It is well known that we humans are creatures of habit and change tends to make many of us uneasy!! So there was a little bit of apprehension around this year's Ft. Wayne Showdown. For nine years the efforts of the capable, hard working trio of Paul Coplen, Dale and Tanya Curry together with their team ensured the enormous success of this event. However, due to family and business commitments they were unable to continue and the responsibility for the event in its tenth year was passed over to Barry & Dari Anne Amato, and Jamie & Barney Marshall. The new kids on the block were determined to maintain the best of the event but at the same time to add their own unique stamp. The philosophy of tremendous value for money continued with the cost of just $40 for a whole weekend of events starting at 2:00 p.m. on Friday and finishing at 2:15 on Sunday. And as to the rest ........
I should first tell you where the event is held. From Toronto, Canada, we drove west until we crossed the border, then turned left and after a total of 8 hours driving (with some coffee stops!) we hit Fort Wayne in the Hoosier state of Indiana!! Among the State's claims to fame are famous sons David Letterman, Cole Porter, Hoagy Carmichael, John Mellencamp, and Kurt Vonnegut, Jnr, so we were in good company! I also learnt that Johnny Appleseed is buried in Fort Wayne and as I am a great apple lover I was very impressed! It's central location in mid-western USA enabled many dancers to drive in from the surrounding states of Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky and Illinois, although there were also dancers from Canada and from all over the USA, in fact over 1100 dancers kicked up their heels at the weekend!
The very impressive Scottish Rite Building is located in the downtown core. There is a parking lot directly opposite and a $6 pass covered the weekend parking. However, a car was not necessary for those dancers staying at the Holiday Inn or the Hilton as a shuttle bus took them back and forth. Entering the main front doors into the rounded corridor, we were immediately greeted with wide welcoming smiles by our Hosts and their friendly, helpful volunteers which set the tone for the whole weekend. I can't say enough about how concerned Barry, Dari Anne, Jamie and Barney were that we should enjoy ourselves. They were constantly emphasizing that we should go directly to them with any problems we encountered and they would do their utmost to help. Jamie bounced around everywhere asking dancers if they were having a good time and just her smiling face put a smile on ours!!
There was an amazing list of instructors (both line and couples) teaching workshops and I heard dancers agonizing over which class to choose from!! There were 28 line dance instructors and 17 couples instructors so there was a plethora of choice and in addition there were technique workshops and even one on computer music. No wonder dancers had trouble deciding which direction to go in! The rooms were excellent, all with wooden floors. They ranged in size from the large auditorium stage (fun simply to watch the classes here if you needed to rest your feet!) to the smallest Ozzie & Harriet room which was still a reasonable size! It took a little while to get used to the entertaining room names and when I heard dancers call out "Where's 'My Favourite Martian'?", I initially thought this was a hot new line dance!!!
So it was virtually impossible to get to every class. However, highlights for me included John Robinson's teach of Rob Fowler's smooth dance 'Cheek to Cheek' . In this class John discovered a dancer who had never line danced before and had chosen this enormous event to try it out for the first time! We all looked at her with tremendous admiration! Joanne Brady, as always, kept everyone entertained and the dancers enjoyed her teaching of Barry's 'Cotton Fields'. Pedro Machado of MIL (Masters In Line) was a ball of energy and the dancers had a good time with 'Bump, bump, bump'. A crowded dance floor greeted popular Guyton Mundy from Florida and his clear instruction of the funky 'Skillz' went down well. Talented couple Doug and Jackie Miranda from California were new to this event and I could see the dancers enjoyed the graceful moves of 'One Dream'. The dancers had fun with Kathy Hunyadi's 'Can't Get Enough', and Max Perry walked down memory lane with 'Possibility Foxtrot' which he choreographed for the 2004 UK Crystal Boot Awards. Bryan McWherter taught his latest dance 'Imagine' to a very positive response while Judy McDonald taught her popular waltz 'Sweet Memories'. Lots of 'Sweat' with Donna Caudhill while Karen Hedges told the dancers 'I Hear you Knockin'! I was honoured to be invited to teach 'Fiddlesticks', 'Wishes' and a new dance 'Still Waters'. Great dancer, Barry Durand , publisher of 5678 Dance Magazine, taught both line (his own dance 'I Heard It On the Grapevine') and couples dancing, as did Tim Hand & Alice Daugherty and Larry & Tracey Harmon. But this is just a partial list -- there were many, many other very capable, experienced and fun loving instructors leading classes that gave both the line and couples dancers much enjoyment.
But, after spending a day learning the dancers want to hit the floor themselves and DJ Wildman Louie was the dynamo behind the controls of the sound system for the Line Dance Parties!! For me one of the most difficult roles in line dancing is that of the DJ and Louie plays that part with good humour and infectious enthusiasm. Friday evening brought beginners to the floor for an entertaining "Just For Fun" Line and Swing competition and the Intermediate/Advanced dancers taught us a thing or two about variations in the Saturday night competition! The evening dances gave everyone the opportunity to strut their stuff ; trying out dances learnt during the weekend, filling the floor for dances like 'Wave on Wave' and delving deep into our memories for some oldies that Louie threw at us! Meanwhile I gathered that the swing dancers were having an equally good time in their own room with DJ Jill Babinec.
I should throw in that there are lots of restaurants and good shopping malls just a few minutes drive from the Scottish Rite Building. However breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks at good prices were served in the basement snack bar and in the sit-down restaurant right in the building so there was no need to waste time heading out to look for food! You could also do your shopping on site as well as there was an excellent variety of vendors' stands.
Leading up to the event there had been a lot of buzz about "The Really Big Shew - Danny Dean's Danc-a-ThoN". Barry, Dari Anne, Jamie and Barney had promised us a show to remember and we were all curious. We were aware of activity going on in preparation ... our instructors disappeared for an hour on the Saturday night to rehearse and we were vanquished from the auditorium at 12 noon on the Sunday. Line-ups started early as the first 100 members of the audience were to get a free CD.
I had a sneak preview of the rehearsal so I was a little ahead of the game. I learnt that Dari Anne had prepared a script which, together with a CD of the music, had been sent to all the participants a few weeks beforehand but they had only one hour to prepare as a group. The costumes they were to wear came from Dollywood and they were fitted during the Saturday. Dari Anne was an encouraging but firm Director as she took our playful and energetic instructors in hand for the rehearsal! That said, I couldn't envisage how it could be at all possible to put together a show in that short period of time so it was with apprehension that I took my place in front of the stage on the Sunday.
I needn't have worried ... to my absolute delight the show far exceeded my highest expectations. From the hilarious Jennifer Jeffries (Bitsy Beetlemyer) as our MC to Jamie (Doris DeMouchie), Bryan McWherter (Ernie Brown), Jackie Miranda (Carlene Cobolowski) and Joanne Brady (Dodie Didmeyer) bringing us to near hysterics with their antics as members of the audience who desperately wanted to be part of Danny-Dean's Danc-A-Thon, the pace didn't slacken. The dance troupe (our instructors!) in their colourful costumes were a pleasure to the eye. Phoebe Fontaine's (Dari Anne) rendition of 'Leader of the Pack' with her bee-hived back-up singers (Joanne, Judy McDonald & Debi Bodven) and John Lindo wobbling across the stage on a bicycle brought belly laughs. Meanwhile Barry's melodic 'Mack the Knife' got toes tapping while the handsome dudes (Pedro Machado Guyton Mundy, John Robinson, Richard Helton, Larry Harmon and Dean Gambino) backing him up had many in the audience swooning!! There was some awe-inspiring performances by the couples dancers, Mark & Mary Harris, Ronnie DeBenedetta, Laureen Baldovi, John Lindo, Annemarie McCabe and Kristen Geil while in contrast nerdish Wally Wallenowski (aka Doug Miranda) had to be edged off the stage to gales of laughter after his rather painful execution of 'Blue Velvet'!!
A 'real' member of the audience was persuaded to come on stage and give his best Elvis impression - if Elvis ever thought of returning he might think twice if he saw this impression!!! But there were so many moments -- as you looked from one side of the stage to the other there were hilarious vignettes as the dancers played to the camera moving around the stage under Mack the camera man's (Barney Marshall) direction. The grande finale brought the audience to its feet in cheers. It was a show that would have graced a main stream theatre and made me so proud to be a part of our dance community and doubly proud of our wonderfully talented dance instructors. Thank you so much to Barry and Dari Anne for this superb show and to Jamie and all the performers for the pleasure they brought us. Whatever you do make sure you don't miss it next year!!!!
What a wonderful way to end a fantastic weekend. The Amatos and Marshalls did a superb job. The amount of time, effort and thought they had put into this event was evident everywhere you looked. In addition, despite the enormous pressures of organizing such a huge event, they were right there for us dancers making us feel that our pleasure and enjoyment was their number one priority. I have a feeling word is going to spread so make sure you get your room booked, your registration sent in and get plenty of rest before Ft Wayne Showdown 2005!!!