‘Dancing shoes and suntan lotion, what a great mix … especially in November’, I thought as I packed my suitcase ready for the Tampa Bay Line Dance Classic in Florida.   This perception was obviously shared with over 500 other excited dancers who also turned up at the Doubletree Hotel in Tampa the first weekend of November to join our Event Director, everyone’s favourite, Arline Winerman, for a weekend of great dancing fun.

We were greeted with blue skies and lovely warmth and then with the best chocolate chip cookies on the planet which are one of the hotel’s claims to fame!!!   As usual the hotel lobby was abuzz with chatter and greetings.  Surely one of the nicest aspects of a dance weekend is the opportunity to meet up with dancing friends from far and near, to catch up with their news and just to see all those smiling faces.

The Hotel bar, just off the Lobby, became the central meeting point for a snack and a drink together whereas the restaurant allowed dancers to eat more leisurely.  There are other restaurants and fast food places close by and some dancers had their meals delivered to their rooms.   The hotel shuttle took shopaholics off to either the West Shore Mall or the International Mall and I gather dancers found some great buys!   For those with a car, the beach was fairly close by and Ybor City is a great place to visit.  In fact it is worth extending your trip so that you can take in the multitude of sights and activities that Florida has to offer.   (Check out an earlier report for more details)

Back at the event, the volunteers had been hard at work since early morning decorating the rooms and everywhere looked wonderful, appropriately preparing us for the 50s theme.  Arline’s commitment and dedication show in all these extra touches that add so much to an event. The event started with a free dance on the Thursday evening with a full ballroom packed with dancers; it was a great night. 

Registration started bright and early on the Friday morning at 8:30 and each day the classes started at 9 going through to 5 except for Sunday when the event finished at 3.  There were three rooms to choose from with one room set aside for predominantly beginner/improver dances.  Slots were set aside during the day for open dancing for those whose brains needed a bit of a break!   We had three DJs.  Wildman Louie as always kept the main ballroom active and never seemed to sleep.  That said he always has to have a couch on the stage behind him so I reckon he must take cat naps!  Big Dave from the UK ably manned the controls in one of the teaching rooms which doubled as a review room at night.  I don’t know where Dave gets his energy from, he didn’t seem to slack at all after an exhausting flight over.  Nice to see Pauline as well, now almost back to full health.  Olivia Ray kept feet moving in Timberwoods, always open to requests and with an eye on the floor to make sure no-one sat down too long.  At one point she sent me along to a little group to find out what they wanted to dance.  Once they were on the floor with their favourite dance, they were shy no longer!

“OK, you’ve set the scene and it sounds great” you’re saying. ‘But what about the instructors?”  Well, the Brit pack were back in force, this time bringing along with them Robbie McGowan Hickie.  I have to tell you that for a long time Robbie has been one of my favourite choreographers.  You know how you’re always a little apprehensive when you’re going to meet one of your heroes, that they might have feet of clay … well that is how I felt.  You will, of course, be most relieved to hear that Robbie is as nice a person as his dances are so wonderful.  A genuine, caring, somewhat shy and modest individual with amazing talent, what more could I wish for in a hero!   I was able to take two of his classes and ‘Be Brave’ I reckon could be a monster hit.  Terrific track and steps that hit every note in just the right way; a real pleasure to dance.  Robbie’s ‘Old Tears’ was just beautiful and I heard good reports back on his other classes.   The floor filled for Robbie’s ‘Not Like That’ every time it was played.  It is a massive hit in the UK and is becoming one here in North America.

Talented Neville Fitzgerald is not a new face to this event and already has an enormous fan club in Florida.  ‘Show Me Wot U Got’ is a monster hit and filled the dance floor every time it came on and Neville’s classes were packed.  Neville told me that he came across the song by accident and that the singer is from Norway.  That was a lucky accident indeed.  Neville’s co-writer on the dances he taught is Julie Harris who was also at the event.  She’s a talented dancer and also most helpful to those dancers on the floor at the back of the room.  Great track for ‘I’ll Make You Dance’ which I’m sure will be another big hit.   Dancers also enjoyed ‘Lookin’ For Something’ which had a few funky moves but nothing that the mainstream dancers couldn’t manage.  ‘No Doubt About It’ also brought out the crowds. 

The dancers were also happy to see Dee Musk and Shaz Walton back on Florida shores.  Dee is such a fun instructor, she darts around the room and keeps you smiling the whole time.  A talented choreographer, Dee taught the smooth ‘One Heart Too Many’, ‘Inner Voice’ and ‘Better Off Alone’ all to full and enthusiastic classes.   A talented dancer, Shaz got the dancers moving with ‘Great Scott’, ‘Apologize’ and ‘Freaky Skills’.  I gather this was one of the last dances taught on Sunday (I had to fly out early) and it received some rave reviews.  Another talented dancer, young Craig Bennett also took to the floor to teach ‘The Dance’ and ‘She’s Like The Wind’.

And, of course, there was lots of choice with very talented US Instructors. A class with John Robinson is an experience in and of itself, without a great dance thrown in!  You can’t help but have fun with John as your instructor and it's no wonder he won the 'Personality' and 'Instructor of the Year' awards in Vegas last year.  John taught a good mix of dances and everyone enjoyed ‘Shades’, 'Quantum Leap’, Shim Sham Boogie (lots of attitude in this one!), ‘Walkin’ In & Out’ and ‘Charleston Freeze’.  From California, the very charming and talented Michael Barr packed them in when he taught ‘Doors of Life’ which is already popular on dance floors around the world.  Dancers also enjoyed ‘Takin’ Off the Edge’ and ‘Mootown Boogie’.

Guyton Mundy got the funky moves going with ‘Bring It On Down’ which was a great spectator dance, ‘Come On And Dance’, ‘Cheatin’ Myself’ and ‘Get On The Bus’.  I’m sure many dancers will be practicing Guyton’s moves in front of the mirror!    Talented Bryan McWherter, who is always a pleasure to see at an event, taught his beautiful waltz ‘Gravity’ which is already popular on the dance floors as well as ‘WTF’.  If you need an MC for an event and you want your guests to laugh, just give Bryan a call!   Junior Willis is such a nice guy and well liked by everyone but he is also a talented choreographer and dancers enjoyed his dances including‘Too Little Too Late’ (written with Pepper Sequeiros).  “One’ which Junior wrote with Karen Hedges filled the floor every time it was played.

Mark Cosenza and Glen Pospiesny, Event Directors of the very successful Windy City Event held in Chicago every October, taught a mix of dances including ‘My Heart is Dying’ and ‘Under My Umbrella” and also the entertaining ‘The Elvis Blues’ which they, together with the dancers, performed in the Saturday show.  Maurice Rowe is now the resident instructor at Roundup in Tampa and he sure kept the dancers happy at this event with ‘Sexy Oreo’, a dance he wrote with Barry Amato and Jackie Miranda.  

Regular instructors at the event and enormously popular with the Florida dancers are Marilyn McNeal, Kathy “G” and Bill McGee.  They are extremely experienced and capable instructors and are known for picking excellent dances.  Their classes were all full.  Marilyn teaches in Ocala and has a loyal following.  Kathy hails from Miami and Bill from Orlando.  So if you’re traveling anywhere near where they teach don’t pass by without checking out their classes.  I should note that both Kathy and Bill are also talented choreographers and Marilyn is a lovely dancer and won a World’s Championship Couples Title with her husband Ray.

The beginner room had some very capable instructors keeping the dancers happy.  Skilled instructor Barry Durand, Worlds Event Director, taught some funky moves with ‘Da Bump’ while talented young Bracken Ellis from California got the dancers to ‘Add Em Up’!   Congratulations on your engagement Bracken!  First time visitor from the wilds of New York State, the fun loving Rosie Multari kept dancers happy in Timberwoods with her own dance ‘Baily’s Mambo’ while I really enjoyed ‘Best Foot Forward’ taught and written by smooth dancer Terri Alexander from West Virginia.   Rita Arnett from Florida is a very pleasant instructor and dancers enjoyed her ‘Because of You’.  Just make sure you have ‘black eye’ insurance when you teach your dancers ‘Ding Ding Dong’ because they will be laughing so hard their hands might go in the wrong direction!  You’ll understand when you do this contra dance taught by Zac Detweiller!    Arline even took some time out of her hectic schedule to teach and the dancers had fun in both her classes. I also had fun teaching ‘Whole Lot of Leaving’, ‘No Tricks’ and “Cool’ written with Fred Buckley.  Many thanks to the dancers who came and made my classes so enjoyable. There was also the option of taking part in or watching the Pro-Am competition.  It’s a great way to try out competing, low pressure and you’ve got your instructor on the floor at the same time to give you support.  Congratulations to those dancers who competed this year and Arline is hoping more will have a go in 2008.

After all that learnin’ it was time for some dancin’ in the evening.  That said there were dance reviews going on at the same time just in case you wanted to make sure that you still remembered the first 8 counts of the dance you were taught in the first class of the day!!!    It worked out very well having an option of two rooms for evening dances, if you didn’t know the dance in one room you popped over to the other.

Saturday night brought the dinner and show.  Again an excellent buffet meal and Louie did a good job of keeping the dancers happy in the ballroom both before or after they had eaten.  Then time for the show, a true Variety Show.  We saw New Age Dancers soaring, a waitress who looked rather like Pepper dancin’ around on roller blades,  Dance Express precision, Zac and Shauna straight from the kitchen,  the Brit Pack and a sunbathing tourist who had mistaken the ballroom for the beach.  (The tourist turned out to be Big Dave who hadn’t told the Brit Pack that he just might take off his shirt for a bit of the ballroom sun!  Like true troopers they just kept on dancin’!)  

Then on came Nelvis (a relative of Elvis and Neville!) with his back-up group.  (Who would ever have guessed that Neville could sing like Elvis, he was most impressive.  And that’s obviously where Neville gets his knee movements from as well!).  An exciting routine from Swing dancers Ellen & Sheven and a bit of swing fun with Arline and Barry, followed by the boys in blue jeans (Michael, John and Junior), and some great dancin’ by Byran and John.   The highlight was an awesome routine by one of the greatest line dancers I have seen, Brian Barakauskas.  Whenever I see Brian I can’t imagine how he could improve but his routines are more and more impressive every time.  As someone said to me “It brought tears to my eyes”. 

All too soon, it was time to pack and head home from an event that seems to get better every year.  Arline is an organizer par excellence.  She works incredibly hard behind the scenes yet at the same time is always available to the dancers, invariably stopping for a chat and hug.  Her volunteers were all cheerful and smiling and Jennifer Cameron and her helpers did a great job at the registration desk.  The amount of time and effort that goes into organizing this kind of event is phenomenal and I, for one, am thankful we have Event Directors like Arline willing to take on this responsibility so that I can have such a wonderful time.  Many thanks Arline and I’m already looking forward to next year! 

Do note that for next year only the event will be held later in November from the 13th to 16th.

*Let me add that it was so good to see the dancers from Southern California.  They have had such a dreadful time with the fires there but they were ready to relax and enjoy themselves; they are a fun loving group indeed.

DANCES TAUGHT (choreographed by the instructor unless otherwise noted):

Just Jazzin’
Best Foot Forward
Barkin’ Up The Wrong Tree by Rep Ghazili
Shy Waltz by Anne Hewitt

Because of You
Online by Moses Bourassa & Barbara Frechette
What’s a Guy Gotta Do by Amber & Marc Wilson

Doors of Life
Takin’ Off the Edge
Mootown Boogie
Operator 4-1-1 by Michele Burton
Got You Too by Kelli Haugen

The Dance
She’s LikeThe Wind

My Heart Is Dying
The Elvis Blues

Da Bump
Charleston Rock
Get Get Get

Country Girl by Rob Fowler
What Cha Missing by Cathy Falconer
Ding Ding Dong by Shauna Riley

Add Em Up
Less In Time
Rock ‘ Round The Clock by Pat Potter
Swingin’ Single by Donna Caudill

NEVILLE FITZGERALD (dances written with Julie Harris)
I’ll Make You Dance
Lookin’ For Something
No Doubt About It

Clothes Off by Will Craig
Dreamin’ by Barry Amato

Symphony by Michael Vera-Lobos
Boom Boom Boom by Ross Brown

Old Tears
Thanks A Lot
Dancin’ In Line
No Return
Be Brave

Tampa Bay Line Dance Classic
November 07
Let’s Get Saved by Dan McInerney
Tequilla Cha by Carolyn & Rick Robinson

Turnip Greens by Evelyn Haling

Baily’s Mambo
Toy Boy by TGBP Group
Return to Sender by Fred Buckley
Don’t Cry On My Shoulder by Jo Thompson Szymanski

Bring It On Down
Come On And Dance with Rob Glover
Cheatin’ Myself
Get On The Bus

Inner Voice
One Heart Too Many
Better Off Alone

Under My Umbrella with Mark Cosenza
Isle of Paradise by Audrey Watson

Walkin’ In and Out
Charleston Freeze
Quantum Leap by Jodi Wittman
Shim Sham Boogie by Susan Clark & Bonnie King

Boardroom with Zac Detweiller
Sexy Oreo with Barry Amato and Jackie Miranda

No Tricks
Cool with Fred Buckley
Whole Lot of Leaving by Alan Birchall

Freaky Skills
Great Scott

As If
Hey Junior
Hot Stuff
Jump Start

Brown Gravy Boogie by Scott Blevins
How Long by Jo Thompson Szymanski
One More Midnight by Maggie Gallagher