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It was very sad getting up and out the door this morning without spending time with Dru (my dog) first, but I’m sure she’s happy at the Preston Country Club for Pets.  In fact, I didn’t do most of my usual routine since today’s also a fasting day.  I did drink a great deal of zero calorie antioxidant water.

BWI was not too crowded and I got from the baggage check to my departure gate in about thirty minutes.  Ah, I remember the days when walking through an airport while carrying your ID in your mouth and putting your belt on would have raised some eyebrows.  I got another zero cal drink and then boarded the first of my two Airtran planes.  I almost took advantage of the “give up your seat for free round trip tickets” offer that happened, but I wasn’t sure how well I’d do since it was the first of two flights.

Stopped at ATL, got a Freshen Low Cal Smoothie (90cal).  Started reading a book I’d downloaded to my computer from Books on Board. On this leg of the trip, I got to sit next to a pleasant young woman named Miranda, a teacher from Dallas who was going back to her hometown in MN for a friend’s wedding.

MSP was pleasant enough and it only took about 10-15 minutes for my suitcase (really a duffel bag +) to come out. And then I picked up my rental car from Hertz. It’s a Hyundai Accent and I like it. Silver, sun roof, XM radio, and a USB port for my iPod. Rad. I brought along my Navigon GPS which worked perfectly and guided me right to the Holiday Inn RiverCentre.

The layout of this hotel is L-shaped, a little peculiar, but I got a nice room on the 7th floor (#723 – come visit if you’re here this weekend). It’s got wifi access (hence my blogging), an ironing board and iron, a wardrobe, a mini fridge with complimentary Dasani waters and a Quizno’s small sub meal (sub + cookie). The sandwich was a club sandwich so I tossed that out, but I may use that cookie for a sugar rush later on. I have a history of passing out from dancing too hard (yep, just that awesome), so I can’t go entirely without food today because of the possibility of hurting myself. Jimmy Johns came to the rescue! I ordered a delivery of a Gourmet Veggie Unwich with no cheese. Basically, the ingredients of a nice veggie sub including avocado spread, wrapped in lettuce. Good stuff, even if it did fall apart in my hands. But then my hands were delicious.

It’s about 6pm now so I’m going to pause this blog for now and go off to ULHS’ Friday Night!

And it’s now 12:30pm the next day. I blearily checked my cellphone as I stumbled into my hotel room and it said something like 4:00am so I scribbled something onto my notepad that looks vaguely like the name, “Sam” to remind me the next morning.  Sam did the trick.

It didn’t take long; I’m already having a blast!

The biggest problem about waiting until the next day to write up my experiences is that it’s all kind of running together in my mind, already, as a blurry-thrilling-exhausted smudge of happy memory.  I’ll try to use the ULHS published schedule (hahahahaha) to help me put things together.

I was not the first to arrive by 7:15pm (it took me a while to decide what clothes to bring and shoes to wear before I left last night), but it was still pretty empty when I got there:

Pretty much from the moment I climbed up the stairs to the upper hallway that overlooks the ballroom floor, I started feeling a happy anxiousness. The venue itself seemed charged with anticipation, swelling greater and greater as every additional dancer came through its entrance.

Quickly enough, I was greeting friends both from home and from far distance places with exotic names like “Seattle”. After I had warmed with with a few DJ’d dances, the first band of the night, Hot Swing combo, began to play (sample):

Sean Morris, the event’s Master of Ceremonies, would tell the band regularly through the night just how awesome they were. If Sean had been wrong, that repetitive statement would have grown irritating. As it was, I felt like thanking Sean for conveying those thoughts on my behalf, every time.Hot Swing Combo began playing around 8pmish, which is when the competitor’s meeting was supposed to have happened. “Supposed to” Around 9pm, Sean came out to announce that the Jack ‘n’ Jill contest was about to start and began his comments by saying that there would be no competitor’s meeting because that’s how they do things at Showdown (paraphrase).That example may illustrate my favorite part of Showdown: there are no rules. Well, that’s their catchphrase. I personally translate that to mean: The first rule is to have a fantastic event and that trumps all other rules. There’s a linear order to the schedule, sure, but things happen when they do. There’s a guideline for the competitions, but things happen however the circumstances require. There’s certain criteria for judging placements in each division, but each judge can choose the ordering they like. I’m sure there’s behind-the-scenes truths that would show some serious organizational skills in play, but that’s how Showdown comes across to me as an attendee. And it’s frickin’ awesome!Take that first competition, the prelim Jack ‘n’ Jill. There’s just one level for entry, so we could potentially see rank beginners paired up with World Champions (not hyperbole, by the way), and occasionally do. But the ridiculously high proportion of competitors being champion level makes this Jack ‘n’ Jill the only exciting one I’ve ever watched. Sure, I’ve seen others where a move is exciting, or maybe even a dancing couple is exciting. But the Showdown JnJ is just full-out thrilling through every heat. That’s absurd! And true.

After the JnJ’s, there was social dancing to more excellent music by Hot Swing Combo, in addition to some DJ’d music by Reuben Brown. Sometime between the end of the JnJ prelims and the midtempo prelims, I think I did a drink run. I got some more zero calorie drinks, a 90 calorie powerade, and an all-fruit Acai Berry smoothie. I’m sure the smoothie had quite a bit of natural sugar, but again I was hoping to stave off physical calamity.

Then there was the Revolution (midtempo) competition. I have to admit, I don’t remember the details very well from this one, though I do remember enjoying it. Damn you, sleepy Paul from last night and your poor memory!

More social dancing to Hot Swing Combo and DJ’s music. Then came the Jack ‘n’ Jill finals and I remember this really well, starting with the fact that the lineup sounded as impressive as, or better than, an Invitational Champion’s Jack ‘n’ Jill from any other competition.

Before the comp began, Sean was lining up the competitors and Alice Mei (adore her dancing) ended up without a partner because the fellow who was supposed to be the last leader (Kenny) wasn’t there. Sean did some very funny South Park/Cartman towards Kenny imitations while the judges consulted their rankings and declared that without Kenny, the next up would be Skye Humphries. As Sean began joking about how rare it was that Skye would get into finals by forfeit, Nell (sp?, also a fun dancer) was able to get Kenny on the phone. Sean, hilarious guy that he is, had an impromptu conversation with Kenny over the mic, after which he directed Kenny’s friends in attendence that they should all approach Kenny with the following admonishment (paraphrase): “Kenny, you BEAT Skye Humphries… but then you fucked it up!” Fantastic! I hope that happens.

The competition was terrific! That’s right, a Jack and Jill Final was terrific!
Immediately after that came the midtempo final. Which was exciting! What? That’s right, EXCITING!

On both of these competitions, they used a modified jam style, which I think went like this: First, a full chorus all-skate. At the end of the first chorus, all the couples aside from the first couple would fade back to the stage while the first couple did a second full chorus. Then, the jam style rotation where each couple fades out as the next couple comes into the middle of the jam space. After all couples are through, the first couple does their spotlight again, but for only half a chorus, leading into another jam rotation series. After all the couples are through for the second time, another all-skate happens. The competition method was fun, but the most fun part to it was how Sean explained the couples fading back after the first all-skate — and then watching the couples do it. Naomi, in particular, was hilarious.

Then came more social dancing to DJs and a bit more of the Hot Swing Combo. As the band wrapped up, I was standing near someone (Soo? Alicia? Freakin’ sleepy Paul, I hate you!), who wondered if they’d be there for the next year in New Orleans. Man, I hope so. Robert (?), on guitar, and I guess the bandleader, has been involved with ULHS at least since the first year at the Varsity Ballroom (which I think was the fourth year of ULHS). I remember watching him on the stage back then when a bunch of swing dancers were doing an impromptu series of musical jams with their various instruments late, late, late into morning. Man, I miss that place.

Anyway, around midnight, the band switched to Loose Marbles who began by playing for the Solo Blues/Jazz dance competition. I watched Ramona Staffeld, Ronni Creel (I think), and Naomi Uyama. There were many other competitors, and some were amusing and some were trying very hard, but I pretty much came back to watching those three.

I can generally sum up the goal of most Showdown divisions like this: be the most badass. I’m sure the same is true of Solo Blues/Jazz, but there is also an element of sensuousness involved. I don’t know if that’s purposeful or incidental. When I think of blues dancing, I certainly think of a dance style that’s intended to convey a welling of emotion. Just like the Blues conveys a sense that the singer/songwriter was so full of emotion, he had no choice but to let it out. The music that I think of as Blues conveys a deep dispair, even when it’s humorous. You have to cry, or you have to laugh to keep from crying. I think that spontaneous dancing generally conveys joy, but not necessarily. It’s again a welling of emotion that pours out into an artform. I think Solo Blues dancing is like that, but after having been studied and performed more carefully and purposefully. So emotions -> sensory -> sensual, that makes sense to me.

The Solo Blues/Jazz prelim was fun, but as an all-skate, it was too crowded for my taste. SEVERAL HOURS LATER (I don’t know how long actually, but it was very late into the morning), we got to see the final Blues-off between an Asian female whose name I don’t recall, the hiliariously awesome Grizzly Adam Boehmer, Ramona, and Naomi. I mostly watched Ramona and Naomi. And then just Naomi. And then just….DAMN. Anyway, Naomi was full of win and eventually everyone agreed.

I wanted to stay and dance to Loose Marbles. I REALLY did. Unfortunately, my nervous system declared that it was time to turn off. I realized this when I was watching the Blues final and one second it was Adam and then after a … really … long … blink … it was Naomi. Yeah, time for sleep. I went home and turned in for the night at the aforementioned Sam.

I wrote this up the next day. I believe that yesterday I danced with: Michelle Searle, Amy Lambert, Tracy Kerchkof, Soo Clark, Alicia Mazzara, Jes Kolongowski, Cole Allen from Seattle, Alice from MI, Chelsea from Chicago… more follows whose details that damn Sleepy Paul has kept to himself. I met and/or greeted several more follows with whom I plan to dance today.

About Paul Roth

A vegetarian, agnostic, lindy-hopping, dog-loving tv-watcher who likes to read his own words.
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