can. Then don’t forget to rest your feet for a few days before you come because once the Vegas Dance Explosion action starts they will barely touch the ground!
The Winners of the first Annual Dancers Choice Awards were:
Beginner Dance Of The Year:Beer For My Horses - by Christine Bass
Intermediate Dance Of The Year:Trust Me - by Geri Morrison
Advanced Dance Of The Year: Home - by Frank Cooper
Humanitarian Award: Bill Bader - Canada
Horizon Award:Dan Albro
Team Choreographers Of The Year:Peter Metelnick & Alison Biggs
Show Stopper Award:John Robinson
Dancers Friend Of The Year: Carol Craven - Tkandr Newsletter