LONDON 2012 “TEXAS TO THE BONE”
Long version of article for ARN
Keeping track of thirty-three people, half of them children, when traveling overseas can be quite the daunting task. Thanks to advanced planning and lots of travel tips we made it for the most part unscathed. The Dance Troup “Texas to the Bone” from Dance, Ltd. – School of Dance made the weeklong journey across the Atlantic last week to perform in London during the 2012 Summer Olympics. The Abilene group was the only performance troupe from the entire state of Texas to receive an invitation from the Performing Arts Educators to attend this prestigious event.
We had the choice of three different weeks to choose from. Of course, I thought it would be cool to be in London during Opening Ceremonies and so we chose the week of July 25-Aug. 1, 2012. As expected there was a lot of excitement and anticipation in the air. Little did we know the cost to attend the Opening ceremonies was over $4,000.00 a ticket (more than what the entire trip cost per person). Each athletic event was at least $600.00 a ticket. Between my husband and I it would have cost a minimum of $1200.00 to attend an Olympic event. So we opted to just soak up the atmosphere in London instead.
When we landed in London at Heathrow Airport we expected to be fighting crowds at every turn, but it was quite the opposite. In anticipation of people from around the world descending on London they had taken extra effort to have more support staff on hand. As it was we breezed right thru customs with hardly a hiccup. There were no long ques to wait in and everyone was helpful and friendly. In a side note the man I spoke to at customs asked where we were staying. We were booked at the Thistle in St. Albans on the outskirts of London. When I told him the Thistle, he said that he was staying at the Thistle and maybe he would see us around the hotel, but then when he found out we were at St. Albans Thistle he said “never mind” He also stated that the reason we had to stay on the outskirts of London was because they (The extra security people) had taken up all the hotel rooms in London. I thought that was weird that they would put the workers up close and make the visitors stay in the outskirts.
Everywhere you looked there were signs of the Olympics in London. From the giant Olympic Rings hanging from Tower Bridge near the Tower of London, Giant Olympic Rings at Victoria Station, to Olympic Rings being towed down The River Thames (we learned it is The River Thames not the Thames river FYI). Originally we were scheduled for a river cruise on The River Thames on Friday, July 17 but it had to be changed to Monday, July 30. Access to the river was blocked off on Friday because the Olympic Flame had to make its way by barge down The River Thames for Opening Ceremonies (the same barge used for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee).
London was sparking clean. Quite a bit of effort had been put into planning and preparing for the event. They had just celebrated the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in Recognition for Queen Elizabeth II’s 60 years on the throne. In addition to the 2012 Summer Olympics London was also hosting the Para Olympics later on in the summer. We were fortunate enough to have our own coach (bus) so we had the advantage of traveling in a group in private ground transportation. It was crazy traveling on the left lane instead of the right (you had to be extra careful crossing the street looking both ways and then looking again, also pedestrians don’t have the right of way like they do here). It’s a good thing I wasn’t driving.
We learned from our bus drivers that they had special traffic lanes established for Olympic travel only. This made the London regulars quite upset because all the local traffic was reduced by one lane. But as it was, one bus driver told us, the traffic with all the additional Olympic hustle and bustle wasn’t even as bad as a regular day in London because all the locals escaped the area in anticipation of huge crowds. Which made it easier on us to get around. The biggest drawback to having a large bus in a big city is finding places to load and unload passengers within a short distance of your destination.
When we found out that we were the only group from Texas invited to this event we decided that we would have to represent. The name of our 30-minute act was “Texas to the Bone” after a song we used in our act by The Scott Lyle Band (formerly the Gringo Kings). We had T-shirts from the City of Abilene with “ABILENE” on the front and we printed our “Texas to the Bone” Logo on the back. I found it amusing that everywhere we went when we mentioned that we were from Texas and that we were dancing the consistent reply was “Line Dancing?” I think it is hysterical that the image that people have of Texas has across the pond is line dancing. When I traveled to Europe in the summer of 2001 when we said we were from Texas people thought we were all cowboys and rode horses. They would pretend to shoot guns and go “bang, bang”! We learned back then that some people may not care for Americans but everyone loves a Texan!
On one free day my husband and I went to see Hatfield House. This is the residence where Queen Elizabeth I grew up and was kept a virtual prisoner (when not locked in the Tower of London) by her sister, Queen Mary (otherwise known as Bloody Mary). I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to portray Queen Elizabeth I for six years in the West Texas Renaissance Faire. I did extensive studies on Queen Bess and a visit to Hatfield house was on my bucket list. We were lucky enough to also get to see the large old Oak tree that Princess Elizabeth was sitting in when they came to tell her that she was now Queen of England. All that is left of Old Hatfield consists of the Long Hall, where then newly crowned Queen Elizabeth held her first court and put together her privy council. Building materials from the rest of the Old Hatfield were used to construct the New Hatfield House (It is more like a palace). This residence was built by Robert Cecil and has been consistently inhabited by 14 generations of Cecil’s to this day.
When touring the mansion I met a docent who when I told her we were from Texas and were dancing in London she replied ”Line Dancing?” and we burst out laughing. She wanted to learn to line dance so there we were up in the Great Hall of this magnificent building built in the early 1600’s doing the Cotton-Eyed Joe and the Electric Slide with some English People. It doesn’t get much better than that. Every time I saw her after that she would say “I know how to line dance” and we would break out into the Cotton-Eyed Joe.
On a side note, my daughter and son-in-law, who is a recruiter in the Army, are stationed in North Carolina near the Biltmore Estate. This is America’s largest private residence and I have had the pleasure of visiting several times. George Vanderbilt and his wife Edith built it in the late 1800’s and their only daughter, Cornelia, married John Cecil in 1924 and they still own the house. So a Cecil owns Hatfield House in England and a direct descendant Cecil owns the Biltmore Estate in America. When I told the people at Hatfield House about the Biltmore Estate they had never heard of it and were very curious. I happened to have some pictures on my phone I was able to show them. They had me write down all the information. So I was able to bring two branches of the Cecil families together. I have since contacted the Biltmore Estate to have them send some information to the Hatfield House. I think its pretty cool.
Everywhere we went we were ambassadors of Texas. The City of Abilene had hooked us up with little Abilene pins and gift bags for our bus drivers each day. Luckenbach had also given us bumper stickers, guitar picks and key chains with shape of Texas cut out in leather with Luckenbach stamped on it. We kept our pockets full and every time we would have an encounter with someone, from merchants to waiters to people on the underground we would pass things out. I love to see people smile and sometimes we take for granted that everyone smiles but that isn’t the case in most other countries and especially big cities.
I’ve been to NYC several times and I’ve noticed that everyone dresses very drab and dark and no one makes eye contact with you. Of course we are very friendly people and I was pleasantly surprised that in London people were curious and would at least look you in the eye. We were wearing bright colors, lots of bling and cowboy hats & cowboy boots after all. But when they made eye contact it didn’t connect to their smile. After we started passing out souvenirs from Texas people started smiling and talking and by the time we got off the underground everyone was doing the cotton-eyed Joe and saying “Howdy”, well not quite, but their smiles were reaching their eyes.
At our hotel there was a young family from England visiting for the Olympics. They had a small boy about 3 years old with whom we shared some of our Texas souvenirs. We told him that you say “Hello” in Texas by saying “Howdy” and I even gave him some American coins. His mother was very impressed. When I ran into her the next day she said she had already put the money up and he was saving it because he wanted to make a trip to Texas someday to spend it. I’m sure that was the best $.46 investment Texas ever made. The little boy also asked if “Hello” was “Howdy” how do you say good-by in Texan? We said “Adios Amigos” or “So-Long, Pardner”.
I was amazed at the lack of crowds in London and how smoothly everything went. Partly because we were on the outskirts of town, and had our own private transportation and couldn’t afford to actually attend an Olympic event we didn’t get to interact with people from different countries like I was hoping we would. It was kind of hard to tell who was a local and who might be a foreigner attending the Olympics until they started talking with an English accent. They have quite a melting pot of people in London and you couldn’t make any assumptions. It was still a treat to be there when all the excitement was going on. Every TV in the hotel and all the pubs were on the Olympics and it was kind of weird to have the USA in the background instead of front and center like I’m sure it was back home. England’s colors are the same so it was difficult at times to figure out who was who when they would be talking about the athletes.
We did find out from the locals that they couldn’t just buy tickets to an Olympic event. They sent in their credit card information and they were issued tickets to an event. It may not have been what they were interested in seeing. So if you were interested in watching gymnastics you might actually receive tickets to rowing perhaps. They seemed to deal with it OK but I thought it was kind of odd. If you were going to pay that much money I would want to go see something I was interested in. Also they said that they had saved so many seats for sponsors that people were being turned away and half the stands were empty.
When we were in Greenwich, which was where the Olympic Equestrian Events were being held, a group of our dancers saw Prince William and his wife Kate and Prince Harry going into an Olympic Event. When they saw a soldier salute them they called their names and they turned and waved to them. They got a few pictures and I’m sure it was the highlight of their summer. We also saw Queen Elizabeth II and her entourage with light flashing speeding down the highway. NBC Dallas was there with Brian Curtis by the Tower of London and they interviewed some of the dancers. Some friends of mine in Dallas saw it on TV so we did make the international televised event.
Our final performance was at Warwick Castle. This is a 1,000-year-old castle that was used prior to the time of William the Conqueror. It was so incredible to be able to explore the castle and all the battlements and take pictures everywhere (which isn’t the case at most historical places). Warwick was very hands on and made the experience so exceptional for all of us. Some of the children taught the Cotton-Eyed Joe to Maggie a performer at Warwick Castle. It was quite funny to see her kicking up her legs in her peasant garb. They even had a show where a man was flying a bald eagle instead of a hawk. It was surreal to see America’s symbol for freedom circling around a thousand year old Castle in England.
All in all it was an amazing trip. The performances went really well and were well received. We have already received an invitation to perform at Rio in 2016. Texas and Abilene can be proud that we represented and I’m sure they will not soon forget Texas across the pond. Yee Haw!
Dance, Ltd – School of Dance
“Celebrating 30 Years”
2347 N. 6th Street
Abilene, TX 79605