Thoughts on swing dancing and Lindy Hop, one word at a time…

What’s Herräng?

Clear Definitions

I think Rebecca Brightly puts it best in a quote from her article “What’s a Frankie Manning? And Other Questions You Don’t Want to Be Caught Dead Asking“,

Herrang Dance Camp (simply called Herrang after the town it’s hosted in), is lindy hop mecca. This month-long, 24/7 party is the mother of all dance events. Thousands of dancers from all over the world converge on this small Swedish town for one or more weeks in July each year.

Going to Herrang is part of earning your stripes as a lindy hopper. Since it’s an all-dance, all the time atmosphere, it can help your dancing mature very quickly. Plus you come home with an incredible shared experience that can never be matched.

I haven’t been to Herrang, but I’ve learned a lot about it over the years. Most people describe it as “indescribable.”

-Rebecca Brightly

The Folkets Hus. – Ana Luz Crespi

Wikipedia describes it as,

Herräng Dance Camp (commonly abbreviated HDC, officially Herräng Dance Camp Aktiebolag) is the largest annual dance camp that focuses on African American jazz dances such as Lindy Hopboogie woogietapauthentic jazz, and balboa. It is owned and run by Lorenz Ilg and four members of the Harlem Hot Shots: Frida Segerdahl, Fatima Teffahi, Daniel Heedman, and Lennart Westerlund. Each year, the small town of HerrängSweden is transformed into a multi-week dance camp attracting world-famous instructors and dancers alike. With the short Swedish nights, the dancing is pretty much 24-hours.

Similar to many dance camps, the format varies slightly each year but is traditionally held for four to five weeks in late June through late July. For numerous years Herräng Dance Camp has been the largest Lindy Hop dance camp in the world, with a reputation for offering both the highest standard of teaching and attracting the best social dancers from around the world. While the camp holds nightly social dances with music by live bands and DJs from around the world, the main focus of the camp is on dance instruction. In 2007, over seventy instructors were featured during the five weeks, including original dancers from the swing era such as Frankie ManningNorma Miller, and Dawn Hampton.

With over 1,000 people attending the camp each summer (over twice the official population of the city of Herräng), the camp assembles a significant amount of infrastructure each summer to meet the needs of the large number of dancers. Some of the most noticeable additions to Herräng during Herräng Dance Camp includes several cafes; a full cafeteria serving buffet-style meals; a shop for dance supplies, accessories and daily essentials; bicycle rental; housing of various standards; nightly entertainment; airport limo service; and more.

It’s a Little More Then a Definition

For the uninitiated, the typical puzzling response one gets when asking a friend what was Herräng like is “indescribable” or “you just have to experience it yourself”.  The reason for that is one’s experience at the camp is defined by the choices one makes. I cannot over emphasize enough, if you make the voyage to Herräng get involved in something and do not hide out in the internet Igloo the entire time.

A perfect example of this was because I was part of the volunteer crew for Week 3, someone I knew invited me to a beach bonfire birthday party complete with home-made sangria by two Spaniards. At this bonfire I met a bunch of Lithuanians, who I later got into shenanigans with. The last week of camp I met some Czech Republic girls in the basement when a bar mysteriously opened up there, who later on I went rowboating and picking blueberries with. A simple meeting or connection can easily snowball into several different adventures in Herräng, it is very easy if you are social to get stuck in the situation that you are choosing between three different things to do a night.

Joana and Andreas doing some aerials in a boat. – Ana Luz Crespi

The best way to give you my dear readers a cursory view of the camp is by presenting you a smorgasbord of ways you could potentially get involved. In addition I am going to use a lot of photographs because I believe they do a better job then my words of painting a picture of what the “Herräng experience” is like.

I will not try to cover the obvious stuff listed on the Herräng website or in most first time to Herräng articles, but instead give insight to the atmosphere of this camp. Covering everything would be a futile effort that would bore you to tears. This quote from Herrang for Dummies sums up my opinion on the matter.

I wouldn’t consider myself an expert on absolutely every aspect of this amazing camp, nor I am able to write a guide that covers it all. There is far too much that goes on, that it is practically impossible to know everything about it all. Unless you are somehow able to divide yourself into 2 or 3 people. – A person who has been to Herräng for 3 more years then myself.

Volunteering/Classes/Housing Accommodations/Bike Rental 

These are easily the four biggest things that affect your camp experience. If you are in general accommodations, volunteering, and taking classes it is much more likely you will get to meet a lot of people compared to if you got private accommodations that are a biking distance away from all the action and are only doing dancing at night so you are stuck meeting people through just wandering around.

While with private accommodations or in some cases the caravan choices for housing you get some privacy,  but often sacrifice accessibility to the camp (especially if you don’t have a rented bicycle) and opportunities to meet people. However, like I said in a previous post it is better to do what makes you comfortable. There is no use putting yourself in general accommodations to meet people if you are miserable the entire time because you can’t sleep due to noise.

The beach, marina, Hallstavik, and other places all become more accessible with a bicycle rental (which was only 500 SEK this past year). As a person who had a bicycle for one week and then without it the next, I can tell you I did more activities and went on more adventures that involved travel when I had the bicycle. Of course the downside is when you get fatigued at the late night dances, when you have a bicycle it is always tempting to leave early since your bed is only a short bike ride away.

Kevin and Jo, and their matching bikes. – Ana Luz Crespi

I was in one of the Int/Advanced tracks this year and through it I made a lot of friends who I danced with, ate, and spent time hanging out. However we had some rather proactive people in my class. We organized class practice sessions, even had a meet-up in one of the ballrooms for social dancing, and we have a secret facebook group for class notes/recaps or meetups for the more fortunate members who live close-by in Europe. I also who had a friend that complained her class didn’t do anything besides meet up and go on their own merry way. If you take classes I encourage you to get to know your classmates and try to meet up to practice class material or if you see them wondering while you are out and about, take a moment to say hi and chat.

The Most Badass Class of Herräng 2012 – Int/Adv Level 1 (Week 3)

The last category volunteering is probably one of, if not the easiest way to meet people and get a unique perspective on the camp. After the Harry-Potter-Sorting-Hat-Esque like ceremony on Saturday of camp you get sorted into your respective volunteer crew and then proceed to spend several hours a day with them during that week, with the exceptions of certain crews such as Tech Crew [1] or Limo Service [2] (for obvious reasons).

In the mornings and afternoons you will get to mingle and eat with your fellow volunteers at the volunteer kitchen a.k.a. the V-Kitchen. In addition, the staff of the camp tends to set up some fun activities specifically for the volunteers. The beauty of being part of the volunteer crew besides the obvious social benefits is you get to see how the camp is run and the infrastructure behind it. While many people including myself find the chaotic structure of Herräng to be maddening at times, it does have the benefit that it allows for unique things to happen that it would be hard to find somewhere else. An example of that being an entire class being moved to the beach including sound system and floor.

Week 5 volunteers – Ana Luz Crespi

Other Ways To Get Involved

One of the lovely or overwhelming (depending upon your perspective) things about Herräng is the variety of ways one can find adventures to embark on or activities to get involved with. Here I will post a small sample of some of the different things that can be found at the camp that one can get involved in.

Herräng Beach

Herräng Beach – Ana Luz Crespi

Slightly up the road from the camp you can follow signs that will bring you to the beach at Herräng. It is beautiful during the day and breath taking at night. Great place to celebrate birthdays with bonfires, go swimming, or just simply lay out and enjoy the scenery.

Party Volunteers

Savoy Party Volunteers – Ana Luz Crespi

The Friday night parties at Herräng are big productions that they go all out for converting the main building for the camp, the Folkets Hus into whatever theme chosen for that week. I had the privilege of attending three of the parties which the themes were; the 70’s, Night at The Savoy, and Pirates & Parrots.

However these parties are entirely volunteer ran and while they do have part of the volunteer staff dedicated to producing them, I have always found they need more help decorating or even people to run booths/services during the party. If you want to contribute to the camp, I encourage you to help out for at least one party.

Mission Impossible

Calle Wants You for Mission Impossible – Ana Luz Crespi

I was an agent for Mission Impossible and the most frequent question I probably received was, “What does Mission Impossible do exactly?”. The official answer is we attempt to fill a gap and help people where the camp has not officially created volunteer resources for. An example of that is during Week 4 there was a bedding crisis and we were attempting to find people places to sleep.

However many unofficial services are provided as well such as creating a Dennys or Hooters restaurant from scratch or helping the Swing Kids program have a lemonade stand for the Frankie Manning Foundation. If you are looking for a unique group to join, just keep an eye out for the Mission Impossible sign.

Circus

Juggling Class – Ana Luz Crespi

This year Herräng offered circus classes at most times in the day and as part of the night classes. Ever wanted to learn how to juggle or perhaps pantomime? Sergio and Pao were there to teach you those, among other circus skills.

DJing

Mark wants you to DJ – Ana Luz Crespi

While most of the dances have DJs that Herräng has hand-chosen previously, there are volunteer spots open for DJing. This past year Mark Khiara from Seattle was the DJ Coordinator. Ever want to find out if an international crowd would enjoy your DJing skills? Go to one of the DJ interest meetings on the weekend to hopefully get put in a DJ slot.

Set-Up/Take-Down Crew

Set Up Crew Volunteers – Ana Luz Crespi

The week before the camp begins is known as setup week and the week after the camp ends is known as take-down week. From what I have heard it is hard work, but a great way to meet people and a wonderful bonding experience. In addition you get to experience Herräng as a town without the horde of dancers running around everywhere.

Wrap-Up

As I have emphasized before, it is a difficult task to try to put into words what Herräng is actually like. People who have been there for multiple years or have even run the gauntlet of all five weeks of the camp and setup/take-down week struggle with it. I hope to give you a small glimpse of what the camp is like for those of you who are curious, or perhaps bring some nostalgia back to those who have been. I’ll leave you with this small quote from the 2012 Herräng Handbook,

And what else is there to pay attention to besides following the schedule and being attentive in your classes? A lot, but at the same time not much. Herräng has never been known for a lot of rules or regulations. Instead, within the abstract frame of good taste and proper behavior, feel free to add, change or improvise. We don’t necessarily want Herräng to be a copy of our daily life with only dance classes as an addition. Instead our ambition is to provide a rhythmical playground and a melting-pot for ideas, innovations and lost dreams. Please feel who heartedly welcome to add your piece to this kaleidoscopial picture!”

– Ewa Burak, Åsa heedman, Frida Segerdahal, Fatima Teffahi, Daniel Heedman, Lorenz Ilg and Lennart Westerlund

Parade for the Dedication of Frankie Manning Street – Ana Luz Crespi

Footnotes & Acknowledgement

[1]. The Tech Crew volunteers are responsible for anything at the camp involving sound equipment or visual presentation. Every sound system used for the classes all around the camp and  by them and the camp meetings involve them and the official tech staff members.

[2]. Limo Service volunteers are responsible for the pickup and drop-off of teachers and special guests. They deal with the coordination of the buses that pick-up and drop off people from the Arlanda airport. In addition they also sometimes provide unique services (ask any 2012 attendees about the love-mobile).

Pol and Hannah, from Herräng’s Limo Service. – Ana Luz Crespi

ALC Fotografía (Photography)

I’d like to thank Ana Luz Crespi from Argentina for giving me permission to use these beautiful photos for this article. My words pale in comparison to what these photographs can show you about Herräng. I encourage you to visit her personal website or her photography facebook page. Leaving comments in the article about the photographs is also encouraged as well!

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6 responses

  1. Awesome blog! You’ve highlighted so well how Herräng is much more than just a place to dance. Now I am feeling nostalgic and longing for next year already!

    September 2, 2012 at 11:52 am

  2. I wish I’d read a post like this before I went last year! Good job!

    September 6, 2012 at 5:55 pm

  3. There really needs to be someone who can actively provide a non-biased view of the reasons *not* to go to this god-awful dance camp. I wish I was that person, but I’m not. I had too *terrible* of a time when I went. I heard from numerous teachers (I was on Limo duty 2 of 4 weeks) who felt similarly, but were only there because it was a job.

    This camp is great for people who want to get laid, drink a lot, and have few friends and hobbies, or a less-than-stellar dance scene, back home. For someone who wants to go and dance, and have quality dances with people in great venues, with reasonable floors, and good space, look elsewhere (ILHC, for example).

    If you are single, like to drink and hang out with socially awkward people who all have only *one* thing in common and only ever talk about *one* thing. Herrang is the place to go.

    This article paints the picture that “Herrang is for everyone, if you have the right attitude!” and this is very misleading.
    Some people don’t like the shenanigans, the loud sex noises at night, the shitty beds, the unwieldy costumes, disgusting blues nights, and the terribly bland food (most nights).

    (I knew kitchen staff personally, and they’re awesome, but they had little to work with)

    I met some fun people in Herrang, friends I’ll definitely go visit across the globe, but go back to Herrang? Never in my life.

    September 8, 2012 at 11:44 pm

    • Mitchel, thanks for the reply, it’s good to get a perspective from someone who had the opposite experience as myself. I fully admit after a re-reading of this blog post, I can see how it can easily come off as saccharine and I admit there is definitely a overly positive bias for myself. I should have probably thrown in a link of my other post that at least went over some of the negatives of the camp.

      The message I was going for was trying to create awareness of what the camp is about/what goes on there for people who have decided/are deciding upon making the trek so they have a better idea of what they are getting themselves into and could ideally have a better time.

      The reality of the situation though is Herräng is at least in my experience, a polarizing event. People either are overly enthused about experience or hate the hell out of it. I’ve heard it jokingly referred to as “an introvert’s worst nightmare” and good luck finding space on the dance floor before 2-3 AM in the morning.

      Personally, I would love to hear a review from an instructor’s perspective. However, I know likely due to it’s not good for their lively-hood if they are brutally honest this is not likely to happen.

      September 9, 2012 at 1:34 pm

  4. Herrang Dance Camp is an annual swing dance camp that takes place in the small mining village of Herrang, Sweden every July. Started in 1982 with 25 attendees (mostly Swedish) participating for a single week of classes and social dancing, the camp has since grown into the world’s largest and most comprehensive dance camp focused on the African-American swing and jazz dance traditions, especially Lindy Hop, Charleston, Jazz & Tap. These days, the camp serves thousands of international dancers travelling from across the world who gather for up to 5 weeks every July to participate in workshop classes with renowned dance champions, social dance, exchange dance and cultural ideas, spread the joy of Lindy Hop…and leave inspired!

    February 11, 2013 at 12:14 pm

  5. Pingback: Herräng Resources | Lindypenguin

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