USO 2016 Update #15 - Rambling Thoughts From The Airport
Sitting here at the gate at LAX, waiting for my flight home to DC. Made it from the hotel to the airport - what should have been 40 minutes took two hours through Friday morning rush-hour traffic - but made it without incident! A minor miracle in Los Angeles.
LAX Terminal 3. Bedlam. A sweeping, cavernous rotunda, strips of rickety metal seating crammed in the middle of the room, disheveled groups of unmatched passengers perched everywhere. Floor to ceiling glass walls circle the exterior, the doors to 13 gates leading down 13 accordion jet bridges that wait like giant vacuum-cleaner hoses ready to suck up passengers as if we're food; the gigantic planes clustered outside, resting, like huge, shiny racehorses being watered and groomed between heats, their swollen silver bellies flung open while far down below tiny suitcases are tossed in one-by-one by tiny orange-vested baggage handlers and tiny workers scurry around the planes like bees flying in and out of a hive.
It's a zoo here. It sounds like the zoo. Like the giant echo-chamber Chimpanzee House of the Washington National Zoo of my childhood; the din of a thousand voices bouncing off walls and ceilings in a single roar punctuated by announcements, "Please brlgpoialkaf your Giepahfoiafepioio before san francislk;af;ie in case neujgraapblrb!"
Blinding sunlight falls through the tops of the windows, shafts of warmth and sunbeams in the chilly drabness of this giant hall. I'm sitting in one of these shafts, on the floor, in a small circle of hot sun on the carpet, laptop on my knees, thinking about the Open.
My brain sounds like this room. A din of voices, songs, images, colors, fragments of conversations.
Benji and Nicole. A whole floor full of junior shaggers. Koreans going nuts in the stands. Glenn and Patty's heart-breaking slip that seemed to unfold in slo-mo - her face, that face of triumph, of a Champion, that huge smile, "It's okay! I'm okay!" Rising Star; Ben's face at Awards; Kyle and Sarah and Kyler and Alexis; spontaneous, involuntary, screaming standing ovations; Frenchies tossed so high they hit the high ballroom ceiling; Jack and Jills won by couples who'd never met and cannot speak each others' languages; Joel Gorman dislocating his shoulder, putting it back in, coming back on the floor to dance a second time, dislocating his shoulder a second time. The hilarity, cleverness, and wit of the Lindy teams. Mike and Amber and Ben and Cameo dancing each others' routines.
All dancing in my head at once, in one loud, chaotic, jumble.
The scene in that ballroom Sunday night for Awards! Every seat full, from the floor all the way to the top of the risers. The Koreans up there at the top, just under the ceiling at the top of the room, waving flags, cheering and screaming, wild with happiness.
I got to sit next to Jim Tigges!
For three days straight we talked nonstop about routines, dancers, US Opens, stories, characters, technique, communities. What a treasure Jim is! He's a walking, talking West Coast Swing Historical Archive. And he is so NICE! He's totally approachable, warm, friendly, and LOVES to talk. If you want an education in West Coast Swing, and if you just want to meet a truly delightful, mushy, hilarious, kind, analytical, smart person; a beloved community icon -- I recommend introducing yourself. Your life will be so much richer for it.
We need a rich arts patron to fund Brad Whelans's photography.
Brad says occasionally an event will find him a sponsor, some generous dancer who pays Brad enough that he's able to provide pictures free of charge. But that's hit or miss. We need to find someone to make it possible for Brad to be at as many events as possible, all around the world, so that we always have a professionally-done archive of pictures.
Same with video. The only reason we ever have to fight with poor streaming quality, or the number and quality of cameras, or any other issue - the sole reason is money. Technology exists for professional, top-notch video quality, and we are a community of creative people who would love to create artistic stuff with film. We should be putting out awesome, professional-quality videos for widespread use on social media.
We need an arts patron.
There must be someone out there! Someone who may never heard of West Coast Swing, someone who loves dance, who would love to support our dance, and get a tax write-off for doing so. A Hollywood celebrity, a sports celebrity, a musician, Mark Zuckerberg, someone.
We need a professional Fundraiser. There must be people in the community who are Fundraisers themselves, or know people who are.
And when we do find a patron, and the promise of a continual influx of real money, where do we spend it? What part of our dance sport is being held back for lack of money?
Who, in our community, makes decisions about money?
We need to get on top of this.
I am struck, one more time, by the quality of the people in our dance community.
I don't know why, or what it is, but Swing Dancing attracts a particular sort of person, a very different sort than you find in Ballroom, Salsa, Country, or Hustle.
There is a personality type that is drawn to our dance. Hard to define what this "type" is exactly, but the feel at our small local dances and our largest conventions is uniquely our own.
We are supportive of each other, for one thing. Extraordinarily supportive. We cheer for each other as emotionally as if we're on the same team, not each others' competitors.
We are a very generous community. We're not stingy or miserly with information - we offer it freely to each other, we enjoy helping each other, we take pleasure in giving.
We are people who LOVE to laugh. Laughing, playing, making jokes, being funny - these are central characteristics of our dance. Our playfulness, our goofiness - you can feel our love for laughter off the floor as much as on.
We are extremely artistic, creative people. We're passionate. We tend to be more open-minded than other dance genres.
We have a fondness for stories. Especially stories about each other. The full cast of colorful characters, past and present, that have danced their way through our lives. We are a community of story-tellers.
We have our share of drama, but I would say far less - certainly less of the demoralizing, destructive kind - than other dance genres. We most certainly have fewer scandals, a feature of dance since the first caveboy leapt up at a bonfire to dance away his feverish lust for a young girl's heart, outraging the elders and sparking scandalous copy-cat dance outbreaks in neighboring clans.
We welcome strangers. We feel an almost missionary zeal for our dance, and become ridiculously excited at any opportunity to teach it to someone new.
We're indefatigable. We'll travel through blizzards and across oceans to dance. Something about swing dancing feels so personal, that it becomes more of an "identity," more of a definition of our personalities and the shape of our lives, than almost anything else.
I don't understand what it is about us, what our "personality type" is. I do know that dancers from other genres look at us and are jealous. They see that we are rough and "unfinished" - not as polished or ready for prime-time - but that we have something special, something powerful, going on in our community; something beautiful, contagious, and exciting; and it has to do with our people, the type of people who make up our community, the type of people who see swing dancing in a dark corner of a bar in some tiny town, somewhere in the world, and at that moment their lives are changed forever.
The Sweeper Crew, in pajamas and fluffy slippers, pushing brooms across the floor. Including the Hull twins, Ian and Emily, there to perform their sixth US Open routine! Six routines already, and they were just born, like, yesterday? How is this possible?
Oh, the mishaps! The mistakes! The random slips of the foot or mind! The heartbreak heard round the world!
Glenn and Patty! Pj and Tashina! And others perhaps not so obvious. Oh, how our hearts go out to you!
So much greatness at this year's Open, so much! Too much to process.
But these two routines - Glenn and Patty in Showcase, and PJ and Tashina in Classic Finals - these deserve special mention because both are absolutely astonishing - simply astonishing choreography, astonishing execution - both routines.
Glenn and Patty HOLY MACKEREL! Lifts so clever and new, so FAST, so contemporary, so snappy, and "relevant" - this routine blew everyone's minds for its creativity, difficulty, energy, and cleanliness.
And then her foot slides on his pants leg! Just at the peak, the climactic moment of the piece, her foot slips! You practice a million times, you practice this pinnacle moment more than anything else, you nail it every time, and then the shoe slips.
And PJ and Tashina - WOW! A whirling dervish of gray and orange speeding to every corner of the floor, like a cartoon of a spinning tornado with four happy eyes and two laughing mouths and motion lines drawn round and round and round and round. This routine! So unique!
You know how we say that West Coast Swing allows us to express the uniqueness of our personalities in a way that no other partner dance can? That our top couples are so different from each other, just the opposite of what is asked of top couples in Ballroom, Salsa, or Country?
Well, PJ and Tashina! How fun is it watching this couple find their voice! Each year's routine more "them" than the last? This 2016 routine feels totally, fully, 100% PJ and Tashina. You watch this dance and you feel that you know them a little bit better. It's marvelous.
And they messed up! At the Open! In front of the whole world, recorded for all posterity. AUGHGHGHGHGH! Could you just bang your head against the wall? I actually jumped up when it was over, clapping the skin off my hands, crying into the air around me "Please can't we have a do-over? They'll do it right! I promise!"
No Do-Overs allowed.
And then there are Ryan and Alexis. Champions!
Second year winning the Open Young Adult title!
Such beautiful young people! I can't look at them without getting emotional. I still cannot wrap my brain around the fact that this beauty is Dawn's daughter! This handsome young man is Debbie's son!
And then they start dancing.
And there before me is Dawn herself! And I see Dean! And Debbie, and Wesley! I see them as clearly as if they themselves were out there, again, tearing up that floor. I see their faces, their movements, their attitudes. It's all familiar and it's all new, at the same time.
I see the history of our community dancing across that floor, and I can't keep my heart from singing!
They dance with such joy! They're fabulous. Jaw-dropping, finger-popping, fabulous!
Have you seen this? Wow!
Such a sad conversation with Bob Budzinski. And his sad announcement later at Awards.
The Masters Tour which he and Beverly have so generously created, funded, promoted, and tried like the devil to promote for 10 years - is finally done. Bob explained this so graciously to me as is his style, always the consummate gentleman, so polite and mannerly; but this time with a pained expression, eyebrows tensed with disappointment and frustration, leaning in, beseeching, explaining in almost a whisper, that after 10 years Bob and Beverly have given up.
Event Directors appear to have no interest in Masters. Despite the fact that Masters dancers buy entry fees into more Jack and Jills and Strictly divisions than any other group. And book more hotel rooms per capita because they don't sleep more than two to a room. And they make the hotel happy because they can afford the restaurant, the bar, and room service. And they tip. And they behave.
This last year the Budzinskis watched to see what would happen to the Masters tour without their support. Not a thing, Bob told me, almost in tears. Not a single Event Director came forward to promote the tour.
So that's it. The Masters Tour is no more. An experiment - fully funded from Bob and Beverly's own pocket - launched, and ended.
My, my, my.
He's smart! He's funny! He's a reader, a deep thinker, and an optimist. He's forgiving and empathetic and kind. He knows every song in "Frozen" and every word ever spoken by Johnny Carson; and he knows every person in Swing, Country, Ballroom, Jazz, Musical Theater; and every person in the world who ever took a step and called it dancing.
He's a worker.
You know how the great dancers make dancing look easy? You think, "Oh that looks simple. I can do that." That's what Robert does on the mic. You think, "That looks easy. You announce a few things, you crack a few jokes, I can do that."
If that thought has crossed your mind, give it a try. Good luck! You'll probably discover that excellence in this, as in everything, comes down to plain, old-fashioned, hard work. The amount of preparation it takes to look that relaxed and effortless - the painful, repetitive, boring, tedious, grinding, years of study and practice - that's what makes Robert's emceeing great. Hard work.
For us, a relatively small and unknown dance sub-culture, to have an emcee of this caliber ... how lucky are we?
How different the swing world would be without Robert Royston's voice shepherding us through the Open; without his presence, his coaching, mentoring, choreography, his leadership around the world throughout the entire Circuit year.
I'm not a fan of "Everybody Is A Winner!" Kids think it's totally dumb, another oddity one must put up with when seemingly well-meaning, but clueless, adults are in charge. What they're whispering while the gold stars are passed out is, "Who won?" You don't fool kids.
I am, however, a big fan of transparency and accountability, and want to extend huge thank you's to Phil, on behalf of so many dancers, for his leadership. Thank you! For the total awesomeness of full public scoresheets, including prelims, judges names, and full details of tabulations. Finally! It's about time we behave like a professional competitive sport and trust that dancers who choose to compete do so knowing that they might not win, and that this is precisely the thrill of competing.
No thank you is big enough to show appreciation for the exceptional scoring team of World Dance Registry, Doug Sudd, John Bianchi, Wes Kolpin, MaryAnn Mercer, and Derek Leyva. Gorgeous work. Clean, accurate, elegant, user-friendly, mobile friendly (zaps instantaneously into your phone,) beautifully designed, lightning fast. This is professional quality work and we're so lucky to have them. Thank you!
I love Avalon Organics lavender hand lotion and hair conditioner. I took both with me to the Open, in two cute little squeeze bottles from REI. If you've ever wondered if hand lotion and hair conditioner are different from each other I'm here to tell you that yes, they are. I know this because I spent Saturday at the Open wondering why my body was sliding around inside my clothes, and why there was a slippery white film on my arms and legs, like I was trying wet Elmer's Glue as my latest miracle skin cream.
I haven't even begun to unpack from the Open yet. Have you?