Since its first performance in 1997, Maximum Dance has offered Miami balletophiles a refreshing alternative to the tediously typical tutued-lady-lead-dancer-lifted-by-boy-prop programs. Though co-directors/choreographers David Palmer and Yanis Pikieris have put in time as principal dancers with respected older groups like the Joffrey and Miami City Ballet, their own electrically energetic ensemble does muscular, modern-way-beyond-Balanchine ballet that is deliciously unpredictable. Their works have been set to an astonishing variety of music -- classical composers like Handel and Lizst, modern masters like Philip Glass, stoner faves like Pink Floyd, even some original scores. The dances themselves are just as varied, ranging from this past season's world premiere of The Four Seasons, a romantic neoclassical piece set to Vivaldi's familiar score; to the hysterically humorous Grand Pas d'Action, a dance-off pitting a snooty classical ballet couple against a slinky modern-dance duo. The company also performs educational programs, including a charming children's Peter and the Wolf. Performances this past season included one in Belgium with the Royal Ballet of Flanders, but downtown's Gusman Center continues to be Maximum's performing home. Let's hope we can keep 'em here.

She came from St. Louis to Miami, innocent and earnest, to get her degree in physical therapy from UM. She got it and began aiding old folks and kids with accident or disease-based problems. An admirable life of helping others. But then she caught a glimpse of the Miami Heat dancers and succumbed to her inner star complex. It's been downhill ever since. Before long Trista was in Los Angeles, a popular finalist on ABC's dreadful The Bachelor, in which a guy goes through 25 hapless ladies to see which one he'll marry. True love on reality TV? Many in here shuddered to think she represented, however tenuously, the best Miami had to offer. When she didn't make the final cut, her audience popularity (imagine that audience...) led boob tube honchos to give her a spinoff all her own: The Bachelorette. This time she got to go through 25 guys and dump 24 of them. Just in time for the final episode, and with commercial sponsors lining up for the kill, she picked a poetry-writing fireman. "We're still together and in love," she recently ventured, adding (to no one's surprise) that she was now looking for a more permanent TV or movie job.

Here's how it (and she) went down: In October 2002 Democratic state Representative Betancourt became the first elected Cuban American in Miami-Dade County to openly oppose the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba. Her foe, state Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, claimed the embargo was Betancourt's only issue. It didn't matter to Diaz-Balart, a Republican, that Betancourt actually did have other issues: prescription drug benefits for the elderly, a clean environment, and the hundreds of thousands of dollars her opponent was getting from greedy special-interest groups. For a while it seemed that Diaz-Balart's only issue was his claim that Betancourt had only one issue. But like Betancourt, he had others: prescription drug benefits for the elderly, a clean environment, and the hundreds of thousands of dollars he was getting from civic-minded special-interest groups. In the end Diaz-Balart crushed Betancourt 65 percent to 35 percent (74,424 votes to 40,438). Three months after Betancourt's loss, a Schroth opinion poll provided an explanation: A majority of Cubans in Broward and Miami-Dade still support the embargo 60 to 28 percent. But the survey also confirmed Betancourt's assertion that U.S.-Cuba policy is "incoherent." In her campaign she had noted that "some of the same people" who support the embargo also travel regularly to Cuba and each year send hundreds of millions of dollars to friends and relatives there. Indeed the poll found 47 percent in favor of lifting travel restrictions, while 46 were against and 7 undecided. But most important, Betancourt's stand broke the embargo on debating the embargo in a real live Miami-Dade political campaign.

Nicholas Cole is an odd, gentle fellow with the manner of a man not quite of this time and place. Silver of beard, typically clothed in flowing, monkish robes, Cole is a practitioner of the ancient art of storytelling. For years he's been a regular at Renaissance festivals, coffeehouses, restaurants, bookstores, and bars around South Florida. His specialty, you might have guessed, is the medieval tale, which he delivers in full costume, often with the aid of a drum. In another life Cole was a rehabilitation counselor and special-education teacher at local schools. He sometimes claims to be a 480-year-old relic of the Renaissance who is trying to find the Fountain of Youth. But his most fantastic tale isn't about knights and ladies, dragons and goblins. It's about his 2002 run for the District 2 school-board seat against wily incumbent Solomon Stinson. Now, who would believe that?

Miss Novak, dazzling in her trademark blond wig, ersatz pearls, and unshaven chest, was present at the New Times fifteenth anniversary party in December 2002. She had this to say: "Ohhhh, you work for New Times? I've got a bone to pick with you. Do you know I've never been chosen Best Drag Queen? This is stupid! You gave it to Elaine Lancaster twice, and I've been here at least as long as she has! One year you gave it to someone I never even heard of! Every queen in town can brag they've won this thing but me! I'm really good! I mean, who doesn't love me? I look like Shelley Winters! Nobody's doing what I'm doing! I'm funny! A lot of people aren't even funny! Did I say I've been here forever? How you guys can go on, year after year, and not select me, I don't know! I've been doing this ..." Or something like that. There was a fair amount of booze involved.

We're not jealous of you Jorge, we're proud! We've seen your handsome face adorning those humorous videos, and we know the rest of the world has been chuckling with them as well. We watched you win Best New Artist at the Latin Grammys, then go on to be nominated for Best Latin Pop Album at the non-Latin Grammys. You were one of the first signed up to Madonna's new label Maverick, and not just because of those looks -- we all know the other pretty boys on the charts don't write their own songs and play their own instruments like you did for Jorge Moreno. That disc that gave us the exhilarating homage to Desi Arnaz in "Babalú," and highlighted your own songwriting skills -- and mixture of styles from pop to tropical to son -- on "Mi Sufrimiento" and "Despertare." And you can still laugh at yourself. You Cuban-American honest-to-God high-quality-product-of-Miami, you go boy!

Readers Choice: Alex Rodriguez

Nothing like it has ever happened here -- a spectacular success for both Miami and the world that came to see it. It was also a quince of sorts, our own coming out and maturing party. We were ready to host the planet's biggest international art fair and to impress those who followed it here. The Switzerland-based event dropped into the Miami Beach Convention Center with thousands of pieces of the most vaunted contemporary art; local collectors opened their doors and were received with international applause; local artists put their very best faces forward at the Design District's ancillary event -- and everyone smiled. Did people party? Yes. Did art sell? Yes. Were the well-heeled global art-setters awed? Yes. Will the fair return bigger and most likely better next year? Yes.

Readers Choice: Coconut Grove Arts Festival

We've always had a love-hate relationship with Channel 7, whose local news programs best represent the kind of town Miami is -- loud, obnoxious, superficial, sometimes ridiculous, but family, you know? Lynn Martinez, a WSVN reporter and anchor for the past twelve years, is adept at handling the station's split personality. At 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. she's professional newscaster Lynn, delivering her lines with a snap and polish that would hold up nicely at the networks. But at 7:30 we get a glimpse of Lynn the mischievous wag as she trades barbs with co-host Belkys Nerey on the silly and thoroughly enjoyable Deco Drive, which would be nothing more than a half-hour ad for the entertainment industry were it not for the evident glee with which Lynn (and the impish Belkys) finesse the clever writing.

Readers Choice: Dwight Lauderdale, WPLG-TV (Channel 10)

Working Stiffs is an insightful and fascinating account of the popularity of tintype photography at the turn of the century. Carlebach, a University of Miami professor, does a magnificent job of not only explaining but honoring the values of America's working class. "For these sons and daughters of toil, born into a society that still valued making things more than buying and consuming them, manual labor was a legitimate source of respect, if not admiration," he writes in the preface. The book's true value, of course, lies in the photographs Carlebach selected; from the teenage girls laboring as tobacco workers to the plumbers and house painters stoically holding their tools of their trade, the photographs in Working Stiffs convey the true American spirit.

Readers Choice: Self Portrait by Alonso

This hotel has its own creative director! You know the place by its former name, the Banana Bungalow, perched there at the tail end of Indian Creek on Collins Avenue. It still has that fabulous, sweeping-roofed glass-encased lobby. The Fifties rooms have not been remodeled. But the Signature Rooms have been "redecorated" by artists and designers. You can take the Honeymoon Suite, with lingerie, panties, necklaces, and bra hung on a lamp, painted in red on the walls. Or the room covered with little red plaques -- if you take one off, you can write a "secret" message on the white wall underneath. Or you can leave another message in the Message in a Bottle room, with glass bottles hanging in a corner. And the cheesy Gold Lamé room is killer. The rooms will most likely be redone by other artists next year. Down at the poolside patio there's electronica lounge music in the evening, a barbecue on Saturday afternoons and a hip, urban feel 24/7. With rates that can drop below $100, this little island can make South Beach feel cool again.

Readers Choice: Delano Hotel

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®