If you know next to nothing about the dance camp, then you’d be better off reading the account of my 1999 trip first.
Having been counting the minutes since the previous year, and despite being busy rehearsing for my Edinburgh Fringe play, I was overjoyed to be on my way to Arlanda Airport again for more swing filled days in Herräng. My rucksack was stuffed to capacity with shirts and tent, and my hand luggage was a carrier bag full of pork pies and sausage rolls enough for the first couple of days.
At Amsterdam airport I recognised a fellow swinger. He was going for his eleventh time, which made me feel something of a novice. From Arlanda I took the public bus rather than the dear limousine service. The system for ticketing involves buying a ticket which lasts for a given amount of time - an hour I think. So as long as you as you catch the next bus within the same hour, you needn't pay for the second bus. My travelling companion was a jolly Swedish army carpenter in a pale blue beret, just back from service in Kosovo - a posting he regarded as a holiday. He showed me digital pictures on his camera of the rafts his unit had built for river races. Each bus driver told me to pay on the next bus rather than bother him, and I arrived in Herräng having paid next to nothing.
The place was now so familiar. I found the same spot for my tent I used last year, and hand-pushed my pegs into the soft earth. It was Wednesday, blues night, so I got into a nice pair of shoes and a clean dress shirt, and went to see what was happening. An evening lesson was starting in how to learn moves by simply watching others do them. This was described by a fellow dancer as the "Holy Grail" of techniques, and he was a bit disappointed to discover that the lesson largely consisted of the teacher dancing about on his own, and the pupils trying to copy him. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it. We paired off and when I finished dancing opposite the teacher, he said "That was awesome!" (he was American), which helped my confidence a bit. We finished with what the teacher said Sing Lim told him was the original "Big Apple" - a big circle of people copying the moves danced by one person in the middle.
FIRST BLUES NIGHT (week three)
I paid 100 krona to attend blues night, since I wasn't yet registered at the camp. Having experienced three blues nights already, the surreal feeling of the event had subsided for me, but still it was a fine way to catch up with people I hadn't seen for a year. I recognised a fair few faces, but would recognise more the next week, since people seem to come for the same week year after year.
There seems to be divided opinion over blues night. For many, myself included, it is a welcome change from the frantic Lindy hop, and a great pleasure to dance slow and close all night. In a questionnaire given out at the end of the week, however, one question was whether blues night was a worthwhile part of the camp. I heard many women express disdain for blues night. "That's not what I call 'dancing' ", said one. Despite this, there was never any shortage of women on the dance floor, so something here doesn't quite fit. I for one would strongly advocate the continuation of blues night, not least because it is an excellent training method for connection and improvisation. After every blues night, my connection technique improves. There aren't really many steps in blues - it is just a very pleasant exercise in connection and imagination.
FIRST CABARET (week three)
The next day I had a nice long sleep, and then had time to rehearse for my cabaret spot. I had brought again my magic steel rings that link together. I thought that if I did my act on this first Thursday, then I'd be free to relax on the following Thursday, when I'd be tired and busy. I volunteered to do my act. Unfortunately, Gunnar, organiser of the event, liked my previous acts, and so gave me a prime spot - second from last - which was not what I wanted at all. Mine was a silly little act, and I wanted to be in the middle of the first half somewhere, where the pressure to be good is lowest. I waited with the other performers in the downstairs bar, watching the event on a monitor. As I predicted I would, I got steadily more nervous. I was having to follow some great acts, and the act of waiting itself serves to compound every doubt and stretch every nerve. "Why am I doing this to myself?" I thought over and over again. Actually, I knew the answer: I was doing it in the hope that it would impress the chicks. After an age of jitters, I strode out manfully and did my act. I got a good volunteer from the audience, who was a scientist who clearly wanted to know how the rings worked, and I kept him in the dark, even though I gave him linked and unlinked rings to examine, and positioned his eyes for the closest and clearest view of my linking them. I got away with it, and received polite reaction, rather in contrast with the roars of approval other acts received. I can't tell you whether any chicks were impressed.
It may not surprise you to learn that I didn't take this picture. I'm half-way through my experiment to demonstrate the impossibility of passing solid metal through solid metal, and things are not going well.
One of the other acts was a demonstration of "Swedish Bug" (pronounced boog). One of the performers told us that the dance used to look like "this", after which they all danced something that looked near indistinguishable from what we in Britain call 'modern jive'. The crowd laughed at the awful primitive swing dancing it saw. The announcer, a rather pointlessly good-looking Swedish girl, then said that after a few years the dance developed into "this". I then expected the dancers to dance in exactly the same manner, to show contempt for the dance, and to make a joke. Instead, they danced well, and showed the dance to be a pretty decent one. I had to know more, and so after the show I engaged the announcer in conversation, and got from her an interesting tale. It seems that in Sweden, as in Britain with modern jive, almost everyone who dances Lindy hop started with Bug. Some snobbery exists, then, and she added that many Swedish Lindy hoppers deny falsely that they ever danced Bug. The dance has a simple footwork - one foot stays on the spot, while the other steps forwards and back.
BAD TASTE NIGHT
After talking the night away, I slept soundly through most of the next day too. That night it was 'Bad Taste Night' - the costume party. I volunteered to help decorate the Folkets Hus for this, and my main contribution was this painting for the wall of the 'bedroom'. Painting it while tiny seed pods from the local trees precipitated in profusion was a challenge. So far as I know, it was destroyed immediately after the party, so here is the only evidence that it ever existed. Each of the mounted hunting trophies has a date and a method of dispatch. The man's plaque says "1992 POISON" and the cat's "2001 BRICK".
Bad taste certainly abounded. There was huge free supply of very cheap lager of such low alcohol content, that it was actually refreshing for dancers to drink. They played 'YMCA' and people even did the hand moves to it. Garish colours were a popular favourite, as well as Osama Bin Laden references. One brave or foolish chap turned up in bondage gear. One inspired costume involved needle marks up the arms and a dead baby. My own costume was its usual feeble self. I visited the costume room and found myself some spirit gum and polystyrene models of toadstools, and gummed them to my face for that festering look. This received far more attention than it deserved. Here we see two Spanish girls who have clearly been won over by my fun-guy ploy. Learn from this, chaps: impress the chicks with rot, not magic.
The spirit gum was not water soluble, and so my sweat failed to shift any of the toadstools. After some while, Simon Selmon pleaded with me to remove them. Never a shy type, he added "You need to change your soap". I was not at my most fragrant. I was wearing a cheap polyester shirt which had been thoroughly steeped in enough mosquito repellent to ward off giraffes. The combination of repellent, polyester and sweat proved unfortunate. I went off and put on a different shirt, and so far as I am aware, never stank again.
Here we see the camp's main organiser, Lennart, in bad taste costume, with 'Fish', the camp's video cameraman, in the background. It says much about Lennart's dress sense that many commented that this was an improvement over his usual attire.
These two men have turned up to a Swedish swing party with a bad taste theme, wearing the official uniform of the Swedish Swing Society, and they do not look at all out of place. Incredibly, these uniforms were judged by someone to be appropriate for the society. Credibly, only a couple of them were sold.
REGISTRATION - WHICH LEVEL?
The next day was Saturday, and time to register for a course in week four. I was considering both Advanced and Advanced Plus. I strongly suspected that I was capable of fitting in with the Advanced Plus class's standard. I was on holiday, though, and saw little point in pushing myself harder than necessary. I was also suspicious of the motives of people who choose the highest level course. I had also been advised that being the best guy in a class is a good way to make the girls in that class pleased to dance with you. I took Advanced.
There were big problems with the Advanced class. There were far too many of us for a start. They split us into two groups, but even then the classes were large. They then threw half of the people from Advanced Plus out, and these joined us. Everyone wanted to be in the supposedly better half of the Advanced class, and one class became over twice the size of the other. It was very easy for people to swap classes despite what they were told to do. They herded us into the dansbanan, and put a string down the centre of it. On one half was my diminutive Advanced Class One, and on the other, the teeming horde of Advanced Class Two. People were asked to join us, but no one moved. One spectacularly good-looking couple joined us, and then volunteers became easier to find. This partially solved the numbers problem, together with stricter policing of the groups, but there remained other problems.
I can't say much about the standard of the men, because I danced with none of them, but I can say that the standard of the women was not overall impressive. Some were very good of course, but many weren't. One I would have hesitated to call 'intermediate', and many were struggling. At one point we were asked to social dance while the teachers had a look at us to judge whether we should have been in that class. I danced with a woman who really wasn't good. How was I supposed to dance? If I dance in a manner that I consider to be good, then I will do everything I can to make things easy for my partner, and make her look good. If I had carried out this policy to the hilt, then I would have got put down a class and she would have stayed. As it happened, nothing came of this audition.
Each week at the camp, they offer a different menu of courses. In theory, week four is the highest level of Lindy hop. In practice, though, a lot of people turn up for whatever week they can get time off for, and many over-estimate their abilities. I think that part of the problem is that the levels have names. People from some part of the world may be doing the 'Advanced' course there, and they come to Herräng expecting the Advanced course there to be the same level. I think that they should just call the highest level 'One' and put in that class the best people who happen to be around that week, and just number the classes Two, Three, Four etc. The only fair and feasibly quick method of auditioning would be for teachers to dance with pupils for a while.
As it was, people got pretty annoyed with the way things were in the Advanced class, and some even dropped down to Intermediate Advanced, just to get away from it all.
The brochure for the camp describes the Advanced Plus class as being for those whose dance "sometimes touches the abstract feeling of art and poetry". I think I know what they mean now. Some moves are difficult to do just because they require a high jump or fast spin, and I often have difficulty with those, but I think I have reached the stage where I can near enough forget about what my feet are doing or where my weight is, and concentrate on interpreting the music and staying connected with my partner. I now find that I can stay connected with my partner, near enough no matter what moves I do, and that's a great feeling. I danced with a girl I knew to be very good, and at the end she said, "Hey you're really good - you've got the moves!" She never danced with me again, though.
My guess is that the girl whose arm I hurt when leading a Texas Tommy too high probably wasn't wildly impressed with my dancing skill, nor those I let down in classes because I was too tired to remember which move came next. Nevertheless in some ways I think that I have 'arrived' when it comes to connection and musical interpretation. I guessed that I was as good as many of the people in Advanced Plus, but perhaps not as good as the people in Advanced Plus should have been. I feel in no better position to judge which class to take next year than I was this year.
On Sunday, the lessons started. I had the following teachers:
Cookie Andrew and Ron Leslie from Great Blighty taught fairly simple moves very clearly, with some good lead and follow tips. Ron had injured his joints and couldn't really dance much, but none the less confidently demonstrated moves with a minimal amount of footwork. I think that some people didn't know that he was injured, and thought that he was just lazy or a bad dancer.
Skye and Ramona from Ithaca in the USA are a pair of young dancers who taught some great vigorous moves. There were those who felt that they didn't quite take into account the fact that some of the older dancers haven't quite got the speed or suppleness for some of what they taught, but I think that most people liked their routines regardless. My main criticism is that they both wore severe scowls on their faces all the way through their classes. We the pupils were making bets amongst ourselves about whether they would ever smile during a given lesson. They did sometimes, but seldom.
Steven Mitchell and Virginie taught very few moves indeed, and concentrated instead on the way moves are danced. I had never before met Steven. His gaze is quite arresting, and he has a recognisable style. He doesn't go in for big moves, but instead has a small relaxed style. He taught us to avoid dancing the steps all on the beat, which can give the dance a clunky look, but instead to transfer the weight way ahead of the beat, and just place down the foot on the beat. Virginie had a very Latin style, which involved swaying her hips a lot, which she could do only if she were given the right sort of lead. I danced with Virginie once. I can't tell you how well I did, but it seemed smooth enough to me. In conversation with Steven about the revival of Lindy hop, it became clear that Warren Heyes of the Jiving Lindy Hoppers was there at the very start of the revival and is a major and seemingly often ignored figure. Perhaps some long-ago rivalry with the Rhythm Hotshots explains the strange absence of the JLH at Herräng.
Janice Wilson and Manu taught farcically fast routines with a hip hop influence. She insists that only 'pussies' don't sit back ahead of the first beat and give a really strong pull throughout the first two beats. Janice intimidates her classes into doing what she wants, and puts terror into the hearts of all the men there with her constant 'are you man enough?' ways. In contrast to this, whenever asked a question she smiles shyly and speaks very quietly. I was determined to have a dance with Janice, and one night heard the perfect song playing: Swinging on Nothing. I didn't know the track, but knew that it would suit her, so I steeled myself and walked around the dance floor looking for her. There she was, having leapt to her feet, looking around for a partner with that 'quick someone - I really like this one' look. I got to within five feet of her when someone nabbed her. Disappointed, I asked someone else to dance the number with me, and much to my annoyance, I danced really well - nailing every hit and break. Janice left immediately afterwards. Next year, I hope.
Frida and Sakarias taught routines. Their style required the lead to pull on the half beat after two - two and a half beats later than Janice likes. Theirs is a more open style, with big moves. They taught us simple moves, then the same moves danced to different, more complicated, rhythms. Frida is ridiculously stable as she dances. No matter how fast she is spun, or what she does on coming out of the spin, she is always perfectly balanced. I accused her of cheating by using a gyroscopic stabilising mechanism, and she looked at me thereafter as though I had said something odd.
Chester and Fatima taught a jazz routine that led into a partner dance, which was used for the big finish of the video Road to Herräng.
I took a milonga lesson. This is like a slightly faster and jollier version of the tango. I think that during the lesson itself I was getting the hang of it, but my main memory of it is the savage and relentless attacks by air-force-trained mosquitoes making death-or-glory runs on everyone in the dusk-lit marquee. I did try to write down everything I was taught but tiredness and busyness conspired to prevent me from writing everything down when it was still fresh in my mind, and the milonga was a casualty.
Rusty Frank turned up at an evening meeting, and told us all about her breaking her neck in several places while trying to do an aerial move, and of her recovery. She recounted how she spent her waiting time at the airport dancing the Balboa and announced a lesson in this discipline. I learned the moves and actually tried them out a few times on the social dance floor - a first for me. It's good for crowded floors and fast music, being very close and having small steps.
Another extra lesson was in the swing rueda. One new element for me was the hand signals used by the caller for use in noisy venues. I remember none of them, and wonder if I'd ever have the chance or inclination to look for them anyway.
I learned a fair bit about volleyball from Rena who played it with astounding enthusiasm and competition. For every point she would shout instructions and encouragement, even when the opposition had the ball. If there was any chance of her getting the ball, she would fling herself on the ground to get it, and always get to her feet laughing. There were times when I could get the ball, but felt it more interesting to let it pass me, and then watch what Rena would do, which was often spectacular.
Chester recruited me to help him with this year's video. Already he had decided to have less fighting, and a shorter running time. We thrashed out the basic idea - a romantic road movie. I wrote the story and we cast it as best we could, but delays mounted up, and we ran perilously short of time. He wanted to do the road journey in a car, but eventually I persuaded him to adopt the humble bicycle, and I managed to rig up a trailer for a bike to make a good comedy vehicle for our hero and heroine. I directed some scenes, he did most of the direction on the dance sequences, and we jointly directed others. He was especially impressive with the final big number - getting a lot of people to work hard and learn a tricky routine in very little time. We never did record a decent take of the voices for the opening song, so I hope Fish, the cameraman and editor, will be able to get a couple of good singers to record those for us. So much was done at the last minute. Shooting the last little link scenes was a bit tense towards the end. I was going to play my part very Hugh Grant, but just kept it simple for the sake of speed. The finished video should have tango, tap, salsa, and swing in it. If you see it, I hope you like it. You may be interested to know that the hero is played by two different men - a pair of identical twins, and you may have fun trying to work out which shots use which of the two. I don't know if I'll get any discount on the not-cheap tape for having worked on it, but I can hope. The girl who was to play the lead dropped out, and I had to find a replacement very quickly. In my opinion, the girl I found looks a lot like a young Judy Garland.
The big finish!
Is that Judy Garland on the right? You decide.
TOO MANY PEOPLE?
Herräng is getting ever more popular. One snag with this is that the number of dance floors and toilets is not keeping up. If you camp, you may find that finding somewhere to excrete can on occasion prove more challenging than you might chose it to be, and the showers are quite bracing almost all of the time. In the evening the dance floor in the Folkets Hus gets so crowded, that to have a really decent dance requires one to wait up until four in the morning. This in turn makes getting up for morning lessons the next day rather irksome. True, the dance floor in the Folkets Hus is the smoothest and best I have ever danced on, but the time has come when they really need another dance floor that can be used throughout the night. The dansbanan has to shut at about one in the morning because the noise from it disturbs the locals. Too often one has to make the tricky choice between good dance and good sleep.
In the gents' shower block, I had a conversation with a yank who was there for his first time. He had arrived exhausted, and been amazed to be shown into the very crowded gym, given a slab of foam rubber for a bed, and spent the night listening to the mosquitoes buzzing round his face. He said he'd wondered what the hell he'd got himself into, but that after a few days had decided that this was a great place to be. I'm sure that there are plenty of stories of similar kind.
HITS AND MISSES
One night I walked out to the near-empty dansbanan, hoping for a dance. They had stopped playing music there, but music spilled out from the open windows of the Folkets Hus. I was called over to speak to a lady whom I was informed was a sucker for Sean Connery. Obligingly I hit her with my Sean impression, and the ploy seemed to work because soon we were dancing. I danced two numbers, and enjoyed making full use of the floor space. Afterwards I realised that she was in fact one of the Lindy hop teachers there. It was just as well that events happened in that order.
This year they had the cosy room in a caravan outside the Folkets Hus. This could be booked by amorous couples or just those wanting a private get-together. For a moment, I thought that I might have cause to book it. A European girl had told me with a big smile that she loved British accents and that this was a good thing for me. Soon thereafter she suggested that I might want to book the cosy room. She was going to be leaving in a day or two so I saw little point in delay, but as soon as I made a move towards Lorenz Ilg, who took the bookings, she grabbed me to hold me back. Perhaps she chickened out, or perhaps it was always just a tease. Heigh ho.
This band played one night. What nationality are they? Three blonde women playing rock and roll without smiling at any point. Correct - they're Swedish!
The Swedes have a reputation for dourness, dullness and reserve. Is it deserved? Well, they do have the greatest incidence of extra-marital sex, according to a book I read a couple of years ago, but that aside, are they dull? The thing is, that the Swedes I meet most often are swing dancers, and are all very sociable people, but swing dancers are hardly a random or typical cross-section of society. Swedish musicians certainly seem a bit serious, but my encounters on buses lead me to believe that reserve is not universal. Last year my bus had on it a rowdy group of teenagers with a beat-box who sang loudly about breasts. Inconclusive.
This year for the first time, the brochure was available in a second language: Russian. The map showing where everyone at the camp was from had a huge rosette of pins stuck in Saint Petersburg. Not only were there many Russians there, but also there were many who were very good dancers, which surprised me a bit. I don't know who's been teaching the Ruskies, but they've been doing a fine job. Not all of them spoke good English, though, which was a bit of a problem. One in my class was near silent. I asked her where she was from and I heard her say, "I am from Russia" in the cutest accent I've ever heard. The same girl wore a sequin dress on blues night. My advice is not to wear a sequin dress on blues night. For the man it is not a pleasant surface on which to place his hands, and these dresses always have a separate layer of lining, which skids against the outer sequin layer, so that the man ends up leading the dress but not its occupant.
After the Herräng camp, there was a swing festival in Stockholm, then Helsinki, then Saint Petersburg. I could attend none of these, but would dearly love to next year, if I'm not doing the Edinburgh Fringe again.
JAMS and STEALS
I really enjoy steals, where everyone tries to swap partners in creative ways, and I'm getting better at them. Alas, I only got to dance one this year. I and my partner of the moment managed a couple of times to steal both halves of another couple at the same time. A few times I remember the guy from another couple catching my eye, and giving me the nod to say, "Let's swap - here she comes!"
Jams are quite a different matter. I have never participated, and very few of them seem to work. A empty circle forms, leaving little room for other dancers to dance normally, and people start clapping and looking around for Americans. If there are no Americans in the circle, then this state of affairs exists for some while before the circle dissolves. Very rarely are there enough Americans to keep the jam session going right throughout a number. What yanks there are will leap into the circle for a while, and either do some good moves that make me feel even less inclined to get in the circle to advertise my mediocrity, or else will just do ordinary moves with astonishing confidence, making me feel confused about the point of jam dances.
SHOES and FLOORS
I brought with me two pairs of shoes, but one pair proved, no matter how I soaked them in water and tried to break them in, too tight. This left me with one pair of shoes in which to do everything for the whole time I was there. Avoid this. Herräng is a brutal testing ground for shoes and feet. I did at least have a pair of sandal flip flops used for trips to the shower (during which I collected an astonishing number of bites to the feet).
One major factor working for the feet, however, is the amazing smoothness of the Folkets Hus dance floor. With the right technique, you can slide a bit with almost every step, and this relieves a lot of the strain on your feet, and I found that I got much less tired than I would if my shoes had a better grip, which is just the thing for long nights of swing dance.
They had little signs up outside the Folkets Hus asking people not to park their bikes immediately outside the building. The signs were small, and many people had not noticed them. On coming out of an evening meeting, many were surprised and amused to see that the dozens of bikes that had been parked in front of the Folkets Hus were now instead in a very large pile in the middle of the tarmac, with the word “Oops!” marked out in tape in front of them. The point was made, and fewer people flouted the rules thereafter, although it was a bit harsh on those whose bikes were right at the bottom of the pile.
THE 'JOCKEY' POSITION
I had for some while wondered how this hold in Lindy hop got its name. I have said many times when teaching it, that I have no idea why it is called that. At Herräng this year, I had resolved to try and find out. I asked many of the teachers, including the old-timers, but none knew. The commonest guess was that it was something to do with jockeying for position on the dance floor. I then asked Frankie Manning. He hesitated not a instant. He said that it came from the time when he and the others of Whitey's dancers first started dancing not as couples, but as an ensemble group. The choreography called for them all to be in a line facing the same way, and there they stood, all ready to go, and keen to fly into the next move. Whitey remarked that they looked like a lot of jockeys waiting for the race to start, and the word stuck. I always thought that that was no way to ride a horse.
In conversation with Europeans, I discovered that they were amazed, in fact actually incredulous, that the British do not regard dance as sport. To we Brits, let me assure you, dance is totally unrelated to sport. Yes, it requires movement and skill, but so do driving to work in the morning, and washing the dishes. We take lessons in dance, and we social dance to improve, we do not ‘train’. Dance is meant to be fun, not competitive. Any competition that involves somebody’s opinion is a competition, not a sport. We have vegetable growing competitions, where judges award prizes to the best leek or carrot in their opinions. Gardening is not a sport, but it is hard work and takes skill. Yes, there is ice dancing in the winter Olympics, but we still don’t regard it as sport. Apparently there is ballroom dancing in the Olympics, but they never show it British television, and I rather hope that they never will. Nothing kills the fun of dance more effectively than making it a competition. To go further and call it a ‘sport’ seems to stifle any possibility of enjoying it. There was a programme once on British television called Come Dancing which covered a national Latin and ballroom competition. In Britain, it was ridiculed (justly in my opinion – all those stiff dancers with fake tans, terrified of making a mistake), and no one who won it attracted any attention from the public. Apparently, British winners were surprised to find themselves recognised on the streets of Germany. Trust me on this, the British regard dance as much as a sport as walking the dog, or basket weaving.
BLUES NIGHT TWO (week four)
The second blues night came. It kicked off with a blues routine with as its principal dancer the latest recruit to the Rhythm Hotshots: a perfectly beautiful Russian girl who danced brilliantly, with a look on her face that suggested that she had an accurate idea of how good looking she was. I danced through to breakfast. Making this evening particularly memorable were the thunderstorms that raged in the morning, that kept the room dark, and that added atmospheric sound effects to some of the numbers. Just at the climax to "I Just Want To Make Love To You" there were great rolls of thunder that could be interpreted in dance as much as the music. Another experience I recall was when I had gone off into another room for a private conversation, and an American chap followed, poked his head in, and asked, "Hey dude - have you got a girl in there?" That he thought it his business to enquire was one thing, but that anyone actually says 'dude' in normal conversation was even more amazing.
Here we see Dapper Man being served with a smile his excellent cake and ice cream in the café. In the background is a ninja pastry chef.
One dance partner I had that evening said, "Oh it's such a nice dance when you get the right partner." I asked her what was so awful about the other dances she had had. To demonstrate, she pressed her head against mine from the side very hard. It seems that some guys do this. This struck me as odd. I sometimes put my head against my partner's when blues dancing, but I see no pleasure to be derived from pressing hard skull against hard skull - that's uncomfortable for presser and pressee alike.
On Thursday came my three-years-in-the-coming ska lesson. I had finally worked up the audacity and taken the plunge. Before the lesson, though, I had to do the announcement at the evening meeting. I had worked out a comedy way of doing it, but had been put off the idea by talks with Ron and Cookie who had poured some scorn on 'white boy' ska. I simply told the meeting what I was going to do, making sure to say that this was white boy London ska from circa 1980, not Jamaican ska. I cued in some music. "Demonstration!" shouted the audience. The curtains parted. "Ah," I thought. There was nothing for it, I had to dance a few steps. The audience marvelled at the twin towers of mosquito bites I was using for legs. Those towers felt like lead, and it had been some time since I had done much ska. I did the One-Step-Beyond walk and a few timid other steps, and just about got away with it.
The lesson itself was a hit. As I taught, the steps all came back to me, and by the end I was able to do a decently impressive demonstration with fast fancy footwork. My pupils all picked up the One-Step- Beyond walk admirably fast, but struggled over just about everything else I taught, which suggested to me that the steps are genuinely difficult, and that I do have a genuine skill in being able to do them. I'll do the lesson again next year. Here is most of the class doing that excellent walk. The girl at the front of the nearest line seems to have got the right attitude.
CABARET NIGHT TWO (week four)
I sat right at the front for the next cabaret night. They just managed to get the whole audience in the Folkets Hus that night. The previous week they'd put part of the audience in the dansbanan and given them a big projector screen to look at. A warm reception was given to the local kids who came on to do a routine. The enthusiasm of the dance noticeably leapt up a few gears when the boys went into their hip hop moves. The comperes for the night were two Rhythm Hotshots doing a good piss-take on American self-praising hosts. As ever, the acts were very varied and very entertaining.
Hip hip hippety hop!
Friday night came, and the theme was Moulin Rouge. On the Herräng web-site they had said that this was inspired by a certain recent American film. I e-mailed them to point out that it was in fact an Australian film and was irrationally proud to notice that they altered this accordingly for their brochure. As ever, the standard of costume was high. Women will always leap at the opportunity to dress as whores, and this night was a good night for such leaping.
The porch of the Folkets Hus, impressively converted, but alas, too far away for the power of my flash.
Lady with miniature top hat. No one who had come by 'plane with a stuffed rucksack could have brought a topper.
Simon Selmon in Gallic mode.
Three pretty party goers. She on the right was a great singer. She on the left sports a hairstyle common in Sweden, but unknown in Britain. It is called a 'hockey cut', and involves an extremely short fringe, and a long back. I write this in case you think her wig had slipped.
A bed, in the middle of the café, with appropriate denizens.
We gathered to witness the Moulin Rouge show on the main stage. Here we see a fine can-can display. Another dance shown was the black bottom, which I found less successful, because to me it looked like a load of white folks doing a dance that was not their own. They lacked the wide-eyed exuberance of the dance's originators.
Again, I danced through to breakfast. Here am I immediately after that breakfast. I don't know who took this photograph, but I do like the quality of the light in it.
On the Saturday we ganged up on the buses leaving Herräng. We heaved our luggage onto the long, hinged single-decker and slumped into our seats. We were not a great advertisement for the benefits of swing dance, but were instead a mass of exhausted bite-covered scruffs peering about us in weary confusion. Such was the crowd on the bus that it was impossible for the driver to get money off us all, so he didn't try. I had spent a week and a half in a very small area - almost always within an area I could walk across in a minute or two.
That night I met a friend in Stockholm, and we went to a show, had a picnic, then went salsa dancing. I got about two and a half hours' sleep before going to catch my 'plane.
Somehow, I've got to find something to do for eleven months before next year's Herräng .