Fundamental disagreements

I’m part of a very good facebook group about teaching lindy hop and swing dance, and there was a recent question about ‘heavy’ following, which referenced this 2010 article of Bobby White’s.
My first response was this:

One day someone will write an article about the heavy/light lead, and we’ll get to argue about whether or not it’s too do with men’s physical weight, physics, or their just not being a very good dancer.

…i’m sorry to be so snarky in such a friendly forum, but honestly. This discussion tires and depresses me.

While Bobby has updated his post with a little disclaimer, his post still circulates in the lindy hop community, frequently touted as an important or useful source of information. Me, I think it’s total rubbish. Questions about ‘heavy follows’ are rooted in a fundamentally unhelpful and flawed understanding of partner dancing. It is, as I’ve ranted elsewhere, based on the assumption that lindy hop is about successfully completing a series of moves. Leading them ‘well’ and following them ‘well’ for a ‘good dance’. In this context, if you can’t perfectly ‘follow’ the lead’s leading, you are a ‘bad follow’. This sort of thinking leads to nights where follows stand around the dance floor moaning that there are ‘no leads’, when there are in fact plenty of leads, it’s just that they are looking for leads who can set out a perfect sequence of moves for them to complete. It’s the sort of thinking that leads to women competing with each other for dances with particular men (yes, women do actually queue up around the edges of the dance floor), with big-headed leads convinced that they are the fucking business because they have these queues. It leads to the myth that we have a ‘lead shortage’ or, worse, ‘too many follows’, which in turn leads to bullshit registration deals for events, where leads receive cheaper registrations, or more flexible registration deadlines.

If you’ve read any of my posts before, you’ll know that I’ve really moved away from this idea of leading and following. If we stop thinking of a ‘good dance’ as a sequence of moves perfectly executed, then we can start thinking about a ‘good dance’ as one where we have just two rules: take care of the music, take care of your partner.

More importantly:

The term ‘heavy follow’ is profoundly sexist, places the power in the lead-follow dynamic firmly with the lead (who is usually male), and prioritises moving across the floor, performing a sequence of inflexible moves ‘perfectly’.

I think it’s fucked up, and I refuse to accept it as in any way legit.

But I think my immediate response to the post (which I’ve quoted above) wasn’t productive in this particular group, where the values we espouse in our jazz-centred dancing carry on into a discussion based on kindness, mutual respect, and listening to one another. So I apologised.

I did write a long comment in response, but when you find your comment is too long to fit in one comment on facebook, you know it’s time to write a blog post.

Interestingly, it seems Anaïs was writing a response at the exact same time I was. A post which sets out many of my own values, but in a much more gentle, productive way. Anaïs Sékiné’s lovely post about leading and following and dance as collaboration, is a nice alternative to the ‘heavy’ follow paradigm. I recommend reading it. It’s full of good feels.

But here is the long comment I wrote on facebook, but didn’t manage to post:

I don’t accept the premise of the ‘heavy’ or ‘slow’ follow.
I think it encourages a focus on moves-based dancing, rather than rhythm-based dancing. I also think it makes us focus on moving across the floor and executing moves perfectly, rather than listening to the music and connecting with another human being.

I’ve been thinking about my own dancing a lot lately, as I’ve done a few very useful and interesting workshops this year (Herräng most recently, but also the Little Big Weekend in May with Jenny and Rikard, and Snowball classes in December 2015). These, and the work I did last year, as well as lots of interesting talk in that facebook teaching group, and with my co-teachers, have been really inspiring. My general focus has been on simple shapes and solid rhythms, and is connected by the content and focus of the Frankie and Harlem Roots streams at Herräng in 2014 and 2015. I’ve also been inspired by Lennart Westerlund’s approach to teaching and learning.

Thinking about my own dancing hasn’t just been about getting my shit together (ongoing project, right?). It’s also about improving my dancing and understanding of what I do so that I can be a better teacher. And this in turn helps me improve my own dancing. I see my own limitations reflected in my teaching and hence in my students’ dancing: I’ve been thinking about how to dance faster, more relaxed, and with interesting rhythms at all tempos.

RE the swing out in particular, and how to make it work if one partner isn’t moving as fast as needed.
As a lead, my first response would be to change my plans. I don’t need a swing out to be a 360* turn. It can be 180* or 90* or any old degrees, fitting into the space on the floor, working with my partner, and the music.
I think this is the most important thing: leads need to work more actively with their partner. This is why I think we need to talk about ‘active leads’ rather than ‘active follows’: leads need to be able to change their swing outs and respond to what’s happening with their partner. Not just get cranky if a follow is ‘too slow’ to make the lead’s preferred swing out ‘work’.
1) Teaching translation: we say that to our beginners in week 1: You don’t have to have rules about the angle you cover. Just aim to be open, in closed, then in open. They immediately stress less.

My second response would be: am I asking the follow to move too far? My current bugbear is leads who ask the follow to go three million miles away in open, but still somehow run in and get around 360*, all at a million bpm. With this sort of swing out, the follows end up super fast and strong (in their bodies), but also more likely to send themselves miles away from their partners. So you get a kind of flattened out rhythm, where the emphasis is on horizontal movement across the floor, rather than a more nuanced rhythm-as-movement using different planes. I also see a lack of good, relaxed, swinging timing. There’s a lot of rushing, with a rhythmic emphasis on the extremes of the move – 3 and 4 in closed, and 7-8 in open. This emphasis often starts to look like a ‘dead spot’ where there’s a hold in the rhythm. Which is totally ok, but begins to ignore the music if it happens on every swing out.

So I fix this by staying closer to my partner, at all points of the swing out (closed and open). Rhythmically: I don’t go flat when the follow is in open – the rhythm I keep provides the timing for how long a follow should be traveling. And time = distance here.
2) Teaching translation: look at your partner; keep dancing leads, don’t stop when the follow goes into open. Don’t think of the rhythm as sets of 8, but as a continuous rhythm with the music.

My third and most important response: am I hauling arse? If a lead stands on the spot and asks the follow to do all the moving, then it’s twice as hard as it needs to be. If a lead steps up and moves their bodies, then the follow needs to cover half as much distance. If you stay closer together, then you can halve that distance again. And this means you have more time in the music for fun.
As a lead: I need step up and haul arse. I really need to hustle.
3) Teaching translation: leads, haul arse. Move your body. Do not let the rhythm drop. Everyone learns a new rhythm on their own first. Everyone has to carry the groove; it’s a shared rhythm. (all this keeps bodies active)

My fourth response: how am I oriented to my partner?
This is my current issue. I am trying to aim for a 3/4 profile for my partner. I describe this as the ‘perfect instagram selfie pose’ to our students: you want a 3/4 profile, and you want your weight on one foot, rather than split. If your butt’s out, then you are immediately ready to rumble. Or leap out from the blocks and beat Usain Bolt.
I am trying to stop myself ‘squaring up’ to my partner, because it’s inefficient, and makes it harder to recruit the bigger muscles that help me haul arse. It also lets your arms relax, and encourages an efficient weight change. A squared up profile is harder (this is 100% Rikard teaching btw).
4) Teaching Translation: 3/4 instagram perfect profile.

Fifth: I also try to be more ‘alert’ in my connection when we get into open. This is helped by having that 3/4 profile.
I use that triple step at the end of a swing out or move to say ‘Hello, I am ending the swing out earlier, I think, so please listen to see what happens next – we can choose something else to do.’
If I just go ‘dead’ or ‘limp’ in my arm as the follow gets out (at about 6), then the follow feels no signal, so they often just continue that last message or momentum I suggested. I’m not talking about ‘tension’ or any of that stuff – I’m talking about facing my partner, about moving my body, etc.
5) Teaching translation: leads, don’t let that rhythm or groove drop. Both partners – watch them move away from you, and be ready. Because you don’t know what jazz they’ll bring (a practical beginner exercise is just having them do a call and response jazz step – so as they move into open, one does a jazz step, and the other echoes it for 8 counts – they naturally have to watch each other, and stay closer together).

Sixth: out with the butts.
The other thing that’s important (when I’m following), is to not send myself so far away from my partner, and to check my posture. We’ve been talking to our intermediates about this – ‘out with the butts’ as eWa says. If you have your butt out, as a follow (but not sitting down into the shape), and you come out of a swing out sideways (ie the lead lets go earlier and doesn’t ‘steer’ the follow out with their left arm), then you are more engaged in your glutes, etc, and in a more athletic posture that helps you respond faster, or move faster, or just plain bring the shit.
Out with the butts is very important coming out of a swing out for follows. It stops them leading groin first (which makes it harder to balance or control yourself).
6) Teaching translation: out with the butts. Practical exercise: anything Frankie related.

Seventh: feel the love.
Asa and Daniel were crapping on about this in Herräng: get closer to your partner in closed. Treat it like an embrace. So they didn’t do this squaring up thing where the follows grip the lead’s bicep and clamp the lead’s right arm with their elbow. Instead they moved closer together. Learning from so many first gen revivalists in the Harlem Roots stream at Herräng stream, two things were made very clear: closed position is much closer (in a v-shape, where the follow’s arm can be further around the lead’s shoulder, and the lead’s arm further around the follow’s back). This embrace makes it easier to feel what your partner is doing with their body, too.
The second thing: follows are much more likely to do stuff like just go into open if they were sick of closed. Catrine, eWa, Asa – all those Swedes who worked with Frankie. None of them were worried about ‘backleading’ or ‘hijacking’. If they didn’t like a move, they just didn’t do it. And their leads were all 100% ok with this – they just saw it as normal. This signalled a fundamental shift in lindy hop ideology in the mid 2000s in America in particular: lindy hop follows stopped seeing this ‘just don’t do it’ as ok. They saw their goal as ‘follow perfectly’. To me, this is the most important point, the absolute total point of all this: FOLLOWS DON’T HAVE TO AIM TO ‘FOLLOW PERFECTLY’. Being a ‘good follow’ doesn’t mean ‘do exactly what the lead asks, perfectly and quickly.’ Being a ‘good follow’ means ‘go with your feels.’ Trust yoself.
7) Teaching Translation: when you’re in closed, check in with how you’re touching your partner. Ask them if this is ok. Remember that the way you touch your partner sends them information (eg the claw of panic from follows; the floating weirdo right hand from leads). If it doesn’t feel ok, tell your partner.

For me, these things have made lindy hop much easier: don’t move so far from my partner; feel the love in the embrace; out with the butts; perfect instagram selfie pose; take more time to feel the groove before you start dancing; clear rhythms.

Just in the few weeks since we’ve been back from Herräng and focussing on these things, we’ve seen massive changes in our students’ dancing. They can dance much faster, and have greater freedom to improvise.

I don’t worry about ‘follows being heavy’ because it’s simply not an issue. I don’t even recognise it as a thing.
I do worry much, much more about leads who don’t haul arse. I think the lazy arse lead is a much bigger issue than the ‘heavy’ or ‘slow’ follow. I also get very cranky about leads who never look at their follows: it makes for bad connection, bad vibes, and dancing that focuses on horizontal momentum rather than good solid rhythms, polyrhythms, and call and response. ie jazz.

…having said that, if a lead is physically slower or older or infirm or fragile (as with our lovely Extremely Elderly student), then hauling arse isn’t the issue. He has mad rhythm skills (tap dancer!), so the follows have to figure out how to make this work with him. Much more important skill set.

As Anaïs says in her gorgeous post,

Lindy hopping is about sharing through dancing and through jazz. That’s our common language. The rest is up to each and everyone of us.

As Lennart says,

…it is a very simple dance

As one of our beginners said in their first class

A swing out is when you are together and then you are away from each other.

And that’s it.

There is always something you can do, and always a chance to say something.

I was having a conversation with some friends the other day about why I’m so fucking fierce about stamping out sexual harassment and assault. Or rather, why I continue kicking up shit and being a pain in the arse. Even when it’s scary to confront famous, powerful organisers and dancers. Even when the consequences for me mean losing DJing gigs or teaching gigs or other real world stuff.

I think about those stories my women friends tell about being assaulted by Steven Mitchell over many years, as girls and then as adults. Other dancers who knew Steven Mitchell often say, “I didn’t know what he was doing,” or “I was never in a position to say something,” or “I didn’t have a chance to do anything.” The girls telling their stories say, “You had so many chances. There were so many times when you could have done something, I was begging you, silently, to step in and help me. And you didn’t.”

And as I was talking to my friends the other day, I said:

I think about that. That those girls say there were times we could have helped them. But we didn’t. I think about how we might have been standing about after a dance, talking and laughing, and one of us offered that girl a ride home. But Mitchell interjected, “Oh, it’s on my way – I’ll take her with me.” And we just accepted that, because she didn’t object. It seemed like a sensible solution, we might even have thought that he was a nice guy for keeping an eye on younger dancers.
I think about that girl. Not saying anything. Not objecting. But silently wishing, praying one of us would reply, “Nah, Steven, it’s cool – us girls are gonna hang.” It would have been that easy. But we didn’t. I can imagine her panic and dread as the conversation continued, and she knew she was going to have to get into a car with him. Go home with him. And she wanted, desperately to say something. But she was too afraid. And she can’t understand why no one does anything. Never does anything, each time there’s a chance.

I think about her terror. I think about how often those ‘chances to do something’ happened, but we didn’t do anything.

When I was telling my friends this imaginary story (this is an imaginary story), I teared up, and I got so full of rage and sadness and fury. I could have done something. We could all have done something. There were so many times we could have done something. We can do something. Now.

This is why I don’t just sit back and let other people deal with these issues. This is why I make myself be brave enough to challenge teachers who do dodgy things. This is why I demand events address safety and talk about sexual assault. Because of that girl. Those girls, who are trapped and desperate for us to take all these opportunities to do something to help. It might make me nervous to speak up. It might make me scared. But it does not in any way compare to the way those girls are feeling. My fear is nothing like theirs.

That’s why I keep being a goddamm pain in the fucking arse. Because there are plenty of chances to speak up, to do something, and if you don’t, you are just letting those girls get in that car to be raped and hurt and terrified. When you could have just said one small thing.

It’s ok to say no; be ok with people saying no to you.

Hey, you can just say no to an invitation to a dance. “No thank you, but thanks for asking,” is a nice response. You don’t need to give anyone a reason or excuse. Sometimes a lindy hopper just don’t want to dance.

You can also be ok with someone saying “No thank you,” to your dance invite. Just smile and say “No wuckers,” then find someone else to dance with. If you get a couple of knock-backs in a row maybe check people’s body language before you ask?

Also: sometimes people just don’t want to dance with you. Be ok with that. If you practice being ok with that, you’re actively undoing the bullshit power dynamics that make women feel they have to dance with rough, creepy, or just plain nasty people. You’re being totally awesome.

Co-DJing in Herräng

I don’t often co-DJ, but when I do, I choose the finest woman DJ the Netherlands have to offer. Superheidi is a most excellent DJ and good DJ buddy, and this set was excellent fun. Note how we problem solve together, we drink tea together, we brag about our full floors together. Huzzah!

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djing

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[edit: photo credits to Superheidi, who made DJ Anton take the photos. DJ team win.]

Team DJ Herräng 2016

Once again, I’m writing a post that’s meant to be short, but will no doubt be enormous.

This summer I was a staff DJ at Herräng Dance Camp for week 3 of the 5 week camp. You can read about Herräng in this post.

djing in herrang 2016
Me DJing Thursday in week 3, with a massively crowded floor.

Herräng uses staff DJs and volunteer/guest DJs for music each night on its three (or occasionally more) dance floors. There are also unofficial official staff DJs who provide music for the special themed Midnight Ramble parties in the library. Staff DJs are provided with a pretty good renumeration package (which I can’t go into online because confidentiality, but can discuss in person), and guest DJs are given free entry to the night they DJ.

Staff DJs’ duties include:

  • Regular meetings about DJing;
  • DJing every night for 7 days, at any time between 10pm and 11am the following day;
  • DJing in blocks of at least 2 hours at a time;
  • DJing to the Herräng music brief;
  • Being available for other themed or special sets (eg early RnB, shared sets, competitions, taxi dances, shows, band breaks, afternoon dances, etc);
  • DJing for lindy hop, balboa, slow drag, boogie woogie and solo dance.

And usually a few other random things are expected of you (eg dropping in to meetings or talks about DJing and music, mentoring or riding shot gun on newer DJs’ sets, being ‘around’ and participating in camp life).

All of this is most excellent fun, very fulfilling, but quite tiring. It is definitely a full time job. And the role requires professionalism (being on time, having all the gear, being good to work with), practical skills (knowing how to work a mixing desk, how to DJ comps or special dances, mic skills, can keep the floor not only full but exciting and interesting for several hours), and a solid musical collection.
All the DJs I’ve worked with at Herräng have extensive music collections (far beyond the lindy hopping ‘favourites’), and devote hours each week to preparing sets and making sure they have an idea of what they might play. This preparation is a continual response to what’s happening in camp, the music they hear each night, the bands playing each night, and the general mood or vibe of the event.
And all the staff DJs also have a creative instinct that makes them suggest ideas for special sets, shared sets, or just general party ideas.

Volunteer or Guest DJs have a different job.
They are booked on a per-set basis, doing one set at a time, usually for one to two hours only, and may not be asked to DJ again during their stay. They must also play to the Herräng music brief, and submit previous set lists. The usual professionalism and practical skills are required. Most of the guest DJs are also then recommended or vetted by an experienced DJ or dancer.
Basically, you can’t just walk in and ask to DJ then score a spot. This is as per normal for any large, reputable event.

The Midnight Ramble DJs have a different role again. They usually have very specialised collections and/or skill sets. eg they may DJ an early RnB set, a latin set, or a slow drag set. This means that they have extensive collections of these types of music, and special skills. They’re often DJs who use vinyl or shellac, and are vastly experienced, working with the particular demands of this themed room/party.

All Herräng DJs are managed by the DJ managers. This year and last, the managerial role was shared by two very experienced DJs who also have a lot of experience with Herräng. This year we were lucky enough to have Meghan Gilmore (Canada) and Jonas Larsson (Sweden) as our managers.
Each day the managers liaise with the various stage managers, event managers, and other Herräng staff to put together a program of DJed music on three (or more) dance floors that begins at 10pm and can end as late as the first class in the folkletshus ballroom (ie 11am or later). This program juggles live performances by bands and other acts, the evening meeting, the demands of particular parties (eg Midnight Rambles, the beginner hour, balboa nights and so on), and each DJs’ skills, preferences, and workload. There are frequently last minute changes to the program, and both managers and DJs need to be able to respond enthusiastically, calmly, and competently to changes.

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Meghan Gilmore, DJ boss.
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Jonas Larsson, DJ boss.

Meghan and Jonas were the best DJ managers I’ve ever worked with, in ten years of DJing. They were calm, professional, and very excellent company. They know HEAPS about music, are very experienced DJs, and were just wonderful to work with. I felt that they really had my back and were supporting me at all times. Even when my laptop died on day 1 of my contract, they were right there holding my hand. Or at least sending me comforting fb messages. They also knew how to lead, and how to put the breaks on madcap schemes that were a little too madcap. DJs can be quite headstrong and a little too sure of themselves (and their schemes) sometimes, and both Meghan and Jonas were very good at curbing in some of the less sensible scheming. Which I think is very important. I want to know my DJ managers have limits and a clear sense of what they want, and what is achievable, so that I can just go ahead and be full-on DJ nut, knowing they’ll say No when No needs to be said.

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Week 3 Staff DJs, from left to right: Jonas Olsson (Denmark), Jonas Larsson (Sweden), Anton Cervin (Sweden), Meghan Gilmore (Canada), International DJ Sam carroll, Heidi van der Wijk (Netherlands).

Meghan and Jonas also put quite a bit of work into developing a sense of team camaraderie. They provided a comfortable office close to other Herräng staff offices, so that we could both have a place to store our stuff and work quietly, and also meet and mix with other staff. We found our office was often a popular place for unofficial catch-ups and socialising by other staff. Not as rowdy as other offices, not as full-on as other offices. The fact that there was always a stack of records or someone wanting an opinion on a particular song was only a bonus for camp where pretty much everyone is music obsessed.
We also had a couple of organised dinners and DJ-friendly parties/catch ups, which were very nice. I found that this team of DJs gelled particularly well. I adore them all, and I miss them SO much. I loved their music, I loved their commitment to DJing, but I also really liked their ‘let’s have FUN!’ approach to dancing and DJing. And they made me laugh like a fool, so many times. Having a good, solid team of buddies around me really made the long hours and challenges of staff DJing easier. And I learnt a LOT about music and DJing from them all. It was really lovely to be part of this group.

This year the DJing at Herräng was particularly good. Jonas and Meghan had worked hard to find DJs beyond the usual subjects. They found DJs from all over the world, who were both excellent DJs, and had excellent taste in music. And, incidentally, they had gender parity in weeks 2,3,4, and 5 of the 6 weeks of the camp. This is very unusual in the lindy hopping world, and the consequences were very interesting. Things I thought this gave us, as dancers:

    • A wider range of DJs, people I’d never heard before, and who had interesting, new ways of thinking about DJing;
    • A wider range of DJing styles and musical collections;
    • Better music for dancing;
    • A much more interesting and fun working environment: this wasn’t a DJ Bro team. It was a diverse, interesting group of people who worked fucking hard, valued great music, but could work a crowd like fucking ROCKstars;
        As a whole, two of the clearer consequences were crowded, crazy dance floors, and crowds who stayed up much later dancing. As a DJ and dancer, I found myself spending more time hanging around the DJ booth listening to the DJs who were working, or sitting next to them listening to them work. It was very exciting, and the BEST fun.

Who was on staff in Herräng this year?
Week 1:
Ralph Hueur(Boogie) [Germany], Felix Berghäll (Boogie) [Sweden], Philippe Crompton-Roberts [Hong Kong], Jon Tigert [USA]
Week 2:
Christina Loukaki [Greece], Jon Tigert [USA], Arnas Razgūnas [Lithuania], Leru [ Russia/China],
Week 3:
Sam Carroll [Australia], Heidi Van Der Wijk [ Netherlands], Anton Cervin [Sweden], Jonas Olsson [Denmark]
Week 4:
Birkley Wisniewski [Canada], Helena Martins [Brazil], Laura Spencer [USA/Germany], Dan Repsch [USA]
Week 5:
Kris Bauwens [Belgium], Susanne Kenross [Sweden], Haerim Kim [South Korea], Sage Min [ South Korea]
Featured Guest DJs:
Frida Häggström (week 1 to 5), Big Papa Mac (week 1 to 3), Natty Bo (July 20 and 21), Stephan Wuthe (week 3 and 5)

Guest/volunteer DJs included:
Arnas, Pontus ?, Philippe, Jonas Olsson, Sam Carroll, Alexey Kazannov, Felix, Miroslav Mironov, James Pack, Olov ?, Vasily Muravyev, Olga Moiseeva, Jon Tigert, Nathan ?, Skye Humphries, Gaston Fernandez, Veit, Rasmus, Daphna Harel, Soo chan Lee, Leo Newman, Ramona Staffeld, Ingrid ?, Naomi Uyama.
As you can see, some of the staff DJs also did some volunteer DJing. For me, it was in week 2 so I could get rid of some nerves and settle down to DJing. People like Jon T just have mad skills and love DJing. People like Olga are THE BEST.

I have to pause and rave about a couple of those volunteer DJs. Olga Moiseeva from Moscow (now based in Brussells). WOW. Just the best. She has mad skills. And has also been a key player in Moscow becoming the historically grounded, fun-centred lindy hop scene it is today. Vasily Muravyev, also Russian, still based in Moscow, has been one of those people who DJs regularly at home, and SHOULD have been DJing at bigger events like Herräng, but just needed a bit of a push to get into it. Gaston is of course, an experienced, fantastic DJ, and one of my favourites. Other DJs in this list did some lovely work too. I didn’t hear any shithouse DJing. Which is a testament to Meghan and Jonas’ hard work and carefully vetting of DJs.

But my favourite was Naomi Uyama. Yes. That Naomi. Sure, she’s a grand lindy hopper. We know that. I reviewed her band’s first album in this post and did a follow up post here.
It should surprise no one that such a talented band leader is also a fantastic DJ. But, having said that, there are a few band leaders who are also DJs, but not terribly awesome DJs.
What made her so good? 1) Song choices. Familiar, unusual, all awesome, 2) The way she put them together.
Shit. She is just such a fucking great DJ.

In sum, my picks for a superhot DJ team from Herräng’s guest DJ team would include Olga, Naomi, Frida Häggström, Vasily, and probably John Tigert. John is an interesting one, as at first glance he seems a bit of a cowboy, prone to showing off. But I’ve found over the last couple of years that I’ve ended up sitting next to him while he DJs a few times. Because he’s such a thoughtful, inspired DJ. He kind of settles into the job, focussing on the dancers, with a really good feel for what they feel, and then making good, solid, creative songs choices to work with those feels. Frida is kind of intimidating, as she’s quite reserved, but you shouldn’t let that stop you getting to know her, and her DJing. She can basically do anything. Anything old, and anything fucking GOOD. I once danced like a crazy fool to a 20s dance band set she did in the library. Not something I’d usually dig, but mate. She has SKILLS. And an unparalleled collection. Get to know her, and get to know her collection: she is A1.
I’d also make sure you had Arnas from Lithuania on that team. He’s fun, and he makes a very good coffee. He’s also a skilled DJ, who is prone to DJ cowboyism. But it always pays off.

I could go on and on and on about the DJs from Herräng this year that I loved. Heidi from Rotterdam: what a fucking gun. Tireless, fearless, fierce. Excellent. Anton and Jonas, Jonas and Meghan. Really, the very best.

Such most excellent fun. Did enjoy. Would do again.

What is the Herräng dance camp?

I’m just back from two weeks at the Herräng Dance Camp in Sweden.

Just in case you didn’t know, the Herräng dance camp runs for 5 weeks in a little town in Sweden called Herräng. Herräng focuses

on the American vernacular swing dance tradition.

That means all the dancing and music in the program (and around camp for the most part) is jazz. African American Jazz. This definition stretches a little for dances like balboa, but African dances, hip hop, various latin dances, and other fun stuff squeeze in as well. So this really is a camp devoted to dance and music of the African diaspora, with emphasis on the jazz and swing eras.

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(Tamara Pinco takes a weekly photo like this.)

When we say ‘camp’, we’re not talking a school camp where you sleep in dorms or cabins, or a tents-and-firepit camp. We’re talking about a whole range of accommodation (from private houses to dorms, tents, shared rooms, and caravans).

general accomodation in herrang
General accommodation in the gym.

The camp itself is huge, spreading across the town’s folkets hus, dansbana, school, sporting ground, marina, shop, private homes and roads, local forest, and camp grounds. Dancers are fed in a bar, ice cream parlour, and cafe (all run and produced by the camp), and a number of other local food outlets. The classes are taught on the two dance floors, and then in a series of huge marques.

ICP in Herrang
The I.C.P., or ice cream parlour
Herrang class tent
Another Tamara Pinco photo, this time of the Savoy Ballroom class marque in Herrang.

Herräng employs around 150 staff each week, and sees between 700 and >1000 campers per week. But you never really ever spend time with 1000 people at once, as there simply isn’t anywhere big enough in camp to hold us all. My usual Herräng experience is with a handful, a classful, or a dancefloor full of people.

There are 7 departments within the administration, and the camp board includes three famous dancers (Frida Segardahl, Lennart Westerlund, and Daniel Heedman).

REception staff in HErrang
Reception staff in Herrang, as photographed by Tamara Pinco.

Herräng hires 77 top shelf dance teachers, about 10 formal bands (and zillions of jam session groups), around 26 staff DJs (about 5 or 6 working 7 days per week on 3 dance floors 10pm-10am), and ~24 guest/volunteer DJs each year.

staff djs at herrang
The week 3 staff DJs, including me :D

There are full time carpenters, laundry staff, doctors, chefs, cleaners, IT workers, staff managers, bike shop staff, retail, and retail staff. It really is a little town that’s alive for about 8 weeks of the year.

Herrang no-no box
Rugged masculinity in the no-no box (where stuff gets built).
Bike shop at herrang.
Bike shop at Herrang.
The Herrang laundry
The Herrang laundry.
Bar Bedlam Herrang
Lovely Bar Bedlam kitchen staff. At 5am.

There is a program of dance classes over a 7 day period, and all night social dancing over 3 dance floors with DJs and live music. The entertainment program also includes educational library talks and panel discussions, film screenings, cultural activities on the Wednesday morning and afternoon, and free evening classes in all sorts of things.

Kinda Dukish in Herrang
Kinda Dukish band from Germany in the dans banan.
Folketshus herrang
Folketshus at Herrang (again photo by Tamara Pinco, probably)

It is truly a prodigious event, the largest in the world, and one with the most consistent reputation for presenting high quality music and dance in the historic jazz and swing tradition. It’s also know for being somewhat hedonistic and a little chaotic.

It has much in common with a european summer camp, but no doubt owes much of its longevity (and development) to the role of shared common spaces in socialist democratic Sweden. The Herräng camp perhaps would not ever have begun without the town’s folklets hus and dansbana. It has also always prioritised the involvement of old time dancers from the 20s-50s. This connection with history, as well as the 24-hour program of ‘semi-surrealistic’ events have secured it respect in the modern lindy hopping world.

I like it because it’s mad fun. I can work super hard on dancing, or I can sit about in the sun making friends and talking shit. I can stay up all night social dancing, or I can live a sensible diurnal lifestyle. The music is fantastic, I get to see a truly diverse range of the very best lindy hop, jazz, tap, etc dancing, and I get to spend time with people from all over the world. It’s the combination of diversity and quality that brings me back. I enjoy not knowing what will happen each day. I love it that I can be rowing into a misty lake in the middle of the night to look at a friend’s bunkbed accommodation on a floating pontoon in the middle of the water. Or dancing with a 10 year old to Count Basie at 2pm at a tea party. Or learning the Russian word for hello at a communal dinner table.

BUT
not everyone loves Herräng. If you’re the sort of person who prefers a hotel style event, where you are told what to do, where to go, and how to do it for every minute of the day, you’ll find Herräng’s more casual approach maddening. I have noticed that Americans and Australians who prefer a more rigidly hierarchical event with clear bosses and ‘cool people’ struggle with the more complex power dynamics of Herräng. Shit regularly goes wrong in Herräng, from you getting lost at 1am looking for your bed, to teachers not turning up for classes. There’s a chance you’ll pick up a heavy cold, or hate the food. And the dry humour of the daily evening meeting might not work if you have a more (excuse me for this) ‘American’ sense of humour.

Heaven's kitchen menuboard in herrang
Heaven’s Kitchen menu board.

As an example, this sort of sign outside the main eating area would drive you mad if you wanted to know exactly what was on the menu. But I enjoy it.

It can also be a struggle if you’re used to traveling in a pack of your friends from home. Herräng invites you to meet new people, and make new friends. Shared dinner tables and communal living are clear markers of that socialist-democracy I mentioned. And if you’re into individualism and strict rules about what belongs to whom, you’ll get shitty when you see your dress end up in lost property, then turn up on stage in an evening meeting performance. Herräng definitely has rules, a hierarchy, and very clear power structure. It’s just not as clear as at an Australian or American event. And I like that. I like that it’s assumed I’ll find my own bed, make my own friends, and enjoy sharing a table. I really enjoy meeting lots of people, and I quite like the mad, unexpected things that happen.

My next post is about being a DJ at Herräng.

Herrang: wrack and ruin

Physical duress:

    Week 2:
  • first case of Herrang flu (including head aches, fever, voice loss, cough, sore throat, snot, nausea)
    Week 3:
  • second case of Herrang flu (as above)
  • sudden onset of menstruation during week of DJing. Of course.
  • loss of hearing, voice, stamina, and brain due to Herrang flu

Emotional duress:

  • Left both my passports on the plane as I arrived in Seoul (the first of six legs in an international journey);
  • Accommodation for second city in series of four cancelled while in aeroplane, leaving only a couple of hours to book new accommodation while in in transit. This was achieved;
  • Discovered travel agent had not booked baggage allowance for third leg of international journey. Paid a frightening amount for luggage allowance;
  • Herrang flu led to development of serious snoring which led to eviction from accommodation in Herrang. Self esteem devastated, but alternative accommodation secured;

Professional duress:

  • Laptop actually broke inside. Discovered this two hours before first set in seven day week as staff DJ scheduled to begin;
  • Couldn’t DJ for two of the seven days I was hired for;
  • Couldn’t prepare for DJing for two of the seven days I was hired for;
  • Kendra, IT support queen, headed off a case of DJ panic with some wonderful support and practical testing. Goddess bless Kendra in staff coordination;
  • Hard drive salvaged by Brad, head of limo services;
  • New hard drive case fetched from Halstavik (goddess bless the limo service, most especially Brad, Ben, and the nice guy with dreds), but it turned out to be the not-quite-right-type. Still worked;
  • Lost my Australia-Sweden plug adaptor thingy. Australian power cable for laptop and phone therefore useless;
  • Borrowed a macbook air to run my laptop’s hard drive as an external hard drive. All good until I realised mid-way through the week that it was resetting all my trackpad preferences each time I shut it down and rebooted from the external hard drive. This resulted in a number of very high profile, very embarrassing double clicks while DJing to a massively crowded room of dancers;
  • Discovered the UK-Sweden power board adaptor thingy I was using with the UK-plug borrowed laptop was faulty. Had to borrow power cable from different DJ each night. Forgot on one particularly memorable night;
  • Second round of Herrang flu during week as staff DJ = lack of late night DJing stamina from me;
  • Somehow manage to bend prong of headphone jack on (only pair of) headphones, so that it no longer works with laptops;
  • Second round of Herrang flu resulted in complete loss of hearing in one ear on flight home.

I think perhaps Herrang is sending me a message: is it time to stop DJing?

Note:
People who saved my arse during all these dramas include Dave, Australian IT support; Kendra for diagnosing my laptop’s problem; Kendra’s friend in the USA who assisted in diagnosis; Phillipe, who leant me the macbook air; Brad in limo services for rebuilding my hard drive and actually coming up with a solution; Ben, Travis, and a nice guy with dreds in limo services who went to town and bought the actual hard drive; Meghan, Anton, and Heidi who all leant me power cables for my laptop; various members of reception staff who handled laptop trade-offs with aplomb (and well beyond their job descriptions); Meghan and Jonas who dealt with my being completely fucking useless for two days like wonderful professional wonderfuls. I love them.

Incidentally: Jonas Larsson and Meghan Gilmore were the DJ managers for Herrang this year, and they did a magnificent job. They were fantastic to work with (professional, boss-like, setting clear limits, yet also respecting and encouraging creative experiments), an inspiringly good management team (they have to work together to make up DJ rosters using 6 staff DJs and a range of volunteer and guest DJs across at least 4 or 5 dance floors EVERY NIGHT for five weeks), and just plain old good DJs.
They were the best DJ managers I have ever worked with. They improved our working conditions, they made sure we had a good DJ ‘base’ (ie office) that was so friendly we occasionally had to kick other staff out of it so we could work, and they did lovely things like make us have dinner together to nerd out on jazz. It was a real pleasure and privilege working with them.

Note 2:
Despite all this rubbish, I actually had a nice holiday. I didn’t stress out (except for when I discovered I’d left my passports on the plane), and even Kendra was amazed by how calm I was. But as you soon discover in Herrang: the way you respond to the first drama in Herrang dictates the type of Herrang experience you’ll have. I choose ‘whatevs’ as a response.

feminist fika: weeks 4 and 5 in Herrang

Still on-going.
Usually meet 1pm in the Bar. If there isn’t a note up on the folklets hus noticeboard, add your own – there are plenty of people who are enjoying turning up to chat.
Feminists, friends of feminists, and feminist-curious peeps are all welcome. Assumption is that you are down with feminist values and be a dick. ie, this is a chance for peeps to meet and be nice to each other, not a chance for you to start arguments with women.

Radical Feminist Stream at Herrang

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Are you going to be in Herrang weeks 2 and 3 (ie in the next two weeks)?

If so, a few of us are planning to meet up and share tips and experiences for the sort of work we’re doing in our own scenes on sexual assault and harassment. Or – more likely – we’re going to meet up and have FIKA! and make friends. Because arse kicking chicks need their sisters.
We’re also hoping to do some practical sessions for developing skills. Everything from learning how to say no to a dance, to how to kick someone out of an event. Maybe we’ll get someone awesome like Naomi Uyama to talk about being a woman band leader, or something equally awesome. ImagINE A WHOLE LIBRARY TALK PANEL ON FUCKING ACE WOMEN IN DANCE!?!?!!?!

If you have ideas or want in, drop me an email on dogpossum@dogpossum.org, or grab me in person. Week 3 will be the big week (traditionally radical feminist week at Herrang), but there will be plenty of opportunities to scream GIRLS TO THE FRONT! ALL THE GIRLS TO THE FRONT! in week 2 as well.

See you soon!

ps if you’re bro who’s going to be at Herrang in these weeks, here are some radical things you can do to be more awesome:

  • When you’re at the library talks or in class, don’t be the first to ask a question; let women ask questions first;
  • Take time (not when she’s dancing, doofus!) to ask a woman lead for a tip on what she’s doing that’s awesome;
  • Always list the female teacher in a teaching couple first;
  • Take a complete beginner class as a follow, and CONCENTRATE on learning. As though you’ve never danced before;
  • Don’t rape anyone;
  • Don’t let anyone else rape anyone.

“It shouldn’t just be one person’s responsibility to deal with fuckers.”