HST 2016 Update #3 - Enter Jordan and Tatiana
This time tomorrow I'll be on a plane bound for Los Angeles, for Halloween SwingThing. Yippee!
By the way.
Did you know this event was so old? I sure didn't.
I had no idea this was such an ancient event, around since prehistoric times.
HST was started in 1994! Before microbes! or dinosaurs! or anyone was even alive!
In ancient times - late 80's, early 90's - there weren't heaps of events like today. Weekend-long events were a rare treat. I remember being amazed that there was an event every month.
Dancer demographics were different, too.
A popular Jack and Jill division at the time was "50's Era" or "60's Era." To qualify you had to have started dancing in the 50's or 60's. You read that right - started in the 50's. Tells you about the ages of west coast dancers at the time.
In 1990 John Wheaton started holding one-day workshops. He'd bring pros from the Bay area in northern California or from L.A. in southern California, because John lives right between - in what's called Central Coast California. (Who invented these names? "Northern California" "Southern California" "Central Coast?" They're very creative.)
John was getting good attendance at these workshops. Dancers were coming from the Bay area and LA, just as he'd hoped.
But here's what happened.
Here's a quiz. Let's see how much you know about dancers.
What do dancers do when they come in on a Friday night for a workshop the next day?
Duh. Go dancing on Friday night, of course.
What do dancers do after a full day workshop?
Go dancing again Saturday night. Different bar, of course.
What do dancers do when they wake up Sunday morning having danced all night until breakfast, in a hotel filled with all their dancer friends?
Anyone in their right mind knows this. You go dancing on Sunday. You'd have to be crazy not to.
So that's what happened. John's one-day workshops were morphing themselves into weekend affairs, which finally became such a pain to organize John gave in and held his first weekend event just to keep track of everybody and get 'em in the same place, same time.
That was January of 1994. He called this first event the "Central Coast Swingfest." (The second year he moved and renamed it Monterey Swing Fest)
That same year, October 1994, John held the first Halloween SwingThing.
In those early years if you could get 150-200 people to your event you considered it a success.
John: "There weren't as many dancers back then. And they didn't travel. The dance scene - it was a whole different kinda crittur back then."
Halloween SwingThing was successful from the beginning, drawing enough dancers to keep itself afloat, and providing a relaxed, "party-like" alternative to the Open which came a few weeks later. It was unique because it had something different than the usual dance contests - there was a Costume Party on Saturday night.
"Back then, most events, Saturday nights were coat-and-tie and gals in dresses. Many events, maybe most, you dressed all weekend. Halloween SwingThing was different because of the casual dress-code.
"The first two years we were at the Oxnard Hilton. Then we moved to the Westlake Plaza Hyatt in Thousand Oaks for the next six years; then the Irvine Hyatt Regency where we remained for 18 years, till moving to the current hotel.
"Last year was our first at the Torrance Redondo Beach Marriott. It is fantastic. This hotel is gorgeous, and the staff is terrific."
The hotel staff seem to really want us there, determined to give every guest a stellar experience. Front desk staff, restaurants, bars, security, housekeeping - all went way out of their way to give us a fantastic night of Trick or Treating in their halls and rooms. Every employee seems to have been instructed in our needs and it's obvious they want to make sure we're having a blast.
Worth noting that this is not always the experience at dance events in hotels around the world. So their good care of us has not been taken for granted.These guys are the kind of hotel staff you wish for at every dance event.
Five years ago John got to thinking.
By now he'd been running his three events for years. But Halloween SwingThing had lost its mojo. Numbers had fallen and the event was withering away.
John had always emceed his own events. Everybody did in those paleolithic times, before the advent of "official" emcees. If it was your event you picked up the mic and talked. (Or Kenny did. Kenny Ubiquitous Wetzel. Wherever swing dancers were, Kenny was there too.)
John was wondering about emcees. Maybe a new emcee might help reinvigorate his floundering event.
Might actually be nice to hear a new voice for a change. A new face up there, after all these years. A new personality. Younger, definitely someone to draw in the younger crowd.
The more he thought about this idea, the better it seemed.
The more he thought about it, in fact, the more he knew exactly who he wanted.
No, not him.
Jordan and Tatiana!
That's who he'd ask!
So ... the Monday after HST John pulled Jordan and Tatiana aside, sat down with them, and asked them this:
"Geez, y'know, I've been thinking. If you guys could change anything you wanted about SwingThing, what would you do?"
Tatiana said, "Well to me SwingThing is just another dance event. With a costume contest on Saturday night. That's not a Halloween event, that's just a costume contest. So I would do this, and this, and this, and this, and ...."
"Do it!" John said. "Go for it!"
"Jordan and Tatiana looked at each other. Then they looked at me. Then they looked at each other again."
That was 2012. Jordan and Tatiana became Event Directors, and Halloween SwingThing became a different event.
"Which is REALLY cool," says John, "Because they've made it relevant for the younger group, which is where west coast swing is growing. Y'know, we're not growing from folks my age. It's people in the 20's and 30's that're dancing nowadays. Jordan and Tatiana have made the event hospitable to those folks."
No one in the community understands branding, and the importance of branding, better than Jordan and Tatiana.
The first thing they did was to brand the event as a celebration of Halloween - a four-day Halloween party for dancers. Decorations, sound-effects, trick-or-treating in the halls, haunted-houses in the guest rooms, treats and candies, Monster Ball, Scary Strictly, Beach Party, Boardwalk Pubbing, Special-Effects Makeup Artists ...
Tatiana: "Halloween SwingThing has a nostalgic, sentimental feeling for us, because we've been going there since we were kids, from the age of 13. We did Strictlys there together as Juniors. This event holds a special place in our hearts."
"Speaking for myself, personally, I have always wanted to do an event but I didn't want to compete against any event that was already out there."
"So when John asked us, it seemed like the opportunity to run the event was like the best of both worlds. We could revamp and bolster an event really dear to us, one of the events that we feel kind of "created" the west coast swing community in California."
"And this way we're helping to improve an already existing event. Instead of maybe crowding out or hurting other events by launcing something new in an already-crowded market."
"So I was all for it. Right away I wanted to do it."
"My main goal is that I want it to be an event where people are interacting with each other, like at a party. Having a good time. I want it to be a fun-and-games kind of an event, not a competitive atmosphere. I want to provide lots of different ways to interact with each other that are not just through dancing."
Liza: What makes an event good, in your opinion? Any event, big or small, social or competitive. What makes one good and another not as much?
Tatiana: "I think it's about the promoter. I honestly think you can tell if the promoter is doing it because they love it and they want everyone to have a good time - or - that they're doing it for the money. I honestly can feel that. When I go into an event I can feel if it's not coming from a good place."
Liza: What's your biggest headache?
T: "Trying to make everyone happy. I'm like 'You okay? You okay? You okay?' But I put that on myself. Actually I love asking, and I love taking care of people. Headaches? I can't think of any headaches, I love doing it. Maybe scheduling? Because at some events there are too many comps, too much sitting. We want to give people lots of social activities, lots of time to hang out together, lots of time to laugh and have fun."
"I just want everyone to be happy. Because I put my heart and soul into it. If I lose money I don't care. It's not about the money."
"Halloween was, for us, a local event that we loved and had been going to since we were kids, competing in the costume contest every year."
"John approached us wanting to revitalize the event and give it a new feel.
"This opportunity came at an interesting time for us because we were just beginning to realize that people at this event - people from our local scene - would come up asking us 'Where are you from?' and 'Where do you live?' because they didn't even know we were local, they never got to see us. We were travelling so much around the world that we'd lost the connection with our local community."
"So running this event gave us the chance to become more involved locally again. We had missed that."