What do they actually mean by the 'Worlds', I thought. Is it like the Olympics; like an international sporting event? Will there really be many dancers from other than the North American continent? As there isn't a lot of line dancing in the US and the emphasis is on couples dancing what will the implications be for the line dancing competitions? As a social line dancer, will there be much for me to do? These are the kinds of questions I pondered on the twelve hour drive from Toronto, Canada, to Nashville, Tennessee for my first trip to the Country Dance World Championships.
We arrived New Year's Eve at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel. It is the most spectacular hotel I have ever seen. It covers 5 acres of land and you can actually take a boat ride through the hotel on the river than meanders through the beautiful tropical foliage. Every corner you turn there is something to look at including a garden full of stunning ice sculptures. It's a delight to sip a coffee overlooking the Cascades while at the same time there's a choice of snack bars and restaurants to suit most palates. One drawback is the hotel is so massive that, as one dancer told me, it can take ½ hour to find the coffee bar and then another ½ hour to find your way back to your room!
As it was, my husband and I stayed at the Fiddler's Inn, just across the road. It is right next to the Radisson and Shoney's and they are all walkable distance to the Orpyland Hotel. A little further along are a number of other hotels which are a longer walk but are easily reached in a few minutes by car. So if the Gaylord Opryland Hotel prices are a little too steep for you, there are some alternatives reasonably close by.
But let's get to the heart of the matter and yes, indeed, it was an international event. I met and chatted with dancers from all over the UK, from Italy, Sweden, the Netherlands, Austria, Japan and Norway as well as from across Canada and the US. They were full of enthusiasm and excitement and revved up for the competitions. There were dancers of all ages from little kids to seniors. Particularly impressive was the extremely large number of talented young line dancers and their supporters from Europe. Jo Thompson pointed out that, in the years that the Worlds has been held in the US, this was the first time that the number of line dance competitors had been greater than couples contestants, in large part I would say because of the young dancers.
Unfortunately, the organizers were not prepared for this great influx of numbers and registration was very time consuming. The volunteers handling the registration maintained their good humour and friendly demeanor although they must have been exhausted but there simply weren't enough of them. Many dancers waited nearly two hours in line to register and if there was a problem with their registration, albeit often minor, they had to wait for a further hour in another line. Luckily, dancers are good natured and used the wait as an opportunity to make new friends! And, hopefully, this will be a learning experience and next year we will zip through registration!
The first big event was the New Year's Eve Party and everyone turned up decked out in their finery. What a splendid sight it was! The organizers had obviously worked hard and had engaged a number of excellent singers to entertain the crowd. That said, dancers want to dance and the comments I heard were that just two singers geared for a dancing crowd would have been sufficient. The crowd basically wanted to get on the floor and smooth out all those travel wrinkles! Elvis, popping up from Las Vegas, pleased the crowd but it was his little nephew, 7 year old Nathaniel (obviously heir apparent!), with his awesome knee movements, that brought the crowd to their feet! T. Graham Brown was terrific and he and Jill King formed an impressive duo but unfortunately he came on at midnight and a lot of the crowd were unable to enjoy his performance as they were queuing up for the midnight buffet. The food looked appetizing but eating it meant camping out! There was insufficient seating around and the "togged up" dancers had to sit on the carpet to eat... all they were missing was a camp fire!
Organizing and running an event like this is an mammoth undertaking and success can bring its own problems. In this instance it appeared to be the unexpected enormous number of participants particularly in the line dance aspect of the event. The President Elect of the UCWDC, Steve Zener, spoke at the Director's Ball and commented on the very welcome participation of so many overseas competitors. He announced his intention to encourage that participation so no doubt there will be many meetings to address the organizational problems that occurred and to ensure the smooth running of the event next year. We heard that it is going to be held three years in a row in the Opryland Hotel, will go out of the country for one year and then back for a further three etc.
But let's get to the dancing, starting with options for the social line dancer aside from the fun of watching the competitions. Each day there were several free classes scheduled or alternatively there was a paid class each hour. Some of the excellent instructors included Jo Thompson, John Robinson, Max Perry, Scott Blevins, Kathy Hunyadi, Barry and Dari Anne Amato, Brian Barakauskas, Jamie Marshall, Jeni Roution, Lou Ecken, Martin Moser, and hip hop artist, Dena Rizzo and her friends. Judy McDonald was supposed to teach but unfortunately was mistakenly allotted couples classes. As it happens her hands were full with competition judging and that was a major job for many of the instructors. As always, the instructors were a friendly bunch and you would often see them out among the dancers in the Lobby who I know enjoyed and appreciated their participation. One comment I heard from several line dancers was that they would have also liked to take classes from some of the overseas Instructors/Choreographers as this was a unique opportunity for North Americans to meet and learn from them in person. Perhaps next year...?!
During the day the Presidential Lobby became the main spot for social line dancing, practicing competition dances and hanging out with your friends. It was a very attractive atrium that was open to the public so it also attracted many spectators who (after their initial reaction that this was not what their image of line dancing had been!) seemed extremely impressed by the calibre of dancing they saw and how exciting and enjoyable it appeared. I have a feeling quite a few new recruits will be joining us on the dance floor from this encounter! A couple of evenings the line dancers moved into the Presidential Ballroom - although the Atrium was cosy the dance floor certainly was not big enough to accommodate the full crowd of energetic dancers. There were large screens in all the rooms, including the Lobby, showing what was going on in the Ballrooms so if you saw something interesting happening elsewhere you could head straight there. This was a terrific idea.
The DJs rotated and did an excellent job. I was delighted to meet DJ Tim Ruzgar who is the music critic for the UK 'Linedancer' magazine (and also 'Linedancer' "dance guru" Steve Healy); Wild Man Louie was most responsive to the dancers and James Gregory from North Carolina kept the floor lively. When I was dancing, the most regularly played dances seemed to be the ubiquitous Chill Factor, SXE, Do Your Thing, Anybody Wanna, Stop It and Juke Box. The DJs were responsive to requests and did their best to ensure that everyone got an opportunity to dance.
Meanwhile the couples competitions were in full swing from the beginning of the event and there was plenty of impressive dancing to watch. Thursday saw the Choreography competitions and Friday some of the heats for the line dancing began with the remainder of the line dancing competitions taking place on the Saturday. The initial schedule called for the competitions to be concluded by 5:30 p.m. that day with awards to be given between 5:30 and 8 p.m., followed by an evening dance in the Ballroom where the competitors could finally relieve their competition stress and let down their hair. Unfortunately that is not how it happened. The results from the heats were received so late that the finals did not start until 7:00 in the evening and continued until well after midnight. In the meantime the competitors who had danced their hearts out in the earlier heats spent a large part of the day cooped up in the ballroom waiting to hear whether they had made the final cut. The Awards were finally given out very late in the evening in another room. It was an upsetting time for competitors and supporters alike. Added to the stress was the fact that a number of the competitors were involved in teams that were to compete starting at 8 a.m. the next morning. Some dancers speculated that not enough space had been allocated for the line dance competitions and possibly not enough judges. No doubt next year there will be greater emphasis and attention paid to the distinctive needs of line dance competitors especially with such a growth in numbers. I should add that the competitions were amazing to watch. The competitors put their all into their performances and I cannot imagine how the judges made their decisions as the quality of dancing was superb. My thanks and appreciation to every one of you for the pleasure you gave me and the other spectators.
There were still the team competitions to watch and they were a highlight for me. I think it was unfortunate that they took place early on Sunday morning and there were very few spectators. Next time folks, don't miss them!! The original, creative choreography, unusual and colourful costumes and sets, and dazzling team routines would grace a professional stage. We saw aerial and acrobatic displays that match what I have seen in major theatres. At least a few of these teams could well play a part in the entertainment performances during the week so everyone can have the good fortune to enjoy them as much as I did. I had to leave before the Sunday afternoon competitions which I was told brought more excitement with the Superstars Crown and the Showcase Masters, the icing on the cake!
But what did you do in the evenings you might ask? Well, you could always head to the Lobby for Open Dancing; but most evenings there was a special event you could attend either as part of your package or you could buy a separate ticket. Robert Royston did a terrific job as MC for the evening events. He kept us all hugely entertained, at the same time at the Director's Ball one evening he performed in "Swango". An expanded 90 minute version of "Swango" is going to be hitting the professional dance world in New York. If you get a chance you should go and see it. The dancers gave a breathtaking performance. However, my favourite evening event was the Parade of Contestants and the World Team Match Challenge. What a pleasure it was to see the exuberant competitors in their colourful costumes gather together full of high spirits. Then to delight in a match full of artistry, grace and humour! The US beat the World Team in total points although the World Team beat the pants off the US Team (according to Max Perry!) in the cabaret segment of the match!! I don't think anyone was counting!!!!
All too soon, however, it was time to pack and start the long journey back to Canada. Many many thanks to the (no doubt by now exhausted!) UCWDC organizers who took on the enormous responsibility for this massive event, and to the volunteers, instructors, and DJs, who worked so hard on our behalf. I am confident that the problems encountered will be scrutinized during the coming year and solutions arrived at so that next year's Worlds event will reach its full exciting potential for everyone in the line and couples international country dance community. It was an absolute thrill to have been part of Worlds XI and I feel privileged to have danced among such talented, enthusiastic and dedicated contestants.
Now ... just let me soak my poor feet in this bowl of hot, soapy water....!!!!