Dayton…It’s a Verb (!)

shelba waldronPersonal Reflections

I was 16 when I attended my first Dayton. I have found that over the years I have a hard time calling it “WGI.” I call it “Dayton.” Even in the years we were in Milwaukee and San Diego, I called it Dayton.

“It’s coming up on Dayton time.”
“While performing in Dayton…”
“It’s time. Dayton’s here.”

Technically, the word Dayton would normally be considered a proper noun (although there really isn’t anything proper about Dayton). A place people go. A place to be. For me, Dayton is an action. It’s a verb. Dayton is something we do. Dayton allows us to experience a moment or a thousand moments. My friend Ron Comfort describes Dayton like this, “At the end of the week, we find that everyone’s experience was unique and personal,” and then he asks, “So, how was your Dayton?”

It was 1987 and my first ever Dayton. It was one of those years that people still talk about to this day. It was a time when the mannequins came to life and we played inside the fun house. Circle, cycle, circle…what? Dayton came alive with colors and we all learned to toss a rifle while making the square root symbol underneath. We explored Heaven and Hell and it was 1987, when I experienced triple finals for the very first time. At that time World Class was called Open Class and Open finals took place on Sunday.

Dayton. It’s the one time a year when ordinary teenagers become rock stars and adults who spend their days as teacher and accountant, become icons. The alcohol flows freely and the laughter is boundless. I love Dayton and by the time Sunday morning rolls around and the last medal has been placed around the neck of the winners and the confetti cannons have been emptied out, we wake up to a reality that seems surreal and a little sad. We say goodbye to our friends with all the love in our hearts and tell them that we’ll see them next year and we will miss them.

Dayton…the verb. It’s a week filled with preparation from the moment you buy your first new outfit, to the final touches to a colorguard you are teaching. For many of us, Dayton is the time of the year where we leave the problems of home, the stress of the job, and the realities of day to day life, to go and play in a world where art convenes with sport and friends from long ago find their way back to the center of their soul. Dayton, the city…well, Dayton the city is nothing short of a a hell hole. I’ll admit it. It’s dingy, brown, and constantly under construction. It rains every single year. I find nothing interesting about the city of Dayton…the noun, but Dayton the verb? Well, it’s a world that I live and breathe.

I love to see new faces in Dayton of the freshmen who are performing for the first time and the parent totally taken aback. I always wonder if their first Dayton is transpiring to be as exciting as mine was. I remember it like it was yesterday. I remember driving by the arena for the first time and David Baker my guard instructor saying, “There it is.” I remember thinking…AND? And is right. To this day, that first moment of the arena sighting is like waking up on Christmas morning. I remember triple finals in Dayton and watched as Union did the mannequin show and if you weren’t there, you can’t possibly understand. It was stunning and mesmerizing and haunting. I knew then, right then, that I would be back. I often ask friends, “So what was the guard that did it for you?” I remember Sunday morning Independent Open Finals and sat in amazement watching Miller’s Blackhawks and the colors come to life. When the boys entered on red…well…let me just say I was a 16 year old girl thinking…”They are so hot!” Then there was State Street Review…Heaven and Hell. Some of my best friends today were in that show. That’s another thing about Dayton. You never know who will walk out on to that arena floor that you will eventually be having a drink with later in life. It’s the Universe saying, “Pay attention. Your best friend just walked into your life.”

When I went to Dayton for the first time, the souvie tent was less commercial and more personal. It seemed that it was more about the colorguards  who were there to share a piece of their season. You could buy their show shirts or a button to wear in support. I had a button that said, “My color is red.”   It was a time when warm up was in the tent. God I loved the tent! There was a special feeling about walking into the tent. You knew that it was on. The time was now. You were in the tent.

When I teach, I often use the phrase, “I’m not telling you it will be easy, but I will tell you that it will be worth it.” The road to Dayton is a difficult one for every single person involved, whether it’s the performer, the staff member, the judge, the contest staff or the parent who sits on the sidelines for support. Each and every one of us works hard and often struggles to get to that Dayton moment, whatever that Dayton moment may be, but the struggle my friend…is oh so worth it.

From the moment you arrive in Dayton and say hello to Edwin C. Moses, to the moment you say goodbye to the arena as you drive by for the last time, it’s as if time stands still. You are lost in a sea of faces from the past and memories of shows and headquarter antics, that rush you upon the first step you take into the Marriott.

When I think of Dayton, I think of it as a black and white photograph from long ago. Dayton reminds me of a time I’ve only read about, but have spent a lifetime romanticizing within my imagination. Landing in Dayton after a year away and seeing the arena, while eagerly anticipating the exit to Edwin C. Moses Blvd. is to me, like knocking on the secret door to a speakeasy in the underground of 1920’s Chicago. Only a few people know about it and you have to have a secret password to get in. It’s our world and it’s our underground. We are the lucky few who found the oasis in the middle of a prohibition. We found the party when the world around us stayed dry. Music is the cornerstone to our nightclub and is a place where dance and beauty converge. Artistry lies in the dress of the attendees and the cocktails flow as if we only have today. It is magic and it is love. It is life!

There is one song, that when I hear it, I think of Dayton the verb. I think of the people and the shows. I see the arena and the Friday night party at the Marriott. When I hear this song, I think of every friend I’ve known and the history and love we share between us. When Sunday comes and the speakeasy closes among a sun rising on Dayton, we see that the verb has become the noun and the world is a little less interesting. So my friends, I would like to close with this song and know that I’ll be waiting for you in this sweet hideaway called Dayton and let’s make it one for my baby and one more for the road.

Quarter to three. there’s no one in the place except you and me.So set ’em up, joe. got a little storyI think you should know.We’re drinkin’, my friend, to the endOf a sweet episode.Make it one for my babyAnd one more for the road.Got the routine so drop another nickelIn the machine.
Oh, gee, i’m feelin’ so bad. wish you’d make the musicSo dreamy and sad.You could tell me a lot. but it’s notIn a gentleman’s code.Let’s make it one for my babyAnd one more for the road.You may not know it,But buddy you’re a kind of poet.And you’ve had a lot of things to say.And when i’m gloomyYou always listen to me,Until it’s talked away.Well, that’s how it goes.And john i know you’re gettingAnxious to close.So, thanks for the cheer.I hope you didn’t mind meBending your ear.For all of the years,For the laughs, for the tears,For the class that you showed,Make it one for my babyAnd one more for the road.That long long road.