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Liberty is a blast!
And it hasn’t even started yet! But all our friends are here! Evvvvvvverybody from DC is here – for us it’s only a three-hour drive. Even Dallas and Whitney Brooks! First time out since baby Austin was born almost a year ago.
So far: 12 Frenchies, 10 Brits plus Steve Hunt who counts as a country all by himself, two Russians, the King of Belgium … yes, really! The King of Belgium! And Barak Obama! In the other ballroom,the smaller one. West coast swing gets the main ballroom, the King of Belgium and the President of The United States can make do with the small ballroom around the corner. Security guards everywhere.
Registration is always a snap at Liberty. Set up right in the lobby, completely computerized (Brian Faust’s great program, the one with ipads for the judges), and six hot babes to check you in.
Love the contemporary lobby with open balcony, rock sculptures, bar and restaurant with cool misshapen plates and silverware that balances at weird angles.
People got rained out on the highways yesterday and today – huge thunderstorms. Bill Cameron (doing floors this weekend) says it took him 6 hours to make a 2-hour trip, flooding and accidents. Can’t figure out if it’s hot or cold. When it’s not pouring it’s about to pour and so humid you can’t see through the air. I am the only person in the hotel with a hair advantage.
Last night’s dance was meh. Downstairs in a largish meeting room – two floors separated by pillars. Arjay dj’d (Arjay DJ Arjay DJ Arjay DJ) till 11-ish, Louie followed. I counted 120 people on the floor, another 40 standing around. When we left at 1 there were about 40 couples still dancing.
Looking forward to the Opening Ceremonies in two hours … last year was Elvis, this year’s a secret. And pro Strictly and Showcase! Sebastien has a new Showcase partner – she’s beautiful (are alllll the French women beautiful?!? Dudes come ON. It’s bad enough they can dance, no fair if they’re beautiful too. Seriously.) and she is TINY. She’s like a blonde chihuahua. Sebastien is tall and strong so I can only imagine what their routine will look like.
Okee dokee. More in a wittle bit.
Friday Night! Jammed ballroom, great energy.
Opening Ceremonies started with National Anthem, followed by an all-company routine Greased Lightning (from “Grease”), then Showcase! Six couples:
1. Rob and Connie, our good friends from DC, first time on the floor, dancing to Drops of Jupiter by Train. So beautiful! She’s a tiny luminously white bird, he’s a tall black tree with long branches reaching up to the sky. She soared through the air, back and forth and up and around, breathless with joy. She’s the daughter of a pilot and has dreams of floating through the air, being lifted up higher and higher, up to the clouds. Genieboy and I take full credit for this routine. It’s our choreography, we coached them, we chose the music. Okay none of that is true. But we do love these guys and think they looked great. Mario (on the mic) said “Wow! That was pretty amazing! I haven’t seen that routine before! What a start to a great night! That was outstanding!” Pretty wonderful to get a compliment like that from Mario.
2. Robert and Nicola, who danced beautifully, again, and to their exasperation missed a lift which they NEVER miss ever. The lift was waiting to surprise them here at Liberty. Delightful. I didn’t notice the miss, GB didn’t notice it, I’m guessing almost no one noticed – they’re good enough to dance through a mistake. And they got a great crowd response. But still, it’s gotta be frustrating.
3. Benji and Torri, so good, so fast! So difficult! Only the tiniest handful of people – if anyone – could do this routine at this speed, and this clean. Choreography that’s more like painting than dancing. They’re amazing, these two.
4. Arjay and Jen (in black and yellow with neon polka dots,) with a hip new funky stylized snappy thing. Fun! She crouches down and whips her hair around 10 times. She is hot. She is so hot. Her husband is one lucky man.
5. Sebastien and little teeny tiny Vanessa dancing to guess what? Drops of Jupiter by Train. Again! What are the chances? Sebastien rolled her AROUND HIS NECK forteen twenty a hundred times – literally, around his neck. Ha! Mario said “Alcohol was involved in some of those moves.”
6. And last of all, beautiful beautiful Greg and Lemery. Also our good friends from DC. We choreographed this routine, too, and coached them every step of the way, so if you see us you can congratulate us on our success. Come to think of it, we choreographed Robert and Nicola, too, also Benji and Torri, Arjay and Jen, and we flew to France to choreograph Sebastien and Vanessa – that neck move was totally our concept. Genieboy demonstrated by whipping me around and around his neck and then I jumped down and whipped my hair around and around to showe Jen how to look bad ass.
1st Benji and Torri (forget how much they won)
2nd Greg and Lemery $1,000
3rd Arjay and Jen $500
4th Robert and Nicola $300
5th Rob and Connie $200
6th Seb and Vanessa
Pro Strictly’s came later last night … I’ll tell ya about it in the next update. Now down to the ballroom for Jack and Jill’s.
Wow! Yesterday was FUN! Lots to tell but first:
Rising Star (three couples):
1st Michael Stephens and Jamie Callahan $340
2nd Mike Glasgow and Kristen Wenger $250
3rd Donnie and Daria $200
Classic (nine couples):
1st Benji and Melissa Rutz $2,000
2nd Brennar and Torri $1,000
3rd Jordan and Tatiana $500
4th Kyle and Sarah $300
5th Tybalt and Hazel $200
Juniors (five couples):
1st Chris and Nicole $400
2nd Steven and Hannah $300
3rd Conner and Alyssa
4th Akil and Alexis
5th Ian and Emily Hull
1st Akil and Estelle $352
2nd Jerome and Svetlana $292
3rd Steve Wilder and Hottie-Trained-Dancer-With-No-Vowels-Name-Ending-in-Oooski $234
4th Scott Pulling and Erica Ross $176
5th Michael Blackburn and Sarah Richards $118
1st Dave Damon and Blandine $252
2nd Julien-of-the-famous-pink-underwear and Sascha $210
3rd Sebastien and Jamie $168
4th Keith Stremmel and Erica Smith $126
5th Peter Fradley and Sue Lambell $84
1st Dean and Dori $158
2nd Mike Glasgow and Maureen $132
3rd Michael Stephens and Me, Liza heh heh $106
4th Dave Raimes and Jennifer $78
5th Dennis Riley and Samantha DeFrancisco $52
1st Anthony DeRosa and Lemery $140
2nd Stephen White and Alyssa $116
3rd Greg Scott and Kelly Hull $94
4th JB and Dana Simonetti $70
5th Steve Hunt and Connie
Liberty 2011 Update #4
Saturday night at Liberty is “Dress To Impress” which some people actually did, in either classy or tacky evening wear depending on what they were trying to impress you *with.*
Our gracious host Mr. John Lindo was marvelous in elegant black tie, Blake Hobby made a pewter sequined pencil skirt verrrrrrry happy, and Yuna wore a sparkly little black dress which matched her sparkly black eyes and her sparkly black bangs (thick blunt-cut almost to her eyelashes – she chopped them off herself that morning), with hot-pink feather earrings and matching hot-pink 4″ stilettos as her only accessories. Legs to die for. Very retro 60′s London chic, very Twiggy. I dragged her out to the lobby so I could pretend to be a fashion photographer, grabbing an adorable Frenchmen along the way to use as a prop. Yuna said, “But people will say who’s that guy? And where’s Bill? And what’ll I say cause he doesn’t speak English and I don’t even know his name!”
I love Saturday nights, the Big Night of an event. Routines! Yay!
First up, Juniors:
1. Ian and Emily, Jay and Kelly Hull’s 6-yr-old twins performing their hip-hop swing gangsta routine, choreographed by Melina. Cuteness overload.
2. Connor and Alyssa, “Little Red Corvette,” their own terrific choreography. Alyssa is a superstar about to happen. I can’t take my eyes off of her, she is so musical! Quick! Clever! And beautiful! And sweet! which shows in her dancing. Robert told us that this performance marked the end of Connor and Alyssa’s years dancing as Juniors. From now on they’ll compete in Classic. Watch out, grownups.
3. Chris and Nicole, “Disco’s Revenge” (jazz piano). This routine is SO GOOD! Elegant and witty, all about piano keys. They’re dressed like piano keys and they dance like piano keys. We were blown away by this at last year’s Open, and now, seven months later, it is flawless.
4. Steven and Hannah, to both Beyonce’s *and* the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams,” two entirely different songs with the same name, blended together in a funky *very* fast piece which flies (and at one point runs and jumps) around the floor. Fun choreography.
5. Akil and Alexis, “Evacuate The Dance Floor,” cuteness overload extreme. And Alexis! Holy shamoly – those big wide-set blue eyes, long lanky limbs, long blonde hair – Alexis is a stunner, sheesh. Her parents are in for trouble. And attitude! She’s Dean and Dawn combined. On steroids. She got a double wammy of the Born To Perform gene. And Akil! Adorable! I love his face, love how he jumps around hugging everyone cause he’s just fit to bursting with the joy of dancing.
Next, Rising Star:
1. Donnie and Daria – 100 pirouettes holy shamoly
2. Michael and Jamie - sassy rendition of Aretha Franklin’s “Take a Load off Annie” (the song is actually called “The Weight”)
3. Mike Glasgow and Kristin Wenger – “She’s Not There” – clean, quiet, elegant
And then, Classic!
1. Julien and Beverly (from Lyons, France), “You Found Me,” in red and black (she’s got a red turtleneck on a bare back, one red sleeve, one red stripe down her back, and a red belt on black pants. He’s all in black with one red stripe around his arm and an untied red bowtie hanging in his collar). Six outside-turn pirouettes into four inside-turn pirhouettes, no foot down in between. Hard hits throughout with full force, full accelerations, moving to the very ends of the connection, fully committed compressions, very pleasing to watch. Fully expressed “sentences” instead of half-expressed timid mumbling. Beverly is 15 years old, maybe almost 16. I had said earlier there were 12 people from France but that was Thursday night. On Friday another 10 arrived so we had a crowd of Frenchies again and they were all sitting right behind me for Classic. Normally they’re yelling and cheering but for this routine they were oddly silent and when I turned to look I saw 20 French people wiping their eyes, beaming with emotion and pride.
2. Tybalt and Hazel, all in black, “Love Thing,” Hazel the diva with her huge smile in a hustle-flavored, shag-like, multi-pirouetted fun piece that showcased their fast footwork and ability to fly across a floor.
3. Mike and Shelli, “Heartless,” lots of intricate wrap moves and a one-footed flatback during which she holds her left foot at waist level with her right hand. Robert Royston (on the mic) demonstrated how this move came to be: Sheli was bent over tying her shoe when Mike decided to spin her like a top, Sheli yelling “wait I’m tying my WAIT just a minute I’m trying to MIKE! hold ON lemme finish tying my WAIT A MINUTE MIKE” – very funny watching Royston hop around the floor demonstrating.
4. Saturday’s Breaking News: Benji and Melissa Rutz! By late Saturday afternoon everyone was talking about this. When I looked at my phone I had 12 texts from around the world asking what’s going on?! why are they dancing together?!? did we know what the routine was going to be? how would world politics be affected!?
Like Benji and Torri’s amazing last-minute Bulletproof routine (can’t remember if that was last year or 2009) this one was conceived in one hour on Friday and then rehearsed for a second hour at 6:30 Saturday evening. And, like everything Benji choreographs (and Melissa too, for that matter), took into account the very special requirements of this particular performance by these particular individuals, to this music, at this event, at this particular moment in time. It’s like Benji gets a box of magic markers and with utter focus and abandon scratches out these marvelous doodles on a giant sketch pad in the sky.
This routine included two things I have been itching to see for years: First, they chose the fantastic music of the Brazilian Carnival: samba drums with whistles and yells of “Oh No! Here we Go!” No sound ever created can incite a crowd like a parade of drums – you cannot stay still. And the second thing I loved is that they used silence! They danced to silence! When I first learned to read music as a young child I learned that there are notes and there are rests, long ones and short ones of each, and rests are counted and “played” just as notes are counted and played, they are equally important to a piece of music, they are themselves a sound – not the absence of a sound. Stuff happens during a rest, the story is moved along. If you listen to the soundtrack to a horror movie the silence while the monster is sneaking up the stairs is just as important as the full-orchestra chord when he throws open the door to the bedroom. It has always seemed to me that silence isn’t utilized enough (or at all) in WC routines and the potential for great contrast and drama is lost.
So I was beside myself when Benji and Melissa exploded onto the floor to a wild pounding Batucada with back-bends and leans and pulls and skids and head whips and punches, up and down and everywhere, as if body parts were each banging out their own separate rhythms on their own drums. And then! Suddenly … silence! No whistles, no drums, not a whisper in the ballroom, just wide-eyed open-mouthed astonishment as Benji and Melissa continured dancing to the silent beat, not marching but swinging, soft little closed-position triplets and simple whips, like a happy murmur, keeping perfect time in silence for precisely 32 beats – one tidy phrase – and then you heard a far away muffled “Let’s go!” and BAM! Crash! Boom! Whistles and drums in a crazy din! And I am telling you the ballroom simply went wild!
So much was great about this routine – the contrasts, the quality of movement of each of these two, how much fun they were having, how Melissa flies, how clean, controlled and elegant she is, the slow lean into compression in which only their centers are inside and every other body part is stretched away like two sling-shots strained to the snapping point. The routine was so big, so loud, that you didn’t notice if it was a little rough, maybe a little simple, that it made you wonder what would actually be if they developed it from a wildly scratched doodle into a complete painting. I get goosebumps just thinking what that might look like.
Melissa says they hadn’t really talked about doing anything more since she and Ben are dancing at every event for the rest of the year, up to the Open. But you never know.
They got a standing ovation, of course, many people including judges just standing there smiling and shaking their heads and shrugging their shoulders as if to say “Well, nothing to say to that. I got nuthin’ to add. Except wow.” They got a standing ovation and then who should follow but Jordan and Tatiana with “Gravity,” as if we weren’t rattled enough already, and they, too, got a standing ovation. And danced, as they always do, with power and passion and then, just at the end, in the middle of a whirl of 10 pirouettes in which Tatiana does five in a demi-plie and then five in a high arabesque with her beautiful neck and head trailing way out over her shoulder, in the middle of this she put her foot down for a second, on the beat, of course, which you wouldn’t know wasn’t in the choreography unless you’ve watched the routine before and just knew. But they made a mistake. They actually make mistakes – I saw it myself.
I can tell when dancers (any athletes for that matter) are supremely good because it looks like what they’re doing is easy, like I could do it. That’s when I know I’m seeing a lifetime of hard work combined with supernatural talent. I watch some of these super-hero dancers and I catch myself thinking “hey those flatback pirouettes are cool, I’m gonna try that during the next song break.” Then the song break comes and I can’t even stand up from the chair cause my knees won’t unbend.
Four more routines in Classic and lots more to tell. Next update …
Classic, continued …
The sixth routine Saturday night was performed by Sebastien and Blandine (Montpellier, France), to “Home” by Vanessa Carlton (great routine song). I love this routine. I love watching
Blandine move, period, I’ve been mesmerized by her all this and last year, watching her win Jack and Jill’s, Strictly’s, and Golden Ticket. I’m told she feels as good as she looks. And
Sebastien! What a hunk and a half! And fun to dance with! So this song has loads of drama and so does their choreography: just at the end, at the highest most dramatic point, the piano repeats a four-note scale over and over and as it does Blandine does four outside turns, then four pirouettes, four flatbacks, four turns around Sebastien, then EIGHT flatbacks, and eight finger spins looking skyward – 32 beats of spinning! Parfait!
Next, Kyle and Sarah, with their funky “How You Like Me Now.” Sarah starting out with her face one inch, literally, from Angel’s nose. How did she keep from laughing? No idea. How can you be serious pinned up against that huge toothy grin? But she did, and she was all bad-ass attitude. And she ended the routine by strutting right back at him again all uppity How You Like Me Now In Yo Face. By the way, the Facebook “VIP Awards” page is showing Kyle and Sarah’s “Johnny Be Goode” (2002 Classic 1st Place) as winning in several different categories. (The Facebook page is not where you actually vote so it’s a bit confusing. But it does hint at what you might expect at the upcoming VIP Awards Gala this August.)
Then Erik and Anna Novoa’s elegant “You Made Me Love You,” he in a tie and vest, she in a pretty little dress and heels on her pretty little legs. Sweeping kicks and leaps, everything in
tandem. They’re both ballerinas and this routine shows off their sweetness and grace.
And last of all the amazing Brennar and Torri. Wow. Just wow. Their footwork! So FAST! Shag footwork maybe? I don’t know I can’t even see the feet it’s just a big blur like they’re zipping around on unicycles, or like those cartoon characters that shoot across your tv screen with a blurry circle where the legs are supposed to be. And they’re smiling and doing back-bends and knee drops and spins all through it. Perfectly clean! They’re amazing. Great song, great routine, great great great.
SwingDiego is sunny, expansive, sparkled with big names and superstars, very southern California. Liberty, on the other hand, is totally New York. Very Broadway. John Lindo presiding over everything like the owner of an exclusive Michelin 3-Star establishment, greeting everyone, shaking hands, overseeing operations, pouring wine, putting out fires, thanking each guest for coming. Lindo is a generous host – breakfasts provided each morning in the atrium outside the ballroom; big trophies for the top three winners in every category (I brought one home! It’s gorgeous standing on our mantel!); big cash prizes. Lots of extras at Liberty to show that he knows you’ve spent boatloads of money and many hours of travel to patronize his event and he appreciates your support.
People come in early to see New York, take in a show, visit the Statue of Liberty, the Met, Soho. When we arrived in the pouring rain Thursday afternoon Torri and Kim (Torri’s wonderful mom) were just returning from Times Square, completely drenched but happy and unbelievably cute and huggable, both of them. I wish thunderstorms made me look adorable like that. They don’t.
Speaking of adorable, cutie-pie Cali Buntin reminded me that I am not the only person in the hotel with a humidity hair advantage. Cali has one too. Both of our hairs are maxed out – there’s nowhere else to go. Thunderstorms? No problem. Hurricanes? Blizzards? Hail? Avalanches? Nothing affects our hair.
Oh, and speaking of New York, Mario opened Friday’s competitions telling us that Liberty is not a NASDE comp, Liberty is in fact a proud non-member of NASDE. Why? Because, since its inception in 2004, Liberty has always been, in Mario’s words, “gender equal.” This was particularly poignant because only two hours earlier the state of New York had legalized same-sex marriage with a 33-29 vote in the state Senate. Mario made this announcement and then, mic in hand, walked across the floor to John Festa sitting in his judge’s chair, got down on one knee and said, “My dear friend. It’s been 20 years. John, I would like to ask for your hand in marriage.” I’m not sure whether Festa said yes or no – couldn’t hear his reply through all the laughing. Fortunately – or unfortunately – New York has not yet legalized multiple marriages so Mario’s beautiful wife Stephanie, sitting in her judge’s chair several seats down, need not worry about sharing.
And with that DeLuca and DeMarco (Jenn and Jill) began the Pro Strictly, followed by six other couples: Jordan and Jessica, Arjay and Torri, Brennar and Melissa Rutz, Benji and Sarah, Robert Royston and Debbie Figueroa, and Kyle and Tatiana. Judges for this comp were Festa and Stephanie, Dawn Garrish, Blake, Phil Lamothe, and Angel, Chief Judge for the weekend.
Friday night social dancing was FUN! Fun but crowded – if you weren’t up there when the song started you were not able to find a place to squeeze in without taking someone else’s slot. I sat out a lot because there was simply no room. And the floor was a little sticky – heat and humidity to blame I’m sure. But despite these things the energy in the room was high – lots of laughing, goofing off, lots of people dancing all night. Floor was still full when we left at 3am and we heard it stayed that way for another hour or two.
Lots more to tell …