The 20th annual Monterey Swingfest is the ultimate proving ground for anyone who has said to themselves "I just wanna dance!"
The event takes place Thursday through Monday at the Hyatt Regency Monterey Hotel and Spa. More than 900 people from all over the world are expected to attend and compete in the event.
Spectator tickets go for $20 and up. Dancer registration varies. For information, call the Hyatt at 372-1234 and ask for the Swingfest registration desk, or visit CentralCoastSwingDance.com.
Event director John Wheaton started the event in 1994. A charter member of the board of directors for the World Dance Council and the advisory board of the Golden State Dance Teachers Association, Wheaton's involvement in the West Coast Swing scene goes back three decades.
He hosted one-day workshops in Santa Maria that grew too big in attendance. The event moved to the Peninsula, where Wheaton had previously lived.
Wheaton said the event has hosted guests from at least 18 different countries, including Ireland, England, Scotland, France, South Africa and Israel.
The West Coast Swing style is derivative of the big band, high-energy East Coast swing dance scene, but with a twist. Rather than "Jump, Jive and Wail" bounce and step, the dancing is smoother and slower.
"People are still dancing the East Coast swing, but those of us in the West Coast Swing can dance to more contemporary music. R&B and soul music, similar to what you would hear in the dance club," said Wheaton.
Wheaton said West Coast Swing can be accompanied by the sounds of Top 40 artists like Maroon 5, Ne-Yo and Christina Aguilera.
"It's quite different than what people think and, in my opinion, a far better show," he said.
This year marks the return of celebrity dancer Benji Schwimmer, who won the Fox network television competition "So You Think You Can Dance." He has also been a featured competitor and choreographer on ABC's "Dancing With The Stars.
Schwimmer will teach workshops and judge competitions throughout the event. He will also compete in the Champion's division of two of the biggest competitions: Saturday night's Strictly Swing contest and Sunday night's Jack & Jill competition.
The Strictly Swing competition lets dancers choose a partner and perform to a random song selected by organizers.
"When they walk on the floor, anything can play," said Wheaton. "You get a chance to see what they can do with it."
The Jack & Jill competition is even more arbitrary — organizers select both the dance partners and the music for the competitors.
"It can be somebody you never danced with before. The idea is to showcase social dance skills," said Wheaton.
There will be "thousands of dollars" in prizes, but the prestige of winning the Champions division at Monterey Swingfest is the real prize.
Wheaton said a Swingfest win on a dancer's resume can boost their asking price at gigs.
Thus, the best dancers in the world compete.
"If you want to see the best in the world," said Wheaton, "come on down. Because that's literally true."