Liberty 2016 Update #2 - Fallout?
Huge news this morning - UK Prime Minister David Cameron announces his resignation following the UK's historic vote to leave the European Union.
Ramifications for all of us, around the world.
In further news, Liberty has been put on probation.
For a year. Following last year's historic decision to allow Jack and Jill competitors to dance in TWO divisions, their own points level division - and also - a division above their own.
Read about it here.
We all know how this went from the point of view of the dancers - they LOVED it. Dancing "up" was thrilling, scary - the whole feel of the event was ramped up because of this. Dancers said it was the highlight of their year.
But how did it go from the point of view of the event director? And the WSDC Board? Was there fallout?
Yes. There was.
It was a rule infringement.
So Liberty is on probation this year! Meaning that John has to be a good boy! WSDC rules must be adhered to! Or else!
(One positive outcome from last year's experiment was that the Council now has RULES instead of the former GUIDELINES - cause how do you know when you're "breaking" a guideline?)
So. The "or else" part means that if rules are broken again this year, WSDC sanctioning will be revoked for 2017. No points.
That's not going to happen, of course. John wouldn't let dancers be penalized.
The motivation behind last year is that it's John's feeling an Event Director's job is to provide as many opportunities to compete - as many divisions where a dancer can be eligible - as can be squeezed into the schedule.
He feels it's wrong - especially for dancers who come from overseas, paying thousands of dollars for air fare and hotel - to give only one opportunity to compete all weekend. It certainly doesn't encourage international dancers to make the expensive trip to US events.
This year at Liberty you can compete for points in WSDC-sanctioned divisions; as well as in some non-sanctioned divisions also (like Sophisticated Jack and Jill) for which you won't receive points.
Liberty has always been open to persons of any gender dancing either lead or follow, encouraging dancers to register in whichever role they prefer, in any non-NASDE contest. Liberty has quietly been at the forefront of the "degender" movement since its inception.
John super regrets that Liberty cannot do again this year what was done last year, considering the outpouring of FANTASTIC feedback he received. He would love to. But - he's on probation - so is following the rules.
His recommendation is that you contact the WSDC and voice your opinion.
"You are the customer," says John. "The WSDC exists to serve you, to represent and advance your interests. The WSDC Board has no way of knowing what you want unless you email them and make your opinions known."
So what's new at Liberty this year?
John's made a number of changes based on feedback:
- The schedule has been adjusted to allow for more social dancing.
- After ten years of Jack and Jill Prelims and Finals all completed by Saturday night, this year all Jack and Jill finals have been moved to Sunday. Feedback said it's too much for one day - we're too sweaty, too tired, too many clothing changes, too much sitting, too much for one day. So finals on Sunday.
(Note to you JJ competitors - Finals will be held Spotlight! Just you, in front of an audience and the entire global population watching you on TV. (Some divisions, if large, may be run as two-couple heats.)
- Also moved to Sunday: Juniors, and Pro-Am routines.
- No Opening Show this year. Two reasons: First, because schedule changes threaten to make Friday too packed; Second, because John doesn't want staff to be too overworked, between judging, teaching, competing, and performing - and especially considering that this year Dusseldorf was just last weekend and many staff are only flying in from Germany on Friday.
- Food trucks! Including a dessert truck also (he's working on it - waffles and ice-cream, frozen yogurt confections...)
- Saturday night, after Classic, John is providing a cake-dessert buffet - calling it "Let Them Eat Cake." (John wouldn't have said, but I will: this is coming out of his pocket.) He'd thought of doing this on Sunday but some people leave and he doesn't want anyone to miss it. Cake is important.)
- Breakfast again, free!, every morning (also provided by John) but this year it will be extended, to accommodate those attending early morning workshops. So 8:30 - 11am.
- Free, no-commercial livestream; also broadcast in hotel guestrooms on Channel 75.
- Four teams!
- Based on feedback, they've brought back T-Shirts from two years ago cause better quality and cooler styles (2 new styles this year, 3/4 length for women, cool cuts)
And how is it to be NASDE? Last year Liberty gained NASDE status.
Many NASDE events are down in numbers this year - more choices, global financial squeeze, air travel security concerns, and more. I asked John if these things have affected Liberty's numbers.
So far so good, he says. Pre-registrations seem to be up from last year ...
And 18 Brasilians are registered! John negotiated a special rate with the hotel (it is SO expensive for them to get here!) because it's their first year and he wants it to be especially welcoming and wonderful for them. He's so happy they're coming! (me too, Brasilians make everything funner)
NASDE division registrations are decent - 8-10 Classic couples, 4-6 Showcase ...
What is Liberty's "Brand?"
I asked John - if you had to try to describe Liberty's "brand," what makes Liberty unique, would you say?
No hesitation. John comes from a corporate background so "brand" is something he's thought about.
He wants Liberty to be known as the event that TAKES CARE OF ITS CUSTOMERS.
Which is funny because I recently asked a group of "Internationals" (comprised of Europeans, Asians, and Brasilians) what the grapevine says about various events, and learned that Liberty is, in fact, known as "the event where you get taken care of." Those were the exact words used.
It's his professional career in corporate customer service that informs John. He gets what "customer service" means.
And he came up through the ranks, himself - Novice to Champion - earning his way the hard way.
John says that Event Directors who were never competitors themselves don't have a visceral understanding of what it feels like to be treated "like cattle" - herded here and there - like numbers through a turnstile. John does know what this feels like. He's experienced it himself.
John's fervent opinion is that an Event Director is there TO TAKE CARE of the dancers. He believes the whole feel of the event should be that, the whole atmosphere. You should walk in the front door of the hotel and be greeted with an attitude of hospitality, caring, and appreciation for your business. The Event Director should be there to serve you.
"When John Festa and I decided we wanted to do this we met with Charlie and Jackie and asked them, 'What is it that makes Grand Nationals so awesome? How can we do that with our new event? How do we make Liberty special?' "
"And we decided that this is what we want our product to be - that it's all about customer service. Competitors are spending too much money as it is on hair, makeup, costumes, choreography, music, coaching, practice, travel. So we wanted to SAVE dancers money, not add more expense. We wanted to make it as affordable as we could possibly manage."
"So that is Liberty's brand. Customer Service. Taking care of the dancer first. That is what Liberty is about."
"The tradition is that on Friday morning I take my team to breakfast for a last meeting before the event begins, to rally them. My "spiel" is all about customer service. I learned this from corporate - before an important sale I'd have a meeting and give my customer service talk: "Your answer to a customer should NEVER be "no." It should always be "yes" or "we'll make it happen" or "I'll look into this immediately." "And THANK YOU for your business!"
I asked John if money was no concern, what would he do? What's his biggest vision for Liberty?
He answered without blinking. "Oh that's easy. If money was no object, if I won the lottery, I would make Liberty FREE for everybody. Hotel, comps, everything. I'd hold it at the biggest most beautiful resort I could find."
"My ultimate goal is to find a way to provide a weekend event for dancers FOR FREE."
Who helps John with all the work to make this happen? Who deserves credit?
Barbara Jackson takes care of all media; Kim Hayden manages all volunteers; Anthony deRosa designed and maintains the beautiful, user-friendly website; and John consults with a small team of close friends on every decision, including, of course, co-founder John Festa always; as well as Thomas Hare (his partner.)
Pro-Am Strictlys are being held as I write ...
Strictly Prelims (Novice, Intermediate, and Advanced) begin at 6pm, followed by SS finals.
At 9pm Rising Star, Allstar Strictly prelims and finals, and last tonight the NASDE Champions Strictly.
Watch it all here!
Leo The Lion - the famous MGM roaring Lion - was owned by Volney Phifer, one of the first animal trainers in movie history. Phifer could train lions to roar on cue, and in 1917 had Leo do that famous roar for MGM. Phifer married musician Eloise Page, and in 1932 settled down with Eloise, Leo and other animals on a 27-acre farm in Gillette, New Jersey on Morristown Road (a 30-minute drive from the hotel!!) where they boarded and trained animals working in New York City shows and circuses.
Leo died in 1938 (age 23, which is old for a lion,) and is buried, according to Phifer, “at the front corner of the house, with a white pine planted on top his grave so the roots'll hold down his evil spirits.”