Liza May

Desert City Update #6 – Why Benjis Are The Secret Ingredient

Final words on Desert City 2014 …

You haven’t laughed until you’ve laughed at Benji as a dirty old man.

Not just any dirty old man. A miserable, ornery, cantankerous, crabby, crusty, dirty old man.

A lecherous dirty old man.

Who danced with Brandi.

And things started flying off of him. Unplanned things.

First his pipe flew out of his mouth.

Then his hair flew off his head.

And then, his FACE flew off his, well, his face. Pieces of face, during spins.

One of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.

The costume was brilliant. I’m guessing hand-made by Benji himself, like his old man costume at Atlanta several years ago. Warts, wrinkles, blotches, pallor, saggy midriff and buttocks. He limped and shuffled onto the floor, escorted by Brandi as his trophy wife or very pretty nurse.

I don’t think parts of the costume flying off was in the plans, but it sure was funny.

Speaking of Benji’s brilliant wit, I attended Benji and Torri’s workshop Thursday afternoon.

More information in that one hour than I could possibly make use of in a lifetime studying this dance. DENSE with information. So fast-flying you blink and you miss 49GB of stuff you needed to know.

History, technique, physiology, musicality, big concepts, aesthetics, social issues, communication issues, synesthesia, balance, lats, fingertips, practice methods, injury avoidance, shaping, pitch, timing …

Everything demonstrated, explained, shown, described. So you get it, it gets in there, into multiple brain storage areas simultaneously, your brain’s photo gallery, mp3 player, notepad, kindle, videoplayer, pdf reader.

All the data and new ideas tumbling on top of each other with jokes, jokes, jokes … so funny, so silly …

Benji’s impressions of:

  • The Latin “version” of west coast swing (see this and you will never do “Latin hips” again)
  • The Drunken Sailor version of west coast swing
  • The Anti-Christ version of west coast swing
  • The Holding A Large Tuba version of west coast swing
  • And Benji as Michael Jackson, lollipop in his mouth, urging us, in MJ’s little voice, “Let it simmer. Let it simmer.“ **

I can’t believe how lucky we are in the United States to have – even infrequent – access to a giant the likes of Benji.

His coaching. His choreography. The stunning brilliance of his routines. His workshops, speaking engagements, private lessons, eloquent public statements. His creativity and passion in everything he touches.

We call him Benji. It doesn’t seem a big enough name for a man of his stature, a talent this grand.

Speaking of funny!

  • Mike Gadberry’s wig! hahahaha Long, blonde, scraggly, some kind of silly little hat perched on top. And shades.
  • Connie Radoff as a “Robert Palmer Girl” – so severe, so striking, with hair slicked back into a bun, red lips, black dress, legs that shock – that I did a double-take and actually got scared. She was too stunning. I thought she had walked into the wrong ballroom. Until I noticed she was clutching a toy guitar with crayon-colored plastic keys. The Palmer Girls didn’t have toy guitars. Connie did not let go of that guitar all night, gripping it like a blankie.
  • A very funny mistake in the middle of Jordan and Jen’s jack and jill. I can’t say what. But it brought the house down.
  • Ronnie’s hilarious quips all weekend, especially on Saturday night.
“Let’s give a round of applause for all the dancers in heat. Number two. Heat number two.”

“What’s in your fanny pack? Oh, condoms, never mind.”

“You look like you have an animal on your head.”

“Here Jordan, put this chair in front of you.”

I want also to mention Ruby’s gorgeous mixing of acoustic-and-original versions of current contemporary songs, for the Champions Jack and Jill finals.

  • “The Way You Make Me Feel” (Judith Hill) (Michael Jackson) for Maxime and Melissa
  • “Latch” (Sam Smith) (Disclosure) for Brent and Sarah
  • “Am I Wrong” (Femke) (Nico & Vinz) for Ben and Tatiana
  • “Sing” (Hobbie Stuart) (Ed Sheeran) for Jordan and Jen
  • “Get Lucky” (Naughty Boy) (Daft Punk) for Sean and Patty
  • “No Diggity” (Blackstreet) (Blackstreet Bondax Edit) for Kyle and Brandi
  • “Word Up” (Willis) (Cameo) for Benji and Courtney
  • “Brokenhearted” (Kelly Grace) (Karmin) for Arjay and Torri
  • “Crazy” (Daniela Andrade) (Gnarls Barkley) for Michael Kielbasa and Kellese
  • “La La La” (Diana Vickers) (Naughty Boy) for Parker and Tessa
  • “One Time” (Marian Hill) and “All About That Bass” (Meghan Trainer) for the All-Skate.

Oh, and also also, I want to mention an interesting and innovative new idea. Phil Adams, Chief Judge for the weekend, and Jim Tigges, Scorekeeper, both say that there was a single, critical reason things went so smoothly this year, in terms of judging/scoring.

They pointed to Laureen Baldovi Mason. They say Laureen is what made the weekend work.

Laureen functioned as “Assistant to the Chief Judge.” Phil says he’s convinced that the addition of this job completely changes and improves the efficiency, flow, accuracy of judging and scoring.

Why? Because it leaves the Chief Judge free to monitor what is going on on the floor – while the Assistant can monitor the scores. Seems simple, right?

Funny how it often takes so long to figure out something which in hindsight seems so simple. Like the invention of the paperclip.

I’m guessing that we can expect to see Assistant Chief Judges at more and more events as this catches on.

And last of all, this.

On Monday, September 8th – the day most of us were flying home after a fourth night of dancing till the hotel kicked us out at 7am – on Monday morning we woke up to find this on our phones:

And this on TV news and outside the window of the hotel:

My room was on the 6th floor but I awoke to a foot of water that had flooded in overnight.

When I finally managed to pack – suitcase up on the bed where it was dry – and left for the airport – there were engineers and damage control squads running around the hotel everywhere.

It was like I went to sleep and woke up in the Land of Legos. Or Richard Scarry. Big yellow machines with giant black hoses and red pumping engines, men shouting things scurrying in and out of rooms in blue hats, yellow raincoats, and high rubber boots.

An historic 100-year record rainfall! In Phoenix! Where it never rains!

Flying was easier than driving … we made it to the airport just fine.

Still haven’t heard the end of stories of all the California dancers who had to make it out on washed out highways and roads that had vanished into lakes.

A dramatic end to a fun, fun, fun weekend!

Lots of pictures of the event, taken by many photographers, including official photographer for the weekend, Garry Wilmore, whose photographs are found here.

My own Desert City photographs are best found on Facebook, in my “Desert City 2014″ Facebook Album, (while the photography side of my website continues to be rebuilt, a long process.)

** " … how quietly but firmly he coaxes them into doing what he wants, doing it right. To the keyboard player and musical director: Play that particular line “like you’re dragging yourself out of bed.” To the hot-shit guitarist shredding during the climax to “Black or White”: “Hit your highest note. [He sings it for her, for reference.] It’s your time to shine. We’ll be right there with you.” To everybody, all the time: “Let it simmer.” Hold the note, the pose, the dramatic conclusion. “Bathe in the moonlight.” Milk the crowd we can’t see for the rapturous applause we can’t hear.”

(from The Village Voice, “On Michael Jackson’s Mercifully Goofy, Cheerful This Is It” Rob Harvilla Tuesday, Nov 3 2009)


Get the news, stories and awards as it happens!