Oh, what a wonderful time we had at Sea, Sun and Swing 2012. Thank you Paco Mas for putting on such an amazing event!
Patty and I had always dreamed of dancing wherever we traveled and this was the first time we danced outside of the States. We picked a winner! While planning our trip to Europe, I suggested we research a studio or club to dance at. It turned out that one of the major events in Europe was being held just a week before our river cruise on the Danube, so we decided to go. We picked a winner!
We rented a car in Nice, France and drove 3 1/2 hours southwest to La Grande-Motte, a resort community right on the Mediterranean Sea. We checked into our hotel and made our way to the convention center to register and sign up for the competitions. We saw Brad Whalen outside taking pictures of a couple striking various dance poses so we knew we were in the right spot.
One of the things that Patty and I have to confess is that we felt incredibly ashamed of ourselves for not knowing how to speak French. I’m fluent in Spanish and I know some German, but French…..I’m helpless. Here we are, in a beautiful country with so many interesting people, and we couldn’t even get basic phrases out. We spoke English and thankfully, everyone we came across was so polite and helpful. I guess we just think everyone knows some English, but that wasn’t the case. Several of the gals at registration didn’t speak English so we used sign language until we got our point across. Thankfully, I’d printed out a copy of my registration form before I left so I wouldn’t have to pay again. They found my name on the list once I showed my printed copy.
Needless to say, we worked hard to learn French as quickly as we could: Please; Thank you; Where?; How? What time? Isn’t it awful to visit a place and not even be able to speak the basics? We were quite embarrassed at how inadequate we felt. However, everyone at the event was happy we were there, representing the USA, and were quick to help or find someone who could translate for us. We will certainly remember their kindness and be more helpful when foreigners visit our events here at home.
Sea, Sun and Swing is a two week dance camp with workshops each day and competition during the weekend. Many of the USA’s top pro dancers were instructing at those workshops. We were there for only the weekend to compete and social dance. When you feel like a stranger and out of your comfort zone, there’s nothing sweeter than a fellow countryman greeting you. The first to do so was Patty Vo. She jumped up and hugged both of us. She even remembered that I had just had my birthday! Talk about feeling special! Then throughout the weekend, several of the American Pro’s made us feel just as special by stopping by to talk with us. They were just as happy to find English speaking friends to talk with, I think. I could tell a few of them were a bit homesick. Two weeks abroad is a long time to be away and working.
We felt like VIP’s all weekend long. Jessica Cox called to me from across the dance floor. John Lindo helped me find a song that the DJ had just played. Tatiana came over and gave us a big hug. Jordan stopped by at dinner and chatted with us about our vacation. Jennifer DeLuca danced with me on my Birthday. Chuck Brown invited us into his workshop. We visited with Miles and Tessa. Sarah Van Drake filled us with details of a mishap that occurred over the weekend. We love our dance community and feel so honored to be included as some of their friends too.
One of the biggest differences with this event and European events, is that the workshops are structured for different skill levels. Dancers enter as Novice dancers and must qualify for the higher level workshops by dancing in front of the judges and teachers. They then receive a tap on the shoulder or a wristband to be in the Intermediate or Advanced workshops. This was taken very seriously and the judges were quite discriminating. I actually like this approach. No feelings were hurt and everybody got a fair shot at trying to get to a higher level. Ben Morris, Patty Vo, Jennifer DeLuca, Michael Keilbasa, Jessica Cox and John Lindo handed out the wristbands as the dancers did their best to earn a spot in the higher workshops. These dancers are serious students and they spent a full week before and after this competition taking lessons. Which leads me to my next realization.
The French are GREAT dancers. Granted, this was a workshop camp with serious dancers paying hefty fees to be there. But overall, the level of dancers was much higher than we were used to back home. I remember when I was learning to dance in Houston before I traveled to different swing events. We learned our moves and our style in Houston. Then the first time I went to SwingDiego, I was blown away at how good the California dancers were. They did more than just patterns. They moved better to the music. They extended the patterns that I knew and were trying all kinds of variations. I was exposed to a whole new level of dancing that I had never seen before. In a way, Patty and I experience the same surprise at Sea, Sun and Swing. Both of us are competent dancers at the Intermediate or higher level. But dancing with the dancers at this event, we felt like beginners again. Those dancers in the Intermediate levels could easily be in the All Star and Pro level here. Perhaps because the Europeans don’t have as many events where they can earn points at, or perhaps because they really do have that many great dancers or maybe maybe because they’ve been dancing longer, maybe that would explain the high level of dance. I’m not sure. What I do know is that when it came time to compete, we felt quite inadequate and out-matched. We swallowed our pride and got out there anyway. I couldn’t have been more satisfied though at just the fact that I was dancing with my Baby, and that’s all that mattered. The fact that we were there, dancing together at our first overseas event. I was all smiles, even though inside we were both pretty nervous.
Later in the weekend, we were told that the dancers there loved to dance with us because we do different things than they’re used to. That gave us a pretty good lift, and a good laugh too. We were so worried about not dancing well enough and come to find out, we were in demand because we had different moves and musical interpretation that what they were used to. Knowing that, we found new courage and energy, and danced as much as we could. Each dance we had was wonderful, challenging and interesting. What we did notice is that many of the French dancers have a style heavily influenced by Maxence Martin. We recognized his moves and his style in lots of dancers. And that’s a good thing! He’s fabulous. He wasn’t at this event, though, and we missed him.
The event had a theme for the dance party each night. The first night we were there, it was Chic. The next night was White Night. We wore white. Sunday night was Devil’s and Angels. There were lots of those too.
All of the Pro’s danced for us. Miles and Tessa did their Showcase Routine. Several of their lifts and drops were missed because of the temperature of the room and their sweaty grips. A couple of the French dancers had the same problem – too sweaty. Jordan and Tatiana, brilliant and exact as ever, danced their Classic Routine as did many others.
I had the pleasure of meeting Laurent Vasquez and his wife. Laurent runs a Facebook group for DJ’s around the world where we share music and ideas from the West Coast Swing world. He’s such a nice fella and has been so influential in finding good music and sharing it with others. He’s even started an internet West Coast Swing radio station. It was a pleasure to meet him and to dance with his wife, who also is a fabulous dancer. Laurent helped play music when Sarah Piddington (London, England) was off duty. Sarah is one of the best too! It was great to see her again and dance to her wonderful music selections.
If there is a negative comment to be made about this event, it would have to be that the air conditioning was either not working correctly or more likely, did not work at all. It was extremely hot in the dance hall and everyone was soaked after just one or two dances. Most of the women had their hair tied back to keep cooler. They guys were drenched and changed shirts frequently. Lots of us took breaks outside where the air was much cooler. In spite of the heat and the sweat, nobody stopped dancing, which again, is a tribute to all of us who love to dance. It doesn’t matter if the dance floor sucks, the room is too hot or the you can’t speak the language, in the end, we just want to dance our butts off until we drop. And that’s exactly what we did. We danced, sweaty and dripping wet with everyone we could and loved every minute of it.
Thanks again to Paco and all those people that went out of their way to make us feel welcome and special. We promise to learn French and to be better dancers so that when we return, we can express our gratitude for the kindness we received. We had a wonderful time and hope that we can return again.
Merci Beaucoup, Sea Sun and Swing 2012!