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Something In the Air

the glory and tradition of air guitar competitions

Mark Koenig |

YES, THAT’S CHEETAH-PRINT BLING. Romeo Dance Cheetah, or RDC, was the 2010 US Air Guitar Champion.
was the 2010 US Air Guitar Champion.

My childhood bedroom was better than Alpine Valley Music Theater in East Troy, WI. It was more beautiful than Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado or The Gorge Amphitheater in Washington. Because in my bedroom, anything can happen! I can’t tell you how many guitar solos I played, fireworks exploded over my head, or mid-air leg kicks I delivered to my fans. I never broke a string (ham or guitar), and I never missed a lick. Because in my world, I was the star of the air guitar.

The bedroom is where the air guitar was born, and to this day, it remains the instrument’s central breeding ground. You need not lessons, but passion for the instrument and an imagination that rivals that of Tolkien. The instrument that remained behind closed doors for so many years had eventually edged its way into pop culture during Woodstock (many things were conceived there)! At the 1969 music and arts fair, Joe Cocker brought out his air guitar during his performance of the Beatles classic With A Little Help From My Friends. I’m not sure if it’s the intensity of Cocker’s air guitar performance or just the mesmerizing patterns on his shirt, but it’s a magical exhibition of a fine instrument.

“Expect the unexpected, unless I do something you’d totally expect just to fool you.” – Magic Cyclops, air guitar rival to champion Romeo Dance Cheetah

As the years progressed, the air guitar, a caricature dance that had been decades in the making, would soon explode as a worldwide phenomenon in 1996 during the World Air Guitar Championship in Finland before making its way to the states for the inaugural US Air Guitar Championship in 2003.

Since becoming the official governing body of air guitar at that time, the US Air Guitar Championship has been gathering these bedroom axe-wielders yearly for an air guitarmageddon that is spreading to more cities and showcasing more contestants every year.
The rules are simple: armed with a 60-second music clip and a freshly restrung air guitar, contestants exhibit their onstage performance skills while being judged for technical merit, stage presence, and “airness” (defined as “the extent to which a performance transcends the imitation of a real guitar and becomes an art form in and of itself,” according to the US Air Guitar Rule Book).

Once again, Romeo Dance Cheetah
Once again, Romeo Dance Cheetah

“You always have to think of a way to inflate your performance and take it to a new level and essentially bury your competition,” said 2010 US Air Guitar Champion, Romeo Dance Cheetah. But, as the 232 year-old (that’s in air guitar years) Mr. Cheetah has proven on stage, inflating your performance involves the acquisition of shiny lady pants and trying (or thinking about trying) new moves.

“I do have a favorite move,” said Mr. Cheetah, a Milwaukee native. “It’s called the flying pelvic strum. I don’t believe anyone has ever done it successfully. It’s been told that the few who have attempted this move have either died or broken their pelvis bones in half.”

Or, in the case of Mr. Cheetah’s rival, Magic Cyclops, the performance is based not solely on the moves, it’s the gameplan. “Expect the unexpected,” Cyclops said, “unless I do something you’d totally expect just to fool you.”

With a new year and thousands of new competitors readying for the 2011 season, it must be noted that back-to-back victories have never occurred in the US championships, making the odds stacked against our home-state Mr. Cheetah that much higher. But, winning isn’t everything for Romeo Dance Cheetah. “Yes of course we get all the glitz and glam. And, yes, we do love to melt faces,” he said, “but we can also melt hearts.”

Both Milwaukee and Minneapolis will have regional competitions this June, though only Minneapolis has the details announced (June 10 at The Cabooze). See USAirGuitar.com for constant updates and ticket sales.