“We reckon we’re going to come down with you to Vegas” said Fred and Eddie and over 20 of the Tuesday night dancers, most of whom who had never ever been to a big dance event let alone to a MASSIVE dance event outside of Ontario. And so the planning began and the excitement level rose as the BIG date approached. Only a couple of the dancers had been to Vegas before so they were highly in demand for their descriptions of this unique destination!
For those of you who might say you have no interest in Vegas or gambling, I should tell you that is how I felt in the past. In fact, if Doug and Jackie Miranda hadn’t invited me to teach at the first Vegas Dance Explosion three years ago I doubt I would ever have gone there. Now I look forward to the trip with eagerness and I still don’t gamble!! There is so much more to do in Vegas than put your money in the slots; there are amazing hotels to visit, incredible shows to see, great restaurants to eat at, lots of shopping and so on and so forth. In addition for gamblers this is definitely the place to be!
Your adventure starts immediately in the Vegas airport which looks more like a Casino and alighting passengers are soon getting some practice on the slots! In previous years the event had been held in the Palace Station Hotel which was a little away from the action. I really liked the intimacy of the venue so I was a little apprehensive at the idea of change and the move to the Riviera which is more conveniently located directly on the Strip. However the number of dancers had risen to over 800 and more dance space was needed. So as soon as I had checked in I was off to check out the Convention Centre. It was HUGE with absolutely nothing in the rooms and the event started the next day. How on earth would they get dance floors down, decorations, the registration envelopes filled and the multitude of other tasks that needed to be done in such a short period of time? Well, they did so by simply not sleeping – 24 hours straight! When dancers arrived the next day, their packages were ready, the dance floors were down in all the dance rooms, sound systems geared up and the Ballroom decorated ready for action. An incredible transformation.
The registration desk at the beginning of an event is the place to be. Chatter, laughter, cries of welcome abound all around you as dancers meet and greet. It is such a pleasure to meet up with dance friends whom you might only see at events like this and there are smiles everywhere. Soon schedules were out as, with looks of concentration, dancers decided which of the six classes each hour to attend. That was the pattern set for the five days. The classes started at 10 going through to 6:30 with a lunch break from 1-2:30 (although a room was kept available for open dancing), and then dinner break until 8:30 and every evening had a different themed dance. Doug had come up with an interesting new idea for instructor previews and had set aside a room where dancers could watch a screening of the dances. However, the technology didn’t quite meet up with the concept and it was back for the time being to live action with the previews.
The instructor list was extensive with representation from all over the world so I think I’ll introduce you to them in alphabetical order! First off, young Craig Bennett from the UK is a very talented choreographer and beautiful dancer and dancers enjoyed his classes. Next up is Joanne Brady whose classes are always full. Entertaining and very funny, it is not surprising that Joanne won the ‘Personality of the Year’ Award. However, more importantly the dancers feel that Joanne really cares about them and wants to ensure that they enjoy themselves as they learn in her classes. Vincent and Felicia Chia from Singapore are a charming couple and they delighted us with their flowing performances in the evening shows. A very proficient instructor, the smiling Lina Choi came over from Hong Kong with a lively group of dancers and her classes were well received. Mark Cosenza, one of the capable Event Directors of the successful Windy City Event held in October, had a packed class for the extremely popular ‘Don’t Feel Like Dancing’ by Pat Stott. This filled the floor at the Tampa Bay Classic and again here in Vegas. Melissa Daum is a lovely young woman whom you could imagine bombing about in a little convertible and not at the wheel of a large trailer driving over the mountains bringing the supplies for the event. And again, literally as soon as the evening dance finished, everything was packed up and Melissa drove one of the trailers right through the night back to California. Incredible stamina and dedication.
The first of the choreography winners from last year, the friendly and helpful Paul Dornstedt did a very competent job of teaching the happy dancers in his classes. The Worlds Line Dance Director, Barry Durand taught some technique along with his line dances and also brought along lots of info about the upcoming big line dance event at the Worlds in Nashville at the beginning of January. Growler (aka John Rowell) from the UK is a character who can’t be missed! Enthusiastic and full of fun, dancers learnt some good dances that John brought over from the UK together with ‘My Greek No. 1’ which is one of my favourites at the moment and I taught it at the Tampa Bay Classic. The lively and spirited Kelli Haugen from Norway brings lots of fun to her classes and has a smile for everyone – an extra smile this year as she was a winner of one of the ‘Regional Instructor’ Awards. Dancers always enjoy learning talented Kathy Hunyadi’s latest dances but also the dances she brings to the floor written by other choreographers. From the UK, great dancer Jo Kinser, along with hubby John, attracted full classes as she taught both their own dances and those written with other choreographers. Co-Worlds Line Dance Director, well known Judy McDonald from Ontario, taught an interesting mixed bag of dances to country and non-country at all levels which dancers enjoyed. You can’t help but smile in Bryan McWherter’s class at his quick wit and cheeky side-comments! At the same time, he’s an excellent instructor and most people seemed able to master even the advanced ‘Break Free Cha’. For those dancers who want to dance exactly like Guyton Mundy, there was an extra Technique Workshop they could sign up for to take with the King himself. No wonder the dancers who took Guyton’s classes looked so impressive! Now, if I could just move my hands at the same time as I move my feet…..perhaps I could join in too!!
Popular Gerard Murphy from Nova Scotia has quite a following here in Canada and obviously beyond as dancers gathered to learn his latest dances. The UK produces some talented choreographers and instructors and Dee Musk is no exception. I had the pleasure of teaching with Dee at one of Big Dave’s events in the UK earlier this year and then the honour of writing a dance with her and Teresa & Vera – ‘Long Gone!’. Dee is well known in the UK and dancers here certainly enjoyed her classes and dances. Max Perry was a busy man at this event. Along with teaching full classes he taught a special technique workshop which seemed to go over very well. It was limited to 40 participants and they enjoyed a two hour class in which Max taught them how to look and feel good on the dance floor. A DVD and class notes were included along with an individual ten minute evaluation session. At this point I should note that rooms were set aside for private lessons from any of the instructors. They could be individual sessions or a small group of dancers could get together and have their favourite instructor go over dance technique, particular dances or methods of instruction. Dancers who took advantage of these opportunities told me it was definitely well worth while. So bear this possibility in mind as an extra benefit of attending events like these with such top name instructors and choreographers in attendance.
John Robinson, of course, needs no introduction. It was not surprising that he was again the winner of the ‘Male Instructor” and ‘Dance Personality’ Awards. John puts his energy and enthusiasm into teaching and dancing and we all benefit from his presence at any event. Newcomers to the event and in fact their first trip to the US, dancers were charmed by Celine and Thierry Schmitt from France. It was a pleasure to see their country outfits and their classes were full showing the yearning is there for dances to good country music. Another choreography winner, Philipe Sobrielo gathered new fans this year. Philipe is a patient, clear instructor who breaks down funky moves in such a way that dancers of all ages and abilities can learn. Marthe Thibeault from Sudbury, Canada, was also a choreography winner and did an excellent job of teaching at this event. Her ‘Arabian Nights’ introduced a little bit of belly dancing to the line dance scene and I think she has another winner on her hands. Lots of the dancers wanted to dance just like talented young Joey Warren and his classes were full as they mastered his funky moves.
Despite their onerous responsibilities as Event Directors, Doug and Jackie put time aside to teach and their classes were packed. I particularly enjoyed ‘Madhouse to the Max’ which was just plain fun! I should also thank those dancers who came to my classes. You were very patient with me and up for a good time!
I’ll move along now to the evening dances. We started with a Luau Night; palms trees abounded along with grass skirts! Dancers really get into the swing of the themes at this event and the dances are always colourful and fun. The next evening was international night and Canadians from all across the country got together for a special performance. Gerard Murphy (nominated for the ‘Male Personality’ Award) got his group moving with ‘Heave-Away’, while dedicated instructor Sue Hall from Alberta (who was nominated for the ‘Humanitarian’ Award) led 30 of her dancers with the ‘Fisher’s Hornpipe’ to ‘Alberta Bound’. Fred and my group tackled ‘Turn Me On’ to ‘Party for Two’ by Shania Twain and Mark McGrath. We finished with a fine domino effect and luckily no-one tripped over!!! Many, many thanks to all those Canadians who good humouredly took time out to rehearse and who came prepared with red and white outfits and all kinds of colourful accessories. You were terrific and I was very proud to be part of the Canadian Contingent that evening. Other countries were well represented with great routines from Austria, Japan, Singapore, France, India, Hong Kong, the UK and the US – a rather motley crew took on this routine – check out the photos!! Doug and Jackie had also arranged for bleachers to be placed in the ballroom so everyone could see the shows clearly.
We still had a pajama party to go as well as a Pirates and Wenches night. At this point I should add that the first day I was there I bumped into Guyton who told me he was off to the Home Depot to buy supplies to build a boat! This certainly piqued my curiosity and from time to time I popped in to see how he was doing. Well, when that boat made it to the main stage of the ballroom I could hardly believe it had been designed and built in five days. It was absolutely amazing and you just have to look at the photos. What a multi talented man Guyton is and many thanks also to his second mate and co-builder John Kinser who worked alongside. That same night the results of the Choreography Competitions were announced. Congratulations to everyone who participated. It takes guts to present your dance and then teach it to the judges and all the competitors did a good job. The winners will be teaching at next year’s event as follows: Karla Dornstedt won the Beginner Competition, Scott Schrank won both Intermediate and Advanced, so there was a dance-off which was won by Lynne Martino. I look forward to learning from these three in 2007.
Now, a dance is no good without music!! And who better to press those controls than “Wildman’ Louie. The sound technology involved in running such a large event is extremely complex and needs someone with extensive knowledge. On top of which that individual has to be on top of all the dances that we do and cater to dancers of all tastes and abilities. It is an onerous time-consuming task but Louie gave it his all. I’ve said before that Louie rarely seems to sleep although you’ll see I have a photo of him in pajamas with his eyes half closed – so I guess he has cat-naps!!! Many thanks Louie for an incredible job, I don’t know how you did it. For more dancing, the Mirandas had thought of everyone and there was a second room with a playlist, a beginners’ room with DJ Growler at the controls, a ‘Play Your Own CD’ dance room and two instructors’ review rooms.
The event finished on a very glamorous note with the Awards Dinner. Everyone came dressed in their finery and they looked fabulous. The meal was excellent and dancers seemed to eat their fill. It was then time for Doug to introduce Doug Affleck, the hard working Chair of the Dancers Choice Awards Committee, and the Instructors, two at a time, presented the Awards. Most of the Winners who were not present gave their acceptance speeches on a wide screen on the stage. Those present who accepted their Awards were obviously thrilled and honoured. ‘Beginner Dance of the Year’ was ‘Jailhouse Creole’ by Cathy Montgomery and Kathy Kaczmarek from Ontario, Canada. Cathy was there to accept. ‘Intermediate Dance’ was Bosa Nova by Phil Dennington, whereas ‘Advanced Dance’ was Scott Blevins’ ‘Break Free Cha’. The ‘Horizon’ Award went to Zac Detweiller while the ‘Humanitarian’ Award went to Val Keller, also from Ontario, for her work running the ‘Dancin’ For Miracles’ Event which has raised many thousands of dollars over the year for the Canadian Cancer Society. The nominees on this list and the charitable work they have done was very impressive.
Talented team Peter Metelnick and Alison Biggs took the ‘Team Choreographers’ Award. ‘Dancer’s Friend’ went to Carol Cravens and there was a big round of applause as Carol spoke from the screen. As I mentioned earlier, ‘Male Instructor’ went to John Robinson. It was at this point that I had the shock of my life and literally couldn’t move when my name was announced as ‘Female Instructor of the Year’. Some of the instructors thought they would have to carry me onto the stage! Being on the list of nominees with such talented and wonderful instructors was in itself an incredible thing to happen. I was therefore absolutely astounded to hear my name called (and still am!) but from the depths of my heart I want to thank those dancers who voted for me for their support and encouragement. It’s an incredible honour and I will never forget that moment.
The ‘Male Choreographer’ of the Year was Peter Metelnick now in the UK but still a Canadian in our hearts. ‘Female Choreographer’ was Kate Sala from the UK. ‘Show Stoppers’ for sure, the amazing Barry and Dari Anne won this Award. As I wrote earlier, ‘Male Personality’ went to the talented John Robinson and ‘Female Personality’ to the popular Joanne Brady. Last but not least, we were informed that there had been such an enormous response from dancers to the ‘Regional Instructor’ Award that the Committee had decided to give three awards. They went to the popular ‘Double Trouble’, Cathy Montgomery and Kathy Kaczmarek, who bring in the crowds at Nashville North in Ontario; to well-liked Kelli Haugen from Norway whose dancers understandably love her, and to the much loved Fred Buckley, also from Ontario, who is multi-talented; a terrific instructor and all-round ‘Good Guy’!
But there was still the Awards Show to go with some great performances – do check out the photos. The dancers then took the floor for their last dance session while Doug and Jackie and their volunteers began to dismantle the floors and decorations in the other rooms ready for the middle-of-the-night journey back to California.
So let me recap …. Doug and Jackie are well organized, efficient, capable, warm, friendly, open-to-suggestions type of Event Organizers. Their main focus is to ensure that all the dancers have fun no matter their preferred taste in music or their level of dancing and for sure there was something for everyone at this event. The venue is large enough to accommodate more dancers and they are hoping it will grow. It was great to see so many dancers from overseas – it adds a real extra bit of spice to the mix! There were a few teething problems as with any new venue, particularly one this size, but the Mirandas strongly encouraged dancers to complete the evaluation form and to come to them with any comments or suggestions they might have for improvement and they listen for sure. They are an amazing couple and I know all the dancers who came down with me fell in love with them!! The dancers told me they thoroughly enjoyed being on the Strip. They could dance some, gamble a little, go to a show, watch the wonderful fountain show at the Bellagio, eat on the verandah at the Paris and then come back and dance some more!! They reckoned the five days worked out well especially as all the workshops were repeated so they weren’t so pressured to catch a particular class. In addition, they could relax and take classes they felt comfortable with but at the same time the environment was non-threatening enough that they enjoyed the challenge of learning a dance they normally wouldn’t dream of tackling. All in all, this event received accolades from the dancers who came down with me.
But these kind of events just wouldn’t happen without the dedicated volunteers who give of their time to ensure that everything runs smoothly and that we dancers have a great time. The volunteers (including Mrs. Miranda) who worked at this event worked long hours, uncomplainingly and with smiles on their faces. I’d like to let them know how much their efforts were appreciated. So to Doug and Jackie and their helpers, here’s thanking you for a wonderful event and hoping that you will be able to put your feet up for at least a little now. That said, knowing Doug and Jackie, I have a feeling that they will straightway be off on another adventure!! So ….. everyone else give your feet, knees, hips and everything else a bit of a break so that you are ready for action in Vegas again next November!!!
Who Am I?
Have You Ever
Put Your Record On
Tailgate by Albro
Steppin' Stone Cha by Thompson Symanski
Go Greased Lightning by Burton
Cute! Cute! Cute! by Gurdjian
Used To Be A Time by Brady & Babinec
Rio by Lowery
Start To Sway by Le Brocq
VINCENT AND FELICIA CHIA
I Have Always Loved You by Wood
Holdin' A Good Hand
The Last Waltz
Blaze of Glory
Don't Feel Like Dancing by Stott
Walk Like a Man by Glen Pospieszny
Not The Enemy
Leave The City Behind
Sweet 'N Sassy by Rowe & Daum
Don't Steer Me Wrong by Christy Fox
Leaving of Liverpool by M. Gallagher
Samba Cha by Durand & Crum
Rodeo Blues by Kate Sala
Love Is Dangerous
My Greek No. 1 by Maria Rask
Heart Of An Angel
Let's Get Drunk by D. Bailey & L. Williams
Run It by J. Vain
Zatchu by P. Blaskowski & B. Webb
Festival Fun by Cato Larsen
Rubitin by M. Gallagher
I Want It All by Bailey
Play The Music
Crown Royale by Frank Cooper
Little Star by Rowe & Detweiler
Get Down Tonight by Kinser & Christian
Can't Fight Fate by Ward, Kumre, Kinser
Framed by Ward, Kumre, Kinser
Shake Your Booty by Kinser, Christian
Less Complicated by DeLong
Back In Town
Where You Live
Yes I do by Karen Hedges
Break Free by Blevins
Pon De Replay by Hadisubroto