Michigan 2014 – and BREAKING NEWS!

Here’s how we learn …


Breaking! Breaking! Breaking News! US Open! And more!

But first …

Let me tell you about Michigan!

Three weeks since Michigan (“MiC 2014” is their cool logo – you can still get MiC T-shirts here)  three weeks but still feels like we just left – still recovering from the flurry of post-convention excitement, stories, photos, and congratulations.


Sorry about no updates till now. It’s been a Lemony Snicket Series of Unfortunate Events around our house. “Life That Is Not Dancing” evidently felt neglected and launched an enormous hissy fit to get attention, including:

  • Car crash (we’re fine),
  • Computer crash (replaced),
  • Three ER visits (we’re fine),
  • Domain server crash (almost fine),
  • HVAC system crash (in 98°F) (heat pump banged the house so furiously we ran for cover thinking it was a mighty earthquake or a helicopter had crashed into the roof and the propeller was slamming our walls down),
  • Bank fail (Chase massive bungling of our account – in the middle of bungling less important things like misleading investors, engaging in fictitious trades, collecting illegal flood insurance commissions, foreclosing on soldiers; charging veterans hidden fees, lying to people on automobile loans, Illegally collecting falsified overdraft fees, rigging bids, driving Jefferson County, Alabama into bankruptcy, and violating antitrust provisions of the Sherman Act.)

So … Michigan! Wonderful Michigan Classic.

Did you see that Michigan scores were posted IMMEDIATELY upon announcement at Awards?!? And I mean immediately as in nanoseconds.

Full, complete, elegant, precise, shiney, mathematical-clarity, computer geek precision, smiley-database,  full transparency, take-no-prisoners, literal, left-brained, Full Results.

Posted instantly, online, for anyone to see.

And also – because if you’re in 2014 posting full results online within instants is not enough – and because anyone who knows Doug Rousar knows he’s “fond” of Google Docs, poll-taking, any form of data collection – in other words Doug’s inner geek is more outer than inner – because of these things you could walk up to the Results wall, hold up your phone’s barcode scanner, and without even pressing a thing – BOOM! – full results zapped into your phone for viewing forever after into posterity until your battery dies.

Many thanks to Doug for initiating this, but even more thanks to the Geeks In The Back Room – Doug Sudd and John Bianchi – crouching in the cave on their hind legs, shivering in the dark with only a bonfire for warmth, nothing to eat but wooly mammoth and Red Bull, grunting ugga ugga at the flickering blue screen and banging their clubs against keyboards, for four days and four nights.

THIRTEEN Rising Star couples at Michigan! That’s a lot!  For a division of new routines. At a medium-sized event no less!

This part of the country (we call it the “Midwest” which makes no sense to non-US dancers) is a hot-bed for new routine couples.  Because they’re good at encouraging and training new dancers, or because they’re blessed with a bunch of superb teachers, or because they’re disgustingly welcoming and hospitable by nature, or maybe just because they’re so dang funny and sooo niiiiiiice in the Midwest (those jokes about how nice they are out there? All true.)  Whatever the reason they are good at breeding out here. Litters of baby dancers keep emerging,  already fully addicted at birth and screaming to do a routine.

This seems to be the year for Rising Star. More events are including the division and more dancers are rustling up the courage (and time, money, and partner-finding) to get out there and mortify themselves in public.

People say Rising Star at Michigan was one of the the best ever, with routines so different one from another, unique expressions of each couple’s quirky personalities, fresh, clever, bursting with character.

Rising Star often seems charming in that way, doesn’t it? The difference between it and Classic feels a little like the difference between children and adult paintings. The caliber might not be there, but a certain rawness, a joyous creativity, is. Maybe because Rising Star is unfettered by the constraints of Classic or Showcase? Or the emotional challenges of the big-stakes NASDE circuit? Or maybe a “what the heck it’s only Rising Star what have we got to lose” mindset helps unshackle creativity.

Love the faces on these guys! This Rising Star division in particular wore expressions so real your heart melted – triumphant, terrified, jubilant, proud – some so expressionless, so preoccupied, you couldn’t help laughing.

And team spirit! Haven’t noticed whether this is true at other events but at Michigan WOW! Wild cheering for each other from their corner on the sidelines, falling onto each other as they returned from the floor, hugging, crying, jumping for joy, last minute talking-each-other-off-the-ledge. An exultant team effort, this group of Rising Star couples. Beautiful to watch from the audience.

  • Lamarr Williford and Kristen Bowen “Show You How To Love” (Pentatonix) We saw these guys at SwingDiego, man are they good holy shamoly this is Rising Star?!? The cleanliness of this couple! The relaxed confidence, the punch and drama.  Wow!
  • Marlin Jenkins and Nicole Zwerlein “Back To Black” (some moody almost-acapella acoustic cover) Gorgeous musical choreography dancing the vocal line as well as strumming important guitar notes, full of angles, slot changes, beautiful sweeping shapes, stops and starts, wit, attention to detail – great choreography, joyful dancing.
  • Chris Kempainen and Bonnie Inveen, “I Want You Back” (Colbie Caillat) Bonnie has limbs only. No torso. Each limb is several miles long and floats like a silk scarf, with gentle curves. His limbs, too! Long and lovely.  Beautiful together these two, perfectly matched in shape, height, and style. Everything they do smooth and flowy – pivots, turns, a few sweet tricks executed quietly, gently, without showing off. Everything soft and effortless, clean, elegant, with smiles so radiant you think angels within shimmery halos just flitted through the room.
  • Thomas Falletta and Joanna Swanson, “Butterfly” (Jason Mraz) Attitude, grace, sexiness, and of course, knowing Joanna, humor and wit.  Thomas’ faces – priceless! Funny how you watch an entire routine of beautiful dancing and the part you remember – the part that gets the biggest audience response – is her foot shaking to a guitar chord. (Isn’t it funny how that works? One butt shake, or air punch, even a single eyebrow raise, can make a routine.) Man were the Canadians screaming like maniacs for these guys! Much-loved couple up there in Tuque Land.
  • Frank Blakemore and Faith Musko, “Falling In Love” (Taio Cruz) Future Showcase couple here – proving to be committed, prolific, and hard workers. This is their third routine – each time the choreography noticeably harder and the dancing noticeably better. So fun being part of their journey, watching them progress.
  • Edwin Roa and Kristin Wenger, “Time After Time” (Ben Forster) Ohhhh! This routine! So prettttttty! We saw this at MadJam and were brought to tears by the sweetness of it. The lines! The grace! Both performances people all around us were swooning, sighing, and exclaiming involuntarily, “Awwww! That is so PRETTTY!” It really is. Tango-esque lovely choreography, and sweet, soft, simply lovely execution.
  • Joshua Baime and Liza Hillman, “Trouble” (Travis Ewing) OMGAWD! Fierce is not the word.  This one is on fire, ferocious, they eat up the floor. Gives me chills! Pot-stirrers, back bends, splits, quick call-and-response steppy footwork. Those hips of hers! Those fiery eyes! That red streaked hair whipping and winging in a fury! A reminder not to get on her bad side. Sheesh this is gorgeous! [Also: Notice Joshua’s socks.]
  • Troy Myers and Marilyn Hall, “Don’t Wake Me Up” (Benny Benassi instrumental cover) So lovely! So good to see Marilyn, a good friend, flying around out there like a little bird. They look so happy dancing! Pure joy on their faces. I asked Marilyn later how it felt. “Glorious!” she said, and kept repeating it, “Glorious Liza! It just felt Glorious! It’s what I’ve always wanted! To be out there, finally, dancing! It felt Glorious!” Isn’t that wonderful?
  • Sammy Powers and Heather Fronczak, “Smooth Criminal” (a gorgeous, moody, multiple-violin cover) Love! This! Great music – spooky, tense, minor key, dramatic – and choreography perfect for it. Dramatic, sharp, clean, fierce, lines, shapes, technique, passion … ominous buildup, sudden stops, fasts and slows,  yells, a moon-walk homage to MJ. Beautiful routine. Helps that both Heather and Sammy are beautiful even standing still, also that they’ve designed costumes perfect for the feel of the routine, graphic slashes in sleek, bold, black and white, all cuts and edges. And this is Rising Star? Holy cow.
  • Lucky Sipin and Giselle Jagai, “Treasure” (Voca People)  Another delightful surprise! Absolutely loved this! This cover is by a comedy troupe so it’s got this funny sort of acapella whimsy to it which sounds a lot like, well, let’s just say I heard chipmunks. I’m thinking okay, not sure what I think about chipmunks, this could be interesting. And what a treat this turns out to be! The choreography for this routine is the essence of chipmunk. Without ever actually acting like chipmunks, they were just, I don’t know, chipmunk quick, and witty, funny, graceful, technically skilled, aesthetic pleasing, hip-hoppy, west coast swingy, just perfectly chipmunkish in the coolest chipmunk way. What a fun routine.  I love it!
  • Jonathan Regan and Stevie Bliss, “Slow Down” (Sure Shot Reggae Rockers cover) If you ever want to see the love of west coast swing you have only to look at these two faces. Pure unqualified joy. They have the time of their life out there and their happiness is so gigantic it’s infectious. They are 100% take no prisoners full out committed, driving to the very end of every connection, every shape, fearless, and full of life. It helps that Stevie has that gorgeous long waist and that her costume shows it off with open back and midriff, so you can watch her magnificent hip movement (if you can tear yourself away from the expressiveness of her face, that is.) Love the slo-mo in the middle – hard to pull that off and they do, beautifully. One more RS routine, again different from all the others, showing the uniquely energetic, athletic almost, personalities and tastes of this particular couple. See what I mean? Rising Star was so dang great!
  • Rich and Leigh Coburn, “Love Me Again” (OneRepublic live) Love this sexy couple and have raved about them before – their subtle sensuality and attraction and how you feel this in their connection, their eyes, their movement. How sultry she is, the clean, understated elegance of the choreography.  She’s so quick! So graceful, and over her feet! How they drive down the slot and across the floor yet still appearing subtle, dainty, and smooth. Love this couple, love this new routine.
  • Matt Mordini and Christine Edison, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (Paul Anka) Another charming piece showing again this couple’s distinct personality and taste for music and choreography, this one a Broadway-esque soft-shoe inspired fun piece where you cannot keep from smiling.

What a division! Yaaaaaaay MiC Rising Stars!

Other highlights of the weekend:

Canadians! Huge crowd of Canadians at Michigan.

You want Canadians at an event because Canadians are just like Brasilians, only more polite.

Brasilians are not impolite. They’re just explosively happy. And boisterous, like big dogs who knock you down at the front door when you come back after five minutes outside.

At the US Open the Brasilians were so overcome with joy they had to be asked please stop waving green balloons near the judges you’re knocking them off their chairs and sending their clipboards and eyeglasses flying onto the floor.

Canadians would never knock judges off their chairs because Canadians are fitfully polite. And nice. Put a bunch of Canadians together and smiley bluebirds and rainbows appear in a ring around their heads singing “It’s A Small World After All.”  Canadians are so nice they’d make Putin and Pussy Riot hug and sing Kumbayah. I could not get the group of Canadians at Michigan to make a mean face for the camera, even after three tries. A Canadian mean face is a smaller smile.

Canadians are very funny people.  The “class clown in the global schoolhouse” as SNL’s Lorne Michaels calls them, beating out every other country on the planet in the production of world-class comedians. Funny seems to be in Canadian DNA with their penchant for self-deprecation, satire, and an inner darkness that might be their secret rebellion against that outer niceness and law-abiding, cooperative public self.

Q: How do you get 26 Canadians out of a swimming pool?

A: Yell, “Everybody out of the pool!”

But most importantly – Canadians have a national obsession with hockey which borders on psychosis but which makes them grrreat in a ballroom. A bunch of Canadians means a raucous lot of noise and cheering. Canadians are supportive. To put it mildly.

So it was a treat to be around the big crowd of Canadians at Michigan.

More Highlights:

Saturday night’s “Top Gun Tournament!”

SO much fun! You may remember the Golden Ticket tour of a few years ago – well, this was that.

Winners of Advanced, Intermediate, and Novice Jack and Jills are paired with each other to compete tournament style, two couples per round, audience gathered on the floor, judges holding up red or blue paddles to knock one couple out each round. Makes for unlikely pairings and unexpected creativity. And moves so quickly from round to round you don’t get bored watching – the excitement level remains fever pitch till the final couple triumphs at the end.  This year the winners: Robert Cronkhite with Agnieszchzsgkskzkcxka Mahahahachooslanka.

[Oh, and worth noting – even though half the ballroom moved up to make a tight circle on the floor there weren’t the problems sometimes encountered in Jams where the crowd is so dense that only people in the very front row are able to see what’s going on (short and polite people often totally shut out of these overexcited crowds.) Maybe because they arranged it so the crowd on the floor were sitting, not standing? So that even those remaining back in their table seats were still able to see the action on the floor?]

Opening Ceremonies!


They did it again! Another spectacular show, this year channeling Cabaret, Vaudeville, Broadway, with Doug as Grand Master of Ceremonies singing “Razzle Dazzle ‘Em” and introducing the pros who enter twirling batons, ballerinas Rebecca and Cameo fluttering in en pointe, Doug Silton juggling flame torches, gangsters, clowns, acrobats, and baldish Matt Auclair doubling as baldish Doug’s twin.

So much fun! And what a GREAT way to open the event, setting the entire tone for the entire weekend.


And because this overdue update is already too long I will just say:

You MUST see Arthur and Colleen Uspensky’s new! crazy great quirky hard-hitting dark complex gorgeously creative MARVELOUS “Sail” (Awolnation); Mike and Sheli’s new! “Dance The Pain Away” (Benny Benassi) which they nailed, the smoothest, fastest, funnest they’ve ever danced, Magic Mike actually LOOKING at the audience and even more astonishing, SMILING! At the audience! And Sheli, her spins, holy moses; and Stephen and Sonya’s new! strong, fast, sexy “Ain’t No Sunshine/Let’s Get It Started” (Times Red).


With a farewell final performance for Barry and Patty. Sad. 😦 They were a beautiful couple. Such palpable joy on their faces, and in their movements! And …

  • Ben and Libby, Almost Married, with their adorable new “Take Care” (Florence + The Machine);
  • Doug and Nicki, Just Married, with their elegant “Let Me Love You” (Glee Cast);
  • Jason and Sophy, Very Married With Children, with their fearless “Starships” (Madilyn Bailey, Niki Minaj)

Social dancing! Great, again, at Michigan. Great vibe, everyone said so. But that’s the Midwest for ya – they’re fun.

Food! Breakfast in the morning, breakfast again at night, and a Dessert Buffet to fatten us up a bit.


Becky Larson, videographer, who takes her work SERIOUSLY. The way we take dancing. The way all artists take life in general. Becky works with passion, ferocious perfection. And she’s nice! Exceptionally nice. Unless you bang into her camera. I banged into her camera. I  found that she can also be not so nice. But only for a few minutes, until she fixes the video you’ve just ruined for everyone who will ever watch it. And then she’s exceptionally nice again.

Becky’s videos are gorgeous – as I said she takes this work seriously. It’s an act of love on her part, and her prices are ridiculously low, as you’ll see. You can order DVD’s  here.  (Hopefully minus the part where the camera is suddenly  shooting ceiling and walls, with loud crashing and swearing sounds on audio.)

Royston describing jello shots Canadian style – which requires one person at each end of a tube –  how the jello was blown in so forcefully it came shooting out his nose, ears, other orifices …

Jason and Sophy, drawing each other in the Pro Jack and Jill, dancing what should go down in history as “Married Life As Portrayed in a Jack and Jill” with a series of blatant miscommunications, failed attempts to fix bungled moves, power struggles, who’s boss and who’s hijacking jumping from one to the other, an endless conversation of non-verbal confusion ending  in a final supremely awkward pose. It was the train wreck to end all train wrecks.

And because we know and love this couple like family, in fact use them as an example of what a beautiful marriage can look like because they adore each other almost to the point of worship – because it’s such a great marriage (not to mention the fact that they’re beautiful dancers, as was just seen before this in their Showcase routine), for those reasons this was even funnier than with another couple. It was just so real, so true, so much the story of married life on and off the dance floor, we were crying laughing. So was the rest of the ballroom.

CAMEO!!! OMG!! Her Jack and Jill with Doug Silton! Holy Shamoly! SIZZLING hot, soft and hard, fast and so very slow, freakishly quiet, shockingly huge, Oh. My. Gawd. She is an astonishment.

Matt and Kellese! One of those mind-sync dances that makes the whole ballroom leap to their feet screaming. So FUNKY! To a great song, thanks to Ruby, “Cantaloop” (US3.)

And the Masters tour, and Pro-Am routines, and so much more. Great event, great community, great weekend!

In other news: 

The US Open has changed hands!

After 13 years Ron and Tyoni Martin have passed the torch, selling to new owners Phil Dorroll and Raymond Harris.

You may know Phil from his many events of the past, including Tampa, Nashville, and others; and Raymond from events and dances around the country and in his home state of Tennessee.

And …

Robert Royston, the “Voice of The US Open,” is back!

We have a wealth of great emcees in the community but Royston – well – he’s a master. He is arguably the funniest, kindest, smartest, and most hard-working emcee in the entire international west coast community.

One could say that of all the elements that make a great dance event music might be the most important. The floor is important, the room, the Chief Judge and judging panel, the staff, the venue, all those things and many more make an event. But music – meaning, a dj who can handle the needs of the crowd and demands of the event director – music can make a weekend great, mediocre, or downright miserable.

But the second most important element, no question, is the emcee. A great emcee:

      • Psychs the audience up,
      • Psychs them up even more,
      • Cools the audience down;
      • Sets the tone, like an orchestra conductor, creating a moment-to-moment ebb and flow of emotion throughout the entire weekend. With a beginning, middle, and end;
      • Welcomes each competitor with fanfare, glory, and respect;
      • Turns a day of jack and jills into a celebration of laughing and entertainment;
      • Organizes and manages the Chaos That Is Heats;
      • Has a voice which commands attention and confidence
      • Speaks – and acts – with authority, as a leader, giving clear direction and instruction throughout the weekend;
      • Handles with finesse schedule changes, announcements, speaker blow-outs, power outages, hurricanes, fire drills, food and drink breaking news;
      • Knows the personalities, back-stories, community history like family;
      • Is kind and loving, uses the mic to raise people up, make them laugh, feel better about themselves, happier, more confident,
      • Says the right thing at the right moment to honor or tease, give love, comfort or courage;
      • Brings audience members together with dancers on the floor into a shared communal experience;
      • Performs as a stand-up comedian — and sometimes as an unofficial chaplain …

A great emcee makes a great event.

At the US Open the emcee might be more important than at any other event of the year. Maybe even more important than the music, since the Open is mostly about routines.

So. It is GREAT, GREAT news that Robert Royston, “The Voice,” is back.  Because it doesn’t get any better than that.

Hurrah! Huzzah Huzzah Phil and Raymond!

Next week Liberty!   You can read about it, or subscribe, here.

Followed by Phoenix! We’re going back to Phoenix after a few years absence. Especially looking forward to this!

And the weekend after that, SinCity!   Read about SinCity here.


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