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Kelly's 1st Career Swing Dance Win

At approximately 10:20 p.m. Central Standard Time on Friday night, July 9th, 2010, this webmaster (Kelly Eslinger) had completed a two-couple dance-off in the finals of the Newcomer/Novice Jack-N-Jill at the 2010 Wichita Dance Roundup.

My partner, Cathy Fieser, and I had made the finals along with Tiana and Mike, representing Wichita and Springfield, Missouri, from a field of seven men and seven women. I drew Cathy, believe it or not, in the first round. I was preparing to do a Perez with Cathy when judge Kristin Ham stepped in and told us we had been tapped. I originally thought we were tapped out, but in this case, we were in to the next round.

Round 2 consisted of 5 couples, a set of new lines, and wouldn't you know it, Cathy came up for me again. After the next song, Brian Franks announced that whoever was in the "red shirt" was in the finals. That was me and Mike. So the stage was set for a 30-second dance-off, and the song that came up was a blues song. Cathy and I nailed it. The crowd cheered both couples on, and showed their appreciation with a big round of applause.

Brian had both of us stand facing the audience while the judges made their decision. Two of the male judges walked by as if they were leaving (not really, but only delaying the inevitable), but came back and gave me and Cathy all the money ($70 split both ways); we won!

With a big smile on my face, I shook hands with the two judges, embraced Cathy, and congratulated Mike and Tiana. When I came off the floor doing fist pumps, Mark Harris was the first of many to congratulate me. It was, and will always be, a moment to treasure for the rest of my life. Let me tell you why.

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It was August of 1999, at the Wichita Dance Roundup, then held at the former Cantebury Inn (now Clarion Hotel Airport). I had been in West Coast Swing over a year-and-a-half, and some bug called "Jack-N-Jill" was inviting me to give it a try. On the Friday night of the contest weekend, which happened to feature Jeanne DeGeyter and Barry Jones, I signed up to compete for the first time ever.

I was predictably nervous about this. I just wanted to survive it without embarrasing myself, and somehow, I did. A couple of trivia bits for you: first-ever JNJ partner--Tammy Hallaux; first song ever danced to: "Super Freak" by Rick James.

Well, we didn't win 1st, but like I said, I survived. I enjoyed the experience, and eventually, I would compete for the better part of 4 years without anything to show for it. I know people in WCS will tell you that Jack-N-Jills are supposed to be fun, but I was taking it too seriously (don't we all sometimes!)

Well, I would have a couple of events that I would rather have NOT competed at all: 2001 OKSSDA in Tulsa, and the 2003 America's Classic in Dallas. The 2001 event was my first experience in dancing with somebody who didn't follow well that I had no idea on what to do. The 2003 JNJ in Dallas (which was the last America's Classic in Dallas before the move to Houston) was, in essence, my "rock-bottom" moment.

The "rock-bottom" is in that I was given LAST place in the preliminaries out of 43 men. The drive back to Wichita was the longest 6 hours of my life. After I got in my apartment, I wept. I was so low that I even had thoughts of giving up JNJs. I e-mailed Jeanne DeGeyter for help, and what she replied back gave me a new lease on life. That would lead to a defining moment for me just less than 90 days later in Kansas City, Missouri.

I rather reluctantly entered the Newcomer/Novice Jack-N-Jill at the Grand Prix of Swing on July 26, 2003. This field was much smaller than Dallas--five men and 8 women. All five men got in the finals. I drew Kate Kongs of Lincoln, Nebraska in the finals, and after the dust had settled, Kate and I were given 3rd place (and $13 cash each). I felt like on top of the world after the contest. But it would be another seven years before the Wichita Dance Roundup that would be my breakthrough.

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Just three weeks after Grand Prix, I went to Dancin' Up A Storm in Kansas City, and Mark Harris invited me to do a "Strictly Swing" contest. I agreed and danced with Shirley Schubert of St. Louis--and won 3rd place. WOW! I found my niche, so to speak. So much so that over the next few years, I would do Pro-Am Strictly Swing with such dancers as Andrea Scott, Glenda Evans, Mary Harris, Mary Ann Gust, Stevie Blakely, and Colleen Cummings. Andrea, Glenda, and Mary Harris have been U.S. Open finalists, and that is not bad at all.

But I had not won anything, although I came close twice at WDR 2007 and 2008 (2nd place in Novice SS in '07, and 2nd in Male Pro-AM SS in '08). The fact that I was still competing was incredible in itself. In fact, this year's SS dance with Colleen was just brought up less than four weeks before the contest.

But with the JNJ win, it wouldn't matter if I finished 1st or 3rd in Pro-AM SS at all. I FINALLY WON! It finally happened, approximately 3,982 days after my first contest at the 1999 Wichita Dance Roundup, which was about 569 weeks ago. Consider this: in 1999, Bill Clinton was president, gas was about $1.79/gallon, the Dallas Stars won the Stanley Cup, the Yankees won another World Series, and the St. Louis Rams would put on the "Greatest Show on Turf" in winning the Super Bowl.

Fast forward to 2010: Barack Obama is the first African-American president of the United States, gas is $2.59/gallon, a huge oil spill resulted from a rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, the U.S. made the round of 16 at the World Cup soccer tournament, the Chicago Blackhawks won their first Stanley Cup since 1961, the New Orleans Saints won their first-ever Super Bowl title, the L.A. Lakers won their 15th NBA title, and LeBron James stunned sports fans worldwide by announcing he would sign a contract to play for the NBA's Miami Heat in 2010-11 after seven great years with his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers.

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All I can say after July 9, 2010, I finally won a WCS swing contest after 11 years of trying. I wanted to see what it was like to win, and I tell you, there's only one word to describe it--GLORIOUS!

I have to admit that I have not been appreciative over the years as I thought I was, but to Terry and Colleen, Jason, Will, Austin and Dee (among others), thank you for teaching me and helping me all these years.

But some special thanks go out to two men who helped me start dancing WCS back in 1998--Harry Reese and Jerry Owsley. What a ride it's been, and may this party never end!

Kelly Eslinger
2010 Wichita Dance Roundup Jack-N-Jill Champion

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