Atlanta 2013 – Update #3

Kids!

So many things make Grand Nationals a unique event, but more than anything else it’s the number of young people. And they’re all dancers! Shag, west coast, big teams of kid dancers, junior routine partners – it’s wonderful!

And no hotel is better for kids than this one. Here you can play to your heart’s content and the adults can almost always see or hear you.

Everywhere kids running between the huge atriums, up and down the escalators, up and down the elevators. You press the elevator button and you hear a chorus of laughter and happy shouting getting louder – the doors open to a pack of wild-eyed squealing kids with bags of popcorn. Popcorn machine running all weekend! Just outside the ballrooms, (two ballrooms! the main ballroom and beside it the Shag ballroom!) in the wide-open skylight Atrium area where there are tables and chairs all around for snacking and ice-cream socials, long rows of vendors, large snack and drink bar, elegant marble restrooms to change costumes, doors to the outside for smokers to grab two puffs and a manic de-briefing session before rushing back, a photo-booth! (kids LOVED the photo-booth,) endless space where you can race each other and the adults can keep an eye on you while they chat with each other, and where dancers can trade tips on the carpet – everything a dancer might need is there in that atrium.)

So many thoughtful touches here! Ice cream socials! Crates of bottled water! Popcorn machine at all hours!

Twice I got onto the elevator and kids begged me to put my card in for access to the 14th floor so they could get up to the very top.  Because what kid – with a bag of popcorn – on the highest balcony just under the skylight – doesn’t look over the edge way down to the tiny couches and ant-like people below – and and think “Something must be thrown down there. Wait! Popcorn!”

Kellese (both Tag and Chase were there this weekend) says if she heard either of her boys were throwing popcorn anywhere, at any time, they are going to be in deep trouble. She’s raising them to be well-behaved – she’s a rule-follower to the extreme, doesn’t understand why there are rules if you don’t follow them.

New to me.  I thought rules were like fences only there to be climbed over.  Uh oh sudden rush of memories climbing fences getting yelled at. Kellese can tell I know she can tell uh oh.

So many kids! So many pretty tween girls in their princess dresses, adorable boys in vests and button-down shirts. So many juniors at Grand Nationals!

It’s always been this way. The Shag community nurtures kids, brings them into the dance world, watches out for them as a community, taking care of them in the “it takes a village to raise a child” way.  Today’s west coast pros came to this event as children themselves – they grew up at this event. Parker, Jordan, Jessica, Tatiana, Kyle, Sarah, Michael and LeAnn, Brent and Kellese, Matt – all here as kids, running up and down the same escalators that their kids are running up and down now.  This event, this hotel, is a character in the history of our community. Brent and Kellese were married at this event!

So many funny stories! Parker (on the mic this weekend, along with Royston) told about the thrill of performing here as juniors, and the fun of seeing your friends, playing together all weekend. Crank-calling lots of crank-calling. Especially Benji who did an excellent Charlie Womble. They’d dial a room and Benji would bark Charlie’s voice: “THEY WANT YOU IN THE BALLROOM! RIGHT NOW! GET DOWN THERE!” and hang up fast.

Parker told kids this weekend they’d better start working on their Michael Norris.

This is a beloved, storied event, here in this same grand hotel for 19 years (next year is the 20th Anniversary!) No event, except maybe the Open, evokes more nostalgia than Grand Nationals. It’s like the “mid-year” US Open – the half-way point of our year – where you begin to get a sense of what the contest floor might look like in November.

And nobody is more nostalgic and sentimental than Robert Royston (hey, he’s from Country!) so he was the perfect emcee. He described the event in this way (bringing LeAnn and half the ballroom, myself included, to tears): Grand Nationals gives homage and respect to the past (more gray hair here than anywhere else on the circuit – many attendees have been every year for 19 years straight); it celebrates the present; and it creates the future, as is clear from all the young people who are not only children of dancers, but dancers themselves.

The trophies are stunning! Tall, intricate glass, art-pieces, celebrating the prestigiousness of an award won here. LeAnn, presenting “Entertainer of The Year” award – the last award on Sunday night – told how the trophy designs are different eevery year – they put a lot of thought into these trophies. They even order them in different sizes – big trophies for adults and smaller kid-sized trophies for the children. This year the order arrived and they opened the box to find one very tall glass trophy which read:

“Entertainer Of The Year”

“Large Dancer”

The Entertainer of The Year award is decided by votes. This year we could vote by text – LeAnn said there were more votes than ever before.

And she presented the award to the 2013 winner  … Robert!  Robert says he doesn’t want a replacement. He wants “Entertainer Of The Year Large Dancer” to stand just like that on his mantel forever.

So much more to tell! The routines! Teams! Cabaret! Woodstock! Southern hospitality! Results! LeAnn’s dresses! Speeches! Charlie and Jackie!

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