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One word: Abso [insert favorite expletive here] Lutely [insert expletive again] Awesome. No time to write all weekend cause Holy [insert expletive again] Shamoly – the schedule was packed with [expletive] awesomeness from the minute we arrived Thursday morning till the last minute we reluctantly dragged ourselves to the airport Monday morning, choked up with goodbye tears that it had to come to an end, still in a dance-all-night daze, heads still thumping with the vision of that burning red backdrop with “SwingDiego” slashed across in beautiful script, silhouettes of dancers sliding and turning and twisting in front ,,, like a farewell sunset … hating to see it end … what a weekend, what an amazing, amazing weekend!
Tons of pictures to upload to Facebook, suitcases to unpack, and a comp update to write so I can describe how moving and incredible the event was. Wow, just wow. SwingDiego! – best event of the year, no question. Nothing else quite like it, all year long.
Can’t wait to tell you all about it! But first I gotta get me some sleep. I’m wiped!
Swing Diego-o-o! Gee Willikers what an event! It’s been over a month and we still can’t stop talking about it. WHAT A GREAT COMP AUGHGHGHGHGHGH!!
Get this: there were 17 Brazilians! 17!! Last year a really cute guy stood next to me in the registration line and when the Two Vivians (that’s right, both registrars named Vivian) asked his division it was clear he didn’t know a *single* word in English, not even “What’s your name?” or “Will you marry me?” This was Diego, the first Brazilian ever to attend a U.S. west coast event. Well, Diego must have had fun cause this year he came back and brought 16 of his friends with him. What a treat! These are fun people! Spent the weekend leaning all over each other laughing, crying, jumping up cheering, arms wrapped around each other, passionate, sultry, full of love of life, dancing with anyone and everyone, winning everything they entered … are all all Brazilians this loud and loveable?
And … 30 Frenchies! 30! That’s a lot! And UK! And Switzerland, Belgium, Russia, Australia! Texas! And Singapore for cryin’ out loud, Singapore! We keep waiting for the Japanese, *fools* for dancing, just plain all-out obsessive nuts. They dance in the streets in Japan – crowds of Japanese Balkan folk-dancers, Japanese cowboy line-dancers, Japanese Zulu war dancers. One day soon the Japanese will discover west coast and the entire island of Honshu will enter Novice.
“We have five heats in Novice, 7,500 people per heat.” That’s how Royston (in a flower leigh and a girly mini-drink with a mini orange umbrella in his hand) introduced Novice. It was huuuuuge (and included two guys standing side by side, one tall one short, strangers to each other but wearing the same outrageously loud plaid shirt). All the JJ divisions were huge, as was every other contest all weekend. Tons of competitors at Swing Diego which meant tons of people working to get better. Which made for WAY fun social dancing, four packed nights of it, every night until 8 the next day.
24 couples in Classic! I think that might even be more than at the Open. 12 in Showcase, which often has two or if we’re lucky four couples. Eight Junior couples! A packed Open Strictly, simply packed. Okay, it was an Open so it included everyone Allstar and below. But you saw the floor for prelims and stood staring with goose-bumps at the best dancers in the world all out there at once, paired up in interesting couples. I tried getting a picture but couldn’t fit the whole scene into the frame – the dark ballroom and all those bodies shimmering under the spotlight like some gorgeous sea creatures rising up out of a deep black nightime ocean.
And the Champions’ JJ, and the Champions’ Strictly, and Robert Royston’s “Strokin’!” – one of those spontaneous events that become west coast history. Here was a floor full of Champion dancers, the best in the world, and every eye in the room – including the eyes of the other dancers – was on Royston (and his partner Jill) who lip-synced and mimed every word, every moment in that salty song. You couldn’t watch anyone else, he was just too funny. Robert Royston became Clarence Carter, Clarence Carter, Clarence Carter and the entire ballroom jumped up roaring and clapping in a standing ovation – a performance that will be re-told forever after. Here’s the video:
Who was the first couple on the floor in Classic? Diego, of course! With his partner Jessica. She is HOT. And he is EXPLODING with enthusiasm. Together they make some couple, holy shamoly. Their routine looked like Zouk (as in the sensual Brazilian Lambada-Zouk where the connection is hips but not “hips” the way we talk about it which has hands in the middle of the connection; this is a hip connection without any middleman – her-hips-on-his-hips – connection Brazilian style) or the fusion of Zouk with west coast which I think has a name – Lyrical Zouk – with small communities in Brazil and London. Whatever – it was a thrill to watch. Brazil! Bringing us cool new stuff! Sexaaay sexaaaay – ginormous back arches whirling into hair whipping, uninhibited hot, tropical vibe.
Next Michael and Deborah with their beautiful, crazy fast footwork.
And then Jordan and Tatiana. You think, Could they get any better? Nah, impossible, it’s already as good as it gets. Well it got even better. And they won with it! It’s the emotional power of this routine that puts it in a league of its own – it grabs you from the first instant and won’t let you go. The emotion is not superficial, laid on top of the movements to add drama. It’s as if they choreographed the emotional arc of the routine and then just let the movements come naturally from their feelings. So the dance seems very human, you recognize the movements, they feel natural as if you’d make those gestures and movements yourself if you were expressing those things. It’s just stunning dancing.
Then Ed and McCenzie (wow, they’re looking great lately), the Markers (ADORABLE!), Yenni and Eric (Fierce! Completely revamped the routine we’d seen at Capital a few months earlier – Yenni looked like she wanted to bite someone’s head off, blazing eyes, seriously badass, strong and hard-hitting), Lee and Fabian, Reynald and Angelique.
Then Ronnie and Brandi (Have I written about Ronnie and Brandi’s latest routine? It’s terrific, yet again, like everything they do. It’s sexy, funny, and beautifully executed. Their dancing is intelligent – don’t know why I want to use that word but I can’t think of how else to describe it and don’t have the training to decipher what I see. Maybe it’s that they’re technically proficient? Clean? Precisely in the music? Or maybe that the flow of movements and ideas make sense? Like a well-written paragraph?); Audrey and Christophe (French); Kris and Rebecca (first time out after Kris’ awful episode with a strange stomach virus that had him hospitalized for several days); Will and Lasonda; Andrew and Beverly; Ben and Olivia; Jesse and Libby (Oz); Kyle and Sarah (BAD. ASS. Best I’ve seen it – heard they missed a hand but if they did I sure didn’t notice. To me they looked ferocious.).
Sean and Courtney (sleek, controlled – she says it wasn’t but from my point of view its noticeably calmer every time I see it); Brennar and Torri (blazing fast mind boggling choreography screaming blues); Dan and Dawn; Josh and Deron; Ben and Melissa (love the quality of movement, the speed, the way they accelerate and decelerate, the singing choreography – this routine seems to me like a perfect, lovely poem); and last of all Josh and Kathleen with an articulate, subtle, witty, quiet, loving, precise, beautiful, hilarious paean to west coast swing basics which I found brilliant and marvelous and which I think they did extraordinarily poorly with (as in they came in last, maybe? which makes me shrug my shoulders and laugh but probably didn’t make them do that.)
But all these 24 Classic routines came second on Saturday night – after Showcase. We heard that some people found the night too long but we did not feel that way, not at alll. We were in heaven. Then again, we were sitting in the front and heard that the sound at the back of the ballroom was problematic (Parker was readjusting it all weekend trying to respond to every complaint – maybe resident master sound engineer Alex Kosiorek can help next year?). We loved every single second of Saturday night. Especially the fact that Showcase was first, and was scheduled for Saturday instead of the less-important and less well-attended Friday night as happens at most comps.
I’m glad I don’t have to schedule a weekend. No idea how I’d handle multiple Jack and Jill levels, Strictlys, and huge routine divisions. And teams and cabaret. And pro-ams. Would I add another day, starting the comp on a Wednesday? Eliminate some of the social dancing? Eliminate some divisions? Limit the number of routine couples? Hold qualifying prelims for routine divisions? I don’t like any of these choices. But the community is growing, soon we’ll have 50 couples in Classic and we’ll *really* have five heats of 7,500 each in Novice, and they won’t all be Japanese. Guess we’ll be seeing different schedules soon …
More in a moment ….
… And in the meantime, if you’re not on Facebook or haven’t seen these yet, here are some pictures – hundreds more to upload:
Saturday morning we stumbled out onto our balcony and through the thick San Diego morning fog, far down below between the palm trees and monster-sized roses, beyond the pool we could make out 100 people moving silently in unison, like Tai-Chi practitioners in the park at the break of dawn. But they weren’t doing Tai Chi, they were learning west coast swing. This was “Project Swing,” Parker and Earl’s baby. 100 strangers received passes to six hours of special workshops taught by Jordan and Tatiana, Kyle and Sarah, Michael Kiehm, and Taylor and Ben McHenry. 100 brand newbies who’d never danced a step in their life showed up Saturday and Sunday mornings at 10 am to learn from the best in the business.
Last year 30 people were at these workshops, this year 100. And Project Swing continues all year long, introducing new people to the dance and giving them the basics and inspiration they need to get going. You can do this in your community – it’s easy! Email Parker or Earl – they love to tell people how to do it: firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com
So many innovations this year:
- Day-Care! Because, as Earl said, it was Mothers’ Day after all, and we have a whole gaggle of new babies in the community with more coming.
- No Competitors’ Meetings! Were we grateful? And not a single snag or hold-up on the floor. No one danced in the wrong division, no bib numbers were messed up, and even Michael Kiehm managed to pronounce names (almost) correctly and we’re talking Russian, Mandarin, Malay, Francais, Portuguesa, Tamil, Texan, Spanish, Deutsch! Thank you Earl and Parker for doing the dirty work beforehand so that our weekend could be better. What a difference it made – *everyone* was talking about it.
- Saturday Night’s Red Carpet! West coast royalty and glitterati posing for the cameras! Papparazzi! Flashes popping! Photographers crowding round!
- Full hot-meal bar all day long at the back of the ballroom and the food was good, too: a full Chinese buffet, salads, sandwhiches, fruit, snacks, wine and mixed drinks, coffee … huge screen overhead so you could watch the floor up-close while you were back there … and a 10-song lunch break in the middle of the day so you could wander among the flowered trellises in San Diego’s brilliant sunshine. Completely solved last year’s stuck-in-the-ballroom-with-no-food problem.
- Live music! Danny Maika (like last year) playing covers of favorite blues and contemporary wcs classics. Danny played sets from 2-4am, and … he played for the Champions’ JJ! More on this later …
- Warren Pino’s “Q&A Research” market research in the form of an online feedback survey (the completion of which got you entered for a chance to win a free pass to next year’s event). Love the idea of using formal market research (and making use of a community resource as competent as Warren) to pinpoint exactly what people want. Parker and Earl take feedback seriously. Write to them! They’re all ears. They care – they’re committed to setting the standard for the best wcs competition event. They travel the circuit all year taking notes, talking to other event directors and members of the community, asking and listening. And it shows – each year SwingDiego is crazy better than the year before. Earl recently said somewhere (on Facebook maybe) that he looks back on previous years of the event and shudders at the “monstrosities” they’ve “foisted upon the community.” Reminds me of a similar comment Jordan once made that every year he looks at last year’s routine and cringes at how bad his dancing was. Funny to hear such things from these people but they’re humble and they share the drive to push forward, keep upping the ante, making it better, always pushing to improve. Love that attitude.
Thursday night’s kick-off dance was OFF THE CHAIN. Huge floor (okay, not as big as Dallas or Boogie’s 5,800 sq ft, but huge plenty huge) packed with great dancers. Packed floor and yet - I was not used as a weapon, wasn’t worried I’d get taken down, or my legs kicked out from under me, or my achilles tendon sheared off the bone by someone’s heel, or my toes crushed, or knocked unconscious, elbowed in the eye, or someone’s fingers driven up my nose. I wasn’t worried about any of these things and none of them happened to me or anyone else that I heard about. Maybe because the floor was the perfect size, shape, and speed for the number of dancers? Or maybe because there were so many great dancers? Who knew how to cooperate on a crowded floor? And had manners? And were in a good mood? Cause everything was perfect and it was just one helluva good party? Whatever the reason it was the best Thursday night we’ve seen anywhere in recent years … awesome music (all weekend!), jumpin energy till the sun was fully up in the sky. When the weekend starts off like that you are shivering with excitement to see what the next three days will bring. The next morning (morning as in “late” morning) dazed dancers with smushed spiky hair, puffy eyes, and stupid grins, carrying cafe grande’s, stumbled out to the pool to resuscitate themselves. That’s how it was every morning – Parker and Earl were the only two looking energetic and elegant in suitjackets, everyone else in various stages of undress, limping around in the brilliant sun hunting down caffeine, breakfast, or practice space, grunting in one-word sentences “Howyou?” “Notupyet.” “Coffee?” “Ovthere.” “Showernow.” “Somushfun!” “Seeyouinthere.”
More in a bit …
I mentioned that Danny Maika played live for late-nite dancing. Well weren’t we surprised when Earl brought Danny out onto the floor for the Champions’ Jack and Jill! This was Sunday afternoon, the final Big Show of the weekend, the best of the best about to get out there and blow our minds (since our minds weren’t already blown enough.)
So out come the Champion finalists, flying, hopping, rolling or jumping onto the floor (since they’re not like normal boring humans who walk to get around), they take their seats (so to speak – some actually *taking* their seats); and then out comes Danny Maika followed by a mess of wires, a mic on a stand, lots of duct tape, and Rob scrambling to get it all hooked up. But 20 seconds into the first song POP! the sound goes out. Out come Earl and Rob scrambling to rewire but again POP! Pop!Blam! its not working. This time Earl and Rob decide to hook it up somewhere off the floor – not quite as cool as seeing him play right there in front of you but still, pretty cool. But it’s taking a while to get all this arranged so in the meantime Parker calls for a champion all-skate.
Hahahahaha. Good luck.
These are people who can’t even walk uncreatively. And it’s Sunday, everyone is giddy. Everything seems uproariously funny. “Pass me my Red Bull” makes you fall off your chair howling and holding your stomach.
The all-skate lasted just long enough for them to pair up and get into closed position – about 12 seconds – before disintegrating into a wild disarray of noise, color, and body parts shooting out in all directions and then suddenly, like a school of fish, like it *had* to have been choreographed or else the earth’s magnetic force or other mysterious homing effect was guiding them, they all turned at the same moment, ran to the left and landed on the floor in a neat semi-circle where Kyle lead Jordan (who makes a very bad girl) in a death-drop so ugly you were afraid it might actually end in the death of anyone within range of Jordan’s flailing feet.
And then like a flock of geese they were up running over to the other side of the floor where they gathered round jam-style to take turns strutting their stuff for us and themselves and in an inspired moment of genius Victor threw “Strokin’” back on again. First out were Katrina and Kielbasa, then Marcus joined in and THEN … Clarence Carter says “Now. When I start makin’ love to my woman I don’t stop till I know she’s sassyfied” … and on Now out comes Sarah with her back to the audience and begins the Butt-Shake To End All Butt-Shakes – a butt-shake like I didn’t know existed in the world – the butt-shake that puts all other butt-shakes to shame – a rotating butt-shake with two halves going in opposite directions – a marvelous, shiny, non-stop, energizer-bunny of a butt shake which shook for 8 beats and then shook 8 more beats and then kept on shaking for the entire verse and the longer she shook the more you thought you might die laughing until finally, when you thought your head head would explode, when Clarence Carter sang his naughtiest lyric, Sarah turned to the audience and with one hand on her mouth and the other on her butt, with her coyest Betty Boop face, on the break, she stopped shaking.
Another one of those historic moments.
And then the music was fixed, Danny Maika was up and running, and the champion finals began. But what a great little break, right when we needed it, after a morning of routines and JJ finals and just before the last great show. That half-hour of impromptu silliness couldn’t have been more perfect.
Parker and Earl will be giving us a second event, starting next year! “Sin City” in – where else? – Las Vegas! Parker and Earl are either lucky or smart when it comes to location – first San Diego and now Vegas? Can’t wait, this is going to be goooood. Parker announced the new event on Friday evening, saying “I dare anyone to have a better time than me!”
He also told us about a cool new technology toy: there’s an app called Jinx which let’s you text the DJ song requests! (Wait. I can text the DJ already, right now, just by, well, by *texting* the DJ. The DJ is Victor, always ready to play requests. I can text Victor and say “If u play ldy gaga I might hav 2 choke sum one LOL “ But, come to think of it, I wouldn’t have to text him. I could just walk over to the DJ booth and talk to Victor in person, or even choke myself while yelling Lady Gaga Lady Gaga just to get the point across. Don’t exactly know why I need Jinx but I’m sure I must.
Parker also wheeled out the 30′ high gold Bob Price Social Dance Award trophy cup which is presented every year to the person the DJ’s pick who they see talking, dancing, and laughing with everyone all weekend long. The winner gets a lifetime pass to SwingDiego – pretty cool. He also reminded us to take a look at the Wall of Champions, adding that Jordan wanted it to be made very clear that he has had *nine* wins, not eight as the Wall mistakenly showed.
Parker is really good on a mic. I told him this after Friday’s announcements. Parker likes to talk so when he’s on he’s on … much longer than you’d think a ballroom full of 1,400 restless people who like to move for amusement might have patience for. And yet he is able to command full, rapt attention. When Parker starts talking all other conversations stop. Something about his eye contact, the way he looks directly at you, leans forward, speaks right from the heart. He welcomed and thanked all the people who’d travelled from far-away countries. He thanked the pro’s who are creating those communities around the world, describing how their lives are not as glamorous as they might seem, living in airports, 18-hour cramped flights, missed connections, lost luggage, endless jet-lag, power bars for dinner, language problems, messed-up accommodations … it’s rough, and takes devotion and the commitment to a vision of west coast swing communities around the world. Every country represented at SwingDiego was introduced to the dance by our pro’s making trips there to teach basics, build friendships, and show a new country how much fun our dance can be.
I’m glad Parker said this. It doesn’t get said enough.
He walked to the front of the floor, leaned in close and said to a hushed ballroom “Okay I want everyone to listen to this. It’s about respect. There are people here who spent more money, early in the year, to have a seat at a table. Please don’t sit in their seats, or block their view. That would be disrespectful. This is about taking care of everyone including the people who paid for tables. Do you have problems with your seating? Come talk to me! I want to know! We want everyone to have a great time!”
We love Parker. We love Earl.
For a month now I’ve been thinking about what it is about SwingDiego that sets it apart. Yes, it’s for serious dancers so all the top competitors in the world want to be there. That’s true. And yes, it is a 4-day blowout of a party, no question. And yes, San Diego is beautiful. And yes, great DJ’s, a great judging panel, food, daycare, great floor, all those things. But these are the details. There’s some other special something that makes SwingDiego feel the way it does and I think I’ve realized what it is. It’s that Earl and Parker *love* the community. The dance, yes, they love west coast swing – we all love this dance. But Earl and Parker love the west coast *community* – our history, our characters, and the joy of the dance that’s been the thread tying us to those first crazy dancers who invented west coast in the 30’s. This love shows up in all the details of SwingDiego – you can’t put your finger on it but somehow the atmosphere feels respectful of you and respectful of your devotion to west coast swing. You can feel their love all weekend long.
This all sounds very mushy, I know, but I do think this is what the difference is between SwingDiego and lesser events. This love of the people, the community, and the dance is the “essence” of the event and it permeates everything, the whole feel of the weekend. Parker and Earl love the community.
Which makes me want to remind them that if they love the community they haven’t met everyone in it yet.
So let’s see. What else.
Well, in addition to west coast swing dancers there were some little-bit-creepy people in little-bit-creepy costumes sniveling and scurrying around the dark corners and out-of-the-way meeting rooms of the resort. It was a “Steamboat Punk” convention. Yeah, no, I don’t know either and yeah, I googled it too. Shades of Chicago-2009′s Bondage Convention – these guys should be in the same hotel at the same time. It would be a Steamboat Bondage Punk convention. You’d be trying to brush your teeth and wafting in through the vent you’d hear steam explosions, screams of ecstasy, and the Dead Kennedys.
Last year’s SwingDiego we had an earthquake, this year we had a guy with a bull-horn aimed at the hotel from the mall parking lot yelling “Guests at the hotel! Shame! On! You! Guests At The Hotel! Shame! On! You! Guests At The Hotel! Shame! On! You! Guests At The Hotel! Shame! On! You! Guests At The Hotel! Shame! On! You! Guests At The Hotel! Shame! On! You!” till we wanted to run across and stab him with safety pins from our bibs.
The Wobble! I just have to say: Barry Jones doing “Wobble baby, wobble baby, wobble baby WOBBLE!” is a thing of beauty. Barry’s presence makes everything brighter – that face! That enormous smile! Oh, and in case you haven’t heard, Barry is hosting a new event this year, a “People’s Choice Awards” for the west coast community! August 18 – 21, in L.A., same hotel as the Open (Burbank Marriott). Here’s the website:
Oh, the ice-machine repairman, a rawther large man, got stuck in the elevator *with* the ice machine, a large machine. Saturday afternoon we’re on our way down to the ballroom, open our door, and it looks like Iceland has thrown up on the back deck – there was a mountain of ice cubes taller than Sarah Van Drake. And a large red-faced man and his machine, their arms wrapped around each other, permanently jammed in the elevator. When we returned later that night the ice machine was back in its corner pretending like nothing had happened, the elevator was empty, and the only tell-tale sign that anything out of the ordinary had occurred that day was a puddle the size of Sarah Van Drake lying down.
We always get lost among the white trellises trying to find the sports-bar restaurant (there’s another fancier restaurant that gets us lost in a different direction). It feels like there are a zillion paths, alleyways, corners, hot-tubs, coves, walks and roads all lined with trellises carpeted with perennials in every possible brilliant color and roses the size of basketballs. It’s so lovely there. Not the nicest staff in the world – the lady who checked us in was impatient, unfriendly, sarcastic – just plain rude (maybe that’s what the guy with bullhorn was yelling about). And the hotel’s breakfast buffet gets the prize for the all-time grossest, most paltry offering of stale non-food ever. (On behalf of Americans everywhere I apologize to our French visitors, who I caught once, a few years ago, telling each other on Facebook that they love America but the food here is “merde.” You know who you are.) Fortunately there are other restaurants on the premises and a ton more right behind the hotel in the mall. And a grocery store a mile away.
Friday we caught a cab to the grocery store that’s a mile away and after 20 minutes it occurred to us that the driver had zero idea where he was going. It took us another 20 minutes of me keeping my mouth shut while the driver and my husband tried to sort things out until I suddenly yanked the directions from the driver’s hand and started barking drill sergeant commands with such ferociousness that everyone fell very silent and did exactly as I said. We ended up at a different grocery store than the one a mile away, a stupid grocery store that didn’t have anything we needed (my Diet Mountain Dew, his Gatorades) so I was in NO MOOD to discover, when we exited the store 10 minutes later after hurtling around in a frenzy because now we were going to be late, that the driver was not where he said he’d wait and in fact was nowhere to be seen in the parking lot, not behind the building, not down the street, nowhere. And when I called 411 to get the phone number for Town and Country the operator said I’m sorry ma’am there is no Town and Country hotel, resort, flop house, trailer park, no Town anything in or around San Diego yes I have looked again. And then voila! up drives the cab driver! Oh, he says, I just went to the post office to buy stamps and then picked up a pizza for my girlfriend. Oh I see well in that case yeah that explains it I said in my sweetest, softest, homicidal voice. Genieboy insisted on paying him the full amount on the meter plus a $10 tip cause he said the guy was nice just a little dense.
Saturday morning in the ballroom someone grabbed me, all sweaty and excited, and whispered loudly “Amorphous! The word of the day is Amorphous! Okay? Don’t forget!!!!!!” I have no idea what that was about.
Oh! The “Steal Zone!” Really cool idea. Sunday night they had a cordoned-off area at one end of the ballroom where anyone could cut into anyone else’s dance to steal their partner. Fun! It’s like Speed Dating. Instead of one, you’re making four new friends every three minutes! It’s like the meeting place for West Coast Swing Dancers Affected with ADHD.
Sunday night was wonderful, beautiful, and sad. We had a plane to catch the next morning and still hadn’t packed but didn’t want it to end. And the moody, dim ballroom lit only by that blood-red fiery sunset wall, black silhouettes still dancing and dancing in an exhausted daze, the crowd slowly getting thinner as morning approached and each group left to fly home. We didn’t want to say goodbye.
And … that’s it! SwingDiego 2011!