Dancers practiced their West Coast Swing in the main ballroom of the MontBleu Resort and Casino on Friday for the second day of the Mountain Magic Dance Convention.
Michelle Kinkaid started the event 14 years ago at the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort, Spa and Casino in Incline Village, Nev. Since that time, the convention has grown exponentially, and now boasts multiple daily workshops, free beginner dance classes, 40 competitions and an attendance roster that includes novices with two left feet as well as some of the country's best dancers.
One of those top talents is Kinkaid, a three-time winner of the U.S. Open Swing Dancing Championships. Her parents exposed her to the social side of ballroom dancing when she was a young girl, and Kinkaid pursued dance throughout high school, entering into competitions and eventually embarking on a dance career in 1975.
She's practiced Latin, hustle, ballroom, clogging, folk dancing, jazz and some ballet, but swing dancing is her real love, she said. Watching the American sitcom 'Happy Days' - the television show featured rock and roll and a theme song by Bill Haley and His Comets - inspired Kinkaid to enter into the world of swing.
"It takes a lot of time, years really, and it takes a certain amount of passion to feel the dance. And technique, of course," Kinkaid said.
Now Kinkaid teaches dance along the California coast from San Francisco to San Jose, and for more than a decade she's organized the annual Mountain Magic Dance Convention in the Lake Tahoe Basin. People come throughout the region to enjoy the dancing, the beauty of Tahoe and the friendly atmosphere of the event, Kinkaid said.
For Mike Rich, who co-owns Second Wind Massage company with his wife, Rika, dance became a way to meet new people. Five years ago Rich said he would never have described himself as a dancer, but now it's his main activity.
"I'm a fly fisherman. I work on the house, I'm good with tools. Dancing? No way. I never saw it coming. Now I don't know if I like fly fishing or dancing better," Rich said.
Rika Rich persuaded her husband to join her at a dance class in 2007, but the pair found themselves on a floor with other couples who had practiced beforehand and Mike Rich wanted out. His wife pursued the classes, eventually coming back to her husband, who decided to give it another shot. Now he's president of the Carson City-based High Sierra Swing Dance Club and plans to compete at the Mountain Magic Dance Convention this weekend.
"You meet a whole lot of different people. I like it because it's good exercise, but it's also a challenge to get better. And it's something I can do with my wife. I like to fly fish but she's never going to do that with me," Rich said.
It can be difficult to overcome the initial fear of joining a public dance group, but if you're passionate about it, then there's no room for excuses, Rika Rich said.
"Sometimes you have to wait for your husband to follow along, but if you want to do something in your life, you've got to do it. It's your obligation to do it, and we have this wonderful opportunity in South Lake Tahoe," she said.