Local dancers strut at Dance the World

Local dancers take part in the Dance the World parade at Disney World’s Magic Kingdom July 1.

With little more than a week to go before a newspaper’s first-ever edition, expect to find editors hard at work, starting early and finishing late.

Not me.

I was, ahem, on assignment. Yeah, that’s the ticket. My daughter’s dance studio sent a group to take part in Dance the World at Disney World in Orlando, Fla.

In fact, two Chatham-Kent dance studios, Debbie McGonigle School of Dance and Alexandria’s Dance Studio (ADS) participated.

Dancers had the opportunity to perform in a parade at Disney’s Magic Kingdom, showcase their dance moves on stage at the Premium Theatre in Disney’s Hollywood Studios and enjoy a gala dinner at one of the on-site resorts.

Oh, and they also stayed in another resort and had a chance to see the many attractions that Disney has to offer.

Heading to Disney is a dream vacation for most kids. Getting to dance there is a huge perk for dancers.

But it does come with a price: They perform in the heat of summer in the unpredictable summer swelter that hovers over Florida.

We parents worried about the girls dancing in excessive heat and oppressive humidity. We didn’t really plan for heavy rain.

But that’s exactly what happened. The skies opened up in the middle of the parade, forcing the girls to go from dancing to brisk walking and happy waving to outright running for cover as a thunderstorm settled over the Magic Kingdom.

Regardless, most people’s spirits remained strong. McGonigle, for example, was undaunted.

“This was fabulous! We had a great time,” she said. “We didn’t like the rain but we dealt with it.”

McGonigle said she brought 28 dancers and their families to Dance the World, with more to come next year, as she plans to return with another group.

Alexandria Depuydt, owner of ADS, said the wet weather didn’t dampen any of her dancers’ spirits.

“They were so happy, even in the rain. When it started to pour, they just giggled.”

She said 26 ADS dancers and their families came to Disney.

While the ADS and McGonigle dancers managed to get in a portion of their parade July 1, Depuydt said other dance studios that came to Disney weren’t so fortunate. The afternoon parade July 2 was scrubbed because of inclement weather.

There were other issues that put additional clouds over the Dance the World experience, at least for the parents. When the parade ended, parents picked up their kids and had to find their own way to Hollywood Studios park, where the dancers were scheduled for their Premium Theatre performance shortly after 7 p.m.

“To go between events, we had to take a boat, then wait for a bus, all in the rain,” said dance mom Charlene St. Pierre.

For some, it was the highlight of the trip, but for others, not so much.

“It was frustrating at times trying to get the kids to the right place on time and no special transportation,” said Lee Clarke, another mom. “With it being Disney, I thought it would be more of a VIP experience. We had to find our way around everywhere. Nobody from Dance the World seemed to be around to help.”

The dance organizing group, Dance the World, at times seemed to be out of sync with Disney. It was indeed frustrating as a parent. Having VIP busing for an estimated 1,700-plus dancers and family members would have been very useful.

Still, it would have negated a great experience on a Disney bus. We sloshed onto a bus to head to Hollywood Studios, and Jennifer’s Arts in Motion Dance Studio, boarded the bus with us. Once we realized where each team was from, we celebrated Canada Day by belting out our national anthem. The few non-Canucks on the bus, and the driver, were all smiles.

“Oh Canada on the bus — that was the highlight. Just awesome,” said dance dad Tony DeMattia.

The dance show at the Premier went well, highlighted by being preceded by our new Whitby buddies, and followed by McGonigle’s crew. It truly is a small world.

It was at the theatre where Demetria Attinello, 14, part of McGonigle’s studio, had her favourite moment from the trip.

“Backstage at the (Premium) Theatre, I got to see all those floats,” she said. Disney houses props and parade floats for various public presentations and special events in the theatre.

The gala dinner the following evening is where Disney and Dance the World really shone bright. Families arrived on VIP buses from the resorts, and dinner was quickly followed by a DJ, with the help of the likes of Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy and Pluto, entertaining the crowd. Naturally, with so many dancers present, the dance floor was packed. More than a few dance moms joined the fray, as did a handful of dance dads.

The kids pulled their respective dance teachers into the crowd as well.

It was a hit for dancers. Madison Clarke, 12, of ADS, loved all of the dancing during her time at Disney, but singled out the fun on the floor at the gala as the highlight.

Following several hours of dancing, we were all ushered outside. What followed next was dance mom Bernita Attinello’s highlight.

“The best part of the trip was the fireworks,” the McGonigle team mom said of the post-gala show that took place just outside the Contemporary resort. The Magic Kingdom castle served as the backdrop.

After the fireworks, families took VIP buses back to their respective resorts. Despite arriving closer to midnight than 11 p.m., our dancers weren’t ready for bed. Many hit the pool, and were joined by others with the same idea.

Our final day at Disney World allowed us to get about a half day’s worth of park adventuring in before we had to pack up and head to the airport.

In all, the trip was pretty jam-packed. In fact, we only used two of the four days’ worth of park passes.

Depuydt advises anyone else who goes to Dance the World to stay longer, rather than to try to cram everything into four days.

It’s advice she hopes to take in a couple of year’s time, as she’d like to schedule another trip to Disney in perhaps 2015.

While the dancers didn’t notice the hiccups at Dance the World, the parents did. But they also realized it was a great bonding experience, for the kids as well as the parents.

“Having all the families together from Alexandria’s Dance Studio was the best part,” dance mom Lena DeMattia said. “This was once-in-a-lifetime; fantastic.”

Here are a few tips for folks who take part in Dance the World in the future.

– The key to enjoyment is time. Leave large gaps of time to get from one place to the other, as Disney World is a very busy place, with thousands of people shuttling around all the time. And take more time to spend at Disney World than just the four days of the event, as you’ll likely not have the opportunity to use up your four days of park passes. Aside from Christmas, one of the busiest times of the year at Disney World is the summer, from June to mid-August, so be patient.

– Bring very comfortable footwear. You’ll be walking everywhere, including on long treks through your Disney resort, as the designers didn’t take into account all the park walking when they planned out the meandering paths around each resort community.

– Take rain ponchos. If you’re going in the summer, chances are it will rain, just hopefully not as much as what we experienced. Buy the ponchos before you leave, as Disney ponchos will cost you about $8 apiece.

– Take a long look at the meal plan. It may look expensive, but even the cheapest meals will run you $10-$15 apiece, including the kids, if you factor in a drink and the odd dessert.

– Seek out shade whenever possible. When the sun is out, it is darned hot, and it will wear you down.

– Keep hydrated. Refreshments aren’t cheap in the park, but you can bring in your own. A lot of people bring multiple bottles of water and refill them at water fountains as needed.

– Time permitting, try the alternate transportation options to busing. We took a boat from the resort to downtown Disney the first night, and it was very relaxing. The breeze over the water was refreshing as well. The monorail is something we regret not riding.

– For dance studios seeking to take part, the Canadian launch pad is Brightspark, brightsparktravel.ca.



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