On Second Thought – Why not Dance on the Table?

Astaire with Eleanor Powell in Cole Porter’s “Begin the Beguine” from Broadway Melody of 1940

Yesterday I was really thinking about waiting for change and looking everywhere for the signs of change.  It is a theme that one could continue almost every day.  There are lots of people looking and lots writing about the waiting and the looking almost with desperation.  The reason is simple, these are painful times.  Certainly they are most painful times of my life; I did not experience the Great Depression, in fact most of my life the economy had been growing and expanding.  I have fed on optimism all of my life – today is going to be better, the future is rosy, every generation is going to “have it better” than the one before them; we seemed to live in charmed times and in a charmed place.

Oh, I know there were some bad times, riots, warms, hurricanes and the threat of nuclear war.  But we are the species chosen by god to repeat the benefits of all creation; all of human history demonstrates progress (doesn’t it?) so things will improve.  It is hard to lose that dream and harder still to adjust to a world that is not designed for human and given to them to use as they see fit; to a world where change is a scientific fact. Worse change and progress are not synonymous as they were thought to be in 19th or most of the 20th centuries.  Change is just becoming different and progress feels like an outdated concept of booster-ism of a 1939s novel by Sinclair Lewis.

Well, stuck between that dream of a guarnteed better future and a nightmare of uncertainty in the midst of change I too am looking for signs of change – any sign to help understand where we are and what we might expect in the future.In that mood I found the story about the baccarat player dancing on the table and the employees watching and doing nothing.  I described it as a sign of change – a sign of desperation; revenues are so far down that floor bosses have become willing to tolerate anything if it makes more money.  I probably exaggerated and mis-characterized the whole incident, but it did set me to thinking.

For one thing, dancing on the table is widely recognized as a carefree expression of joy and frequently is used as a metaphor for free thinking, unbounded excitement, happiness and a celebration of the moment.  In the movies we have all seen Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, John Travolta, Gregory Hines and all of the great dancers jump up on a table and execute some fine steps – there is even a video on YouTube of Bill Gates doing a little table dancing.

Next, I started to think about a table dance I saw once that also was on the Las Vegas Strip, not at Caesars, but at the Mirage.  The dancer was Steve Wynn.  Wynn was meeting with a client of mine, an Indian tribe from Washington.  The meeting had little or nothing to do with the tribe or its aspirations, the meeting was about Steve Wynn. He filled the room with ego, energy, enthusiasm and a kind of stream of conscious narrative of gaming, casino design, Indian casinos and his version of the future.  Mr. Wynn was not confined by normal definitions or conventions of anything, least of all by space, surface or traditional function. He did not sit in a chair as the rest of us did, he walked around the room, in front of us, behind us, round and round us he whorled; he sat in a window sill, sat on his haunches and sat on the table; he stretched out as if for a nap on the table and yes he walked around on it, much like in a dance; all the while he bombarded us with the sound of his voice.  He did offend some of the tribal leaders, but he also forced everyone to stretch just to keep up. Few people ever get to genius up close quite the same way – it was mesmerizing.

Steve Wynn has been very successful in the casino world; much of his success comes from that energy, ego, enthusiasm and stream of ideas we saw that day.  His casinos feel and preform differently that other casinos – one of the reasons for his successes is his table dance.  Steve sees space, surface and function uniquely. A table provides a surface for a dance, a room multiple spaces for a narrative and a table as a place to imprison an audience.  Wynn has managed to transform his vision in casinos that become the models for other to follow, he always introduces totally new concepts in his casinos.

So back to the baccarat player – I rethought his actions in light of my thoughts on table dancing in general and in the specific, Steve Wynn’s dance on and off the table.  It is highly likely that man and Wynn have a few things in common; firstly they are both really successful and can afford to spend money in ways most people cannot – it was after all a high limit baccarat table at Caesars, the long-time home of the biggest wagers in all of legal gambling world;, two both probably are unique and do not have the common vision of their contemporaries; and three it is probable the anonymous player also has a great deal of energy, ego and enthusiasm for his own vision of the world.  The Caesars employees may just have been wowed the way my clients and I were that day at the Mirage.


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August 2010
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