SSQQ Summer Showcase 2013

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This August marks the 4th anniversary of the new SSQQ Dance Studio and the 4th anniversary of our heading the West Coast Swing program there!  We really makes us proud to see how far we’ve come as a studio and to have been able to part of something like this!  I still remember our first month of classes where we might have had 40 people total in all 5 classes.  And now we regularly have 30-40 people in EACH class!  We continue to grow and we cannot thank our instructors enough for how much work they have put in and to the SSQQ Studio owners, Daryl and Jo Anne Armstrong for believing in us.

So this last Saturday was the SSQQ Summer Showcase!  This was the 2nd year to do this and it’s a great opportunity for our instructors and students to show off a bit so that others can see what they’ve been learning – and maybe even find a new dance that they want to try!  There was a little bit of everything – from country to tango, east coast swing and west coast swing (of course) and salsa, bachata and even some burlesque!  

I was especially proud to get to see some of our West Coast Swing students go out there and perform.  For many of the people on the exhibition team, this was their first time performing and I thought they did a great job!  Kudos to Michael Stephens and Karen Wisniewski for some great coaching as well!

Trent and I also got to do some exhibitions.  Matthew and I were able to do a nice run of our pro-am routine ahead of Dallas Dance.  Trent and I did 2 exhibitions – one slow whip for many people who had never seen that before – as well as a west coast swing exhibition.  Both were super fun!

The stand out of the evening was the very last performance.  It was an East Coast Swing exhibition by a couple of our long time students – a father-daughter duo!  It just so happens that it was Gareld’s 85th birthday as well!  They were fun, entertaining and so full of energy.  I hope to be dancing like Gareld when we’re 85!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1O6tOH0opYk

Next up – Dallas Dance!  www.dallasdance.com

See you on the dance floor!

 

 

Dance Mardi Gras 2013

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I have to be truthful.  I was so tired going into Dance Mardi Gras this year that I was really worried that I would not be able to enjoy myself.  Welp, I totally underestimated the positive energy of the people that we were surrounded by and in retrospect, I have no idea how I even doubted myself!

This was our first year on staff at DMG, 2nd year to attend.  But this time, we were also able to bring 11 of our students and ams to come play with us, including 2 newcomers!  Trent and I both love love LOVED the energy and excitement that our newest students brought to the table.  As some of you may understand, when you’ve been doing something for a long time, like competitions, there is a tendency to get complacent, to get jaded.  A special shoutout to Sarah, Amalie, Tyson and Amy for helping us to remember why we were drawn to this dance and to competing, and why we love this so much and how much we love teaching this dance to others in hopes that they will love it as much as we do!  We also want to thank Eric, Hona, Lani, Shane, Matthew, Louie, and Alan for coming to play and support and compete with us!  It means the world!

As always, we love being with our Louisiana dance family, but it also fantastic to get to meet some new folks, like Dean and Dawn Garrish, 2 of the event directors for DMG, and in the case with Dean, a chance to not only dance, but compete with him in the Jack and Jill!  What an honor!  I can’t even describe how nervous I was to compete in my first invitational, but Dean made it easy for me to relax and just enjoy our dance!

The icing on the cake for the entire weekend was receiving my 3rd top female pro award in the last year.  Simply amazing, and I am humbled and grateful for all my wonderful ams who trust me to compete with me as their pro.  I can’t thank y’all enough!

Trent and I had a GREAT time AGAIN in Louisiana.  You folks make us feel so welcome and we can’t wait to return!

~Michelle

Summertime

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Apparently I got a little catching up to do!  I’ve been enjoying some downtime from dance events – rejuvenating and getting remotivated!

It was our 2nd year to be on staff at DFW ProAm Jam over Memorial Day weekend – and this year was just as full as fun shenanagins as always!  As you can see from the intro photo, this year’s theme was TOGA FUN!  Trent and I really had fun with our toga costumes, and there were some beautiful togas.  My favorite though, was our own gladiator, Mike Topel!  

Lori and Glenn always strive to take care of their staff as well as the dancers, and this year was no exception.  Fun contests like the ProAm JJ and the Mixed bag JJ were a hoot to both participate in and to watch!  I always enjoy events that really focus on the newer dancers and having the newcomer JJ division at this event is a real benefit for those wanting to get a taste of competition, without it being too scary.  Plus, all finals were either semi spotlight or spotlighted so that the newcomers and novices got their time to shine.

Then we took some time off in June.  It was a needed rest after a super busy traveling springtime!

We ended our break with Wild Wild Westie up in Dallas again.  This was over July 4th weekend and it was our first time there, after hearing great things about it the year before.  It is a leveled workshop focused weekend, with auditions to take workshops at the highest levels.  It was our first time attending something like this, and we really appreciated the workshop instructors working to make sure that their workshop material really focused on things that would help each level the most.  Tracy Wang, Jay Tsai and CJ Caraway really did a great job in putting this event together and I look forward to next year!

Next up for us is Dance Mardi Gras!  It’s our 2nd time to attend, and our first time on staff!  Can’t help but have fun when you’re going to an event in the French Quarter!

Final stop on the West Coast Swing Marathon – Swingapalooza 2013

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This is our third year at Swingapalooza – and even though we were pretty exhausted already from our latest dance marathon, we knew that we would have a blast no matter what.

It doesn’t disappoint! 

I don’t know what it is about Swingapalooza.  It’s not held anywhere huge – it’s in Gonzales, Louisiana, just outside of Baton Rouge.  It’s not held in a fancy hotel.  It’s not a big event.  Inspite of those things, or perhaps it’s more because of those things, it has that hometown hospitality feel, where everyone is a friend and everyone is there is have some FUN! 

I’m sure that there is some drama – I think that just comes with the territory – but it never permeates the ballroom.  There is very little negativity at this event.  Everyone really cheers for one another and even though this is a competition weekend, I always feel like people want everyone to do well.  There is a real sense of comraderie at this event like no other.

Our Louisiana dance family grows all the time and I can’t thank them enough for welcoming us every year.  I am so glad that we were able to bring a couple of Swingapalooza newbies with us this year and happy to say that we introduced them to such a wonderful event!

A special thank you to Louie (1st in proam novice!) and Matthew (3rd place proam Intermediate and 5th place in our proam routine!) for helping me get Top Female Teacher this year!  AMAZING!  Truly unexpected and SO so so appreciated.  I was thrilled to get to share the top honors with the phenomenal Matt Auclair!

Also a shout out to Alan, for his first WCS competition ever!  and then coming in 3rd in the newcomer J&J!!!  GREAT JOB!  and I love the new sense of confidence in your dance!  It’s been fantastic watching you grow in your dance and I look forward to watching it continue to progress!

Thanks again to Bryan and Catrinel for another amazing Swingapalooza! 

Dance Marathon! Next – Swing Dance America 2013

SDA 2013 groupNext in our dance marathon trifecta was Swing Dance America at the beautiful Lake Geneva Resort in Wisconsin. It had been 4 years since we last attended, with lots of fond memories. We weren’t really sure what to expect this time, but since we were traveling with Chip and Janice, and we knew we’d get to see alot of our dance friends, we were pretty excited!

After a super early flight into Chicago, we all rent a car and drive the 90 minutes to Lake Geneva. It was just cheaper for us to do this option then to fly into Milwaukee and then take the shuttle in. Plus, we knew that this was an event that we would want a car to drive to the grocery store and for some amazing Wisconsin pizza! All that delicious Wisconsin cheese!

The resort is really nice, but difficult for dancers sometimes, since it’s laid out with multiple connected buildings. Our hotel room ended being pretty much as far away from the ballroom as one could get, with lots of stairs to negotiate. With ProAm Routines, Rising Star and Masters Routines, all in the same night, back to back to back, Chip and I were really worried about how we were going to do costume changes. His is easier of course – mine involves a change into a full corset!

So Friday, we get there, and we run into one of our favorite people, Barry Jones. He has been so encouraging and a great cheerleader for us. After chatting with him a bit, he asks me to be his assistant in his two workshops over the weekend! WOW! Naturally, I had to jump on that opportunity, even though that meant missing out on a trip to the pizza place and less sleep. I didn’t care. Working with Barry is so amazing and I was so honored that he wanted me to assist him! The two workshops were so fun – and there were several people who called me the “lady that teaches with Barry” later in the weekend. Heh. So great! Thank you, Barry!

The only competition we had going on that night was our Advanced/All Star strictly swing – which Trent and I decide to go ahead and dance together. We like to do that when we are traveling, while we tend to find different partners when we dance locally to change things up. We had sizzling prelim dances, which got us a lot of compliments. SO sweet! And then we made it into finals, which we were thrilled about. After all, we are virtually unknown in that region since we had not been in such a long time. It was GREAT to be noticed. I think we ended up in 7th or 8th, which amongst that crowd, I could not really complain too much.

Saturday was a long long long long day. Floor tryouts at 7:30am with both Matthew and Chip, followed by teaching with Barry at 9am and a judging seminar that he asked me to attend as well. The workshop was fun, although since it was an advanced level workshop at 9am, we did not have very many people. I did however, get to meet Clayton, who was kind enough to let me borrow his room for my costume change as he was actually very close to the ballroom! Thanks again, Clayton!

There were 2 judging workshops, but I only attended the first. I was desperate for food! But the one I attended was a seminar on how the relative scoring system came about and how and why it works. They had some technical difficulties with the AV equipment, but I thought the seminar was really good. I have a pretty good understanding of how it works, but it was the first time I heard how it came to be and why it is the best system for judging our type of competition. We also were given handouts with everything that was talked about, as well as examples for us to really see how things work. I thought this was a valuable workshop that any competitor should check out.

Comps started early on Saturday, since there were SO many events to get through! I think proams started at noonish – with 3 levels of Ams in both Swing and Hustle. Then all the hustle strictlies and most of the swing strictly prelims (all levels other than the Adv strictly from the night before). Then 3 levels each of hustle and swing J&J. Not to mention, all the routine divisions except for showcase, which was on Friday. So Proams, Rising Star, Masters, Classic and then Teams. And finally Champions Strictly. It was a LOT to get through in one day.

I heard that there were issues, but don’t know what they were. Things seemed disorganized and every category ran late. One of the biggest issues, we felt was also the use of “blocked time” on the schedule. For instance, on Saturday with the routines, it just says 8pm: Pro-Am Solo Routines, Rising Star Routines, Master’s Routines, Hustle Routines, Open Classic Dvision. I understand that it’s hard to know how many couples you may have in any given division, but those people in the Classic division, for instance, still had to show up early since they didn’t know when they might be starting. I felt really bad for the Classic couples – at least my 2 divisions were the first two. But there were many of them already in costume standing the ballroom, waiting through 12 proam routines, 6 rising star, and 4 masters routines. Since it said that routine divisions started at 8, many of us were down there by 7:30pm, but then routines didn’t start until closer to 9. by the time the classic division was run, many of those couples had been down there for 2 hours, just standing or sitting. I felt that it made for a few lacklaster routines. Not that they were bad by any means, but you could just feel a little less energy. Not just in the competitors but in the audience as well.

I hope that this issue is resolved in the future. This was the biggest issue – otherwise, we thought the event was pretty fun and entertaining. It made me sad that we had to miss awards. We specifically booked the latest flight we could find so that we could stay for the awards as scheduled. But since they ran so late, we had to leave. We found out on our drive to the airport, that me and Chip won 1st in the Rising Star and that Trent won first in All Star JJ. It would have been nice to be there for people to see our faces and associate us with these prizes. Oh well. Maybe next time!

As I said, this is a fun event ( I even got to try out my baby hustle skills!) with tons of really good dancers and some interesting comps and seminars. But the disorganization and the lack of communication with the competitors was a sore spot for many of us.

We’ll be back, because we enjoy the event. Hopefully the issues this year were the exception.

Dance Marathon! First – ASDC 2013

ASDC 2013 awards

Dang, I had not realized that it had been so long since I did an update.  Holy moly.  Three dance convention weekends in a row – I have no idea how long this is going to take to recover!

First up – Austin Swing Dance Championships!

This is a 2nd year event and I think this is already on the lists of “MUST” dance events! The event is well run by event directors, Rick Domalski and Angel and Debbie Figueroa, and by the Chief Judge, Mike Topel.  That was definitely one comment that I heard over and over  again throughout the weekend – how on-time everything was and well organized.  And even when there were issues, they were upfront about it and let everyone know so that we were prepared.

Again, we really like the hotel and that there is some good eats within walking distance.  The ballroom is a pretty good size (although it does get crowded from time to time – just means we got a lot of dancers!) and we really enjoyed the Texas style breakfast taco buffet at midnight!  We also like that the event directors align themselves with a charity cause every year.  This year it was with SafePlace.org, a charity that supports victims of domestic violence.  They included a dollar dance to dance with your favorite pros ( I got Arjay this year!) and some of our Houston ladies got together and we donated 2 big boxes of clothing, shoes and accessories to the cause.  Very happy to get to support the event!

This event also includes a special Invitational Strictly Swing, where the Champions must choose an all-star partner.  We thought this really added something special to the comp – I can’t wait to be a part of it (maybe next year?!), while Trent got the opportunity to dance with the amazing Susan Kirklin.  Victor chose the music – each couple got 2 songs, including a former routine song from the Champion dancer!  Those who know their WCS history really had the advantage here – kudos to Brad Whelan and Deborah Szekely and Matt Auclair and Stevie Blakely for some of the most entertaining dancing I have seen!

I also got to do both my routines during this weekend – first pro-am with Matthew and then Rising Star with Chip.  At least they were two different days this time!  Rising Star was Friday night and included some tough competition!  I was a little nervous again, as I always am in front of my friends, but it felt great!  We won 3rd place in that division.  Saturday night was Matthew’s routine – this one is feeling better and better all the time as he continues to learn and progress in his dance.  We didn’t place this time, but we got some excellent feedback from a few of our judges.  Always appreciated!

I also want to thank Matthew, Louie and Shane for being awesome Ams and for choosing me to be your pro.  A special congrats to Shane for 2nd place with me in the proam and 1st in your SS with Emma (the supreme super star of the weekend!!!!)

The final event of the weekend was the Swing Slam (previously the Golden Ticket).  This really is a great way to keep the energy going late into Sunday afternoon.  I absolutely love this tournament style format as it keeps the audience completely engaged and involved and keeps the competitors on their toes!  The creativity that pours out of the competitors in this format is amazing.  Something about the energy from the audience being right in your face and cheering their heads off!!!  

So congrats to Rick, Angel and Debbie for another successful event!  

Opportunities

Some people know this – Trent and I do have day jobs.  He is a programmer and I am a research administrator at MD Anderson Cancer Center.  We teach west coast swing because we love it and we love to perform to make people smile, and maybe even inspire others to dance.  In the last few days, we’ve had the opportunity to dance to give back!

This past Saturday was the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Cancer Stomp (www.llscancerstomp.com).  This is a 4th year event run by Emily Stonebrook and this is our 2nd year to be involved.  We taught an intermediate level WCS workshop and Krista Johnson taught a beginning ECS workshop, with all proceeds going to the LLS.  There was also a live band, The Gulf Coast Organ Trio (www.gulfcoastorgantrio.com), who played a variety of different blues for us to swing dance to!  They also had a silent auction and Te’ House of Tea provided delicious snack foods.  SSQQ Dance Studio (www.ssqqdance.com) donated the use of the studio for this great cause!  The event appeared to be a success and we were glad to be able to contribute!

Then last night was a rare treat.  Trent and I were hired to perform at a fundraiser for the Brookwood Community in Brookshire, Texas (http://www.brookwoodcommunity.org/).  The Brookwood Community is a beautiful Christian facility dedicated to the spiritual, emotional and vocational education for disabled adults. For the fundraiser, the event directors had brought in the premier boogie-woogie blues pianist, Axel Zwingenberger (http://www.boogiewoogie.net/) and soulful blues vocalist, Lila Ammons.  Their music just makes you want to move your feet and clap yours hands!  The directors had hired us as a surprise to the guests that were there.  Once the music got going, when the mood struck us, we just got out there and danced!  At first, I think some of the guests were confused, but soon they were just sitting back and enjoying the whole show.  It was wonderful to be a part of that and to get a chance to talk with the guests about dance and about west coast swing.  Who knows?  We might have converted a few!  

Trent was especially happy last night and he got a chance to talk blues history with Dr. Jon Tennison (http://www.nonjohn.com/), who was in attendance last night.  He is a blues and boogie woogie historian, as well as a musician and recently played in the Boogie Woogie Heritage Festival in Marshall, Texas.  Apparently, Trent’s family history has some roots in traditional Cherokee dance and Dr. John was VERY excited at the prospect of getting to find out more.  Who knew?

We also had a chance to get to check out the green house and nursery at the facility as well as the gift shop.  Many of the items in the shop are either made or packaged by the Brookwood residents and the green house and nursery are tended by the residents as well.   It just so happens that Trent and I are looking to redo some landscaping at our house and they had some beautiful plants and a birdhouse and bird bath that I really liked!  Plus, the nursery has outdoor seating for the attached cafe, which had catered the event.  The food was absolutely wonderful! Juicy beef tenderloin topped with roasted peppers on potato crisp, beef and mushroom puff pastries, bite size salad mini cups, potato and corn poppers topped with sour cream and cavier… the list goes on. So we’ll definitely be making a outing to Brookshire soon, for some good food, beautiful plants and a good cause!

We feel really lucky that we’ve been able to participate in events like these.  All because of dance!

Robert Royston 10 hour Intensive

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Trent and I had the opportunity to attend the Robert Royston 10 hour Intensive this past weekend  It was the third long weekend for us and the 2nd one out of town out of the last three.  So we were already tired, but very much looking forward to seeing what we could learn.

Trent and I had attended an hour workshop by Robert back in December as part of The Challenge event.  We were very impressed by the way that he explained the concepts behind the pattern that he was teaching.  It really made us think of that particular concept in a new way and it gave us another tool in how we teach our students.

Some of you know that we are currently overseeing the west coast swing program at ssqq dance (ssqqdance.com).  Besides constantly trying to improve the program and improve the material that we present to our students, we recently embarked on a teacher training program.  It’s something that we had been talking about for awhile.  It isn’t just about the actual moves that we teach, but also about how to manage your class time-wise and when to present certain material.  How to teach and how to make changes as needed depending on the skill set from the students. So we were looking forward to the intensive to find new ways to present the material to both our staff and our students, as well as for us personally as dancers, and competitors.

WOW.  We were NOT disappointed!  Without giving a lot away (you really need to take the intensive yourself!), we both loved the base foundation where he starts from, covering body mechanics and movement, as opposed to being specific to the West coast swing.  For me, it really brought together alot of different concepts and ideas that I have been exposed to over the years and have really been working on recently.  It brought more purpose to why I was trying to do certain things and why some things work and others haven’t.  As Robert said, it brought so much more to my “toolbox” both as a competitor and an instructor.

The other thing that we especially enjoyed and took with us are the drills that he provided that allowed immediate application of what we were learning.  He had drills for all his concepts, including for musicality.  I loved the immediate application.  Trent was next to me, nodding his head and just BEAMING because it brought together everything that he had been preaching for years.  LOL.

On a personal level, I feel like this intensive as the right time for me in my competitive career.  I have so many ideas swirling and twirling in my brain and I have not been this excited about dance in a long long time.

Quote of the weekend: Amateurs practice until they get it right.  Professionals practice until they can’t get it wrong.

Catching up! Chicago Classic and Novice Invitational 2013

It’s been a whirlwind couple of weeks, with back to back competitions.  First, Chicago Classic!

This was our first time at this event, which always makes us a little nervous because you just don’t know what to expect. This was also a particularly challenging one for me, as I was doing both my new Pro-Am routine with Matthew Boehm, as well as my Rising Star routine with Chip, back to back Friday night.  Which means, an extra early flight to get to the hotel in time for floor tryouts and not a whole lot of time for preparation.  It was GO time!

I really liked the hotel at the event, atrium style, which means that all the rooms overlook the lobby all the way down the center.  Which is particularly fun, when you open your hotel room door from 7 floors up and can still hear Kellese’s voice below.  🙂  The restaurants in the hotel had some great food too.  So even though it was hotel priced, at least we really enjoyed it!

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