Word travels fast in our line dance community and if proof was needed of these words, the registration for Windy City 2004 was it. After the tremendous success of the inauguration of the event in 2003, over 500 dancers registered for this year's event. The room block set aside for the host hotel was soon full and a second block was set aside at the Doubletree Hotel just next door. But success brings its own pressures in that dancers' expectations are raised high so bear with me as I take you along on a trip to Chicago the weekend of October 8,9 and 10.
All the signs were good as we hit the highway to Chicago from Toronto, a mere 9 hours away! It had been an absolutely beautiful September and the beginning of October heralded much of the same as a vivid blue sky highlighted the brightly coloured changing foliage as we passed through Ontario, Michigan, Indiana finally reaching the state of Illinois and the sprawling city of Chicago perched on the shores of Lake Michigan. It's most definitely worth adding a few days to your trip to explore the city. I spoke to many dancers for whom this was a first time visit and they were full of superlatives about their experiences from the River Boat Cruise which gives unique perspectives on Chicago's architectural gems and oddities to the shopping as they returned loaded down with their purchases!
But, of course, the main focus was their dancing which started with a dance on the Thursday night. Registration was well organized and went extremely smoothly so the main ballroom was full on Friday morning at 9 for the instructors' dance demos. There were five classes each hour with one ballroom set aside as a beginner room. Last year one of the ballrooms had been used by a different group and this had caused some minor conflict with sound in adjoining ballrooms and congestion in the hallway. This year the whole corridor of ballrooms belonged to us dancers and it was very comfortable walking along meeting and greeting! As always it is a pleasure to catch up with old 'mates' with whom I now have a history of fun times together at past events, In addition, this year it was a delight for me to encounter the smiling faces of dancers whom I had met for the first time in Florida last year at the Tampa Bay Line Dance Classic and earlier this year in California in my travels there. I also had the opportunity to meet a very pleasant group of line dance instructors who had come all the way from Sweden for the event as well as Helen and Kasuya Loh from Singapore. New friends to add to the mix. What a friendly community we have and I consider myself truly fortunate to be part of it. As Janet from California said to me, "When I started line dancing it changed my life".
But aside from this chatting there were dances to be learnt! There was an enormous choice with over 100 dances taught over the weekend from 28 instructors plus from 12 choreographers in the choreography competition. As a result I barely scratched the surface of the options. However, decisions had to be made! Do note that most of the instructors taught more than two dances but I'm only mentioning a few of those I was able to either learn or at least get a glimpse of! Many dancers took the opportunity to learn from Instructors visiting from over the sea for the first time. Rachel McEnaney of MIL fame attracted a large crowd who loved 'Musicology' but also had fun with 'All That Jazz'. Although I saw a few puzzled expressions ... "What on earth is 'tuch'?!" (touch!) Rachel nearly didn't make the event as she hadn't realized that she was supposed to catch her plane on Tuesday and casually prepared for a Wednesday departure. Luckily the airline understood how bereft the Windy City linedancers would feel if she couldn't come and arranged for another flight!
Then the dancers had to translate Yvonne Anderson's lilting Scottish accent as she taught 'What I Like About You' and 'Inside Out'! Yvonne's enormously popular 'Cho-Co-Latte' filled the floor in the evening dance. Meanwhile crowd favourite from last year, Simon Ward, had come in on a 24 hour flight from Australia on the Tuesday and was heading back home on the Sunday straight after the event. Showing no signs of jet lag, Simon delighted us with his energy and enthusiasm. I had a lot of fun with "Goin Down' and 'Hit The Road Jack'. A smiling Alison Biggs had popped over from the UK to teach us together with Peter Metelnick (as energetic and lively as always) who was already over in the US on teaching engagements. The flowing "Dreams of Martina' was very well received as was the lively'Make Your Mind Up'. Michele Peron crossed the continent from Vancouver, BC, and with style and patience led us through 'This Affair' and 'Beau Woes'. Her dance 'Push' filled the floor in the evening. Judy McDonald nipped down from Ontario, Canada to teach the heel tapping 'Dipstick' and funky 'Dance All Night'.
Many of the instructors had traveled long distances from within the US including popular Doug & Jackie Miranda from California who pleased the dancers with the Beatles 'Let It Be' and took many of us back to our youth with 'Staying Alive'. Doug & Jackie have their own first-time event in Vegas in November which will be the next stop for many of the dancers. Max Perry and Kathy Hunyadi flew up from their new home in Florida. An extra long time slot was set aside for Max to teach the challenging 'Waltz is the Key' and I particularly enjoyed a dance he taught from the UK called 'It Doesn't Matter'. Kathy taught "Montego Bay' and took us down memory lane with 'Ghost Train'.
As always, John Robinson was a favourite with dancers and I very much enjoyed his dance 'Again!'. John also took us back, teaching 'Switchblade USA' to the delight of the dancers. Joanne Brady teaches with warmth and humour as any dancer will testify. Her dance 'High Class Broads' is currently filling the dance floors and I particularly enjoyed 'Join the Action' which is a good high beginner dance. Scott Blevins, as always, pulled the crowds for his latest 'What It Is?' as well as 'Two Time Trick'. Scott was joined at the event by wife Debra, son Blane and their little dog Basil who drew lots of attention! 'Imagine' is such a hot dance and I was pleased to get a very professional re-teach on it from talented young choreographer Bryan McWherter. Our event directors Mark Cosenza, Glen Pospieszny and Eve Yeaton took a few minutes out of their busy schedules to spend some time in the classroom with us. I really enjoyed Mark's new dance, hot off the press, 'Under the Boardwalk'. Eve took us through 'Superstar' and Glen got us bopping with 'Bugle Bop 2004'.
And if this was not enough we were also fortunate to learn from Debi Bodven (check out Debi's terrific event 'Can-Am' in London, Ontario) J.P. Potter, Charlotte Skeeters, Larry & Tracey Harmon, Kevin & Rena Ward, Jo Kinser, Heather Frye and Denise Stone. In addition, the choreography competition gave dancers an opportunity to learn another 12 dances! On the Saturday evening, there was a face off between three competitors Bracken Ellis, Winnie Yu and John Dembiec whose 'Mood Swing' came out the winner.
Saturday evening also brought with it the Dinner/Show. Thanks to a stroke of genius from Mark we could all relax before the dinner period with no need to rush to get in line to get a table. At the registration desk, there were sheets with table numbers on which dancers could add their names. This way a group of friends could sit together with no problem. This year we all dined together in one large ballroom. Food, as before, was plentiful and the staff very pleasant. Following the dinner we moved into the next ballroom for the show. With Doug Miranda on top form as the bossy Simon of 'Simon Says', a gang of instructors were put through the wringer to the hilarity of the crowd. Then we sat back to watch with awe as the talented Simon Ward gave a wonderful dance performance full of energy and vigor. Next Yvonne Anderson brought a lump to our throats with her melodic interpretation of 'Love Can Build a Bridge'. Then Rachel McEnaney enthralled and delighted us, finally bringing the crowd to its feet with her amazing dancing. What a splendid show it was.
But it was time for the dancers to take over the dance floor. DJ Louie St. George manned the controls in the main ballroom both Friday and Saturday nights. Always sensitively attuned to the dance floor, DJ Louie is one of the best in the business of walking the DJ tightrope of keeping the dance floor full while at the same time allowing dancers wanting to try out dances learnt in smaller classes during the day to strut their stuff. However, because of the sheer volume of dances taught, a second ballroom was set aside on Saturday night for instructors to do short reviews with DJ John Lindsay in charge of moving the action along. Dancers seemed to appreciate this opportunity and it allowed Louie to play far more requests in the main ballroom and also to take us down memory lane with 'Dizzy' , 'Watermelon Crawl' and other oldies which completely filled the floor with smiling dancers. When I left at 1:30 a.m., the floor was still full and I heard that it remained so until 4 a.m. and even beyond! No wonder I couldn't find Louie to say "Goodbye" when I left Sunday morning!! Walking down the dance floor corridor the next morning saying 'farewell' I peeked in to see rooms still full of dancers (some of them looking rather weary I would say!) and the event didn't finish until 2 p.m.
The event directors Mark, Glen and Eve are to be congratulated on a very well run event. Despite the large number of dancers to cater for, everything ran extremely smoothly from registration (with smiling, helpful volunteers) to classes, to the dinner/show. Problems encountered in the first year were responded to and corrected. I chatted to Mark a little and he was already thinking of ways to make next year's event even better. I gather from dancers who flew in that the shuttle from the airport to the hotel was very easy to take as was public transport to downtown Chicago and they were able to do a lot of exploring without a car. I think I can safely say that money used to attend this event was well spent!! So get out your piggy bank and start saving those pennies so YOU TOO can join in the action in the Windy City next year!!