My time at the Herräng 2011
Here we go again
The main reason I went again was the desire to dance with good partners. Meaning no offence to the small but growing numbers of fine Lindy hoppers in Newcastle, it remains the case that I cannot dance here anything like the way I dance in Herräng. I needed to remind myself that there were steps beyond rock-step triple-step, and that I could swirl with a partner while following the music, unbound by the dictates of learned moves.
Recalling the successful plan I used last year, again I booked a one-way ticket to Copenhagen, and again I enjoyed a few days dancing to various events at the Copenhagen Jazz Festival, this time hosted by Ann-Britt (she hosted me, not the festival). The weather was warm, the city pleasant, and the community of Lindy hoppers there active and friendly. The dance surfaces were even worse than previous years, though, and my shoes suffered a bit. Many of us tried putting gaffer tape on our shoes, and in my case this had the effect of getting lots of sharp bits of gravel stuck to them, some of which then embedded themselves deeply in the soles.
I did a bit of being a tourist, saw the Rosenborg Slot (small but highly detailed palace in the park), and the Thorvaldsens Museum of sculpture, where photography was not forbidden nor charged for.
Next, on to Malmö, where the highlight of the trip was a day spent paddling around the canals in a Canadian-style canoe. After an hour or so, the feeling of instability faded away, and I and my companions Tintin and Pricken, one of whom was a dog, made many stops for ice-cream and sandwiches, while the torrid sun blazed away.
Malmö is well-placed for photographing great skies, and this year's visit netted another catch of these.
Next, a train to Stockholm. The Swedes seem to have little faith in their rail system, and some advised me to take a bus. One tip was to join an SJ membership scheme on-line and get half-price tickets. I tried this, but it required quoting a Swedish citizenship number, and so I thought I had failed. Upon my return home, though, I found that the SJ railway company was very keen to have me as a member anyway – so keen, in fact, that it sent me not one, not two, not three, not seven, not fourteen, but nine membership cards in separate envelopes. All hail automated systems.
The train was a sleeper, and cost just 600 SEK (£60), which seems a reasonable price to me, although I did spot that the compartment I was in, which held six people, was the only one occupied on the train. The expense of moving such a vast mass as a sleeper train complete with its staff to transport six people seems a bit daft. It would have been cheaper to buy us a car.
I was in Stockholm at six in the morning, and already it was hot and sunny. The monumental lions there are rather soppy Dougal-like things, unlike the proud roar-capable London examples. I sat on one while consulting my map. It was I suppose an opportunity to see some of the city, but instead I just made my way straight to Herräng.
As usual, the recommended route was different depending on whom I consulted. I took a tube train to Danderyds sjukhus, where there is a bus station, and then was whisked off by bus (number 639 to Hallstavik, although I split the journey up by taking an earlier bus and then waiting at Rimbo) into the familiar Swedish countryside, with its hot sun, red houses, fenceless fields, and resemblance to a wargames table, with all its terrain-types neatly and clearly differentiated. On one huge double-length bendy bus, there was only one other person, and he was driving the thing. Somewhere on this journey, I lost my watch. Fortunately, I had taken the precaution of having a very cheap watch.
Good news: the white dogs of Hallstavik are back! The town was saved! Where had they been? Away for cleaning? Perhaps the townsfolk stormed some building armed with pitchforks after a glut of ill omens.
I arrived on Thursday of week 2. While in Malmö I had come down with a cold, and now I was mostly recovered from it. This may have been the ideal circumstance, because at that moment my body may have been stoutly patrolled by antibodies expert at dealing with viruses. I did not suffer at all this year from any of the usual Herräng viruses. I doubt, though, that in future years I will contrive to catch a cold in time to arrive at the camp in this state. It isn't an easy thing to time well deliberately.
I signed up for that evening's cabaret. My usual pitching sites for my tent were taken, but I found a reasonably good one under trees at the south end of the caravan field. My tent has given good service over twenty years, and is now falling apart, but it lasted.
For the first time in Herräng, I had my own video camera. In years past I had thought that the main use of this would be making my own silly videos with others for showing in evening meetings or the camp video, but now I am a YouTube 'partner' and I now have four thousand subscribers to keep happy, so shot footage mainly for them. I set off on the 'Frankie Walk' – a route around the area which had questions posted in not-easy-to-find places, changed each week, with prizes awarded every Thursday to those who did especially well. I won nothing.
I shot some footage of the weird barren moonscape of the abandoned ore-loading area, which might serve for the introductory video I had in mind. Despite wearing my authenti-hat and a long-sleeved jacket, I managed to get some sunburn.
One of the acts that went on before me was a girl who played the keyboard and sang. A short way into the piece, she made a mistake, and started again. She made a few more mistakes, and was clearly distraught at her failings. The pressure of being on-stage was getting to her. She soldiered on to the end, however, and the audience LOVED her for it, and she got a massive cheer at the end. I later saw her in tears outside being consoled by a friend. "They loved you," I told her, before ascending the stairs to go on. I'm not sure it helped.
In the cabaret I performed one of the three poems I wrote on the way back from Herräng last year. It was the one about a disastrous dance I had. The lady I had that dance with was at the camp that night, but I don't know if she was in the audience, and even if she was, I don't know that she would have recognised herself. Not once did anyone mention her name to me in connection with the poem, so I'm confident that her identity was not common knowledge. On the other hand, she never spoke to me at all.
I stepped out in front of the curtain. Something then rather unexpected happened. Recognising me, someone cried out "Lloyd!" and then there was a round of applause. I wasn't sure how well my poem would be liked, so it was tempting to quit while I was ahead. I nodded in thanks, turned, and started to leave. I then turned again and did the poem. Doing the dance actions was surprisingly difficult with a microphone in one hand, and a one-foot sliver of stage for my feet, between the curtain and the ankle-breaker trench that runs along the stage's front. I suspect I didn't do them terribly well. My act didn't get vast cheers, but people were very kind to me about it over the next week, and so I became convinced that doing another poem wasn't such a bad idea.
There were a few songs from singers who, I'm guessing, were able to impress themselves with their singing abilities when at home singing along to the radio. Being able to hold a true note on-stage, however, when the throat is constricted by nervous tension, and the accompaniment absent or unreliable, is quite another matter. I would be reminded of my true abilities at singing when taking part in the karaoke a week later. A noteworthy exception to the above was one Mimi Terris's opera-trained singing. It was beautiful, professional, impressive, classical, but rather long and lacked a good gimmick.
Acts can be very simple. One involved some people coming to the front of the stage with buckets of small balloons. One was picked up and burst, and its contents of water splashed around. They then threw the rest into the audience. Unimpressed by the inconsiderateness of this, someone in the bar called out "The dance floor's wet!" The rest of the balloons were of course filled with air.
It is unfortunately true that my memories of things at Herräng quickly fade. Even as things occur, I think of how I might wittily report them in this account, and I naively imagine that I will remember both the event and the wit. Alas, commonly neither proves true. As I am writing this, I have forgotten most of the acts that were performed that cabaret night. If you can remember one, feel free to remind me.
First Party – Friday week 2
The next night was party night. The theme was 1959 Hawaii – "Tiki Herräng". They were playing fairly loosely with the theme, as is the norm at the camp. The dansbanan for example had a huge Easter Island head on it, made of chicken wire and papier-mâché (quiz time: what is the name of the nation state of Easter Island? – answer at the foot of the page). My costume was rubbish – just a big plain white beach shirt, but it was enlivened by the kind donation of a big colourful necklace, donated by Lina the Lithuanian and later recognised by several other Lithuanians.
I helped paint a few signs, like this one for the cafe upstairs. A bare foot gets a tick, you see? And the bear foot gets a cross. Don't worry – no one else got it either. Perhaps I should have given the claws a black outline for clarity. Considering the quality of the brushes I had, and that I was painting with wet paint on wet paint, I don't think it is so appalling.
There were other performance entertainments, notably a recreation of Eleanor Powell's dance routine in the 1939 film Honolulu. Alas, I didn't really get to see this, along with many other party-goers. I had taken up position by the side of the performance area at one end on the dansbanan, but from there was directed to the back of the crowd. Some arriving later than I were tolerated at the sides. From the back, I could see the top of someone's (Jo Hoffberg, I'm told) head twirling around a lot. It is now the case that there are simply too many people at the camp for everyone to be able to see a live performance.
There was a limbo competition. I recalled the one I had seen there many years ago. The prize then was a free week at the camp. The prize this time I'm told (by Serena Rizzo, one of the party's organisers) was to go crowd surfing on foam-rubber surf boards. I chose not to mention the old prize to the winner.
A lady with whom I had become friendly last year was there at the camp that week, and this was one reason I had timed my arrival for then. She, however, was there with her brand new boyfriend. He had the massive advantage over me that he lived in the same country as her, neatly side-stepping the need for airline tickets every time he wanted to see her. Though Herräng is a great place to meet women, it is a rotten one to meet them from one's own country. I got a few dances with her, and then said goodbye.
After the Friday night party came Saturday, but since I had danced until breakfast time, I saw little of that day. I went back to my tent in the afternoon and thought I might have a quick snooze. Next thing, I awoke, still face-down, at nine in the evening, and soon it was time for Sunday. After that came Monday, sort of. By this method the days flew by, each merging confusingly with the next. It became very difficult to refer to any particular time using conventional vocabulary. If it is 03.32 on Wednesday and someone refers to an event that took place at 00.14 on Tuesday, he might say "yesterday" because he has slept once since then, but then you might correct him, saying that actually the event was "this morning", but then you'd sort of be wrong too, because you are speaking after midnight, and so it was technically 'yesterday' but for a different reason from the one he had had when he chose the word. If language had developed from scratch at Herräng, the terms for time would be very different.
I was recruited as a referee for the events of the Swing Olympics, which took place in the dansbanan. Teams representing regions like Asia went up against the might of Scotland (I think the Scottish team had one actual Scot in it – the rest were English, German, Canadian, and Portuguese) and lost. My role was pretty much ceremonial. I was supposed to watch for cheating, but pretty much everyone cheated pretty much all the time. Events included a relay race where each leg had to be run using a different jazz step, a frog high-jump, an eagle slide (a move supposedly named after Britain's ski-jumping genius Eddie "The Eagle" Edwards) distance event, and a team jam battle.
Terry Monaghan – R.I.P.
Just before the camp opened, on the 26 June, Terry Monaghan died. The little room off the side of the cafe was set up as a memorial to him, with a book of remembrance. At least one person misunderstood the function of this book, and left a message asking for cheaper brownies in the cafe. In case you don't know, Terry was one of the founder members of The Jiving Lindy Hoppers back in the very first days of the swing revival in the early 1980s. He went on to become the world's foremost expert in the history of the swing dance era. He used to correct Frankie Manning on details about the Savoy Ballroom. My strongest memories of him are telephone conversations. When I telephoned the Jiving Lindy Hoppers, sometimes Terry would answer and we would then get sidetracked from whatever it was I wanted to say to a discussion on the history of swing. He was generous with his knowledge.
This year was the first one in which the camp declared that it will no longer accept travellers' cheques. I don't know why this should be. I don't think it is any trouble to accept them, and travellers' cheques work very well. Some say that in this modern world of plastic cards and the internet, cheques are out-dated and unnecessary. The camp, though, had not compensated by accepting plastic, nor payment over the web. This meant that everyone had to deal in cash. This meant arriving with lots of cash, and for me and many others, keeping that cash in a tent. Was this the first year that they'd suffer badly from robberies?
The only way to get cash was from the Kuggan shop, or by going to Hallstavik where there was a bank. I got by using the first method, but I came close to having to borrow money. The Kuggan often ran out of money, and the post-office part of it was often shut.
That the camp insisted on cash was a bit suspicious. Today there are many machines that enable a trader to accept plastic, and these cannot require vast amounts of trade to make them worthwhile. I've seen modest weekly-market traders on little stalls with them here. The camp has a till that prints nice receipts, with a logo and everything. At the camp at any one time there are about 800 customers, and over five weeks that's 4,000 customer-weeks. They charge for many things (internet use, ice-creams, bicycle hire, transport to the airport, accommodation etc.) but the basic cost for most people is 4,200 krona per week for tuition and parties, so just using that gives us 16,800,000 krona, which is getting on for two million pounds. Seventy percent of the people at the camp are not from Sweden, and if they all deal in cash, then that's a large amount of money that is untraceable by the Swedish tax authorities. Of course, if the non-Swedes paid at the gate with plastic, then this money would suddenly become traceable, and the tax inspectors might wonder how big the camp was in previous years. I make no accusation here, but a cynic might speculate that these notions are not unrelated.
Be sure to get a receipt when you pay for an evening party – it is your prime proof of payment, and the stamp they give you will probably wear off. One night they didn't give me one, and when I later asked for one they thought I was trying to pull a fast one (perhaps they feared I would give it to someone else), although to be fair they did later admit their mistake. One decision I had to make in week 3 was whether to get a week-long parties-only ticket. They wanted 1,300 krona for one of these, and a one-off evening ticket was 200 krona. So, the weekly ticket was a saving of just 100 krona, and I guessed that there was a chance that I'd get in free one evening in the week. In the event, I was right (I didn't have to pay for the Friday night Alice in Wonderland party because I was in the main cast for it), so I was better off buying single tickets every night. There was also the thought that I might miss a night or two from illness. Possibly they should offer a greater saving for the week-long tickets.
I did not hear of large amounts of cash getting stolen from tents or the like, although I did find Malou Meyenhofer looking in vain in the huge and very full lost-and-found box in the hope of finding a missing charity collection box. I hope she found it. [Addendum: She did! Someone had taken it, done their own charity fund-raising activity, and then later returned it with more money in it than before. There are plenty of good folk at Herräng.]
It's political correctness gone jazzy
I saw Manu Smith and said hello to him. He runs the Yehoodi website, and thanks largely to him, an article I wrote a decade ago and had largely forgotten about went a bit viral in the world of Lindy cyberspace last year. It got quoted and misquoted on a few sites, and some people expressed outrage at it. Many people entered the debate on my side, actually more than half did, but others had a fine time fuming away. The article was called "Ten Reasons Why Men Lead and Women Follow". In common with other articles I have written, it has a deliberately attention-grabbing headline, which can confuse some readers who then misinterpret the article underneath it. To any who read it, it is clear enough that the article is not about why men should lead, nor does it say at any point that women follow only and never lead. It is an article that simple explains to those who are not familiar with partner dancing why there is a convention, and why the convention is that way around. One particularly vigorous on-line attack on the piece said that it used an "appeal to the norm" as an argument in support of the norm, and that this was an invalid type of argument. The article was explaining the norm, which undeniably is the norm. It is quite certainly the case that in partnered dance, men generally do the leading and women the following. Out of curiosity, I counted the number of times I saw a woman leading a man at Herräng. In two-and-a-bit weeks, I saw it happen four times. I have been led by a woman of course, although all the times I have danced all the way through a song successfully as a follow were when I was being led by a big man.
"Oh we have got to do something about that," said Manu. "Bring your 1999 views." "It'll be fun," he added in a reassuring tone. That he chose this tone made it very unreassuring indeed. I think it's probably a good thing that nothing came of this at the camp. Some people might have foamed a bit about things I never said, and then I might have spent a dull time pointing out that I never said those things, and then they would have been frustrated that they didn't get to have such a satisfying righteous rant as they were hoping for, and then they might have ended up disliking me for reasons that they couldn't express.
Since writing the above, I have appeared on a podcast on Yehoodi radio. You can read about it and hear it here.
I heard a man at Comments Corner saying to Robert Klingvall that teachers should not use "he" and "she" when talking about leaders and followers respectively. This is an issue that comes up every now and then. I wish it didn't. I have been teaching swing dance for twelve years now, and the only person who has ever expressed having trouble with my saying something like "he puts his right hand on her left shoulder blade" instead of "the person dancing the leader's role puts that person's own right hand on the left shoulder blade of the person dancing the follow's part" was the University 'lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered, equality officer', and I think even she was struggling to be outraged. This is a total non-problem. No one in the room ever has the slightest confusion or difficultly with 'he' being used for speed and simplicity for the leader and 'she' for the follower. Everyone in the room knows that the leader might not be a man. Usually it is the case that I have had to sort out people into couples, and get some women to volunteer to dance the leader role to make up numbers, so everyone knows that I know that 'leader' does not mean that all leaders are men. If I were to employ slow and tortured language to remove male and female terms from my lessons I would be insulting everyone in the room, including myself. It is blatantly insulting to women to suggest that they are so dim that they cannot comprehend whom 'he' and 'she' refer to, or of such weak character that they cannot cope with the implications. Women, in my experience, have absolutely no trouble at all dealing with the complexities of a world in which 'he' is used for quick convenience to refer to a notional person who may in reality be of either sex. Men who feign outrage are usually just trying to score points with the women, and if my judgement is good, then they usually lose more points than they gain.
Jo Hoffberg was there, and was one of the people who'd had a go on-line at my "Ten Reasons" article. She said that she was trying to get a dance with me. She never did, though, and this was not because I was avoiding her. I'd have danced with her happily. It is possible that she didn't recognise me as the article's author. I don't know.
After the evening meetings most nights they had "Live at the Library" events. That first word I always read to rhyme with "give" and "sieve", suggesting that they were encouraging people to move into the library on a permanent basis, but apparently it was intended to rhyme with "hive" and "jive", and was intended to refer to talks by people who were actually in the room, alive. Several of these were about individuals (Ramona Staffeld and Chazz Young are examples). I went only to two. The first of these was dealing with the on-going debate between the two competing camps on the issue of 'blues' dancing.
There were four people on the panel, plus Lennart in the chair. One side was represented most clearly by David Madison, a man who has been coming to Herräng for ten years, and is so committed to the place, that he has bought a caravan and has it stored in a barn for most of the year. The other extreme was represented by Åsa Heedman of the Harlem Hotshots. I sat where I might make a discreet exit. I feared that the debate would get nowhere, and I was sort of right, but alas late-comers blocked me in.
Four clips culled from YouTube were shown, supposedly for the benefit of those who were unsure what the competing styles were. The first showed 'ballrooming' which is a fast spinning dance done back in the day to blues music, but which was clearly not what anyone had come to the debate to talk about. Another video supposedly illustrated 'micro-blues' but was clearly an exercise in a class and not the dance in practice. Another was of some sort of ballet-like blues dance with lots of athletic dips, but this too was quickly dismissed as irrelevant. Only the fourth clip seemed to illustrate anything germane, but David was unimpressed by the quality of the dancers shown, and did not want this used to illustrate what he did. When it became clear that the chairman was in the opposing camp, I think David felt that the debate was a bit of an ambush.
I'll attempt to explain the clash of the two camps. I may make a video about this. In one corner there is the 'Herräng blues' camp, which maintains that since Frankie Manning called the dance they did to the sort of music they play at the camp 'slow drag', they decided to use that term. The music is slow sleepy jazz, including a lot of Duke Ellington and Billie Holiday. The dance has no basic step, and tends to be danced standing fairly upright, often with torsos close or even touching. No teacher from the swing era taught it to the swing revivalists. Instead, the music was played and modern people danced to it as they saw fit.
In the opposite corner is 'blues' or, as its proponents might call it: 'proper blues'. There is now a scene that dances this, teaches this dance, and some of the people in it have never learned swing dances. Those in this camp claim that it is an older dance, and that research has shown that the way people dance it today is an authentic recreation of the way it was danced back in the early days. There is no film footage of this dance in action, but there is one book that describes a basic step that seems to match what is danced today. Enthusiasts worked out a way to dance to the music they liked, and found later that by happy coincidence it was the way people used to dance to that same music. The music is broader in range, but typified by a strong 'BOOM-tick-tick-CHA-tick-tick' rhythm. The dancers stand further apart, leaning in towards each other, and move with a punchier style.
Åsa Heedman made a number of unfalsifiable statements, along the lines of 'When I hear certain music, it makes me want to move in a certain way, and so that's how I dance to it, and I like the sort of sleepy jazz music that gets played here on "slow drag night"'. Well, you can't argue with that.
Daniel Heedman, speaking from the floor, said that one book was not enough evidence for him, and that he demanded that better evidence be provided before he would accept the dance as authentic, and he was only interested in dancing an 'authentic' dance. While I'm glad that there are people researching what is 'authentic' to period, I want to be a part of a living dance scene, and I would never close the door to something that is good just because it cannot be proven to have been done before. When jazz moves were first done, they were all inauthentic. Daniel's emphasis may stem from his experience as a performer. He might want to perform a dance to an audience as an historical recreation of a specific time in the past. I'm more of a social dancer and just want to have fun.
Another contributor from the floor criticised Herräng blues/slow drag saying that "It's not even a dance!" What exactly she meant by this is not easy to say. She might have meant that it was not a dance because it did not have a proper name that people have all agreed on. I was annoyed that people put such emphasis on words and names for things. I'd rather talk about actual things that exist rather than their labels. She might have meant that it was not a dance because there was no basic step and people were just making it up as they went along. This strikes me as quite authentic behaviour. I'm sure that's what most people back in the day did. Blues was not a display dance, there were no blues classes to attend. She might have meant that because so many people enjoy themselves incorporating a degree of frottage in the dance, that this means that it ceases to be a proper dance and instead belongs in the realm of filth.
Kevin St Laurent said that in Lindy competitions now, the usual practice is not to try to define the dance that must be danced to be considered as a winning entry, but instead just to define the music that will be danced to, and by picking the right music, the organisers hope that only Lindy will suit it, and so whatever is danced to it, if it fits, is Lindy. I think this accords with what I have to say on this debate.
That 'proper blues' moves danced today are like blues moves danced a long time ago, despite the dance having died out in between, is I think a simple reflection that people with human ears and two feet will end up reacting to music in pretty much the same way as their ancestors did. However, this same argument would apply equally to 'Herräng blues'. I'm sure that people like me have reacted the same way again to the same music. What's different is the music. Without being taught, I found myself shifting weight, hugging, and walking around in a sleepy jazzy way to sleepy jazzy music at Herräng. Also without being taught, when I heard a faster stronger track that went BOOM-tick-tick-CHA-tick-tick, I widened my stance, stood further from my partner and pulsed with it. In other words, this coincidence has happened twice. Both sides are right. There is no contradiction. I said this at the debate and got a small round of applause, but none of the panel responded.
Two matters remain, however. Those who consider what they do as true 'blues' will be rubbed up the wrong way if the Herräng dance is called 'blues' as well, so distinguishing terms might help soothe folk. One could be pulse blues, push blues, stomp blues, slouch blues, low blues or broad blues (I have heard those who dance it call it 'fusion blues'), while the other could be jazz blues, sleepy blues, slow blues, drag blues, tall blues, high blues, close blues or something of the kind.
The other matter is what music gets played at Herräng. What does get played is fine but very narrow in scope, and I'm sure that almost everyone there would prefer a wider variety to be played, but I wouldn't want it to go all the way over to BOOM-CHA night. They do have three floors that go all night now, so one floor might be given some licence to play something to please the stomp blues fans, while the main floor could play sleepy jazz blues and other music that doesn't clash with it. Mark Kihara arrived near the end and contributed a speech comparing Herräng to a Chinese restaurant. A Chinese restaurant serves Chinese-style food and is not wrong for doing so. If people want Mexican food, they should go elsewhere. Herräng plays its style of blues music. It has chosen to specialise. I respect the analogy, but don't think that this is the last word on the matter.
A few days later, there was another 'secret' blues-in-the-basement night. David Madison understood that he was due to DJ down there, but there was some confusion, and when he went to seek clarification, an investigation was launched by the camp's organisers and it was made clear that David and his style of music were not to appear in the basement. The basement has room for about five couples, if they don't get too extravagant with their moves. This seems little threat to the rest of the night in the Folketshus with its three main rooms which hold hundreds. Meanwhile, the sizeable bar is used most nights for other styles of music, including even disco. The vigilance against non- Herräng-style blues music seems to be suspiciously out of proportion.
I videoed an interview with Chester Whitmore in week 4, in which he made very clear that the bump-and-grind 'rub-a-dub' style of blues is very definitely in-period with the swing era. Shortly after arriving at the camp, he choreographed a contender for the best ever opening show for blues night I've seen. It was four tracks long, about fifteen minutes, and very ambitious, involving lots of dancers. I saw it in the dansbanan, and alas the video feed arrived late and so I missed the very start, but the opening number was all men, and then women arrived, doing complicated and varied moves, and the partnered work involved loads of lifts. Chester said to me that he wanted to illustrate the breadth of blues. He had done amazingly well to assemble such a talented team and to teach it such an ambitious choreography in just a few hours.
My blues costume this year was similar to that of previous years, but now had a white silk bow tie instead of the previous dangly-type tie. I am an instant convert to the bow tie. It is considerably less ugly than the stupid dangly tie, makes a poor handle for an assailant, does not have a tightenable slip knot on it for throttling you, won't get caught in lathes, doesn't dangle in your soup or in the water-fountain, and still looks respectable when worn untied at the end of the night.
I formed the tentative opinion in the first week or so that I was there that the music was better than in recent years. There wasn't quite so much repetition, and I liked most of what a couple of the main DJs were playing. Hooray. However, at the end of week 3, the quality of the music nose-dived. New DJs were in, and one in particular seemed to have an inexhaustible supply of tracks that threatened to get good at any moment but never did. It was torture. One night I was on the floor up in the Folketshus, having earlier been dancing with a particular partner in the dansbanan. How we danced down there! So much interpretation, and so much to interpret. But now I had her to myself for a while, and we danced track after track upstairs. We never quite took off, though, because the music kept us earth-bound. It was like being in a 'plane at full throttle, but in air too thin for take-off. We danced track after track, and each time I was thinking that if the DJ just played music at random, he must surely play one decent track even if by accident. This man, though, was a careful master of his art, and was able for night after night to keep the floor tepid with his perfectly consistent low-end of mediocrity blandness. In keeping with his musical style, he always stood, perfectly still, watching the floor, as if monitoring for any unwanted outbreaks of flair.
Years ago, they built 'the bridge' which hoisted the DJs high above the floor. Getting to speak to the DJ involved a climb. Today, though, they seem to feel that this is still too intimate, and they have now isolated the DJs from the floor entirely. They now put them set back on the stage, behind a barrier, with the half-drawn curtains guarding their flanks. To get to the DJ, one now has to vault onto the stage, then throw aside the heavy curtain, and violate their territory. I got looks when I did this. I never heard a DJ speak to the crowd except once when Leru was playing some fun stuff very late one night/morning, and bothering to try to make things enjoyable. Other than that, I never heard a DJ announce a steal dance, birthday jam, ask for requests, or make any noises that a record player couldn't. One night I hacked my way to the DJ and spoke to her, and she said that she thought that the DJ position was "really retarded", and she pointed out that she could only see half the floor (the bridge was built partly to enhance the DJs' view of the floor) and told me that she got into trouble when she moved the curtain a bit on one side to make her seem more approachable.
One night I saw a girl dancing excellently with someone else, and thought I'd ask her to dance. My chance came later and I took it, but I couldn't get her to dance that way with me. I later discovered that I had seen her dancing with her regular partner. However, my opinion of her soared when she excused her dancing by saying that she hated the track we were dancing to. It was Lavender Coffin, one of the most over-played and meritless tracks there is. If the music policy at the camp ever gets so narrow that only one track remains that can be played, I do hope that it isn't this one.
The culinary competition
A hard-fought contest took place between the competing teams of cooks from Russia, America, Italy, and China. The Mission Impossible tent restaurant was the venue, and I queued up early to get not only a sample of all four foods, but the right to vote on the winner. Teams attempted to bribe the voters with music, extra pudding in the case of the Italians, and I was escorted to my seat by a beautiful Russian girl in a fur coat. The event was popular, and the voting method seemed a little vague and imperfectly thought-through, but the competition was taken remarkably seriously. There was reserved seating for VIPS, mood lighting, and decorations for all competing nations. Fish with his camera went around interviewing people. I was interviewed before I'd tasted much of the food, and so was a bit useless. I got the impression that the vote recording system was deliberately obscure in order to camouflage the degree by which the winners were winning. In my opinion, the Italian food was definitely the best, and I was surprised to see it win by only a couple of votes. The prize was a wooden spoon, spray-painted gold and glued to a block of wood. Who wouldn't be delighted with that?
The rise of the retrovesters
I can't tell you whether retrovestry in general is on the rise, but it is at Herräng. I interviewed a few retrovesters on video. Some had started with the vintage clothing and then later begun to swing dance, while others had danced and then got into the clothing full time. During the day, they had different clothes, which they would change when dressing up for the evening dances. The ladies wore headscarves during the day, for example. One Irish retrovester said that she did her hair just once every three days, and kept it in place with 'glue'. The swing dance teacher Katja Uckermann said that she was a lapsed retrovester, because she found that Lindy hop was such a time-consuming hobby/profession for her that she no longer had the time to look for vintage clothes, or repair damaged ones. Dan Fierer is a practicing doctor, but apparently his patients remain confident that his methods and treatments are up to date despite his appearance. Certainly the star performer teachers seem to be leaning further and further towards full-blown retrovestry. Pencil moustaches were common this year. These men must presumably get looks when not among the swing dance fraternity.
I heard someone telling someone else that there had been a bomb blast in Olso – some terrorist attack – and there had been deaths. Oslo was fairly close to my temporary home, but though this was bad news, I was on holiday, and tried to put it out of my mind.
Later, someone arriving from Britain said "Have you heard that Amy Winehouse has died?" I hadn't until that point, but was neither terribly surprised nor saddened. I didn't know her personally, nor had I been a fan. Others, however, were more affected, and some saw the opportunity for an Amy Winehouse tribute night, and notices went up calling for contributing talent. I don't think this happened, though, because over the next couple of days the scale of the events in Oslo came to light. In case you are reading this several years from the time of writing, I'll just say that a man with a rifle shot a lot of people on a small island near Oslo, many of whom were children. The loss of one drug-addicted singer seemed somewhat trifling in comparison, and a tribute night in poor taste.
A minute's silence was organised for noon one day. Otherwise, most people tried to forget about it all, although every trip to the Kuggan shop presented the shopper with half a dozen front-page images of the plastic-faced killer. I wondered what proportion of people in a small country like Norway would be directly affected by the murders. I asked one Norwegian about this. She knew four of the dead and several of the wounded. I didn't ask another.
Twenty-four hour mania
The penchant for doing things for twenty-four hours continued from previous years. Some things were suggested by Lennart in evening meetings, and he found volunteers from the audience to carry them out. One man agreed to spend the period with the goats in their pen (Billy and Willy, a 'gift' for Lennart from Elliott Donnelley last year), and another, Nico Speraggi from Argentina (now living in Sweden), sat on the stage in Lennart's usual meeting spot for that time.
Mark Kihara decided that this was a good opportunity to learn a musical instrument, and announced that he would take tuition in any instrument suggested if there were people willing to teach him. In the end, his friend Tim Collins was his main tutor in ukulele. At the meeting following the period, he was to perform. His live performance occurred and is perhaps not unfairly described as underwhelming, but then, we didn't know what was coming next. Up on the main screen was projected the video. Erin Strauss sang "I Will Survive" accompanied by ukuleles. Scene after scene had her in new locations with other people, placed in-shot but isolated from the rest of the tableaux, paying it no attention as she blasted out her vocals. Watch this on YouTube. The bit with Lennart had me bursting out laughing. Great cheers from the audience.
One popular suggestion was that Mark be silent for twenty-four hours. Many of us thought that he would never manage this. He took on the challenge. Many of course tried to get him to speak. Recklessly he had even declared that he would neither speak nor laugh for the period. I should have bet money on this. He lasted four hours, which is about twice what I would have expected. Having resisted the brazen attempts to get him to speak, he succumbed to making a sarcastic remark when someone accidentally disconnected one of his cables when he was DJing. The next meeting he wore a sign with an F on his chest.
Another twenty-four venture was karaoke night/day. It started in the bar, and for some while I just looked in occasionally, while the place was packed, and the crowd roared out rock anthems. After a night's dancing, I then joined in, and first contributed the Human League's "Don't You Want Me?" As with almost all pop music, it wasn't pitched for my voice, and I ended up singing it in the style of Vivian Stanshall, aided by Katie Sewell who leapt in to help me out with the duet aspect of the number. I went through the long list of songs available, very few of which I knew, and none of these had been sung already (no repetition was a rule), which says something of my musical knowledge. My next number was Lou Reed's "Perfect Day". Somehow I managed to find the notes for the verses, but when it came to the choruses, the backing track just abandoned me, and there was no singing from the crowd. Trying to be helpful, the DJ came in with his attempt at the chorus, but he was off-key, but it was better than silence.
Later, I had the honour of leading everyone from the bar to the Mission Impossible tent, while the bar got ready to serve breakfast. I sang (if you accept a broad definition of 'sang', perhaps 'droned' is more accurate) "Walk Like An Egyptian" (Bangles 1986). Serena Rizzo has posted a video of this on Facebook. I sound a lot better in the bath, honest.
I'm not sure how much the locals appreciated the karaoke from the tent in the early hours of the morning, or for the rest of the day for that matter. Having put in slips for two more songs, I felt duty-bound to wait for them to come up. I think in total about five people did the entire twenty-four hours. My next number was "A View to a Kill" (Duran Duran 1985) – a song I hated when it came out, and now have extra reason to dislike. The backing track was little more than drums with the occasional bit of kick-brass. I knew the song well enough, but never found the pitch. It was a disaster, and there was no one there who could effect a rescue. My next song was sure-fire winner, though. I had sung it dozens of times in rehearsal for this year's International Festival of Music and Arts (or IFMA, as today's youth calls it), and it was, by my standards, modern: "Virtual Insanity" (Jamiroquai 1996). Again, while rhythm was not a great problem, finding the pitch amidst the collection of vague chords was next to impossible, and no one there seemed able to help me out. Part of the problem is that karaoke backing tracks tend to be a bit low quality in general, with computer-generated noises and cut-down production, but I did get the impression that part of the sport of karaoke was to be able to sing a song despite a terrible unhelpful backing track. In what I heard, there was no hint of the actual tune. A fatigued mind and cracked voice didn't help either. Oh dear. I soon departed for my tent and the semi-oblivion of sleep.
In my account of Herräng 2008 I was quite critical of the aloof nature of the camp's organisers. This year, I got the impression that they had been reading my accounts. I went to Snowball in Stockholm and noticed a very definite increase in the friendliness and attention I got from the Harlem Hotshots. This could have been coincidence. This year at the camp Daniel went out of his way three times to praise what I was doing there, and he thanked me for coming to the camp, and said that I added to the atmosphere. This was so precisely the thing that I had written that they never said, that it was somewhat suspicious, but I should say here and now that Daniel was being genuinely very nice. He even agreed to be interviewed on video, but that didn't happen in the end. He now has a degree in civil engineering. It seems that though he will still do the odd performance with the Hotshots, he will be getting a proper job. Eddie Jansson, one of the old Rhythm Hotshots, is now near the end of his medical doctor's training.
Indeed, so much like a reaction to my website seemed this new friendly behaviour that I had to ask Daniel whether he'd been reading my web pages. He said quite convincingly that he hadn't. When I typed "Herrang" (note: without the accent on the A) into the Swedish version of Google, my site was the fifth hit. As in previous years, every couple of days someone came up to me and said that they were at the camp because they'd been reading my web-site. I hope they weren't disappointed.
Herräng is filled with lusty folk all keen to meet others of the same kind, so what better way to kick-start them into action than a spot of speed dating? One lady there took it upon herself to organise this, and it happened on both Monday nights that I was there. The first I knew of it was when I was asked to present a video advertising it. They had already shot lots of footage of well-dressed staff members sitting in a circle on a sunny lawn, and moving round to new pairings, acting out comic wordless gags. They wanted me to do it as a naturalist observing the behaviour of the speed-daters. I did the obvious and played it very David Attenborough.
Next day they (Gunnar and his video-making assistant Fernando Mazas of Argentina – the official camp video people) wanted me up in the office to record the voice-over. On first visit, we just discussed, and debated whether it would be done in time. Second visit, they still weren't ready for me. Third visit, I got to see the cut video for the first time and record one take of my commenting on what I saw. It wasn't a great take, perhaps, but it was what we got before the computer started playing silly-buggers with us.
That night, the video was announced on the stage by Lennart, and from the bridge there came a voice "Sorry Lennart – no video". I assumed a technical fault. I was later told that the people who ran the bridge had decided to enforce a rule strictly: that all material had to be delivered to them an hour before the meeting. The finished video had arrived five minutes late, and they had decided to make a point.
At first I thought I would steer clear of the speed dating. I was worried I think that there was likely to be an asymmetry in how seriously people took it. I heard one man say that he would simply tick all the 'yes' boxes (effectively say "yes I am interested in dating this woman") for every one of his dates, while I heard another say that his plan was to tick all the 'no' boxes, because he was only doing it for a laugh. I saw potential cruelty in both these plans. As it happened, though, they needed twenty more men to make up numbers because so many more women had signed up to do it, and I was near-enough begged by the organiser to join in, so I did.
It was held outdoors, in front of the Folketshus. They put down tarpaulins and cushions, and gave everyone a form, and handed out pens. Each form had a number. I was gentleman number 4, if memory serves. The ladies sat down first, and then there was a subtle rush from the gents to be near the more desirable ladies. A loud hailer beeped, and we had three minutes to introduce ourselves and decide whether or not we liked the person we sat next to enough to arrange a 'date' with them. Another beep, and another person. In half an hour we had seen ten people out of the fifty-eight of each sex taking part, and an end to proceedings was declared. I was there to make up numbers. Should I tick all? None? I ticked two. Perhaps I should have ticked more. I don't know.
The following night was blues, sorry – 'slow drag' night. In the dim light of the Folketshus I danced with a blonde-eyed and blue-haired Swede whom I recognised as someone I'd met before at the speed dating. She wore a dark dress with a white square bit on it. Many hours later, I again danced with a long blonde-eyed Swede with deep blue hair, and, knowing that a chap can gain points by noticing these things, I remarked that she had changed her dress. She replied that she hadn't. I then twigged that I had confused her for someone else. That's the trouble with beautiful Swedes. They're a bit like Japanese – can be a bit similar-looking. I feared that I had lost points. Surviving I think on previously-earned points, I was glad that she was still speaking to me. She said that I had missed our date. I had? It seemed that the results of the speed dating had been announced, and she had arranged to meet me at the Frankie shrine at four in the morning. I didn't know this, and so had unwittingly stood her up. Wonderfully, she forgave me. This was the start of a nice bout of blues dancing, or slow dragging, I'm not sure which. The big snag was that she was leaving later that morning. I escorted her to the early-morning bus to Hallstavik and waved her off. Could have been better timed, that date. Foolishly, I thought she'd be easy to track down on Facebook, but I've found that finding someone if you don't know her full name and how to spell it, is flipping difficult. You can't search by any criterion other than name. I can't find her through her city, discipline at university, hobbies, shoe size, anything. I have found the lady I mistook her for, by trawling for hours through the lists of friends of others in her city, but writing to someone to say "Hello, could you help me to look for someone who looks like you but in whom I'm interested" seems like the height of rudeness, so for the moment I'm stuck.
One effect of ticking someone's 'yes' box is that one learns what the other chose. If I tick 'no' to someone, then regardless what choice she makes regarding me, I don't know what choice she made, which can be a bit awkward when we next meet on the dance floor, which is quite likely at Herräng. On the other hand, by ticking a 'yes' box, I get to find out what the lady chose. I ticked two 'yes' boxes, you may remember. The second lady ticked my 'no' box.
The following week, I was keener on the speed dating, though still aware of dangers. In the evening meeting, the video I made the previous week was shown, which was a surprise to me, because I had forgotten all about it by then. It went down quite well.
A new organiser had stepped in to replace the other who had left the camp. Some things were done better. The men sat first, and then the women jockeyed for position instead. The sign-up form asked what sex you were and what sex you were looking for, to accommodate everyone. It didn't ask whether you were single or not, but I think that most people were. They had candles as well. There was a bell instead of a beeper. The form was better designed. In other respects, though, it was less good. The three minute dates started with a minute and half of faffing. We were left sitting next to our new dates, but without the go-ahead to start the date. Were we supposed to sit in silence? Was it cheating to talk? After three minutes, another minute and half of faffing started, so each three minute date was really six minutes, three of which were a bit awkward, because one didn't want to seem reluctant to move to the new date, for her sake, and yet it seemed rude to stop talking before one had someone new to talk to. The man in front of me wouldn't move because the man in front of him hadn't moved, and so forth along the chain.
I had ten 3(6)-minute dates from ten different countries (Italy, Slovenia, Australia, Germany, England, Belarus, Israel, Sweden, Greece, and Russia). The Italian was a 'no' in my head immediately. It may not have been a terrible clash of personality – I think it was more because he was a guy. Two more got 'no's from me because they didn't put the effort in to smile or apparently try to seem interesting. The rest were much trickier choices. We were expected to fill in our forms on the spot quickly and hand them in. I honestly can't recall how many I ticked in the dying seconds of my panic, but it must have been at least two, because the next day I found I had two matches.
The first arrangement was for something like 4 a.m. at the entrance to the cafe. The people at reception were very diligent at the task, and refused to tell me who she was, but said that she was wearing a gold headband. The dancing was still going on, and magic brownies were available very nearby, but she suggested a walk, and so that's what we did.
The next date had an unsure start. I had arranged to meet her by the ice cream parlour after lessons. I got there an hour early, and spent my time wandering about and talking to people in the area. At the appointed time I wasn't exactly at the entrance to the ICP as arranged, but was quite nearby. We didn't meet. Had she turned up, not seen me, and left? Had she received the information? This was a tricky situation, because it was possible that I had accidentally stood someone up, but it was equally possible that I had been stood up. Should I be contrite or take umbrage? Normally one has a good idea of which is more appropriate. I instead chose to be mildly worried, and to seek someone who might know more. Fortunately, Flavia Monteiro De Castro of Argentina was on the case, and was able to tell me in a fairly reassuring tone that she reckoned that my date probably had not seen the arrangement in time to keep it. A new one was made: to meet for the midnight screening of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea that night on the moonscape area overlooking the sea.
I got the tickets, but probably failed to impress the ticket sellers with the generosity of my pocket (I only had a few coins on me, and it was for charity – oops). We met and set off. I took a sheet with me, and we each wore a warmish top. Down by the beach, they had set up a magic picture-frame door, complete with a transparent hosepipe of lights to brighten it, and more such lights led through the woods and up to the screen. The screen was a massive white tarpaulin sheet held unreliably in place by pegs and guy ropes. A few times the wind caught the massive sheet and pulled it down, or askew, or one of its pegs came out, but order was always soon restored. Similarly the sound kept cutting out after an especially loud bit, but never for long.
We lounged on cushions on huge tarpaulins, and the weather was fine. Every now and then I looked away from the screen to take in where we were. Out to sea, the sunset remained in place all night. The sun was just below the horizon, and lit up the few clouds there orange, and against this I could always see silhouette of watchers, the breeze catching their hair. My sheet was appreciated, and a small amount of body heat was shared at judicious points. The video projector was an electric thing, not much bigger than a slide projector, and it did very well under the circumstances. Bedimpled Kirk battled the giant squid, James Mason was shot, and I waved my hand in front of my date's eyes. She was fast asleep. Still, a successful date, I think. I have found her on Facebook at least.
The lady's honour was at stake. Though the ruffians' faces were filled with hatred, I threw myself forwards, bristling with indignation. The first lunged at me clumsily and I managed to unbalance him with some basic Bartitsu, causing him to collide with two of the others. The fourth came at me with a knife, stabbing wildly. Sweeping my arms in front of me in quest for his wrists, I made contact, and immediately put him in an arm-lock. Seeing his opportunity, the fifth advanced to finish me off with an evil-looking dagger. For all I was worth, I heaved my burden around to get it between me and my newest assailant, but I was too late. The dagger plunged into my forearm, and I admit that a small grunt emerged from my lips, though I did not grant the fiends the satisfaction of a scream. Twisting my arm, I snapped the blade off, effectively disarming my foe. I knew I only had a second or two left in which I could keep the stinking thug in the arm-lock, as the blood streamed down making my grip slippery. With what strength remained in me, I threw him off and added a kick to his midriff to discourage any further attempts on me. I snatched up his dropped knife and glared at the pack, daring any of them to repeat what they had said about my partner's swing-outs. After a few long seconds, they exchanged glances, and while showing what pathetic bravado they could summon up, they beat a retreat.
That's the official version of how I got the scar on my arm. Another which apparently has been doing the rounds on various blogs is that I was talking to Judy Cook about the bizarre occasion on which I was in a club dancing to some salsa music with a Lindy partner, when I felt a tap on my shoulder, and turned to see a young lady who told me "I am a salsa teacher, and you're doing it wrong". To illustrate my story, I showed Judy how I was doing the salsa step with a travel in it, and then I stumbled over a tent guy-rope and grabbed a fence to steady myself, only later to discover that I had cut myself quite deeply on some sharp metal fitting.
I will leave the reader to decide which explanation seems the more likely. As if I would salsa!
Anyway, on Judy's advice, I pinched shut the gaping wound, and this seemed to do the trick, sort of, and I applied what dressings were available. Alas, the wound was exactly on that part of my forearm that got pressed upon by those women who have a clamp-like left arm connection. Though I explained to them the problem, one French lady decided to ignore my requests to moderate her arm connection, and tore the wound open on the dance floor. There was no chance that the pinching technique would work again to close the wound. I went to reception, and was given some aid to close the wound, and I made it through the night's dancing. I saw the camp's glamorous doctor about it, and she said that it was too late to stitch it (only in the first four hours, apparently), but that it would at last be a manly scar, and a souvenir of my heroism against the ruffians. The next day she gave me a much better dressing, and with care and fortitude I was able to dance near enough as normal.
This year's mosquito crop was not especially bad, but I would like to give bite awards to two mosquitoes, one of which somehow bit me inside my boot, and another bit me at EXACTLY the point on the lower inside edge of my left-hand middle finger on the proximal inter-phalangeal joint, where the focus of force is when connecting with my partner on a stretched Lindy turn.
Even more than in previous years, people seemed very unhappy with the audition process. As ever, many people felt that they had been incorrectly assigned to lower groups than perfect justice would have done. It seems that as ever, the teachers have a strange bias which blinds them to all the virtues of auditioning dancers, and so they never incorrectly assign people to classes too high for them. I saw one teacher, Todd Yannacone, making an opening speech to placate the many people he perceived in his class who were disgruntled to be in it. Robert Klingvall was the poor man who got most of the complaints at the Comments Corner desk, and one night in the evening meeting, he announced that he had a supply of star-shaped pendants that people could wear which said on them "Individual Attention Please". People who had found themselves in too low a level could use these pendants to let the teachers know who were the best dancers in the class, and give them extra things to do. Oddly, the pendants did not prove popular.
Photograph courtesy of Dmitry Smolin.
One of the things that makes Herräng Herrängular is that every day (except Friday) there is a one-hour long evening meeting which has a very eclectic mix of items, but still an overall recognisable style. These meetings include announcements, but even these are delivered with style. A simple thing like a schedule change for a class, and what evening classes were available after the meeting would be announced in-character. For most of the time I was there, Frida Segerdahl would dance onto the stage with a high-piled 1960s hairstyle, to Soul Bosa Nova, reach into some part of her clothing, and produce her list of announcements which she would read out in her wildly-exaggerated Swedish accent, paying particular attention to the pronunciation of 'foyer' for which she found many variants.
Later on, Daniel Heedman did the same job as a very old and frail, but still lusty, Swedish yokel, who would lapse into Swedish a lot, and I have to say that the characterisation was genuinely impressive. He never rushed it, which is a sign of a veteran performer.
The meetings have been getting slicker over the years. They used to start late and regularly over-run. Now they are pretty accurately 9-10pm most days. Having been involved in quite a few over the years, I can say that some of the anarchy has gone out of them, which is possibly a shame, and they are much more carefully planned now, as is very evident when you try to get involved. To take part now involves consulting quite a lot of people, and possibly even turning up to a rehearsal. Many of the acts that take place in the evening parties are better than the acts in the Thursday cabarets.
I have an imperfect memory, and I'd like this year's account of my time in Herräng to be less than novel-length, so I'll only mention certain highlights.
Photograph courtesy of Dmitry Smolin.
Evita Arce and her partner were challenged to perform a hand-shadow act, and given a book about this subject, and a few days to rehearse. As it happened, they were due to do this the same night that I was to perform Jabberwocky, and I was planning to use shadows as part of this, which could have fitted very well with, or clashed horribly with, their act. The night before, the Carling Family was entertaining us on stage in the Folkethus, and this involved some rather good hand-shadow play, further increasing the pressure on our hapless teachers to come up with something special. In an earlier meeting, for a bit of foreshadowing, they cleverly created shadows for people to guess, which turned out to be recreations of the how-to-wash-your-hands notice that was posted up next to many sinks. Are there really people who forget to soap their thumbs?
On the night, they brought up on stage many helpers from amongst the teachers, and then disappeared behind a screen to do their act. The illusion of excellence lasted a short while, and then it became clear that this was a video taken from YouTube or somewhere like it.
My contribution was a promotion for the Alice in Wonderland party that was to take place the following night. It had occurred to me that many people might be unaware that the poem Jabberwocky is part of the work, and it might give people ideas for costumes. With the help of Piotr Delimata, I recorded a couple of takes of the poem in the rather noisy (but quieter than anywhere else we could think of) basement, and he said that he could salvage something listenable from what we had, removing the 'pops' and so forth. I had hoped that La-pao Aviles the Mexican clown would do the on-stage part of the performance, but she was away somewhere. Word reached me that Lennart was worried that foreigners would have trouble understanding the poem, so I was going to act it out, for clarity, and, I hoped, a few laughs.
I turned up for the rehearsal, thinking that everything was sorted. The soundtrack and background photograph had been delivered. Lucy in charge of the bridge was annoyed that I wasn't there earlier. "I have a recording and a photograph, but no idea what I'm supposed to do with them." Word had not been passed on. Meanwhile Mabel Lee was getting very annoyed indeed with the fact that some African dancers and drummers had been on stage for an hour sorting themselves out, and keeping her waiting. Her patience was worn out by the time she got to do her sound-check and run-through
The meeting started and I waited in the wings. I couldn't find anywhere to stand which was not in anyone's way, nor out of sight of the whole audience. Much of the room was occupied by African drums. I was surprised to see Frida waiting there with me. She would be there a long time before being needed. The circumstances for my performance seemed suboptimal. I wasn't expecting to be brought on straight away to open the meeting. It wasn't really an opening number. I also wasn't prepared for the fact that I wouldn't be the only person on stage. Sitting on a stool was the 24-hour marathon man, and next to him was Lennart. The disconcertingly quiet recording started. I mimed for laughs, watching the cute like borogoves hopping along, all mimsy as usual; taking careful notes regarding which creatures to shun; seeking the manxome foe under small rocks. I stood for really quite a long time in thought by the tumtum tree, hoping that I had the right gormless vacant look on my face. Lennart hid when I drew my vorpal blade. My fencing style would have won few awards, but I still snicker-snacked. I carried the head back to my father, and then I had hoped for the biggest laugh when, after he asked me "Has thou slain the Jabberwok?" I looked a bit confused, pointed to the severed head and nodded. Scarce a titter. You can't win them all. I learned later that all those in the library, Blue Moon Bar, and dansbanan had just seen the background shot of a spectral forest and only worked out that something more was happening when they heard laughter. Towards the end of the poem, apparently I was added like a deaf signer in one corner of the frame.
Photograph of the day was another running gag. They would pick a teacher and give him a microphone and then one minute to comment on a silly photograph that they would put up on the main screen. Kazoos, often played by Mark Kihara and Robert Klingvall also made several appearances. Lennart made his entrances and often did a tiny 'trick' with his stool before sitting on it. He wore suits he still had from the 1970s, including the one he graduated in.
Another running gag was that Sebastian Svensson would appear, in dapper suit, from one wing of the stage and be applauded mightily and cheered to the rafters, and then with one wave of his hand silence the audience. Each night he would appear more smug and superior as he announced what swing-era film would be shown in the basement downstairs (to tiny audiences), complete with a summary of the plot, which was near enough the same every time: "Will they get together and stage a show? Come down and watch to find out." As the evenings went by, his lot seemed more and more enviable, as servants would bring him comfy chairs to sit on, tumblers of whiskey, light his cigarette etc. One meeting, Sakarias Larsson agreed to swap lives with him for a day. They swapped clothes there and then. This one did actually seem fairly spontaneous, although often such spontaneity is arranged. The next day there was a video of their two days in each others' shoes. In every scene Sakarias got the worse half of the deal. Sebastian slept with Sakarias's girlfriend, while Sakarias slept alone in a tent. Sebastian went around collecting all the money that was owed to Sakarias, and Sakarias meekly paid all of Sebastian's bills. There was also a report of how well Sebastian taught Sakarias's dance lessons.
The strength of the Swedish accents used by the Harlem Hotshots seems to be a source of embarrassment for other Swedes at the camp. They tell me that to them the accents are those of yokels. To British ears, though, they have quite a bit of charm, and I suspect that, performers that they are, the Hotshots are playing this up for effect.
We had some stand-up comedy sets from the two stars of Chris Well's comedy workshop. I learned from one set by a Hawaiian that not everyone there surfs to work.
Shane McCarthy got up one night and announced to all that he only dances one dance with a partner when social dancing, and then moves on. He made it clear that he was aware of the two-dance convention, but also that he was not going to adhere to it. I wanted to interview him on video about this, but never caught him.
Catrine Ljunggren annoyed Lennart as usual during meetings by grabbing the microphone and talking away. One night she said that she had an idea for a performance she could do with Lennart in the cabaret, and of course the audience was immediately on her side. He found himself obliged into agreeing to perform.
In one meeting, they interviewed a couple from the islands of Åland, which have a total population of 28,000, hundreds of whom have taken up swing dancing in the last couple of years. In terms of proportion of the total population dancing, this may be the swingingest place on Earth. The couple had arrived at Herräng aboard a large old wooden sailing ship, bringing with them some forty dancers. It seems to be easier to get people to participate in things in small communities. Perhaps people are more aware there how dependent they are for entertainment upon each other, and if there are fewer things to do, people might more gladly try what's on offer.
One unfolding story was that of powder on the floor of the main ballroom in the Folketshus. Each night Daniel would give us the latest. At first, he blamed someone unnamed for putting powder down on the floor to stop it sticking, leading to the whole floor having to be cleared and cleaned because it became dangerously slippy. The next night he said that people were still putting down powder and could they please stop it, but possibly they were bringing it in accidentally on their shoes from the floors where the lessons were taught in the marquees. That night the powder build-up on the floor was remarkable. By the main door there were drifts of it a quarter of an inch deep. I heard various explanations. In the end the conclusion was that the new way they were treating the floor was the cause, and that some new oil treatment was wearing off the floor as people danced on it. Certainly no one could have been sprinkling on that amount of powder. They have needed a wheelbarrow to bring it there. The problem subsided, so perhaps they went back to the old way of treating the floor. The old way certainly was fine, as it is a great floor and has been for the last decade.
Special mention must be made of one particular meeting. Much of the above occurred in it, as well as a standing ovation for Dawn Hampton after we were played a truly amazing recording of her singing made before her throat operation. The last of the twenty-four-hour karaoke songs was sung. What made the meeting stick fast in the memory, though, was the ending. Lennart said that Nico Speraggi had agreed to sit on the stage for a day largely because he had an ambition to carry out Lennart's role in a meeting. Lennart then agreed to give way to this ambition, and invited Nico down from the bridge to replace him. Acting that this was a spontaneous idea, Lennart then said that he supposed that he should then go up to the bridge to replace Nico. Nico then sat on Lennart's stool and hosted what little was left of the meeting. The lighting went a bit haywire. A plank fell from the stage ceiling. The curtains started to shut, then opened again. A mirror ball fell onto the stage, knocking a stagehand out. Other stagehands rushed to his aid. Inappropriate sounds were played over the speakers. Rude photographs were shown on the screen. The smoke machine went haywire, filling the room with smoke. Fireworks went off. Two canisters exploded, showering the audience with confetti. Sirens sounded. Lights flashed. We were told to leave.
Dave Madison offered to help me shoot a video I proposed. Fortunately for us, this was when the main dance floor was shut due the powder mystery, so we were able to get in and shoot it where it was set: on the dance floor. The subject was how a woman could alter the devastating power of the word 'no' when rejecting a request for a dance, simply by altering the timing slightly. We had a problem, however, which was that Elaine Silver was just too habitually nice, and I kept having to direct her to be nastier. After quite a few takes we reckoned that we had enough nastiness to edit into the final vid, which was cut on Dave's computer and shown a week or two later in an evening meeting. I plan to put it up on YouTube.
I was cast as the Mad Hatter for the Friday night themed party, and this was rather nice for a few reasons. One was that it meant that I had my costume made for me. Isabella Wong made me a huge hat, and a robe made from a very inconveniently warm dressing gown. The tie, cummerbund, and shirt were improvised from lengths of cloth, and with a waistcoat and a bit of make-up I was ready to go.
Ramona Staffeld asked me if I could make a rehearsal for the midnight show. Of course I could. At it, she seemed strangely delighted that I was able to learn the simple steps. We worked quickly. She had a clear enough idea of her overall concept, and was receptive to suggestions. We bashed the routine out, and I suggested that we write it down, but she was reluctant to do so, because that's not the way she works. There were only four or five of us there. It later turned out that several others were in the show. Somehow the others learned the routine from somewhere in time for the show, or stood at the back and faked it well enough. There was another rehearsal in the Folkethus on the night at 8pm, in which we were all trusted to work something out to do. "You're all professionals," said Ramona.
Jo Hoffberg told me that she was considering 'bailing'. I advocated that she should do the show. I didn't know if she would, though. This was an interesting etiquette dilemma. Should I tell Ramona, out of courtesy to her, that one of her cast was considering not turning up for the show, or should I, out of courtesy to Jo, stay quiet until perhaps the very last minute, giving her a chance to 'bail' quietly and a chance to turn up and do the show not having panicked anyone by making them fear that she wouldn't turn up? I stayed quiet, and she did turn up, and she even thanked me for persuading her to do so.
With a few minutes to go before the opening of the party, I was told what I was required to do. I was to introduce the flower choir. I didn't know who these were nor what they were to do, but I was to introduce them. I was also to teach the crowd a poem, and get people from it to dance for the cruel Red Queen. I worked on my mad hatter run/walk, and saw the large crowd waiting at the barrier. I thought I'd better go down and distract them for a bit from the fact that they were waiting. I went over and asked them if they liked poetry and dancing, and they assured me that they did. I expressed great relief at this, and made it clear that the Red Queen liked these things too.
Eventually, everything was set up, and the crowd was let in. There were only two distractions on the way up to the stage in front of the Folketshus. One was a table with lots of drinks on it labelled "Drink me". I think that the idea might have been for something to happen when people did this, but so far as I could tell, people just grabbed a drink and moved off with it, so this delayed them only a second or two, and the table was soon empty. Opposite this was a table with packs of cards on it. Apparently the idea was for teams to build card castles competitively. I never saw this happen. Pretty quickly, I was presented with a large crowd arrayed in front of the stage, clearly expecting something to happen.
The way I played my character was scared-near-witless-but-trying-to-hide-it-behind-a-smile. I bowed and scraped a lot to the Queen, and asked for people to come forward and dance for her. No one moved. They were here to watch a show, not take part. I asked them again, and again, thinking (and saying, but in-character) that I hadn't anticipated that at a dance camp it would be so difficult to find people willing to dance. Eventually, one couple started to dance. Then a second couple (which included Mia Katinka Nilsson in an excellent costume as a playing-card black queen) took over and entertained the crowd for a while, but there was no sign of anyone's relieving them, so rather than let them dance all the way through a whole track, I brought things to a conclusion and went on to the poetry. I was rather hampered by not having a microphone. Possibly the people at the back couldn't hear me. I got the crowd to learn this poem, given to me earlier:
How doth the little crocodile
Improve his shining tail,
And pour the waters of the Nile
On every golden scale!
How cheerfully he seems to grin,
How neatly spreads his claws,
And welcomes little fishes in
With gently smiling jaws!
I was lucky in that they got it pretty quickly, but the first run-through was poor, which was just what the doctor ordered, because that gave me a chance to panic a bit and get everyone to try again. Second attempt good, the Queen smiled, and the people were admitted to the party. Next official duty: midnight show.
They had a load of electric jelly in tiny cups for us (jelly made with vodka instead of water), and Kevin St Laurent was giving out shots of vodka with hot sauce. We took our places. We got into character. Jo Hoffberg had a miniature top hat on her head. That, or she really should have tried it on before she bought it. The photo's on Ebay can be deceiving with regards to scale. The curtains drew aside, and we tea-partied. I span the propeller on Tweedle dum (Thomas Blacharz)'s hat and he rose up in response. Each of us had a rhythm. We heard a song (from the Disney film, I think). Enter Alice (Ramona) with really good mystic sound effect. Quick tap solos from Ramona and Ron Freund. Ramona wonders why the band hasn't started up, and turns to cue it in through smiling gritted teeth. We do our dance. We start clapping our rhythms, and go down into the crowd and start dancing. The band finishes after one song, and the piped music starts. Quite soon I leave to take off my incredibly hot dressing gown. The hat goes too but the rest of the costume lasts the night.
In the late morning sun, I sit outside the Folketshus and interview people with my video camera. Over the two and a bit weeks, I ask many people for interviews, and just over half say yes. The more formally I ask, the more likely they are to refuse. If I'm already taping, people are far more likely to just join in happily. What people fear is the unknown. I should perhaps be bolder in my methods. The camp has rules on video-taping: no lessons to be shown, nor shows, meetings, or rehearsals. This makes it rather difficult to illustrate what the camp is actually about: dancing. The floor is filled with swing dancers when it is dark, and when the light is good for taping, the floor is sparsely populated.
During one interview, the inverted inflatable vinyl dog above me on the entranceway starts spouting water. Some wag near the Mission Impossible Tent turned the hose pipe on that was linked to it. A girl starts showering in the flow, fully clothed. After a short while, I feel I ought to stop the camera. Okay, so the camp is about two things.
One thing I was particularly keen to capture was that recurring agony which is the moment when people are thinking "I'm so tired, but the party's still going. Should I stay up or go to bed? If I carry on dancing, perhaps I will start waking up again and get my second wind, but then again I might not and either way I might regret it tomorrow." Herräng: a place where you can do two out of party, classes, and sleep. The snag was, that when people are in that state, they are not always keen to be videoed for the likes of YouTube. Frank, an old friend, was there one night, and I asked him over and over again, but he was having none of it. This was a great loss to on-line media, because he was televisual gold. He was so wrecked he couldn't talk straight, but he dripped charm from every pore. He staggered around, grinning, with his bow-tie untied in that perfect way around his neck. Ten seconds of him on YouTube would guarantee me a viral hit, but he said no. I'll try to make a video about this with the footage I've got, but it is poorer without Frank.
Once I lost my camera in the Folketshus. I had tucked it away underneath a piano, thinking, wrongly, that no one would move it or the trolley it was on. I looked and looked. The first place I tried was the bar. It seemed the obvious place that anyone would hand it in. The staff there told me that no one had handed in a camera in a padded blue carrying case, and that they had no such thing. I looked a lot more. I left messages at reception. I got people to unlock places for me to search. It really was looking very gone. I checked the bar again, and made sure that I asked all the staff there. They were sorry, but quite certain that they did not have my camera. Possibly you can see where this story is going. After looking for half the night, I went behind the bar counter to check for myself, and there, in plain view, in the middle of the bar, at the easiest height to see, was my video camera in its blue padded carrying case. I was immediately told off for being there. I was told that a health inspector seeing me there would have closed the bar down.
Some days would involve a lot of fruitless searching for things. Since I was getting up so late, there wasn't a lot of day to play with, so this could be a frustration. Most of the useful part of one day went to hand-washing a load of laundry. Someone from the laundry was very helpful here, and gave me some of her French detergent for hand-washing to use. She didn't want me to spoil my hands with harsh machine detergent. We worked out what the dosage of detergent should be in a sink-full of water, and I got started. The mysterious and slightly rude-sounding words "sans frotter" were on the tube. These were later translated using the miracle of the internet to mean "without rubbing". It seems that the instructions were to leave the clothes to soak. It occurred to me that there were two ways to go with hand-wash detergent: either make it so gentle that it did not harm the skin, or make it so fierce that no skin need ever come near it. Fortunately, I have British skin, impervious to all forms of hardship.
It took me three attempts to book a ticket home, using the internet 'igloo'. The main difficulty was that the connection went down frequently, especially just when I was about to click "book ticket". Another problem was that no one, not even helpful Swedes, could find a website that would tell me the times of buses or trains to the airports. I was considering Skavsta and Västerås.
If you need to find someone in Herräng, this may take you hours. Often I would meet someone saying, "If you see X, tell him I'm looking for him". Later I would see X, but in the time in between, the guy looking for him could have got to anywhere else in the village. In this manner hours go by for many people.
The Ruta the problem
I saw a large notice-board outside the ice cream parlour. I could make no sense of its title "W M F ZS" or something. I later worked out that it had originally said "WARM FUZZIES" but the messages pinned to the board were mostly held there with pins stolen from the letters of the title above. They were little love-heart-shaped notes addressed to specific people saying nice things about them publicly. I read a few, then saw something odd. One was from me. It said "RUTA SMERGILITE HAS THE WORLDS BEST POP TURN" and was signed "LLYOD". I had no recollection of writing it, it was not my writing, and I felt sure that I would have spelt my name correctly had it been me. The statement is a misquotation from my Herräng account for 2010. Still, I had something useful: a conversation starter.
The next day I saw Ruta in a crowd in the foyer and I remarked on the funny note and asked her if she had any ideas on who could have written it. Dear reader, if you had seen her face after I said that, you might have handed me a pistol with one bullet in it and told me to do the honourable thing. "You didn't write it?" she asked. At that moment I really wished I were called Llyod, which is not something I'd wished before. The crowd swept us apart.
When I went back later to the board, I saw that the note was gone. Had she ripped it down? All the other notes were still there. I needed to act quickly. I went to the Prop Shop, found some red paper/cloth stuff and with much borrowing of pens and staplers from the Lindy Hop Shop managed to cobble together a half-respectable big love-heart with the words "Ruta Šmergelyte has the most easily-led pop-turn in the world" and I signed it "The real Lloyd". "I think she's a very lucky girl" said someone in the Lindy Hop Shop. I hoped Ruta would opine similarly.
So far as I can tell, the gesture of placation was appreciated, but I didn't see much of Ruta, and never got a dance with her, or rather, I got a very short dance from which she retired with an injured foot, although I don't think that she was blaming me for the injury.
I spoke to the lady that one has to speak to about these things, and offered four topics for evening classes. She picked one and put me down to teach it a couple of days later. This was a new one for Herräng: "When is it triple-step, and when is it walk-walk?" is what I think they called it in the end. When announced in the evening meeting, the announcers seemed nonplussed (in the British sense). I didn't expect many to turn up. Many did. The marquee (in the British sense) filled up with people, ranging very widely in Lindy level, and the number actually grew slightly rather than the usual drop-off. The lesson was fairly monothematic: how to lead and follow the distinction between walking and triple-stepping. I wanted people to be able to lead and follow any number of walks followed by any number of triple steps. I started with the obscure and subtle ways of doing it, and moved towards the more obvious. People seemed to enjoy it. At one point I got applause for a metaphor, which I can't always expect. My brief forays into polka and foxtrot weren't as successful as I'd hoped, but people stuck with it to the end, so I think it fair to report the lesson as a success. I was surprised to see Timo Arstila, teacher of the Lindy teachers in Finland, not only in attendance, but taking notes. Over the next few days I was approached a few times by people saying that it had helped them sort out the walk/triple-step problem, so perhaps I wasn't wasting everyone's time.
The next evening class I did was ska. This was scheduled for slow drag night, and I wondered if such a very energetic class was ideally placed, but I could see the argument for something strongly contrasting with slow drag. Not so many people attended this one, and the drop-out rate was fairly high. I think a lot of people chose to take slow drag/blues night easy, and many take a while to get ready for it, endappering themselves with spats and razors. No one showed up in their evening wear, I'm glad to say. I think I would have told them to leave. Some slunk away when they found out how hard it was, and others I think when they felt that now that they needed another shower, they'd better leave to get changed. Every time I teach ska I fear being exposed as a charlatan, since I just made a lot of it up when dancing to ska as a youth, and it doesn't strike me as difficult, so I always feel a mixed emotion when I see the class struggling with one of my ska moves, and many of the people failing. The teacher in me thinks "Oh dear, I have a lot of work to do to get these people to master this step," but the self-doubting part of me is at the same time thinking "Aha! I am not a charlatan! I do actually have skills that other people do not." The half of the class that made it to the end seemed fairly happy, if sweatier than they had set out to be. One listing on the board of comments received by Comments Corner was that I should teach it again.
My third evening lesson was "How to dance really well". Lennart in the meeting, in his comedy tone, said that this was a ridiculous class. This didn't seem to put people off, and I had another nice full tent to teach. This lesson was great fun to teach, largely because the people taking it embraced the idea and really worked at it. At the start of the lesson, people were exchanging the usual polite smiles with their new partners. By the end, they had big genuine, creases-round-the-eyes smiles. I am of course a biased source, but I'd say that they were genuinely dancing much better at the end of the class than at the beginning. I don't want to give away my trade secrets, but my lesson is about projecting joy at one's partners, and soaking up and magnifying any joy that is reciprocated; about dancing with the core rather than merely the extremities. As the class went on, the buzz in the room after each exercise got better and better, and at one point I got my video camera out to record the sound of a happy classroom. It was too dark for my camera to see anything. They all felt they had something to talk about – "I liked it when you did that thing" -sort of stuff. I finished my concluding speech, and at that very second the automatic system switched the lights off (just as someone started to ask a question – great comedy timing). I soon found myself with a small circle of grinning people around me, asking me questions as though I were some swing guru. One, I can honestly report, said "First of all, I have to say that that lesson was fantastic. I can't see how it could have been taught better," which was rather nice.
Normally in these accounts, I tell of things that go horribly wrong, but perhaps I do need to blow my own trumpet a bit, but this is very much against my upbringing. In my evening classes, I for the first time marketed myself as a teacher a bit, saying that I've been teaching swing dance now for twelve years, and should by now have got the hang of it, and that I am available for children's parties. Hitherto I have not been taken seriously as a potential teacher-booking on the international scene. Possibly the beard doesn't help. I've never won a major competition, but then that might be because I've never had a dance partner to compete with, and I hate competitions. Despite this, I think that I might have something to contribute to a swing dance camp somewhere, so if you are organising, or know of someone who is organising a swing dance camp, and all the usual star names are booked or beyond your budget, then possibly you might consider giving me a try. I promise to dance with your customers in the evenings, and if you need someone who can shout over the PA system in clear English that someone needs to move his car, I can do that too.
Evening classes that I attended as a pupil included dancing on a crowded dance floor, slides, forró (a Brazilian partner dance, with steps and moves near enough the same as salsa, but danced with a different style, and much closer together (body to body – one of the teachers laughed at me when I was dancing with a rather short lady)), samba, and tango (followed by a tango evening in the bar). The range of evening classes seems to be getting wider, with less and less emphasis on swing dance. Other lessons including joke writing, and partying hard. One departure was that in previous years there has always been a blues class on blues night, but not this year.
Second Cabaret – week 3
I was sitting in the bar talking to friends, when I found myself shut in. Since I am so often in the cabaret, I think I had been taken for a cabaret performer and not thrown out. This was an awkward situation. By the time I had realised what was going on, there was already no chance of a seat in the Folkethus, and I would have to push past other people to get out. I was there but shouldn't have been. I kept a guilty low profile. Would people hate me for pretending to be in the cool set? I think I got away with it, and as long as I don't mention it here, no one will ever know.
The cabaret was presented by Vincenzo Fesi. There were a couple of hip hop dances, a man who bounced on his bottom over objects being slid underneath him, and I'm sure lots more, but the haziness of memory prevents me from asserting more. Perhaps some kind folk or some disgruntled overlooked performers will remind me.
Now to deal with the ever-muddy topic of my dancing. The first point I'd like to make is how strange it is that I get to dance with so few partners at Herräng. I would like to dance with every follow there, but there are too many and I never get close to success. I was dancing at Leeds Swing Exchange last weekend, and I have to say how lovely it is to dance where there is no two-dance convention. I danced with far more partners per hour there. One effect of this is that the less popular partners get more dances in an evening, which must be good for the scene.
There was often some physical excuse for not dancing. I was too hot, too sweaty, too thirsty, too tired, too hungry, or needed to go to the loo. The sheer amount of dancing time stretching off into the future meant that I was not in a hurry to dance. I could always wait until a better DJ took over, or the floor cleared, or something. I think what I'm saying is that I wasted a lot of dancing time. I could write a great long list of the people I wanted to dance with, and who even told me that they'd find me on the dance floor, but with whom I did not get to dance. It is then embarrassing to be sent a Facebook request after the camp from someone with whom one never danced.
One night, Mark Kihara announced in the evening meeting that this night would be Ladies' Choice Night. The men in the audience were asked to take an oath not to ask anyone to dance, and especially never to ask anyone shy to dance. The shy ladies would have to do the asking. This night, I played the game, and got very few dances. I have a proposal to make for the future: one night a week should be one-dance-only night. I suspect that this will get more dances for the shy ladies. Not only will they get more dances that night, but once having broken the ice with more partners that night, they should find it easier on later two-dance nights. I can report having a couple of my most enjoyable dances with ladies one might not have expected to be great partners.
It does, I'm afraid, take a bit of effort not to be the man who dances half-heartedly with the less able partners. I like to think that this year at Herräng I was able to avoid being that guy. A few times I even saw a look on my partner's face that seemed to reveal her thinking "Wow! He's actually dancing with me full throttle! I didn't expect that!" It is nice to see that face – worth the bit of effort.
For just the second time in my life I danced with a partner who was in a wheelchair. This takes a bit of imagination to come up with new moves and ways of connecting. When I went round behind her, the only thing I found to do was grab one of the chair's handles and turn her. She didn't seem to like this, perhaps because I was dancing less with her and more with her chair.
Seriously good dances seem to be so rare for me now. Perhaps I have just been dancing for too long. There now has to be something pretty special to lift a dance out from the mundane to the satisfying. I recall having a very good dance with an Icelandic girl that turned out very nicely. Everything came together with the music, we had plenty of floor space, and the moves joined up quickly and slickly. I danced with her a couple of times after that but was not able to repeat the satisfaction of this one very good dance. I think the main reason was that getting good music on the main dance floors was so rare. Even when such dances go well, however, I usually appreciate them on the level of the intellectual satisfaction of doing a job well, and possibly the social level of successfully impressing someone with my ability, rather than on the more appealing joyous level of a brain flooded with endogenous opiates.
As ever, getting dances with the star performer teachers was a great rarity. They tend to dance early in the evening with their close friends and colleagues in one corner of the room near an exit, keeping an eye out for predators who might swoop in to dance with them. Sometimes, if they don't have lessons to teach in the morning, they appear at 5 a.m. for a bit of fun. I got my first ever dance with Mia Goldsmith. "That was awesome!" she said at the end with apparently genuine enthusiasm, but alas Americans use this word to cover everything from acceptable to superb, so I can't really tell how well I did.
One night/morning, Peter Loggins, possibly a little under the influence of Swedish cider, and Katja Hrastar (with her Louise Brooks hair) were larking about on the dance floor in the Folketshus. "Have you never danced with this guy before?" Peter asked Katja. When she shook her head, he just said "Go!" and she danced with me. Peter and a few others watched as I danced. This became something of The Lloyd Show. I cracked out my repertoire of fancy moves, while Katja did what was necessary to keep things going. It is possible that she too had a few ciders inside. "That was awesome," said Peter.
Leru of China/Russia was DJing at around 6 a.m. and playing fun stuff, after the DJ police had retired to sleep. She even (should I be writing this? It is against the Herräng DJ code of ethics, I think) came down to dance, and I had a couple of great fun dances with her. A change in music and a preparedness to have fun can make a world of difference, and a large amount of floor space helps a lot.
This year the foyer often became an impromptu fourth dance floor. The floor is smooth stone and serves well, and they had one or two pianos there the whole time, and jazz bands formed, and where there is live jazz, there will be dancing. Peter Loggins has been playing trombone for about a year now, and is pretty useful at it. Sometimes Chris Wells would pass by and contribute some vocals. Andy Reid was often to be seen playing his double bass, which he leaves in Sweden for others to use most of the year. A couple of times I stood by ready to launch into a spectacular whistling solo, but since everyone else there was also carrying a pair of lips, this did not mark me out as someone to be given space for a solo. Perhaps the world isn't ready for my jazz whistling yet, but one day it will wake up and learn.
"Where did you learn to dance like that?" asked one of my partners – a quite experienced Lindy hopper from Denmark. I was at first a bit confused by the question. I then danced the same way with my next partner, partly to observe what might have prompted the question. I then noticed that at almost no point was I doing standard footwork. That just comes from lots of social dancing. After a while you can throw the rule book away.
Whereas there were times, much remarked upon, when the wallflowers waiting for a dance were mostly women (particularly early in the night when it was very crowded), I can report several times seeing a room with many male wallflowers waiting for dances. Why should this be? Do the men arrive at the dance floor later, or do they stay around for longer?
It is noticeable that in old films of people dancing, the musical interpretation is much poorer, or, quite often, non-existent. I've many times watched film of highly-regarded dancers back in the swing era using the music as nothing more than a metronome. Today, the better dancers all try to interpret individual notes of the music, and I think that this is a far better state of affairs. Peter Loggins was telling me of how old-time dancers, including Frankie, would use visual signals and vocal calls to signal up-coming moves. He seemed to be implying that it was fine to do so because it was the way it used to be done. Personally, I prefer the modern purist ideal of achieving the lead and follow through physical connection alone. I am more impressed when a rock-climber does something with bare hands and no safety rope than when using fancy technological aids. A dance is a work of art, and I'd prefer an all-bronze statue to one with plaster hands because the sculptor wasn't a good enough bronze-worker to do the hands in bronze.
One frustration I have is that there is no decent video of me dancing. My non-Lindy friends do not know what I can do, nor does anyone from my family. They may say that they've seen me dance, because they saw me shoving someone around the floor at a wedding or something, but they have not seen what I can do with a good partner to the right music. A few times the annoying and distracting thought ran through my head during a really good dance with a great partner "I wish someone were videoing this." I took my video camera with me to many of the evening dances, and asked a few people if they wouldn't mind being videoed dancing with me, and most said 'yes'. Eventually the opportunity arose. The light was reasonable, and I was able to grab a cameraman, and quickly show him how to work my camera and frame the shot. The girl I asked I had never danced with before, but she seemed a good dancer, and I had to take any opportunity that came along. It may seem shallow, but one major reason I asked her was that she was wearing a bright green top and had dark hair, and this contrasted well with the background.
We started dancing. While the DJ had been playing the right sort of music for what I wanted for an hour, he chose this moment to play a slow one. Very quickly, though, I realised that I had made an excellent choice of partner. Perhaps she was raising her game, knowing that she had a camera pointed at her, but she fair oozed style. I raised my game in reply, and we connected on the floor. I was going to get a video of a seriously good dance! Seeing that something was happening, a small group of people started to watch. I didn't know her name (Snezhana Kitsno, from Kiev) but I was creating wordless art with a stranger. At the end of our dance we got a ripple of applause. "That was beautiful!" said my cameraman. "That was really beautiful. I was really getting into that." He told me that he had been framing just as I had told him, and he handed me back my camera. "Oh, it's still running," he said, "I haven't turned it off." I looked at it. It wasn't running. He hadn't pressed record. I think my disappointment must have showed, because every time I saw him for the next couple of days he apologised again.
A couple of hours later, I told someone what had happened, and he very kindly offered to be my cameraman should I get another chance to do the same thing again. I managed to persuade Snezhana to give it another go. We were by this stage, though, both well past our peaks. If fact, this was her last dance of the night – the dance that finished her off. Of course the music that came on was not the greatest, but it was now or never. "The light's much better over there," I said to my entirely well-meaning cameraman, who nodded. I took up my dancing position. "The light's much better over here," I said, and he nodded. We started dancing. I pointed to where I wanted him to stand, but he just nodded and remained where he was, the other side of the door. We danced, silhouetted against the light, with the occasional person entering or leaving the hall walking in front of the camera. The magic cannot always be summoned, and this was not a dance like the last one. At one point I even led the back Charleston, which is almost always a mistake. Fortunately, her skill was able to rescue us from breakdowns in connection. I've since seen the footage, and it is not a terrible dance, but neither is it the one I wish to be remembered by. Another day, perhaps.
Though two dances at Herräng is standard, three is common, especially since one often joins the first dance late and doesn't want to appear mean. To express unmistakable appreciation of a partner's skill, one has to dance four dances. With one lady there, I lost count at fifteen. Was I dancing well with her? It was not immediately easy to tell, because I was dancing so differently with her. I was not dancing many different moves, nor very fancy ones, nor terribly fast, nor using complicated rituals of footwork, but something was working. After a while it dawned on me that I could not tell which of us was leading. I was dancing the lead part. Usually her right hand was in my left, but this had the feel of following, the sort of switch-off-and-just-let-it-happen feeling. Sometimes I could tell that I was following her. She would hear something in the music and start to react to it a fraction ahead of me, and I would follow her reaction. If ever I consciously thought "Ah yes, here's a move I haven't led for a long time, it's quite fancy and it will fit the music that's coming up" and then led that move, it would stick out like an air-step on blues night. I would quickly return to just following the dance, like someone with a Ouija board follows the glass while actually pushing it. It seemed madness to go back to ordinary dancing after this, so I stayed with her until breakfast.
Third cabaret – week 4
Catrine Ljunggren and Lennart did not perform as advertised. It turned out that they had neglected to sign up for the cabaret, and the people running the show put their foot (feet) down. Chris Wells was the compère. As I waited to perform, two people sang two different songs at the same time. They were I think from Disney films, but I recognised neither. This proved to be utterly hilarious to two people in the bar who nearly laughed themselves sick, while the rest of us looked around us in confusion, not quite getting it.
Photograph courtesy of Niko Huttunen.
La-pao Aviles the Mexican clown did a lot of links involving manipulating a stool in various deft ways.
I did another poem: The Glimmer. I was less sure of this one, largely because it was less dance-related, and less funny than the last one. Another problem with it was that I was doing it sort of as myself, not obviously in-character. This may have been a mistake. To get the poem to work, the character has to start out a bit cocky, and then get his comeuppance. So, particularly near the beginning I found myself thinking that audience wasn't liking me for what I was saying. One problem I find with performing poetry in general is that it is difficult to find a good way of ending it. If I just stop when I get to the end, the audience may take a while to twig that it has ended, and what am I waiting for? If I signal that the poem is over, by doing some sort of bow, it may come across as if I am saying "Kindly applaud now" and one should not fish for compliments. As I read out the last sad line, I got off, clumsily bashing my way through the gap in the curtain. This part was at least in-character as a man who just wanted to be elsewhere. The applause was moderate, but people have been nice to me about it since.
Photograph courtesy of Dmitry Smolin.
The show-stopper act was yet to come. Tim Collins had announced in a meeting that he would be on the little stage outside the Folkethus, and people were invited to go to him and spend twenty minutes teaching him a skill that he could perform in ten seconds. His act was 21 feats in three and a half minutes. These included saying a sentence in a foreign language, catching coins from his elbow, underarm farts in rapid sequence on alternating sides, rolling a ball up one arm, across his chest and then down the other arm, and many other things of this kind. Some feats he failed at (blowing a note using fingers and a blade of grass) but each was performed with speed, charm, and a smile, and the audience loved him.
Photograph courtesy of Dmitry Smolin.
The closing act was a Lady Gaga number from Mr Robert Bonsey and friends. I asked him later if he was dancing the Lady Gaga part, and was greatly relieved to learn that he was, because that was Olympic-level mincing.
On, shim-sham, off.
The lighting in the Folketshus ballroom this year included a lot of rows of LEDs added under the windowsills, above the radiators. These were a different colour each night, red on Blues night. Around the main doors to the ballroom was a line of bright ultra-violet lights which were ugly, hurt the eyes, and made it very clear who was wearing dentures. I hope they don't use these again next year.
I am not great at remembering where I have met people. Even if I can recall where I met someone, if she is a Lindy hopper, then I probably met her at a camp or exchange somewhere, and she may not have been from there. I met a girl in Herräng, and she seemed to get quite angry that I couldn't place her. It later turned out that she was a Belarusian I had met in St. Petersburg two years ago. Could she really have been genuinely angry? Do other people find this easy, and is a failure to remember really a sure sign of contempt? She feigned fury nicely for my video camera, but alas the footage didn't come out.
The was no security officer patrolling the camp this year, and everything seemed fine.
There were two caravans parked along the road to the Folketshus, one serving crêpes, and the other African food. These were separate businesses from the camp, I think, and I don't know how well they did, but presumably they would have left if trade was bad.
The Yum Yum restaurant is no more. Apparently, last year the food was particularly bad there, and the business that runs the Bar Bedlam has taken over the venue, and in order to disassociate itself from the previous years' food has renamed the place Heaven's Kitchen. One difference is that they have a bar there serving alcohol. I didn't eat there. The food in the Bar Bedlam per meal (but perhaps not per ounce) is cheaper, and will in my case always be supplemented by ice creams in the cafe upstairs (this year I decided that three scoops of ice cream yielded more calories per krona than a brownie and ice-cream, but I could have been wrong).
I made a habit of using the showers in the building with the sauna. They were nearest to me, and usually warm. One day I arrived just as a torrential downpour started. One Swedish chap decided that this was a good time to do some nude outdoor Lindy hop. His partner had underwear on. I was invited to steal her, but I was wearing clean pants at the time and such things are valuable in Herräng when one lives in a tent. Seconds later, the downpour had abated. The showers and sauna were for mixed sexes from midnight to noon, which by happy coincidence was always when I needed to wash, but almost all my saunaing was done with hairy men. I was once leaving, all clean and warm and ready for my tent, when I saw Mr Robert Bonsey arriving with two of the most beautiful women in the world. He commiserated me on my poor timing.
What does one say or do when a lady says that she thinks that she is a member of one's fan club? "Golly"?
I was recruited to record some presenting and voice over for a video about the metal foundry at Herräng. You might see it next year. Gunnar gave me a lift in the camp's car which was bought for 1,000SEK and is kept in Herräng for the whole year, solely to be used for running around the village.
Patrolling the path along the south edge of the caravan park was a grumpy Swedish local chap with his huge white dog. I never saw him smile, and several other people reported his telling them grumpily not to camp there. As the weeks went by, more and more people were forced to camp there for lack of anywhere else to pitch, but though he had to redraw the line a few times, he still turfed people off perfectly harmless pitches.
Dax Hock put his back out badly soon after arrival at the camp. It seems that there was nothing to do about it but wait. He told me that his back goes out a few times a year and puts him out of action for weeks at a time. That's a bit of a disaster for a dance teacher and performer.
One of the evening discussions in the library was about growing a Lindy scene. All the people on the panel were from Lithuania. The essential message seemed to be that you have to love it. After Swedes, Lithuanians were the most common national group there. I meet them everywhere now. There were loads of them at the Leeds Swing Exchange last week, even though many of them had learned their Lindy outside Lithuania. It must in the blood.
Out of curiosity, I asked Sharon Davis how many routines she has that she could at the drop of a hat perform to professional standard. She said that she had at any one time two routines ready for performance, and that she put together a new one about once every six months. That seems a manageable workload, and seems to accord with how often I see a YouTube video of a new routine from any of the performance stars.
One of the best dances I watched (I seldom watch dancing) was by La-pao Aviles the Mexican clown, who did a great dance at about 6 a.m. with one juggling club and one ball. It was impressive how many tricks she knew with just these two props that she could get to fit the music.
It is possible to be too polite. I arrived in a small group at the cafe, and left the group for just a second to have a drink of water at the fountain. They all went to the queue to order, and in the time it took me to catch them up again, another chap had joined the end of the queue. I suspect that 99% of the world's population now would simply had walked past this man and rejoined the group, perhaps talking to the group immediately to make it clear that they were part of that group. Instead I thought this an opportunity to show consideration, charm, and tact, and I asked the man if he didn't mind my joining my friends. He didn't seem happy to be put on the spot like this and obliged to let me go ahead of him. I then turned to my friend Agnes and reached out for a handshake, saying "Good to meet you again... Sandra." Immediately picking up this gag she replied, "Thank you. It's been too long... Brian." Thinking the job done, I then took up my new place in the queue. A short while later, the man overtook me to make his order and gave me an earful about how "crazy rude" I was. I didn't catch everything he said, and I and my friends, after sitting down with our brownies, tried to agree on what it was he had said.
A day or two later I met the man again and asked him what he had said, and I tried to sort out the misunderstanding. It turned out that he had taken our pretending not to know each other seriously, and thought that I really was just trying to gain one place in the queue. I'm glad to report that the rift was healed, and the next time we met he even had a smile for me. This was a rare instance of one's trying so hard to be polite that it backfires badly.
20,000 Leagues Under The Sea Party, Friday week 4
Preparations were visibly underway for this, as people painted large, sometimes huge, depictions of sea creatures on flattened-out card board boxes. The dansbanan had a life-size killer whale at one end of it. I helped out, hanging swathes of cloth from the ceiling of the bar, sticking up porthole masks for the windows in the main ballroom, attaching a giant cardboard squid to a scaffold, and the like. I was recruited for three roles: a salty shanty-singing seadog (arrr!), the narrator for a mime show, and one fifth of a squid.
We rehearsed a bit, and then the customers arrived. The mime (by La-pao Aviles the Mexican clown) had started without me, and I just stood behind her as she clowned about, apparently not really needing me, so I kept quiet. Before she had got very far, the curtain was thrown open and the crowd surged in, and I did my ARRRR! I then had a while before being a fifth of a squid. In this time I witnessed water balloon throwing contests, Sharon Davis as Venus (she kept the pose for a very long time), arm werstling (sic – according to the sign), a totally safe harpooning game in which people were made very dizzy by running around a stick in small circles and then were handed a pole with five very sharp nails on the end of it and invited to stab a rather laid-back-looking giant squid. There was a shark-cage and divers tackling the shark around it (and occasionally in it), a performance of a Disney song "Under The Sea" from a band, a (temporary) tattoo parlour, and a very impressive array of costumes from the party-goers. Some had multi-person costumes, such as the colony of jelly fish with long tentacles (these later danced as a colony for about half an hour), deep-sea fish with lanterns hanging in front of their jaws, coral, scaly fish (you apply the make-up through a pair of fishnet tights, apparently), and many sailors, pirates, and divers, of course.
Then Kirk Douglas (actually Sakarias Larsson, but I made him into the spitting image of Kirk by simply applying a black dot to his chin – I had to show Sak a picture of Kirk to convince him – I don't think anyone realised it was really Sakarias afterwards) and his fellow sailors got together and sang the song from the film, and I took up position with the other four-fifths of the squid. Accompanied by dramatic film music, we puppeteered the prop (made by the office staff during the week) down the front stairs and attacked! I worked two of the left-hand tentacles, and squirted the 'ink'. Chester Whitmore had wanted to use a can of whipped cream for this, but I tested this earlier and found it to have a range of under one inch. I used a simple water pistol instead. We fended off four attackers, then ate Thomas Blacharz as he screamed dramatically. Then Kirk attacked. Squirt! He ducked back. He attacked again! Squirt – this time the other side of him, into the crowd (ha!). Again he ducked back, but then he leapt forwards magnificently, and plunged the really quite sharp, and you-wouldn't-be-allowed-to-use-this-sort-of-thing-in-Britain harpoon into our giant head. We flailed about, spun around, and died. The way was clear for the people to enter the party.
Keeping up their parts for an impressivley long time were the ladies of the choir of singing mermaids in the foyer, in their blue tarpaulin cove, combing their hair (a lot) with forks.
Time to go?
The final weekend was strange in that I had never seen the camp so empty. Both on the Saturday and the Sunday the dance floors had loads of space on them, and the dancing fizzled out hours before breakfast. The last week used to be one of the more crowded.
I had booked my ticket home. I wanted to leave before I started wanting to leave. Some expressed surprise that I wasn't staying until the end. For many people there, the camp takes priority over the rest of their lives. I have spent over a half a year of my life at the camp, all of it perpetual summer. I am not very good at telling when I'm having a good time, and I didn't want to tease myself with the hope of good things to come, and then let myself down. I danced through the Sunday night, and then packed my tent (depositing it in Dave's caravan for storage for next year) and rucksack, and was ready to leave. I hefted the rucksack onto my back and heard "Goodbye Lloyd" spoken from behind me. I turned and looked up, and there, standing on a brightly sunlit balcony was an uncompromisingly beautiful blonde Swede. She had been my final dance partner. I don't think I had ever met her before, and did not know her name. Perhaps I was leaving too early.
The journey back was not without its low points. Reception had run out of bus tickets and the Kuggan was closed (and out of bus tickets). I took the bus to Hallstavik, and was told by the bus driver and two passengers that I could buy bus tickets at the supermarket a few minutes' walk away, which would be open at 8. Reception had told me that my bus went at 8.05, but being an honest type, I rushed to get the tickets. As I made my way over, I saw the bus to Uppsala – my bus – waiting. I asked again at shops near the supermarket and was assured that I should go there to get tickets. It wasn't open. If they opened exactly on time and I ran, I would make it. At 8.00 they still showed no signs of opening. I walked around the side of the shop, where I noticed the opening hours displayed. It opened at 9.00. I ran back to the bus station. My legs that had danced all night found my rucksack quite heavy. I saw my bus moving. When I got to the station, in a panic I asked people whether the Uppsala bus had gone. I was calmly told which stop it used. It had gone. Why did it go early? It didn't. It went at 8.00, not 8.05. I have used Reception at the camp quite a few times now for bus information, and so far it has never given me correct information. The bus number was 805, and the 805 left at 8.00.
If I waited for the next bus to Uppsala, I would miss my flight. I found a startled bus driver reading the paper in a back office. He told me to go to Rimbo and get a bus from there. I still had no ticket. Amazingly, there is no way to pay on a Swedish bus any more, not with cash nor plastic. I got to Rimbo, and had a very short while to get the next bus. I found it. The driver told me he was leaving in a few minutes, and that I could buy a ticket at the tobacconist's. With the speed of pouncing larch, I hefted my rucksack in the direction he pointed. I saw no tobacconists in the square. I ducked through an arch and investigated the next street. I saw none there either. I did see a supermarket, though, so I went there, and inside near the back, I found it had a cigarette counter, where I bought my tickets, and then ran/trudged back and made it just in time.
In Uppsala the heat was extraordinary. With no idea whether I would be able to get to the airport in time, I found the railway station shut. Despite a lack of signs, I found a building nearby with a railway office in it. I queued, then spotted that I needed a queuing ticket, so I went back to the start and got a queuing ticket and queued again. They only did buses. I pointed out that the entire shop was decorated solely with images of trains. They didn't seem to think that people might find this confusing. I found another office, where they had a queuing system that presumably made sense if you could read Swedish and work the computer. They advised not to take the train that Reception had recommended, but another bus, but they didn't seem to know how to sell me a ticket.
When I got to Västerås, it was 32°C. No one at the bus station knew of any buses to the airport, but there was a bus that went to within 1.7 km of it. I found a shopping centre which had one public transport office in it, where they knew of no way to get from Västerås to Västerås airport. Was this really a modern city, with no way to get its own airport? Another office knew of a taxi service to the airport, which met people nearby in time for the few flights that used the airport. Had I booked ahead? No. I found the spot, and soon several people gathered, and the one ordinary taxi drew up. There wasn't room for all of us...
Västerås is a small military airport used by Ryan Air. I got there in time for my flight. With about one minute to spare I managed to make my connection in London from Stanstead, and then up to Newcastle. I arrived late in the evening. It had taken me the whole day to get home.
At home, suddenly the world seemed dull and slow. The weather I had left was fiercely hot and sunny, and the world had been one of ice-cream and women. In Newcastle, the weather was cold and grey, and my flat, with all the things in it I can do, all the projects I can entertain myself with, like editing videos and writing, seemed drab and lifeless. A friend would be dancing at Herräng on the Thursday. I was tempted to fly back.
Quiz answer: Easter Island is part of Chile.
Somehow I made it to end of that and still have the will to go on. I want to read the 2012 account now as well.