There’s No Place I’d Rather Be… Monterey Swingfest 2015 Recap


Ahhhhh, I am slowly waking up from this dream… the dream that was Monterey Swingfest 2015. Did I really go to California? Did this little duckling from Oklahoma compete in not 1 but 2 divisions on a Cali WCS floor? Yes, and I lived to tell the tale.

Thursday: My westie traveling companion, Heather, and I spent the morning walking from the Hyatt Regency (the event’s venue) to Fisherman’s Wharf. We walked around the wharf and my favorite part was taking photos, because it was just breathtaking!

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After lunch at Fisherman’s Grotto (mouth-watering and delicious seafood), we went with Monterey Bay Whale Watch and spent the next 3 hours looking for whales and other marine life. DSCN0348

Being on the water was a rare experience, and I cannot believe we saw 100s of dolphins in one pod! Truly amazing.

We ate dinner and got ready for the evening’s pre-party festivities! They had a bit of social dancing before John and Jessica’s workshop. My first taste of Cali dancing. Holy Mother of all that is holy. We first walked into the ballroom and the 1st song I hear is “Uptown Funk.” THAT IS MY JAM (insert booty pop). They were all so impressive.

Friday: 

John Lindo and Jessica Cox kicked off the morning with a really fun workshop! It was great to see different twists to your basic patterns. We of course learned about adding sass. I have only been to one other event where the workshops were leveled. It was interesting to see how they would accommodate the variety of dancers. They had a great balance of not making it too dull for the more advanced dancers and not too crazy for beginners.

Sean McKeever and Courtney Adair were up next!

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Their workshop was rooted in fundamentals, but taught us how we could manipulate our musicality. Which I love. A lot of great and thorough information packed into an hour long session.

The comp registration opened at 3, and we had no idea the massive amount of competitors. They announced that they signed up  120 dancers in 120 minutes… but I bet there were more! It was an incredible sight to see. So many dancers of all ages eager to showcase their talent.

The ProAms… DUN DUN DUHHHHHHHHHHHHH

I have never done a ProAm at a comp this large. Two words: SUPER INTIMIDATING. I think my heartbeat was probably at a 120 or 145 BPM. haha I was HELLA scared. I accomplished the main mission which was to do a ProAm. I am competitive and if I do not feel like I succeeded, I clam up into this shell and lose a ton of confidence. It was a really good feeling to take a deep breath, and know that the other person on the other end of the partnership was taking care of me. I faced a fear and had a great time doing it.

Shout out to my swingfest roomie Heather who took 2nd place in the Newcomer ProAm division!

Saturday

The day known as J&J Prelims/Semis day! Such a busy day from the get go… After indulging in some late night social dancing IMG_1548

(My favorite part of any event) I woke up pretty close to my private lesson.

The private lesson with Michael Kielbasa was exactly what I needed. I need a master technician to give me notes straightforward. Improving and growing as a dancer is difficult if instructors sugar coat everything. Michael is tactful with his critiques, and he has a great eye for strengths in dancers along with what needs development. It is always fun and informative working with Kielbasa.

Jack and Jill prelims! Like any event the novice pool is the huge. We had three heats and kept moving leads back to accommodate the followers (#FindPhilCraig2K15 *inside swingfest joke). California and the novice division is a tough spot to be in! Even though this is one of California’s smaller events, these are some of the best novices in the country. Victor Loveira, you gave me the best J&J music I ever had! Thanks for the awesome DJing!

Swingfest did this awesome thing where they set up a memorial fund in honor of a longtime DJ at the event. I thought to myself… what the hell… I am in California… It is going to be a long time before I see these pros again. I wrote my bid down for Ben Morris… one of my dance crushes since I cannot remember when.  When John Wheaton called my name to dance with Ben, I felt this sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. Me… Stephanie Pham… The dance peasant is dancing with Ben Morris.

“Let ‘er rip, Jack!” – *Uptown Funk comes on* This was the perfect song for the auction dance! Everyone’s faces lit up and watching the video back… Everyone knew every break in the song. I have to give Ben credit for working around my wonkiness. haha To think I went from watching Ben on YouTube to getting to share the stage with him was pretty neat. We raised $1400 for a wonderful cause.

Classic and Showcase were that night! Sadly, I took a nap during those divisions… but I would have loved to see some of the great routines I saw at the Open in person (aka Sean and Courtney, Miguel and Yenni).

They did Fridays and Saturdays awards that night and it was wonderful to see all the camaraderie these dancers had for each other. That is the reason why I do this dance, because we do not isolate each other… we are a community and I am so glad I got to see it on a larger set up.

Sunday

J&J finals!! The dancing from every level was INSANE. Even just watching the novices strut their stuff made my jaw drop. It definitely lit a spark in me to say, “Hey, that’s going to be me one day!”

I had a lesson with Sean McKeever following the novice finals. I do not know if this happens for a lot of student-teacher partnerships, but I feel like Sean’s teaching style and my learning methods meshed really well. I learned how to maximize my connection and clean up leg articulation as well! It was so fun, and I will certainly be working with him next time we are both at the same event.

Unfortunately I missed the Champions J&J due to some schedule confusion, but when my bitterness subsides I will watch it on global dance. 😉

I came back to the ballroom after dinner for some social dancing. We quickly learned that a lot of people (including pro staff) went home so it was a bittersweet scene to be in the ballroom at 2 in the morning and hardly anyone is on the floor.

Final Comments

Monterey Swingfest gave me so many wonderful memories at such an early stage of my westie career. I already thanked a few people, but man… I feel so grateful. To Heather for joining me on this ride…. You are a rising star (pun intended). You are killing it so early on. I hope you remember me when you become a Champion dancer one day! To my away coach, Michael you rock! It is always an honor working with you. To my soon to be second away coach, Sean… I thank you for making things click for me the way the never did before. Awesome time learning with you! Look forward to our next lesson. And John… Kudos to you for gathering over 1,000 dancers and making each moment flow smoothly. Monterey Swingfest will be a special event in my heart for being my first Cali event. There’s no place this westie would rather be.

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