|pictures courtesy of Sandy K: riding on the coat tails of my teacher Yanna|
|A little off center but good enough!|
|you take the baton, no you take it!|
A one-day competition, the first year of its existence, follows at the coattails of the traditional Hawaii Star Ball (HSB) competed in September, representing the future of ballroom dance competition in Hawaii. Parenthetically, while the HSB has survived more than a few decades, the recent transfer of ownership to David Alvarez projects a sense of renewal and rebirth. Indeed, it seems like the Hawaii ballroom dance scene has two new dance competitions to consider and enjoy, not just one.
The Sheraton Kona is the new name for the previous Kona Surf Hotel that I loved in the 80’s when I travelled frequently to Kona to teach the local medical providers basic skills of newborn resuscitation (all in my former adult career as a neonatologist and medical leader in Pediatrics representing the regional pediatric center, Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children). It is set on a glorious stretch of beach; the ocean spreads endlessly as it surrounds the resort truly providing the sense of paradise. However, from what I can remember, the improvements to the hotel from 30 years past seem more cosmetic than substantial or purposeful. There is a musty smell that permeates some of the hallways, perhaps from the proximity of the ocean, perhaps from decades of use and abuse, perhaps from the blood and sweat of the hotel staff as they dutifully scrub their way across the campus of the resort with their brooms and mops. My safe did not work, my phone did not work, and it was so dark in the hallway that I had to squint each time I attempted to insert the key card into my door slot. Nothing was wrong with the room, it was spacious enough and the TV worked miraculously, but overall, it was not as upscale as I had expected.
All of these defects were offset by the prime location of my room…. literally a stones throw away from the ballroom in the Convention Center adjacent to the wing of the hotel that I was luckily assigned to. This facilitated the five changes of clothes that I would need to accomplish to get through the marathon day that I had agreed to when I signed up for this burgeoning dance competition.
Arriving the afternoon before, with little time to spare to clean up for the opening reception; then later in between schmoozing with the participants and organizers – Ron Montez and Tony Meredith at the ocean front reception, I ventured a detour from my programmed evening activity to conduct a pre-competition inspection of the ballroom.
What I saw there was less than comforting. First, the ballroom seemed large enough for the smallish competition and at one end there was a decent sized practice floor of decent quality. But, at the same time, the hotel staff was laying down a competition dance floor or what they imagined was a dance floor. In fact, it was a palate of 8x4 unfinished plywood sheets that was painted with mahogany to disguise the rough, uneven and splintered surface. These sheets were aligned dreamily to remain contiguous by snugly placing them adjacent to one another over a wooden lattice frame to provide a cushion over the ballroom carpet.
BUT, what I saw in that floor was unacceptable – there was NO way I could dance on that floor, no way anyone could dance on that floor! I returned back to the reception, keeping my secret intact until I could corner Yanna – and then I vented in frustration. I don’t think she believed me until we found our way to the ballroom après the reception. But behold a miracle of miracles; the plywood dance floor was being disassembled in favor of the practice dance floor, which was in the process of changing places such that the plywood was being relegated to the practice location. Thank God someone had sense enough to figure it out!
It was clear that the practice dance floor transformation to the real deal was not going to an be an easy task, nor was it large enough to fill the requisite area, even if the hotel staff was willing to pull an all nighter to get the job done. But before we signed off for the night, we were promised that more of the same semi quality dance floor was on its way and we would be ready to go on schedule at 8AM.
But this is Kona, not Chicago, not Los Angeles, and not Miami. Things are much more complicated in Honolulu, but they are pure chaos on the neighbor islands when it comes to deadlines and task completion. Nevertheless with fatigue setting in as the night begged for closure, so did my eyelids converge on the day before the historic monster one-day dance competition in Kona, Hawaii.
The next morning revealed only that the competition dance floor was not completed, and the competition would be delayed by around 2 hours (actually it was 2 hours/ 15 minutes). In all, there were 5 iterations as the hotel staff tried to complete the ballroom dance floor, three separate floors, and in the final iteration the two closest looking floors were pieced together and sometimes even taped together to complete the job. Floors being secured, then unsecured, moved here, moved there…thank God there was an abundance of husky young men to labor nonstop to finally find a solution that would work. And in the end, it did work and the competition finally started, promising a long day for some of us, including myself with multidance events scheduled for nearly 11pm. And the floor was fine to dance on, after all the toil and needless worry and the unnecessary expenditure of energy……..
But it seemed like I was the only one who was freaking out. The dancers were unimpressed and seemed unconcerned; I was the loner, fretting and anxious, my stomach churning with dyspepsia as the hotel staff buzzed around doing and undoing floors, and redoing floors. The scene in the ballroom was flooring! …and comical. In truth if playback were possible and the speed turned up a notch faster, it would closely resemble the humor filled chaos of the 1020’s silent movie legends, the Keystone Cops (Kops).
From there, everything fell into place and students and professionals and amateur couples got in the groove and to the business of the competition. Despite the quality of the floor being less than optimal, there was truly no difficulty that I encountered with my feet getting blocked by floor corners or seams. Indeed, the size of the competition matched the size of the dance floor very comfortably. I am particularly crazed with fear of collisions with other couples on the dance floor. It only happened once for me at the Aloha Ball, which of course is never acceptable or optimal but I’ll take that statistic anytime.
Divino Ritmo had a huge following of students, and others from Honolulu and other neighbor islands communities had solid representation in the crowd. Many just there as spectators, nevertheless, a happy and friendly crowd of supporters all rooting us on, saying nice things to us about our dancing and overall having a good time. It was also nice to see our best Honolulu amateur couples competing against one another; the quality of the dancing was indeed quite excellent. And there were several spectators who attended both Hawaii competitions who commented that the quality of the dancing was at a higher level in Kona.
As one who has experienced an endless stream of health issues this year including this last month or two…. accounting for a silence streak of non blogging, I was truly worried that I would not last the day, worried that my feet or knee or brain would give out or my will would deflate like a burst balloon. But it didn’t happen. A little caffeine brought the brain back to life, and my feet and knee never betrayed my desire to do my best, and to last to the end. As it turns out the comp turned up the speed and an hour was saved from the revised estimation of time. My last heat ended at about 10:00pm. This allowed me to rush to the bar far across the hotel campus to secure a few glasses of wine…my favorite sauvignon blanc….Kim Crawford…. before it closed at 10:30pm.
For such an auspicious start, the competition worked remarkably well, and I believe that everyone enjoyed it very much. I can be included in this group. There are many lessons to be learned for the organizers, and we all expect that next year’s comp will avoid the mistakes of the past. It was a shame that so few could enjoy the dinner set on the ocean front hotel lawn adorned with beautiful tables and white tablecloths and a full buffet (second hand information). There to enjoy the food, the sunset, and dining against a backdrop of the majestic Pacific Ocean, its powerful but soothing music; humming its waves toward shore, while beating its drums at shore break and when colliding with the hotel’s barrier embankments. But alas, with the given time constraints of the competition timeline, the best that competitors could do is quickly fill up their take out boxes and return to the competition ballroom to get ready for the next heats or simply to continue to spectate.
The competition finally over, student awards were announced and top teacher and studio awards followed. Lucas received the number one top teacher award and Yanna was 4th. Of course, Divino Ritmo was number 1 studio. Wow, that was a lot of work in one day! And I just want to mention once again how much of an opportunity this was for students who generally could not afford the luxury of participation in mainland competitions including a bunch of young keikis competing for the first time. The age span of the dozen or more students competing with the Divino Ritmo professionals spanned almost 60 years! My body belongs to the older group (second oldest) but my heart resides in the younger one.
The professional show included a youthful complex formation exhibition. This was such a complex presentation, done with precision and originality that it was arguably the most interesting formation choreography that I have ever seen. The other part I remember was a cute cha cha done by a group of male professionals including the event organizers…… I could have missed other parts of the show running back and forth to the bar and generally being elated that the comp was over and that I survived it without a meltdown. Not only me, everyone I talked to, Divino Ritmo students, students from other studios, bystanders and visitors from the neighbor islands and elsewhere were all positive about their experience. And most were delighted by their performance during the competition.
Finally, I even survived long enough to attend the after competition VIP party ostensibly held in one of the organizer’s suite. This was a first! There I drank a glass of champagne and ended the evening chatting with a youthful, lovely lady who also attended the competition.