Fabulous. Spectacular. Just two of the words that many Coast residents used to describe last Friday's opening ceremony at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.
For Sechelt's Shelby Pudek, 18, one of 80 volunteer dancers who tap danced in the show, it was unforgettable, she told Coast Reporter on Monday morning.
Pudek joined 80 other fiddlers and 26 professional dancers for the show's segment that began with an elaborate swirl of giant maple leaves. Somewhere, high up in the audience of 60,000 people at B.C. Place in Vancouver, her mother and sister cheered her on.
The world was watching. Friends reported that NBC's cameras held her in their view for an instant.
"My uncle in Bermuda saw me; my friend in France saw me," she said.
Pudek took on 164 hours of rehearsal starting last November to learn the dance sequence in which she represented a fierce, costumed Métis dancer. She piled rehearsals on top of her school work at the University of British Columbia where she is studying human kinetics. It was challenging, she said, and she came close to a meltdown several times.
Pudek, who studied in the Coast Academy of Dance's pre-professional program, thanks the solid technique in tapping she learned at the school for her success during her audition. When she was allowed to bring a few spectators to a dress rehearsal, one of her guests was the Academy's artistic director Julie Izad.
Pudek was required to keep the show's details confidential, even from her family, and she learned about the other acts only a few days prior when singer Nelly Furtado attended a rehearsal.
"As she was leaving the stadium, she congratulated us on doing a good job," Pudek remembers.
The spectacle's architect, David Atkins, the man responsible for Australia's Olympic ceremony, was often at rehearsals.
"He was always positive," Pudek said. "It made a good atmosphere for the long sessions."
The group was taught performance skills suitable to such a large forum: to look up at the audience and engage them, and to ignore the many TV cameras.
Pudek liked best her own segment of the show, but she was also awed by the Secret Grove dance featuring Alberta Ballet. Her mother, Phyllis Pudek, loved the whale sequence in which the stadium floor turned to water.
"It was so unexpected," she said.
Phyllis was also impressed by k.d. lang's performance and with the audience participation. They were required to beat drums and light candles at intervals. Each spectator was given white paper costumes like hospital gowns in order to reflect the light show.
"Everyone wore them, and they were captivated for the entire three hours. The energy was there from beginning to end," she said.
Local resident Barbara Holt was also in the crowd after her daughter won two tickets. "The technical end was amazing, particularly the skiers suspended on wires," Holt said.
As contest winners, they were seated in an exclusive area with a good view where Holt could enjoy the full effect of the First Nations dancers. Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff sat in front of them and U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and his wife were seated directly behind, their presence made conspicuous by secret service agents.
Gibsons' resident Tibor Baldauf was also an honoured guest at the following Sunday's Victory Celebration that included medal presentations and a concert.
As a Community Achievement Award winner for his coaching work with the local swim club, he was personally invited, along with 20 other award winners, by Premier Gordon Campbell to attend the celebration at B.C. Place. He was thrilled and honoured to sit close to the athletes, just behind the RCMP flag bearers, while he watched mogul skier Jennifer Heil being presented with her silver medal. During the ceremony it was announced that skier Alexandre Bilodeau had won gold.
"The stadium came alive," Baldauf said. "I felt proud to be a Canadian."
Baldauf, who is now a Canadian citizen, was born in Hungary and made the Hungarian Olympic team in 1956, but was not able to compete because a revolution threw his country into chaos.
He described the Victory Ceremony as a once in a lifetime opportunity.
"It gives me more drive to bring up more Olympic athletes," he said, fostering them through the Coast's swim club.
With his second complimentary ticket, he chose to take his 10-year-old granddaughter, knowing she is already intensely interested in winter sports.
"I wanted to inspire her," he said.