Gloomy, grey, dark, cold, bleak -- all appropriate adjectives for the month of November in the northern hemisphere.  A pre-cursor for winter, it is a month I would normally be happy to by-pass.  But not November, 2003.    This particular year it was much anticipated.  It started back in January with an e-mail from Arline Winerman from Tampa, Florida asking if I would be willing to instruct at the first Tampa Bay Linedance Classic to be held November 2003.  What an honour.  I gladly responded in the affirmative.  Word spread and, to my delight, a  great bunch of fun-loving Canadian dancers expressed their eagerness to make the trip down south with me, and what fun we ended up having!!

But let me digress for a moment ... when most people think of Florida, they tend to think of modern buildings and envisage a winter escape of lying on the beach in the warmth combined with good shopping and restaurants! Sounds great, but in addition Florida has a fascinating history.  In Tampa, where we were going, I'm sure not many people realize that, as far back as the 16th century,  Spanish Conquistadors, Panfilo de Narvaez and Hernando DeSoto arrived there in search of gold although they met extensive resistance from the Tocobagan and Seminole Indians.  It wasn't until the territory became part of the United States in 1845 that the area began to develop and grow.   The commercial success of Tampa Bay centred on the discovery of phosphates in the late 1880s which resulted in a boom for the mining and shipping industries.  It also, no doubt, meant cleaner clothes -- think of your washing powder!!  With the railroad crossing the country at the same time, Spanish and Cuban cigar workers moved their families and businesses to Tampa to start a successful industry.  However, where once you followed the sweet smell of prime tobacco to Ybor City in Tampa, Florida's Latin Quarter, today you follow the crowd. The former cigar capital of the world has become the nightclub capital of Florida's thriving West Coast.  There are dozens of Spanish style buildings with wrought iron balconies and ornate grillwork that house nightclubs, restaurants, art galleries and museums along red brick streets studded with old fashioned lamp posts.

I also bet you didn't know that in 1914 Percival Ellicott Fansler introduced the world's first scheduled commercial airline service with the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line.   Try that out at your next trivia pursuits evening down at the pub!!  But back to the present, Tampa's port is the 7th largest in the US, Tampa is the 3rd largest city in Florida; Tampa International Airport is known as the world's friendliest airport; the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center is the largest theater complex south of the Mason Dixon line and the Tampa Convention Center is one of the largest convention centers in the Southeastern United States.  Add to this a semitropical climate, Tampa's proximity to a string of barrier islands with the most gorgeous beaches including St. Pete Beach, Treasure Island, Ft. DeSoto Park, Indian Rocks and Madeira Beach, plus the famous Busch Gardens, the impressive Florida Aquarium and beautiful tropical vegetation at the Sunken Gardens and you have a great place for a holiday which will also include some terrific line dancing!

"Alright", you might be saying, "I will now be able to win the Tampa section of the general knowledge quiz, but what about the event and the dancing?!!!"    Well ... it was wonderful and far surpassed my expectations.  But let me start at the beginning.  We flew down from Toronto on the Thursday and as soon as we had settled into the comfortable Crowne Plaza Hotel we were welcomed with a free pizza party following by an evening dance.  Registration began that evening which made the main registration on the Friday a much quicker and more efficient process.    The action started at 1:00 p.m. on Friday with previews of the dances to be taught that afternoon and didn't finish until 2:00 p.m. on Sunday.    And what a choice we had!  Virtually every hour there were four workshops to choose from.   The only concern was that in some of the workshops the floors (although excellent quality) in the smaller dance rooms were not big enough to accommodate all those eager dancers as the attendance at the event was far greater than Event Directors Arline Winerman and Scott Hucks had expected including dancers from as far away as Australia and the UK.  But line dancers are an understanding bunch and were so thrilled with the success of the event and the high energy levels and enthusiasm surrounding them that, when necessary,  they just danced on the carpet!    

Both Friday and Saturday evenings saw the previews of the dances to be taught the following day.  Dancers seemed to respond very positively to this concept especially with such a vast array of choice confronting them in the workshops.  For some I gather it was a little overwhelming, but for me having such a choice also gave me the opportunity to see and learn from lesser known instructors who have much to offer and might well become our big names of the future and I popped in and out of as many classes as I could. 

Most definitely, we were really spoilt in the quality of instruction and dances offered.  Peter Metelnick and Alison Biggs had a long flight from the UK for the event although you wouldn't have known it from the energy and vigor of their teaching.   The combination of their prodigious individual talents has produced wonderful dances such as 'The Wayward Waltz' and 'Romantasy'.    Meanwhile it was worth the trip alone to see John Robinson dance '31st of April', a beautiful dance performed by someone I consider to be one of the best line dancers around.  At the same time, John's latest dance 'Beautiful People' elicited enthusiastic comments.    It is always a pleasure to take one of John's classes.  My Canadian group have started the 'Jackie Miranda' fan club!  Jackie is from California and what a talented dancer she is, as well as the most delightful person and excellent instructor and choreographer.   'Freak Out' is really fun to dance and 'Finding Nemo' was very cute. 

The event gave me the opportunity to meet Yvonne Anderson from Scotland.  Her dance 'City Limits' is a favourite of mine and another success seems very likely with her newly choreographed "Choc-Co-Latte'.  'Suds In The Bucket' was also popular. Yvonne was a pleasure to learn from and to watch dance.  Scott Blevins, of course, needs no introduction.  'Bidness' is a terrific dance and extremely popular and I am now getting the hang of 'Cold Blooded' and thoroughly enjoying the typical Scott funky moves.  However, I don't think they look quite the same done by me as they do by Scott! 

Fresh from the enormous success of their first time event, 'Windy City Line Dance Mania' held in Chicago in October, Mark Cosenza and Glen Pospieszny were on hand to instruct.  Mark's excellent 'Start Walking' is already popular on the dance floors and was received enthusiastically by the dancers here.  As well as his new advanced dance 'In The Mood',  Glen taught one of my favourite dances from Windy City, Simon Ward's 'Yeeeee Haaaaa'.  

Hailing from Tennessee, Junior Willis was a new Instructor/Choreographer to me. An approachable individual,  Junior always had a smile on his face and looked like he was having a good time with the rest of us. I enjoyed learning his own dance 'Boogie Fever'.   J. P. Potter flew in from California for the event and taught his winning dance (co-choreographed with Bracken Ellis and Amy Kempster)  from the Windy City event, 'On the Rocks' to appreciative dancers and took on the role as DJ for the Saturday night dance.  Dancin' Dean joined us from Vermont and taught 'NuFlow' while Scott Hucks took a moment out of his busy Event Director duties to teach 'Emerald City Cha'. 

MC extraordinaire, Bryan McWherter, taught his popular dance 'Drive'.  Bryan is a most entertaining host at dance events  and to their delight my Canadian gang discovered that Bryan's mother is Canadian so he was forthwith adopted as an honorary Canadian.  We're delighted to welcome you aboard, Bryan!   Cross that border any time, we will vouch for you! At the same time, I must say how friendly and welcoming the dancers were to us Canadians.  There were smiles everywhere and many people stopped to say hello.  It was an honour for me to teach my dances, 'Fiddlesticks', 'Wishes', 'Get Back (In Line!) and 'Step to the Rhythm' but it was also so much fun largely because of the warm response of the dancers in my workshops.  Thanks to you all and I hope to see you on the dance floor again before too long!

For many of us, a highlight of this event was the opportunity to see some of the Florida Instructors in action as one of the rooms was kept aside as the 'Florida' room.  We enjoyed capable and friendly instruction by Sandi Brooks, Joyce Fornero, Marilyn McNeil, and Nettie Manzo.  Teaching their own dances in that room were Nancy Morgan, John Dembic, Kathy Brown, and Christine Bass (whose dance 'Beer For My Horses' is currently very popular on the dance floors).  At the same time, in the other workshop rooms we were fortunate to learn from well known Florida instructors, Stella Cabecca ( whose classes are so much fun!), Dottie Wicks (such a pleasant, competent instructor), and Bill McGee, who I don't think sat down the whole weekend!! 

Then on top of that we were treated to Guyton Mundy, fairly new on the scene but already very popular with the Florida dancers.  Guyton was brought into the line dance scene by Pedro Machado who spotted him in a Florida club dancing 'Watermelon Crawl'.  Before he knew where he was, Guyton was dancing in the UK with Pedro, Rachel McEnaney, Paul McAdam and others of their calibre and then in January this year he placed in the top five in all five choreography categories at the World's in Nashville.   Guyton told me that his dance background is in hip and hop and that form of dance is definitely a focus of his dances and an impressive component of his performances but at the same time he has created dances that all dancers can enjoy as the response to 'Clean Up To The Elbows' demonstrated.    I'm sure we'll see a lot more of Guyton in the future.    Florida certainly has a plethora of talented instructors and choreographers - a good reason in and of itself to travel to the Sunshine State.

The Saturday evening dinner/show was sold out.  We were treated to a buffet in the bar area of the hotel and then headed to the Main Ballroom for the show.   The entertainment was very well organized by Arline.  Well paced with a good mix of talent and humour.   Great clogging by Junior, flowing graceful dancing from Jackie, hip hop action and hillbilly humour from Guyton and friends, impressive duo performance by Yvonne and John, fun action with greased lightening by Peter and Alison (with backup dancers and sign holders, Jackie and me!!), and more, all enjoyable.  Great prizes were won including weekend passes to Doug and Jackie Miranda's 'Gotta Dance' in California ; Tarheel Dance Classic; Mark, Glen & Eve's Windy City Line Dance Mania; Olivia Ray's LDI event in Virginia;  Suncoast Jamboree in Daytona, Florida; Line Dance Showdown in Boston and Tampa Bay Linedance Classic 2004.  In addition the hotel gave two weekends gift certificates and there were gift certificates to J.C. Penney's, Cody's Restaurants and many more!  There were a lot of happy dancers at the end of this part of the evening!! It was then time for the dancers to strut their stuff for the third night in a row.

Sunday morning was a time for me to find out more about our hosts, Arline and Scott.    I knew that the event was sanctioned by Line Dance International but I found out that LDI is Scott's brain child.  He set up the organization with the idea of offering affordable, dancer friendly, top quality events which included all workshops under one price.  This concept immediately brought me on side!  I am a great believer that individually paid workshops can result in the stifling of creativity and originality in our line dance world in that dancers might hesitate about paying to go to a workshop by an unknown instructor.  With 'one price covers all', new and exciting choreographers and instructors can be discovered.  After all, the current 'big names' in our line dance world were unknowns at one time.  LDI also offers competitions at some of its events with fewer rules and more flexibility for the contestants than in many other competitions including a choreography competition where the choreographers teach the judges.  At present LDI sanctioned events also include the Tarheel Dance Classic in North Carolina and two events organized by Olivia Ray in Virginia, but Scott told me there are discussions about possible LDI events in Orlando, Florida and in Spain.  Check out Scott's website to keep up to date on these events.  It was at the Tarheel event that Arline and Scott met.  They hit it off and decided to work together to produce a major line dance event and thus the Tampa Bay Linedance Classic was born.  That sure was a lucky day for us!

Arline is well known in Florida.  She has been a full-time line dance instructor for many years currently teaching at the Rockin' Horse in Largo (where we had a great time on the Tuesday following the event and I had fun teaching 'Get Back (In Line!)).  She is a fully qualified judge with qualifications from UCWDC and LDI.  Her commitment to line dancing is unwavering and she has dancers who will follow wherever she teaches.  I first met Arline when she invited me to teach a dance I had choreographed to a Scooter Lee song, at a Scooter concert she organized.  I was most impressed with her instructing abilities, her warmth and friendliness to her dancers and her dedication and enthusiasm for line dancing.  This all boded well for this new weekend event.  However, a major event such as the Tampa Bay Line Dance Classic is a risky venture.   We are so fortunate to have people like Arline and Scott willing to take the plunge both financially and in time commitment to organize an event such as this.  It takes an inordinate amount of work and effort.   What capable individuals they are though.  I was extremely impressed by the organization of the event but even more so by the warmth and friendliness they exuded to the dancers.  Despite the onerous responsibility for ensuring the smooth running of their event, Scott and Arline were always available to chat to dancers, respond to any questions they were asked and just generally make sure that everyone was happy and enjoying themselves.

All too soon, tired, foot sore but happy, dancers started packing up and heading home.  We were lucky to have three more days to relax and enjoy St. Pete Beach before heading back to the cold up north.  But what wonderful memories we have to keep us warm throughout the chilly Toronto winter.

Tampa Bay Linedance Classic, 2003
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