I arrived and learned the news very quickly: there was no booze in Herräng. The story went in various versions of the following: one of the locals who regularly went to the bar in the Folkethus and got annoyingly drunk, after being thrown out yet again, complained to the authorities, who came and inspected the bar, and ruled that it had a kitchen big enough only to qualify it as a café and not a restaurant which would be allowed to serve alcohol above very low strength. This bothered me very little, since I hardly ever drink booze when I’m dancing, or at all for that matter. It was clearly a concern for many, however, and I may be totally wrong, but it seemed to me that more drinking went on in Herräng as a consequence of this ban than in previous years. People panic-stricken by the thought of no booze availability sent in big orders to those on the frequent booze-runs to Hallstavik. A speakeasy was set up in the basement. I visited this once, and found it packed into a tiny damp room filled with pipes and ducts, and there I queued to be served the smallest glass of wine I had ever seen, at a bar made out of an ironing board. You’d have to be rich to get drunk there. This was a perfectly in-retro-period reaction to the ban. The swing era in the USA was also the prohibition era.
I pitched my tent in my usual place, and was soon saying hello to people I knew, such as Simon Selmon who came past. I then went for a quick look around and met a girl prettier than any who would speak to me in Newcastle and she was immediately very friendly, and I knew I was in this weird world where the girls are pretty, intelligent, friendly, and don’t put out – much the opposite of Newcastle’s Bigg Market on a Friday night.
Venturing down to the Folketshus I was accosted at the passport control point and asked for 200 SEK. I wasn’t yet dressed for blues night and just wanted to say hello to someone I could see standing in front of the building, and I had left my all-action multi-pocketed adventure-waistcoat in my tent with my cash in it. Chris of passport control lent me the money from his own pocket. This is a good thing about the swing world – Chris could be confident that I would pay him back, because he knew that a swing dancer does not go to the trouble of getting good at swing dancing, then flying to a foreign camp, only to throw his reputation away by swindling someone out of fifteen quid.
Gunnar told me how passport control was able to spot non-swing intruders to the camp. People sometimes pretend to be swing dancers so that they can get into the parties, drink (ha ha!), and ogle the girls. The people at the gate just have to ask them to dance a swing-out or two to see if they are impostors. It strikes me that this really is a 100% secure system. Whereas identity cards can be forged, DNA and fingerprint analysis are fallible, I see no way an ability to do a swing-out can be faked. If a person goes to the trouble of learning how to do a decent swing-out, then he is a Lindy hopper, and welcome to the party.
In fact, it wasn’t blues night. This was Wednesday Week 3, and blues night had been moved without my getting written warning to Tuesday nights. This strikes me as a perfectly sensible move, since Wednesday (blues), Thursday (cabaret) and Friday (themed party) nights all used to be special ones, and this innovation spaced out the special nights a bit more. So, I just got on with the urgent business of dancing, and wasted no time changing, although my beige cotton-polyester travelling shirt was suboptimal for this purpose.
|An innovation: water fountains. The one (right) by the dansbanan was very welcome and efficient, supplying Herräng’s curiously tasteless water. The one outside the Folketshus ballroom (not shown) was better than nothing, but was a bit of a dribble. There was no mention this year of water shortages, so presumably this problem encountered last year had been sorted out.|
I had arrived with plans and props for doing the FIFA sketch that didn’t happen last year. I’d be there for three cabaret nights so there was plenty of time, and besides, Chester hadn’t arrived yet, so I contented myself with watching. Peter Strom compèred the night, and it had been made very clear that acts were strictly limited to three minutes. A gong would sound and microphones would be faded to silence. Mr Strom is what you might call a bit of an alpha male and was determined to bend the crowd to his wishes, getting us to shout out such things as “what?!” “oh yeah!” and “okay!” to his cues. He created a monster, however, and the crowd delighted in shouting these out at moments inconvenient to him. One of the night’s golden moments was when Peter himself got gonged after a particularly long bit of compèring. This happened twice, and the first time, he looked stunned and left the stage.
One of the acts that got gonged did so after a long and puzzling introduction. Two Mexican girls acted out swatting at flies buzzing around them for a while, and then one of them discovered some juggling balls just as the gong went. This inspired me to think up several acts all of which had the same basic gag: massively elaborate preparations for an expected payoff that always gets gonged off. Examples included a card trick involving several stages that would seemingly make it completely impossible for the magician to guess the correct card when… bong! Or how about a fearsomely dangerous stunt being set up, involving a diving board, huge spikes, a blindfold etc. when… bong! - just before the jump. The funny thing was that there was a part two to this act: the next week the same girl with the juggling balls was in the cabaret again, and started with some very impressive ball manipulation, but again she stretched this out too much and was gonged off for a second time just before she was about to start juggling. The timing would have been a sign of genius had it been deliberate.
More acts than usual were dance-related, but the act that perhaps sticks in the mind most is that performed by Lucy from the Lindy Hop Shop, who blew into a man’s nose while he pursed his lips, and played him as a human whistle. Mr Strom informed us afterwards that the man had a cold, which was a detail not appreciated by all.
This year they had taken the decision that as it was the 25th anniversary of the start of the camp, they would break the pattern of recent years with Friday night party themes, and instead of announcing them long in advance, they kept them secret until as late as the day itself. Those I spoke to about how this had gone so far seemed less than impressed. The Week 2 party had been announced at the last moment as a crayfish party, and I got the impression that this was not such a great party as has become expected. Anyway, we were told to dress up and expect some VIP guests.
One way to save money on getting in to the parties is to volunteer, and this is what I did this day, and I spent several hours shifting furniture, making cushions, hanging up the big banners on the front of the Folketshus, building platforms out of palletes, and working wonders with gaffer (“duct” or even “duck” to foreigners) tape. I then got myself recruited to play a part in the opening performances – something I’ve never before done. I was to play a paparazzo. My little pocket digital camera wouldn’t cut it, though, so I made myself a big professional-looking camera in eight minutes flat by finding a black coffee cup, some cardboard, packing tape, black marker pen, a Stanley knife, and then getting down to work.
Modestly braving the deserved adulation, Henric and Joanna.
And that, Dear Reader, was about it for the themed party. After this grand opening, we all just went into the Folketshus and for the rest of the night, it was just like any other dance night at Herräng. It could of course be that my memory has failed me, and that there were many other lavish presentations and themed touches, but I can remember none. If you were there and can remember some, remind me. There was perhaps a live band at some point.
Saturday Week 3\4
The next day, I had a difficult decision to make. Should I register for classes? I always take classes at Herräng, and last year took them in the last week I was there. This time I had reckoned that it would be better to take the classes in the first full week I was there, and leave the last week for larking about. What gave me pause, though, was that I had caught a cold. Would I be ill for much of the next week? If so, perhaps I should wait and do classes later. I decided to register. Viruses be hanged! I registered faster than ever, and got my little blue passport that would in theory get me in to everything free.
At the evening meeting, the teachers were introduced. For no reason given, Eddie and Eva Jannson were absent, and were replaced by a combination of other teachers. Also missing was Chester Whitmore, who is notoriously difficult to track down, and not the most diligent at informing camp organisers of his arrival. During the meeting, he was traced to a hotel in London, and Lennart spoke to him via a mobile telephone with its speaker turned up for all to hear. Chester informed us in his movie-voice that he was pinned down by enemy agents and had gone to ground.
They got us all to gather at one of the big marquees, divided us up, and got us to dance in couples. I danced brilliantly – interpreting every little nuance of the music, and getting my partner to come with me for every note. We swapped partners a few times, and I was the same. We were then asked to leave the tent while others danced, and then they brought us in again for a second bout of dancing. I started all right, but then got a partner whom I didn’t gel with, and as I was in the far corner of the room from the judges at this point, and perhaps foolishly felt that I had already done enough, I let my guard down, and started dancing a bit lazily, and that was bad of me because I should have been thinking more about my partner and how she looked. It was at this point that a teacher judging the audition pounced and put a little sticker on me saying “2”. “Shit”, thought I.
So, I was in the middle group. Or was I? There was much confusion, but very little discussion about this. Some said that even the teachers were confused about it, and that one in particular had been dishing out the wrong stickers. I did see one guy get stickered with two different stickers within a few seconds. Some teachers during our classes told us that we were the best group. I also heard that number 3 was meant to be the top group, and that number 1 was. Was it camp policy to make things unclear? Perhaps had I been more interested, I could have found out. I can see how they might want people in the lowest group to think that they might be the top group: to stop people complaining and wanting to swap groups. I genuinely don’t know which order the three advanced groups were really in. It did matter to me a bit, though, because I was trying to hire out my services as a teacher to some people who may have been in a higher level group than me, and that, I felt, would scupper my chances of getting the booking.
My first lesson required leading a box step with a decent frame, and half the women in the room couldn’t do it, and I thought about asking to swap groups. I stuck with it, though, and things were sort of fine. The group was more homogenous in ability than usual, equally balanced with men and women, and with no awkward people. I didn’t feel that I was part of a lively elite of individuals, though.
This site’s influence
A Finnish chap approached me and asked if I was the guy who wrote these pages on Herräng. I admitted that I was, and he didn’t hit me. Instead he said that these pages convinced him to go to the camp, and that he was now there again, and was going to go to another camp in America to meet a lady friend of his he had met at Herräng. I asked him if he would be going to the US camp if he hadn’t come to Herräng first. He said no. “Invite me to the wedding,” I said. He said he would.
A handful of people this year, as in previous years, came up to me to say that my accounts had persuaded them to come to the camp, and not one of them was blaming me for leading him astray. Others just said that they had read the pages and liked them. Those who hated these pages kept their opinions secret from me. The exception was a London lady who gleefully took the piss out of how long they are. Yes, they are long. Sorry.
One odd thing is that no one who actually runs the camp has ever mentioned these pages to me. Seriously – not in nine years has any of them even admitted to knowing that I write them. Why might this be? When I type “herrang dance camp” into Google UK today, my site comes up as the 7th hit (it used to be higher), and in the Swedish version of Google it ranks 16th. It therefore strikes me as very unlikely that the Harlem Hotshots don’t know about my Herräng section. Perhaps they are keeping their distance from me, lest anything they say end up on these pages. Perhaps they are frightened of me, like some savage restaurant critic who might cripple them with a bad review. Seems unlikely, though, doesn’t it?
The view from my tent. I was woken several mornings
by lessons in this Marquee – the Roseland.
The next day, Chester turned up, but he met me before he met Lennart. He already had an idea for something he wanted to do on stage in the evening meeting, and he recruited me to help him out. He wanted me to be one of a gang of hoodlums armed with a bomb who would invade the stage and capture Lennart, and then Chester could enter and effect a rescue. I liked the idea, and added a number of ideas of my own. I suggested that the raiders be terrorists who could gag Lennart, put the bomb under him on a timer, and then start making demands. Chester could then take them out one at a time by stealth, and then ungag Lennart who would then (one hoped) mention that the bomb was still ticking. Chester could then (to the Mission Impossible theme tune) run through the audience and out of the building, carrying the bomb. He should then stay away for a few items in the meeting – long enough for people to have forgotten about this episode and to believe that it was all over. Then: bang! a loud explosion played through the speakers could act as a cue for Chester to enter again, staggering around, acting deaf, and then coolly claiming to have defused the bomb.
In the event, I was called away and couldn’t be one of the hoodlums, but it all happened anyway and worked a treat. The audience did forget, the bomb sound effect was VERY loud, and Chester staggered onto the stage with ripped clothes and covered in white flour. Big laugh from the audience. Vicarious pleasure for me.
Evening on the road past the camp site. You can see the mosquitoes
back-lit against the far trees.
I wasn’t a hoodlum that night, because I was instead down to take part in the “DJ battle”, and had to go and get my CDs. I had been to the DJs’ meeting earlier, and was hoping to do a spot of DJing, especially in Week 5. The idea of this night was that several DJs would be put on one after the other, and each would play just six tracks, and try to keep the party going. The notice said that the best of the DJs might be asked to continue. This was clearly a DJ audition. To make matters easier, a jury of music judges would be on stage making its opinion clear. I was on first. Talk about pressure.
What should I play? One thing I wanted to do was play something a bit different from the usual stuff they had been playing, but they had made it clear that their tastes were very narrow. I thought that I might play an all-British set, but then decided that this might be too unconventional for the judges. I picked my six, then changed my mind at least three times. Should I play to please the audience of dancers or the judges? Pleasing both would be beyond almost any DJ, and to whip the audience in a swing frenzy from cold in the space of six tracks, put a personal stamp on the set, and have some sort of shape to the set (building to fast and then perhaps slowing) was a daunting challenge.
I got up onto the bridge, and tried to sort out the discs for my set. I was then asked to play just anything while people came in, and get things going before starting my six-track set proper. I of course complied, and sought out other tracks, and started playing them. Ironically, I played a much better set before my “set” started. The judges formed a seated semi-circle on the stage, armed themselves with microphones, paper and marker pens, and got ready to enjoy intimidating the DJs. The floor wasn’t very full.
Suddenly, I was announced. What? Argh! I didn’t have my first CD for my set in the machine. Some warning would have been good. Quickly I looked through the list of what was on the CD I had in the machine, and I found a good track, and one that matched the ta-daaaaah! tone of my introduction. I hit play. The track was too fast for an opening track, probably, but I sort of got away with it.
Now of course, the second track I had planned didn’t follow the one I was playing, and I then had to search for something else to play. This was made harder by the fact that I had several CDs out of their pockets in my CD case because I had been playing them earlier, and by the fact that there were three techies wandering around the bridge moving things.
One thing I didn’t know was that the player on the right didn’t work properly. Throughout my set it never played the start of any track and instead jumped in a few bars late, and once it played completely the wrong track. This again made it impossible (or at least unwise) to play the next tack I had planned. I looked up from the bridge at the stage, and saw the people dancing amiably enough on the floor, and the signs penned by the judges, saying the likes of “ZZZZZZZZ”, “WTF?” and worse. I smiled. What were my options?
I played a track by the British group the Puppini Sisters who last year had a hit swing album in the mainstream, charts called Betcha Bottom Dollar (according to their official website the album on May 2nd 2007 was ranked in the number two position on the Amazon.com bestsellers list and on May 9th number two on the U.S. Jazz Charts, and number nine on the U.S. new artist chart). I play their stuff in Newcastle and Durham to the students, who love them. It’s modern, it’s fun, it’s different, it’s popular, and it swings. They are a sort of modern comedy version of the Andrew Sisters. “Lloyd,” said Peter, “did you buy that at the Kuggen?” [local grocery and bric-a-brac shop in Herräng] A few replies occurred to me but I said nothing, getting on instead with trying to find the next track. One track that I had planned as part of my set was my double-length version of the Jeeves and Wooster theme, which, two years ago when I last played it at Herräng, got great cheers from the crowd and requests for repetition. It seemed to baffle the judges. Another DJ ran up to me and asked me what it was. I heard him play it a few days later.
I had compromised my entire set in a vain attempt to please the judges. I should perhaps have gone entirely out to please them, and just played more of the stuff that had been playing for the previous week, or I should have said “stuff it” and played what I wanted to. Instead I fell between two stools. I finished off with something that in hindsight was a capitulation. I played Frenesi by Artie Shaw. Immediately the faces of the judges lit up and they gave me favourable comments. Trouble is, any swing DJ could have played a set of that stuff.
At the end of my set, the judges gave me desultory token applause, and then Mark Kihara asked the crowd to “give it up for” me. To my surprise I got a fair round of applause, but I was feeling embarrassed and a failure. I went over to Mark, and he thanked me for my set without meeting my eye, and said that it was “awesome”, using it in the American sense of “barely adequate”. I then went over and chatted to Peter Loggins for a bit as he came up with more scathing things to write on his signs for the next DJ victim. The judges were entertaining themselves and each other by coming up with the cruellest things they could say. Peter told me that some of the tracks I played were “awesome”, referring to the ones that get played all the time. He hadn’t heard of the Puppinis, and said that their track was “cheesy”. He hadn’t spotted that one of my tracks was by the British big band leader Ted Heath, and told me that TH was “square”.
You can probably guess that I never got a DJ spot at Herräng this year, which is a shame for me because it would have saved me a bit of money, and because I had spent two days burning new CDs especially for it.
I went down to the library, and started dancing down there. The same music played in the Folketshus was being piped into that room. After a while, a new DJ came on and started with a waltz. Soon we were all waltzing around the room with big grins on our faces. This was fun! I decided that I would go upstairs and support this DJ, whoever it was, and tell him that we were all waltzing in the library even if they weren’t upstairs. I soon learned that they had been waltzing up there too. The DJ was a Japanese woman called Tomo, and she had the now-crowded room partying. She played “The Hokey Pokey” (similar to the British Hokey Cokey but without the choruses and lacking a logical sequence of body parts) and half the room danced to the lyrics, while the rest swung out. She played a loud Latin pop version of Chihuahua and the place was absolutely jumping – we all had a riot moving our bodies in ways we hadn’t been given an excuse to for ages. This was suddenly a real party. The swing puritans on stage were beside themselves with scorn for the music played. One wrote “FU”. “You missed off the N!” I shouted. At the end of her set, the whole floor erupted in a mass show of appreciation, and we started chanting “One more track! One more track!” She had done something I wish I could have: stuck two fingers up to the music police.
I don’t know if she was ever given another DJ spot.
This was the most crowded week of the camp. Normally this is Week 3, but this year the camp for the first time ran for five weeks, and the second-from-last week was the most crowded. I have to say, though, that I didn’t particularly notice the crowding. They had a huge tent outside the YumYum restaurant for diners, and I never saw it full. More importantly, in the evening dances, the Folketshus never got as crowded as it has in previous years. I never found it too crowded to dance. This was great, though also a little mysterious.
They were running weekend courses for beginners as well as the full week-long courses, and there were plenty of beginners and intermediates around during the day. In the evenings, though, they seemed thin on the floor. I often seek out people whom I’ve not danced with before, or who seem especially keen to get a dance, so I would expect in a night’s dancing to end up dancing fairly often with less experienced dancers, but in a night’s dancing I’d only a couple of times end up with an inexperienced partner. Were the better dancers keeping the rest away by being intimidatingly good, or worse, by refusing dances when asked by the non-experts?
Inspired by this year’s Herräng, I wrote this about why we should all dance with beginners.
The joy of ignorance
In conversation with two Swedish Herräng veterans, I heard for the first time about a thing called a fästing. This is a nasty biting tick that lies in wait in tall grass and latches onto you and bites you in secret, using an anaesthetic to disguise its chomping through your flesh. Worse, 2% of them carry lethal diseases like the brain-stem-destroying TBE, or the ever-so-nasty lyme disease (borrelia). Aware of their presence in Herräng, these Swedes had been vaccinated against their pestilence. I think I understand why the brochure doesn’t shout about this.
I suppose I ought to say something about the lessons. My group had the following teachers:
Peter Loggins and Mia Goldsmith: These concentrated on teaching us other swing dances. They taught us the Peabody – a simple dance that circulates the room quite fast. Apparently, people used to use it to race each other around ballrooms back in the day. The Saint Louis Shag – this is a dance similar to Lindy hop. Peter described it as Charleston with triple steps. Bits of it would bolt onto Lindy quite happily. Indeed, one of the steps was near enough the same as one I improvised in Lindy years ago. The Heel Shag – we danced this slowly although I don’t know if it is especially designed with slowness in mind. The man and the woman are on the same foot, doing flick-ball-change flick-ball-change (1-4), step across (5-6), triple step (7 and 8). I danced this socially in the evening with others who had done the class, and even got a couple of (uncommonly good) partners who didn’t know it to follow it, mixed in with my Lindy. We also learned a basic box-step dance.
Daniel Heedman and Åsa Palm: These first taught us a fast show routine, with big moves useful for stage choreography, but perhaps not much use in social dancing. They then taught us a lesson in which we had to clap rhythms and scat, and then try and dance those rhythms. I missed this lesson first time, because I had stupidly looked at the wrong day’s timetable, but after I asked nicely they allowed me into another session in which they taught the same material. These were my first ever lessons with Daniel.
Vincenzo Fesi and Isabella Gregorio: These taught us for just one lesson, and just taught two or three moves. I think fatigue must have addled my mind a bit, because looking at my notes of the moves, I see that I had forgotten them completely, and so reconstructing these moves from the words on the page alone will be a bit tricky.
Peter Strom and Ramona Staffeld: Peter is an entertaining teacher with a good line in banter, but a stern intolerance of interruption or contradiction. He taught us some fairly difficult Lindy moves, and a fair bit of get-on-down-and-grind stuff that prompted some that dared to come in with signs saying things like “Are we at a Westie [meaning West Coast Swing] camp now?”. Ramona was playing second fiddle to Peter, who made it very clear who was in charge of the class. When she was allowed to speak she gave the ladies some good tips. Ramona has grown into a sexy lady since I first saw her in 2002 and has learned how to smile, but only with the bottom half of her face, leaving her brows knit in their habitual scowl. She has been away from Lindy studying other styles, and now has come back and seems very happy. I would be fascinated to see a class taught by Peter Strom and Ron Leslie (and perhaps just one woman teacher). Watching these two in an alpha-off could be great entertainment.
Frida Segerdahl and Sakarias Larsson: Taught some rhythm steps in one lesson, and in another some really great ways to get into and out of the hand-to-hand Charleston and kicking-the-leaves, which I used on the social floor whenever I had the room and the right music. People tell me that Frida is not shy, but she seems to exist in her own little bubble, seldom meeting anyone’s eye or talking to them directly. In evening meetings she always clams up with an embarrassed smile whenever questioned by Lennart, and yet she performs on stage with tremendous confidence and gusto, and takes on some potentially awkward tasks like being the person to whom complaints are to be taken at the camp. Sakarias I’m told is a really nice guy, and I find this easy to believe, although I have never had a conversation with him or any of the younger Hotshots at the camp.
We must interrupt the lessons now because it is time for passport control.
Ryan and Jenny Francois: I’m afraid I missed one of their lessons due to oversleeping. This was particularly annoying as they did a move I’ve wanted to be taught for years. Heigh ho. They taught moves typical of their style, with big wide frames and lots of spins.
I was told a joke at the camp. Apparently Jenny likes it. It goes like this: Simon Selmon dies and his spirit floats up on a fluffy white cloud to the pearly gates, where Saint Peter greets him and beckons him through, but before he walks into heaven, Simon stops and asks “Is Ryan Francois in there, because if he is I’m not sure I want to be going in.”
Saint Peter says that Ryan is not in heaven.
“Are you absolutely sure?” asks Simon. “Could you check for me? This is important.”
Saint Peter, with the patience of a watchmaker, gets out a huge ledger and checks through it. “This ledger is absolutely comprehensive,” says Saint Peter, “and Ryan Francois is definitely not listed in it.”
“Thank you,” says Simon, and walks into heaven. He sees the vast smooth cool-aired dance floors, the infinite supply of free ice cream, the young thin beautiful dance partners, and then sees an enormous stretch limo driving past. It has “Lindimobile” emblazoned down its side in jewels, and clearly visible sitting right at the back under a chandelier is a brown-skinned man in baseball cap, out-size American sportswear, listening to swing music which is blasting out of the vehicle. Immediately Simon runs back to the gates and accosts Saint Peter. “Oi!” he shouts angrily. “You said that Ryan Francois wasn’t in here, but I’ve just seen him. You lied!”
“What, in the limo?” asks Saint Peter.
“Yes,” says Simon.
“Ah no,” says the Saint, “that was God. He just thinks he’s Ryan Francois.”
Steve Mitchell and Virginie Jensen: Steve’s dance is so unlike mainstream Lindy hop that I wonder whether it might not be better called something else. Like Peter Strom and other teachers, he played very different music in his lessons from the stuff the DJs were playing in the evenings, and it was rare that I could fit anything he taught to the evening party music. Steve’s stuff was more get-on-down groovy funky than big band swingy. Virginie frustrated the women in the class by being so good at what she does, and so difficult to copy. Her hips swivel more than is the human norm. She can show you her face and her backside at the same time.
Dan Guest: I took a couple of extra lessons with Dan Guest. He taught some nice partnered Charleston variations, and another dance entirely new to me. It is from the same part of the world and era as the Balboa, and is danced to very slow swing music, and is called the laminu. The couple embraces fairly closely like the Balboa, but the dance is lower, and as the couple crabs back and forth, the shoulders are inclined steeply one way and the next. So far as I know, there aren’t many figures, but instead the couple mainly just varies the basic step. It was nice and I’d be happy to give it another go one day.
Andrew Sutton: Andrew is an American teacher who takes the analysis of dance commendably seriously, and yet on the social dance floor is to be seen for the most part clowning about. He taught an evening class in fast blues (he wasn’t teaching any of the main courses at the camp). He started by getting us to list a lot of words we associated with blues dancing. These included tactile, cool, intimate, slow, sexy, passionate, drag, close, and many more. He then tried to get us to agree on how many sticks it took to make a pile. No consensus was reached on this issue. He placed down many sticks and we agreed that this number was a ‘pile’. He then removed one stick and we agreed that there was still a pile of sticks left. It took some while to reach this stage in the lesson. His point was if the stick he removed from the pile was the metaphorical equivalent of the word slow, and the pile represented blues, then with all the other words/sticks left in the pile, what remained was still blues. We then worked on dancing to fastish music in a bluesy way, dragging out the moves and keeping the feel of a bluesy connection. Good stuff.
For the first time, this year they had a course in what they decided to call “African-Cuban” dances. One night in an evening meeting a couple of teachers came on and gave us a demonstration dance in salsa/mambo. They looked great. What I really liked about them was that they danced with a sense of humour, which is something I feel the Latin dance scene tends to lack.
Sakarias came on stage during one evening performance to perform a magic trick. It didn’t go terribly well, and the cigarette he was supposed to end up with held coolly between his lips was shredded in the prestidigitation. He followed this up a day or two later with a similarly inept performance, and a challenge went out to other teachers at the camp to better his efforts. Simon Selmon and Ewa “W” Staremo Burakrose to the challenge, and both made ridiculous videos in which they performed very easy magic tricks and then came up with amusingly spurious explanations as to how they were done. There was to be a final showdown on stage, and a winner would be judged.
On the night, Simon started with a very entertaining version of the saw-a-woman-in-half trick, performed using two black boxes big enough to hide a platoon of Gurkhas. Jessica Lennartsson was his victim, and we saw her head sticking out of one box, and some feet sticking out of the other box, making her appear about nine feet tall. Simon also made some things disappear behind a black cloth. What he didn’t realise was that much of the laughter he was getting was prompted by the fact that his black cloth was far from opaque and so all the movements behind it could be seen quite clearly.
Ewa then used Marie Nahnfeldt as her accomplice in the famous levitation trick. Ewa’s mystic showmanship was great, and Marie played her part as hypnotised, as her ‘body’ rose beneath the large cloth draped over her. You can now see this on YouTube
Last on was Sakarias (see his show on YouTube). One has to admire the sheer scale of his show, given how long he had to put it together. Again, his tricks were completely obvious in that no one was fooled for an instant about how they were done, but there were loads of them, and the stage was filled with assistants, costumes, and swirling cloth, and the music bore us along. Chester was brought up onto the stage, clad in a very natty costume, including sun visor and glasses. Sakarias sent him behind one screen and then immediately Manu Smith came out from behind another screen, clad in exactly the same gear. Big laugh. Sak’s last trick was to hold a huge cloth in front of himself, then drop it to reveal someone else entirely. Huge applause. Simon and Ewa admitted defeat.
Cookie’s Unplugged Night
Angela “Cookie” Andrew organised an entertainment in the Bar Bedlam, and a few days earlier asked me if I would tell a horror story. I turned up, half expecting not to have to do anything, and with nothing prepared. She told me that Chester hadn’t turned up to do his spot, so would I fill for five minutes or so. Argh! Pressure. While trying to keep up a conversation with friends in the bar, I sat trying to think of something to say. Just in time I thought up an anecdote I could tell. Cookie and others sang some songs, and then I was introduced. I explained that I was a very bad person to tell a ghost story, for the simple reason that I don’t believe in ghosts. “Do you believe in fairies, children?” I asked the audience. A quiet chorus of yeses came back in reply (mostly female voices). “You’re all mad!” I yelled at them. “You’re not even children!”
I went on to tell a version of the story of my awful brush with British reality television (you can read about it here should you want to). Unfortunately, I realised as I was telling it, that the story was quite long and complicated, so I kept cutting bits of it out, and still Cookie had to stop me from going on after I’d rambled for twelve minutes. I found out later that she had recorded it, and that's how I found out just how long I wittered on for. I think I got away with it.
For jugglers, or those wishing to have a go, someone had organised a box of juggling equipment that was put out on a grassy patch in the early evening. I gave it a few goes, just to remind myself how rusty I’ve become.
Manu Smith (whom I have spoken to very little but seems a nice guy) organised poker games in the bar, late in the evenings. They were played for real money, and the first-placed winner won an amount worth having. I considered giving it a go, but they were playing Texas hold 'em, and I cannot see the sense in this game at all. People keep telling me that it is better than normal poker, but I just can’t see the advantage, despite looking hard for one. The players do most of their betting when even they have no idea what hand they have, massively increasing the role of luck and decreasing the role of bluff. The betting system seems bizarre too. It strikes me, that the optimum strategy is to go “all in” (betting everything you have) right at the start. It will cost anyone else everything they have to see your cards, and so no one will want to do this, so you will probably win all the antes. If someone does go against you, it’s fifty-fifty whether you win or not, which is much better odds than playing against all the players in the circle. If someone knows why Texas hold 'em is a good game, and can explain it to me, I’d be most grateful.
One evening, I was very nicely recommended to “check out” (he was American) an event in one of the marquees up by the school put on by Nicole and a French girl. I enjoyed eating my free cinnamon bun and drinking my free cider, but I have to report being merely baffled by the rest of the session. It was partly about Josephine Baker, I think, but after we sang a few lines from one of her songs, she was never mentioned again, and then we did acting games, of the sort I think they use at acting schools. I gave several of them a go, but felt that they revealed nothing about the human condition. One was to try to answer questions asked you by one person, while also doing sums given you by another, while copying the movements of a third. I didn’t so much learn as have confirmed that this is very irritating. I’m very glad I didn’t go to acting school.
First blues night, Week 4
Jessica Peel-Yates from London (now working in Ireland) had written a poem about Herräng dance camp love, and asked me to read it out for her. We tweaked it a bit, and then ended up reading it together at the end of the blues night evening meeting. I was surprised how well it went down, and got lots of compliments about it. I wouldn’t have thought that poetry would be the best medium at an attended by people from over forty nations.
I went to get ready for blues night. I had plenty of time, I thought. I didn’t. Yet again I ended up missing the opening blues night show. The following week I ran to catch the show and then left to get changed. The problem this night was that all the men in the camp-site were trying to get ready in the showers beneath the gym, where there is a single, small, sink. The sink is located on the wall of the single, small, loo. A lot of men were trying to shave and brush their teeth, and had to wait for some camper to finish in the loo, then nip in quickly, and, well, I think you can see that this process would be very slow. I tried to do as much without using the sink. I shaved my neck without water, but still needed to rinse off. Gunnar told me that next year they plan to install a big sink on the outside of the building.
Blues night itself was not great. Partly I think it’s me – the thrill has gone. I think it’s true, however, that the blues nights at the camp just aren’t as good as once they were. They used to be dark, slow, moody, and great, and now they are dim, slowish, unvarying and bland. The music is all the same, and never passionate, and a lack of attention to lighting and sustained atmosphere has weakened these nights considerably. A lot of people opt out and dance Balboa in the library.
Balkan band and belly dancing
One night a “Balkan” band played in the library. This wasn’t Lindy music, but it was great stuff. Many people had a lark bopping about to it in various ways, some folky, some communal, some individual and modern. Two dance-teacher ladies appeared in costume and did some belly dancing. They were both very good. I’d seen them dance on the stage a few days before, and what they did was so much better than anything done in the local schools in Newcastle. I did once or twice detect a belly-dance influence in their Lindy.
Soon after arriving at the camp, I was recommended to pay 20 SEK (one ice cream) to see Cabaret Verboten and this I did. It took place in the Love Box (which this year was also called the Green Room, because medical treatments happened in it), with a few performances a night, a couple of nights a week. The venue was so tiny, that, sitting as I was on the end seat, I was in amongst the performers. The style they went for was inspired by 1930s decadent Berlin, as portrayed in the show Cabaret. Chris the opera-singing American gave us his rendition of Whatever Lola Wants, complete with gentle whip lashes and a mercifully incomplete strip. Lennart himself, King of Herräng, came crashing in as the drunken husband of one of the performers. He really played his part with gusto. He interrupted several times, clinked glasses with the audience members hard enough to send shattered shards flying, and then would collapse in a stupor. There were dances and more songs, and I enjoyed the show, although I felt unsure of how much the performers wanted me to interact with them. I also would have preferred them to get less chocolate sauce on me. Maria who was the chief organiser of the show seemed frustrated that the audience contributed so little, and at one point with a mad laugh licked my face with a sauce-covered tongue.
One man missed the show. He went down to the boats by the lake (doubtless keeping to the marked path for fear of treading on rare orchids) instead of to the Love Box. He had misheard the German word verboten (forbidden) for the very-similar sounding Swedish för båten (for the boat). I’m sure they let him see a later show.
The following Wednesday, a professional troupe arrived to do a cabaret show in the Folketshus. This started at midnight, which meant that it ate a lot into prime dancing time. They charged 50 SEK (two an a half ice creams) a ticket. I was sitting talking to the uncommonly nice Henric and Joanna and we all decided to go. The show was… a bit mixed. It was also very long. We got a couple of drinks as part of the price, and there was an interval for buying more drinks during which some of the audience left. Some of the acts worked, such as the German-helmeted man squeezing out frozen stools into a bucket, or the nervous magician doing ultra-easy children’s magic. However, the troupe repeated too much. It had three women singers who all had near enough the same act, and a second similar magician, and then a man who rambled for ages in Swedish (he had Henric and Joanna in stitches) before doing a rather unimpressive fire and sword swallowing act, swallowing conspicuously short blades and clearly not very hot flames. The singers, one in particular, really hadn’t ‘got it’ and it was a bit embarrassing. Later I spoke to Maria who had booked them, and she was furious, saying that they had not done the agreed acts, and kept changing what they were doing during the show, and that she would never book them again.
After the show, I learned that many people had boycotted the show, being annoyed that they had paid perhaps 200 SEK (£15 or ten ice creams) to get into the party, and then were being asked for yet more money to see the night’s main event. So now I was a ‘scab’.
Another effect of the show was to put people off the idea of Cabaret Verboten, which was cancelled for the following night.
Maria asked me to be in her show, and wanted me to come up with something. Immediately, the idea of a ventriloquist’s dummy popped into my head. My inspiration was from two sources: the Bonzo Dog Doodah Band’s stage act that I saw in Newcastle last year, which included a man pretending to be a dummy (who just said “Ag!”), and the excellent 1945 Ealing Studios film Dead of Night in which a sinister ventriloquist’s dummy has a life of its own.
After the business with the professional troupe, I thought that Cabaret Verboten might be off. I did recruit Chester to help me with the act. I thought at first that he might be the dummy, but then I decided to be the dummy even though I am a lot bigger than he is. Some people voiced doubts that the act would work. They might have been right.
Suddenly, next week on the Wednesday, I was told that the show was on. I got a costume together from the Prop Shop (waistcoat and black jacket), and used some of Maria’s make-up to give me a doll look. We were going to have to improvise. We had never rehearsed, but I did have some idea of what I planned to do. I started slumped on a seat with my face hidden, and Chester would enter after the audience was seated, and pick me up. He would never speak other than when holding me. I would then annoy the other acts by throwing sarcastic criticisms of their material, until eventually Chester would get thrown out, at which point I would slump again, until he returned, after which I’d sing I’ve Got You Under My Skin. I did have the idea of moving on my own in a creepy way, but never did this in the end.
Before our first show, we wondered if we would get an audience at all. I’m told a free ticket or two were given out to get things started. No advance tickets had been sold. An audience appeared, though, and I slumped across two seats – one for me and one for Chester. After a while, most of the audience was seated, and I felt someone picking me up. Was this Chester? He was a bit early if it was. I opened my eye just a crack and saw a dark-skinned fellow, but then the shape spoke politely with the voice of Joseph Wiggan the tap dancer. He plonked me down on my seat and I stayed limp in-character and knocked against the bar, after which I heard a loud glass-breaking noise. Oops. I couldn’t move and stay in character. In came Chester, and the show got going. Maria sang Maybe This Time with a gorilla-suited partner who then stripped off the suit and started slapping her (once so hard that she had to stop singing for a second), Chris sang Whatever Lola Wants, and then Chester got thrown out, leaving me slumped at a very awkward angle and looking across the room at the far wall. I had to stay in this position for almost all of the rest of the show. One thing that didn’t make it easier was that Nicole’s dog licked my fingers that dangled down on the end of my limp doll-like arms. There was a mime act of a cowboy doing unhygienic things with a cow, two oiled-up men who gyrated around to music, slapping each other and threatening the audience with canes, Aaron the Canadian (know them by the way they say “out”) who delivered a long and complicated love poem very well indeed, Nicole who sang in French and draped her amazingly well-behaved little poodle over her, and the banana man, who produced a banana from somewhere you rather he didn’t, and then shared it with the audience. Then, mercifully, Chester returned, and I sang my song (ending with mounting vitriol “and I hate you under my skin”), and then for a finale we all sang Life is a Cabaret.
Phew! One show over. We had just a couple of minutes before the next audience started coming in. I asked for Chester to be thrown out a fair bit later, so that I didn’t have to be still so long, and so I could throw more insults out. The next show was for me the best. I got loads of nasty remarks in, always trying to judge the moment so that I didn’t spoil the emotional impact of someone else’s act.
For the third show I was asked to say my stuff between acts more, but few opportunities for this came about, and it cramped my style a bit. We were having no trouble getting an audience now. Word was getting round that the show was good. Some of the cast members were perhaps a bit drunker and a bit wilder. The cast started taking more and more advantage of me. They knew that I couldn’t do a lot as a dummy to stop them.
After three shows, we relaxed, thinking our time as a cast was over. Considering that the whole show was never rehearsed, and a fair few of the acts within it were never rehearsed either, we had done pretty well, and one felt part of a team. But wait! Another audience appeared, and we had to get back into character, sweep up yet another lot of broken glass (many people were barefoot), and prepare to receive them.
For the last show, we had 32 people in the Love Box – twenty in the audience and a cast of twelve. The heat in there was intense. Never has a ventriloquist’s dummy sweated so much. Some people were seeing the show again. Chester told me there were twenty in the audience afterwards. I never saw them, because I was trying not to make eye-contact with anyone. I had to just stare straight ahead most of the time. The young ladies of the cast took advantage of my inability to move my arms or do anything much and gleefully sat in my lap, and flaunted various body parts at me from very close range. One licked my face. Banana man came over a few times and did things like slap me really quite hard (once on the ear, setting off a loud whine that I heard for the next five minutes), and pour neat gin into my mouth (with a supreme effort of will I managed not to cough or choke).
Chris told the audience to “get the fuck out of here”, and the door opened, letting in the daylight and sweet fresh air. We let the audience leave, then dropped out of character for the last time, and basked in the cool air and feeling of a job well done. There’s a lot of talent floating around at Herräng. I tried to take decent photographs, but my camera is rubbish and struggles in all but the ideal lighting conditions.
Aaron said that I made an “awesome” dummy. I’m hoping that this was a Canadian usage of the word, differing from the American. Signe said that one year ago she would never have contemplated doing such a show, but had clearly had a great time being the sexy performer. Recently my students at Newcastle invited me to a burlesque night at the students’ union. I tried to explain to them that when I was a student the notion of a burlesque night there would have been utterly unthinkable. So great has the cultural shift been since then, that I never really got across to them the sheer impossibility of such a night back in my day. They looked at me askance, not quite sure whether or not to believe me.
It was decided that Friday early evening before the party was the time to get everyone to gather for a group photograph. A lot of pretentious things were said about how this was inspired by a famous group photograph of jazz musicians taken in the swing era. Personally I think that the idea of a group photograph is pretty mainstream, really. People have been taking class group photographs at the camp since I’ve been going, and I was in several big school photographs as a child.
Anyway, the official camp photographer (he was officially the one man who took still photographs of the camp, not to be confused with a man who was officially recognised as camp, or the only one of the many photographers who liked Judy Garland) got a special camera at significant expense for the shoot. Big lights were set up in front of the Folketshus. It rained.
It rained a lot. They sky was slate grey.
People imagined that no one would show up. I waited under the porch of the Folketshus.
Amazingly, people did come. Clad in raincoats and many carrying brollies, they arrived and a crowd formed. The lights kept on working. The marshals marshalled the crowd into the allotted area (the chalk lines marking this out had been washed away), people shouted for those with umbrellas to put them away, and the skies cleared for just long enough for the photographer to snap two or three exposures, and then Thor thundered and the deluge began. Some tried to stay dry, and others gave up and got happily drenched.
I was amazed that people bring raincoats and brollies to Herräng. It never occurred to me to do so, but then I’m British and so am impervious to weather.
The theme was previous parties at Herräng. Not many people dressed up, as they hadn’t brought costumes with them, and I think too that they weren’t tremendously inspired. We went behind the Folketshus and there we saw what the mysterious big rectangles of wood were: they were huge picture frames. The dansbanan was laid out like an art gallery and we were invited to wander round and look at the exhibits for a while, before being made to sit for the show.
At one end were Frankie, Chaz, and Dawn, seated as Arabian nobles as they were for the Oriental Night party a few years ago. Next to them were Henric and Joanna in matching white his-and-hers sporty gear, representing the Sweden party, the Olympic party and Swedish outdoor pursuits party from many years ago. They gave us a quick display of Swedish Bug. They are champions in this dance form, and Henric has perfected the art of dancing it with just enough enthusiasm to make him and Joanna look good, but also just enough mockery to please a Lindy hop crowd.
Next in the row were three Harlem Hotshot ladies, clad in masks, reminding us of the masked ball a few years ago. They stepped through their frame and gave us a quick dance. The next frame had Lorenz Ilg in a doctor’s uniform, with some nurses, who came out and cured Sakarias of something or other. Next along was the frame of the Ancient Rome party, and Frida did her battling Charleston routine against a doomed opponent. Through another frame stepped a vision of Herräng in the future. Peter Loggins and Mia, and about six others were dressed up as some sort of communal human collective creature, all linked by strange pipes, and wearing bizarre tight black clothes and comical head-dresses. They went through a series of little movements and little alien noises in unison. I noticed that we will still be dancing in eight-counts in the future. On the far right was a single man sitting down, holding a frame in front of him. He had been the masseur working for the past fortnight in same building as the YumYum restaurant. He was there as a representative of one of the very first ever camp goers.
Once this show was over, I think that was it for the theme of the night. As with previous weeks, the theme didn’t carry through to the ballroom or rest of the night. I think possibly the most successful party I can recall was the Wall Street Crash party, because it was in-keeping with the swing era music, but more importantly it carried the theme right through the night, and throughout the building.
For the sixth year running, I taught ska as an evening class. Not having been put on the list automatically, I asked if I might be put on the guest list for the evening, and after a while the reply came back “No – you’ll have to do more than that.” Oh. Well, I entertained about sixty campers for an hour and half, and brought my skills and knowledge to the camp… never mind. I paid my 200 SEK anyway.
The tent soon filled up, and those taking the class worked hard at my crazy frantic steps. Fish the cameraman came in and videoed me just at the point when I was playing some music that was too fast and I was struggling (and failing) to get the pitch control to slow it down, but that’s life.
This year I finished up by playing some music that was swing with a ska up-beat, so one could Lindy hop to it either conventionally, or in a ska style, reversing the down down down-and down of Lindy hop, for the and-up and-up and-up and-up of ska. I had hoped to DJ some of that stuff, but this never happened. Some of the class picked it up really well and were able to dance in a new style, and all had big grins on their faces. Steven Mitchell would have had a heart attack had he come in at that point – “My dance!”
Harry Bleeding Potter
Great efforts were being made to get copies of the latest and thank-Crikey last instalment of this unoriginal and unconvincing series. All round the camp, grown adults could be seen reading this children’s book. Some of those I questioned claimed not to like the books, but were reading them anyway. Apparently, many of the main characters get killed off in this book. Personally I’d like to nuke Hogwarts from orbit. Only way to be sure.
[Oh for goodness’ sake – the spellchecker in Word recognised ‘Hogwarts’ the fictional wizard school, but not ‘hogworts’, which was how I misspelled it, which is a type of real-world plant. What is the world coming to?]
Week 5 Blues night
I had a better time at this blues night than the previous one, but it still wasn’t a classic.
On the topic of women objecting to blues dances, one man commented the next day that what a woman is really saying is “I object to my interpretation of your intentions.”
I read in a book about skiing that adept experienced skiers look with some jealousy and nostalgia at first-time skiers falling over in the snow and giggling, because they the better skiers know that they will never again have that much fun skiing. Possibly the same could be said of blues dancing, or even Lindy hop.
I wish I didn’t worry about my dancing, but of course I do. I want to be a good dancer, and I suppose that partly for commercial reasons, I want to be thought of as one too. I am concerned, though, that all this trying-to-be-good stuff can get in the way of having fun. I’d still rather be someone who’s fun to dance with than someone who is good.
I spend most of my year dancing with beginners, and yearning for the chance to dance with people who are really good, but oddly found myself at Herräng looking forward to larking about with beginners again, who appreciate every step I take. Sometimes I felt that I was dancing because I had come a long way to dance. Certainly the felt need to prove myself was a barrier to fun. Near the stage in the Folketshus, danced the ‘rock stars’. This was a rather exclusive club of which I was certainly never made to feel a member, nor even considered for the short-list. I got the impression that when people used the term ‘rock star’ they were referring in the main to the men, but there did seem to be a fair few women who danced exclusively with those partners. Over the course of the two and a half weeks I was there, I did get to dance with most of the women there, but usually only once, and they never sought me out. The impression I got was not that my dancing was technically insufficient to meet their standards, but that I didn’t take the dance or myself seriously enough.
One dance disaster was with one of the teachers at the camp. I had cunningly engaged her in conversation down in the bar, and then when she said she wanted to go and dance, I was able to go with her and get the first dance. Of course I wanted to dance well and impress her, because she was a teacher. I can’t remember the last time I danced so badly, but it was probably several years ago. I think my anxiety showed, and she just did the minimum to follow, while looking around the room apparently to check that no one was watching her dance with me. As I thanked her for the dance, she didn’t meet my eye, and she was gone in a flash.
Dancing with a good follower who is unsure of me is a frustrating experience. Many of them will not bother going to the trouble of dancing well, and so offer me no inspiration – no spark that will light up the dance. Many will dance defensively, fearing injury, and so make themselves almost impossible to lead into anything other than the usual bomb-proof basics. Many will dance as if they are doing me a favour by tolerating me as a partner for a few minutes, before they can get back to the fun of dancing with the rock stars. These women are blind to what I might offer them. Usually in these ramblings about my dancing I blame myself for most things, but you see here that I am this time levelling some blame at the women. I had my most fun dancing not with the ‘best’ dancers, but with women who were genuinely out to have fun, rather than be high-status.
Some of the women dancing with the rock stars I didn’t actually rate all that highly after I had danced with them. It seemed to me that these women had skipped the stage of dancing with the lesser men, and had decided early on in their Lindy lives that they would only bother dancing with the stars. Part of my evidence for this was that they tended to be very pretty, and perhaps very pretty women find it easier to get dances with the stars early on, and so they rapidly become good. However, the skill they learn is of following the lead of very good leads, and they do not necessarily learn the skills of mucking about to the music, adding to a man’s lead, suggesting moves to a lead, inspiring a lead. Most I found would follow a conventional lead fine, but if I did anything at all out of the ordinary they were flummoxed.
I don’t get much pleasure out of watching other people dance, so I don’t do it much. They seem to be having the fun, and I just want to join in. When I do watch a couple Lindying, I mostly watch the man. I am looking to see if he is leading moves that I don’t know, that perhaps I might steal, and checking to see what makes him good or bad, in case I can learn from this. Sometimes I suppose what I am really watching for is some justification to be happy with my own dance. I watched one rock star. He was doing the same three or four moves over and over again. One was the one where he turns her very fast seventy-two times. His partner was smiling. At first I thought that this was because she thought his lead was great, but then I thought that perhaps she was smiling because he gave her little choice. He was smiling at her, and giving her absolutely no choice about the moves. His style was very vigorous and very confident. She was being hurled around the floor by a big strong guy who was an acknowledged rock star, and her job was to show that she could cope with his lead. If she looked as though she wasn’t having fun, then she would look as though she wasn’t up to following him properly, and she might lose her membership of the rock-star club. The next rock star took his turn in flinging her about. He had to show that he could do that too.
Sometimes I would see a guy do a few very fancy moves that I don’t know, and at first I might be impressed, but then I’d see him do the same moves again in the same dance, perhaps when it didn’t fit the music, and then I’d see him do the same moves again with the next partner, even though the music had changed mood. This was me in self-justification mode – “Yes,” I’d be trying to tell myself, “he may be a rock-star but he’s no better than me really.”One night there was a birthday jam for a woman. I was in the front row of the circle, and considering going in. I didn’t push to be next, though, and the jam kept going without me. Ryan Francois entered and danced… and danced. He went on and on, and no one wanted to get in there and oust him. Cookie was trying to encourage someone to get in there. Following her urging, someone behind me pushed me into the circle, and I danced the jam to its conclusion. There – now I can say that I ousted Ryan in a birthday jam and finished it off, however for truth and modesty I feel I have to include the detail that I was pushed. Perhaps one day I shall enter a Herräng jam circle without being pushed, although to do this I would have to have a partner with confidence in me, or just one who is able to think “what the hell – let’s do it anyway.”
I must have been having a decent time dancing, because I was the UK’s sole representative in the late-morning dance register taken in Week 5. Alas, to be plotted on the official histogram, a country had to have more than one representative, but in recognition of the fact that I was there for the count every night, I was given a token award for consistency. I was the last man dancing for a few nights.
Not many of the teachers danced with the punters, and I have to say that those that do are more popular with me. Perhaps this is being unfair, because professionalism might make some stay away from the night-time dance floor so that they can be fresher for the following day’s dances, but I can’t help feeling that there’s more to it than that. A teacher may feel that he or she has to remain aloof from the mob, so as to keep an air of mystery and god-like ability. Dancing with the punters is one way to end up getting caught out as fallible. Some teachers just dance with other teachers, perhaps for this reason.
This year I got my first dance with Harlem Hotshot Hanna Zetterman, right at the end of the camp. For an instant I feared that I had lost her when she went for some water, but as good as her word she returned and we had two nice dances during which I forgot to dance the way she teaches – leading her on the and after 2 – but I think I passed muster. She high-fived me at the end and said that I was “fun.” Drat – not good, then.
All those attending the first ever Herräng swing camp were invited to attend the anniversary, and about 16 or so of them did. They were presented on stage at the evening meeting, and when a video clip of them dancing failed to work, they got up on stage and gave us a dance. One couple was doing what looked like Lindy-hop, but most of them appeared to be jiving.
I bought a copy of Frankie’s book, after much urging from many in the evening meetings, and I might have been the last to attend his signing session. I have now read it. I’m glad it mentions Terry Monaghan and Warren Heyes who formed London's Jiving Lindy Hoppers performance troupe in 1983. One thing that strikes me as a bit odd is that Frankie tells the reader all about how the Lindy hop was developed by a core of regulars in the Savoy Ballroom, but mentions a few times dancers turning up from other places who were excellent Lindy hoppers. So where were these people learning their Lindy? This is never explained.
Four of the permissible Lindy hop hairstyles.
Other performances, actual or planned
I had arrived at the camp with a referees’ whistle and the notes for the FIFA sketch from the year before that never happened. Cutting a long story short, it didn’t happen this year either. Getting people together for rehearsals, finding people at the camp when you need them, arranging things, finding the energy, making plans, are all a bit tricky.
I had planned to bring with me a slide whistle, also known as a piston flute or swanee whistle, for an idea I had, but forgot to pack it. I approached Gunnar with the idea for my act anyway, but admitted that I lacked the needed prop. My idea was to get up on stage and then introduce one of the camp’s teachers as a modest man who didn’t like to mention that he was three-times world swanee whistle champion, and then to get the poor victim to play some well-known tunes and get the audience to guess what the tunes were. Listeners to BBC Radio 4’s I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue will be familiar with this sort of thing. Anyway, the idea won approval, and a slide whistle was procured, but when it came to the performance, I got left out. In the evening meeting, Lennart chose Åsa Palm as the victim, and my act went ahead without me. It went down well, though, and the following evening there was a follow up with more slide whistle larks.
While picking out tunes for the act, I was amazed to learn that Lennart didn’t know the tune Every Time We Say Goodbye, even after I sang it to him (and I don’t think my singing was to blame). Is this not on half the swing-era compilations sold in the shops?
Another idea I had for the evening meetings was to go up to the front with little signs before the meeting started, and show the words “Let us count… in secret… the number of times… Lennart says… ‘a little bit’… My guess: 20.” Lennart uses this phrase very often (as well as “and so on and so on”) and I thought that it could be a mischievous pleasure for people to keep a tally during the meeting. The idea was vetoed, though, on the grounds that Lennart might find the audience’s behaviour baffling and distracting. Heigh ho.
There had already been a “Hug an Aussie” day, and a “Kiss a Canadian” day, and someone came up with the idea of an “Inappropriately Touch a Brit” day. I was up for presenting this in an evening meeting, although I suggested changing it to “Shake Hands But Try Not To Over-do It With A Brit” day. Again, this never happened. Another year, perhaps.
In the Week 4 cabaret, I performed a poem I wrote some months ago (this poem, in fact). I asked for no introduction whatsoever, and walked out in front of the curtain and started with the bold words “I am a dance god”. I wanted people to be unsure of where this was leading. Later parts of the poem were less boastful. They limited the cabaret to fifteen acts, but I signed up as an emergency back-up sixteenth, and much as I expected, someone did drop out and make room for me.
In Week 5 they limited the cabaret to just twelve acts and they started it early at 11.15 to make room for a live band. As in the week before, the list filled up immediately. One of those filling it, however, was Peter BetBasoo, who had an idea and script for a comedy sketch. He recruited me to help him. It was a rewrite of a Monty Python sketch, in which Peter would play an apparently serious television presenter for a current affairs programme who introduced me as Osama Bin Laden, and then Clint as another Islamic hawk, and then proceeded to ask us quiz questions about swing dance. For most of the time I just had to sit there and look baffled, but I did eventually answer one of his questions, and I decided for no great reason to do this in the voice of Michael Caine. This won me a place in the final quiz round during which I then answered some questions the answers to which were “Jihad” and “70” (number of virgins encountered in heaven), but then I got stumped by the final question for the grand prize. The correct answer was meant to be Hellzapoppin’ and I was supposed to guess wrongly “Women in Veils” and “Convert of Die”. When the moment came, though, complacency and under-rehearsal meant that I changed to a deep foreign voice for these answers and couldn’t for the life of me remember the word ‘convert’ and instead came out with “repent” which isn’t quite the same thing. Honestly – I had four lines and I still forgot one. Still my struggle to remember the right word may perhaps have been confused with a brilliantly acted struggle to come up with the right quiz answer. Predictably, some people felt that the sketch was politically incorrect. One said to me “That was a bit hairy,” but she was a vegan and so doesn’t count.
A Swede told me that the way I mispronounced “Kuggen” turned it into the rudest word in Swedish, so I should be more careful. I should confess, though, that I can’t remember the right way to say it now, and so I take a risk every time I give it a try.
Shit music night
Mark Kihara announced that down in the dansbanan there would, once the band had finished upstairs, be played the worst Lindy hop music in the world. He invited contributions. I considered contributing The Makeba. The rules required the tracks to have been witnessed being played at a swing event, and to be “shit”.
Keen not to miss this treat, I made sure I was there for the start. Mark opened with The Maddest Kind of Love by Big Bad Voodoodaddy. Now, I won’t say that this is a great track, because it isn’t. There are good bits like when the shimmering piano comes in near the end, but overall it is a bit weak. The lyrics don’t scan or rhyme properly, and the brass section is somewhat primitive. I think a harsh critic might call it ‘poor’. But this wasn’t ‘Lindy Music That Is Perhaps A Bit Poor Night’. This was meant to be ‘The Shittiest Lindy Music In The World Night’, and I was somewhat disappointed.
Mark was loudly scathing about everything he played, but he found himself being booed for not playing sufficiently bad music. Much of what he played wasn’t ideal Lindy hop music, but was great fun stuff to dance to, like Reet Petite which is a great bouncing rock-and-roll number. I wouldn’t want to Lindy to that sort of stuff all night, but just for a track or two thrown into a DJ set it’s fine. Some of the music was comedy Lindy, or tracks that veered away from the strict Lindy rhythms like A Little Late Night Swing which keeps going off into a Latin rhythm, which is good fun if you can salsa or cha-cha (or hell, just be happy to muck about for a bit).
Some music played was a long way from swing. One track was Can’t Get You Out Of My Head by Kylie Minogue, which I have used as a teaching track to demonstrate music that does not swing at all.
Anyway, a very curious thing happened - something I have not known happen before. The main dance floor upstairs cleared completely. The DJ there who was playing correct and sanctioned authentic Lindy hop music found herself playing to an entirely empty room. Everyone had come down to the dansbanan because that’s where the party was, and that’s where it continued for the next few hours.
Some of the music played I found baffling. One track was Diane Krall’s Peel Me A Grape, which is a great track. I asked two other people on the floor what they thought of it and they both said it was great. Furthermore, I bought the album that it appears on after it was strongly recommended by two Herräng teachers who had just used it as a teaching track, just a few years before. Had this music stopped being great in that time? Had the laws of what makes music good or bad altered? I have e-mailed Mr Kihara asking him to say what exactly is wrong with Peel Me A Grape and I await a reply.
Mark couldn’t leave the DJ booth. Every time he tried, the crowd called out for more. He went on for about four hours, I think, perhaps more. He said near the end that it had been Frida’s idea, and that he had expected it to last an hour. It seems to me that he had disproven his own point: that music outside the narrow range being played at the camp’s evening dances shouldn’t be played.
Should I have contributed The Makeba? I think it is just bad, rather than bad and fun. I have seen it clear a dance-floor completely. It is included on one of Rob and Diane Van Haaren’s Yeahman swing compilations, and one of my Newcastle pupils once told me it was her favourite, so some people like it.
I heard many people complaining about the music at the camp. I have already found on-line someone saying that the music at the camp this year was “bad”. Personally, I’d say that the music played was almost all very good, but it was all the same. It was all mid-to-fastish tempo big band jazz with a particular mood and feel. One way I like to dance Lindy hop is slowish and heavy, and never once in two and a half weeks did I hear anyone play a piece of music suitable for this. Set the DJs free, I say. There are now three dance floors, and if people hate what is being played they will vote with their feet.
Last year Skye and Frida used Blues My Naughty Sweet Gives Me by Sidney Bechet for one of their classes, and everyone was after this track. This year it seemed that every DJ played this every set, because the seal of approval given it by two such highly-regarded teachers made it a safe track to play. It is six minutes long, and has no breaks, no hits, no build up or lull, and no development of tune. I was sick of it after a couple of days. Similarly, Ella’s Won’t You Come Home Bill Bailey? was played to death, and then played a lot more.
We didn’t do so well in the sack race, nor in the “coin-in-crack” game. This last involved four team members (I wasn’t one though I helped out as best I could) racing around a short course in the Dansbanan while holding a one krona piece in between the buttocks/top of thighs. This could have been mistaken for a Mr Bean impersonation contest. Though we dropped the coin a few times and recorded a poor time, it was funny to watch. I later had a go at this game when Peter Loggins asked me to put together a team to race his for the hell of it. I did, but then my team unwisely made me go first in the relay. I was wearing British army lightweights, which are strong contenders for the finest trousers ever produced, however their designers did not have this sort of race in mind, and made them out of very low-friction material. I dropped the coin twice, and by the time the last members of my team had their turn to go, Peter’s team had packed up and left. I saw Peter dancing earlier while retaining a coin, and it was amusing to note that it made almost no difference to his posture.
Team Alpha didn’t win. You guessed that, didn’t you?
There were a fair few Lindy teachers with good international reputations who were at the camp, but who were not teaching the main courses. Some of them did a few private classes, but none would have bothered to go to the camp just for that. I wondered what they were doing there. Were they just there to have fun? Perhaps it says something for the importance of the camp that such people might feel it necessary to show their faces and footwork at this showcase of swing.
I heard quite a few people talk of how commercialised the camp has become. Interestingly, these were almost all American. Some were annoyed at surcharges for certain cabarets and the like. Others didn’t see it as the place of the camp to run internet cafes or ice cream parlours. Some complained when a DJ said that the discs he was playing were available at the camp’s Lindy Hop Shop. Many people thought that the 200 SEK for the evening parties was steep. When I first went to the camp, evening parties were free, and people were encouraged to attend the Friday night party of the week before they did classes. Now they seem to be trying to put people off from hanging around the camp, not doing classes, but going to the parties. Many Swedes from Stockholm no longer come out to dance. I’m not completely decided on the matter. Yes, £15 to go dancing is very expensive, but then being at a holiday camp in nice company for £15 a day doesn’t seem so bad, does it? They are trying to make money out of the camp, and people will pay £15 to dance at Herräng. On the other hand, they now require an army of low-paid or even unpaid people to run everything. When I first went to the camp, they had three volunteers helping to run the camp. Now they have fifty-one. Are they exploiting the keenness of these youngsters? That they seem to be trying to discourage people from joining in the dance does not fit with the jolly and inclusive feel of swing. Then again, possibly good dancers who come just to dance and socialise are making the beginners who have come to the camp to learn feel intimidated, and because so many of these good dancers only dance with other good dancers, perhaps they are making it harder for the beginners to get dances with the experts.
A common pattern among humans is to get promoted to one’s level of incompetence. I did wonder about some of the delegation of responsibility at the camp. There was a Polish girl there who didn’t dance at all, and had never learned, and she was working on the organisation side of the camp. At first it seemed mad to me that she should come year after year and help out while having no interest in dance, but then I thought that actually this was far more sane than Daniel Heedman’s rushing around organising things, and not dancing. Daniel has risen to his position in the Harlem Hotshots and the camp staff because of his great dance ability. He is such a good dancer that he now runs a dance camp, and has no time or energy to dance at that camp. Would it not be a better thing to have people who are not interested in dancing (and who perhaps even love organising – such people exist) running the camp, freeing up people like Daniel, whose specialness resides in his dancing, to dance?
Quick plug: I have agreed to rewrite the Swinglish on a Swedish couple’s Lindy hop web-site, turning it into more mainstream English. If you’d like me to do the same for you, please get in touch.
One day I was talking to someone in the bar and said something about Lindy hoppers being a socially-skilled lot. A girl who had over-heard this said that she disagreed, and felt that Lindy hoppers were a load of “nerds”. There followed some discussion over the meaning of “nerd”, in which she suggested that it meant a person who is very keen on one thing, one skill, one field. She also felt that Lindy hopping nerds were loners, not members of the popular fashionable sets, and she stated as evidence of this the notion that they are not good looking. This last statement might have carried more weight had she herself not been just a few cup sizes away from my personal ideal of feminine pulchritude.
Immediately, I contradicted her, saying that I can go a year in Newcastle without seeing a woman as pretty as the twentieth best-looking in Herräng. There were a few women there who seemed more beautiful than I’d have thought possible. They looked airbrushed and Adobe Photoshopped. I was talking to one woman who told me that were she at some other sort of party, she would have two or three men buzzing about her all the time, trying to get her attention and approval, and annoying her. At a Lindy event, though, she was left alone. Perhaps, then, the social world of swing is a refuge for women who want to go out, meet people, party and have a good time, perhaps enjoying the tactile experience of other people’s bodies, without the usual attendant irritation of hopeful men trying it on. This might explain why the average of beauty within that world is so high.
It doesn’t explain, though, why the Lindy world works as such a refuge. One explanation is that women can go there to be judged on something other than their looks. A very pretty woman who is a mediocre dancer might not get the attention of a dance-star. There is, however, a positive correlation between beauty and dance ability. One obvious (but not politically correct) reason for this is that beauty correlates with good genes, which is of course why we have evolved to find beautiful women attractive, so a beautiful woman is more likely to be a talented dancer. Another reason is that prettier women perhaps find it easier to get dances with the better men, and so learn faster. Another is that a woman who thinks that she might have career potential (joining a performance troupe, for instance) in the world of social dance is likely to put more work into getting good, and part of her assessment of that potential will be her opinion of her own looks.
One woman told me that she avoided asking good-looking men to dance, because they were often worse dancers. Her theory was that women ask men who are good-looking to dance simply because they are good-looking, and that this then removes the incentive for good-looking men to get any good at it. Personally I didn’t agree with either her premise or her conclusion.
One thought that I often find myself thinking about very beautiful women is that they must surely know how beautiful they are. Another thought is that they cannot possibly know how beautiful they are. I think that both of these ideas are true. Work that one out.
In the world at large, the thing that stops men getting off with women, is women. If the women at Herräng wanted to cop off with men there, I’m sure they could manage it. The men, though, don’t, and they hardly seem to try. I think they realise that the context is wrong. That is not what the women are there for, and the men will make themselves unpopular with the women if they disappoint them in this regard. Of course, I have no personal experience of being female at the camp, but I get the impression that few women get propositioned there.
The chaps are all still male, though, and many of them are single. They are still dancing every night at great parties, surrounded by friendly women. Natural instinct will still foster some ambitions. As I have said in previous accounts of Herräng, I think very few of these ambitions are realised, so there must be a fair bit of disappointment amongst the chaps. Disappointment, though, I can cope with quite easily. It is, after all, the default state - normality. No, what I can’t stand is the hope.
Tradition was broken when it didn’t rain while I was striking my tent. I walked from the party to the YumYum restaurant, had breakfast, then went to my tent and packed my rucksack. Someone kindly gave me some earplugs at this point. I could have done with them a fortnight earlier for sleeping late in my tent, and I think I’ll add them to my list of things to take to Herräng. I’ll also add nail-clippers. Mine were borrowed a few times.
I thought I’d just check the bus time-table down by reception next to the Folketshus (reception this year was in its own portakabin), even though I had consulted the receptionists about the buses once already, because missing my 17.30 'plane would be something of a disaster. It is as well that I did this, because I discovered that they had read the timetables for Monday to Friday, and I would miss my connection in Hallstavik on a Saturday. Fortunately, they were able to find me a place in a car going through Hallstavik, and from there I went to Uppsala, where I had an hour or two to wander about. It seemed a nice enough place, and another opportunity to eat ice cream. I also took many photographs of the pretty buildings, and this shot of one of the many bike-parks (the bike park in front of the railway station there was the biggest I have ever seen in my life by far). I saw very few people actually riding the things.
I wasn’t staying for the Sunday night Lindy jam battle in Stockholm. I had considered getting a flight late enough to attend this, but this would have required me to find someone to put me up in Stockholm for two nights, and this seemed somewhat presumptive. In the Lindy world, though, it would probably have been possible.
I took a bus from Uppsala to Arlanda airport, flew to Amsterdam, where I had a problem. At this point I had had three hours’ sleep in three days, and they closed the gate where I was to board, so I couldn’t sit and wait there. I knew that if I wandered off in search of a seat I would certainly fall asleep and miss my flight. I made myself uncomfortable near the gate, squatting on a trolley.
I got back and found my front door still gratifyingly on its hinges.
Frankly, that was far too short. Take me to the next one, which I'm hoping is much longer.
BACK TO DANCE FRONT PAGE BACK TO HERRÄNG MENU
Click this icon to go to the Herräng site
Click here to go back to the home page