WEST COAST SWINGAn "Open" Experience

by Joanie Fuller

Is this Disneyland or the US Open, or both? So many obsessive dancers, so much stress. What’s seemingly crazy only testifies to the persistence and dedication it takes to "put a routine on the floor."

At last year’s Open I only knew a few competitors but this year I knew many of them. Through them I’ve learned how much preparation it takes to compete in the "Mother of all Contests." This is the recipe: Put your life, as it exists, on hold for about six months. Forget about focusing on anything else. Eat, sleep, drink dance, and that’s only a sip of it. You will endure eons of freeway driving, spend hours upon hours practicing, and may even have to send the kids to the orphanage so they can get quality care. It’s likely you’ll be able to write your name in the dust lying on all of your living room tables. And we haven’t even mentioned money! And for what? Some only do it to get three minutes of fame captured on the most sought after videotape ever. And some do it for the moolah which is a sizable chunk of cash-ola.

It’s been refreshing to learn that there are others who share my obsession for dancing. I remember when I was younger I would never attend a party that didn’t include dancing. What purpose does a party with no dancing serve? We can chat over dinner, but then, got any MUSIC? And what good is it to meet Prince or Princess Charming if they can’t dance. Ohmigod, am I suggesting that dancing is better than sex? Eh...in some cases, yes. Don’t know about you, but I worry more about losing my triple step than losing my pizzazz. Sparks fizzle...triple steps are forevah!

But before you start preparing for divorce court, allow me to continue by getting back to the Open. The intensity of the Open left me frazzled and completely exhausted, and I was just a spectator! It took days to recover and hours of concentrated sleep induced by Tylenol PM, my favorite miracle sleep potion. While at the Open it’s imperative to stay up until the wee hours. The young tykes take it to the max and push the 4:00 a.m. limit But for some of us old folks it’s a game of chance: chance that the feet will not give out before the spirit does.

The wee hours is when the best dancing begins, "opportunity knocks," and once-in-a-lifetime experiences present themselves on a silver platter. That means "stalking," and Ramiro Gonzales was my prey. Cunning as I am, I pounced on him the minute he stopped to take a breath. Seizing the moment, I demanded he treat me like a "real" dancer and not a novice no-name. Naturally, he was shocked at my request. Demanding wench ain’t I? Nevertheless he obliged. I loved it, made my trip. After all, I had to have SOMETHING to tell the folks back home.

It’s strange out there on the dance floor at 3:30 a.m. It’s almost like sleep-dancing. When the music has a monotonous beat, I often get tunnel vision. Everything seems to fade and I catch myself nodding off, but only at the end of the phrase, and right before my "and-a-one." That’s when I know it’s time to give it a rest.

What an experience, the Disneyland Hotel and all the characters in it. Each time I tried to take a nap, it was sabotaged by a barbershop quartet. Someone must have hidden a sensor under my pillow. Every time I’d lay my head down, they’d strike up the tuba and start singing about "Givin’ Their Regards to Broadway," or whatever. So much for napping. One morning I had an encounter with one of those Disney characters when the phone rang at 6:30 a.m. After dancing all night I could hardly remember where I was. Totally confused, I answered the phone to Goofy’s standard wake-up call thanking me for my patronage and cheerfully welcoming me with, "Hi, I’m glad, you’re here." Got a muzzle?

The U.S. Open separates the Minnies from the Mickeys, the kids from the old folks. It exhausts and it invigorates. It is the epitome of talent, guts, and showmanship. Everyone should try competing in it at least once, in spite of its taxing demands, for it’s the ultimate dance performance. The object doesn’t have to be to win, but just to get on that dang video. Being the most frequently fast-forwarded couple is not a totally bad thing. At least everyone watching will have allowed you two seconds of visibility before those quick fingers reach for the remote to hit the FF button.

I’m game, how ‘bout you?