Hurricane Sandy, more properly called “Superstorm Sandy” since it was the collision of three monster weather events (a tropical hurricane, a nor’easter, and a fall low-pressure system moving from California across the U.S. crashing into each other in an unprecedented, historical explosion) has hit us here on the east coast causing as of this writing 104 deaths and massive devastation. Orders of magnitude more destructive than anything seen on the east coast by anyone alive today.
New Jersey is a wasteland. Atlantic City is gone. My grandmother’s house is gone. The beach where I played in the sand with eleven great-aunts and uncles none of whom knew a word of English. The boardwalks that gave birth to Vaudeville and the culture that has defined American entertainment since the Civil War. Where my mother tap-danced and had her start as an actress. Where I sat on my grandfather’s lap licking a fat ice-cream cone and being tickled by his cigar-smoking canasta-playing Yiddish-speaking buddies. Where I strutted along the splintery boards in my glittery new sky-blue kitten-heels that I begged for until my grandparents finally gave in and bought for me, staring at the beautiful ladies strolling down the boardwalk to see if they noticed that I, too, was making that click-click-clicking sound. My beloved boardwalk! Where we would come up from the beach, stopping on the steps for grandpa to rub the tar from the soles of my feet with a benzene-soaked rag. Where my father ran from the police. Where decades later when casinos were allowed my sister met her sexy Italian card-shark soon-to-be-ex-husband. Barnegut Light where I lay on the sand with “Sun-In” bleach in my hair, feeling like sex, and after dinner we would sing seven-part harmonies while doing the dishes. My beach! My beloved boardwalk! The iconic Jersey shore, the barrier islands, our family history and our nation’s history, engulfed, swallowed up by the sea.
It’s now been a week since the storm hit and the ravage is becoming more dangerous as each day turns to night – people trapped in Manhattan skyscrapers and coastal homes with no power, no elevators, no light, heat, water, food, flushable toilets, cell phone to call for help; entire neighborhoods still under 4 – 6 feet of water which is now a cesspool of of diesel fuel, gasoline, raw sewage, floating vehicles, furniture, nails, debris, and live wires. 100 houses burnt to the ground when sparks from a downed wire flashed from house to house in the 80 mph winds.
And it’s getting colder. A storm is forecast for next week, another nor’easter, with snow. This is an unthinkable disaster.
Here on the east coast, just south of this carnage, it is difficult to concentrate on much else (even the upcoming election.) But life and dancing continue.
It’s now been a month since Boogie, the Open is three weeks away, and I can feel couples preparing in studios, gyms, and basements all over the world.
I’m always curious how couples approach practices. Never having done a routine myself (other than a one-time performance for an Indian wedding) I wonder if it’s the same way I used to attack a new piece of music:
1. Try to get through it;
2. Focus on details and difficult areas;
3. Try again to get through it but this time looking at overall coherence and meaning of the piece;
4. Forget everything so you can go out to perform with an empty mind, free to improvise based on the particular circumstances (the floor, the audience, music slower than you’ve practiced, you’re jet-lagged, bloated, not speaking to your partner, nursing a sprained ankle … million variables which are different every time you perform.)
I know couples who choreograph and practice from the end of the routine backwards to the beginning. Others perfect as they go and by the time the choreography is finished the routine is ready to be put on the floor.
It’s exciting to think of the last-minute practicing and rhinestone-sticking-on all-nighters going on around the globe …
Didn’t finish describing the routines and impressions from Boogie at the beginning of October:
Showcase comprised six couples with three new routines …
1. Eddie and Elyse’s spirited new number to Christina Aguilera’s “Something’s Got A Hold On Me” – starts right off the bat with an easy, effortless death drop (We did that once! On a marble floor, for an audience of 1,000 Indians. During practice I got a concussion smashing my head into my husband’s 0% body-fat shin,) and including a Benji-style double-cartwheel, neck-drop into a slide, the most enthusiastic rag-doll this side of the Pacific Ocean, with a snake at the end. They always look like they’re having a blast.
2. Benji and Torri … maybe the last time we get to see this sweet, sparkly, joyous celebration piece. Can’t believe a year has gone by – we’ve seen this at least 15 times probably more – yet still sat staring in amazement at the speed of their footwork, how they fly, how much they love each other, speak with one voice.
3. Myles and Tessa who, eight days after this performance became Mr. and Mrs. Munroe! (pictures here) dancing with black armbands to mark the loss of Myles’ dear life-long friend Cody Melin (Cody’s Tribute Page) Tracy Melin had ripped into strips Cody’s black T-shirt so that those who knew him could wear black armbands all weekend long. How strange and sad it was to carry a bit of Cody – his own shirt – on my arm all weekend. Very sad. When they finished dancing Myles looked up to Cody with tears in his eyes shaking his clenched fists to the heavens in thanks and kinship. I know Cody was smiling down on his friend with love in his heart.
4. Ronnie and Laureen’s elegant “Without You” – so smooth and lovely! Effortless and classy in black and white. Another one we probably won’t see again.
5. Rob and Connie’s funky new “I Feeeeeel Good” – on “hit me” they stop bam! – Connie held mid-air upside-down like a stick with one leg pointed at the ceiling – and stay frozen for three beats till the music funks back in again. So much fun! It’s a bouncy, popping, body-rolling, James Brownish soul number with crazy spins, drops, lifts and snake-throughs that seem easy.
6. Luis and Jenn with their new routine (might be called “Fight For Me?” beautiful acoustic song) with a Latin cha feel … Jenn cartwheels into a splits (are cartwheels and splits coming back? For a decade they’ve been considered passé but this year seem to be showing up again in routines and strictlys.)
7. Robert and Nicola’s beautiful “Edge of Glory” which they would dance one last time in Tampa (we’re not in Tampa this year! First year we’re missing it since its inception. Cancelled our plane tix just before the storm thinking there’d be no way we’d get out – as it turned out airports here in DC were up and running three days afterwards.) Can’t wait for the Open to their new routine!!
8. Greg and Lemery, “Teenage Dream,” danced at Boogie and one last time at Tampa. They abandoned “No Diggity” cause they say it just wasn’t feeling right somehow. If we’re lucky we’ll get to see them debut their new routine here locally, before the Open.
Young Adult was three couples including one new routine:
1. Brandon and Madison, “Into The Night,” with her lovely long legs and their tight shag-like footwork. At one point her leg floats up over his head as if weightless, coming to rest on his shoulder in a standing splits.
2. Chris and Nicole, “Disappear,” another stunning, moving piece we may not ever see live again. I’ve loved this all year and hate to see it go.
3. Big surprise of this division, Josh and Anyssa with their new routine “Good Feeling” on the floor for the first time. They won! Anyssa is adorable – I said “Wow you won! Can you believe it?” and she answered “We must have been really good!” Somehow I just can’t imagine an adult answering like that. Surprised, delighted, and completely guileless. They deserved the win, too. They strutted out like they owned the place, relaxed, chatty, confident, cocky almost. Mischievous, totally present, both of them flirting and playing the audience throughout, very obviously having fun. Superb control. To transition from the intro (a slower version of the song) to the faster main body of the routine she (or “they,” I should say, since Josh is equally responsible for making this work) does 11 pulsed pirouettes progressively faster till she reaches warp speed and they’re into the next song. On “ohhhh, ohhh, sometimes; I get a good feeling” she lies down flat on the floor, grabs Josh’s hands under her knees; on “Yeah” he flips her up to standing, both of them grinning at how easily they pulled this off. So much fun to watch them nail every moment of this routine. These two are a force! Watch out swing world!
Oh, speaking of Juniors – there were TONS of juniors at Boogie! Tons. Like four tables-full sitting beside us and clumps of juniors everywhere else throughout the ballroom. More than I’ve ever seen at any one comp. I’ll bet the median age this year was, like, omg omg omg amazing awesome epic I know, right?
Seriously though, it really was cool having that many juniors. Both Phoenix and the Bay Area are great at bringing young people into the community. Andy tells me that many of their juniors (Sean McKeever is one of these) come via the Nordquist dance program for junior and senior high school kids (notice how the girls in the picture are all wearing gloves like we did in cotillion a gazillion years ago? hahaha! not a bad idea, actually, health-wise!)
Oh and I’d said there were no Russians at Boogie. Wrong! I’ve been corrected! There was one Russian – one exceptionally beautiful Russian – Olga Usmanova. Don’t know how I forgot to mention her since I sat staring at her dance, mesmerized, for large chunks of the weekend.
Oh and no competitors meetings at Boogie! What a welcome change! It used to take all morning hanging out glazed-eyed in the hall waiting for your division to be called in for roll-call and announcements, leaving you with barely enough time to gulp a tank of coffee, charge up to your room to shower, throw on shoes and war-paint, and charge back down again for your jack and jill.
I don’t think any comps do competitors’ meetings anymore, do they? None that we’ve been to, anyway. So glad about this – frees up so much time and allows you to dance until daylight knowing you’ll have a few hours in the morning to sleep.
At the lobby level I stepped into the elevator to find two red-faced Irish women trying desperately to get to their room, about to have a conniption fit because their key-cards wouldn’t work, on the brink of lunacy, spitting and sputtering “Farst it’s oop, then it’s doon, then oop agin’! Then doon agin’! Oop! Doon! Oop! Doon! Oop! Doon! The elevator has lost its moynd!” My key-card worked fine. I stared at the floor and didn’t say anything in case they were homicidal.
- I mentioned statement-making hats last update – they’re everywhere! Cloches, fuzzy fitted caps, tweed newsboys, fedoras, bank-robbers, berets in all colors, Chinese knitted animal hats, slouch hats.
- Scarves! Every color, texture, weight, design, and shape. Girls (and boys!) in scarves to dress up an outfit. Scarves work for dancing – they don’t whip your partner’s teeth out when you spin. Gotta be tied or pinned down, however, so you don’t strangle him instead.
- Oversized non-perscription glasses (Genieboy was recently in Asia and says this is the rage in Shanghai, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Chengdu and Singapore – they’re cheap and sold everywhere and every young person is wearing them.) Libby Collins wore a huge pair at Boogie (Ronnie and Ben McHenry tried them on – they looked great) – maybe cause she’s an Aussie she gets the jump on Asian fashion trends. Or maybe just cause she’s Libby.
- “Tom’s” for social dancing in place of ballroom shoes. Maxence started this a couple years ago (he wears a different color on each foot) and in the last six months everyone seems to have discovered they’re comfortable and thrifty (especially if you get a cheap knock-off – I’ve heard “Bob’s” mentioned.) They come in every color and pattern imaginable and spin beautifully.
- Temporary tattoos hand-painted on-site (tattoo-painters at almost every event), with or without glitter.
In other news:
Nathan Miller has now joined Parker and Earl as part owner/event director of SwingDiego. I happened to bump into all three in Boogie’s atrium bar just after they made this decision and they seemed totally TOTALLY psyched. Especially Parker and Earl seemed totally TOTALLY psyched since they were both slightly inebriated when we “bumped into” each other. hahahha Party animals. They always seem to be having entirely too much fun.
I’ve always wondered: How do I describe the difference between good dancing and GREAT dancing? Couple weeks ago I heard an interview with the conductor Leonard Slatkin in which he said something that finally struck home for me. He described concerts in which some of the audience are pleased, some loved it, and others found it blasé, meh, not memorable. Slatkin says concerts like this are the norm.
And then there are the other kind – the rare concert – where an entire audience, every single person present, is moved, touched, transported. Slatkin says when this happens he knows something different has occurred. That this time the concert wasn’t just good. It was great.
This describes dancing too. Every now and then I’ll see a routine, a jack and jill or strictly, a 4am social dance and I and everyone watching knows we’ve witnessed a bit of brilliance. Everyone feels that way, not just some. That’s when we’ve seen not just good dancing, but great dancing.
So that’s the difference!