March 03, 2014

#62: Michael Kiehm's Substance Abuse in WCS?

Protector or Perpetrator?
Weekly Note #62
It's just been so accepted for so long that even the younger dancers are starting to engage in it. -Michael Kiehm

In one of my very first Weekly Notes, #7: Groupies & More..., I describe a disturbing experience while judging at Jay Byam's Palm Springs Summer Dance Camp:

The last 'All-Star/Champion' (insert slight cough) Jack & Jill I judged was in Palm Springs. Talk about Abstract. All but two of the women were split weight, pigeon toed and sloppy as all get out.

Yes, they all had super long hair, were very young and were all wearing tight pants while arching their tushes out... but while I was trying to judge, I literally kept having flash-backs to several of the Novice women I'd seen and wished to God they were out there dancing in front of me instead. I later learned that none of those amazing women whose dancing played in my head made finals... what? 

Guess you really do get what you pay for. Jay had added all new untrained judges that weekend (all working for free, of course) and had let many of his paid and trained judges go. It showed in the results everywhere, not just in Novice. What I was watching before me was ludicrous. It wasn't even dancing. Or movement, really. It was chaos.

What a scam.

Anyway, while watching these wretched 'dancers' fool around out there, I just wanted to put my clipboard down and walk away. Who needs skill to judge Abstract Improvisation? Rolling on the floor, disconnects and tumbles, waving at the audience while detached from your partner, yanking, dragging and hand-miming... it was a waste of my time. 

I'm truly grateful for the gift of a "good eye" for dancing and judging. But my gift was assaulted rather than put to good use that weekend. Those are minutes of my life I'd prefer to have back. A juvenile could have judged that competition, not a highly trained judge. 

I've been hearing judges say it for years: "I didn't want to place anyone," and I agreed with them, 100%.

Just a couple of years after that mind-numbing experience, and Jay Byam's other event, New Years Dance Camp, took place in the same hotel, just as it always has for a long time now. Traditionally Jay has hired more members of The Ten (top placing couples of the last ten years) at New Years Dance Camp than at Summer Dance Camp. The NYDC of 2012/2013 was no different. Because of this, Jay tries to fill a few more of his judging spots with actual professionals instead of free amateurs to judge - at least for the top divisions. By this year I was out and Michael Kiehm was put in my place.

Afterwards he wrote a long letter to the community about his experience there. He posted it publicly on Facebook, less than one week after the event concluded. At the end of his letter Michael Kiehm asks you what you think. I encourage you to ask yourself the same question... 

Michael Kiehm's Post

Ok, I don't usually complain or jump on soap boxes very often....but I feel a need to speak up. I won't say any names (because I'm pretty sure those that I speak of know who they are). 

I am soooo tired of seeing professionals in this venue competing under the influence of drugs and alcohol! What kind of message are we sending to the young dance community when our pros perform in the most embarrassing manner? Heck, I was borderline embarrassed myself, just being a judge during such an event. 

I would like to thank all of the dancers out there that truly take this sport seriously by not feeling that they need to get drunk or high to put on a great show!!!!! Don't call yourself a "Pro" if you're not going to act in a professional manner! 


I think event organizers need to step up to the plate to insure the integrity of our sport, so any event organizer that would not hire me in regards to my previous statement are not worth working for anyway.


Now. You know I am a Deep Water person. I don't just 'know' people. I know their dead relatives and the secrets they have buried in their tombs too. So. I understand that most of you might have a soft, warm and fuzzy feeling when you read such a statement. Or maybe you feel some kind of wonderful team spirit. You might think he his your hero or some wonderful man.

But me? My very first thought upon reading this was...
"But!?!?! What the heck!? Helloooo! You MC for SwingDiego!!!!" (SwingDiego is (allegedly) the cartel central of the WSDC/NASDE community! Tell me I'm not the only one that knows this, right? Right?!?)
I could not believe he wrote it - out loud - on the "public" setting so that the whole world could see. I was shocked, amazed and a bit crazed. I ended up throwing my phone across the room and yelling something along the following lines after it:
"DUDE! You literally HEADLINE the coco-capital of the swing world!!!! AND you're a relative of Parker Dearborn!!! Exactly what kind of hypocrite are you!?!? Or wait? Or are you crazy instead??? Did you just declare yourself a stupid person to the entire world by implying that you DON'T know that the only event you MC and lend your face to all year long, is the very event with the worst substance abuse problem on the entire circuit??? And if you really didn't know, then, holy heck - I hate to be the one to inform you buuuuut.... you are SO OUT OF A JOB!!!"
(And I was right! By the time SwingDiego hit, no one seemed to question why 'others' were suddenly MC'ing everything but, what was it, like, one single novice division? I think Michael Kiehm got to do a few first rounds of intermediate too - or no, wait - maybe that was just another heat of novice he was calling... because Parker & Earl couldn't be SO obvious as to ban him from the event altogether only three short months after his post. Especially considering he's related to one of the event directors. See, you might have forgotten about his little "staying clean" post by the time SwingDiego rolled about, but I sure as hell didn't. Nor did the 'pros.' And neither did Parker. Or Earl. Or Louis. 

So every time I logged on that weekend, it was just to see how angry they were with them - just to watch Royston, Parker, ANYone but Michael Kiehm, MC'ing all weekend. And every time I didn't see his face I just shook my head and thought, "maaaaan - I TOLD you so!!!!")

But not everyone knows what we Deep Water people know, and Deep Water people don't saying anything on the internet, never mind on Facebook. So no responded the way that I did - at least not publicly. But people most definitely responded. Ohhhhh, did they ever! And those responses were even more interesting!

His post received a total of 144 responses, as well as 662 'likes' and 38 'shares.' This is extremely rare for any social networking site nowadays in regards to WCS. Part of this, of course, is that he did work for SwingDiego, and therefore lemming behavior without reading is most definitely present, but still - the numbers are just plain impressive.

But as I said, it's not the numbers that inspired me to share all of this with you today. It was the nature of the responses themselves. You see, people were so moved that they actually went ahead and shared their own run-ins with drugs and alcohol at these events! 

The Enlightening Responses 

"Thank you for speaking up about this matter as we all think it is embarrassing for our sport we love." 
"I'm sharing it because even in Europe we've begun to have these kind of troubles" 
"Totally agreed with your comment. However, I have seen the organizer of the events drinking during the events. In addition, they show up the next day, with the nasty smelling." 
"Maybe it's time to name names so we know who we are hiring."
"I have noticed the use of "RITALIN" by dancers. It puts a persons dancing and hearing together and they are far more awake. I brought it to the Dance Hosts attention and he thought I was from Mars. Needless to say, I don't really compete anymore because the competitions have dancers who are in altered and enhanced states." 
"I had a Pro show up for a private once completely under the influence. No refund offered, no apology. I have never forgotten. This is a much bigger problem than simply coming to a competition under the influence. It appears many folks find dance conventions a great reason to get drunk, and others are just using drugs to stay awake all night. It goes without saying that this takes a tremendous toll on your body, as witnessed by some of the folks we've lost way too young. If this is your life style, I sure would encourage you to take a second look at what you're doing. You ARE worth it." 
"I noticed this happening with the top dancers over 10 years ago when the young hot dancers started taking over, that is when I quit going to conventions monthly, I can only imagine how the party, party atmosphere has escalated since then!! Seemed like more and more of the convention time was spent watching the top dancers show off and party and I wasn't interested in being on the sideline watching their clique !! So I've saved thousands of dollars not attending the big events any more, and I dance many more hours at all the many, many dance studio dances around San Diego!!!" 
"'s just that this has been going on or a long time now and unfortunately, I happened to reach my boiling point there. Please don't feel singled out. It's been at just about every event I've been to in the last couple of years." -Michael Kiehm, in response the event director's comment 
"Just a thought, in world championships for ballroom, they have started drug testing. It's for steroids or controlled substances. Trying to slowly get the community to shape up and prepare for more "sport" recognition." 
"I would hope that every judge, everywhere, would feel this way about any competitor! We need to keep it clean! I also feel that no one should be obligated to dance in a competition with a partner who is drunk or high ... there needs to be a mechanism to prevent this from happening in a J&J." 
"Yes, I agree...that mechanism is the event organizer or the chief judge.....Hell, the pros were on the side line waiting to go on the floor with alcohol in their hands! Maybe it's there way of getting relaxed, but hell, they're pros! DEAL WITH IT!"-Kiehm, in response to other comments left to his original post
"I could not agree more. The term "professional" has as much to do with conduct as it does ability. If you don't respect your sport enough to give it your best then respect the paying audience you perform for and event you represent. Thank you for bringing public what others have been whispering about." 
"Dear Michael, I really want to thank you for standing up to this problem... we as older seasoned dancers have seen this at events and workshops. We respect you for standing up for your sport and passion... We have watched you for more than 20 yrs. and know how you train for your sport... How wonderful would it be to promote this sport as drug and alcohol free for the kids coming in. This could be great therapy and keep kids off the streets and out of trouble. Parents and educators would be more drawn to drug free events for the kids. You go... with your name and passion you can make a difference one event at a time. Who knows some of these competitors may have to address a problem or give up their passion..." 
"Michael, I'm so proud of a person who will stand up for what he or she believes and do it with grace. I too was embarrassed by what I saw. I am a mother and always wanted my children (grown now) to share my passion of dance. I am some what relieved I didn't push this watching what i saw this last weekend. I am a professional and I have to present myself as a professional because I never know my circle of influence. In my [work] I talk about you don't really know who is watching. If we truly care about those around us we need to put our own actions in check. There is a time and a place for things. Dancers if this is speaking to you, this is a new year and we can't go back and change what has happened, but going forward YOU can make decisions that could make a difference for you, those you are influencing, the future of dance. Its YOUR choice..With LOVE and compassion. What if someone got hurt dancing with you and it was your fault because you were under the influence? Just saying....." 
"Michael, you definitely hit a nerve. You have over 527 likes. So organizers of events should realize this is not a small matter. Thanks again for speaking up." 

Of course, as you would expect, there was a lot of denial going on that I didn't list or share here, especially from event directors, and there was a lot of back peddling when event directors and DJ's were caught in lies, and so on and so forth. All of it I very much expected. You've heard it all before... worship and praise to The Church... blah blah blah...

But the vast VAST majority of the 144 comments were positive and supportive. Dancers, parents and competitors have had enough, clearly. I've known that for a while. I'm just so, so sad that no one in the WSDC/NASDE community responded to any of it. They aren't listening to him, they aren't listening to me and they aren't listening to you, never mind taking action. 

I clearly remember the day an event shut off the music and closed its doors for an hour, when we were all wanting to go back to social dancing, simply because someone in their early twenties gave someone in their late teens alcohol. It was a huge deal. Someone underage was drinking alcohol, and they wanted the entire event community to know it was not okay. 

They shut it down, and when we all asked why, they told us. What a message. What a 180 from where we stand today. Now substance abuse is a requirement to make it into finals. Disturbing and sickening. We are lost. 

So. You've heard from a ton of people. So, just as Mr. Kiehm asks at the end of his post, "I love this profession, and will do anything to preserve it... How about you?" 

Well? How 'bout it?


Excerpt from Weekly WCS Note #62: Another Source. Released April 2013.