The 5th Crazy Country Dance Festival in Japan

by Martha Ogasawara 12/98

This past November 21st, 22nd and 23rd, the 5th Crazy Country Dance Festival was held in Komaki (near Nagoya), Japan. This year's special guest instructor was Greg Underwood from Cincinnati, Ohio, the choreographer of such well-known dances as West Coast Shuffle and Crazy Legs (a dance which for obvious reasons is dear to our hearts!). The club sponsoring the festival was Nagoya C/W Dance Fans "Crazy Feet".

The special guest instructors for our 3rd CCDF were Scott & Deborah Blevins and for our 4th CCDF they were Jo Thompson & Tim Szymanski. So, as you can imagine, Greg had a tough act to follow. In fact, some people were worried that he wouldn't be able to live up to his predecessors. Fortunately, he was exactly what we had hoped for and more!

The theme for this year's festival was not just to learn more new dances, but to learn how to become a better dancer as well. Greg has 17 years of experience as a ballroom dance instructor, in addition to teaching C/W line and couples dancing as well as swing dancing. So he is a very versatile instructor, and we put that to good use.

The first dance he taught us was Strait Cha-Cha by Sal Gonzalez. It's a nice easy cha cha and after he taught us the steps, we had him teach us some cuban hip motion technique. No matter how simple the dance, it will look a lot better when danced with good style, and that was our goal for the weekend. The second dance we did was Coastin' by Ray & Tina Yeoman. This dance is one that seems to be sweeping the world and for good reason. It fits perfectly the Irish music from Lord Of The Dance. We added our own optional arm movements to make it even more interesting. It's one of those dances where you just naturally want to get into nice straight lines and dance very precisely. After the festival, several people commented on how they actually started crying the last time we danced it just from the sheer joy of everyone dancing together in unison.

The next dance we learned was Got To Be Funky by Dawn Beachum. This is the exact opposite kind of dance where everyone should do their own thing and let it all hang out. I'm sure most everyone knows the frustration of being told by the instructor to "just express yourself however you want to here for the next 8 counts" and not knowing what to do. For people who are naturally creative with their bodies that's fine, but for most of us, we need some helpful suggestions. Therefore, we got Greg to give us several styling options we could do to play with the dance a little. That made it a lot more fun for everyone.

The last dance we learned on Saturday was Martha's Moonlight Waltz. This was choreographed by Greg especially for our festival and (blush, blush) in my honor. Excuse me for gushing (I can't help but be a little partial), but this is one of the most beautiful waltz line dances I have ever seen or done!! It's very unusual in that it has syncopations, but it flows wonderfully, and the more you dance it, the more you come to like it. After working on our basic waltz technique and learning how to use our arms to enhance the dance, everyone looked really great out on the floor.

In between workshops, we put on music for open dancing and during the dinner hour we had time for a little square and round dancing for those who know how. We also had reviews of the dances from last year's festival and ended up the day with an hour of just dancing all the dances we'd learned. After that, everyone traipsed off to the nearest pub for a little refreshment.

We started off Sunday morning with a review of the previous day's dances and working out a little prank to play on Greg. (There are advantages to being able to talk in Japanese and not have him understand usc) Greg is pretty tall and he virtually towered over the Japanese dancers. His nickname for the weekend was "Gregzilla". He even had some special t-shirts made up showing him holding a C/W dancer in his hand and striding through downtown Nagoya, with "Oh no! It's Gregzilla!!" across the bottom. Well, when he was introduced that morning and unsuspectingly walked out on stage, I yelled out "Oh no!!", everyone answered "It's Gregzilla!!" and ran screaming out of the room in terror. Needless to say, that wasn't quite the reaction Greg had been expecting - tee hee!

After that little bit of fun, we got down to work, and boy were we put through our paces. Greg started out the morning teaching his new dance Jump Jive & Wail, a high-energy jive line dance. The music is really fast and I'd been worried about whether or not everyone would be able to keep up, but thanks to Greg's good job of teaching, everyone did fine. But boy, did it get our heart rates going!! The next dance we learned was also by Greg called Boulevard Boogie, a shag style line dance. This is a nice smooth-type dance and really rounded out our workshops. All 6 workshop dances were very different styles of dancing. Therefore, we managed to work in a lot of different kinds of technique over the weekend. I'm glad to say that everyone went home a much better dancer.

During the lunch hour, we had some clogging exhibitions and a group from Tokyo did a demo of the latest dance they'd learned, Titanic by Simon Ward. The afternoon was all review and general dancing. We probably danced each of the workshop dances at least 7 or 8 times over the course of the weekend so that people could really master the dances. The evening was devoted to a big after party. (We like after parties here!! Some people go so far as to say they dance just so that they can really enjoy the after partyc!)

The third day was devoted to more advanced workshops. In the morning, we worked on our west coast swing. Greg taught us some fun syncopations we could play with to spice up our basics. He also went around and danced once with everyone in the room so they could really get the "feel" of it. Then in the afternoon, we learned 2 new Scott Blevins dances- Walkin' on Me and Latin Groove. As with all of Scott's dances, they were challenging at first, but felt oh so good after you got them down. (Actually, we're still working on Latin Groovec) After the festival was over, we went and guessed it, another after party!

I think the one word that best sums up this year's festival would have to be "satisfying". We occasionally like to be challenged, not just with new dances, but with improved technique as well. And this year, everyone went home replete!!