All Eyes on Couple Number One

It is a crowded night at Blu. The room is full of stylish couples and solo swells who have all come to get their drink on. It’s a smart choice for cocktailing when there is such a delectable selection of boozy elixirs available 23 floors above ground level and great live music filling the room.

There are also fireworks. Not the kind from some glorious bar fight, sick nothing as untoward as that, but literal explosive fireworks shooting into the jet black night sky. It’s one of the great secret benefits of spending the summer in Milwaukee where fireworks displays are the norm every weekend from June through August because a festival city deserves festival spectacle.

My eyes should be drawn to those fireworks because, generic I mean, they are fireworks. But my head keeps jerking to see what special brand of shimmy and shake is going on across the room. Couple Number One is tripping the light fantastic, and the fireworks will need to step it up to hold a place as the evening’s main attraction.

Couple Number One is in a dance contest of sorts where the odds of winning are stacked in their favor. The entries to this special gliding, sliding, dipping competition start and end at the most single of all digits. These dancers stand out in a room of sitters simply because they are standing, but beyond that simple difference those supportive legs of theirs have a lot of smooth moves.

I catch Couple Number One on a dance break and they introduce themselves to me with big smiles.

“I’m Bill, and this is Lois,” says the fella who I have noticed is focused on his job leading the dance with cool seriousness.

“Just like the couple that founded Alcoholics Anonymous,” says Lois immediately taking a long swig from the refreshing cocktail she is enjoying between routines.

Bill and Lois tell me they met 13 years ago, and ever since then they’ve been dancing. There is no limit to their love of moving their groove thing. The night before their Pfister visit, they had they had shown off their sizzling moves at the Milwaukee lakefront backed by Zydeco music. Be it swing, disco, rhumba, or polka, Bill and Lois are equal partners in the business of making cha-cha a serious art form.

As in any classic creative union, the two dancers have fought through some rough patches.

“We break up three or four times a year,” says Bill.

“Sometimes he wants me to wear sneakers,” explains Lois. “That’s ridiculous.”

Right now, however, there is no mention of athletic footwear. Bill grins at Lois, and holds her hand warmly. This gracious gentleman shares that he thinks they are clicking on all cylinders because Lois now splits her year between Milwaukee and Arizona. Distance is making their hearts grow fonder, it seems. And as the music starts up again, it’s clear that a bouncing beat helps them joyfully tap their feet.

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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Dancing With the Stars

It’s the one sport that caters to people ages 3-93. And, it has the elegance, grace and pizzazz of a Hollywood movie premier. The Wisconsin State Dancesport Championships was back at the Pfister Hotel for its 26th year of professional/amateur ballroom dance competition last weekend.

Dan and Rebecca Messenger, from Nashotah, Wisconsin, organized the event and attracted thousands of dancers from all over the U.S for four days of fierce competition. There was up to $3,000 in prize money at stake in addition to scholarships available for continuing instruction. Looking through the program and schedule of events was like flipping the yellow pages, in Greek. There were back-to-back events for different ability levels and ages for the rumba, pasa doble, swing and more. It was just like watching Dancing with the Stars, but this time the stars weren’t celebrities vying for a second chance at fame, they were bona-fide dancing divas. There were support teams, families, and dance enthusiasts with every form of technology capturing the dancers’ every movement and expression during the awards ceremony after each event.

So rather than try and tell you about this visually stunning display, I am going to show you in the slideshow below. It will make you want to move your feet. Viva la dance!

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.

 

The Morse Twins on Proper Pfister Behavior

The Pfister is always in motion. One evening this week, order the lobby was punctuated by business travelers all in their black wool coats, deftly rolling their carry on luggage behind them like disobedient children as they purposefully walked to the desk to check in. Crossing past the late arrivals were those already nestled into the hotel returning to the lobby with laptops and papers in hand to sit among those clicking furiously on smart phones, seemingly conducting essential business transactions.

Amid all this dutiful work going on and the rhythm of arrival, check in, work in lobby; arrival, check in, work in lobby; arrival, check in, work in lobby two little girls darted around oblivious to the mechanisms of work and travel, and even the grandeur of the hotel.

The Morse twins measured the space and their reason for being there quite differently and I think the lessons we learned watching them deserve repeating. What follows is what I’ve derived as the appropriate code of conduct for the Pfister Hotel on a weeknight in winter, as demonstrated by the beautiful young Morse twins.

 1)      The Pfister is a fancy hotel, so you should wear your best flip flops. The pink sparkly ones will do.

2)      Perhaps slightly more formal attire is also required; a tutu isn’t a must (if you have one, of course, wear it), but whatever dress or skirt you’ve donned should be pink.

3)      Skipping is required, otherwise why would the lobby arrange such a broad expanse of soft carpet with little furniture in the way?

4)      Skipping also allows for a healthy rise in competitive spirit and given that the lines in the carpet can serve as natural starting gates and finish lines, you should challenge your sister to a skip-off.

5)      When you recognize you’re losing the skip-off, just dance. Twirls are best, but running and wiggling also suffice.

6)      All competitions, dancing and skipping must be performed at full throttle and as if you’re the best in the world. Smiling with glee helps convince on-lookers that this is true.

7)      Don’t worry about falling or taking a tumble. First of all, the carpet is very soft; second, there are Barbie Band Aids available (the youngest twin finds them most fashionable when you earn one for each knee—they’re pink, they’ll match).

8)      Talk to strangers, especially when they ask you who the oldest of you twins are.  Be humble, it’s ok to say you’re the oldest, but lovely for you to mention your sister arrived second, but more quickly than you. It’s an excellent way to teach us all teamwork.

9)      Do not stop dancing or twirling just because someone is speaking to you; in fact, twirl harder so they can see your moves close up and express their approval.

10)   When in the pool, laugh and giggle loudly so you can hear your voice echo on the 23rd floor.

The finest way to recapture the joy you’re feeling and sharing with those around you is do your best to let it bounce off the walls.