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14 September 2011 @ 11:28 pm
BentoCon  
So now I can finally talk about the big project that has kept me virtually silent on all social media for the last month or so.

It started... oh, a couple of years ago, when I realized that the year 2011 would mark both my 50th birthday and kateyule's, and also our 20th wedding anniversary. This confluence of major milestones seemed to call for a big celebration, and after some cogitation I decided I wanted to hold "BentoCon: A Science Fiction Convention and Square Dance." The name BentoCon commemorates the fanzine Bento that Kate and I have been producing on an approximately annual basis since 1989, and the combination of science fiction and square dancing commemorates the two hobbies (or is that ways of life) that have occupied so much of our time together.

The idea of a birthday convention is not our invention. The first one I'm aware of (though we did not attend it) was elisem's EliseCon, which begat janeehawkins's JaneCon (which we sort of crashed), which was followed by best_donya, wild_irises, and Jeanne Gomoll's CroneCon and klages's month in France. But BentoCon was going to be the first with a square dance.

After kicking around ideas in a desultory fashion for a year or more, at the end of 2010 we decided to get serious about the project, and signed a hotel contract in January of 2011. Over the next few months we sent out invitations (although we would have loved to invite everyone we know, the space was limited and so, unfortunately, some lovely people had to be left out), arranged for a celebratory cake, booked a square dance caller (our good friend the talented billeyler), and asked some of our friends to help us run it (notably vgqn, who headed up the hospitality suite, and marykaykare, who ran the at-con registration desk). Kate and I ran the program, publications, hotel, audio-video, and displays as well as being the chairs and guests of honor. I joked that we really could have used a couple of GoH liaisions.

The last few weeks, especially since the Worldcon, were incredibly hectic; we were both working on BentoCon essentially every waking hour and neither of us got a whole lot of sleep. But when people began to show up, and we saw the square dancers and the science fiction fans chatting happily together in our incredibly convivial hospitality suite, we knew it had all been worth it.

We had a fabulous hotel, which in a previous life as the Hotel Multnomah had been the site of the 1950 Worldcon. The main program space included a fireplace, which (thanks to a last-minute inspiration of Kate's) we decorated with cardboard stand-up photographs of the various awards on our mantel at home. The large and comfy hospitality suite was mere steps away from the program room, and included distinct areas for food, games, conversation, jigsaw puzzles, and badge decoration (thanks to a fantastic collection of stickers sent by gerisullivan who, alas, could not attend in person). On Saturday night we had a second function room, just across the hall, for the square dance, to which we'd also invited any local dancers who cared to attend. And the mezzanine area between them all was the site of the registration and info tables, plus two additional tables for a book swap and craft swap. The latter two provided a useful public service of redistribution of quality books and craft items to people who could better appreciate them, as well as draining away any impulse our guests might have had to bring presents.

The hotel's location in downtown Portland was superb, within walking distance of Powell's Books and tons of excellent restaurants, not to mention a couple of "pods" of food carts, a half-dozen chocolate shops, and Portland's only glow-in-the-dark pirate-themed indoor mini-golf. The hotel staff were also fabulously helpful and efficient.

We recognized from the beginning that this event might run afoul of the Geek Social Fallacies, especially #4 (Friendship is Transitive, which we risked violating by inviting people from different social groups), but we needn't have worried. We opened the convention (after softening everyone up with the singing of rounds and a pair of fabulous cakes from the Bakery Bar) with a pair of panels on "introduction to science fiction fandom for non-fans" and "introduction to gay square dance culture for non-dancers" that got everyone on the same page and gave people things to talk about. Everywhere I looked for the whole rest of the convention I saw dancers, fans, and relatives talking together, going out to dinner together, and singing songs together.

The singing of songs was a surprisingly important part of the event. We opened with the Apple Maggot Quarantine Song from Bento #1 and "To Stop the Train" from Bento #4, complete with gestures. On Saturday we had a group singalong, with projected videos and lyrics, of our favorite songs from Tom Lehrer, Jonathan Coulton, Queen, the Arrogant Worms, Savage Garden, and They Might Be Giants. And my old college roommate Kurt Gollhardt brought out his guitar on Saturday night; a mixed bunch of fans and dancers sang Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, and show tunes until the wee small hours.

The relatives were also well received. I'll note that camillealexa claimed to have a "rockstar crush" on my dad, which he asked me to explain. I'm not sure I can. (Sorry Camille, he's already got a girlfriend back home.)

We had a single track of programming, including readings by the authors present, a discussion of great female SF writers, the "embarrass David and Kate hour" of baby pictures and anecdotes by the relatives, Whose Line Is It Anyway?, and "On the Road with Kate and David" with slides, videos, anecdotes, and an explanation by Kate of how she finds fabulous restaurants wherever she goes.

The square dance on Saturday night was a hit; the dancers had a blast and the fans participated enthusiastically. With the addition of some dancers from the Portland square dance community, we had about forty people doing simple square dances, country dances, a line dance, and the Time Warp, plus a couple of full-level demo tips. I've been to a lot of introductory square dances and this was one of the most fun I've ever attended.

We also had a group Greek lunch on Friday, a catered Japanese dinner in the hospitality suite on Sunday night for those who remained (a much better way to close out the con than the usual spluttering away), and on Friday afternoon a choice of walking tours (Kate led the "Keep Portland Weird" tour to such sites as the 24-Hour Coin-Operated Church of Elvis, while I led a chocolate tour to some of those nearby chocolate shops). Any remaining unprogrammed spots in the schedule were filled in with "nanoprogramming" by the participants.

All in all, it went fabulously well. The worst problem we had wasn't even at the convention, it was when scarlettina got rear-ended on the way home, damaging herself and her car.

We spent Monday packing up and moving everything out of the hotel. After that Kate and I both came down with sore throats, aches, and general overall exhaustion that has kept us near-comatose since then. But it's a good kind of comatose.

That was a lot of fun. I think we might do it again... in another fifty years.

 
 
 
The NewroticGirlnewroticgirl on September 15th, 2011 08:32 am (UTC)
Ah, it sounds lovely. I'm sorry to have missed it!
(Deleted comment)
David D. Levinedavidlevine on September 15th, 2011 03:27 pm (UTC)
D'oh! I neglected to mention that Farthing Party was one of our inspirations, especially for the expeditions on Friday afternoon.

Unfortunately, the timing of our event (it was when we could get the hotel) means that we won't be able to attend your shindig this year. Best of luck with that!
threeoutsidethreeoutside on September 15th, 2011 12:59 pm (UTC)
What a great idea! A lot of work but wow, it sounds like you really aced it! Thanks for sharing - you've put a big grin on my face, and that's not easy to do at this hour. Congratulations on all counts!
markbourne: bleeding gums murphymarkbourne on September 15th, 2011 01:40 pm (UTC)
It was delightful through and through. Thank you both so much for sharing you birthdays/anniversary in such a fashion, and for the evident hard work you put into its success. It was a real treat for all of us.
billeylerbilleyler on September 15th, 2011 01:41 pm (UTC)
The event was an inspiration for how I may work on an upcoming milestone.

The dance was probably one of the most successful ones I've ever had in my 28 years of dancing and calling. The biggest factor? The enthusiasm carried over into the dancers feet and minds, with very very few kerfuffles on the dance floor. THAT rarely is the case in other one-nighters. Having a theme to work from is always an excellent base and having Danny as my music coordinator is a god-send.

Hopefully, you'll get the envelope I mailed to you on Tuesday morning. I'm all set for my 7 hour drive to Phoenix in the morning, a rejuvenating trip if all goes well! (Danny's not going to this one).

And now that I've looked in the Bradley Bell, I know your ACTUAL birthday is 2/21. I'll assume that you've already hit the 50 mark now. Since Kate's date isn't listed, I'm thinking it must be early April.
David D. Levinedavidlevine on September 15th, 2011 03:29 pm (UTC)
Yep, I've been 50 since February, Kate's 50th birthday was in March, and our wedding anniversary was in May. But this was the first date we could get the hotel that didn't interfere with a science fiction convention or square dance!
David D. Levinedavidlevine on September 15th, 2011 03:29 pm (UTC)
And thanks again for your calling! It was fantastic.
threeoutsidethreeoutside on September 15th, 2011 05:04 pm (UTC)
Hmm...this has got me thinking...did you teach your fellow Martian astronauts how to squaredance, by any chance? And if so...is there footage...? *wicked grin*
David D. Levine: space helmetdavidlevine on September 15th, 2011 06:59 pm (UTC)
Alas, there were only six crew members and it takes eight to make a square. Also more space than we had. And a caller.
threeoutsidethreeoutside on September 15th, 2011 07:08 pm (UTC)
See? You should have let the guy in the bow-tie and fez in, with his red-haired friend. Then you could have had a square dance! I'm sure you could have taped some callings...
Ulrikaakirlu on September 15th, 2011 07:04 pm (UTC)
"The dance was probably one of the most successful ones I've ever had in my 28 years of dancing and calling."

Wow, really? That's so cool. As I said Sunday, I think the persistence of Regency Dances at SF conventions helped some, too. While the skill-gimmick rally to music quality of the demonstration tips doesn't have a direct analog, a lot of the basic movements do. It's a sort of pseudo-precursor to contra, so we weren't exactly coming to the concept cold.
billeylerbilleyler on September 15th, 2011 07:26 pm (UTC)
That's what I figured, but since I only knew the Modern Western square dance crowd and our traditions, I just had to go with the flow and assume no one knew much of anything. :-)
Wendy S. Delmatersafewrite on September 15th, 2011 08:04 pm (UTC)
It sounds really wonderful and it WAS a real con - now you both seem to have con crud! *wink*
chiefwireheadchiefwirehead on September 16th, 2011 05:50 am (UTC)
Oh, that was the big project.
I'm really glad I didn't miss it, then.

The Squaredance/Science fiction combination worked well - I am now (more) educated to what its all about.

Sorry to hear about convention crud - that sucks.