Even longer, and with more pictures this year. Brace yourselves.
You may find that the pictures look better with the brightness of your screen turned up a bit.
Yes, I went for a sixth time, despite the massive disappointment that was Herräng 2003. The main reason for this was that I lacked the imagination to go anywhere else. It is now nearly seven years since I have had any other sort of holiday, and one day I will have to get back to my usual holidays - clambering over archaeological sites and taking serious photographs. Another reason perhaps was that I am becoming known at the camp, and, lacking status at home, I feel that it might be worthwhile investing in gaining status elsewhere.
My first concern was not to get ill. Illness had ruined 2003. I was still recovering from a cold, but my health was sound enough. I packed various pills, and three large bottles of mosquito repellent, which went by the encouraging name of If you mosquitoes even so much as dare to dream that there is the slightest glimmer of hope that you might get anywhere near me enough to sink your filthy proboscises in my inviolate flesh, then you are DEAD, dead, do you hear me? DEAD. One molecule of this stuff will cause dodos to pity your mortality. You have been warned.
I packed the rest of my stuff. One frequently asked question is "What should I take to Herräng?" Here are some tips.
Socks - You will need a fair few of these. The American army did a lot of research into different sock combinations, and came up with the conclusion that the best was one thin pair worn inside one thick pair. I have been using this sock strategy for years now and can report that it works excellently. Your socks will get dirty far slower than if you wear one pair of socks, and your feet are kept comparatively dry. The thick sock acts as a big pad for your foot, and wicks away moisture. The thin sock allows the foot to move relative to the thick sock a bit, without the foot's rubbing on the inside of the hard shoe. Both pairs of socks should be wool-based. Don't get the chunky-knit type of thick sock, because the stitches are too big and will hurt your feet.
Shirts/tops - Dancing is a sweaty activity, and if you want to do a lot of dancing close to people, then you will want an ample supply of clean shirts. At Herräng, you do not have the time to do much laundry. You'll need about two shirts per day.
Alarm clock - Getting up in time for classes can be quite a challenge even if you do have an alarm clock. However, bear in mind that leaving your alarm clock set when you will not be there to switch it off is no way to win friends who are all desperate for sleep.
Emergency back-up mosquito repellent.
Shoes - I have wrecked about three pairs of shoes at Herräng. Do not turn up with just one pair of shoes you can dance in. Two pairs is the minimum. If you are doing a Lindy course, then the shoes you do your lessons in during the heat of the day, will get soaked in sweat. Avoid trench foot and shoe damage by changing into a dry pair for the evening, and giving your lesson-shoes a rest.
Washing powder - Enough for the one or two loads of washing that you might just find time to do.
Duvet cover - They provide a limited amount of bedding, but it is a very good idea to have your own cover.
One warm top - It doesn't rain very much, it is generally warm, and you are under shelter most of the time, but it is certainly worth having just the one warm top to wear when things are a little inclement. A good woolly jumper is what I take, and this doubles as a pillow. Others take one of those modern "fleece" things.
Isolation bags - You will generate an amount of dirty washing, and are likely to be living in proximity to many others doing the same. Make sure that you have some plastic bags so that you can quarantine those smelly socks.
Swimming costume - There is a nice beach where you can go for a swim.
Special contingency mosquito repellent.
Sandals - Some people recommend these for wearing in the shower. I use them for trips to and from the shower, so that I don't have to deal with sock-related issues.
Adapter plug - The Swedes use different shaped electrical plugs from many of the rest of us, so if you have some electrical gizmo that you hope to use, you may need an adapter to connect it to the wall sockets there.
Book - If you will have a long wait at an airport, you might take a book to read. Otherwise, this is a waste of luggage space because no one reads at Herräng. If you are not dancing or otherwise being entertained, you are fast asleep.
Notebook and pen - If you don't take notes of what you have learned, you will forget it all. This is because you will always be tired, and tired minds do not form memories well.
Medical stuff - Antihistamine is good for treating bad reactions to mosquito bites. Aspirins are good for the headaches that accompany the viruses on offer at Herräng. Many people bring support bandages for injured joints. They have a first aid kit, all labelled in Swedish, at reception at the camp, but it is better to have some of your own stuff.
Sponge scourer - A multi-purpose thing that is light and squashes down in to a small space. This year it came in handy for me when water got into my tent and I sponged it out.
Map of Stockholm - You might end up spending a day as a tourist there, or having to get across town as part of your travel arrangements. You should be able to get a decent one when you are there.
Food - You can buy food at the restaurant in one-week blocks. If you are going to be there for just a few days, you might be better off taking some food with you. You can also shop at the Kuggen.
Smart outfit - Some nights, blues nights especially, people dress up smartly. There is an ironing board in the Prop Shop at the camp, so you can get away with a bit of mild crushing of your togs in transit.
Towels - One towel is essential, and this might be overwhelmed by the demands made on it. I also take mini-towels for brow-mopping on the dance floor.
Added 2007 - Nail clippers - Some ability to shorten finger and toenails is a good idea. You really don’t want to be limping about with a sharp toenail in your shoe. My clippers get borrowed a lot.
Added 2007 - Ear Plugs - If you are going to be trying to sleep in the main camp-site near the school, or in the general accommodation in the crowded school, you may find this easier if you have something with which to stop up your ears.
Last resort mosquito repellent
I had been planning to travel to Herräng at the end of week 2, but I was booked to photograph a wedding on the Saturday, and I ended up getting a flight via Amsterdam for the Monday. I took what I hoped would be enough food for the first week there, and would eat at the restaurant for the second week. My backpack was stuffed to capacity, and I could only just lift it.
My flight was delayed, and I feared that I had missed the last bus to Herräng. At Arlanda airport information desk they had the directions to the camp given on the Herräng web-site. These directions are, in my opinion, very bad. They suggest starting by going into Stockholm (the opposite direction) on a very expensive bus (89 Kr), then making one's way across the city by underground (awkward when you have just arrived, are carrying a lot of luggage, have no coins, and don't know the place) then finding a bus stop and taking a few buses from there. What I have done for the last few years is simpler, much cheaper and more convenient, and gets you to Herräng at the same time, since the last link of the journey (a bus from Hallstavik) is the same. Here is how I did it:
From immediately outside the airport exit, take bus 806. Depending on which one you get, it might be labelled as going to Knutby or Långhundra. Tell the driver (he'll speak English) where you are trying to get to, and he'll tell you at which stop to alight (it is in the middle of nowhere). Next, take the 807 to Rimbo bus station. From here, take the 639 to Hallstavik. The timetable may suggest an impossibly quick transfer (in some cases giving the same arrival time as departure time), but fear not - the transfer is possible. From Hallstavik, take the 642 to Herräng. Again, the transfer time may seem hopelessly tight, but actually you may find that the 642 is the same bus as the 639, and you just stay on it while the driver changes the number. The cost of this journey has never exceeded 45 Kr. in total. It takes two hours. This method will not work late at night, but neither will the one recommended on the Herräng web-site. The last bus into Herräng is at 21.20.
The first thing that struck me this year was that I did not feel abroad. Everything was too safe-seeming and familiar. Gone was that tingly thrill of the alien world, and in its place was a sense of the mundane. Usually my excretory systems spend a couple of days in cautious tardiness when I go abroad, but this time, they just kept on working as though nothing was abnormal. This feeling, at once comforting and disappointing, stayed with me for the whole trip.
It was dusk when I arrived, and drizzling. It was, I would be repeatedly told, the coldest summer on record for Sweden, and had rained a lot for the last two weeks. Tradition demands that it rain whenever I try to pitch or strike my tent, so I was not worried. I wandered around, and found one girl practising tap alone in one of the marquees. The evening meeting was on, and there was hardly anyone else about. I looked over a few potential camping spots while waiting for the drizzle to ease off. I bore in mind which way was east (the rising sun), and ended up camping very close to where I have always camped, only this time with better shade [a couple of days later I was mildly concerned to see a large woodpecker pecking away at a rather big branch high above my tent]. Before I had wrestled my tent from my back-pack, some mosquitoes bit me behind the left ear.
I went down to the Folkets Hus to see what was what. One of the first things I found out about Herräng 2004 was that an evening there cost 150 Kr whereas in previous years it had been 100. This was a bit of a blow to my budget, and seemed a very steep rise. They were also being a bit more strict with passport control. I danced the first night away in the shirt I had travelled in. This was not the ideal, but it saved a trip to my tent, and being hassled again for an entrance fee on the way back. A live jazz band was playing when I arrived and I didn't want to miss much of that.
The Folkets Hus dance floor seemed unusually sticky, and the air had a stifling heat. They had all the windows closed, and condensation ran down the glass. In an effort to escape the humid tropics, I went to the dansbanan. Something seemed wrong. It felt fairly hot down there too, and it lacked the airy elegance of former times, and had instead a close feeling. The night seemed too dark, and then I realised that I could not see the night sky at all, because the entire structure had been closed in with thick black curtains. Was there a war on? No, this was to keep the sound in, and the music was played rather quietly. The DJ even admonished people for talking! There had been complaints about the noise.
The place seemed filled with strangers. In other years I had recognised a high proportion of people from the year before, but this year was populated by apparent newcomers. This remained true of the last week. A high proportion of the visitors is repeat-customers, but word seems to be getting around.
Since I had no lessons to get up for, I danced until very late, and then showered and slept.
Next day I was up late, but not especially late, and I pottered around for the day, sorting things out. I was living on food I had brought with me, and cash I had left over from last year. Going to the evening meeting (somehow I managed to be late), I was greeted by this sight at the top of the stairs. This is the over-spill from the Folkets Hus main hall. People are trying to see what is going on through a forest of heads, and some have given up. For some reason that was not clear, the organisers had forbidden people to take seats in with them, which meant that everyone had to squat uncomfortably on the hard floor. I doubt that they fitted any more people in the hall this way. This was a sign that the camp was getting too popular.
Again, I was happy to dance the night away, but this time in a much better shirt.
Next day, Wednesday, there was to be a football tournament. I had quite fancied taking part, although I didn't want to risk getting injured. As it turned out, I got up rather late, and after sorting myself out, followed the noise of cheers, and by this method found the football field. There was a cheer every half a minute or so as I walked. These were the accompaniment to a penalty shoot-out. I arrived immediately after everything was over, chatted to Cookie for a bit, and then came back. The event had clearly been a big success. Perhaps they would do it again the next week.
People were asking me about the camp video. This year, Fish (Jan Forsell) was making a documentary for Swedish television, that was destined to go out at Christmas, and so there was not enough spare time for him to make another all-action spectacular. We might make a few little skits, though. This suited me fine.
The Canadians organised a day of things Canadian (which reminds me – all the other years there has been a celebration of Swiss national day, but not this year). Not wishing to miss out on the fun, I joined the Canadian hockey team (using the argument that I was a Commonwealth subject) on the tarmac outside the Folkets Hus. Amazingly enough, I managed to score a goal for our Queen. I also broke someone’s stick by treading on it. Oops.
First Blues Night (Week 3)
I had an idea for the Blues night opening show. It was a piece of music - an absolute killer track that I was sure would knock 'em flat. I approached Fatima Teffahi with my idea, and she asked "Is it old?" I said that it was not. That was all she needed to know to make her decision. My track would not be used. I thought I would try again the following week.
I was walking back to my tent from the showers, preparing for blues night, when I caught sight of a carful of Finns I knew. The three girls were screaming with excited delight at everything they saw, and after getting out of the car, they spent a fair while jumping up and down. The Herräng effect.
I changed into my one dapper outfit (same as last year, but with the tie tied shorter), and made sure that I got a decent spot to see the opening show of blues night. Stephen Mitchell and Virginie Jensen came on stage and danced one number, and then the night began.
The previous night, it had been hot and humid in the Folkets Hus. This night was a sauna. Blues generates more heat than Lindy for two reasons. The first is that it takes up little space, and so you can get an awful lot more people into the one room. The second I'll leave you to guess. I can remember dancing a few times with a Norwegian girl. At one point my face came down and into contact with her bare right shoulder. Both my face and her shoulder were heavily beaded with sweat. My word - what a passionate dance this was. Later in the night, when the floor had cleared considerably, I danced with her again. Dry shoulder this time. I was disappointed to conclude that the microclimate of the room was far more accountable for the earlier experience than the stupendously sexy way in which I had danced.
Familiarity with Arlanda airport and Herräng had robbed me of the feeling of being abroad, and now familiarity with blues night had robbed me of the surreal feeling I had enjoyed for the first few years. Probably I am now a better blues dancer than I was those first couple of years, but I don't know that I enjoy it any more than I did then.
This year I adopted the Swedish habit of dancing two numbers with every partner as standard. Sometimes I would enjoy more, and on occasion I would lose my partner after one, but two was my norm, and I think I like this point of etiquette. Yes, sometimes it means that one is stuck with a bad partner, but at Herräng this is very rare, and one benefits far more from getting more dances, from pleasing those who like dancing with one, and for avoiding that awkward moment of indecision about whether or not to have a second dance. In Britain, this is not a problem because there is no tradition of two dances, but at a dance camp with a mix of people from various countries, I think it might be best to adopt the two-dance rule. I didn't abandon partners after one dance, but a fair few of my partners abandoned me, and it isn't a nice feeling.
Back in my tent, before falling asleep, I tried to write down a list of all the partners I had had that night. I listed only twenty. This seemed strangely few for a full night's dancing.
The Lindy hop shop this year stocked a range - yes a range - of Herräng underwear. Why anyone would ever want Herräng underpants is a mystery beyond scientific understanding, and I did notice that they didn't exactly sell out of them. Other stocked items included condoms, although I don't think they sold many of these either (the Kuggen had them cheaper, doubtless). There was a fairly extensive range of CDs and DVDs on offer, but at very high prices. Most of them were home-burned pirated material, and it was rather questionable whether these should have been stocked at all. The pirate CDs were clearly being sold for profit, as they were priced the same as the legitimate articles. True, it takes a while to put together a good compilation, and I'm sure that many of the numbers on them were good'uns, but this doesn't entirely excuse their presence in the shop, or their price.
First Cabaret Night (Week 3)
Last year, Steven Mitchell had suggested that I should host the cabaret night. This year, I did. I'm not sure quite how I ended up doing it, but I think Chester Whitmore had been asked if he was interested, and he had hesitated to say yes, but then did so when it seemed likely that I would do it with him. It was all very last-minute. At six o'clock, the meeting at which the acts for the cabaret declared themselves started in the Folkets Hus. Chester was nowhere to be found. I collared most of the acts and asked them how they would like to be introduced. Many got away. There were 28 in total. By about eight, Tim the American organiser had some idea of the order of the acts. I went away to eat. At nine, there was the evening meeting. In this, Chester and other teachers were brought up on stage and pelted with whipped cream as a punishment for being late to classes. Chester took the brunt of it, and ended up looking like a negative photograph of a black and white minstrel. I didn't have my camera on me.
I tried to brief Chester from my notes, but there were many distractions. After a while, we went to where he was lodged, and he started to get changed. I was wearing my British army lightweights and a white dress shirt with a T-shirt underneath, and had considered myself dressed. "We're MCs!" Chester called down the stairs, and he had a point. Chester didn't have a shower, but instead wiped away the whipped cream, and put clean clothes over the top. He smelled of whipped cream. No matter - there was no time. We went to the Prop Shop, and in quick time, Chester had dressed me very effectively. I wore his frayed old black tie over a spangly silver blouse that was designed for a woman very much smaller than I, and a suit jacket over this, which hid the cut and dimensions of the blouse, and the condition of the tie. I actually looked quite smart, which for me is quite an achievement. I was wearing four layers now, plus the tie and tight collar, and these would prove more than adequately warm in the panic of the evening under the stage lights.
By eleven fifteen, the running order had been typed up. They were down to 21 acts. Some had been persuaded to drop out, because the show looked as though it would be far too long. Some had dropped out voluntarily, and others were cut when Daniel of the Harlem Hotshots injured himself in a bicycle accident. I saw him on the floor of the office with a bleeding leg and an ice pack on one shoulder, and decided not to ask questions. A few days later he explained that he had ridden straight into someone coming the other way on the road, both going at high speed and neither using lights. It was apparently the other chap's fault, however, as he was on the wrong side of the road.
I heard Lennart declare that he was not going to watch the show, because he knew from experience that this many acts would take at least two and a half hours, and that was too long. The show started at midnight.
I had prepared my opening words, and almost nothing else. I went on with some balloons hanging in what I hoped was a comically limp fashion, and faced the audience. In previous years, I had always been nervous appearing on that stage, but this night I felt almost no fear at all. I made my opening speech at a slow measured pace, and then built it up as I introduced Chester. I accidentally referred to him as "my helper" and then did a bit of furious back-peddling. He said later that he didn't mind, but it was a memory that made me wince. On came Chester, and thereafter all semblance of planning perceived by the audience in what I did was illusory. I did have some stuff prepared, but never used any of it. We decided what we were going to do to introduce the next act while the last one was still on stage. My instructions were to keep things moving. Chester kept disappearing without warning. Sometimes this was to do with the fact that he was in one or two of the acts, but mostly it was mysterious. I ended up doing quite a few links alone. Making matters more complicated, a couple of acts swapped round and went on in a different order, and every second act that turned up mentioned something at the last minute like, "Oh yes, and we need another microphone" or, "Oh yes, we've decided that we'd like the curtain open before we go on."
The greatest single challenge, though, was to make a clean entrance for each link. The stage in the Folkets Hus has one solitary exit: a tiny and astonishingly precipitous unlit staircase. When an act was about to end, I would plan to enter in front of the curtain and do my link as that act got off stage, so that there would be no gap during which the stage was empty and silent. This proved impossible, because there is no way an MC can get up a flight of stairs down which a dance troupe is falling. Eventually I gave up trying, and instead started my links from off-stage with a radio mike and only fought my way onto the stage when the way was comparatively clear.
There were good moments and bad. Some of my gags went down unexpectedly well. At one point I described Chester as "a legend", and then did some back-peddling in the other direction, the memory of which made me wince audibly for days. Perhaps the least golden moment was when I announced to the audience that we were coming near the end of the show, and this was greeted by silence. I then demanded a reaction from the audience, and it was… a bit mixed. One girl at one point yelled with enthusiasm at the news that the show was nearly over. I managed to silence her and the audience with a stare. She later rescued my situation admirably, by yelling enthusiastically for the next act. I tried to get her to comment on her change of attitude, but she went all shy and hid behind her neighbour.
Wishing to end things quickly, I announced that the time had come for the performers downstairs to rise as one body, and then, wasting no time at all to move as one disciplined unit onto the stage. I think I may have surprised a lot of them with this, but I wasn't going to (even if I had been able) announce them individually. They stammered onto the stage, and I took up position near the back on one side, where my inadequacy in the shim-sham would be hidden. The stage filled up, and I realised that no one had the initiative to start the dance. I shouted a few times for someone to start the shim-sham, but out-of-sight was out-of-mind for most. Chester appeared in the far corner of the stage and caught their eyes, and between us we managed to count them in.
It was over, and I immediately got rid of my sheaf of notes and unused props. What a relief. We had batted through the entire show in one hour and fifty minutes, which I believe was pretty good going. People tell me that they didn't notice the awkward pauses and flagrant extemporising, and were generally very kind about my performance. The Brits seemed pleased that a fellow had flown the flag. I was even asked about professional appearances by people who flatteringly assumed that I have ever been paid to do that sort of thing. That isn't to say that I wouldn't like to paid to do that sort of thing, mind. By the end of the show, Chester's smell of whipped cream had matured under the lights into something quite remarkable.
This was the start of a very good night. I started dancing rather well (for me). I danced a lot. As the night wore on the floor cleared and I opened up the throttle. One frustration of dancing well, is that I become unaware of the moves I am dancing. Suddenly everything seems to fit the music, and I find myself thinking, "Oo - what did I do there? That was a really good move. I must remember it for future use. No use - I've no idea." I notice that the very best dances I have are to unfamiliar music. Every time I hit a break or emphasise a note in an unfamiliar track, it gives me a lot more satisfaction, and my dancing seems to have a smoother quality to it than when I force my dance to hit the expected breaks of a familiar track. I danced one fast number I had never heard before, and everything came together. I threw my partner around in a series of unrepeatable leaps and spins. At the end of this, she threw her arms around me and exclaimed, "Yes! That was the best dance EVER!" which I decided to take as a compliment. I might have said the same but for a more reticent nature.
A group, mainly of Finns, decided to take a sauna, and I was invited. Though Blues night had started as a mixed sauna, this would be my first proper sauna. To the incredulity of the Finns, I explained that this was also the first time I had ever been in a room full of naked people, not all of whom were male. We were also going to be in close proximity and terribly sweaty. Being British, I have never had to go through this sort of thing before. At school, there were showers after games with the other boys, and other than that female nudity has in my experience been one woman at a time, and never a stranger. The Finns, it seems, have saunas in their homes and from a young age take saunas with the rest of their families. Since this was my first sauna, and I was amongst the world experts who confidently defied the notice forbidding the throwing of water onto the heater, the conversation was on the topic of saunas. All the Finns had comments and personal anecdotes about taking saunas, and these usually drew attention to the various benefits and side effect(s) of saunas.
- Benefit: lots of sweating which gets your skin clean and stops you getting bloated. Side effect: death through dehydration.
- Benefit: intensified effects of alcohol leading to light-headed feelings. Side effect: death through alcohol poisoning.
- Benefit: tremendously bracing feeling when taking a cold plunge in icy water after a sauna. Side effect: death through cardiac arrest.
I couldn't help but notice a pattern in the side effects. It was something like 80 degrees centigrade in there, which I would have thought fatal enough on its own. You can cook food at that temperature. The showers were cold, and even the stalwart Finns gasped at the contrast. After each shower, it was back into the oven. "I think your British attitude is ridiculous," said one stark naked blonde Finn in her prime, as she sat back and slowly ladled cool water over her closed eyes, and down over her milk-white skin and perfect breasts, "There is nothing erotic about saunas at all." She was of course entirely right.
Yes, saunas do get you clean, but they take ages to do so. I am glad to have tried one, and very glad that I tried it in the company I had. I would do it again under the same circumstances, but wouldn't do it with taciturn strangers, or alone, or often.
I went to bed at 11.22 a.m.
I got up at 3.16 p.m. with a sore throat. This was the beginning of a cold. Vitamin C tablets, and will-power (I'm sure the will-power was the greater force) suppressed the symptoms, and I suffered significantly for only about two days. For the rest of the holiday, I coughed a little and had to blow my nose every few hours.
I had offered help in preparing for the party, but none was needed or expected. This year had a more professional attitude than previous years, and I think most of the decorators and the like were being paid in one way or another (many I think were paid in free lessons).
I made a medical face mask out of a handkerchief and some white ribbon I found in the Prop Shop. I also noticed the doll's house furniture I had left there the year before, which impressed me because it was neatly boxed and labelled. The rest of my costume was some medical blues that had been given to me years ago by two nurses I lived with, to use as pyjamas. They had fallen apart, but I sewed them back together when I realised their new usefulness. It felt very strange to dance in my old pyjamas.
The party started in the dansbanan, where tables had been set up around the edge, and the throng milled about. On the way there I passed this interestingly attired lady [left] who was getting people to help themselves to "sexually transmitted diseases" in the form of fizzy pop in plastic cups. She had the patter, mind, and many people drank her wares.
Booze transfusions were on offer at this table [right]. This proved a popular table, and I arrived too late to get a sample.
The benefits of various ailments were being promoted. Here we see Lorenz Ilg extolling the virtues of diabetes. He is giving the sexy nurse on the left a shot of insulin. More of her later.
I had imagined that they might have gone to the effort of making the entire place smell of disinfectant, which is a strong mental association I have with hospitals. Alas, this point of verisimilitude was overlooked.
There was one woman who dressed up as a witch doctor, and who played her part wordlessly and without ever smiling for half the night. At one point she grabbed at my hair and then pretended to bind some of it into her voodoo doll.
Here we see Mark from America shouting himself hoarse in an effort to get people to eat themselves to the point of obesity. He thought up a laudable number of advantages of obesity, and continued to yell them at the receding backs of the crowd as it left for the Folkets Hus. The next day he had trouble speaking. He was the "question and answer man" at the evening meetings.
There could be no man greater than Peter Loggins for advertising smoking. This human chimney is learning from the expert Doctor Ilg just what good he has done himself by his years of addiction. The girl in red was distressed that I caught her in this photograph with a cigarette in her hand, because, so she claimed, this was the only time in her life she had lit up. Clearly she hasn't got the hang of smoking, though. That mask would filter out all the goodness.
Some people were far more injured than others, but there didn't seem to be any triage system for sorting them out. The girl on the left is clearly in a bad way, but the one on the right is showing the camera the tiny extent of her injuries. At least, I think that's what she's doing.
Here we see some paramedics, with blue lights to help them get across a crowded dance floor. In the background you can see more doctors in real medical uniforms. A bizarre truth about Lindy hoppers is that half of them are doctors. The Folkets Hus had in it hundreds of people wearing real hospital uniforms, with real face masks and all the trimmings. If you are witness to a genuine injury in Herräng, do not call out "Is there a doctor in the house?" because you might be crushed in the stampede.
It was a disgraceful four hours before this man was seen by a doctor, and a further hour before the knife was found. Perhaps he confused the staff by looking too much like a doctor, and not enough like a patient. One day, all nurses will look like this.
I usually make you suffer a picture of me. Here I am hiding my shameful lack of beard behind my home-made mask. The lady next to me is sporting a genuine 1970s Norwegian nurse's uniform. She told me that it was a bit warm for dancing in.
Some people actually failed to recognise me without my beard, which surprised me at first, but then I suppose that my height, voice, manner, and clothes all pale as items of recognition next to the magnificence of my beard. Fear not, everyone, the beard is returning and should be back to its glorious self next year. Shaving was invented by the Devil, on the same day he came up with ironing, and base ball caps.
I milled my way to one side of the dansbanan, just as they announced that the dance of the sexy nurses was about to start upstairs. The crowd then made its way incredibly slowly upstairs. I was towards the back, and not at all pushy. By the time I got into the main hall upstairs, the dance was half-way through, and in front of me was an impenetrable and opaque wall of standing people. I didn't see the dance (danced to the track "the stripper" - subtle eh?), but was able to take this shot by holding the camera high over my head. I'm not sure what proportion of people got to see the dance, but plenty of people were in my situation.
After the dance, the sexy nurses (I did not invent that term - this was how they described themselves) went among the audience and started examining people with tongue depressors. The dancing then started up.
In the foyer downstairs, Hanna and Åsa were dispensing gloves and pills after very quick examinations. I could have pointed out a few spelling mistakes in the reception sign, but decided that this would help no one. Hanna examined a few mosquito bites on my hand, and then gave me a huge cup of pills. The first one I put in my mouth turned out to have liquorice at its core. As anyone with taste buds knows, aniseed is the most foul taste imaginable, and I heaved involuntarily. There was nowhere in the press of the crowd to spit out the pill, so I bravely swallowed it whole, and then picked out all the Smarities (discus-shaped chocolates) in the cup and tried to use these to drown the taste of the first poison pill.
They had a digital camera set up on a tripod, and a photographer to man it, photographing anyone who sat on this sofa. Here we see Gunnar sitting between two rather fetching nurses. Until recently, I have not considered myself much of a leg-man but these came close to converting me. In the next evening meeting, they showed many of the photographs taken. They did this to an inspired choice of music: the recent very slow version of "Mad World". The nurse on the left in this picture appeared in half of the shots. She was having a very good time.
Week 3 Reflections
So ended Week 3 at Herräng 2004. I had been feeding myself, and had misjudged the amount of food I would eat. I ate the paté sandwiches, the cheese sandwiches, the pork pie and pickle, the pasties, but the sliced ham went off before I got to it, and I abandoned a loaf of very nice bread after a crow had had a go at it. I nearly lost my pork pie to a cat that sneaked into my porch and started dragging it out of its plastic bag. Fortunately, the rustling woke me up, and the offending feline obeyed when I asked it to leave. I brought the remains of the 1 kg bag of peanuts home with me. I bought milk from the Kuggen to have with my cereal, although usually I had to buy a full litre of the stuff, and in Sweden you have to put up with UHT milk (Ultra Heat Treated - tastes markedly inferior to British pasteurised milk). I then spent 900 Kr on food for Week 4 at the rather poorly-named Yum Yum restaurant. This is not brilliantly cheap, but it is very convenient.
Despite my catching a cold, the first week had been good. I had had two nights of very good dancing, and a couple of decent nights' dancing. The weather had not been great, but the cold had kept the mosquitoes down, which was fine by me. This was the best year for humans and the worst for mosquitoes in my experience. Whereas in previous years I had ended up looking like a mass of red lumps with eyes at the top, this year I still looked distinctly human, with just a moderate scattering of bites. There had been problems. The heat of the Folkets Hus dance floor was ridiculous at times. The teachers were nowhere to be seen on the dance floor in the evenings. The piped music had been of lower quality than previous years. My lower back had hurt all week, and sitting hunched on the floor in the evening meetings had not helped one bit. The crowding on the dance floor was such that I came close to asking for a lesson in Lindy moves that work in very small spaces (and for someone to crack my back into place). I was sick of jig-walks and aborted tuck-turns.
Of some problems, the camp organisers were aware. One clever way they had of dealing with it was to make little videos to show in the evening meetings. The boats by the lake broke, and a very comic video was made with Frida Segerdahl shown fashioning a new oar from a felled tree. The laundry service was in a great mess, and a short video showed slow pans across broken machines, and piles of washing, set to discordant slow horror film music. The showers were cold, and we were treated to a video involving Daniel, who misses very few opportunities to take his clothes off in public, shivering under a cold shower while trying to look stylish in sunglasses, and telling us how warm the water was.
It was Saturday - registration day. Former experience had taught me not to rush to register. I went to the beach, became one of the hardy few who braved swimming in the cold water, and returned. That was the first time in years I had made it to the beach. One morning, after a night's dancing, and before bed, I spoke to a beautiful Spanish girl, who had also just finished dancing, and was off to the beach for a swim in the morning sun before going to sleep. It was very tempting to follow her, but I didn't think that she was inviting me.
That night at the evening meeting to welcome the newcomers to Week 4, they introduced the teachers and then showed a video made in 1993 of teachers at the camp dancing in a jam. I imagined that it would be interesting to see how different they looked back then, and how differently they danced. To my astonishment, they looked just a bit younger, and they danced in exactly the same way that they do now, even doing the same signature flashy moves in the jam.
The Kuggen. Rumour has it that it makes most of its money for the year in the one month that the camp is on. Here you see the entrance, outside which is its usual bric-a-brac stall offering all manner of late 20th Century junk. I never saw anyone buy any. Inside, you may discover various products with eye-popping names. Look out for packets of sweets called "Familie Guff", "Gott & Blandet", and "Käck." Marvel at chocolate bars called "Nobla" and "Pig All". A jar of mangled red stuff caught my eye, that was called "Road Kill" (okay, actually it was "Rödkål" but my mind makes quick attempts at translations using the available clues). A soft drink called "Shio" seemed interesting. "Ekonomi Köks" loo roll might come in handy, and I have to admire a language in which the word for butter is "Smör". First prize, though, goes to a spice on the spice rack called "Kockens Anis Hel". Who on Earth would want any of that in his food? This is also the only shop I have been in, in which the checkout girl had black hair with blonde roots.
I registered for Balboa/Shag. I had decided on this soon after reading that the course was to be offered. Lindy hop at the top level isn't much fun, and for the last few years I hadn't learned many useful moves. Lindy hop is also quite tiring, and I well remembered how knackered I got during lessons. I felt that I was on the cusp of cracking Balboa, and that a week's course ought to do it for me. I was far from alone. For reasons unknown to me, the camp organisers were amazed that so many people wanted to do the course. They had to split us into two groups, and rearrange the teachers accordingly. We were gathered in the dansbanan to be divided up. Those with "more than six months'" experience in Balboa were asked to stand on one side of the floor. I went with this group, although I didn't know that I belonged in it. I had had about two lessons a year for about five or six years. How much experience was that? The other side of the floor was much emptier, and people were asked to cross over. I walked across. I think I made the right decision, but I really have little idea. I think I would have coped with being in the other group, but I was on holiday and didn't want any pressure.
One great thing about the Balboa course was that it was not very tiring. Much of the time I didn't even break sweat, which meant that I got through far fewer shirts. I had more energy left for the evening dances. One annoyance was that it was VERY slow. Going over the basics is fine, and hearing a bit about the history is fine, but all the lessons involved an awful lot of talking, and we learned very few moves indeed. The course was supposed to be in (collegiate) shag as well, but we ended up only having two lessons in this discipline, and I don't think I could social dance shag with so little material.
Balboa is two dances. There is the original Balboa, or simply "Balboa" or "pure Balboa" which is danced on the spot with torsos welded together, and there is the later "Bal swing" or simply "swing" which involves breaking away from one's partner a bit every now and then. The latter is the more showy dance. Peter Loggins insisted that once a couple attracts attention to itself, it is no longer dancing Balboa.
They certainly had heavyweights to teach the course. Two of our teacher-couples were competition champions at it (Minn Vo and Corina Acosta, and Nick Williams and Denise Paulino), and Peter Loggins claims to have named many of the basic moves after the old-time dancers and choreographers he got them from. We were also taught by Mike Faltesek, who now seems connected with the Harlem Hotshots in some way. Corina was ill most of the time and we saw little of her. Minn was doubtless a very good dancer, but a little confusing to listen to. Nick had one of those side partings that one occasionally sees on an American. I think that to get a side-parting like that, one has to start very young, and to train the follicles to grow in new directions by method of severe regular combing. By adulthood, one is left with an impressive self-parting hair style, but a rather limited range of possible styles. Anyway, his teaching was fine, although it shared the slowness of the others, and clashed amusingly at times with what Peter had to say.
Peter has a very competitive attitude to dancing, and puts great emphasis on "authenticity". Personally, I am not at all competitive. I want to dance well, I want to improve, but the moment I think that I am dancing to beat someone else, or that someone else is judging me, or trying to intimidate me with his skill, I stop having fun. At Herräng, they have trouble getting people to jump into jam circles, and surely part of this is that Brits and Europeans just aren't anywhere near as competitive as Americans, and Americans make it all so blinking competitive. As for authenticity, well I certainly see it as less important than fun, and do rather consider it as contrary to the spirit of jazz. If people in 1933 decided that authenticity was vital, the dance would have stopped developing there and then. Were people in those days saying, "No - you can't do that new step. It's not part of the authentic original repertoire!"?
Anyway, Peter was highly praising of my ability at Balboa, repeatedly calling it “awesome” (pronounced Ah-s’m). Now, once in every six years (on average) a British subject might witness something that so staggers his mind that he really cannot take it in. It is beyond his mental capacity to encompass. He is awe-stuck. If he is feeling unusually loquacious, he might actually use the word “awesome”. Americans, however, are not quite so sparing with this term. I told one that I’d meet him in five minutes for a rehearsal after he'd had a quick wash. “That’d be awesome!” was the reply. This rather devalues Peter’s kind praise.
A man who looked rather out of place, with a white sweatshirt with a picture of Elvis on the front, was staring at me that night. I thought that this was odd, but let it go. He asked me if he had made me angry. I said that he had not. He assured me that he was not gay. I went off to sit with some others. He turned up a short while later with a bottle of beer for me. Someone from the bar downstairs was with him, I think to make sure that he was giving the drink to someone else, and not drinking it himself. Satisfied, the barman from downstairs left us. I didn't know what the right thing to do was. The man sat down near us, and stared about him silently. It was difficult to include him in the conversation, as he seemed to have nothing in common with the rest of us. After a long silence, he started ranting about Swedes being not terribly nice people (he used stronger language) and that Adolf Hitler had the right idea and should have taken Sweden. In the space of a few seconds, the barman and a sidekick appeared, and escorted the man out. This was pretty impressive security. I later talked to the barman who said that he had spent an hour watching that guy. I saw the same man again another night. They couldn't keep him out at passport control because he was a local and knew how to get through the woods. He was an annoying drunkard, but I think a harmless enough one.
Somehow, the barrier at the passport control check-point got smashed. It is difficult to envisage someone so desperate to go dancing that they would drive a car through it, but it seems that someone really did go to those lengths. Some people just can’t get enough of the Folkets Hus.
Table football was a popular pastime. The table is free, good quality, and good wrist exercise. Some people cheated by practising, but most played with a healthy sporting degree of mediocrity. It is noteworthy that the least useful of the rows of plastic men is the one with the most on it - the "five guys" row in midfield. After a brief debate on how to spell Mo (Moe?), I labelled the blue players. It was said that no one would get this obscure joke. The next person to show up, an American called Tim, immediately said "Hey - I like your five guys named Mo." That was nice.
Sleep is a tricky thing at Herräng. One has to judge it carefully, and do without much of it. There is a painful decision to be made again and again: whether or not to leave the dance floor which is still jumping to the music, in order to stand a chance of doing lessons the next day. In the first week, I had no lessons or paid-for breakfasts to get up for, and so I could dance all night without much of a problem. Doing this in Week 4, while doing a Balboa course, would be a lot harder.
In fact, this year, I did pretty well on the sleep front. I danced through the night several times, even in Week 4. Once I danced through the night, ate breakfast, then took my first lesson, and then went to sleep. I never needed my torch because it was never still dark when I went to bed. I was a lot better at snatching useful batches of forty winks during the day. I also worked out how to survive the nights better.
The body is at its lowest ebb at about 4.30 in the morning. This is the sentry duty least liked in the army, and is the time that secret police pick to raid people's homes. At this time, it is very difficult to enjoy dancing. I found that my body was physically able and strong, but my eyes wanted to close, and the part of my head around them was sleepy. The trick is to rest at this point, perhaps sleep for an hour, and eat cake and ice cream. I was amazed how much a rest and some sugar could pep me up. The difficulty stems from the fact that it is at around the time when the soul-sapping sleepiness kicks in, that the floor starts to clear. Until that time, everyone is trying to dance at once, and the floor is too crowded to dance properly, and this year especially, is too hot to be comfortable on. Just when people start flagging and dropping out is when you want to start dancing, and this is when the sleepiness hits you.
I remember one night when the sleepy period was on me. I had refuelled with brownie and vanilla ice cream, but still my eyes were unhappy that I was awake. I was dancing with one girl who said, "Do you have any idea how bored you look?" I know that it quashes the fun of Lindy to dance with someone who doesn't appear to be having fun, so I went to some effort to look happier, but the fact is that it was an effort. I was dancing, but I was not having fun. I was going through the moves competently but joylessly. However, I was on the mend, and the act of smiling can make one feel better. With my next dance, I made an effort to smile, and tried to get my partner to smile back at me. She did! Over the space of about four dances I found my second wind, and then danced contentedly for the rest of the night. Once I was over that 4.30ish hurdle, I found that the rest of the morning was a doddle. Trying to dance through it is the mistake.
Having written all the above, I should also add that getting up was not easy. On a couple of mornings, I noticed a strange phenomenon, which was the twenty-minute blink. I would look at my alarm clock, blink sleepily, and the minute hand would jump by twenty-minutes. This could happen a few times on the trot. Another strange thing that puzzled me for a while was that my alarm clock failed to go off three times. The third time, I realised what had actually been happening. My alarm clock had gone off, and I had switched it off, but then fallen asleep before forming the memory of having switched it off. An hour or two later, when waking properly, I would be annoyed and puzzled by my clock's failure. The clock was innocent. I missed a few breakfasts, and one and a half first-lessons.
The Yum Yum restaurant complained that people were taking food out at breakfast to eat later. This, it was said, was ruining its economics. I'd have thought that the removal of a few slices of bread and ham by some people was more than compensated for by the large number of people who slept through breakfast entirely.
One fellow Brit there was the co-founder of "mobile clubbing." He demonstrated this in an evening meeting. At a certain time on the clock in the Folkets Hus, people in the audience stood up and started dancing on the spot to their own Walkmans. He then appeared and explained that this was mobile clubbing, and a short video was shown of one of the first times that this activity was organised. We saw images of the main waiting area at a railway station in London. Suddenly, people here and there all started dancing to their beat of sounds only they could hear. Stations were chosen because they had a large flat public area, a clock that everyone involved could see at once, and a constantly changing audience. He had organised such things in a few other cities including Berlin, and was about to do a simultaneous one in two cities either side of the Atlantic, organised in part through a web-site. All highly odd.
Random English Isn't Necessarily Cool
Foreigners do have a strange habit of employing English words without apparent regard for their meaning. The Swedes, though they speak excellent English, are no exception. I noticed a brand of washing-up liquid called Yes, and a shower gel by the bizarre name of Axe. If it's short and English, people seem to think that it sounds good. I would hesitate to buy a shower gel named after a tool for chopping wood in my own language, but perhaps a foreign word for axe might sound right to me. I doubt it, though. I wonder what product names I can look forward to seeing in the future. Skin cream called Chisel perhaps, or a deodorant called With.
Sweden has a reputation in Britain for being a land where safety regulations are very tight. I have to say that this does not in any way accord with what I see there. I doubt very much that the Herräng camp would be allowed to carry on as it does, were it in Britain. It is radically overcrowded. There are no fire drills. They happily leave papers on the floor where people could slip on them. Electrical cables are seldom taped down. They put paper posters up on staircases. They light fireworks on stage (in Britain one is not even allowed to smoke on stage). They ride bikes around at night with no lights. The stage at the Folkets Hus has a death-trap staircase leading to it on one side, and the other side is cut off completely. They have normal light switches on the walls of bathrooms (illegal in Britain, where we pull strings attached to switches in the ceiling). They drive along and use mobile 'phones as though this were in no way hazardous. You can go to prison for that in my country. In Britain, we watch organised firework displays run by qualified people wearing safety equipment, and cordoned off behind a rope barrier. In Sweden at New Year, everyone gets roaring drunk and lets off fireworks at random, and the hospitals are full.
In one evening meeting, Lennart said that the British are "still driving on the left". "What do you mean 'still'?" I spoke out. For your information, dear reader, countries that drive on the left have very much lower death rates on the roads. Last time I checked, Britain had one sixth as many deaths per 100,000 per year as the lowest of the European countries that drive on the right. SO THERE. If you insist on driving on the wrong side of the road, then you are also choosing to drive left-sided, using the wrong eye to judge the oncoming traffic, and with the wrong hand on the steering wheel. Not really the place for this, I suppose, but it has to be said.
Sunday Week 4
My lessons started. I learned the beginner Balboa step that I was soon to abandon in favour of something much smaller and vaguer. We naturally spent a while on the correct posture and connection. The difference between partners was very great. Some partners I tessellated with easily, while others felt awkward for some reason. The British girls were very hard to connect with, preferring a seemly inter-torso distance, and disdaining any degree of hugging.
That evening, we had a live jazz band, composed of young Swedish players fresh from music college. They were much appreciated, and seemed to love playing for us. They had played the previous night too. They played for a cabaret by the teachers. This included some dancing of course, but also a song from Fayard Nicholas, a solo by Chester on glasses filled with differing quantities of water, and a very long solo by Fatima on the toothbrush. What amazed many people is that she used toothpaste, and had to keep spitting out the foam. I'd have thought that a dry brush would have worked better, but her technique seemed pretty good. Cookie came on and impressed many people with her bluesy rendition of Cry Me A River. I noted with pleasure how the band adapted to her as she changed speed and volume, and repeated sections, showing what sensitive proper jazz musicians they were.
More dancing until late. One minor crisis was precipitated by my leaving my main towel to dry on a washing line. It rained. Before the towel was dry, it rained again. My main towel was out of use for three days, and I had to make do with my tiny brow-mopping towels.
Posters for the Hep Cat club. This is a club from the university town of Lund in southern Sweden. Their trademark is to wear hats. I once went to an enormous party at "The Slaughterhouse" in Malmo, and the Hep Cats were there, and instantly they could be picked out from the multitude, so it is an effective trademark. I am rather jealous of the quality of their posters, and will one day have to try and come up with something of this standard. My guess is that they were the creation of just one or two people - graphically skilled enthusiasts and members of the club. Getting a swing dance scene going in Newcastle is proving tricky.
Monday Week 4
I missed my first lesson, due to apparent alarm failure (see above). I was later told that it consisted almost entirely of talking and that I hadn't missed much.
I had talked to Mandi the music lady about my track for the blues night show. She listened to the opening seconds of it, to make sure that it wasn't "offensive" (this was a type of offence that had nothing to do with foul language). Long before it got to the really good bit, she was satisfied, and said that some Russian girls were going to do the show, and that she would point them in my direction.
I had talked to Frida about some classes I could offer for the evenings. I offered two: ska, and sticking hands. "Sticking hands" is the usual translation of chi sao, a technique used in Wing Chun style kung fu. Connection in Lindy hop is vital, and is usually done with the tenuous bridge of a single pair of held hands. Sticking hands is the connection technique in Wing Chun. With this, as soon as one fighter puts a hand on the wrist of his opponent, he can sense what his opponent is up to, and by feel alone he can react to defend himself or strike when an opportunity arises. It allows people to fight blindfolded. The similarity with Lindy connection is very great. With good Lindy connection, a follower can be blindfolded and follow just by feel. I am certain that my time studying Wing Chun was very useful to my Lindy ability. Great force is not involved. It is more to do with sensitivity. I think men might learn connection especially well this way, because if they get it wrong, they get hit, whereas a man might go a long time in dance before realising that his connection technique is poor. I tried to explain this to Frida, but I don't know how convinced she became. She time-tabled a ska class, but not a sticking hands one.
Of course, I didn't know when the class would be, and suspected that it would be sprung on me. I met Skye Humphries with his new van de Graaff haircut, and he complimented me on my compèring the cabaret. It is nice when the teachers start talking to me unprompted. I took this opportunity to use the CD player in the gym to sort out my ska tracks for the lesson. If anyone asked, I could say that Skye told me I could. The sounds of ska immediately attracted some curious folk, interested to hear something so different from swing. One was a DJ who used to play ska.
My timing was good. At the evening meeting, it was announced that I would teach a ska class that night. Inevitably, I was asked to do a demonstration, this time by Catrine Ljunggren. I leapt up on stage, and heard the eager anticipation in the room. Just when it seemed right to do so, I said "No." Big laugh. Catrine gave me several good feed-lines. At one point she asked what people did ska for. I said that as far as I could remember we used to do it for… fun. Another big laugh.
I have skipped a bit. That evening, we had been asked to arrive on time for the evening meeting, because there would be "something special". This turned out to be a production from the Harlem Hotshots called Black and Tan Fantasy. It was a lot of old movie clips and slides projected onto a backdrop, with dancers in front on the stage. Sometimes the dancers were dancing the exact same steps as the old-timers on the screen, but at other times the emulation was more in-the-spirit-of rather than exact. I think my favourite bit was when Hanna, Frida, Åsa, and Fatima danced a version of the shim sham. What made it so good was that they all danced the same dance in very different ways. When four dancers dance in the same way, the eye always concentrates on one of the four. Always one catches the eye, perhaps by making mistakes, or by being especially good, or early on the beat, or pretty. When all four dancers have their own radically different styles, the eye wanders to all of them, as each offers the eye a reason to look at her. Hanna was angular and vigorous, Frida was small and full of characterful little moves, Åsa was curvy and muscular, and Fatima was thin and full of hesitant chic. All four were good.
After the meeting, I grabbed my CDs and walked up to the marquee by the school where my lesson would be. I had told people to bathe in repellent, because past experience had told me that a white open-sided illuminated marquee at dusk is a Mecca for mosquitoes. As it turned out, the mossies didn't both us power-skanking ska dancers, but instead went next door to where Bill Borgida was teaching one of his connection lessons (he taught one every night for a week), where easier more static prey was to be found. [One day I took an opportunity to ask Bill Borgida about his extraordinary accent. He insisted that he had no accent. If you meet him, listen to the way he says a word like forward. It comes out something like "fer-werd". Bill should have realised that the only person in the world with no accent at all is me.]
I started with a smallish class, but very rapidly the numbers rose and rose. I never did a count, but there must have been well over fifty, and many people watching. My ska skills came back to me quicker this year than in previous years, and I did some of the steps well enough to get ripples of applause. I was delighted with the enthusiasm of my pupils, and the class whipped along. Not many did the steps well, but they made up for it with having fun. At the end, I was amazed to receive wild applause and cheers, and for a while people free-danced to some tracks I put on. Smiling girls came up to me, offered me drinks, and asked for another lesson. Great stuff. I'm told that word got about that the class was a hoot. Perhaps one year I'll be able to persuade them to play a ska track in the evening dance. Certainly not this year.
Tuesday Week 4
After nine Balboa classes on the trot, I started to wonder about when the shagging would start.
Fayard Nicholas was there again. He had been there when I first went to Herräng in 1999. He is now married to the tall glamorous woman who was looking after him then. This was to be his night of nostalgia. In the evening, they showed old movies of his tap dancing, and he answered questions about the old days. He was clearly enjoying being there. [An American told me that he has an old-fashioned accent that is virtually extinct.] This went on for an hour and half. He is a charming man, and this time I had enough energy to listen to him with pleasure. Others reacted as I did the first time, though. Having to squat on the floor for that long in the heat doesn't help, while waiting for the evening dancing to start. It ended with one of the many compulsory standing ovations.
That evening there was a tango class, which was partly a charity event for a South American charity favoured by one of the camp's organisers. I joined a bit late and struggled somewhat. Lorenz Ilg was the main teacher, and he was very encouraging, but I really don't think I've cracked this dance. One of the really difficult things about it is circulating the room. If the couple in front of me stops, I can't cope. On sale as part of the event were many of the (allegedly unused) T-shirts that Lennart had been given over the years. He had a vast hoard of them, all emblazoned with promotional logos of swing dance events. Personally I do not understand why anyone would want this sort of clothing. Why would I want the word Lindy Hopper written across my chest? Why are people so keen to part with cash for T-shirts advertising events that happened in the past?
In the showers, a chap introduced himself to me. He had decided to go to Herräng for the first time that year, for all four weeks, after reading my web-site. He was not the first person to admit to this site's questionable influence. What, dear reader, do you think is a reasonable finder's fee for me? 10%?
Wednesday Week 4
Wednesday started at eight o'clock in the morning with a shag class. This was an energetic class in a fast dance. Apparent alarm clock failure (see above) meant that I arrived late, and in no state to learn much. This was not a master-stroke of time-tabling. I had another lesson immediately afterwards, but decided that it was wise to go to breakfast first to fuel up first and then join that lesson late. I was not alone.
Wednesday midday was time for "cultural activities". I went along to join Gunnar who had organised a boule contest. The number of entrants was not vast, and to reach the final, I had to beat a grand total of two people. I did not win the final (an Australian woman did), but for my efforts, Gunnar took a piece of paper and wrote on it "2 scoops of ice-cream for Lloyd - Gunnar", and gave it to me. The winner got a voucher for four scoops. He didn't know if this would work, but I was later able to tell him that his authority was good in the ice-cream parlour, where I successfully exchanged my voucher for some mint-choc-chip, and rum and raisin.
It may surprise readers from Blighty that the Swedes eat Walls ice cream. Here you see the Walls logo of a swirly heart on a bowler-hatted clown. There the company is called "Great British Ice Cream" or GB Glace. The stuff they sold in the ice cream parlour all said Carte D'Or on the boxes, but the range of flavours was not the same as in Britain. Perhaps now Walls is a huge multinational. I wonder if the Swedes eat the sausages too. My guess is that most Brits would have imagined that the Swedes would eat ice creams from somewhere far more culinary than Britain.
Instead of football, there would be basketball. At 12.45 in the gym, the teams gathered, and I joined in. The original idea was that different dance classes would form teams (e.g. Advanced Lindy versus Balboa/shag) but this idea collapsed quickly. We were efficiently and fairly sorted into three teams and away we went. While the other two teams played, we were tasked with coming up with a name for ourselves. My first two suggestions of The Lindbergh Lemmings and The Harlem Pigs-trotters were instantly vetoed. My third suggestion, The Harlem Globe-Hoppers was accepted in the absence of anything else.
Each team had more players than it needed, so we substituted each other frequently. The gap between people like me, who had never played (I played it once, when I was eleven, on a net-ball court - does that count?), and the best there was huge. I didn't know the rules. The best guys there would steam across the floor and then leap up into the air, and do several vigorous swirling motions with the ball before suddenly going all deft and gently floating the ball into the net. All my goals were disallowed for offences I never saw, but I think I was still someone worth having - better, that is, than an empty space. I think that's about as far as I can accurately self-praise on this issue. Some people there were very competitive, and it's a wonder that no one got hurt. I came away with a nice big bruise from Mark's elbow.
More lessons in the afternoon, then a rest before blues night.
Because, according to Mandi, I had run so fast from the meeting the previous night, there was no opportunity to hook up with the Russian girls doing the blues opening show. They by now had chosen their own music. I took along my CD again, and this time did, in the early hours of the morning, ask the DJ to stick it on. He listened to it, agreed that it was great, but feared to put it on lest even then he should get into trouble with the DJ police. A shame, because I longed to dance to it, as it is EPIC. I also wanted to be the guy who discovered this track. Will it remain unused by blues dancers for another year? Should I write what it is here? Not sure. More on music later.
Blues night started with this show by the Russian girls. Very effective table use, there, I think you'll agree. Steven Mitchell came on for a spell to dance with Catrine, and then the dancers came down to the main floor. One impossibly beautiful Russian girl picked me out, but I didn't dance with her long, nor really showed her what I could do, because I find myself too afraid to connect properly with some very good dancers, for fear of breaking them.
I danced through the night of course, but don't have many very strong memories of this night. All the best moves I danced were one-offs, never to be repeated, which is frustrating, but perhaps the way things ought to be.
One effect of dancing lots of blues with one person, is that after a while, there is less need for the leader to lead complicated or varying moves. Just holding and moving slowly on the spot can be nice. Less can be more. I wonder if blues dancing like this only works in a room with lots of other people - whether it is important to have the other people there to ignore. Could a couple blues dance for hours in its own living room alone? Perhaps the other people are needed for atmosphere, and perhaps the possibility of going into the kitchen to make a cup of tea would ruin the moment. One has to be in another world.
Another thing I have been pondering is what the best behaviour is after starting to get an erection. With a night of passionate music, in which chaps and chapesses dance ever so closely with each other, it is only reasonable to expect that this is a possibility. It doesn't happen often to me, but once or twice a blues night it might. What is the best course of action? Let us run through the most obvious possibilities:
- Leave the floor immediately, giving no explanation.
- Leave the floor immediately, giving a false explanation like "Terribly sorry, but I've just remembered I've left the cat in the oven to dry out".
- Leave the floor immediately, giving a true explanation: "Terribly sorry, but I'm afraid I've started to get an erection, and imagine that you'd prefer me to leave."
- Continue dancing, but keeping one's groin away from one's partner. If she steps in, leap back to avoid contact.
- Continue dancing, taking no action to avoid her detecting one's altered configuration.
Let us analyse the merits of these possibilities.
- This one is clearly rude.
- This one is rude, silly, and dishonourable.
- This one may cause more embarrassment than the chap intended to avoid. It also puts the lady in a difficult spot, because she might want to ask him to carry on anyway, but feel that this would be an unladylike request.
- This one is decidedly sub-optimal for one's dancing.
- Some women would take this is a disgusting liberty, perhaps not having considered the chap's alternatives. Some, I'm sure, wouldn't mind a bit. I do hope that all women appreciate that a chap has far from perfect control of his configuration, and that they take this into account when judging his behaviour.
Anyone with any thoughts on this topic is welcome to e-mail me.
There was a rumour that the Ruskies at the camp were being sold courses for much lower prices. One rumour I didn't believe was that they got the lessons for free. Another, which came from someone who claimed to have heard this confirmed at an evening meeting, was that the Russians paid 800 Kr. I was charged 3,600. 800 is so fantastically cheap that it is very difficult to believe. If it is true, then it is one in the eye for the rest of us. If they can run courses for 800 Kr. a head, then the rest of us are being radically over-charged. If 3,600 is a more realistic figure, then I must have subsidised a few Russians whether I approved of this or not. The argument might run that that the average Russian is poorer than people from the West, but does the average Russian go to a swing dance camp? What about me? I earned about 4,000 pounds last year. Should I get in cheaper, as part of a scheme to help out the Newcastle dance scene? One topic of conversation that I have heard a few times is about how much money the camp makes. Some people estimate that it makes a fortune, while others say that it has nearly gone bust. I don't know.
The camp does have a few big significant problems. One is over-crowding. They have taken some steps, such as getting a load of bunk-beds for the accommodation in the school (not sure how much that helped), but the number of loos hasn't changed. The major problem is the main hall. It just isn't big enough any more. The evening meetings and cabaret nights would work a lot better if they could get everyone in at once, and in the evening dances, perhaps the highlight of the camp, the over-crowding on the dance floor is ridiculous. One has to sweat on a torrid and crowded dance-floor, bumping into all those around, or wait for many hours for it to clear. Even before the dansbanan is shut down, the press upstairs can be oppressive. They need more room for dancing to loud music through the night.
They have had complaints about the noise. In one evening meeting, someone suggested that the camp offer the complainers free drinks in the bar. Lennart said that if he knew who the complainers were, he'd offer them free tickets to Spain for the month. These few people have had a greatly detrimental effect on the camp. The once airy dansbanan is now claustrophobic, and throughout the night hundreds of people are suffering in tropical conditions, in a room with all the windows shut.
Another big problem at the camp this year was the music. A small oligarchy had decided that DJs were not to be given much freedom. It was declared that DJs were to play mainly original 1930s recordings of proper "swing" music. This is mostly very fast, and mastered on wax with steel needles. Especially when played quietly, this stuff is very difficult to hear in a room full of dancers. A few times I saw the floor grind to a halt because the DJ had put on a recording with no bass, muffled instruments, and lots of hiss. Samey old music does not a great evening make. Playing fast music when the floor is particularly crowded doesn't help the problems of heat and bumpage. It was very noticeable, and remarked on by many, that the music improved when the DJ police had gone to bed. This was a common topic of grumbling around the tables of the Yum Yum restaurant. In my opinion, lots of good danceable music has been recorded since 1945.
I had an idea for the camp video, and recruited Mark the question and answer man (sorry Mark - I don't know your surname) to do a skit. We played two pretentious DJs trying to out-do each other with the obscurity of the old recordings we had in our collections. You might see it on the 2004 camp video as long as the organisers see the funny side. "Yes, so perhaps Ella was at her best in the early Fifties, but who cares? Anyone can sing. There are thousands of recordings of people singing well. What's real and what's special is to find a recording that shows the human side of the artists, that records a real moment in time that is unique. I've got the full boxed set of The Laryngitis Sessions. Ella, for just one week, could hardly sing a note, and those recordings for me are just pure gold. Really special. Pure. It's what record collecting is really all about."
Thursday Week 4 - Second Cabaret
I had been talking to Chester about doing an act that would involve him, but he never said that he would or wouldn't do it. I managed to find another volunteer to be in it, and then tried to get the three of us to meet. Chester is a very hard man to track down. I think next year they should have him electronically tagged. Every attempted rendezvous failed. At the six o'clock meeting at which we were supposed to declare our acts, I thought that it was near certain that we'd not do the act, as it would take rehearsal, but I put it on the list, knowing that taking it off the list is fairly easy, and adding it later impossible.
I had had an idea for a serious act. This involved my coming on and whistling a jazz number. I can whistle quite well, but people would probably be expecting jokes from me, and this might undermine it. I also had doubts about how well the whistling would come across on the microphone. Whistling can sound very thin when amplified, or very shrill, and for the act to work it would have to sound just right, with no wind noise.
I had another act in mind, and Mindi Lundqvist was my amazingly brave partner for it. I had devised three daft Lindyesque moves for Fish to video under the banner Great Swing Dance Moves of the World That Never Quite Caught On, and had proposed transferring these to the cabaret stage. I made up another four, and we found perhaps as many as twenty minutes in which to rehearse them. They came very easily to us, and I was able to describe them or simply lead them and get them to work first time.
Chester turned up. He was involved in a few other acts, and was trying to rehearse them and sort them out at the eleventh hour. Our trio was to do a daft a cappella swing version of Imperial March, also known as Darth Vader's Theme from the film The Empire Strikes Back. At the last minute I thought of the name Imperial Swing for our act. This is a complicated piece of orchestral music, and we rehearsed it in just over thirteen minutes (I was watching the clock) about an hour before the show started.
Mindi and I had four mini spots to do with our daft Lindy moves, plus Imperial Swing. Hanna and Åsa were doing their usual MC act. I waited in the bar downstairs with the other performers, and failed to get nervous. Alarm bells should always ring when I don't get nervous, because this is when I perform badly, but alas it is in the nature of not getting nervous, that alarm bells do not ring. Mindi and I did okay, but we didn't do the moves half so well as we had done before. This made the difference between being quite funny, and being hilarious. We were quite funny. The one time we really nailed one of the moves, it got a much bigger laugh.
Imperial Swing was okay, but it could have been oh so very much better. Chester went on first and pretended to experiment with drums, and then started the drum part. Mindi was on second, and started the bass/cello part, and then I entered. From the moment I set foot on stage I had blown it. I entered as the wrong stage character. It just needed a little more thought. I mimed selecting from various instruments, and then played the trumpet/brass part. The three of us a cappella-ed our way through the tune, and I don't know how many people realised what tune we were doing. We didn't give them clues. My voice threatened to drown out the other two, and I kept backing off from the mike to balance the sound, with limited effect. I just wasn't nervous enough to concentrate, and I even sang some avoidable bum notes. Chester's ending for the piece defeated us, and I just wanted to leave the stage, but Chester, bright-eyed as ever, gathered us for a bow I felt I didn't deserve. Quick bow and off.
I was on again! Immediately I grabbed the mike from Åsa, who didn't seem too impressed by this behaviour, and I started to introduce the next silly dance move from off-stage, thinking that we could then quickly rush back onstage. "Great swing dance moves of the world that never quite caught on, number forty-six: the proposal," I said, but Mindi had decided to do a full costume change, and so there was an awkward pause before we entered. On, silly move, off. Phew. All over. Back in the bar downstairs we got a polite ripple of applause when prompted by the backstage manager. Other acts got great cheers.
We did the moves the following afternoon for Fish's camera much better. You might see them on the 2004 camp video. I was told that one of the moves (the one we called the "ankle-shaker") is an actual move. "If that's a real move," said Mindi, "my name is Gretchen."
More dancing that night, of course. When the DJs dared to break away from their brief, they were loudly cheered.
Friday Week 4 - Wall Street Crash party
The last lesson of the day for us involved joining a talk in the Folkets Hus given by Frankie Manning, Sugar Sullivan, and Frankie's son Chaz. They had been talking for some while, and in our lesson's period Frankie did all the talking. He told the story of the first aerial step. It was a good anecdote, very well told. The trouble I have with it, though, is that after seventy years of retelling, how much truth is left in it?
That night was party night. My costume was my zoot suit trousers with white linen dress shirt, in order to look in-period.
People started to gather outside the front of the Folkets Hus, where a tap demonstration was taking place on a large temporary dance floor. Some people seemed pleased at the prospect of stock market crash, like the lady on the left here, while others, like the chap in his pyjamas, seemed less happy. After a while, the Harlem Hotshots arrived in yet another set of costumes (they have rather a lot of costumes which to my tastes tend to miss the mark a bit) and gave us a Charleston display. Hanna
Here we see some of my fellow Balboa classmates. She on the left is Swiss, and seems happy to be photographed, and they on the right are Swedish and claim to be eighteen years old. They were great dancers who picked up my ska moves very quickly.
Frankie was there, of course, and on the right you can see Sugar Sullivan and her daughter (foreground) in sinister gangster mode. The DJs were of course in authentic period costume.
The stock market opened. Traders appeared selling shares at 10 Kr. per certificate. One could buy shares in the Lindy hop shop, the ice cream parlour, the Bedlam Bar, and the laundry. Knowing that people will always need ice cream, I bought one certificate in the ice cream parlour for 10 kronas. That's 10 real actual money kronas. All the trading was done with real money. Every ten minutes, someone rushed out with a print out of the front page of a newspaper announcing some new development, and numbers were picked out of a hat to see how share prices were faring. Share prices were plotted on a white board. Some shares went up, and some down. My shares in the ice cream parlour went up to 20 Kr., so I sold them, and made 10 real actual money kronas profit. Seeing that Bar Bedlam shares had dropped to 8 Kr., I bought some of them. I then went into the dansbanan, where they were playing Balboa music, and I danced there for a while. As I did so, my shares rose to 26 Kr., but I didn't know. I would have sold at that price for certain. Then the lights went out, and someone came running through yelling that the stock market had crashed. He was right. All shares had a value of zero. The floor was soon littered with discarded valueless shares. In total I had lost 6 Kr. With my thinking gloves on, I guessed that the stock market would crash at about 11.30, and I was right. Had I been intent on making money, I could have made quite a bit before the crash. The prices went up much more than down. I think that most people made more than they lost, so this was an act of generosity on the part of the party organisers.
After the crash, the music changed from Balboa to blues. This carried on for half an hour until Lennart came on stage, announced that a soup kitchen was being set up, and that this was the end of the camp for another year, he thanked a few people, and then on came some Harlem Hotshots for another Charleston number. After that, Lindy music reigned for the rest of the night.
You see here see the grille for the soup kitchen.
There was a Charleston competition, with a few knock-out rounds. It was made clear, however, that costume and "authenticity" were what the judges were looking for. This stifled the fun out of the event pretty effectively. All the finalists were people in period costume, and few of them smiled as they danced while trying to remember authentic moves. I would have preferred to watch smiling people who were busy entertaining the crowd rather than being authentic.
Another long and good night of dance. The floor was full at first, as we see here, but eventually the weaker dancers fell away to leave the die-hards to soldier on. At one point, after the DJ police had melted away, the DJ put on some pop numbers, and people cheered with relief from the usual stuff, and a jam circle formed dancing to refreshingly new-sounding music. Big smiles all round. Right near the end, Mindi came over to me and said, "Let's do the bunny hop!" I cringed with anticipated embarrassment, but knew deep down that she would have her way. We entered the circle, and I led this move from our repertoire of daft moves. We nailed it. Big cheer! People even asked (I am fairly sure that they were joking) for a lesson in the moves we made up. I am amazed by Mindi's astonishing confidence. I should have mentioned that the a cappella act she rehearsed in thirteen minutes for the cabaret was a tune she didn't even know.
Herräng was first conceived as a place to go and learn to dance, but now for many it might be seen first as a place to go and dance. Certainly the lessons are not my greatest source of joy, but then I always hated school. The problem of levels was not a great one for me this year. I was doing a Balboa course, and the difference in standard between Balboa 1 and Balboa 2 was not great. I was having a holiday, and jolly glad not to be learning five jazz step routines, which was what the Advanced Lindy classes were doing. This year they had dropped the category Advanced Plus and had auditioned people for the Advanced course and split them into two groups. The snag was that they considered only a few of them good enough for Advanced 1 which meant that Advanced 2 was an enormous class. Anyway, this year this wasn't my problem.
In the evenings, I sometimes find myself dancing in a rut. I am doing the same moves over and over again. I may be doing them well. I may be fitting them to the music, but there is little joy in it. I think to myself that I must know more moves than this, but I can't think of them. When inspiration hits, and I start dancing really well, I probably don't do many more moves, but a big important difference is that it stops mattering to me.
But am I any good? Well, every year I think I have finally cracked Lindy, and every year I consider myself to be better than I was the previous year. There was a time, back when I did modern jive, that I could ask any woman at any event for a dance and know that I could impress her. I've wanted to get to that stage in Lindy for many years, and I'm not there yet. One way to judge my ability is from the number of women asking me to dance. A fair few did, and I never refused. None of the elite asked me, though. Another method is to study the number of refusals I got when I asked. If I felt I was dancing especially well, I would sometimes find the confidence to ask one of the best girls waiting around the dance floor. Even this year, they would as often as not refuse. Some nights I was getting as much as 50% refusal. I should explain that this 50% is not made up entirely of women whom I asked to dance and who looked at me and said "No". Instead, most of the 50% is made up of women who were watching the dancing and apparently wanting to join in, but then, when they noticed me approaching them, suddenly lost all apparent interest in dancing, adopted an unapproachable-looking face, and looked or walked the other way. Many times I asked a woman to dance and she would plead fatigue, only to be seen a moment later dancing with someone else. This has always been the case, of course, but now it seems that only the best women dancers behave this way, so I must be improving, which is a happy thought.
One night, I went up to a girl and asked her to dance wordlessly. Instead of speaking, I just did a couple of steps, a quick roll of the shoulders, and extended a hand. She laughed at me, and said that I was "too cool". I genuinely have no idea whether she was laughing because my moves looked ridiculously bad or actually cool.
The jam circle situation at Herräng has not improved. It remains the case that vast circles of clapping people form when certain signal tracks get played, and people expect couples to leap in and be brilliant. The room turns into one huge ring of bodies. Those at the back can't see a thing. Those at the front are frightened that they will be expected to perform. There are never enough Americans present to keep the performance constant, and most of the time is spent clapping and looking around an empty space of floor in hope. Smaller, less contrived, less intimidating circles without the demanding clapping might work, but these monsters don't.
Eventually the floor cleared, leaving room for big moves, but for the rest of the night the pace of the music was fairly constant and moderate so I didn't get to let the throttle out. I remember a very good dance with a Spanish girl I'd not danced with before. The girls from Barcelona had a reputation for being good, and people were also praising of the standard of the Toulouse dancers. One of these, a tall predatory man, delighted in stealing other people's partners, although seemed less delighted when people stole his. The floor, at 7.38 a.m. Plenty of space, and plenty of slide on that dry smooth surface. When the room is crowded, the floor swells with the humidity and is much harder to turn on.
Here we see Mark enjoying the cooling effect of one of the fans. There was one in each corner of the room. On the right you see a tired dancer who has been to bed and risen again to rejoin the dancing. For the moment, she is watching and waiting.
Wallflowers. On the left is one wearing a "Brit Hop" shirt of which there were many, in the middle is a glamorously-dressed Russian who was too tired to dance with me, and on the right a Swede re-hydrating ready for the next bout. The sex ratio in the hall never veered far away from even. I suppose that if too many of one sex dropped out, then the drop-out rate of the other sex would accelerate accordingly.
I danced through to breakfast again, then showered, slept, packed, and left. A friend gave me and two others a lift to Stockholm. I saw the Vasa (300 year-old ship that famously sank almost immediately after being launched), and walked around Stockholm, a city notable for its consistent architecture.
The following day I went to the grounds of Stockholm University, where, by a lake, there was another dansbanan, complete with mosquito supply. I recognised almost everybody there from Herräng. Frankie and Chaz turned up and led us all in the shim sham, and we Lindied to the sounds of a ghetto blaster. When dusk came, people disappeared, some to go across town to the Big Ben Bar where a rock-and-roll band played in a very smoky room in front of a tiny stone-flagged dance floor. I left after a couple of numbers.
I came back to Newcastle, which was quite a culture-shock. Here, one cannot just walk up to any woman and ask her to dance. I had acquired my new skill: Balboa. All I had to do now was teach someone it, in order to get a chance to try it out.
My thirst for this topic seems insatiable - show me more!
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