Reprinted in part from a review by Michael Mead
- American Ballroom Company
- Sep 12, 2007
The United States Dance Championships, run by the American Ballroom Company, were held in Florida from the 3rd to the 8th of September and I found this year?s event particularly notable in regards to the new venue, the consistently increasing number of competitors, and the closeness of the competition results.
First of all the competition has made the move from the Westin Diplomat Resort in Fort Lauderdale to the Royal Pacific Resort at Universal Orlando, in Orlando Florida. From the perspective of the dancers this was an all around improvement.
The Hotel ? Cost
Over the past few years, one of the main deterrents cited by many competitors who did not attend the event but would have liked to centered on the cost involved. The Wyndham was a beautiful new hotel to be sure but both the rooms and dining were a bit expensive and the general atmosphere seemed chilly.
In comparison the Royal Pacific Resort (also a new hotel as of its opening in 2002) was friendlier and, in my opinion, more reasonably priced ($169 plus tax a night). Also, the new venue is closer to the nearest airport than the Westin Diplomat Resort was (Orlando airport to the hotel is a $17 one way shuttle ride)).
The food at the Royal Pacific was really excellent with a lot of choices (several restaurants including a very good sushi bar I personally enjoyed) and was less expensive than the Westin, plus, there were several places close by outside the hotel that made dining even more affordable.
Hotel - Amenities
The rooms were very nice and the view outside my window of the tropical jungle river circling the hotel was fabulous. As far as amenities and other things to do at the hotel there is no comparison. The Royal Pacific hotel has a much bigger and better Lagoon Style Swimming Pool (reminded me a bit of when the competition used to be held at the Fontainebleau in Miami) with a sloped entry, and sand beach area, water slides, both a water and sand volleyball court, poolside café, ping pong tables and evening movies projected over the pool. As far as exercise facilities the gym (free for the dancers; a nice touch arranged by the organizers) was pretty extensive with free weights, weight machines, ellipticals and treadmills, sauna and steam room. There were also reasonably priced massages and spa treatments available.
Hotel ? Location
Outside the hotel you could take a short walk to Universal Studios next door (as guests at the Royal Pacific you could purchase buy one get one free tickets, making it a $70 admission fee for two people instead of $140, plus if you showed your room key you got to access the preferred pass lines to the rides), or a free water taxi to the Universal CityWalk (located outside the Universal Studios so no fee to get in) which has 30 acres of shops, restaurants and nightclubs. For thrill seekers and those with strong stomachs there was also a rollercoaster ride called Islands of Adventure (at least a few couples that I know of made multiple visits there,) and there were golf courses close by for those so inclined.
One other item of note was the Royal Pacific is very pet friendly. Quite a few dancers had dogs with them and there were walking services and dog food available.
Hotel ? Drawbacks
The drawbacks I heard expressed about this hotel were that it was a bit of a walk to the ballroom from two of the three accommodation towers and that you had to go outside briefly to get to it, plus there was some concern expressed about the service being a bit slow in the restaurants, wake up calls not always functioning, and the room maids not being as on the ball as they could have been regarding cleaning up, making beds and leaving towels.
From the professionals and other dancers there was also some disappointment expressed that the pool was closed at 10pm and the bars all closed at 2am (did not leave much time for celebrating or commiserating after the evening?s competition).
The organizing staff I talked to were all very interested in feedback as regards to anything that could be done to improve the experience for the competition attendees. They also indicated that they were meeting with the hotel management the day after the competition to address any issues that had been brought up to get them fixed before next years event.
The layout of the ballroom with a long side front allowed the judges to spread out along the stepped stage at the back without obstructing the view of any of the spectators. The stairs on the stage allowed judges to get a good view of the dancers, especially in the early rounds when it was congested on the floor. They also lent themselves to a more dramatic entry onto the floor and line up for the awards.
The split staging with judges up one end of the stage and the competitors entering from the other side kept a nice separation between the two.
The Ballroom - Drawbacks
Some of the competitors were not fond of one long side being essentially blank, they commented that the lighting was too bright throughout the ballroom and did not focus attention on the dance floor. Basically there was scope for improvement in the staging of the event to create more impact and atmosphere for the dancers and audience. Given the organization at work behind this event I have no doubt they will make the necessary changes and come up with something special for next year.
Five months prior to the competition in 2005 there were changes made in the management structure of the USDC by the owners, the American Ballroom Company which resulted in Wayne Eng (current Executive Vice-President of ABC) being tasked with organizing the event going forward. Under his stewardship it has been apparent that there is a greater emphasis being placed on servicing and highlighting the needs of the Pro-Am competitors and the Professional United States National competition titles whilst still maintaining the Open to the World competitions as prominently featured events.
These changes are obviously resonating favorably with the competition dancers since in the last two years entries in Pro-Am and Professional events have doubled. From 2005 to 2007 Pro-Am entries went from 3,508 to almost 6,970 and in the Pro events entries more than doubled from 221 to 460. The Amateur entries have also risen from 152 to 247 over the same time period.
The Pro-Am events saw some very intense competition and the event winners were truly deserving of their titles.
In the Professional events, the National Smooth and Rhythm were particularly exciting this year. Any one of the finalists in the Smooth and in the top levels of the Rhythm had the potential to step up to the plate and win. It was great theater and, although the respective winners were completely deserving, it was sill very close, setting up a very exciting year to come with lots of possibilities for all the couples again at the 2008 USDC.
The holding of all the US National titles in the same week at the same venue makes for a great spectacle, and this year in particular the fact that they were so hotly contested combined with the move to a different hotel (as good but more reasonably priced and with better amenities and a better location) made for a fabulous week. I for one enjoyed it enormously and will be reserving my spot at the 2008 USDC to experience the dancers fighting it out in their quest for a National title once again.