SwingDiego 2016 Update #5 - The "Pit," The "Internationals" and Why Not To Be A Dancer
Two weeks back from SwingDiego, still tripping over our suitcases vomiting clothes all over the bedroom floor ...
Grand Nationals just over ... we couldn't make it but hearing SUCH GREAT things about it this year. We watched LiveStream which was fantastic! Pristine Multiplex quality picture, perfect audio, kudos and thankyou's to Bruce Gleason of thumbsupvideo (filming our wcs events since prehistoric days) who must have bought a load of new expensive equipment to make this happen.
Click here to watch Grand Nationals.
"Watch all the finals for an entire year for $20 and prelims for a month. You should have 1meg/sec download speed. After signing in or signing up, click Buy Video and select GN14 under Packages. Then checkout. All divisions available to watch On-Demand."
So .... SwingDiego....
It was great!
So at this moment Louis is just leaving Atlanta (on his way to North Carolina to deejay his next gig.) But Wednesday of last week he was home, and at 3:55 AM suddenly leaped from bed in a panic thinking he was late for a 4am deejay shift. Cracking his head, smashing his toe, then remembering he was home and supposed to be getting some sleep, finally.
He coined a new term. PES - "Post Event Syndrome."
Post Event Syndrome
[/'pəʊst/ /ɪ'vent/ /'sɪndrəʊm/]
Pertaining to West Coast Swing dancers suffering adverse emotional effects following attendance at a dance event.
- Exaggerated "Monday Morning Blues"
- Culture shock upon exposure to airport personnel
- Paranoid overreaction to bills, office chairs, puddles
- Sudden surprise attacks of euphoria bordering on religious rapture
- Inability to focus, loud songs stuck in ears, brain fog, dozing off in the middle of conversation with boss, confusion, indecisiveness, other effects of prolonged sleep deprivation
- Tourette-like eruptions of dancing to piped music in grocery stores and shopping malls
- Irrational aversion to emptying suitcases
- Frightening, beast-like hunger
- Inappropriate manic laughter
- Inability to converse with normal humans
- Disruption of Circadian rhythms, persistent jet-lag; belief that problem will be fixed by dancing every night of the next week
- Depression, loneliness, self-doubt, questioning one's life choices, questioning one's overall sanity, questioning everyone else's overall sanity
- Clinical obsession with Facebook
Origin of Post Event Syndrome
2016 3:55 AM Louis St. George upon falling out of his own bed at home, for no reason
swungover. danced out. quite tired. immediately buying tickets for next weekend.
well-rested, calm, tidy, drama-free, non-wcs dancer
So two weeks home from SwingDiego and I'm only just recovering from PES. Still wide awake at 3am, ready to go to sleep at 9am.
SwingDiego was too much fun. The Three Amigos (Parker, Nathan, Earl) - pulled it off one more year. Competitions on time, schedule changes handled elegantly, 500+ Jack and Jill contestants ushered through without incident.
So grateful to these guys! To all Event Directors, for these weekly extravaganzas. If they're lucky they might make enough money to cover the year's work, headaches, financial risk.
It's like planning a four-day wedding but way worse. 1,000 guests, who don't sleep and have opinions, and your job is to make them have fun.
WHAT SANE PERSON WANTS THAT JOB?!?
SwingDiego music this year was fabulous - everyone saying so all weekend long. How could it not? Louis at the helm, Victor and Emily by his side. Social-dance music especially! Mood, pace, energy - pure "story-telling" from the deejay booth.
Social dancing was important at SwingDiego this year. It's always important, but this year big crowds all five nights - dancing till dawn Thursday all the way through to daybreak the following Tuesday morning.
The event in general felt more social this year, compared to previous years famous for the "high-stakes hyper-competitive" NASDE vibe. This year felt cozier, more intimate.
Haven't talked numbers with Nathan so don't know if it actually was smaller than two or three years ago, or whether it just felt that way. Fewer routines for sure (cause INJURIES!), which makes for less tense, pre-competition-jitters energy.
So it had a relaxed, party feel this year.
I'm hearing that a growing trend in Europe is social instead of competitive. But this is a trend that ebbs and flows over time, depending on where, who you talk to, all that. Our dance has always straddled the line between social and competitive. We are a community unique in the dance world in this regard.
This "social/competition" issue will be part of a larger conversation that will be had at some point, to address our now-International competition circuit and the evolving role and structure of NASDE, the wsdc and Masters tours, and whatever other other organizational structures might arise. At the moment NASDE's stated mission according to the website is really only the collection and dispersal of prize money. though it's also been the de facto arbiter of judging and scoring, not only at the 12 NASDE member events but throughout the community. NASDE membership is not cheap - somewhere in the $7,000 range I believe? - manageable if you're large, but if, as at SwingDiego this year, you have only two Showcase couples, it's enough to make it difficult for event directors struggling to pull off the financial balancing act that is a west coast swing event.
This is our New Normal. Major circuit event every weekend of the year.
Saturday night 2 AM, in the middle of a crowded dance floor, Vilma Mansfield suffered a heart attack.
The amazing thing -- there were EMT'S present that night, among the dancers! They appeared immediately, ran to her side to administer CPR. And saved Vilma Mansfield's life.
They saved her life!
These heroes didn't want to be thanked. They tend to be shy as a group, public recognition is not what they're about. They were asked to stand on Sunday so we could thank them with applause; did so reluctantly standing briefly in the shadows at the back of the room.
First Responders. Angels that appear ----- then recede into the hubbub of life.
There is a Kickstarter campaign to help with Vilma's medical bills. All donations, no matter how small, are appreciated.
Injuries hit SwingDiego NASDE divisions hard this year. Kyle's shoulder, Gary's shoulder, Tessa's ankle, Nicole's ribs ... many others public and private ... too many all at the same time.
Dancing is hard. For hobbyists, even harder for those trying to make a living at it.
Just this week I saw an interview with Penelope Cruz, telling how she'd been a dancer before deciding dancing's too hard, she'd go into acting instead. She said what all of us know too well - that dancing demands every day practice, commitment that excludes everything else in life, and that it is nearly impossible to make a living. And injury! The constant risk of injury.
Why do we DO this? This is a totally dumb hobby. We should stop encouraging each other.
"The Occupational Hazards of Dancers" A Brief List of Why Not To Be A Dancer
- Self-Criticism - I will NEVER be good enough
- Eating Disorders - I'm too fat
- Age Disorders - I'm too old
- Money - I will never make any money. I will spend what's left on more dancing.
- Burnout - I'm tired, I'm broke, no partner, no gig, forgot how to dance for fun, everyone hates me
- Performance Anxiety - Nausea, nightmares, panic attacks.
- Celebrity - Awkward social interactions, no privacy, rumors and gossip, public objectification and scrutiny
- Injuries - This, the big one, the biggest occupational hazard of all. Always there, always threatening to derail your life
Noticeably few "Internationals" at SwingDiego this year.
(Can we find a better word for "Internationals?" The opposite of "Internationals" is "Americans," right? I realize we Americans are the center of the universe, but I'd prefer not to admit so publicly.)
Whatever we call them, there were fewer of "those people" at SwingDiego this year, compared to a few years ago where there were so many you often didn't hear English spoken.
I remember being dazzled by this in 2013
"Thursday night 3am 700 dancers on the floor, from all around the world. Russians, French, Brasilians, Singapore, Korea, Israelis, Swedes, Finns, England, Scotland, Ireland, Hungary, Phillipines, Australians, Canadians, Morrocco, Pakistan, Turkey … influences, styles, and regional color from every part of the globe ... sweaty couples dancing their hearts out with huge grins on their faces, unable to speak each other’s languages but communicating perfectly in the shared language of west coast swing. What a scene!"
And in 2012 ...
"Competitors from all over the world! The most International of all US events ... we have Brasil (several tables full!), France, Australia, Moscow, Sweden, Canada, Denmark, Singapore, Turkey, Switzerland, Polynesia, Budapest, London, Japan, South Korea, and Morocco!"
And 2011 ...
"17 Brazilians, 30 Frenchies! UK, Switzerland, Belgium, Russia, Australia, Singapore"
I L.O.V.E. those "Internationals" and missed them this year. I love their influence on our dance - the sensuality of the Brasilians, dry wit of the Brits, exuberant Singaporeans, crazy Finns, artsy Hungarians, the sexy French (so good they make you throw up your hands in defeat and take up bowling.)
I love that our dance is adaptive - like the street-dance it is - and now not only shows regional variations of the US but now shades of zouk from Brasil, boogie-woogie from Scandinavia, ballroom and disco from Russia, jazz and theater arts from France ...
I love when the "Internationals" come to our country and we can experience all the colors and flags and dance languages here at home events.
But it's so expensive to fly! And one doesn't have to travel to the US anymore. Now Americans are travelling abroad because now west coast swing dancing is everywhere.
Assorted SwingDiego Tidbits:
Heard this year was a heavy work-weekend for pros -- meaning a packed schedule judging, running workshops, and private lessons. To be expected at an event with this caliber of top-level staff.
No sway'd boots! I heard a few disappointed complaints that they weren't available (although I did notice similar boots displayed - looks like other manufacturers are now jumping on this craze!) Have to say my sway'd boots are the most comfortable dance shoes I've ever owned (and I've owned a lot of dance shoes.) (If you're reading this, then so have you.)
No new T-shirts this year! I learned something about T-shirts, hearing how much they were missed. I hadn't realized that that event T-shirts (especially SwingDiego T-shirts with that artistic logo) are coveted, shown off all around the world like Luis Vuitton bags or Calvin Klein underwear.
But alas, no SwingDiego T-shirts this year, for bragging rights at events around the world.
(I also heard, by the way, that T-shirt ordering is HUGE for Event Directors ... meaning huge headache. Far more complicated and financially risky than I would have guessed. Who knew?)
Speaking of coveted designer items ... Jordan and Tatiana's new shoes! - spoken for before they're even manufactured, snatched up like new Iphones, lines of people at Jordan's door all SwingDiego. Jordan is now a shoe salesmen. He spent the weekend measuring big toes, quite the crowd in his room. They're nice shoes! Velvety soft Italian leather. Beautifully built. This is the premium quality shoe line they've been working on for years, finally here, and everybody wants a pair.
The "Four-Wall" thing - SwingDiego's attempt to recreate the nostalgic US Open "pit" of the 90's.
It worked! Sort of.
The difference is that back then the community was smaller. And you knew everybody. Really knew them.
So the pit felt smaller - maybe actually was smaller. You'd look around the room and there's your your mom on the steps across from you; there are your brothers over there; that's your stepfather in the center, dancing with your current dance-partner's ex-wife who is now dating your uncle; there's your ex- dance-partner, who you're not speaking to, over in the corner laughing and showing off as usual ...
It was like that. The word "family" arose because it actually was. Half a degree of separation between you and anyone - call it a small town, clan, tribe, overactive Brady Bunch ... Whatever you called it you spent every Thanksgiving with these people, and all the other holidays, and for that matter, every other day of the year, too.
The community is just not like that anymore. We do still see too much of each other. But we're so much bigger, and spread out around the world.
Today in the "pit" you've got Brasilians over here, Russians over there, and a Korean and Frenchman dancing in the middle. It's a beautiful thing! But different than back then.
Similar issues with jam circles.
It was Doug Rousar who, in 2012, ignited the current trend of holding the big Saturday night "show" division (the Pro Jack and Jill final) in a darkened ballroom, extreme spotlighting on the dancing couple, audience seated in a tight circle on the dark floor, and especially moody, atmospheric music - music that, if the magic happens, will be iconic, the soundtrack for a moment memorialized 20 and 50 years in the future.
This was Doug's vision and brainchild, and the idea was an instant success, replicated at events around the country almost immediately.
Doug (and others) have been able to get the emotion and "feel" right. But even with the audience seated on the floor it's a challenge to overcome visibility issues. Because events are bigger than they used to be, or because people are politer than they used to be, for whatever reason it's been hard to pull off jam-circles and "pits" without causing shorter people, less "pushy" people, people with disabilities - to not be left behind.
At GNDC last weekend a spontaneous jam circle burst forth from the dark, in a back ballroom, at 3am, a crossover between shag and west coast pros. I've heard it was magic, a spell was cast over all present, one of those chance glimpses we've all experienced, those moments which, as Skippy says, we're always chasing. Maybe jam circles, like the night of spontaneous "campfire stories" a few years ago, maybe these moments can't be prearranged but must arise by themselves when all ingredients are just right.
As for the photography of circles:
- Lighting is either terrific or impossible depending on whether you're pointed at the spotlight or not;
- People seated behind a routine couple should be advised to refrain from picking their noses, yawning, snarfing Big Macs, or wearing shorts.
The Infamous Breakfast Buffet
So after the hotel front-desk rave reviews we woke up early to run down to experience the updated menu. We found a cozy, quiet, early-morning atmosphere, low-lighting. Minimalist ambience.
So minimalist, in fact, that there was no food.
In the kitchen they were puzzled, "Breakfast buffet? We don't have a breakfast buffet."
They do have a Brunch Buffet. On weekends. We didn't make it but was told it was acceptable, standard lunch fare.
As for Charlie's - the front desk said we'd be awesomified. We tried it Friday evening - I will say our waiter was TOTALLY awesomified about the new menu, seeming genuinely ecstatic as he described every dish. We liked him. And you will love the new menu if you love barbecue sauce which the new Charlie's now smothers every item with, including cole-slaw and couscous. Even my iced-tea tasted like barbecue sauce.
The Town and Country resort, established in 1953, has now been bought by a luxury chain and an 80 million dollar renovation is about to begin. The Palm Towers - where most of us stay - will be completely changed. The lobby will be moved into the middle (close to the big pool) and a new building of guest rooms will be constructed where the lobby was. Two new luxury restaurants will be constructed, as will the two convention centers (where our ballrooms are.) They don't know yet just what their timeline will be, or what the resort will look like for next year's SwingDiego. Parker announced that we will be there again next year, so I'm excited!
Finally, wanted to tell you about a marvelous new idea, the very cool "Before and After" Intensive held by Jordan and Tatiana.
First three hours held Thursday before the event; the final three hours on Monday following.
The focus this first time was on performance technique, the relationship with your partner, and connection - in the largest sense of that word.
So much information! Such fine teaching! A taste of what one gets at ESS (and why, when I ask "Internationals" what US events are on their short list, ESS and The Open are the two always mentioned.)
They covered music phrasing, music as opposed to lyrics and "charades," musical shifts in energy and mood, phrases as "paragraphs."
How our dance is unique in that our top dancers are all different from each other whereas in ballroom or latin (or any other partner dance you can think of) the top dancers - because they are trying to achieve a defined pinnacle of precision - all look so much the same you almost can't tell one from another. Our dance not only allows, but demands, personal expression. Your own voice.
They covered dancing to audience. Choreographing your Jack and Jill to the audience, not the back wall.
Learning to express to the audience, performance "faces," making eye-contact, showing emotion, selling, when and why to make the "OH!" face, vocalized sound-effects.
They covered the intricacies of connection - with focus on the actual interpersonal connection, communication, conversation with your partner. That as in non-dance communications you should be real, genuine, not just faking an expression or movement but actually communicating.
Meaning paying attention, watching her, "listening" to her/him, to what's s/he's giving you, making eye contact. Leaders staring up in space at the what's-my-next-move "thought-bubble;" followers making the intense "follow-or-die" face.
Speaking to participants afterwards I heard nothing but terrific feedback. In particular from leaders (famously obsessed with moves) who said although initially skeptical about the focus on technique and performance, they were most amazed to discover that because of the three hours preceding the event they found themselves able to view not only Jack and Jills, but routines also, in a whole new way; they'd gained a whole new appreciation and understanding of what makes one dance feel alive and another not; one successfully connecting with the audience another not; and so on. One person said it was like educating your palate to detect the difference in wines.
All said it was a huge learning experience, fundamentally important information they feel they would never have acquired on their own. Or known what they didn't know.
Like I say, just a small taste of the mind-blow that is ESS.
So that was SwingDiego 2016!
Thank you Parker, Nathan, Earl; thank you Tom Perlinger (don't know if it's a good thing but I'll forever have an image in my mind of a dark ballroom and the glowing red silhouette of Tom atop a high ladder at the corner of the backdrop, quietly adjusting the lights by hand because the controller wouldn't work;) thank you deejays, and thank you to all the many volunteers. Thank you all for pulling this off. Now get to work on SwingDiego 2017!