Daytona Beach

To say I’m exhausted today would be an understatment (this blog entry will likely suffer from this). I arrived home at 1am this morning from a four-day trip to Daytona Beach, FL. You might think Florida!? How fun! I was there to photograph the BU Dance Team while they competed in the National Dance Alliance’s (NDA) National Competition, and I did really enjoy that part of they trip. I’ve been following the team all year and it’s been a really great experience. A club team, they are funded by BU only in that their uniforms worn to cheer for the basketball teams are paid for. Entering, transportation to, and staying for Nationals? They have to fund-raise $30k to go, and once they are there, they still pay for their own food out-of-pocket. It’s pretty nuts considering how incredibly hard they work and how well they do at this competition.

The team arrived in the middle of the night between tuesday and wednesday, and I arrived in the morning on Wednesday. I was staying in a separate hotel, Oceanside Inn. It was quite an experience. I arrived to the hotel early, around 11am and asked “Could I check in?”

The melon-headed, Gru-nosed man behind the counter who, as his name tag claimed (and why would it lie?), was from Budapest, clicked on the keyboard after taking my name and said, with unnessesary relief, “Yes, thank God!”

I’m not sure what God has to do with my room being ready but whatever.

The hotel was gross as heck. I’m sure that the patrons I saw loitering in the lobby were very nice and trustworthy, but I don’t want to be friends with them. The walls had murals on them like this…

IMG_0978

Truly exceptional work.

My room smelled like wet dog (but not my dog, who, when wet smells like jasmine and dreams made into reality). Unpacking, I went to hang my clothes in the “armour” and one of the doors fell off the hinge. The one electrical socket I found was loose in the wall, and later when I went to call the front desk to inquire about why I couldn’t play any videos from my tablet because their WF was so bad, I realized both the phone and the clock radio were dead. I couldn’t plug them in because I coulnd’t access the outlets, and I wondered why they were kept in the room at all. I ended up charging my phone by the bathroom sink, and while the wifi problem seemed annoying, in the end it was actually a good thing. With nothing working, I was compelled to simply go to sleep at the end of my very long days, rather than keep myself up watching an episode I could survive without seeing.

I will say that while I didn’t want my bare feet to touch the swampy rug, and the floor of the shower had a mysterious give to it when I stepped in, the towels were nice and the sheets were clean. Little miracles!

It was lunch time by the time I finished settling in, and since there wasn’t a huge rush to get to the team (they would be practicing all afternoon and not competing til tomorrow), I got myself an Uber and he took me to a nice place called DJ’s, where I enjoyed a nice mahi mahi taco with fries and hush puppies under a tiki roof and in some nice warm air.

 

My belly happy, I collected up my camera gear and set out to The Hilton about ten minutes’ ride away, where I found the team in a ballroom seating on the floor in a circle, eating lunch. When I stepped in the group of about 30 looked up and I heard cheers. “C-Dog!” Elle yelled, “You made it! We missed you!” The warm welcome was very appreciated. We chatted briefly about our travels and then they go back to eating and going through notes with their coach.

And thus began some very long days. Early morning for hair and make-up, followed by practicing, competing, practicing more and trying to find decent food. The food part was a failed effort. It just couldn’t be done.

I think it was my second day when everyone took a break for lunch and I joined the coaches to find something to eat. We stood in line at the first place we chose and found one guy making the sandwiches, and one overwhelmed woman both taking orders at the take-out counter, and tending to people who were seated. We stood for fifteen minutes and realized this situation was not going to improve for us or the poor woman behind the counter. So, we caved and went down the street to Burger King where the line was filled with people wearing shirts like “Cheer Nationals! The Work is Worth It!” and “Ladybird Cheer Parent!”, in addition to many cheerleaders still completely dolled-up from competing; short skirts, crop tops, bleached hair and bows on their heads that were so big they belonged on new cars.

And to clarify, this competition was for both cheer and competitive dance. CLICK HERE to link to a page that has a video to give you an idea.

Back to food. The crowd in the “dining area” at Burger King was rowdy, and the ice dispenser from the soda machine kept purging its product all over the floor. So people were trying not to slip all over that while getting drinks for themselves and stepping around the BK employee trying to clean it up over and over. When it came time to order they were out of french fries.

I’m gonna let that sink in a bit. Burger King was Out. Of. FENCH FRIES! Also, the tickets and receipts wouldn’t print, so the people making the food actually didn’t know what they needed to make. So they would come out of the food prep area and say “who’s next and what did you order?” then they’d go back and put those items together for you.

It was mayhem. Absolute mayhem.

I got from point A to point B using Uber the whole time which worked out fine. Mostly my experience with the Uber drivers were great. They gave me suggestions on where to eat when I had the time, and graciously stopped at Starbucks for me on more than one occasion so I could get a decent breakfast for myself on the way to start the day. It was just the one guy who tried to tell me that walls and barbed wire around schools was the trick to keep out gun-toting terrorists, and that Trayvon Martin was asking for it.

I’ll just stop there and move on.

I’m not sure I can do justice to the experience with the BU Dance Team however. Daytona Beach and the shitshow on it’s own, but working with this team was fantastic. There were moments of boredom while they practiced for hours on end between competing, but basically, it was a marvel to watch them work. They have a head coach and a few assistant coaches who work with them, but even when they weren’t with them, the team coached themselves so well, it was fascinating to watch. An issue with the choreography would come up and they would work together to fix the timing or the spacing or whatever.

And when I say they would practice for hours, I’m saying they would run their routine, and perform their “tricks” and stunts over and over. It’s amazing no one got hurt, but I guess you get used to it when you are as fit as these women are.

I’ll post again with a link to the two-part series when it runs on April 17.

 

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