I am still to some degree on the Herräng clock. I just went into my kitchen and couldn't remember if I had had breakfast or not. With a bit of effort, I recalled that I had risen, broken fast, and then gone back to sleep again. In the normal course of life, I judge a day to be that period between to sleeping sessions. At Herräng, and it seems still now, weeks seem longer because the days generally include a few sleeping sessions each.
Of course I had to go again. People recognise me there now.
For some while, my right foot had been hurting more and more. A week before Herräng, I went to my doctor. I had (and still have) plantar fasciitis, which is an inflammation of the fibrous tissue that holds the sole of the foot together. First thing in the mornings, I was hobbling about, and the pain in the bottom of my heel was worrying. I was given strong anti-inflammatory pills, and though I wasn't the most diligent at taking them, they seemed to keep the condition in check and the pain never stopped me dancing.
I set my alarm for 3.40 p.m. This was unfortunate, because I meant to set it for 3.40 a.m.. I was woken by the taxi I had booked to take me to the airport. This was to be a long day. After twenty minutes of hurried breaking fast and packing, I was on my way. Newcastle, Amsterdam, Arlanda, where I was recognised by a fellow Herrängite (is that the correct term? Herrängonian?) who was waiting for the "limousine" service, then bus, bus to Rimbo (where I talked to a shop keeper for an hour, who had heard of the camp after seeing a documentary on Swedish telly), bus, and finally bus to the place itself.
There was no feeling of being abroad, indeed, it was more like coming home. Everything seemed normal. The plants, smells, people wandering about, suicidal little frogs leaping under my feet, and even the driving on the wrong side of the road, all seemed familiar and understood. I sought out my old camping spot, and pitched my tent in amongst a dense huddle of stretched nylon and guy-rope chicanes. A label on my tent commands me to pitch my tent no closer than six yards from another tent, to prevent the spread of fire. This didn't happen.
The weather had been hot and sunny for the two weeks prior to my arrival. The next two would be fairly rainy, but it never bothered me much. The dancing happens indoors, and anyway, I'm British.
It was Friday, at the end of the second week. This was the earliest I had ever arrived at the camp. That night it would be the "Indians and Cowboys" party. I made myself useful by putting up decorations in the Folketshus - pictures of cacti, cattle skulls, snakes, scorpions, and sleeping Mexicans.
There was a "fast feet" competition. A crowd formed in one of the big marquees in the school ground, and deployed in a very dense line around the floor. I was wedged into the crowd, and felt guilty about being tall, but at least got a decent view. The judges were teachers and the contestants mainly pupils. They played some quite moderate paced music, and I watched for fancy footwork, but saw none. I started to think that perhaps I should have entered. They'd had trouble at the start getting enough leads to join in. I get braver about competing if I think I might win. Only in the finals did the music get very fast, when most dancers had been eliminated. The Americans danced with predictably boundless confidence, and other people danced with a crowd-pleasing pluckiness. Eventually, somebody won. The crowd then by making noise tried to get the teachers to dance. They tried to wriggle out of it, pleading flip flops. Joseph Wiggan obliged us with his tip-top tapping feet.
Indians and Cowboys
I ate my chicken sandwiches I brought with me, and got into costume. I had a big beige old-fashioned shirt, gathered at the waist with a leather belt, a headband decorated with coloured beads, a shell bracelet, and a bone necklace. In the Prop Shop I found some red and black face paints and I gave myself a few broad stripes of make-up, which some people said was actually quite frightening. A surprising number of people seemed amazed (and even disgusted) that the bones in my necklace were made out of bones. This seemed the logical material to me. Some time during the party I hung the necklace up on a fire-extinguisher, and I never saw it again. I also somehow lost my belt.
I had a go at the air-rifle shooting. I also tried the archery. Having done some archery in the past, I found that I was the local master at it, but alas, there were no prizes. They also had a skewbald pony plodding about for people to ride, and a mechanical bucking bull. A few years ago at another dance event, I had a go on one of these, and hurt my hand, so I wasn't keen to try. Most of the people trying were women, and Hanna of the Hotshots particularly recommended the ride for women. It involved hanging on to a short thick length of rope between the legs. I had been expecting horse-shoe throwing, but saw none.
The party theme did not go down well with the Americans. Apparently, dressing up as red Indians and cowboys is not politically correct. This seemed a bit much, coming from the people who have exported so many cowboy and Indian films around the world. One said to me that "we" gave the Indians pox-infected blankets, and that this didn't seem a great theme for a party, and that someone had sarcastically suggested that next year they could have a Spanish Inquisition party. That's quite a good idea, I reckon. The following week there was Oriental night, and it seems that dressing up as Arabs is fine, presumably because nothing bad has ever happened involving an Arab.
One costume of note was a cactus. Three people came as cacti. The first I saw had wrapped a foam mattress around himself, then green cloth around that, and then stuck hundreds of wooden cocktail sticks through the cloth into the foam, for the thorns. You couldn't see his head at all. The cocktail sticks were sharp, and I'm not sure how popular he was as a dance partner, but he kept the outfit on all night. Another cactus was well sewn out of cloth, with big soft cloth thorns, and, unusually for a cactus, a zip-fastened pocket. The last I saw was bordering on the horrific. The woman wearing it had stretched green nylon tights all over herself, and had super-glued very sharp iron carpet tacks all over. She looked like something from Hellraiser.
I danced with friends and with strangers. The music was good. The floor was good. My feet obeyed me. I danced with beautiful girls, some of whom were a good (or even an excellent) decade younger than me. Life seemed good.
One mission I had was to get a dance with Diane van Haaren. She had been teaching in Week 2 and was about to leave, so I only had this night. Wonderfully, she sought me out on the dance floor, and we had two very nice dances. She even looked as though she had enjoyed them at the end. I love dancing with her, but as always when dancing with teachers, I reined in a lot. I'm frightened of injuring them in any way. A couple of times she interrupted a turn and leant off me. I know that she was asking for me to go strong and give her support for her moves, but I went light, lest I should cramp her style. I need the confidence to dance with them full-throttle. I had danced with Diane in Edinburgh, and so had this useful precedent which made dancing with her at Herräng possible. Getting a dance with a teacher at Herräng is still not something I have won the right to do. Perhaps I have to go for a few more years.
The next morning I slept. Saturday was to be a lazy day. I had no plans to do lessons in Week 3, and so did not need to register. I still didn't know what lessons I would do in Week 4, and had a whole week to think about it. Last year I did Balboa which was good not least because it was not very tiring, but it was of almost no use to someone who lives in a city where there is no Balboa dancing. I considered doing Competition and Show, but the girl I asked to partner me didn't want to do aerials.
I noticed a disturbing absence of table football table.
"Lloyd!" shouted Fish. He wanted me to present a quick video about the use of microphones. We went up into the Folketshus and shot it. It seems that people in evening meetings (Chazz in particular) had been holding microphones to inappropriate parts of their bodies as they spoke, and an instructional video was wanted to put this right. I think I got what Fish was after and quickly did three pieces to camera, just one take of each. I then held the microphone the right way up, and then the wrong way up, for two cut-aways, and left Fish to edit the piece.
At the next meeting, I imagined that my microphone video would be shown. I got the impression that they were particularly hoping that someone would use a microphone badly, and use this as a cue for the video. Lennart seemed particularly disappointed to learn that Chazz was not available to answer a question. The meeting came to an end, and I thought that the moment had passed, but the video was shown anyway. The "right way" and "wrong way" shots came up first, and then I appeared. My first piece was smug TV presenter, my second started as sarcastic scientist and then descended into a sort of manic Rowley Birkin (a character from The Fast Show), which got lots of laughs, that drowned out most of my third bit. For the next week, people were greeting me as "the microphone guy".
Lloyd the DJ
I took an evening class with Mattias and another guy, who showed us first how to Lindy hop on the 2,4,6,8 of the music rather than the 1,3,5,7, thus giving us permission to do this officially, and then they went on to get us to do 7-beat Lindy turns and 5-beat tuck turns. When we did the five-beat section, I whistled Brubeck's Take Five as I danced. When I was at an event with live music on stage in Newcastle a couple of years ago, the lead singer/saxophonist announced that the next number he was going to play was impossible to dance to. He played Take Five, and I rose with a plucky partner to the challenge. After this lesson I was doubly keen to play Take Five to test the mettle of the Herrängite swingers.
On Sunday there was the meeting for DJs. Having contributed a sketch to the video the previous year that ridiculed camp DJs, I had feared that this might stand against me, and perhaps it did. At the meeting, we all wrote down our names and years of DJing experience on a list, and then Mohan told us that we could play whatever we wanted, and then added that this was as long as it was almost all mainstream core swing in-period music. We were a little confused. I wanted to experiment a bit, but didn't want to be arrested by the DJ police. We were told that blues night was out-of-bounds to us all, and that Wade in the Water was "shitty".
I was told that I might be used as a DJ the next night, but this depended on whether a certain "thing" was going to happen in the dansbanan. If it did, then I would not be given a slot.
I was given the graveyard shift in the dansbanan: 2 a.m. until the end. I turned up early to see how the DJ before me worked the controls, and then prepared my set. I was a bit nervous, but I knew that I had some killer tracks with me in my CD case, so I was game. I opened with a fastish number: Leap Frog, and then set about blending the tracks for effect, never playing too many fast ones on the trot, and making each track either lead logically to the next, or else contrast effectively. I reckoned I was doing pretty well. I played a fair few things that people hadn't heard, and there was a steady trickle of people asking what the tracks were, or even asking for them to be played again. Apparently, the swing version of Smells Like Teen Spirit was "awesome". I never did dare play Take Five, but I worked in the theme from Jeeves and Wooster which went down a storm, some Peter Skellern, some Bo Kasper, and the killer track I wanted to use last year for the blues night show. I watched a highly-regarded teacher dance to this track, and was interested to note that he completely misinterpreted it, and just amiably span his way through this epic opus.
One girl came up to me and asked if I was a tango dancer. She said that the stuff I was playing seemed to have a tango accent. I told her that I didn't really regard myself as a tango dancer. Flinching even as I said it, I ended with "I just like good music". It shocks me that I am capable of saying such stupid things, and I would like to assure my readers that I have suffered tremendous pains each time I have remembered that shameful sentence.
When I'm dancing, I seldom pay any attention to the DJ. If I am dancing well and having a good time, then this will be because I have a lot of energy, I have the right partner, room on the floor, and other such factors. The identity of the person who pressed the play button is of little consequence. When asked whether I want to see a film at the cinema, I don't reply, "Depends - who's the projectionist?" However, there is a powerful illusion when one is DJing that one is personally responsible for all the fun that occurs in the floor.
A kind lady came up to me and said "It's not your music, there's something happening upstairs". The "thing" that might have been in the dansbanan was now taking place, but I had a duty: to play music in the dansbanan. This explained the disappearance of most of the dancers on my ("my" - did you notice?) floor. By this stage, I had brought the music down to a fairly constant gentle level, and this seemed to be going down well. Simon Selmon came in and whirled some pretty girls around, and a few others, ignorant of what they were missing perhaps, took the opportunity to dance in lots of space to some uncommonly excellent tracks. I kept a loyal following dancing far beyond Mohan's expectations. I had been told that I could close the floor if I had three couples or fewer, and at 6 a.m. I announced the last track. I closed with the killer track again, and the instant that people heard it, the floor started filling up again. I joined the dancers and ended the piece rolling around on the floor with my partner. One woman at the end proudly told us that such was the power of the killer track that she lost her partner half way through, because he had to… er… go to the toilet in a hurry.
I was pretty pleased with my debut as a Herrängite DJ. I think that 6 a.m. was at the time a record for dancing in the dansbanan. It was later that I learned what I had missed.
The following day, they showed a video in the evening meeting in which they interviewed people about what had happened the previous night in the Folketshus. A few admitted to having missed it, and were laughed at by the audience. The rest were lost for superlatives. It was, it seems, the greatest thing that had happened anywhere, ever. As far as I can tell, Steven Mitchell started singing with the live jazz band, and Joseph Wiggan did some tap dancing. Apparently, the crowd went berserk. I think you had to be there. I wasn't. Arse.
Such was the magnitude of my triumph as a DJ, that I was never asked to DJ again. I did, though, pay more attention to the DJing. My impression is that one doesn't notice a good DJ, but one notices a bad one. I noticed a couple.
Joanna organised the extra classes. I went to her and offered two: chi sao and ska. She said that people had already been asking after the ska lesson. She told me that Tuesday night would be ska night, and I suggested the Wednesday cultural activities slot for the chi sao. I started telling people to get ready to ska on Tuesday.
On Tuesday, my ska class was not mentioned on the day's notices. I had been ousted. A teacher more famous than I had offered a jazz/hip hop routine class and was given the slot. Joanna broke the bad news to me with such a friendly face that I couldn't be very annoyed. I went along to the usurper's lesson and bopped around.
At the evening meeting, Joanna asked me to explain the chi sao. I stood, and took the opportunity to bewail the fact that whereas the table football table had now materialised in the foyer, it had no ball. I was furnished with a ball of tin foil. I later tried this, and a plastic red nose, but neither proved entirely satisfactory. Anyway, I explained the chi sao, saying that this kung-fu hand-connection technique is remarkably like Lindy hop, in that it allows one to feel where one's partner's weight is and which way he is moving. The advantage of chi sao is that whereas a Lindy hopping chap might think that his connection is good, and then take years to discover that it isn't, in kung fu, if his connection is bad for a quarter of a second, he gets hit. I said all this without the aid of a microphone, trusting the strength of my voice.
Tom, an excellent fellow from London, helped me with the chi sao lesson. The turnout wasn't huge, and some people dropped out, but more joined in. Our pupils didn't do badly. There was a language barrier that got in the way a bit, because we were trying to explain some fairly tricky ideas, but no one got punched. Really, the lesson could only have been a taster, because the technique is not something that anyone could hope to crack in one lesson. It would be like expecting someone to go from nothing to good Lindy connection in one hour.
I did once use some chi sao while social dancing. I would have lost contact with my partner, but kept her with me thanks to the fook sao manoeuvre.
Tuesday funk night
In the bar, they played loud music from the '70s and '80s, to which people shook their funky things. I don't have any funky things, so kept out of it, but I can report that it was great success. One girl complained to me of abdominal exhaustion after three solid hours of gyration. "To the window… and back" was the catch-phrase of the event. It was packed in there. Many people watched through the windows, standing on chairs. A long conga line came out, but still the room was packed. I marvelled at how few of the people I saw were ones I had danced with. They announced that every Tuesday would be funk night, but the following Tuesday was a pale shadow of this one. It was, though, the first time I had seen a DJ use two iPods as his sources.
On Wednesday, in the bar, they screened the documentary that had been made the previous year, and shown on Swedish television. Apparently, I'm in it, but I didn't get to see myself, because it started late and I had to go to teach chi sao. I had a chat with the guy who made it. He said that it did a lot of good telling the locals of Herräng what the camp was about. He also told me of a politician responsible for the arts and culture of the region who appears in the programme saying that people are wrong to go to Herräng because there is nothing there, and that they should go to Norrtälje which has far more to offer. It seems that this man is now in a bit of trouble.
Whether this documentary will be a good thing for the camp is tricky to say. The camp cannot cope with many more participants, and a large number of on-lookers and tourists could be a burden. The camp did get some more attention from non-dancers this year, but not a vast amount, although I did hear that there was some problem with thieves in the first week.
First Blues Night
The night opened with a very good impression of Billie Holiday, sung live, while two couples did some fairly conventional blues dancing. I really don't remember very much about this night. I don't think I danced much for some reason. One thing I do remember is that it actually got rather cold in there. Last year was a sauna, but with the air-conditioning on full-blast, it actually became too cold to get hot on the dance floor. Another was how irritated I got with people taking flash photographs on the dance-floor.
First Cabaret Night
Last year I had co-hosted the cabaret night with Chester. People were asking me whether I would do so again. I didn't know, but I was happy to. Chester had been asked to host it, and seemed keen to do it with me, but nothing had been sorted out. I was walking along with Chester when we encountered the cabaret organiser. She told us that she had asked a professional stage entertainer from Switzerland to co-host the show with Chester but had been turned down (the Swiss woman later told me that she had turned the offer down because she thought that her stage character and Chester's wouldn't work as a duo). She then said that because the previous week and the next had double-acts as hosts, she wanted a singleton host. She avoided my eye. This was her way of making it very clear that she didn't want me anywhere near her cabaret night, without actually saying so. I took the hint.
I joined the audience, and sat down on the floor. It took Seattle Mark, the man commonly drafted in for any task that involved shouting, quite some while to get everyone to pack themselves into the hall. It helped to have people around oneself who were happy to be leant against. My back wasn't hurting so much this year, but this didn't do it any good.
The show opened with a straight-faced recreation of a Laurel and Hardy dance, then on came Chester to introduce the acts. One of the first acts was five blonde Swedish girls in baggy clothing. They were all the same height, age (about seventeen at a guess) and apparent build (though the baggy clothing might have had a levelling effect). They went into a very long hip-hop routine, and were jaw-droppingly good. Every single one of them danced with such vigour and assurance that there was no picking a favourite. Never once did any of them falter or even glance at what the others were doing. Instead, they eyed the audience while keeping perfect unison despite a constant succession of tricky moves. Perhaps they should have closed the show. I was glad I didn't have to follow them.
Other acts included a couple of East European folk tales, one involving lots of the teachers who were flagrantly violating the three-minute rule. Ryan and Jennie Francois did a tap dance together. I'm not sure if I liked it. It was so slick, that one couldn't hear that there were two pairs of feet tapping. It sounded like one. At one point, Jenny stopped while Ryan did a little solo, and the sound of the taps didn't change. I considered the possibility that it would turn out to be a joke, and that when Jenny did her solo, it would transpire that she wasn't wearing taps, but this didn't seem to be their style of humour. Sure enough, when Jenny did her solo, her much lighter, higher-pitched taps were heard, and then when they went back to dancing in unison, hers were entirely hidden by his heavier taps. I think I prefer tap to be looser, more jazzy, and more apparently improvised.
I was brought into a beginners-intermediate Lindy class, to help out with leading. It was quite an alien experience to dance with people at Herräng (which means "Mister Meadow", by the way) who were not very good. At the start of the class (before I over-heated) I was wearing my Newcastle University Swing Dance Society hoodie, which had the word "Instructor" written on it. This was the one warm top I had with me. It was somewhat awkward to have this word written on me for so much of my time there, because I felt that I had to live up to it. In this class I think I got away with it. As when I watched the conga line on funk night, I was struck by how few of the women in the class I had danced with socially, or even seen on the dance floor in the evenings. Perhaps these women felt intimidated by the general standard of dance at the camp, and were keeping clear of the floor in the evenings. That's a shame, because the best way to learn is to dance with people who are good, and the place where the dancers of different abilities can mix is the social dance floor. I perhaps wouldn't want a beginner to ask me to dance over and over again, but I'm always happy to dance once with anyone, and if other leads have this attitude, then there are plenty of dances that a less-advanced woman dancer could get at Herräng.
One evening lesson was in Balboa rueda, given by a group of Hungarians who had presumably come up with the moves themselves. The lesson would have gone more smoothly had any of them been able to speak English. They kept coming together in a huddle to see if any of them knew a word that might help explain a move. They seemed quite a keen lot, most of them wearing the same printed tops. The dance involved moves that changed partners one way round the circle, and others that changed the other way. This meant that even though the circle was large, I got the same few partners back and forth. One of them hadn’t got a clue what was going on and usually went the wrong way, which made my lesson an entertaining challenge. Elsewhere around the circle, Sari was having not such a great time, dancing close with some men whose shirts could have been cleaner, and some women whose breasts Sari disapproved of in such a close dance.
Another lesson was in playing the didgeridoo. My heart sank. It’s not just that there are no good tunes that have been written for this instrument, it’s more that this has become part of the narrow repertoire of modern bog-standard alternative culture. For some reason, people who drop out of mainstream society all seem to develop simultaneous liking for dreadlocks, rainbow colours, juggling, dreamcatchers, lentils, and didgeribloodydoos. I do not believe that these things are all innately linked. It’s almost as though people refuse to adopt the culture they are supposed to, and so instead adopt the other culture that they are supposed to adopt when having rejected the first one. I didn’t want this to be part of my swing culture.
The title of this party was a bit vague, and suggested to many that China and the Far East was included or implied. The small print made it clear, however, that the Near or Middle East was intended. I had no costume at all, and yet managed to rustle up one of my best ever (not that my standard has ever been high). A long strip of yellow cloth wound round my head made me a turban (and an immediate turban consultant for others hoping to emulate me), onto which I fixed a plastic gem glued to a golden cardboard setting. I wore a tiny judo jacket for my top, with a sash and plastic scimitar, and over my normal trousers I knotted a huge yellow sheet, split into two legs, creating a giant pair of trousers. I then added cardboard points to my boots, but alas, these fine creations soon fell off when my boots got wet in the rain and the gaffer (aka Jesus, aka duct) tape wouldn't stick. I had more time than most for putting this lot together, because I wasn't doing lessons. I went to supper wearing it, and seemed to be the first in costume.
Saturday was registration day. I got up very late. I ended up registering after the meeting, down in the basement. I lost my place in the queue a few times, because I was juggling a few other activities at the same time, and trying to change money, but the reception had closed. In the end, they accepted my registration with just a deposit of 600 krona, and I paid the rest the following day. I had heard a rumour from some Norwegians the night before that they were offering half-price courses for people who signed up for courses that needed balancing - particularly that they were short of men in some courses. I didn't believe it. Even as I sat down next to Fatima to register, I didn't know which course I'd go for. I suggested Balboa, and mentioned that perhaps I'd be helping to balance the course up, but she said that they wanted men to sign up for Lindy advanced. I had been considering doing Lindy anyway, having done a couple of Lindy lessons during the previous week and enjoyed them. So I put down for Lindy, and then to my surprise, Fatima said I owed 1,400 Kr. With my deposit of 600, this made a total of 2,000 instead of the usual 3,600, which isn't far off half-price, so the rumour wasn't false.
An Englishwoman spoke to me, about her annoyance with the discounts. She said that I wouldn't like it if I were a woman who had to wait out in classes for a partner, getting less of a lesson than the men, and having paid more than the men. She also predicted that this offer would set a dangerous precedent, and that in future years, men would not register in advance, but instead make a habit of leaving it until the last minute before choosing a course, in the hope of finding a course on which discounts were offered. She said that they should do what they do on almost all other swing camps: demand registration and payment in advance, and close entry to one sex or the other when they have enough of one sex. Perhaps she is right, although I do like the casual relaxed feel of Herräng's just-turn-up policy. This year I hadn't even told them I was coming. I booked my flight a couple of days before setting off.
Joanna scheduled the ska class for the Sunday. This was fine by me. I glued together the cool shades I had broken in transit, and went through my few ska compilation CDs to pick out teaching tracks.
In the evening meeting, Joanna sat me in a reserved spot near the front, so that I could be seen making the announcement. A merry idea came to me. I would hold the microphone upside down while making my speech. My moment came, and I enacted my plan. I was fairly confident that my voice would reach the back of the hall anyway. There were some problems, however. One was that many people there had not been there the week before and so had not seen the microphone-use video. Another was that people were so transfixed by my holding the microphone upside down, that they were not listening to what I was saying, and many were quietly talking to each other. A few said "What?" but these were at the front and I'm sure that they could hear, so I carried on. Another snag was that I tried to say too much. I had been introduced as the ska teacher, but I started with a celebration of the fact that there was now a proper ball in the table football table, and then went on to ask for helpers with the video. I then talked about the ska lesson, saying that ska has the emphasis on the upward movement rather than the downward, and has moves which start with the limbs rather than the body, and so is the opposite of Lindy. During this, I glanced across at Lennart, who looked a bit concerned and impatient.
[Later in this meeting, a mass massage started. Someone close to me, to my left, started massaging the back of someone else, and a third person offered her back to be massaged by the second, and then beckoned to me to offer my back, which I did. This situation remained for a while until a guy then sat in front of me, and the chain grew longer. By the end of the meeting, all the people sitting on the floor were part of the chain. I wonder what the world record is. This might have been a world record for a spontaneous massage chain.]
Afterwards, I got the impression that my gag had only been a partial success. I met no one who said that they genuinely couldn't hear, but plenty of people were unsure about whether the gag was deliberate or not. One said that since I was talking about the way ska is like upside-down Lindy, it "was almost as though" I knew that the microphone was upside down. I was a bit worried that few people would turn up to the lesson as a consequence.
At the start of the lesson, there were indeed not many people, however this has always been the way with my ska lessons, so I started on time, and talked a bit about the music, and taught some very basic moves. I then moved on to the One-Step-Beyond walk, and by this time the gymnasium had filled up considerably. I always forget to do a count, but I had at least fifty or sixty, with a fair few more watching. People were really getting into it, and competition for the cool shades, which I used as a prize for the best rendition of the last step, became quite fierce. We did lots of silly steps, most of which were a little too tricky for most people, but they had a lot of laughs trying. The lesson went on and on, and still they wanted more, but eventually I called a halt, and then something happened that had never happened before: the video-cameras came out. I was obliged to demonstrate the moves for posterity. I was, I have to admit, exhausted by this stage, mainly by a week of Herrängular endeavours, but also by over an hour of shouting and ska. Predictably, my mind went blank, and I couldn't remember half the moves we had done, but I acted up for the cameras, and seemed to get away with it. Big round of applause! One girl said that it was the best evening lesson ever!
Outside, during the lesson, the teachers' crayfish party was taking place, and I had been secretly (not so secret now that I write it here) hoping that the teachers would hear the cheers, laughter and applause from my lesson, and be impressed. They had their own music contending with mine, however, and were very drunk.
One of the ska pupils said that he would be DJing in the dansbanan later that night, and that at 2.30 a.m. he would play some ska. That was fine by me. At 2.25 I turned up there, and danced to the swing music for a few tracks. As I did so, I noticed with pleasure and some measure of amazement that people from the ska class were filtering in, and forming an expectant ring around the floor. The ska started, and the floor was quickly deserted by hep swingers and taken over by power-skanking two-toners. It was clearly incumbent upon me to play a part, so I did some fancy footwork, and sometimes played the leader. Sometimes I noticed that people were losing the beat a bit, and even the emphasis on the up, but the energy and smiling lasted. We bemused the swingers for thirty-five minutes, which I think was pretty good going. Simon Selmon said that he was impressed. Perhaps he'll book me for a London gig.
The Lindy Course
Oh yes - the lessons. Sorry to have been distracted for so long before getting to mention the actual supposed purpose of the camp. Well, for me, the course started with a 9 a.m. audition in the gymnasium. I loathe this sort of thing, but it had to be done. All the people who had signed up for the advanced course came along, and we were given partners and made to dance as the teachers watched. My strategy was to be low profile. I picked positions away from the judges, and did no flash moves, and kept everything simple and small, to avoid making showy mistakes. This may have been a bad choice. They said that they were going to play some fast music, but nothing was played that troubled me for speed. One of my partners was taken away from me by Frida and consigned to Intermediate Advanced. Looking around the hall, I saw few men who seemed better than me, but I saw many who were putting themselves in the limelight, volunteering to partner the extra women, and bothering with all the triple steps.
I ended up in Advanced Two, the lower of the two advanced groups. This was a mild embarrassment, partly because of the word written on my hoodie, and my perhaps ludicrous ambition to teach at dance camps. Perhaps it meant that I had a more relaxing holiday, though. I suppose I should say "less knackering".
I don't know how good the other men in my class were, because I never danced with them. I did a few times hear my partner say that she had got the move right for the first time with me, which was nice. I was one of the better men, I'm fairly confident. The women did not vary as much as they have in previous years, which perhaps shows that the auditions had worked. There were two who, throughout the week, would walk in on 1,2 regardless of whether I led them in or not, which was a bit frustrating. One aspect in which they did vary was command of language. Some of the eastern European girls spoke hardly a word of English, and I'm amazed that they did as well as they did, considering.
Eddie and Eva Jansson - I was pleased that this couple would be teaching us. Eddie this year had brown hair, which looked more realistic than his previous jet black and dazzling blond. I still suspect that he might be ginger naturally. He got us warmed up in the first lesson with his version of the shim sham. It is one way for him to show off, because he is very good at it, his variations are quite unfamiliar, and he wears very baggy trousers that hide his technique, making him almost impossible to copy. Thoughts of my ever teaching at Herräng quickly faded as I perceived that Eddie has joints in places where I haven't even got places. Eva is still very pretty, slightly shy, and makes me feel special every time she looks into my eyes. She was also three months pregnant. The moves they taught were difficult, and required a lot of floor space, but were a good test of ability. One frustration I had with them was that I was too tired or busy to note them down immediately. One entire lesson's worth of good moves has gone from my mind because I couldn't set them down quick enough.
Steven Mitchell had been teaching with Virginie the week before. I had watched one lesson in which lots of very good dancers were struggling to get to grips with his very good moves. In Week 4, he was on his own, and was teaching a gospel routine. The first half of every class consisted of getting us to walk across the room in various different ways, all of which involved using the "big muscles". Many had an African flavour, and all involved a lot of undulation in the torso. When I saw someone doing it well, I thought it looked good. The rest of the time, I was more aware of the awkwardness. I think I got some of the moves, but certainly not all. Sometimes I would get a move for a few strides, and then lose it again. We then did the gospel routine in the second half of the lesson, and he'd crank the music up to eleven. We raised our hands to Jesus, and sweated a lot. It was quite a cogent argument for atheism. Once, Steven said that I was doing well in classes. I thanked him, although I doubt I kept the note of incredulity out of my voice. Mind you, Skip Cunningham said that he didn't know that I could "move like that", so it is possible that some of Steven's teaching hit the spot.
One evening, Steven and others gathered in the café for a talk on the revival of Lindy hop. I was quite interested, but arrived too late to sit at the front. I was at the back of the crowd outside on the landing, and the speakers weren't amplified, nor did they project their voices. I couldn't hear a word, so I left.
Mattias Lundmark and Hanna Zetterman taught fairly conventional moves, putting instead the emphasis of doing things their particular way. Hanna would not come forward on 1,2 but would instead hold her ground and do really big low "switches". At low speed, both would put a very deliberate and constant bounce in their moves, while at high speed, put all the oomph on 1,3,5,7.
Skye Humphries and another guy taught us a jazz step routine, which, I'm proud to say, I actually managed (apart from one step). He dances largely by instinctive feel, and had trouble with breaking down steps into numbered beats, but it was good routine, which was recognisably his style. One move, which involved turning away from the audience, turning back and giving it a look, had us all in stitches. Later, he taught Lindy with Joanna Ericsson. She at no point showed any sign of having to put any mental effort into following his every move, no matter what the speed. His moves were very vigorous, putting great emphasis on marking the difference between linear and circular movements. He showed us a technique for dancing very close to one's partner and taking her with one in a series of leaps and dips. He looked as if he was glued to Joanna. When I tried this with shorter partners, they sometimes gave out a "yeargh!" of appreciation with the altitude changes.
I never did have Peter Loggins teach in my course, for some reason, even though he was advertised as one of the teachers. I did have one longish talk with him one night, though. He loves talking about swing dance.
Although he wasn't officially teaching, Henric Stillman, the Swedish boogie-woogie champ was at the camp. I had a chat with him one night and was struck by his impressive and refreshing humility. He seemed a very nice guy and I hope that he can go far and retain that character.
Frida Segerdahl is now the world's best Lindy hopper. It's official. Twice in evening meetings this was asserted, and it went unchallenged. I have never danced with her. One of her duties this year was to sit in the new small tent, called "Small's Paradise" after a Harlem night club of the 1930s, and receive complaints. For an hour or two each evening, she would sit there and listen to people explain to her that they were in the wrong level class, or that they wanted their money back because it was raining, or whatever. I was once passing this tent, and saw that the queue was short, and nipped in. I first made a complaint about people who take flash photography on the dance floor on blues night, but perhaps this was just a pretext for my second point. I asked her if this was the year when I finally got to dance with her. She looked at me with a small smile that said, "How the hell do I get out of this one?" and after squirming for a bit, she said that perhaps it was. It wasn't.
There was a charity auction. People took part in this "silent" auction by writing down bids on a chart for three dances with various participating teachers. I put bids in for Joanna and Frida. For Frida, I decided to bid high, and though the bids were rising slowly, I jump-bid to 150 krona. My thinking was this: I was probably going to be out-bid anyway, and so it wouldn't cost me any money, but the fact that I had bid so high would impress Frida, and she would perhaps grant me a dance on the social floor anyway. Clever, eh? Some uncharitable swine bid 151 krona, so I raised to 160. The next time I saw the chart, it had been taken down and was in the office, and I saw that she had gone for 200. The next time I saw Frida, I needed to speak to her on another matter and hailed her as she rode towards me on her bike. She sped past me. She had probably seen the chart.
Now she was known to be the world's greatest Lindy hopper, she needed minders. They made a video in which Sakarias and Mattias were men-in-black, with mirror shades and curly wires leading to earphones. An assassin tried to shoot her, but agent Mattias took the bullet, while agent Sakarias carried her away to strains of Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You".
It seems that people do read these pages, even though they keep getting longer. Every year a few strangers mention to me that they have read them, and that is encouraging. This year, one couple said that it had driven to Herräng from a long way away, and as one of them drove, the other read from print outs of these pages, starting in 1999 (with my account of my time at Herräng in 1999, that is - it wasn't that long a journey). They thanked me for putting them in the Herräng mood. That was unexpected.
One mildly odd thing is that no one connected with organising the camp has ever mentioned these pages to me. So far as I know, Lennart, the Hotshots, the guest teachers, all remain ignorant of my Herrängular internet maunderings. Perhaps they are a little uncomfortable with them, because they are not an official advert for the camp. Perhaps they fear that any comment they make will appear in the next one. In case one is reading this, I'll state that I could have an off-the-record correspondence.
The evening meetings took place as usual, although every year they get a little less anarchic. Starting promptly at nine (would eight be a better time - to allow the evening dancing to start earlier?), these meetings would treat us to Lennart's dry wit, jokes about his dress sense, comedy videos made on the camp and dance videos from the swing era, and the occasional stage act. They always lasted at least an hour, but I seldom found myself bored. One night Catrine Ljunggren was challenged to run an evening meeting in under an hour, and she took up the gauntlet. This apparently was the first time Lennart had not been in charge of an evening meeting. Catrine took this challenge very seriously indeed, and did, by missing a few things out, manage to bring her meeting to a halt after just under an hour. Lennart made things interesting for his rival by such ploys as projecting photographs of her when she was a toddler, on a screen behind her as she spoke.
Other evening meeting occurrences included Lennart’s being enclosed in a box during his talk, and thereafter having to address the audience through a bum-shaped hole cut in the side; Lennart’s disguising of the camp doctor as a gorilla, so that no one would recognise her and ask for medical advice; an announcement that Kalle was not only funding a free drinks tab at the bar for all single ladies, but also giving a lesson for the men in how to charm women; a slide-show of pencil life-drawings, done by the teachers of a posed male nude, which did not display an excess of artistic talent.
Simon Selmon was caught repeatedly sneaking into classes in Week 4, by the fancy-dressed passport controllers. His punishment for this was to tell a funny story in an evening meeting. He took this task seriously (well - not that seriously - he asked me for material) and on the night told a fairy tale in the British pantomime style, getting the audience to hiss whenever the villain (Lennart) was mentioned. Such was the audience's enthusiasm for this, that when Lucy afterwards announced a three-minute limit on acts for the cabaret, the crowd hissed loudly whenever she said "limit" (the look on her face was one of bafflement - in retrospect, this may have been this year’s funniest moment for me).
This was perhaps the most remarkable thing that happened on my 2005 Herräng trip, in that it most powerfully illustrated the unusual nature of the camp. Some people were making a comedy video about recycling, and had decided to organise a battle between the blues (recyclers) and the black and reds (evil wasters). People were told to make their way to the football ground dressed in appropriate colours and that everything they needed would be there. When I arrived, I saw that weapons had been provided. Some were pathetic, like plastic coat hangers, but most were pretty substantial, including rough planks of wood, snooker cues, broken splintered oars, plastic plumbing pipe, and my weapon of choice: an aluminium crutch. Steel dust bin lids served as shields.
The two sides formed up. I sat astride my bicycle (I was a cavalryman), and we listened to the speeches of our glorious leaders. We were then told by the director that the two sides should rush at each other and start randomly hacking away. This would be done about five times so that the camera would be able to get lots of different angles. So we did. Each time I charged on my bicycle I was soon dismounted and laying about me with vigour. About eighty people were involved.
Can you imagine any other situation in which two large groups of strangers would be happy, indeed might be expected to be happy, to charge each other with dangerous weapons and repeatedly be attacked? Everyone there trusted everyone else not to hurt him. We were all dancers, and all knew that to hurt someone would be very bad. To be unable to dance at a dance camp is no fun. We all knew that no one would be drunk, no one would be violent, and everyone would have a good deal of physical control. We had all danced on crowded floors and were aware of how to avoid bumping into people around us. The level of trust was extraordinary, and yet everyone took it for granted. If you tried this at a holiday camp in Ibiza, I doubt things would go so well. As it turned out, I'm told that one person got a cut. All hail the power of swing.
Last Blues Night
I still harboured the desire to have the killer track used for the opening blues night show. I spent some while trying to find out who was organising it. Everyone seemed to think that someone else was doing it, and after speaking to all the usual suspects, I formed the impression that no one was doing it. It was Tuesday night. I went into the office and found Chester surfing the net. I played him the killer track. He was slain by it. Over the next hour or two I played bits of it to various passing Harlem Hotshots and to Simon Selmon, and all were impressed. Simon was an instant recruit for the performance. It was a bit long, however, and so with a heavy heart I cut it down by about a third, using some unfamiliar software. A couple of the edits were a bit obvious, but they would do.
We recruited the rest of the cast at the next evening meeting, and had from the meeting until midnight to rehearse. That gave us about an hour and a half. The decision was that I would direct it, and Chester would do the choreography. In the event, Chester's choreography rather took over and the extent of my direction was that one guy came on carrying a glass tumbler, and that we had a mirror ball and some lighting effects. Things were not going well. One of the couples dropped out right near the end, feeling a lack of confidence. The cast went away to change rather late. Someone made the decision to let the audience in. I was up on the bridge with the lighting man, and with Lennart who was to be the night's first blues DJ (using mainly vinyl). With the glow from the instrument panel shining upwards at him, and his hair slicked back, Lennart looked unnervingly like Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lector in Silence of the Lambs. I mentioned this. He didn't find it funny (he said he hadn't seen the film). News came back to us via the lighting man's headphones, that there were delays. The cast had not returned. Midnight came and went. The audience waited, patiently at first, but then increasingly less so. I suggested entertaining them with a few puffs from the smoke machine. This worked for a while, but then they got more annoyed. "Start the show!" someone shouted. At quarter past, Lennart said that we should cancel the show. Oh dear. Word came from backstage that they had enough people to start. Our six couples were now three. I pressed play and the killer track started. The dancers did what they could. Simon's solo doubled in length to fill a gap - what a pro'. I spoiled the ending a bit with some clumsy riding of the faders.
There was less flash photography that night, so perhaps my rather school-marmish request made in the evening meeting did some good.
I then did a bit of blues dancing, then had a rehearsal for the Cheese Shop Sketch in the basement. After this, more blues dancing, and through I write so myself, I was dancing well that night. I think that all my customers were satisfied, and some would have been repeat customers, if I hadn't decided to have a lie down. After a bit, my eyes became tired, and it was difficult to keep them open. My body and mind were fine and happy to keep dancing, but sleepiness manifested as a strong sensation in my eyeballs. Some cake, and an hour's rest, I thought, would see me fit to dance through to breakfast. I lay down in the café, and then someone roused me at 9.30 the following morning - just in time to get to my first lesson. Drat. Next year, I shall pin notes to myself saying, "Please wake me at five a.m."
Unsurprisingly, I have been asked by a few people what the killer track is. I am now prepared to release its name, on the understanding that everyone acknowledges that I was the one who discovered it, okay? It is If You Wear That Velvet Dress by the Jools Holland Orchestra, with lead vocals by Bono. It is a strong contender for the greatest track ever recorded.
Three years ago, I had been recruited to perform the John Cleese role in Monty Python's The Cheese Shop Sketch. We had thought to do it Week 3 this year, but now, Week 4, we really really were going to do it. Those who know this sketch know that it involves one person (me)'s having to remember the names of about two hundred cheeses. I was too exhausted to remember anything much, so I cheated by having my character draw up a list on little cards. I put together a fairly good Cleese outfit from the excellent Prop Shop, and got into character. With a bit of practice, I had the walk, the posture, and the hand gestures I wanted. We had sorted out the microphone problems with the technical crew. We couldn't have radio mikes, so we would be miked up on boom mikes, leaving our hands free, and this apparently would work fine, even if the mikes were some distance from our mouths.
I infiltrated the Bedlam Bar, as an official cabaret artiste. There, I learned that my act last year of swing moves that never caught on had inspired a similar one of blues moves that a group was doing that night. Their move "the sweat-wipe" particularly sticks in the mind.
Our time came, and we rushed onto the stage and set up. I had made a "CHEESE SHOP" sign. Dan sat on his stool to play the bouzouki player. The curtain opened, and Dan started playing air-bouzouki and got a few chuckles. I was just about to stride on when a microphone on a lead was thrust into my hand. This crippled my performance. All my planned gestures, such as much rubbing together of hands, were now impossible. Holding the microphone affected the way I spoke, stood, moved, everything. Still, it's all good experience. I held the microphone down by my waist, to minimise its affect on me, however, this meant that I had to bellow all my lines. I slew the cheese shop proprietor and strode off, leaving Dan, eating an enormous slice of cheese, to get the laughs.
I had been a bit worried about the swearing in the sketch. There is almost no swearing from anyone on the Herräng stage, and I feared that a use of the F word might be out of place. “I can’t swear in front of Dawn Hampton,” I said, but was persuaded to keep the swearing in. The next day I apologised to Dawn, who seemed to be entirely unconcerned by my language. She’s a god-fearing lady, but I suppose has heard far worse in her time.
In another act, a load of teachers did a tap dance. What sticks in my mind is Skip Cunningham’s entrance. As Chazz was still doing his spot in the centre of the stage, Skip came skidding on sideways. He must have started his run up offstage. He ended up exactly where Chazz had been, just as Chazz finished and got out of the way. Timing.
The camp was getting a bit more business-like. The Lindy Hop Shop sold no more pirate CDs, the office was moved out of the bar area to a more aloof location down a corridor, and a sign on the door said "Teachers Only". There was no cultural activity on Wednesday of Week 4, to make way for more lessons (and a later start). I'm glad to say that some things were still quite amiably shambolic. I never did find the washing machines that were supposedly in the basement. On the clothes front, I did okay this year. Amazingly, I took more than enough socks. I had almost enough shirts too. Some I made last longer by dancing through the night in them, and then wearing them to classes straight away. If one hasn't slept in a shirt, or taken it off, it doesn't feel so dirty. I never wore my khaki adventure-shorts, which fashion-watchers might be glad about.
The design of the big blue plastic recycling bins was amusing. Some wag had decided to make them wider in the middle than at the ends. When one was filled with glass bottles, the bottles would settle in the bin's liner, and pose a great test of resolve to remove. It typically took two people a few minutes of struggling to get the liner out, and usually one or both would get splashed with stale drink as they did this.
Illness was not a great problem for me this year. I am still feeling the tale-end of the cold I caught, but it only stopped me dancing for half a night. I was slumped over, feeling generally bleagh when one kind soul fetched me some paracetamols, and another gave me some Pro Plus. Suitably drugged-up, I was feeling dance fit within the hour. Others were not so lucky. One girl I knew was working part-time cleaning the showers, and was being paid in free dancing every night. She was, however, feeling far too rough to dance, so her week consisted of getting up, staggering to the shower block, cleaning it, and staggering back to bed. Not the best holiday for her, but an impressive display of duty.
I was persuaded to try the sauna again, but I found it rather hot. It was 94ºC at one time. Why does it have to be so hot? Saunas wouldn't be so bad if they weren't hot. Perhaps if they took the heater out, one could have a nice sit down in a wooden room, but the heater really ruins it. The nudity doesn't bother me at all. I recall talking to a woman in the showers. She was clothed, I wasn't, and I didn't know her. Didn't bother me in the slightest. Americans were often sighted in the sauna wearing swimming gear. I used my swimming gear once, but that was for an early morning swim in the Baltic. I had danced all night, and after getting in very slowly (it was cold), I swam out to a buoy, then realised how tired I was, and curtailed my plans and just swam straight back.
I don't feel that I did all that much dancing. I seemed to spend most nights crashed out in the cosy room, or talking, playing table football (twice I beat girls ten-nil, and both times they refused to take their clothes off to honour the result), preparing cabaret acts, and otherwise shirking. I would like to have danced more. I didn't seem to have many different partners. The only other teacher I danced with was Cookie. The first dance went well - I interpreted the music well, I thought - but it didn't lead to a second. Another night I got another go, but still I didn't seem to pass the audition. I gave it a third try late in the trip, and I was rubbish. I was dancing squashed in one corner of the floor, and everything went wrong. My connection went from harsh to weak, and I did the same five moves over and over. She didn't look impressed. One day.
As usual, I got bitten a lot by mosquitoes, and I saw an enormous horse fly land on someone. They didn't seem to be attacking me very vigorously in my tent, however, and as the days went by, I wore less and less repellent, hardly bothering at all in the last days. I seemed to get bitten less if anything, or perhaps I just didn't care so much, or perhaps my body wasn't reacting to the bites. A few times I got associated swellings with the bites, but by and large I just ignored the blighters this year. The daily briefing notices often included a "mosquito index", and I think the highest I saw it go to was 8.6, although I suspect that these numbers meant nothing at all.
This year wasn't the most expensive, even though it was for me the longest trip. I got there reasonably cheaply, got a discount on my course, was very kindly donated some unneeded meal tickets for the Yum Yum restaurant (that now sells evening-meal-only tickets for those who expect to miss breakfasts), and even got a free outdoor haircut into the bargain (this was a personal service not extended to all campers). I got paid 400 krona for my DJing, which was quite a lot of ice-cream tokens. I'd love to be paid to do more at the camp, perhaps one day even teach a course (beginners' Lindy, probably - at least I could put lots of jokes in the lessons, using my clear standard English), but that's just a pipe-dream for now. People there (hearteningly, and at the same time frustratingly) keep taking me for a professional entertainer. I wish someone who might employ me would.
"Are you doing a video this year?" I kept getting asked. Well, when I announced a meeting in the café for people who wanted to be involved, no one showed up, but I made the announcement badly, and still recruited two people anyway. No, I didn't make a video, though I did have an idea for one. The seed of the idea came from noticing that Ryan and Jenny (he dark, she pale), and Rob and Diane (he pale, she dark) have both had children (beige), one of each sex, and these play together. If these in turn in the years ahead produced a child, might this child be The One, that would bring balance to swing (Star Wars), and who would be able to see the dance (The Matrix). My idea boiled down to the Coming of The One, who would be a bit like Neo from The Matrix, but instead of being able to see the computer code behind the world, he would be able to see everything that was about to happen on a dance floor, and hear everything that was about to happen in the music. As long as people were dancing, he could predict exactly what they would do next, and people danced wherever he went. He would move something aside so that a ladder that hadn't been knocked over yet would not fall on it when in two eight-counts' time someone bumped into it. On the floor, he would send his partner hurtling at other dancers, knowing that they were all just about to get out of the way. All this while wearing cool shades, of course. Could have been fun. Maybe next year.
Friday Week Four - Graduation Party
There was a band on the stage in the Folketshus, thrown together from the people at the camp, and this played us some appropriate rock numbers. This was the first time I had seen an entire band stage-dive the audience. The men dived forwards, while the women turned, and fell backwards into the audience, to be carried aloft on their backs instead. I especially admired the dive by the saxophonist, who during one number got quite some way across the hall, and then by arm signals got the audience to carry him back to the stage in time for his next saxophone part.
At all three costume parties I attended this year, some people came dressed as pirates.
There is seemingly no end to my interest in this camp. Tell me what happened the following year.
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