Tuesday, August 19, 2014

NVBall Dancesport Competition 2014 - Chapter 2

“Can you please wait for a minute, I’m expecting my friend to come down momentarily, she is never late”, I pleaded nicely with the cabby just outside the entrance of the Encore Hotel, Las Vegas.  It was the morning after we competed at our latest three-day dancesport series competition, the NV Ball.  I was already nervous, having agreed to the directive of my dance teacher Yanna to meet at 7:30AM instead of 7:00AM, my preference for departing the hotel to the McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas for a 20 minute ride to the airport with enough buffer time to catch our depressing 9AM Hawaiian Airline cattle car flight back home.  Yanna is indeed NEVER late, but for some reason, the minutes ticked by with no Yanna.  Propping open the entrance door, I kept one nervous eye on the lobby corridor and one on the cabby who had loaded my luggage – including all of my worldly dance possessions - in his cab, my heart rate and anxiety level increased by the second. I could feel and sense her coming around the corner at any second but this deliberate visualization was all for naught - still no Yanna! A text message sent, a cell phone call made instantly connected to voice mail – still no Yanna, it was 7:38AM…unheard of lateness.  Was anything wrong?  The wildest fears suddenly pierced through my paranoid brain like an ice pick. Each second felt like an eternity.

Ran back to the cabby – “Listen, I need to go into the hotel and try to find her, can you please hang in here a few more minutes? I will pay you extra."  The cabby responded affirmatively.  Still with little trust or respect for the moral integrity of Las Vegas cab drivers (our cabby bringing us to the hotel four days earlier took me for twice the purse he should have), I had little choice but to risk the possibility of the cabby fleeing the scene with my luggage and never again seeing my carefully chosen collection of rhythm, Latin, smooth and standard dance outfits, not to mention the accouterments, all needed as prerequisite to stepping on the dance floor at the NV Ball or any competition in the future. 

Other heart throbbing moments of drama followed, but the agent behind the registration desk finally consented to call the room, not without bitter protest, and after one failed attempt to unearth a human voice on the other end, I finally connected with an uncharacteristic woozy voice on the other end.  “OMG, the alarm didn’t go off, I’m sorry……go ahead without me, I will find my way.” Yea, right, it was already 7:46AM, and I was sweating whether I would make it myself……I thought to myself……there is NO way Yanna was going to get out of bed, clean up, finish packing, make it out of the hotel, find a cab to get to the airport skirting a long line of travelers waiting for the same, find the deserted Hawaiian Airlines area in the airport, decipher the check in procedure and navigate the baggage tags out of the Hawaiian Airlines “automated” kiosk, stick those suckers on to the luggage, deliver them to the blank faced Hawaiian Airlines agent ready to hurl them onto the conveyor belt, get though long lines of security (without Pre-Check as I was able to do), find, wait for and catch the tram to the D gates, and find her way down a long corridor to Gate D35.  Realizing the next flight to Hawaii is around 6PM, I was wondering whether I should just reset her reservations for that later flight to secure a seat.

As it was, I arrived with minutes to spare, but by the time I reached the gate, I was sweaty, panicked, and trembling. People were looking at me ready to call security to investigate this obviously agitated bearded Middle Eastern man on line to board the flight that they were also flying. Well needless to say, this experience was infinitely more stressful than competing in the 73 dance events of the competition.  

To reduce my stress, I wrote this blog on my flight back home to Honolulu, and I’m happy to report that somehow Yanna was able to muster up the will, with her quick mind and quick feet to do what I reckoned was impossible, and miraculously with time enough to stop at Starbucks for a soy milk cappuccino and a tasty muffin to snack on during the flight home!  While I was miserable, in pain, and timorous when she arrived, she was the picture of composure, smiling happily, and dressed impeccably as always while wearing her signature travel cap to boot! Go figure!!

I'm hoping to add just one more chapter to include some of the photos taken during the dancing by the dancesportphotography staff.  That may take a few days and will only include a few pics.  

Monday, August 18, 2014

The NVBall Dancesport Competition 2014 - Chapter 1


This was the inaugural year of the NV Ball, formally called the Nevada Star Ball, purchased with new owners from Brian and Susan Puttock.  Sadly, Brian passed away unexpectedly this year, but I believe that the sale of the competition took place before his untimely departure.  I had attended the Nevada Star Ball once in the past, the hotel as I remember was unimpressive but adequate. Like so many hotels in Las Vegas, it was filled with career gamblers whose diet consisted of cigarettes and whisky, whose skin was prematurely aging, wrinkled, and cracked by the bone dry Nevada desert air, whose focus on gambling was all consuming.  

The Puttocks

Still, as I remember it, the competition had always a healthy reputation as a strong medium sized comp – although I experienced it in an earlier period of my dance life with little perspective.  As best I recall, it was positive and fun although my expectations then were much less than at the present.  Indeed, I was just happy to get through my assigned heats without a melt down. I was content to just disguise myself as an alleged competitor dissolved inconspicuously into the crowd with other students, and to not be noticed or considered an outcast in this new world that I had ventured into. 

I have a particular fondness for Brian and Susan Puttuck who I have known (not personally until recently) for many years even before I began competing. I remember them as teachers at one of Wayne Eng’s Las Vegas Dance Camps.  I remember how kind and dignified they both were – recognizing them as British.  I remember how well they interacted together, exuding a lifelong enduring partnership and synergy in dance and marriage that is rare to non-existent in this day of disposable marriages.  I remember to this day how Brian and Susan expertly taught the basics of both International and American foxtrot in a few hours of group instruction, and that I subsequently reviewed their instruction repeatedly on the CD provided for many months after the camp had ended.

The NVBall - 2014

Back to the present: the new owners of the competition are well known ballroom celebrities including Sam Sodona, the genius ballroom entrepreneur whose portfolio of national dance competitions rivals the number of Wal-Mart’s…ha ha…   Calling themselves the new “Rat Pack”, they include such notables as Sinkinson, Galke, Carmen, Watson and of course Sodano. 

A Gala Event jump-started the competition, which included some lovely dance performances, a live band and social dancing, unlimited wine, and a coronary artery targeted dinner – proving once again that my solid commitment to a red meat restricted diet is phony baloney – the steak was perfectly prepared, every bite more delicious than the next!  I even encountered a lovely Asian woman sitting at our table that I caught a few dances with who seemed to show an interest.  Sadly, my attention span, commanded tightly by the anticipation of the upcoming competition, was all too consuming to allow any outpouring of charm to exploit this unexpected serendipitous attention and opportunity.

The Encore Hotel

The venue for the competition was the Encore Hotel, a less costly and less upscale look alike of the Wynn, both connected at the hip by winding corridors, walkways and shops. I’m told; this is the premier hotel and casino on the strip! Certainly the price for the slightest purchase of anything, even a banana or cup of coffee would leave most mortals shuddering in shock. But the green bloodletting gets easier by the day thorough conditioning and submission, and with the resignation that you are a captive audience to this Las Vegas Empire with few options.

Both hotels are very lovely, and filled with interesting gismos and visual oddities, including gardens of beautiful flowers, and a lush green setting framing a man made waterfall entertaining those having dinner at the steakhouse or lakeside restaurants located in a large open enclosure.  Funny, remember this is the desert; we could have created this setting in Hawaii with almost no money, but not so in Las Vegas. 

There are many things to see at both hotels that I even felt were worthwhile, except the tulip sculpture, nearly a man size colorful bouquet of what is supposed to be tulips protected by a partial glass perimeter and 24-hour security.  This sculpture is strategically located in a corridor between both hotels.  To me, there is nothing of interest or beauty or design or redeeming quality to the sculpture, no detail that would identify the amorphous bulbous blobs of metal or plastic or whatever as flowers of any kind, no less my favorite flower, the tulip.  Truly, even the stems didn’t give their identify away; to me they looked more like inflatable helium filled party balloons suspended in air by colorful string. But its all about money in Vegas; this monstrosity somehow and for some reason commands a price of 28-30 million dollars....at least that was the word on the street.  And to me, that is the only interesting thing about this excuse for a sculpture. Indeed, I would not pay more than $28 for it, so the security guard had no trouble in declining my offer as I passed him early in the morning on my way to coffee.  

But Las Vegas has its glitz and culture – an anything goes mentality and environment that promotes decadence and self-destruction.  Anything can be bought with the right price – money has no real value except if you have none.  Being an upscale hotel, the clientele was generally not the depressing losers huffing and puffing on their cigs and pulling and pushing on the slot machine levers (old style..now just push button). In their place, there were a horde of vulgar, abrasive, rude, and loud drunk out of their mind young people, a competition for how short you will dare to wear your skirt, tight short shorts that could have just been paint on flesh, the outpouring of frontal flesh and bobbing soft tissue escaping from the minimalist fabric dress, all with drink and cigarette in hand.  It was EVEN too much for and old blogger like me to hold my interest after the first 50 look-alike manikins passed by.  Truly, I was more embarrassed for them – only if they knew how ridiculous they looked and how obvious a target they were projecting for even a semi-hormonal male expecting to score big in the casino and after.  And it seemed that this is Las Vegas at its worst – if a majority of young people consider this excessiveness and overindulgence fun, or something to aspire to, we are indeed in great trouble for the future of our youth and country.

Competition Tidbits

During the competition itself, the organizers were always around, giving support and answering questions – this was a plus.  And this abbreviated competition stuffed Latin and Standard into one day, while Rhythm and Smooth were given one full day’s attention.  Since I signed up for all four events in addition to a solo presentation, my days were filled and busy, especially the last – which began with Standard starting at 7AM and ended at around 5PM waiting to hear that I was last place in the Latin multi-dance event that was contested in the C category. This was an event filled with capable and experienced women over 50 and one other obviously younger gentleman competitor who was pretty good in his own right who came in next to last.  

The competition was devoid of the depth to offer many of the usual multi-dance events that I sign up for.  As I approach 68 years of life, I usually go for the over 60 age category, and the senior or D category designation of over 65 or 66, but in the NV Ball, there were few opportunities to compete in multi-dance events that I am accustomed to.  Still I beat a few of the ladies in the Smooth multi-dance events giving me hope that I should not entirely give up on the idea of competing in younger age categories.  I was overall happy with my performance and in the gentleman only events; I only faltered in one heat over the four-day period (note: there were a bunch of uncontested heats so this accomplishment is not as grand as it might suggest).

Divino Ritmo Dance Studio

In addition to myself, Yanna competed with a teenage student rounding out the contribution from Divino Ritmo to the NVBall.  On the last evening, I was recognized as a top 20 student – actually I was third on the list, and my teacher Yanna was then awarded a top teacher award, also in the third position.  This of course was associated with a decent purse, so we were very happy to have Yanna win this top teacher award.

Overall Experience and Suggestions for the Organizers

There was a tremendous investment in this competition, being its first year under new ownership and highlighting a gala black tie opening event and a significant purse of prize money.  I believe the new owners impressed the students and professionals alike with this level of investment and commitment.

Overall, the quality of the competition was enhanced by the quality of the hotel, expensive as it was, but a necessary and enjoyable expense.  The rooms were outstanding, large, clean, and comfortable, with lovely views of the panorama.  The bed was really comfortable and you had in your possession a command center module that controlled every aspect of the room including the movement of the curtains from the recumbent position.  The air, anywhere other than the casino was clean and relatively easy to breathe. 

In Vegas, you have two problems; the smokers and the dryness of the air.  Either one can make you sick and or miserable.  Lesser hotels hosting unnamed other competitions in Vegas have produced a significant amount of morbidity in the dancers because of their aged air conditioning systems are uneven, faltering, and unpredictable.  Indeed, I have personally had some very rough moments attributable to the quality of the air controlling filtering and humidifying capacity of inexpensive antiquated hotels.  Not so in the Encore, the air was as clean and fresh as it could be in the places that counted: this was overall a great experience as a result.

I truly didn’t mind the three-day schedule and in some ways it was a welcome retreat from the usual week’s worth of competition.  I even didn’t mind stuffing Standard and Latin in the same day.  What I did mind is that it started at 7AM that day and ended late.  I would have been totally on board if the day began at 9AM or even 8:30AM expecting quite a number of us were competing in both of the last day’s events.

The ballroom was far from the main casino, registration area, and restaurants and cafes.  That allowed the air quality to be better controlled so far away from the casino mayhem, but it was problematic when it came to the nutritional needs of the students.  To rub it in further, there was a cordoned off area of drinks and snacks for the judges in plain site of the participants and competitors. 

Perhaps some bananas or some soft candies would have been nice, (there was water of course), but even if the organizers were not interested in investing in these amenities, having a satellite cafĂ© selling coffee, tea, sandwiches, muffins, etc directly outside of the ballroom would have really saved the day for many of us.  I ended up stocking up on drinks and food from the sundry shop, relegating myself to eating a progressively soggy tuna sandwich festering most of the day in my bag to provide energy and prevent hypoglycemia. Not everyone was as prepared as I was, but I’m not sure that I did my stomach any favors. 

Finally, to the question that some might be asking, -  Yes, I would definitely return again to Las Vegas to compete in the NV Ball, as I believe others attending would also agree.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

David & Sonja's Wedding - In Memory of Scherer Grace James Easa

I have never been enamored by large weddings set in huge impersonal ballrooms filled with faceless guests, round tables cluttered with food and mementos and gifts and hard liqueur.  The wedding party puts on a Hollywood extravaganza highlighted by cute and clever presentations by the “best” man and/or “maid of honor”, a professionally crafted slide show injected with short videos and mood music detailing the flight from birth to the present moment of the bride and groom, shrewdly weaving in an authentication of how perfectly matched they are and how they are destined to a life of happiness and success and money and success and more money.  Your joints get frozen seated immobile for four hours imprisoned by the long drawn out dinner, presentations, and testimonies.  And if the story would just end on the promises and trickery presented on that wondrous day, it would indeed be perfect; tears of joy trickling down our cheeks, love conquers all and marriage is for eternity.  But we all know that half of all marriages end in divorce, and many others hang on for dear life. The metamorphosis of a relationship from the best of friends to the worst of enemies occurs all to often to be of any interest. Nevertheless, on this glorious day, we remain positive and hope for the exception and not the rule.

The above was indeed NOT the picture displayed on a beautiful day late in July at my son’s wedding with Sonja.  A smallish affair – 60 at most, friendly folks all mingling between families, surprisingly fit and young at heart and in behavior, a wedding carefully planned at a beautfiul lavender farm in Sequim, Washington……a stones throw away from Port Angeles and the ferry to Victoria, British Columbia.   Mostly family members and friends from the bride – Sonja – her mother and other members of her family living close by, but there were enough from the groom’s side including me – his father, his sister and her family with three beautiful nieces playing the part of the flower girls at the wedding and dancing with grandpa and others who could easily qualify as great grandpas.  Also, three really good friends for life of my son’s, four best-est of friends of mine who also love DJ….Phil and Miriam, Buzz and Nan, and my three older sisters who trekked all the way from the East Coast to attend this celebration which also qualified as a long needed family reunion. 

My son David was genuinely happy; I know Sonja was also very happy. Her family, bouncing, boisterous and filled with joy, loud with elation, neither shy nor restrained.  The soft string music echoed from two local looking musicians setting the pace and flavor of the afternoon. Pictures do tell the story - I promise many more hopefully soon, the serenity and privacy of the lavender farm was set on the backdrop of a perfect sunny crisp Washington state afternoon. Both my son and his wife to be were alert and standing tall, exchanging their vows handsome and flawless, the joy oozing from them spilling over and enveloping their surrounding guests. The designer wedding declarations were short, tasteful and to the point, the ring bearer was Sonja’s obedient and loving dog, Jackson. This was strictly a family affair, the best man and maid of honor, Sonja’s sister and brother, the wedding service administered by Sonja’s aunt, her mother reciting a few phrases which frankly escaped my attention as I was focused and fixated on the excitement of the moment, the setting, the smile of my son’s face, on the loveliness of his wife to be, on the commitments that were being made, expected to last a lifetime.

The simplicity of the service reminded me of my own wedding 44 years ago, set in the beautiful home of my wife, Scherer’s mother, Frances, on Main Street, in Mount Airy, North Carolina, in a beautiful colonial house large enough to easily swallow the small group gathered together for the ceremony and celebration.  That was a warm and intimate wedding, much like this one and the wedding of my daughter, which was in held in a cave in San Francisco, another story worth telling at another time. 

But neither my son’s nor my daughter’s wedding could be attended by their mother who passed exactly 19 years ago this day.  A loving mother who had it all, would have done anything in the world for her two children whom she dedicated much of her life to raise, who was taken away from us before her time, leaving the permanent void that thwarted the possibility of sharing the joy and happiness of the wedding with a fully intact family.  I’m certain however, if she were here in flesh and bone, she would be just as happy and joyful as I am. And I must admit to still feeling her strong celestial presence as I call upon her at times for strength to meet the challenges of the day, to guide me properly and to protect our children. I truly believe she has been watching over us these last 19 years.  Could she have also been there with us at our children's weddings enjoying the moment and sharing in the joy and happiness?  The answer is a resounding yes.....I don't think she would have missed it for the world!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Alarm Clock Within

My eyes opened suddenly after a typical roller coaster night’s sleep, and I suddenly envisaged that it was exactly 7:30AM.  Not expecting to be precisely on target, I turned my head toward the alarm clock that read 7:30.  No longer shocked or surprised with this concordance, I am accustomed to predicting the exact time, or the time within a few minutes, an insignificant gift that some quirky force of nature has bestowed on me.

I only use an alarm clock when I have an important early morning event or when out of town experiencing a different time zone.  It helps me sleep the night before knowing that I have a failsafe method of waking.  The alarm almost never is allowed to bellow its bursts of squealing pulses.  Indeed, I invariably wake at least an hour before any alarm clock even thinks of waking me.  But “almost” always does not equate to “always”.  So, I am surprised but ecstatic on the occasion when I am greeted by the shrieking cry of the clock, realizing that I was able to sleep the maximum hours and that I might even be rested to greet the day awake and alert.  So often the case, waking before the clock beckons me - provides me more than enough time to prepare for the day in advance of need.  But it often leaves me hanging with time to spare and an insidious fatigue that suddenly envelops my being, demanding that I return to bed for a few more minutes of sleep. 

The truth is that my sleep has been permanently disrupted by years of medical on-call duty.  How can you sleep when you are worried about a dying baby?  Being called to rush to the infant’s bedside at any time, the call pierces through your deep sleep like a machete slicing through jungle brush.  This has created a perpetual uncertainty and insecurity while sleeping or attempting to do so.  When waked, you respond quickly and alertly.  You cannot say or even think…., Give me a few minutes to wake up, relieve myself, sip some coffee or brush my teeth and comb my hair (ha ha).  When you are called to the bedside, you shoot right out of bed, and run there expecting ready to act alert and be decisive, an act that may or may not save a baby’s life or send him/her further down the road toward death or disability.

And somehow this disruption in sleep that has remained long after my last on call day has passed still rules my day and night.  Early life’s experience weighs heavily on the present and future and the scar will remain as an everlasting remembrance of my work and past life, when I cherished every moment in my honored role as a medical caregiver.  Simply, this was the most meaningful phase of my life, and one that I will cherish for the rest of my days.