Kool Kat of the Week: Jason Merrill Talks Japan Retro at Anime Weekend Atlanta – Jazz, Swing-Dancing, Tuxedos, Burlesque, Giant Rubber Monsters and Much More

Posted on: Sep 29th, 2011 By:

DragonCon may be Atlanta’s best known and biggest pop culture convention, but this weekend more than 10,000 Japanese anime fans will descend on Cobb Galleria Centre and the Renaissance Atlanta Waverly Hotel next door for Anime Weekend Atlanta (AWA). The four-day pop culture convention kicks off tonight and runs through Sunday afternoon (Sept. 29-Oct. 2,2011).

While all ages attend, the AWA crowd tends toward the young (predominantly high school and college) and effusively enthusiastic in their costuming and passion for anime (for the uninitiated, a uniquely Japanese genre of animated TV shows and movies). Go, SPEED RACER aside, you might not think there’s much Retro about AWA. However, while some kids do go to lock themselves up in a room and watch anime 24 hours a day, thanks to the creativity of the con’s organizers, such as Event Director Jason Merrill, even casual anime fans like us can have a great time. After all, where/when else in Atlanta can you pretend you’re shopping a Tokyo flea market for vintage kimonos and Godzilla and Ultraman toys without spending a fortune on a plane ticket, as well as enjoy live concerts with bands from Japan, a burlesque show, a black-tie ballroom dance with a string quartet and a Saturday night vintage jazz Bebop Lounge?!

ATLRetro recently caught up with Jason to find out not only why anime has such a passionate following but also to get the full scoop on the many fabulous Retro connections and happenings at AWA. To find times and locations for the many fun things he mentions, check out the full weekend schedule here or download the new AWA app for Apple iPhone/iPad or an Android browser version.

How did Anime Weekend Atlanta get started, and how does today’s AWA compare to your early days discovering and enjoying anime?

My brother, Dave Merrill, and I grew up watching PRINCE PLANET, SPEED RACER, STAR BLAZERS, ULTRAMAN and SPACE GIANTS. It was hard to find new items unless you had the right connections. Dave got very active in the tape trading and convention communities so he had a steady stream of new and unusual anime to watch. He and his friends used to gather at my parents home to watch anime. That group became the fan club Anime X, which later threw the first Anime Weekend Atlanta, 17 years ago. I have to admit, I’m kind of glad they decided to throw an actual convention, because I don’t think my parent’s family room could survive this kind of thing.

The difference is night and day. Just the technology alone has made the entire experience so far removed from the old days. We would get untranslated anime on fifth-generation videotapes with bad tracking issues months (if not years) after the show first ran. So keeping up with the action would take a lot of effort. Now shows appear subtitled within a week of the original air date.

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Kool Kat of the Week: David Spencer Has Gotta Dance, Gotta Swing, & He’ll Teach You How, Too, at Callanwolde This Spring

Posted on: Mar 1st, 2011 By:

“Dancing is like dreaming with your feet,” goes the famous quote by Constanze. If that’s true, David Spencer has spent his life in dreams. Since he was a little boy, he let his feet guide him, and they haven’t led him astray from becoming a sought-after high school date to professional ballroom dancing shows and competitions. For the past 30 years, he’s also been a ballroom dance instructor, and he currently shares his secrets to fantastic footwork at Allure Ballroom Atlanta, near Cumberland Mall, and at the Atlanta Ballroom Dance Centre in Sandy Springs.

However, aspiring and seasoned ballroom dancers wanting to hone their moves will get to practice in top-hat style this spring as David leads a pair of Thursday night 10-week classes for beginners (7 PM) and continuing dancers (8 PM) starting March 24 at Callanwolde. For those not versed in vintage Atlanta, this magnificent Gothic-Tudor-style mansion in Druid Hills was completed in 1920 and once belonged to Howard Candler, president of The Coca-Cola Company and son of its founder Asa Candler. Now it’s a cultural arts center and special occasion venue listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but one can only imagine the Gatsby-like grand gatherings that happened here in days gone by.

ATLRetro recently caught up with David to find out why he has such a passion for ballroom dance and also get a preview of these special Callanwolde classes, which represent just a few of the visual and performing arts seminars at the mansion this spring.

1. How did you first get into ballroom dancing and is there any story behind that?

I was very fortunate to have a mother that would sit and watch all the old, classic movies with me as a child—everything from musicals to horror films. We would pile up on the sofa or the bed and watch with a big tub of popcorn. By the age of 7, I made the decision that when I grew up, I wanted to be Gene Kelly. It is no wonder that I teach dancing for a living now. Oddly enough, with Mr. Kelly as my role model, tap dancing is the only form of dance I have not studied—yet.

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