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

Dance

Dealing In Absolutes

Welcome to Lindy Hop

When I was a newer dancer who frequently was in different dance scenes such as Irvine, California to Oberlin, Ohio, my biggest difficulty was probably dealing with instructors who would tell me different and sometimes outright contradictory things. When I brought up my frustration one day to a workshop teacher his response was, “Welcome to Lindy Hop”.

After dancing for a few years and teaching regionally for about 2+ years I have to take time and remind myself I was once this new lead who wanted clearly defined rules. I remember my mind being blown when 8-count moves and swingouts were introduced. At the time, in my mind the rule was everything is only 6-counts. It took about a month of solid dancing in California to break me out of a 6-count basic as my default movement.

I remember one of the big things that confused me as a newer lead was where to step on the 5 of a swingout. The fact that depending upon where a lead steps on 5 can create a different line/look/feeling was beyond me. I just wanted one place to step so I could do it “right”.

Most experienced dancers know how one dances is completely dependent on the song that is playing, who one is dancing with, and likely other miscellaneous factors. Bridging the gap between that and newer dancers who may be just trying to figure out where to find the beat or intermediate dancers trying to dance on phrase is a difficulty as an instructor.

Difficulty with “Right” Answers as a Teacher

What caused me to explore this topic is a post from Sam at dogpossum titled a bit of dance nerdery and in particular this quote,

I had to find a way to say ‘that idea of an absolute value for connection isn’t useful. We don’t look for a single muscle ‘tone’ or degree of hardness or softness in the arm. We look for varying muscle recruitment and use – we use what we need for the circumstances and no more.’ But that’s not a helpful response to a student who’s trying really hard to figure out how they and their partners should feel.  I can’t remember what I said. I’m fairly sure I said too much, which is my main failing as a teacher. Just. Stop. Talking. It was something I grappled with in tutoring as well.

It amuses me slightly because for myself I think I err on the side of talking too little because I am afraid of going on complete tangents of all the possibilities of what can happen when one tweakes little things with connection or movement. In addition it’s a personal bias that I am largely a visual learner and the instructors I have disliked classes have felt more like a lecture and less of a dance class.

I do like the direction that dogpossum takes in her classes though.  I wish I would see it more because I find many instructors on the regional level often settle for absolutes.


Like Obi-Wan, I believe dealing in absolutes is not an optimal choice. Yes as an instructor by giving students absolutes you satisfy their want for hard and fast rules, however this is at a cost. I’ve bet in a swing dance class you have had a fellow classmate raise their hand and say, “Well I learned it X way from Y instructor.” I’ve had it pulled on me as an instructor as well, frequently by individuals who have taken the local ballroom dance courses featured at The Pennsylvania State University (Penn State). This is because when you teach something as an absolute a student is likely to put a mental box around whatever the move/concept you taught and think “This is how it is done” and consider alternatives “wrong”.

rules

What this means for myself as an instructor is I try to encourage students once that they are the level that they have some experience under their belt to understand the importance of context for dancing. Often my favorite classes to teach are taking one movement such as a tuck turn and exploring how it can be altered to match different environments such as different types of songs or if you have a follow who can turn exceptionally well/a lead who pays good attention to their partner.

The difficulty again lies that understanding those different contexts for a move such as a tuck turn or even gaining the level of control over ones personal movement to explore all those possibilities takes practice, time, and patience.  I think the following quote sums up a lot of newer dancers including myself when I first started,

“Asked, in the 1980s, about new dancers, he responded: “They’re looking for too much too quick. They want everything like instant coffee. Nothing works like that, not your mind, not your body, nothing.” – Pepsi Bethel, American Jazz Dancer & Lindy Hopper

Typically newer dancers want a lot of moves and to do them “right”. On a slightly related note I was cleaning up my apartment today since I am moving out soon and came across my notes from some of my first Lindy Hop classes in Southern California. I was literally trying to write out every single detail of how to each move and variation on them that was taught to me.

My struggle as an instructor is I think improvisational and experimental nature of Lindy Hop is one of the things I need to teach and emphasize as a swing dance teacher, however I have to balance this out with understanding the mindset of new or even slightly experienced follows and leads. The importance for me is understanding what I am and am not willing to compromise on and teach accordingly.


Take Risks, Show Me Something

“I have to disagree. I would say that a complete lindy hopper is one who makes errors every single dance. If you don’t make a mistake, than you are just dancing inside your abilities and not pushing yourself. I think a complete lindy hopper always dances on the edge of their abilities constantly pushing them to new heights.” – Mike Faltesek (2004)”

Today I want to throw down the gauntlet and challenge anyone out there who is seriously trying to improve as a dancer (including myself) to take some serious risks or to quote an overused phrase “Show me something!”. If I have one serious criticism about the Lindy Hop community is I think we have gotten too complacent with falling into a system of linear progression through classes and competition.  When the goal for people for the majority of people in their dancing becomes moving up to the next arbitrary box/level/tier in their classes or competitions by doing X, Y, and Z… I think we have a problem.

It’s understandable why this happens, it is much easier to have goals laid out for people in an easily identifiable manner. Figuring out what is important to oneself for dance and then attempting to reach out into the unknown to make that a reality is a seriously difficult endeavor. There is no solitary class you can take to make that happen or an instructor you can pay for in a private lesson to give you that key, it takes some adventure and discovery to go down that path and it is a different experience for each person.

I’m not giving you a formula or magic guide. I’m telling you to find out what “Lindy Hop” is for yourself. Show me something.


Shim Sham Shimmy – At The Orpheum Theatre

Leonard Reed – Picture from Wikipedia

From former Lindy Hop historian Terry Monaghan’s obituary on Leonard Reed,

The dancer, comedian, songwriter and producer Leonard Reed, who has died aged 97, was one of the choreographers of the “Shim Sham” the anthem of jazz dance. When Nat “King” Cole challenged Mel Tormé to a dance contest on his 1950s TV show, inevitably they danced the Shim Sham. As Norma Miller, the Lindy Hopper remarked: “you’re not a jazz dancer if you don’t know the Shim Sham.”

While many of us swing dancers often do a line dance version of this routine, the original version is often attributed to Leonard Reed and Willie Bryant. Wikipedia has this written on the subject,

The Shim Sham routine created by Leonard Reed and Willie Bryant in 1927 uses four popular steps of the period: the Shim Sham, the Pushbeat and Crossover, the Tackie Annie or Tack Annie, and the Half Break. Originally called “Goofus” and done as a comedic farm dance to the song “Turkey in the Straw,” the dance was performed by Leonard Reed and Willie Bryant around the South while they were touring with the Whitman Sisters Troupe. The dance was then taken to the Shim Sham Club in New York, where the farm theme was dropped and chorus girls were added to the dance. The chorus girls further varied the dance by shaking their shoulders while doing the first step, and soon the dance became known as the Shim Sham Shimmy.

 

One of Reed’s last notable performances was at the Orpheum Theatre (June 2, 1999) with quite the interesting cast of characters; Erik Robison and Sylvia Skylar famed 90’s LA Dancers which Robert White goes into a bit of detail about in this article and that Jerry Almonte touches in Part 2 of his Artistry in Rhythm series as well, Rusty Frank a noteable dance historian and preservationist in swing dance and tap, Maxwell De’Mille a longstanding personality in the L.A. Art Deco Society and swing dance community. Hilary Alexander; a judge at ILHC for several years, vocalist featured in Jonathan Stout and His Campus 5, and most known for organizing Camp Hollywood one of the longest running swing dance events, Chester Witmore a famed; stuntman, choreographer, tap dancer, and the list goes on, Chandler Smith a former old school L.A. swing dancer, and last but not least Leonard Reed himself.

This second clip, a demo reel for the (now defunct) Hollywood Jitterbugs features many dancers from the first clip in the Shim Sham. Also it provides a look back in time to certain dancers in the earlier stages of their dancing, who are now movers and shakers of our scene.

The reason I picked this particular performance of the Shim Sham is it is an interesting snapshot of time in the history of Lindy Hop. Some of the people from that clip who used to be internationally renown in the Lindy Hop Community now only come out to dance once in awhile in their respective local scenes.  At the time some of those individuals were newer dancers, now they are respected leaders in our community.  Others were established instructors at the time and can still be found at big events such as Herräng.

This clip shows the natural ebb and flow in our community, however something else is presented as well. One of the main things all these individuals had in common was this man, Leonard Reed. Inspiration is never a force to be underestimated.


Keep it Casual or Bring the Fire? Teaching A Higher Level Class

ILHC describes it as,

You have been dancing long enough with a sufficient level and quality of dancing that you are actually hoping every class will be devoted to taking your swing-out, tearing it apart, and putting it back together again. “Tricks, schmicks, teach me how to dance.”

Jammin’ on the James describes it as,

Dancers taking these workshops should be comfortable picking up new moves and steps fairly quickly, understand how swing music is structured and the concept of creating your dance to the changes in the music. In addition, dancers in the advanced workshop should incorporate good frame and connection in their everyday dancing.

Lindy Focus,

Well to be honest Lindy Focus had so many people acting all uppity about auditions and there is a ton of people at that event. In result they have Levels 3-9 which represent experienced dancers. (Probably the smartest way of handling it to be honest)

It’s the track that everyone tries to get in then complains about anything possible related to it if they don’t make it in, the Higher Level/Advanced class!

We’ve all met and/or have been this guy.

How Fierce Are You To Your Advanced Class?

I was pondering over how in the past I witnessed instructors teach differently or in some cases the same upon changing conditions such as; class size, class level, type of event, and et cetera. One thing that came to mind was the idea of how do instructors change their approach for a class that is advertised to higher level dancers. My search on Yehoodi first rewarded me with this thread from 2004 “How fierce are you to your advanced class?”

The original poster Holiday writes,

I was told by one of my students last week that I’m really scary in my advanced class and she was surprised because I’m so friendly and easy going in my lower level classes. I told her I meant to do that because I really mean business when it comes to who gets into my advanced class. I won’t throw people out, but I won’t make it easy for them to stay either. I don’t teach particularly hard stuff and mostly just mechanics that makes sense. This doesn’t mean that it’s going to be a cake walk or a “just wing it” course either.

Another poster Wexie writes,

I agree with you: Beginner and intermediate classes are supposed to be fun. However, once you get to the advanced level, you can begin to expect more from your students and push them a little bit.

There is a difference between a fun hobby, and a craft. As you begin to get to an advanced level, you are starting to approach what you are doing as a craft. It requires a tad more seriousness, hard work, and discipline to start to take things to the next level. People will never improve unless they are open to criticism. Also, I think it is smart that you are encouraging peer criticism. And there is nothing wrong with saying: When you come to my class, you better bring your game. If you don’t, I’m going to call you out on it.

Lastly Beckto comments,

BUT, having taught dance classes and privates, I have to say there is a difference. Most people who take dance classes (especially beginners) are not pre professional or aspiring professional. They just want to have a little fun and learn something new — a new hobby. I think in that case, it’s good not to take the class or yourself too seriously. Fun is the 1 goal, and dancing is the 2 goal when I teach. As the level of dancer increases, I get more serious. With that said though, I always leave the drive to get better up to the student. So, I don’t demand they practice, for instance (although I will notice if they have and compliment them). With advanced dancers, (I haven’t had the privilege of teaching many truly advanced dancers), I’m very much to the point, and fun is not part of the focus. The fun is more innate.

The common theme I noticed in nearly every post in the thread was the idea of for classes targeted toward newer dancers fun and entertainment should be more of a priority. Whereas in a more advanced class the idea of students should be expected and prepared to be pushed hard in terms of seriousness of the class.

How to have a good Advanced Class …?

Another thread from 2004 titled Spinoff Class Thread: How to have a good Advanced Class…? by a local NYC organizer proposed the question what is an effective way to conduct an advanced class, in which the event the Harlem Jazz Dance Festival advanced class was quoted a few times.

Gardenia writes on the second page,

Basically I reiterate what I’ve said earlier: if you want to improve the advanced dancers in a scene, they have to interact with each other, grow together, and create, invent, and share information in a non-hierarchical way. Information would not be disseminated from one all-knowing source, but shared.

Yehoodi user karaboo writes,

How did the HJDF class go last year? I’ve no idea since I was running around like a maniac the whole time. Is there a way we could make a model like that work for us? With a few pairs of “instructors” guiding the process. They would come in with a few ideas for things to work on and let things evolve from there. It wouldn’t be so much a class about moving fast but about refining and helping one another and asking questions. This might end up being more like a guided practice session and might not require such selectivity as long as it was made clear it was supposed to be for advanced dancers.

Gardenia on the third page writes,

I think it’s way too complicated. Advanced classes should simply be for people who aren’t afraid of getting shredded to pieces. If you’re that serious about the dance, you have to be prepared and accepting of some ego-bruising. I think that may be the mark of a truly advanced dancer. One who can take real criticism and still be standing afterwards.

One of the things that happened in Jenn and Justin’s Master class in Ithaca (which happened almost 2 years ago) was they had people dance, one couple at a time, in front of everyone, and then they criticized what they were doing. There was no sugar-coating. It was brutal at times, but the students took it in stride. And I think, at some point, instructors should be able to be free to take the kid gloves off and say what they really think without getting into trouble. I think at some point, a dancer needs this kind of honesty in order to grow. But we have to give them permission to be so honest, and not punish them when we don’t like what they say.

Lastly Marcelo with some noteworthy insights on the fourth page,

What you need to ensure this is a decent selection process. I like having a preliminary “sorting round” to determine placement. Run the class for a few minutes with everyone, and pay attention to see who’s cutting it and who isn’t. Then just make a cut. The people who don’t get cut are free to sit around and keep watching if they really want to, but you’re going to have to ask them not to rotate. And you’re going to have to deal with the consequences of that decision.

This, I think, may be the crux of your dilemma. You want to have a rigorous selection process, but you don’t want people to hate you or call you an elitist because you didn’t pick them. Unfortunately, you can’t control whether people will hate you. If they do, that’s their problem.

People are ultimately responsible for their own feelings and actions, and if they’re going to get in a tizzy because Nicole didn’t validate their dancing skill and put them in the top class, that’s their damn fault. You didn’t do anything to them – you’re just trying to construct an advanced class – hell, if you let them watch but not rotate you’re not denying them ANYTHING – they still have access, but now the responsibility is on THEM to grok it and keep up, not on YOU to make sure that they’re keeping up.

The two things argued in this thread were if the class should be more of a guided practice session versus a traditional teacher/teachers and students setting and if the class should be auditioned/people should be cut. I noticed a trend however of individuals noting that being able to take harsh criticism was a skill people should have if they want to start taking lessons at an advanced level. Contrasting that were posters who were concerned about not coming off as elitist and bruising egos.

Perspective from Teachers

I had the opportunity to ask some individuals who regularly teach in the swing dance community about this topic and posed this exact question to them,

When teaching advanced classes or classes targeted toward higher level dancers do you change your attitude/methods compared to a beginner level class and if so, how?

Daniel Repsch Lindy/Blues Instructor & DJ,

It’s hard to say exactly because each group is different and so teaching changes from class to class. But I think there is a general difference between the levels.

With beginners most of them aren’t addicted to the dance yet and so I emphasize the fun in the dance and not taking things seriously. With advanced dancers I feel free to push them a little harder and give them things that they’ll struggle more with. This is because I expect them to practice it on the dance floor and eventually be rewarded for the effort.

In terms of methods, I like to make all levels try whatever we’re teaching before I talk about it. I like exercising students’ visual learning and a lot of times they figure out more stuff on their own than I thought they would. In result that cuts down on unnecessary explanation

But for advanced dancers I have a hope that they’ll have a grasp on important modular pieces of the dance. For example; a good tuck, or how to kick step through a turn, or a forward rock, or even different kinds of stretching. I think at the beginner level the goal is more about teaching things that mostly exemplify those modular pieces (and are fun to do besides), rather than the advanced level of applying them in unexpected ways. Otherwise methods of explaining in as few words as possible while hitting visual, audio, and kinesthetic learners is the same.

James Bianco Lindy Hop instructor,

My approach, overall, I try to keep it fun, yet focused. I leave room for rabbit trails, but won’t go down them too far, unless the path is a really good one. That allows for a lively and interactive class. But as far as what I actually teach it’s more like this:

  • Beginner – Here is a cake, and this is how might consider eating it.
  • Intermediate – This is chocolate cake, and there is a cherry on top,  So it might be rich.
  • Advanced – This is, in fact, a chocolate cheesecake, with a toffee – chocolate wafer crust. On top is a light mousse, shavings of dark chocolate, and indeed, a cherry. It will be rich, so you’ll definitely want to consider how you will be eating it and the company you choose to eat it with.

My Two Cents

I’ve mentioned before one of the things I like about the Lindy Hop community is for the most part accepting and welcoming to people. I would argue that it is a major strength of our community. However I would argue one of the problems our community has is we fall into the fallacy this article lists as number one, ostracisers are evil.

Many tests I have been involved with as a participant or even one time as one of the teachers/organizers in charge I have run into comments like this:

  • Those people got in because they were friends with X.
  • I didn’t get in because I danced with X and Y, they made me look bad.

There are countless weekly classes and workshops that cater to beginner and intermediate level dancers. In result I think advanced classes should be for individuals who meet criteria determined by the organizer of the class and it should be a far more serious environment when compared to lower level classes. I actually agree with the sentiment Marcelo posted on the second Yehoodi thread listed above,

Your goal is to teach a -real- advanced class where you have some sort of control over who participates. Your goal is not to make everyone happy and comfortable with themselves. While that’s certainly a good thing to want to do, it is literally a tradeoff. You can’t preserve the integrity of an “advanced” class unless you break some hearts.

There is no real “right” answer to this question over all, each choice will definitely have some ramifications good and bad. While the way I suggest might be great for a bigger scene with a decent portion of solid dancers… for a small scene just starting out this could cause some serious problems.

What are your experiences with good or bad advanced level classes? If you could make an ideal advanced level class how would you have it run? What are some apprehensions of the social ramifications of having an auditioned or invitational only advanced level class? Feel free to leave anything related to this in the comment sections below.


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!


Necessity as a Teacher

Floorcraft, a word that teachers often drop in their intro level lessons and dancers all around the world wish many dancers practiced.

“World of Floorcraft, a mandatory remedial course for those who run into other dancers more then twice in one night due to their own carelessness.”

As a teacher you can explain to leads the “look before you leap” analogy, explain to follows how if they see an incoming collision back-lead the lead to stop, and explain to everybody the social ramifications of being the one lead that throws their follow everywhere/the one follow that throws herself everywhere. Once you are past that, you can make slight suggestions but it is usually up to each person to figure out for themselves how to be polite social dancers and not run themselves or their partners into objects/other people.

The interesting thing I have noticed though is in scenes where dance space is a premium such as New Orleans; floorcraft is much higher on average (among dancers, not muggles non dancing people).

In a post titled “Back in New Orleans” written by Peter Loggins in his blog the Jassdancer he writes about the excitement or peril (depending upon your perspective) of dancing in an average venue on Frenchman St. in NOLA.

“however, the Spotted Cat or DBA , now those are places to learn! Cramped, all tempo’s, mixed rhythms, obnoxious people in the way…yeah! Now we talking!” – Peter Loggins

While I recommend you give the entire post a read, this quote really drills home the point of floorcraft being a necessity this particular scene,

“If you want to learn how to be an exhibition dancer, that’s good for you, but don’t be surprised when a big Jarhead beats the shit out you after you accidentaly kick him. It might be fine to kick each other at dances, studio’s and festivals but in the real world all bets are off….” – Peter Loggins

At an average dance if you have bad floorcraft someone the worst that usually ever happens is someone bad mouths you that night and most people forget it quickly, unless if you make it a habit. On Frenchmen Street the potential costs of bad floorcraft can range from; accidentally kicking a drunk tourist, hitting the trombonist’s slide and likely injuring him, to knocking over the tip jar of a band. These can earn one the penalties of getting the shit beat out of them to being thrown out and/or banned from a venue. A tad more dangerous then the average Lindy Hop event.

What To Do?

At least for myself it seems an obvious conclusion that when there are more costs at hand for making a poor decision, it is something people will be more aware of and spend additional time developing the skills to avoid those penalties.  However to cultivate a good swing dance scene, threatening ones’ students with violence for bad floorcraft is probably not the best idea for retention rates.

As an organizer I attempted to deal with the problem of poor floorcraft mainly when it mattered the most; before our dances with live bands and workshop weekends where we would have large attendance. I would do this by in my own lessons choosing moves that required good floorcraft to pull them off or teaching moves that required minimal room and worked great with little room to dance. I’d also put a notice in announcements that good floorcraft was a good way to be polite to our out-of-town guests.

If your local scene has any particular ways they teach or deal with floorcraft, feel free to post it here!


Dance Education Through Social Feedback Experiment

This past Feburary I had a crazy idea.

Many swing dancers go through this period of desperately wanting to improve, in result many suggestions get thrown their way. One of the more painful suggestions is to videotape and review ones own dancing. At least for myself, even in competitions I have won, watching video of myself is one of the most grating things to do because I am the ultimate “negative nancy” and only see my flaws.

Regardless of the mental anguish watching my own dancing on film caused, I considered it a necessary evil to improving my own dancing abilities. In result, I started filming myself dancing;  afterwards I would review those notes and use it as a tool to decide what in my dancing I needed to practice my focus time on. However I realized some serious drawbacks; I was limited to my own experience of judging visually the quality of a dance and I was limited in my ability to provide suggestions to correct/improve upon problems discovered.

Based on those perceived problems my next idea was to add more people to the process. What resulted was using crowdsourcing to obtain constructive feedback for my dancing. An assortment of opinions from varied members of the swing dance community was more likely to yield effective material to work on then just myself. Just like many other questions I have had related for the swing dance community, I took it to the swing dance messageboard/website Yehoodi in a topic labeled, “Dance Education Through Social Feedback Experiment

Yehoodi is a community of folks from around the world that are passionate about lindy hop, swing dancing and swing jazz.

The Experiment

Framework for the experiment was simple. I would post a video of myself social dancing with a partner; after the video was posted I would open the floor for commentary/suggestions to be posted about that week’s dancing. After the allotted time had passed, I would post goals based on what people had posted and then after a period of time post another video of myself social dancing to show the progress I had made. After that the cycle would begin anew.

Unfortunately due to some circumstances I only got to run the experiment for four weeks. However, I think I had amazing results in the small amount of time it ran for. After the experiment I felt much more confident in my dancing and managed to make finals and be in the top five of the intermediate J&J at Boston Tea Party.

While I did gain a lot from this experiment, there were some difficulties.

  • The first was being able to determine which suggestions/constructive criticism had a solid basis. The beauty and difficulty of dealing with Yehoodi is anyone can post on there. This means the individuals offering me this advice could be anyone from an international instructor to joe-schmo who only dances East Coast Swing to rockabilly music. My method of dealing with was keeping an open mind and using what I knew about each poster to determine how trustworthy of a source they were.
  • Second was simply recording myself at a social dance on a near weekly basis. Having another person available to dance with at a certain day every week, remembering the camera, getting someone to give up social dance time to film, and said camera having batteries that were not dead. Having that all add up perfectly was surprisingly difficult at times.
  • Lastly was getting comfortable with the idea of posting my dancing on an internet forum for people to judge. I consider myself to be quite like a honey badger and I have had videos of myself in competitions posted on youtube in the past. However, the idea of only myself on video that people I knew and strangers were going to pick apart still took a bit to warm up to.

Observations

If a reader of this article was wondering if an experiment like this would be beneficial to them, I think it would produce great returns given that they have a thick skin and they have been dancing a decent amount of time.  If a person doesn’t take criticism well or is very sensitive about their dancing a private lesson or feedback from trusted friends would probably be a more appropriate avenue to take. Newer dancers are likely to lack the context to determine if advice is well founded or completely off the wall.

The one way this experiment could be  improved is by limiting the individuals who give feedback to dancers who are respected “experts” in the field. Which in my opinion is currently being done by Dax & Sarah’s Swing 90x program. From what I have read on the blog posts required for the program and from talking to someone who is in it, they are getting at minimum quadruple results of my little experiment.

Acknowledgements

I’d like to thank:

  • Yehoodi posters; Capt Morgan, Glen, NoNameJive, Toon Town Dave, Brooksie, Hounddog, Zenin, alexcloutier, Random, bryn for providing feedback on the Yehoodi thread.
  • The Yehoodi Talk Show for mentioning the topic and giving some great advice.
  • The follow who wishes to be unnamed that let me dance with her on film.