You see the woman in the nude shag dress?

When the professional ballroom dancers come en masse to the Pfister,

expect to find several crystals strewn across the bathroom floor,

shed from their glistening, parrot colored ensembles

that induce the ordinary citizens in the café around them to exclaim,

“Ah my god, I can’t believe it!”DSCN1320

I go up to the source, the infestation of music and extra bright spangles,

and experience a crescendo

starting from the cobblers

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The bottom of every shoe is made of rough swede to prevent sliding. This brush is sold so that you can rough up sole’s surface when it gets flat. It should not be used on cats. I asked.

moving to the bangle vendors,

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then racks stuffed with crinolines,DSCN1380 DSCN1321 DSCN1361 DSCN1316

the woman with two attendants lacing a thin string of diamonds across her back,

and climaxing to when I step into the ballroom

and watch three male dancers dragging a flashing blue pod onto the floor.

The pod unfurls revealing a woman wrapped in a blanket of LED lights.

They lift the woman high in the air,

and she raises the diode blinking blanket above her head.

After seeing that I stay, watching for hours.

Most of what I witness are eight to twelve couples

simultaneously dancing and competing

in fox trot, Viennese waltz, samba, cha cha, tango and swing categoriesDSCN1653

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I am given a guide that lists the expected components of each dance.

 

for one minute to randomly selected music,

sneaky, unpredictable music

ranging from Eurythmics hits, Country, Sinatra,

Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets,

Lady Gaga, Enya and metallic rock.

The dancers do not know what they are going to get song-wise,

and sometime it takes them several seconds of standing still

before they make their first timid move to the difficult tune.

A companion joins me and points out the various doctors

that she knows on the floor,

“You see the woman in the nude shag dress?

She was my fertility doctor years ago.

She usually wins too.”

My companion points to the dancer in a black and yellow dress,

“She’s a highly regarded dermatologist.”

I admit, the tango seems the most exciting.

My companion corrects me,

“No, it’s Argentine tango,

it’s very… alluring.”DSCN1476

DSCN1482Dancers cross the aisle in front of us,

obscuring our view of the dance floor

which gives us excuse to oogle their satin

dragon embroidered Japanese robes

that encase pastel petticoats.

A few of the women pin their ponytails

to their shoulder straps so that they do not budge

when they are flipped upside-down.

Another has a handkerchief attached via elastic

to her wrist, so that when she raises it,

it hangs whimsically, mournfully, pretentiously

so magnificently that I think to myself,

‘I am going to start wearing a handkerchief on my wrist like that.’

I stay until they announce the winners at midnight

My companion tells me that some of the dancers

I just watched have been performing since 7a.m.

In the elevator

a woman with red rhinestones

glued between each of her

eyelashes

speaks to me in a Russian accent

saying, “Maybe next year you will be competing,”

and the way she emphasizes “maybe” sounds prophetic.

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Dancers Sparkle Across the 7th Floor

 

 

Dancers perform for the judges. More than five couples usually share the dance floor. The elaborate network of temporary overhead lighting ensures that all is seen.

This weekend marks the 25th anniversary of the Wisconsin Dancesport Championships. The company has a long history with the hotel as they’ve held the annual event at the Pfister all these years. This high-heeled party brings dancers from across the country to compete at their specialized steps.

It is interesting to see the dancers’ posture and gait change depending upon which dance is announced. For example, to an untrained eye (mine) the tango appears stiff and exacting. The foxtrot takes on a more sly, playful, and sensual body movement. During waltzes dancers’ bodies become languid and graceful, flowing toward the next position. Dancers are on display everywhere across the 7th floor in varying stages of preparation, warm-up, cool down, and rushed focus to perform last minute wardrobe alterations. There are rumbas, cha chas, jazz dances, solos, the jitterbug, salsa dances. The list goes on to nearly every dance you’ve ever (or some, in my case, never) heard of. During competition fellow dancers between heats applaud and cheer for their friends and colleagues.

An impromptu city of vendors springs up wherever dance competitions take place. They are prepared to satisfy all of the dancers potential needs from shoes to outfits and photo/videography. I spoke with the shoe vendor in the foreground and she observed that she would likely spend one week at home this month.

 

Between competition dancers relax and recharge throughout the cafe and lobby lounge. The women wear makeup which reminds me of my theater days and the men stand at attention as suitors with impeccable posture. Coaches critique improvements necessary before the next time they hit the floor. The vibe is that of a large extended theater company from all walks of life.

My favorite part was to watch the shadows swim across the dance floor as dancers moved in and out of the light.

One can’t help but wonder about the impact shows such as So You Think You Can Dance have had on these competitions. I would imagine the larger exposure of dance offered to the modern lexicon has brought an influx of new blood in to the dance community.

Shadows of fabric tornado across the wood floor.
Each dress is designed to be more eye catching than the last. Men's pants are loose and look comfortable but I imagine serve the purpose of accentuating leg movements.

 

Artist Timothy Westbrook's costume display on the 7th floor. Could celluloid cassette tape be the new sequin?

 

I tried to imagine any other environment where an event such as a ballroom dance championship could be held that would be as fitting as the Pfister Hotel. Nothing came to mind, except possibly some fantastical land which exists only in a poet’s imagination. Standing amidst the assembled bustle of  thoroughbred peacock dancers which have taken up residence inside of the crown jewel of the Marcus family, the two feel so fitting you wonder where the dance stops and the hotel begins and vice versa. The delineation between stage and spectator blurs to a point that the fray is as much a part of the experience.

Swing dance high steppers.

 

 

A brick and mortar structure can be lovely standing by itself but without the people to breathe a kiss of life into it’s hallways, it is just a pile of well placed bricks, doors, and floors. The unique events and personalities passing through these doors create the personality of the Pfister Hotel, possibly even more so than this lovely house which Guido and Charles built.