Dance From the Center

It Is Time…

“The Lims had a very good weekend.” – Grace Killelea, BridgeTown 2005 M.C.

I’ve loved dance conventions ever since I went to Easter Swing back in 2003. It’s great dancing with complete strangers from all around the U.S. and creating friendships on the dance floor. Now that I’ve been to a few events, I recognize people throughout, and it’s a wonderful reunion as I only see some of these dancing friends once a year. And it’s at a competition where Jenni and I met our first crossroad.

Two years ago, I asked Jennilyn if she would be my strictly partner sometime after we finished several great dances at BridgeTown 2003. We had been dancing very well for the whole convention so I couldn’t resist asking her to compete with me, despite knowing full well her criteria in a partner. She wouldn’t partner with someone unless they were just a friend, or someone she would pursue romance with. We liked each other more than just friends, but our spiritual differences prevented us from pursuing a relationship. We both cared too much for each other to engage in a relationship that would ultimately fail. Well, two years and a salvation later, we are happily married and blessed to be able to compete together.

BridgeTown Swing 2005 is the first convention we competed together for Strictly Swing, a competition where we choose our partner and dance socially to a selection of songs. It’s emphasis is on social dance skills with a dedicated partner. We have been looking forward to competing together since we became romantically interested in one another so the weekend was highly anticipated and stressful.

Jennilyn’s road to recovery for her health had a dip in the road a few weeks prior to BridgeTown and she had to begin a new round of medication. The drugs took away her energy and that kept us from going out to dance, which we desperately wanted to so we could gear up for BridgeTown. The week of BridgeTown, Jenni had very little energy and we were somewhat depressed. Still, Jenni and I prayed that if God wanted us at BridgeTown, He’d make it happen. As we prayed, our motives for going changed from our desires to His desires.

We prayed a lot that God would use our time at BridgeTown this year for His purposes. Jenni came to the peace that if she couldn’t dance, she would go to socialize with people while I danced. Still, the thought of not dancing at a dance convention wasn’t a very happy thought. I came to a peace that I couldn’t control how well my wife would feel and would just have to let the Lord take us both with Him.

He blessed us when we got to the event. Jenni was able to hold her strength and the weekend kicked off well. I had butterflies doing bumper cars in my stomach in anticipation so it was a much needed calming taking Libbat Shaham’s “Competition Warm-Up” workshop Friday afternoon. It was a theory class explaining her views of Jack & Jills. She emphasized that there is so much pressure in Jack & Jills that she focuses on teamwork rather than her own personal technique and timing. The class was exactly what I needed to remember why I love to dance and not get caught up with winning competitions.

Libbat focused on five points of teamwork. First, it was to build a social connection with your partner. It can be as simple as asking “Hi, where are you from?” The goal was to try to find common grounds with the other person. This point helped create a relationship so the partner wasn’t just a means to an end, but a human on the other side of the connection.

Second, she explained about “Active Enjoyment,” which was the attitude of continuously enjoying your partner. I’m sure as a pro, she dances with a lot of different people, some of which she’d click with while others not so much, but she would find one or two things she liked what her partner would be doing and enjoy those pieces, even if the rest wasn’t great. I got to see her embellish this point in her dance as she danced with some more rough and crass dancers in the late hours.

For the third point, she needed a victim volunteer to show how to “adapt” in a partnership. My lovely wife gave me a big shove subtle nudge as she looked my direction and I got to dance with her. The class laughed as I was dancing with her but I couldn’t figure out exactly what was going on. After the second basic I led, I figured I’d try to match her style and that was what she was after. Gotta love being the one left in the dark =P Anyway, she showed how to match your partner’s styles as best we can to make a better partnership.

Playing with the music was her fourth point, she described how she would listen to lyrics and bring out fun points in the music. Last, but not least, her final point was “Wait.” It was advice generally given for follows but she emphasized it for leads. She said to wait as the song started to focus on the partner and allow yourself to be calm. I’ve heard it said before, but I definitely needed to hear it again.

As we thanked her for a wonderful workshop, she asked all of us to pick one thing to focus on as we compete this weekend. I believe she had a great message to everyone as I danced with people from the workshop, they were all kind and using her teachings. For me, I focused on smiling more at my partners and give them the best dance I could.

That attitude helped me enjoy BridgeTown much more than I would’ve if I had concentrated on winning competitions. I’m very thankful for that workshop and Jenni’s prayers. I wanted Jennilyn and my first competition to be special but not focus too much on the trees and miss out on the forest. I’m sure we had a hometown advantage—we were very blessed with a lot of support from our friends. Our dances for the lower strictly swing were extremely fun. We connected very well and smiled happily enjoying each other. It was almost an out-of-body experience because I can’t remember any one part of the dance being better than another, it was just a great solid dance =)

I danced until 4:30am before I called it a night. There was hardly anyone on the floor at that point so I called it good. Can’t say I closed the ballroom like I wanted to. Before the night ended, I got a great dance with Libbat for Seal’s “Walk On By.” It was a very solid dance and felt very easy. She danced exactly as she taught. She focused on me very intently, which was a bit uncomfortable at first because I’m use to only Jenni paying that much attention to me. Not that it’s a style for every follow, but it was actually really refreshing. She was very quick to respond to any nuance I could muster and had a wonderful smile throughout. She is definitely a pro I would recommend to anyone and everyone.

On Saturday, I almost missed my door monitoring position because I slept in a little bit. But I still got there by 10am. Afterwards, I caught up with Josh from Seattle who I met at Monster Mash two years ago. We chatted and I found out that he just got into intermediate recently and he asked where I was. I told I was still in Novice and he told me that I’ll get to intermediate after this event. I shrugged and told him I was fine being in Novice. I didn’t want to get there until it was time. I really wanted to win first place before moving on. He smiled and told me again that it was time.

My Jack & Jill dances were very fun. Jen Clark rotated to me in prelims, then semis, then as my finals partner. I’ve had very fun dances with Jen in the past, so I was happy to have her in the finals. We had really fun dances. She took the openings I gave her and added her splash of flare.

When intermediate Jack & Jills rolled around, I happily cheered Jenni on as it’s been almost two years since she took first in Novice Jack & Jills at Monster Mash. She was a little nervous, but I knew she would do just fine. Actually, I thought it would be just hilarious if she drew Darren and took first place. When she took first at Monster Mash two years ago, I embarked on a quest to get to intermediate as quick as I could so I could potentially draw her as a partner since she wouldn’t strictly with me. I figured if I make it to intermediate after BridgeTown, she’d be one step closer to Advanced and I still wouldn’t get a chance to draw her =) Granted that point is moot since we’re married and we can compete together all the time, it was still fun thinking that thought—and then, it happened. Darren got Jennilyn for the finals. I was cheering and laughing all the same.

For those who don’t know Darren, he was my roommate at Oregon State University our last year there. After hanging out with me and Marco (aka dance addict of OSU), Darren succumbed to taking dance classes and loved it. It came as no surprise to me that he made it to intermediate in Jack & Jills before me. He learned how to dance with more emphasis on technique rather than patterns. As a quick tangent, my favorite memory of Darren is him coming up to me at a ballroom dance at OSU saying, “Dave, I’ve had three girls hit on me! What am I going to do?” I felt like leftover meatloaf. I had been dancing for four years and never had a girl hit on me. But, I’m not bitter about that anymore =)

With that aside, Jennilyn told me she had a great time with Darren, and even admitted to probably messing him up with some of her “dork” moves. She didn’t have high hopes of placing, being her first intermediate-level Jack & Jill after nearly two years of not competing. But somehow, I knew better.

I’ll finish up with our competition results before random thoughts from the event. I was a little nervous going into the awards. It’s the nervous jitters hoping to do well but also trying to keep cool and losing gracefully. It’s a tough balance. I felt pretty good about all the competitions Jenni and I competed in, together and individually. So as the emcee called out the winners for the lower division strictly swing, I leaned back against a wall and just waited for it all to come to pass. I hoped for us to place in the top five, first place would pretty awesome, but I would be happy with placing. We received a lot of nice compliments, a pro Manny Viarrial had told Jenni that he placed us first, and Libbat had told me that we did well together. But I still was wonderfully surprised and pleased when we took first for strictly swing. It is a two-year dream come true.

As I’m sure you realized from the quote at the beginning of this story (which if you’re still reading, you’ve read 10,547 characters, just a fyi) you know how well the competitions went. So I’ll leave out the details, and go on to say that I placed first in Novice Jack & Jills with Jen Clark. And yes, I believe it is time. Intermediate, here I come!

For intermediate Jack & Jills, my smile grew bigger as each placement was called up while Jennilyn remained by my side. Until first place was called up. I’m usually a very quiet person, but when Grace called Darren and Jennilyn as the first place winner, I couldn’t help but cheer them both, “I THOUGHT SO!”

At that point, I could predict the future. BridgeTown has had a tradition of awarding the top amateur male and female competitors. The criteria is that the amateur competitor must place in two or more swing competitions. I’m very honored that Jennilyn and I follow in a line of great people and dancers, such Austin Mellinger, Trina Siebert, and Marco Widharta.

So, what did we win? When I won first at the novice level, I won a free pass to another dance convention in April, Reno Dance Sensation. The Lord does work in mysterious ways. I dreamed about going to another dance convention, but felt that it probably isn’t a wise use of money since Jenni and I are still getting settled with our married life. But the Lord knew my heart and granted me my wish. But then I thought, well, I can’t go without my wife. Uh huh, guess what she won for her first prize at the intermediate level =) And… and… guess what weekend that dance event lands on? Our one year wedding anniversary =)

I’ll finish this story and wrap up my other thoughts of BridgeTown 2005 in a later post. I want to acknowledge that while I received recognition at this convention, it was by God’s grace, lessons from wonderful instructors, and a shared passion of dance with my dance partners. Each partner is a part of my dance; I learn from those I dance with. I’m very blessed that I’ve danced with many, many great follows from all corners of the dance floor, stretching from OSU, Portland, California, and Canada. May God bless them all for dancing with me.

And not to leave the guys out, thanks for dancing too—so I can steal learn from you =)