My time at the Herräng Dance Camp 2015

The Doctor dances with an alien.

Tradition demands that I write another Herräng account. Every time I start to write one, I think that this time it will be very short, because I have so little to say. So far, I have been consistently wrong. Perhaps this one will prove at least mildly exceptional. I have the advantage of six weeks' having passed since I left the camp, and so I'm hoping that more than the usual amount has been forgotten.

Keen and luke-warm readers of this site alike may have spotted that I wrote no account for 2014. That's because I didn't go in 2014. 2013 had been a particularly disappointing trip for me, and I was in no mood to repeat that. I should stress here that the disappointment was in no way the fault of the camp, but was instead experienced as a result of the behaviour of a couple of people at the camp for which the camp's organisers were in no way responsible. I went to a wedding in Finland instead.

This year, Laura Halttunen asked me to go over and be the compère for a cabaret show in a casino in the centre of Helsinki. There was no money in the gig, however. To sweeten the deal, she suggested I stay for a week and teach workshops at her dance studio (Jazz Factory) and get paid for those. Never wanting to say 'no', I said 'yes'. One week in Finland.

An event I had been considering attending for some while was 'medieval week' in Visby, capital of Gotland in the Swedish Baltic. I could go there and shoot lots of video for my YouTube channel. This was immediately before the weekend in Helsinki. One week in Gotland, a second in Finland.

Laura got back to me and said that she was renting a cabin with four bunks in it for the last two weeks of Herräng, and did I want to make up the numbers? Split four ways, it would be 700 SEK each per week. This would slot in nicely with the Visby trip, and gave me an excuse to go to Herräng yet again. I could tell myself that I was being polite, pleasing someone else, and that this time it would be a different experience – sharing a cabin with others. Never wanting to say 'no', I said 'yes'. Two weeks in Herräng, one in Visby, then one in Helsinki. The trip was starting to become a bit grander in scope.

Laura got back to me again, and said that she'd been talking to the organisers of the Tenhola swing dance camp in Finland, and that they had seen me some years before in Krakow and decided that I would make a good compère for their camp. On what exactly they based this decision, I'm not sure, since I wasn't doing anything special in Krakow – I was just a party-pass visitor. The camp was the weekend after the cabaret in the casino. The trip was now a five-weeker.

As is now my habit, I bought a one-way ticket. I would buy my return when I knew more about my return. This gives greater flexibility and is usually only slightly more expensive. This was a good move, as it turned out.

I was unsure of the cabin decision. I happen to rather like sleeping in a tent, and a tent is a private world, a personal escape-pod, to which I could retire and be alone whenever I wanted. There was also the very remote possibility that I might persuade a young lady to join me in it. Not only this, but I had a nice new tent, and I would need somewhere to sleep in Visby.

It turns out that ladies cannot even brush their teeth without a mirror.
Our cabin, exterior.
Our cabin, interior. Where would you put your damp socks to dry?
Our cabin's loo, exterior and interior. One covered one's desposits with wood-shavings and this kept the smells and flies down to acceptable levels.

Become Your Opposite

I arrived on the Friday, in time for the 'Become Your Opposite' party. Almost immediately, I was roped into helping out, but I didn't mind. I aided the photographer who was setting up a huge chair and a tiny chair, and I came up with some suggestions for false-perspective shots. My main task was to run a game which involved drawing up a big grid in chalk on the forecourt, and marking two snaking paths across it. Contestants formed two teams, each of a pair. One in each team was blind-folded and had to race across the board along his coloured path, following the instructions of the other who had to say the opposite of that intended (e.g "take a not-large step to your right" = one large step left). This proved quite popular, and the game went on for an hour or two.

A common idea for a costume was simply dressing as the opposite sex. I danced with a man who was wearing a backless dress, and I was reminded that men are horribly sweaty creatures. My own costume was simple enough: a French flag pinned to my shirt, created at speed from cloth from the Prop Shop and glue from the No No Box, and four safety pins found for me by Paul Wood, who described his feat accurately: "That's as difficult as finding safety pins in Herräng."

Doubtless there were other attractions at this party, but as I sit here typing, I have been spared the memory of them. If you were there and can remind me, feel free to write in.

The impressively-ordered No No Box. Its impressive orderliness may be related to the fact that ordinary campers were not permitted to wander in here at will. The Prop Shop was a mess this year.

HDC News

The camp was much its old self. By far and away the biggest difference between this year and most previous ones was the number of new faces there. Whereas the camp has previously been populated largely by regulars with a few newcomers here and there, this year somewhere in the region of 70-80% of the people were there for the first time. It seems that the previous generation has grown up, married, had babies, got proper jobs, and no longer goes there. When the camp was smaller, and I was living and eating amongst the throng, I would meet many new people. Now, I was living in a cabin where we cooked our own meals, wasn't doing classes, and the camp had large numbers of strangers in it, so I got to know few new people.

Another thing that attracted some comment was that the line-up of teachers was far from familiar to most. I recognised most of the people, but not as previous teachers at the camp. Apparently, there had been a few last-minute changes. Since I wasn't taking the courses there, I was not directly affected.

I'm happy to be able to report that the mosquito population still does not seem to have recovered from the bad year it had a few years ago, and so I only once applied repellent from the ample supply I bought at the airport, and that was just before first arriving. I was bitten a few times, but not enough for it to seem worth smelling slightly odd, and having even shinier skin.

Last year, I had been at my desk, working at my computer, when word reached me that Lennart had left the camp. He had done so only minutes before. Immediately, messages flew around the world on Facebook. It made sense to no one. Supposedly, he had been accused by some fliers that had been left somewhere at the camp, of once having had some connection with a neo-Nazi party in Sweden. Almost no one had seen the fliers. I have still never seen an image of one. Did no one photograph one? Lennart had announced his departure at the evening meeting, and immediately people were questioning it. Did anyone believe that Lennart is a Nazi? How long would a true Nazi last in the world of swing dance? Even if there had been a glimmer of truth in his having once associated with Nazi-types, what does a man have to do to prove that he's moved on? I'd say that organising a swing dance camp for three decades is probably enough. No one demanded that he leave. So far as I can tell, no one even imagined that he might. I'm told that when he did, it was as though someone at the camp had died. Gunnar of the Dream Factory (the upstairs office that organised things like the evening meetings and the making of camp videos for them) left at the same time, and from then on, evening meetings in the Folkethus ballroom were not carried on by others, but instead an equivalent but different meeting happened outside the Folkethus every day, and the camp carried on.

This year, there was little talk of that event, at least within my earshot, but what I got from what I did hear was that people were not going to question it publicly, and instead just let it lie and move on. There were those who suspected that Lennart himself had created and placed the fliers, to give him an excuse for leaving.

Lloyd gets busy in the evenings

They had me do quite a few things in the evenings. I taught four evening classes, refereed two table football tournaments, compèred six Lindy hop competitions, and one evening party. I dare say some people were sick of the sound of my voice.

The table football tournaments were held in what was once the 'Mission Impossible' tent, now rebranded as the 'Tingle Tangle Tent', and used for a variety of things. We had only the one table, but the number of contestants was not huge. I had helpers to keep the time and write up the names of the winners in each round's matches. I made good use of my referee's whistle (they really are startlingly loud) and each time a winner emerged from the chaos, and things seemed fair enough to satisfy the contestants. I was very harsh on such foul play as spinning, but I'm glad to say that there was no time-wasting, which I had been fearing. Fortunately, none of the players was skilled enough to time-waste. Had I been a contestant, I think I might have won. The prize was a pizza. One winner was French, and needed a translator to make his acceptance speech on stage the following night. You can see a clip of the tournament at 4 mins 50 seconds into this YouTube video.

The Tingle Tangle Tent, equipped with bar, lights, floor, and table football.

The evening classes I taught were: the inevitable ska class; my 'How To Dance Really Well (a class for people who think that they are good dancers but are not)'; and something I have not before taught at Herräng – blues. The practice is to have a blues-for-beginners class on what used to be called 'Blues Night' but is now 'Slow Drag Night', although they don't call it a 'Slow Drag' evening class. This is quite a high-profile and therefore perhaps coveted gig to get, and I was a little surprised to be asked, because it usually goes to more internationally famed teachers than I.

My cabin-mate, Laura, is someone who has done intensive blues-dance training in Berlin and elsewhere, and it struck me as the height of both rudeness and madness not to ask her to teach with me. Planning the lesson took deft negotiation, not least because our backgrounds in blues and approaches to the dance were quite dissimilar. After some while, Laura had a piece of paper with a very detailed lesson plan on it. In the event, as is usually the case, much of the plan got abandoned, but it was useful to have the paper standing by as reference work to show us all the things that we hadn't got time for. That it was well-attended perhaps shouldn't swell our heads with pride, because there were a lot of people there in week four, and interest in a free blues class before blues night is always high. However, Laura gave us all a very professional warm up, which included lots of bluesy isolations, and then the pair of us got plenty of big laughs with our various demonstrations of how not to dance the blues (we did also give hints as to how it should be danced). Anyway, we seemed to have been a bit of a hit, because we were then asked to repeat it the following week.

Slow Drag Nights

There seemed to be an unfortunate effect of being the blues teacher of the night, however. Throughout the night of sultry moody potential passion that followed, I was asked by many people to dance because I was the blues teacher, and I felt obliged to keep my dance to the style Laura and I taught, and to keep everything strictly legit. My dance was stifled. How one feels about one's own dance, however, and the impression formed by others, can vary. I recall dancing with one lady, slowly as is the usual manner in blues, and feeling rather as if I were just running through the text-book of standard moves. I ended up behind her with my right arm around her and my hand resting on her front side. I could feel her heart beating. Despite her slight frame, it seemed that there was a gang of panic-stricken goblins inside her, desperately wielding hammers in an escape bid.

As I have written before, Slow Drag Night is not what Blues Night used to be. The cool people now all shun the main floor. They are often quite vocal about this, which seems to me to form a bit of a disdainful insult to those of us who remain in the Folketshus ballroom. Who are we, then? The beginners, incompetents, and sleaze-bags? I choose not to be ashamed of dancing blues on Blues Night. Yes, I dance blues with women, because that is a significant part of the pleasure. I do not feel the need to dance with men in order to demonstrate that I regard the dance-form as a technical exercise in lead and follow.

There were regular 'secret' blues parties. I attended none. One person claiming to have founded one of these nights boasted that she no longer attended them, because they had in some way departed from her original intentions.

I talked one night for an hour or two with Norma Miller. I started with a simple greeting as I passed her in the Blue Moon Café, but one tangent lead to another. Norma's attitude to blues dancing was robust. "It's just fucking, with your clothes on," she opined. She wasn't being critical or dismissive, she was just being direct. She had little time for those who get very analytical about it, and taught/took lessons in blues. Back in the day, she reminded me, people just put on some music and got on with it. I may soon be making a video rant in which I have a go at people who insist on using the term 'authentic' before the word 'blues'. It is meaningless.

Norma is putting together a show for Broadway. She seems very New York-focussed in her opinions of what is important. The only place that matters is Broadway. She will start with an off-Broadway show, aiming to take it to Broadway. Chester is to help with the directing and choreography. One of her ideas is to give people fried chicken in the interval, and then not signal the start of the second half. Instead, the show would just start again, and word would have to get round, and people would be wandering in with half-eaten chicken. I can see how those responsible for keeping the seats clean might have qualms. At this point in the conversation, a girl had joined us and asked "What about the vegetarians?". Norma's reply came before anyone could blink. "Fuck 'em – they get fried chicken!"

Norma's eyes have gone quite a striking blue with age, and I can report that though her talons remain a little daunting, her hands are soft. She doesn't dance as much as she used to, and is now more of a vocal contribution to the camp than a terpsichorean one. I reminded her of a conversation we had when I was MCing Goodnight Sweetheart. She had asked me bluntly whether as a dancer I was any good. Too British to answer this one quickly, I had stuttered that I was sort of all right in my way. "Okay, well then you're just a dancer who didn't make it, so you should become a producer."

Norma paused, tilted her head, and formed a contrite smile. "Did I really say that?" Yes she had, but I liked her for it. I said that I could possibly help her by using my YouTube channel to publicise her project. We'll see if anything comes of that.

Anyway, back to blues: at one point, Norma was talking about how blues is a sexual dance, and how a blues dancer's mouth is close to the ear of the follower, and she brought my mouth to her ear and asked me what I said to my follows. I hesitated, unsure of what was appropriate to whisper into the ear of a ninety-five year-old lady from Harlem. I fear I may have disappointed her.

Back to the blues floor: one issue is the 'thigh lead' and whether it is to be encouraged, condoned, discouraged, or severely punished. People often seem to say one thing and do another. Many of those strongly advocating plenty of room for the Baby Jesus are to be observed in close vertical proximity with their various partners when the lights are low. I find the thigh lead to be clear and tactile and therefore good, but it leaves little space for the follow to contribute to the choreography. She just reacts to the lead, more or less. I, perhaps more than most, will break away from my partner to offer her space to contribute ideas, change the mood, breathe a bit. Most follows in blues, though, do next to nothing but react, and some love to do nothing but follow. Blues is one of those dances when the follow can switch off and drift with the dance, and just enjoy the simple physical sensation of a close dance, like dozing in sunshine on a small boat rocking on a lake. I had a complaint from one partner that I was not offering her space to do her own thing, and yet when dancing with other partners in exactly the same way, they proved themselves very capable of doing their own thing, and I could go with whatever they came up with. Styles and expectations clash.

Slow Drag Night continued. The one and only time I got off with someone at Herräng was on Blues/Slow Drag Night, and so there may linger in me some last vestige of hope. I don't generally feel that it is my place to get terribly sultry, however, and perhaps my partners are waiting for a cue from me. Right near the end of the night, one German girl led the way in sultritude, and I was happy to follow. This was the first moment that Mr John Thomas got interested, but she was so attractive that it was quite obvious that I had no right to exist in the same universe as her, so I soon called it a night and went to bed.

My cabin-mates reported that I dance in my sleep. I think that they may be confusing 'dancing in his sleep' with 'twitching his feet a bit'.

Up in the office of The Dream Factory was this wall-chart with colour-coded categories of camp staff. With so many people coming and going, I suppose that face photographs are needed for recognition, even for the camp's organisers. I wonder what the maximum number of colours is for a chart like this, for the colours to remain useful.

Hosting the competitions

I was asked to host the week 4 Lindy competitions. This involved showing up early to the evening meetings on Monday and Tuesday, in full beige and with hair slicked down. The various contestants would then dance either in the dansbanan or on a temporary surface in front of the Folketshus (when the weather was more trustworthy), while the three unfortunate teachers of the day who had been obliged into judging decided which of them would make the best finalists. I had an amusing stab at saying everyone's name, the music played, and we whittled the contestants down to two couples. Any same-sex couple was always a crowd favourite, and judges were routinely booed when eliminating one. In the evening meeting, the dance-off between the two selected couples was something of a moveable feast, and I had to be ready to get on stage at short notice.

Just before the meeting started, I would have an iPad handed to me, on which would be the music that had been chosen for the final dance-off. I would then listen to it, and decide when to cue in the first couple. This was generally after a two or four eight-count intro. One night, though, they had picked a piece with a very odd structure. I consulted experts, and they agreed that it was an odd piece and not suited to the purpose. There wasn't time to pick another. I warned the contestants that there would be no introduction – they would have to starting dancing on the first beat. This is a point to bear in mind when picking music for competitions: the tempo is not the only consideration.

I tried to be fair. I tossed a coin to determine which couple went first. One night, the stage manager told me in a very matter of fact way that I had complete control over who won, because whichever couple I asked the crowd to cheer for first didn't stand a chance. The crowd would cheer a bit for that couple, and then would be warmed up for a second louder cheer for the other couple. Those who wanted the second couple to win knew how loudly they had to cheer to have their way, and those who wanted the first couple to win usually cheered a bit for the second out of politeness, adding to the second couple's accalamatory din. He did seem to be right. The second couple always won.

My method evolved quickly. Its final form was this: get a member of the audience to stand in the middle at the front, with his back to the stage and eyes shut. This way he did not know which couple's cheer he was hearing (the direction the rest of the audience was looking would give this away, hence the need for shut eyes). I would then indicate one couple, the crowd would cheer, and then the other couple would get a cheer. I would then reverse the order of the couples and give each a second cheer. Each couple, therefore had both a first and a second cheer. All times but one, one first cheer and one second cheer were the loudest of their pairs, and so a clear winner was selected. Otherwise, I took the last pair of cheers as the decider. I think this worked reasonably well, and I heard no complaints. Possibly I was taking it all too seriously. The prize for winning the final on the Thursday was enough store credit with The Lindy Hop Shop to buy most of a tie (and, as it turned out, a free pass to a swing dance camp in South Africa – flights not included!). On the other hand, I saw how daunted and thrilled some of the couples were to be selected for an on-stage dance-off, and so it seemed right to take fairness seriously.

The first time I tried this method, I confused the hell out of my audience volunteer. Part of the problem was that I may have been rushing it. I didn't want to spend ages explaining what I was doing. I am conscious of how annoying a host can be who turns a competition into a look-at-me-show, and of keeping Lennart and others waiting in the wings.

I was asked to host (they usually use the term 'MC' as a verb) the competitions in week five as well. I don't recall their ever using the same host twice before. I think they must have been feeling the lack of Mark Kihara. The feeling I had was that I did a better job of it in week five. I was more relaxed and took my time. If I thought of something funny to say, I said it, even if it took up time. No one seemed to mind, but then people usually speak up only when something is notably wrong, rather than when a slightly sub-optimal performance is delivered. In the second week, I had the audience well-drilled in the cheering process, and did longer sillier introductory speeches that had less and less to do with the competition. I also toyed with the volunteers more, although this risked making them look silly and deterring future volunteers, but I'm confident enough that they all took it in good spirit.

Dr Who

Chester arrived (late as usual – he missed his flight, which he does 3 times out of 4) with ambitions of getting me in a spacecraft and having a space battle, all to be achieved by the video magic of green-screen. This quickly got changed into an episode of Dr Who, and I was to be The Doctor. It fell to me to write the story. I came up with something that I think made sense. One major problem with the script, though, was that it required me to use a video camera as a prop.

Chester had already been liaising with Carl. Carl was an eager young (still in his teens, I think) special effects man, who had iAdobeEverythingStudio9 on his computer. He had honed his English in Alabama, and he reminded me both by accent and face of Jesse in Breaking Bad. He had a fancy stills camera which could shoot high-quality video, and a computer that could edit and do fancy stuff. He was on-board with the project.

Making videos with Chester is always a bit stressful. I wish he'd stop saying 'trust me'. We had three heads working on this one, and we all had different ideas of what it should be. I think Carl wanted something for his showreel of special effects, and was thinking in terms of something that might rival Tron Legacy, while Chester wanted to do something more knock-about and corny, with some charmingly-approximate green-screening. I meanwhile wanted to make something quickly and simply, in the genre of Dr Who, with a story that made sense, without demanding too much of the volunteer actors. I get tense when I'm aware of keeping people waiting. I got very tense.

The villains were to be cheap versions of the 'weeping angels'. These were not the same as the monsters in the BBC telly series, because that would involve making an awful lot of statues, and we didn't have time for that. These ones looked like Lindy-hoppers, and looking at them prevented them from using their powers of fast movement and teleportation to their alien planet, but when someone looked at them while knowing what they were, they froze and could do nothing. So The Doctor had to work out which ones were monsters and which were actual Lindy-hoppers, and to do this, he videoed them, then went back in time and watched the videos and spotted the aliens, then forwards in time again to arrive already knowing which ones are aliens, and thus able to freeze them by looking at them. This meant going around with a video camera.

"But you can see through the walls from the outside.""Yes, everyone says that."

The trouble was that Carl was carrying on with his tap lessons, and would not let us use his camera. This caused many delays, and my camera couldn't be used, because it was a prop. Eventually, we ended up shooting quite a lot of the piece on Chester's mobile telephone. The picture quality was less than ideal, and the sound was terrible, but at least we got it shot. Carl would then disappear for many hours into obscure bolt-holes and edit. Whenever I tracked him down, he was in a bit of a huff, having wrestled with the footage for many hours, and doubtless encountered many technical challenges along the way, trying to knit together footage from different cameras. Chocolate seemed to improve his mood slightly. In not many minutes, I could fix a fair few problems, but I didn't want to push it, so I generally left him to it.

The production of the video dragged on. I thought that I had been clever by writing a story that required only two main locations, and few characters that needed to be seen in both, but getting enough people still proved tricky, and we lost a lot of time to not having a camera. Having Chester to work with had the great advantage that Chester had licence to do things like get the teachers' lounge for use as a location (the TARDIS interior). Sometimes, recruitment of cast seemed to be greatly aided by the fact that the subject was Dr Who. There were plenty of Whovians at the camp. We did in the end shoot the entire story, and it was hoped that we would get to show the result in the evening meetings. It became clear early on that we would have to put it into two episodes, because Lennart would never want to show anything ten minutes long. Time kept passing, however, and the post-prod period extended, which imperilled the mission. Possibly, had the finished first episode been presented by Chester to the Dream Factory, then we may all have seen it one evening, but this did not happen. I am hoping to put it up on my Lindybeige YouTube channel soon.

Invasion from Mars

My Doctor Who outfit doubled as a party costume for the Friday night. It turned out that I was not alone, although other party-goers modelled their garb on specific Doctors. Indeed, I was pleased to learn that people recognised me as The Doctor despite my not having copied any specific Doctor's look. I don't recall doing anything much for this party, so I was free to wander about as a punter, and take photographs.

The space rocket launch simulator (interior). I tried this a few times, each time, enjoying floating around the ship in zero gravity for a bit, although I didn't get many people to join in. Some people decided to help me do a full rotation by lifting me up, and it was probably while this happened that someone went off with my four-colour biro. So far, no four-colour biro has ever survived in my possession in Herräng.
Space rocket launch simulator (exterior).
Still annoyed about the spiders.
People in Black.
I don't think Starfleet wouldapprove of those plimsolls.
Marvin, enemy of Bugs, thrown together from the Prop Shop.
Robocop suit, which makes a 3D man look 2D.
At last! A proper alien. This is what aliens actually look like.
The red weed spread quickly, but eventually succumbed to Earth's bacteria.
Yes, they were real. I don't know if they got eaten.
I didn't know which to look at.
Cyborg head of the DJing dept.
The tallest of his species.
Some costumes were very simple.
Some teams got it together. Can you read 'MARS' above?

They filled the Prop Shop with some opaque vapour, and people were challenged to go in to find (rescue) the three alien babies in there. We were told that we would know them when we found them. I found two, but it seems that neither was what I was looking for. I fear I may have failed as an alien-baby-rescuer.

Enough Doctors to save several universes from any ghastly fate. Doctors one and four seem to be taking this more seriously than the others.

They had a pitch set up for a game of this version of football. Teams were three-a-side, and I played in two matches. My team won the first, and then got knocked out in the second, which was ideal. Two quick matches was just about right. The level of violence was good. You can see me getting knocked over 8 mins 55 seconds into this YouTube video.

The drinking straws in the light fitting, with coloured light-bulbs, worked well. They also screened a bizarre black and white old German sci-fi programme, and an awful-looking Star Wars animation.
Frightening but friendly.
Alien abduction!
Note the alien Frankie in the background.
Perfect costume for dancing'the itch'.

Cabin-mates, before the party. The sexy lizard creature on the right was the winning entry for the costume parade. I went in with a number of other Doctors, but we were not winners. While the winner complained that her movements had not been intended to be sexy, but had instead been designed to evoke the concepts of alien terror and mystery, the crowd could see otherwise and made this clear by the loudness of its winner-choosing cheers. Decide for yourself by watching her 11 minutes into this YouTube video (also at 11.30).

Giving the follow more options.
Best wi-fi at the camp.
We were treated to a performance of the jazz dance students. Those energetic souls who had spent their days jumping around in the solo jazz dance lessons showed us the routine that Chester had hammered into them at high speed. It was impressively long. For reasons which were questioned, they all got out of their alien costumes and did the routine in swing-mufti.

New DJs

Mark Kihara's reign as head of all matters DJish had come to an end, and the head of that sort of thing was a tall Englishman, with a largely new cast of DJs. The DJs are ever more a breed apart it seems, with their own offices, food supplies, and an apparent close-knit camaraderie. Often I would see a group of them on stage behind the turntables, chatting, discussing, or dancing.

Vinyl has made something of a comeback. Some of the DJs used nothing else. Could I tell that the sound quality was better? Most of the time, no. It did seem to lead to a greater variety of tracks being played, which is good. DJs who bother to lug an entire extra piece of luggage through the airports must think those records are worth it, and so probably know their collections quite well, and DJs who share files electronically are more likely to end up with similar collections. One thing I recall loving as a child about vinyl was the pa-thump when the needle went down, to be followed by a few glorious seconds of amplified silence and anticipation. These DJs were too slick, though, and I didn't get to hear that.

The music wasn't tremendously different from recent years, but I'd say that there was a noticeable improvement overall. One thing I picked up upon was that the three different floors of the evening parties: Folketshus, dansbanan, and library, played more different styles from each other. It was very often the case that only one of the three was playing mainstream Lindy music, while the other floors might be catering to tango, or something even further from swing. One effect was that it was far more common to see the Lindy hoppers all dancing in the dansbanan, and the Folketshus ballroom near deserted.

Bands did play at the camp, but though these were very good, I danced to them little. The floors get jam-packed when a band is good, such that no one has room to dance properly. This is a major problem now. Even the extended dansbanan got packed out.

Speed dating

I thought that I might as well give speed dating another try. I was free. We gathered in the Tingle Tangle Tent and were placed into two concentric circles, gents on the outside, and ladies rotating partners on the inside. The arrangement was not ideal. We were all standing, and very close together. They played music on a machine. After a bit I asked them to turn it down, because we were all having to raise our voices to be heard. We filled in our forms, circled the numbers of those we wanted to meet again, and left. The next day, I was told that I had a match! A time and place were set, but she had a change of plans and couldn't make it. When I turned up to the boats by the lake, I found a packet of sweets and an apologetic note waiting for me. We did get to row about on the lake for bit another time. The lake was much more overgrown than usual, and we couldn't get through to the southern section, and had difficulties with oars snagging on the lush underwater weed.

How seriously were we expected to take it all? I can't answer that one, but I suspect and fear that the degree of seriousness varied between people quite a lot, which was probably not great for those taking it more seriously.

Apparently, this was one of the smaller deliveries of paper towels.

Cabaret Nights

In week four, I was just an audience member, and that was fine by me. Knowing that I was likely to end up writing yet another of these accounts, and that I forget the cabaret acts, I noted down the acts as they happened. Now, I am sitting writing this, I have those notes, and they have successfully reminded me of very little. They say things like "Tap Sweden," "Two girls, opera song", "Trumpet + dancer, St James Inf.", "Comments from audience on unclogging loos," "Street dance women," "Solo woman singer a cappella." If you were there, perhaps these will jog your memory though they didn't jog mine.

What I can recall from my notes are that Isabella Wong and a German chap from the Lindy Hop Shop were the main hosts, and they pretended not to notice the audience as they got ready in their seats to watch the show, while improvising small-talk. I'm not sure how well this device worked. Later, they entertained us with impressions of fruit.

Egle Regelskis and four chaps danced a slick routine to I Can't Give You Anything But Love. I recall my favourite moment, however: a man came on to the stage, and stood in the middle, and stood there looking gormless. He got out a banana, and slowly started eating it. This went on for about a minute. A juggling ball was then thrown onto the stage and landed at his feet. He looked at it. He then threw the banana off-stage. It had been totally irrelevant all long. He then showed us a nice juggling routine, largely consisting of his catching the white ball on his feet in different ways. Great stuff.

Could I go a whole trip to Herräng without appearing in the cabaret? It seems not. In week five, I was persuaded to join in the dance routine for What Does The Fox Say?. Various people dressed in animal costumes re-enacted a dance routine taken from a video. I was to bulk out numbers. Letting me off the hook a bit, was the fact that they wanted people planted in the audience, with the purpose of getting the audience to join in. My main contribution was probably persuading them to add in a couple of repeats of the chorus at the end, because we seemed in danger of getting everybody up just in time for the song to end.

The week five cabaret was a new experiment. A host appeared on-stage in the Folketshus, and then a rival hostess also appeared. These had an argument, and she stormed off in fake anger to run the show down in the dansbanan. From then on, the show was not, until the very end, screened in the dansbanan via television link, but instead, each act went downstairs after performing in the Folkethus, and repeated the act in the dansbanan. So far as I know, the people in the library saw a telecast of the Folketshus show. The hosting was somewhat strange, with its terribly angry mock rivalry, and great gaps while acts sorted themselves out and tried to adapt to a new stage layout. I don't think that they should always do it this way, but it was a worthy experiment which might be repeated.

Again, I have notes in front of me of the acts. It started with Cold Shower Blues a piece confidently semi-improvised by a girl from Tel Aviv (who, I had learned earlier, can whistle tunefully while holding her mouth in an open smile) with a couple of accompanists, before she left the stage and then streaked topless across it. My notes include say "Japanese solo dance", "Michaella Hellsten +4 gold dance" (a dance with five girls in gold costumes, one of whom was Mikaela Hellsten, who not only had the choreography nailed, but found room to add lots of extra movements such as boogie-woogie head-wiggles, which unfortunately meant that the eye was naturally drawn to her at the expense of the other four), "Explaining the origins of 'spank the baby'", "Herrang song welcome to...", "Malou Indian blues/swing" (Malou Meyenhofer dancing a fusion piece in Indian garb), "Teachers jazz dance," "Rap girl and others" (terribly modern, this was, from the young folk). There was also a great act from three women who played instruments and sang a swing/country number, completely deadpan. They were a hoot. One touch I didn't notice until they raised their feet near the end, was that they had attached to their shins cardboard cut-outs of boots in profile. I hope that someone has a photograph of this act, so that I can add it here.

We were the closing act. I was ready, near the front. My job was to get people to their feet, joining in, if possible. It was ease itself. The audience was on its feet almost faster than I was. Downstairs was so chocker with people that I couldn't infiltrate the audience, so added myself to the side of the stage instead, and did the job from there.

Private Lessons

I don't give many private lessons at Herräng. There are many more famous teachers there than I. One I gave this year was remarkable, though. The lady in question came to me after an evening class I taught and asked me to give her a private lesson. She described her dancing as 'shitty'. It was very far from shitty. I offered to beat up anyone who had told her that her dancing was shitty, confident that no one had. She was not a happy bunny. The next day, we had the lesson, and I danced with her and gave her several suggestions for ways to improve her dance. That night we danced on the social dance floor. Transformation! There was little doubt in my mind that there hadn't been time for her to improve her technique to such an amazing extent. Her problem had been one of morale. She'd been dancing for years and had the dance in her already, but had just hit one of those patches we all have when our confidence in our own dance wanes. Either that or I am the world's most effective teacher.

'Safe Spaces'

Last year, Steven Mitchell fell from grace very rapidly. This exulted teacher became the subject of discussion on a blog, and within a few days some women had come forward and recounted experiences with him that seemed somewhat dodgy. I had been following the blog and discussing it on Facebook chat. The level of debate was not always excellent. Anyone who had the temerity to question or even hint at questioning the women's reports was thoroughly excoriated, and this helped nobody. Then one woman effectively accused him of rape, and when he failed to deny it, it was game-over. This sparked various initiatives, one of which was called 'safe spaces'. At Herräng this year, there were those who were unimpressed that the camp had not implemented a 'safe spaces policy'.

I was not happy that some people in my local scene in Newcastle took the opportunity to appoint officers to deal with the situation. Was there in fact any problem that needed fixing? If there was, I was wholly unaware of it. Nothing sours an atmosphere or puts fear into a person's mind quite so well as "Welcome to the almost-entirely-safe world of finger-painting. Before your first session, please fill in this risk assessment form, and tick the box saying that you have read the safety advice and know where the first aid box is kept. Your personal medical support officer is Brian. He will help you in the event of an above-averagely violent allergic reaction. It would help us if you gave Brian the number of your doctor. Happy finger-painting!" Similarly, nothing gives the impression that the world of swing dance is a dodgy sordid pick-up joint populated by gropers and leerers than one's first introduction to its being a briefing on a 'safe spaces' policy.

The laws in Sweden are clear enough and strict enough on serious crimes like rape. The social policing of swing dance camps is, I would say, pretty effective too. The danger that one camper poses to another is therefore pretty slight. Steven's exulted position was what made it possible for him to get away with his behaviour for so long. The camp's organisers were near-certainly aware of the fallout from Mitchell's demise, and had probably consciously and deliberately decided not to go down the path of formally introducing 'safe spaces'. The Lindy world has many capable people within it, and is very cyber-savvy. The star teachers have delicate international reputations to defend. There are plenty of avenues for reporting bad behaviour. Herräng has a certain atmosphere of freedom, opportunity, relaxation, and fun, and the organisers have to preserve it. Plenty of people go there in the hope of 'hooking up', and the camp if anything encourages this. I am neither surprised nor appalled by a lack of 'safe spaces' implementation at Herräng. If anything dodgy that needed reporting did happen, and someone really could not think of a single soul to tell, then I'm sure a discreet visit to Reception would bring the right parties together.


My badges went on sale in the Lindy Hop Shop again this year. I didn't take my machine for making them this time, but did haul in a large stock of badges. The numbers of each design (99 designs) were based on how many of each sold last time. Needless to say, the sales of specific designs last time proved a very poor predictor of sales this time.

At the end of my stay, I collected my unsold badges and the money for the sold ones. They told me that they had taken 2,140 SEK, and that after their 792 SEK commission (30%) this left me with 1,848 SEK. I signed the chit, grabbed my stock and left. When I later counted the money, it came to 1,827 SEK. Never mind – that was close enough. When I counted my stock, though, I changed my mind. 313 (almost exactly half) of the badges were missing, presumed sold. If they all had sold for 15 SEK each (the price of one on its own), this would have generated 4,695 SEK. Some, though, sold at five for the price of four (60 SEK for 5). Sparing you the calculations, it seems that about 44%, or 137 badges, were shop-lifted. At the very minimum, 93 were shop-lifted, and I'm pretty sure that most badges were sold singly, so the figure is going to be far nearer 137. The last time I sold badges there, 6 were shop-lifted.

I'm not sure what to think about this. Do I charge more, thus in effect making the honest buyers subsidise the thieves? Do I sell them myself instead of using the shop? Do I put it down to the actions of one rogue badge-thief?

Seeing people wearing my badges was nice. I danced with one lady who was wearing five. My greatest sighting, though, was last year at Frankie 100 in New York, when I spotted someone (an American, I think) on the dance floor wearing one of my "I never refuse a dance" badges.

Birth and Fashion

I was asked to 'MC' (people these days tend to say 'MC' instead of 'host' or 'present' or 'compere') the Friday night party for week five. This involved using a microphone in front of the Folketshus, telling people of the various attractions on offer, and then later trying to organise a massive game of musical statues. People seemed to enjoy the game, but it didn't really work as a game. Though I recruited a few other judges to help me, we just couldn't eliminate enough people each round from the massive crowd, so eventually I had to tell the crowd that it was very good at the game, and I admitted defeat. My next task was to divide the crowd in decade-based age brackets. All the people born 1900-1910 were to form a group to my left (not many takers there), and then I went through the ages, decade by decade, until I got to the people who were so ridiculously young that they were born after the millennium (a small but not insignificant group). Far and away the biggest group was the 1980s group, making the mode age for a camp-goer 26-35. From these decade groups. I made three groups. These three groups then sang the three different parts of a choral piece (taken from Leo Sayer's You Make Me Feel Like Dancing), as instructed by a very nervous music teacher (once she got into it, her nerves went away).

Because I was working, I took no photographs. Possibly others will contribute images for this section.

A bit later, we were in the dansbanan for a performance by the jazz dance track. The formation team of nervous jazz-dancers strutted their stuff, and then the DJ announced that those who started dancing in the 1990s (my hand and others went up) would be familiar with THIS ONE. I guessed what was coming next - Zoot Suit Riot! Great stuff! I had a great dance to it, grabbing Laura out of the jazz track performers, where there was room on the floor to swing a hep cat. Amazingly, the bulk of the floor did not join in – bunch of ickeroos!

The organisers of evening parties now have their hands somewhat tied. Midnight shows have been outlawed, as has doing anything much in the Folkethus. Memories fade, but I don't recall much more happening at this party. There was dancing and that.

Each week, they organised a group photograph in front of the Folketshus, and these were available for sale in a few sizes. I am not in any of these shots. I suppose that this is a symptom of my being a bit removed from the goings on at the camp. I didn't stay away by design, I just didn't know to be there.

My Dancing

Ah, the traditional 'my dancing' section in which I wax deprecational about this and that. Not this year. This year my dancing was solidly ace. Sort of.

One thing I found funny was when I saw a couple on the dance-floor doing the fishing-rod gag. He was heaving away at an invisible rod, reeling in the line, while she, some yards away was holding out her top as if hooked, and advanced on him while pretending to be pulling away. Leaning against the far wall was a girl who caught my eye. She was giving me a clear 'do you want to dance?' look. The line from me to her passed between the fishing-rod couple. I walked over to her in a very normal way. The rod couple didn't see me until the very last instant. It hadn't occurred to them that anyone would walk between them. Just at the very last instant before I walked through the invisible nylon line, and without breaking stride in the least, I mimed cutting the line with my fingers. The reaction was amazing. The were both so into what they were doing, and so amazed, that they both twanged apart as if the line had indeed been cut. When I checked over my shoulder, they were both looking at me open-mouthed.

A girl whom I danced with before asked me to dance. As we started to dance, I think she might have said something along the lines of "Our last dance was the best dance experience I've had here." She may have been a bit embarrassed to say it, however, and it came out a bit muttered, so I wasn't completely sure what she had said. This put me in a bit of an etiquette quandary. Should I reply on the assumption that she said what I think she said? This risked making me seem arrogant and pompous – what if that were not what she had said? Should I ask her to repeat it? This might embarrass her, and I might come across as someone who likes to hear compliments repeated. In the end, I said nothing, and she remained silent for the rest of the dance. I think I could have handled that better, but I'm not sure how. In the intensely-unlikely situation that this happens again, perhaps I should say... er... no, even with the benefit of time to think, I can't come up with any better solution. If you have one, do write in.

The issue of finding room in the dance came up a few times. There are partners of mine who have remarked on how much room I gave them in the dance. If they wanted to do their own thing, they could. Much of the time in Lindy, I find myself following my follow. If I give a beginner too much room, and effectively ask her to fill in parts of the dance with her own improvisations, usually she just stands there confused and waiting for guidance. They seem far happier having a constant stream of lead to follow. With more able follows, of course, I can do more, and lead more complicated variations and non-standard rhythms. Some might mistake a constant lead of complex variations for a dance in which there is no room for the follow to improvise. I was mildly stung by the suggestion of this from one partner. I recall, however, an excellent dance with Frida Häggström Gerdt of the evening meeting chorus line, and noting the great ease with which she put all manner of her own things into the dance. She wasn't suggesting leads, as some follows do (and I hope continue to do), but just putting her own bits and pieces in, and each time I saw her doing it, I gave her the room if necessary. A lead can be constant, both in its demands of the follower to follow, and in its vigilance for a follow's desires.

Time to go

The time to leave was this time clearly enough defined by the ending of the camp. I had places to go. I went to Nynäshamn to catch the ferry to Visby, where I spend one long cold night trying to sleep in a hammock, then three days making videos and being recognised quite a lot as Lindybeige. One disaster that befell me there was that my video camera, on which my livelihood now depends, suddenly died for no reason. I had to hand over all the cash I made from badge sales to buy a new one (which almost immediately developed a lens fault). Visby's medieval week is a pleasant event and I can see why people go again and again.

The bus company organised extra public buses at the end of the camp, having learned from previous years that things get a bit busy. They even had some form of police along to oversee the operation.

I walked to the airport, now carrying the 99 SEK tent I had bought (hiring a tent was 500 SEK), and flew to Helsinki. There I stayed with Laura, who had a WASHING MACHINE. I taught workshops in Lindy and blues, and was the compère of the Palladium Nights Cabaret at the Helsinki Casino. This was quite a success in the end, with some very skilled acts performing, which makes the job of compère very easy. I did have to sing, however, which was something I hadn't been warned of. Laura had never heard me sing but had decided that I must be able to. The following weekend, I was compère for the Tenhola Dance Camp, rousing the ever-raucous Finns to cheer the various acts. I then went straight to the airport to catch a flight to Edinburgh.

When in Herräng, I had received some e-mails which invited me to run away and join the circus. My friend Stephen Salinger was producing a show at The Fringe called Swing Circus (see a video about it on YouTube). Despite my not knowing any details, I said 'yes'. After all, how often does one get asked such things? I announced my acceptance by giving flight details of the ticket I had just bought. I found the circus tent, a little way outside the centre of town, and had one day to rehearse the whole show. I was joining the middle of a four-week run, and was taking over from, among other people, my protégée (or at least ex-student) Cat Foley. Edinburgh during the Festival is flipping amazing and I advise everyone to see it at least once. Over 3,000 shows are in town at once. My first show was a bit ragged, but I soon got the hang of it, near enough. The trip was in total a seven-weeker. My own bed beckoned, and I was glad to get back.

Despite what I have just read, I want to see what happened in 2016.

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