You plan a picnic, the radio announcer warns that a storm is a'brewin', so what do you do? Well, when it's the weekend of Dancin' for Miracles, you go ahead anyway and (as your instinct told you it would) the sun shines while you sit on the beach in Wasaga enjoying a delicious pot luck picnic (particularly tasty this year). Storm clouds begin to cover the sky only when you're all finished and are making your way back to the hotel. You see, this event has special connections!!! After all no one could ignore Valarie Keller!
If by any chance you don't know who Val is, well, she's the head honcho organizer of this extremely successful fund raising event that is held annually the weekend after Labour Day in Wasaga Beach here in Ontario, Canada. This is a beautiful spot to visit (check out last year's review to find out more details) so we're doubly blessed to have the opportunity to visit Wasaga and kick up our heels at the same time. This year I think there were more people than ever. Word has got about that it is fast becoming the social occasion of the year for many Ontario dancers. What does that mean? Let me try to explain.
First of all there is always a fun theme and everyone really gets into the spirit of it. So months before you even get there, dancers are rummaging into the deepest recesses of their and their friends' wardrobes or heading off to the local Goodwill or dollar store! Lots of conversations are punctuated with "So what are YOU going to wear?" Accommodation is often booked even earlier. There is everything available from tiny weekend cabins to fancy condos and some places are booked a year in advance. "We love to sit by the swimming pool with a glass of wine in our hands before we dance" one group of friends told me while another group gather in a hot tub (just hope it's a decent size), in fact there are many traditions that have evolved over the years. Then you enter the immense event hall and Val welcomes you like an old friend. You are then greeted with more smiles and hugs. All around you, you hear "Great to see you." -- "How are you?" -- "How has life treated you since last year?" -- "You look terrific" -- "First time here? You'll have a great time". What more could you want to feel welcome?!
But what about the dancing you might ask? You might say "I don't want to go anywhere and spend most of the weekend sitting down." I should let you know that with Lyn Warden at the helm of the music system, you can rest assured that there will be a great mix of music from the newest to older classics. Lyn also sends out a call before the event asking dancers to send in a list of their favourite dances and she does her utmost to play a selection of those plus she's always open for requests. In addition, she encourages floor splits (not that kind! - different dances to the same piece of music.....you know!) so if you have a favourite dance that goes to everything, get up and do it with your friends. You can even do a bit of free style - a great time was had on Friday night with some dancers getting into some Latin styling! After all isn't that what it is all about - we're there to have fun any which way we can get it!!
This event offers a great opportunity to learn from many of our talented Ontario instructors. This year was no exception. I'm going to tell you about them alphabetically (sort of!) as they were all terrific. Fred Buckley is definitely a crowd favourite. His love of dancing rubs off on all those around him and his patient and fun loving instruction has made him many fans. An extremely competent and experienced instructor with a faithful following, Michele Carver is always alert to the hot new dances but at the same time, lucky for us, she knows how to sift through to find the ones that everyone will enjoy. Robert 'Croc' Young is one of those instructors who is in a league of his own .. I don't think you could find a clone anywhere!! Suffice to say you can't help but have fun when 'Croc' is on the stage.
The very capable, talented and popular duo of Double Trouble took the floor separately. Kathy K. as always had us smiling and we seemed to learn our steps from her without even realizing that we were! Cathy Montgomery kept us in line with an order or two at the same time as she kept us chuckling. We all wish we could dance like talented Dan Morrison so I think some of the dancers tended to concentrate more on Dan's movements rather than the steps he was teaching! As always it is a pleasure to watch Dan dance. Newbies this year were Rose Small and Leah De Plancke. Rose is a very capable instructor who kept us on track with a firm hand and a quick wit. Leah was very nervous but her gentle self deprecating style clearly delighted the crowd.
The dedicated Newmarket instructors are very much involved in the many volunteer jobs needed at this event, but at the same time usually one or two of them set some time aside to teach as well. This year it was Jill Baker and also Debby Wilcox (who filled in for Marlene Maskell who was ill and unable to attend). A clear and concise instructor, Jill is patient and encouraging. Debby is very thoughtful and obviously alert to the differing levels of abilities among the dancers. No wonder this group of instructors has such a devoted following of dancers, many of whom came and volunteered at this event. I should add that the partner dancers were having a great time in the other room all weekend with Dave & Linda Corke, Mike Bishop & Deb Levesque, and Pat & Joe Pallas.
But I haven't finished yet. If you didn't feel like dancing there was plenty of action. For one thing, you could spend your time browsing through Mrs. Betty Keller's penny auction. Mrs. K outdid herself this year and there were some splendid prizes. I got into a bitter battle with another dancer as we both attempted to fill the jar for the stained glass lamp with our tickets! As it happens we both ended up commiserating as I think the person who won only put one ticket in the jar!! The amount of work that goes into this auction amazes me every year. Hats off to Mrs. K; she is an example to us all. Even though the auction didn't finish til late Saturday night, by the next morning Mrs. K had already done her accounting and was able to announce to us that $2000 has been raised. Thank you so much Mrs. K. for all your mammoth efforts.
Then of course you could buy some white envelopes, peek in, and if you found a number you were entitled to a prize and there were thousands of them! It was astounding. The effort and time that must go into collecting these prizes has to be enormous. I haven't seen anything like it anywhere. Much generosity is also on display as many of these gifts were donated by dancers. There was also a raffle with impressive prizes including a flat screen TV. In addition Val handed out attractive bead bracelets which were made by Rose Turcotte's daughter and there were masks and other beads for dress-up for the Saturday night. No-one leaves this event empty handed.
All this action is no doubt making you feel hungry. Don't worry, each morning there's coffee, granola bars and fruit waiting for you and for lunch each day there's the famous tooney deal. For $2 you wander down a long buffet table picking up a sandwich and all kinds of salad extras. On Saturday we also had dessert with a choice of cake. The bar is always open with friendly and efficient volunteer staff and the prices are very reasonable. There are plenty of restaurants and fast food places to head to for dinner on the Saturday night and most people were also glad of the few hours break to put their feet up for a bit!
And, of course, there is always some entertainment from the hilarious, to the touching, to the impressive; starting with the final performance of The Determinators led by Shirley Robinson on the Friday night. I was so moved when, to my complete surprise, I heard the music for my dance 'Clap Your Hands' ring out and realized that the Determinators had learnt the dance as part of their performance. It was such an honor. Their performance finished on a high note as everyone joined the group for a fun conga line around the floor.
Saturday night brought something very, very special and I had the privilege to introduce the Delhi Country Cruisers. This group used to perform at 'Country Dancing in the Park' in Kichener and they were the highlight of that event for me. They came an impressive third at the World's in 2003 but have been somewhat off the line dance scene for a while since then. This leader, Leah Kovacs explained that for the past two years they have been putting on theatrical productions with story and dance in Port Dover and Tillsonburg to sold out shows. They started with a 200 seat theatre, went to 500 seats and finally to a full theatre which still sold out. Then just a couple of weeks ago they opened in Sarnia for Keith Urban, dancing back-up for Canadian country singer Shelley Rastin. In the audience was the promoter for an Uncle Cracker show and he asked them to perform at that concert here in Ontario at the end of September. This group is sure going places. However, their main focus until January is going to be lots of practice as their 21 member troupe is going to compete in a new category -- Showtime -- at World's 07 in Nashville. They will have 15 minutes to perform and their routine will involve six costume changes. We were so fortunate to get a taster of their abilities on Saturday night and they are absolutely amazing. Their ghoulish bride and groom routine (you have to see the photos) set the atmosphere for the Mardi Gras theme. The creative choreography was eye-catching and just flowed while the dancers were absolutely wonderful; no wonder their shows are selling out. I should add that their costumes were terrific, you should check out the photos. Leah told me that her sister owns a new and used clothing store and was sent on a mission to find 13 wedding dresses they could destroy for the performance! I reckon the organizers of the World's are fortunate indeed to have a team of this caliber compete there. We've sure got some talent here in Ontario.
Speaking of talent, this time hidden under a gravestone! My next good fortune was to introduce the Neon Crypt Kickers! I was given very little background info for my announcement so I was as curious as the audience as to what we were going to see. What an entertaining skit it was as skeletons popped out of graveyards with their bones aglow; it was just terrific and the audience roared their appreciation. We were told it was put together by the creative Newmarket Instructors. The whole crew of instructors and volunteers had spent hours preparing, getting taped up into black body suits that were so hot that beads of perspiration were trickling down their bodies before they even started (good job the show was done in the dark!). They only had a very short time to learn how to move their skeleton parts and it was quite tricky I gathered although they made it look easy. It was so much fun to watch; they did a really excellent job.
There was much more and I could probably go on ad nauseum but, suffice to say, this was another great achievement for the tireless Val, her industrious assistants Rose and Ray Turcotte, the amazing Mrs. K and all the many other volunteers who worked so hard to ensure that we left with smiles on our faces. Val has already announced the dates for next year - September 7, 8, 9 - Friday night we're having a sock hop and Saturday evening we're going to the Prom! So start scouring your wardrobes and checking out the second hand stores! This is an event not to be missed.
ANNOUNCEMENT: Word has already come down from Valarie that they made $8,500. $8,000.00 will go to the Canadian Cancer Society and $500.00 will go to the Canadian Military for special gift boxes of items to go to the brave soldiers fighting overseas.
There was something for everyone in this mix -
Angels All Around by Leah De Plancke
Big Bang Boogie by Leah De Plancke
Bumpin' & a Swingin' by Double Trouble
Drunken Responsibility by Deb Levesque
Heart of an Angel by William Brown
It's Raining by Kathy K.
Latina Heat by Rose Small
Leaving of Liverpool by Maggie Gallagher
Makin' Whoopee by Noel Castle
Perfidia by Dan Morrison
Savannah Slim by Debbie Wilcox
Solo Humano by Debbie Ellis
Start to Sway by Sandra Le Brocq
Step It Up by Rose Small
Te Busque by Dan Morrison
Walla Walla Bing Bang by Double Trouble
Walking the Dog by Jill Baker