flying home

There’s something strange about being the only person in a block of apartments after spending two weeks in the constant company of at least 200 people. Especially when those 200 people are almost always in constant physical contact with each other.

The second camp – Camp Savoy – is over, and I’m taking an extra night in the student housing to recover before I fly out of Heathrow tomorrow night. The weather has been utterly wonderful: very warm, very sunny. This could be a university campus anywhere in Australia. Though the food marks it as singularly British. Otherwise, there are very few English accents about – this being a university campus and all – and I’m really quite enjoying doodling about on my own.
Could do with a bit of company, but still
how could I complain about such a long, glorious evening with such wonderful warmth and cooling breeze? And after all this sitting about on the hilly lawn under the student accommodation, reading The Guardian (which I’ve missed) and beginning to think again, I’ve a lovely clean, dry bed with sheets and no early morning missions ahead of me.

The last two weeks have been incredibly intense. Herrang was the perfect exercise in indoctrination: intensely, physically demanding days with round the clock dancing, where doing a beginners class in aerials at 12midnight (midday Herrang time) seemed perfectly logical and plain black tea was a precious commodity to be traded illicitly and only between friends. I have surely joined a cult, and am in dire need of deprogramming.

Living with constant physical exhaustion, sleep deficiency and irregular meals have taken their toll and my health has once again dropped. The Herrang bug has been hanging about in my sinuses since late last week, and pushed me into naps every afternoon. Expensive classes with world-class lindy hop egos be-damned. There’s rest and recuperation to be done. My lungs are beginning to fill and the Horrid Cough has returned. I predict much wailing and gnashing of teeth when the plane takes off.

Flying with feet as sore and mangled and swollen as mine were last week resulted in a pain so spectacular I would have bawled like a baby if I’d not been so tired I fell immediately into a sleep that defied even take off. While the effects of constant dancing haven’t quite worn off – there are some disturbingly numb spots on my toes and recurring bouts of pins and needles – I’m hoping these couple of days of rest will make flying a bit more comfortable. I’ve regained some higher brain function and have managed to stay awake all day, though I’ll probably find myself all awake and twitchy at about 1am, looking for some dance floor action. But for now, it’s 8:34pm and I’ve not napped today. I must be getting better. There’s also been no dancing, and I’m not sure I’m ready for that. Over two weeks of dancing every day for at least eight hours is kind of addictive. I’m in endorphin withdrawal, I’m sure. How will I cope with Melbourne’s dark and horrible winter?

Pft. It’s such a lovely, warm evening, it’s hard to imagine Melbourne’s crap weather. For now, while I’ve borrowed from Lionel Hampton, I think Miles Davis is the only possible musical alternative for this evening.

laundry report

My backpack full of clean laundry, care of Eva’s washing machine and a night break between camps, is now more a mixed bag. I am down to the non-dancing underwear (where the dancing underwear seems to have largely disappeared: I’m sure I’ve lost knickers in the Herrang laundry. Despite Grace’s best efforts) and once again wishing I’d brought some thai fisherman’s pants with me. But who’d have thought loose, cotton nappy-inspired trousers would be the perfect garment for a dance camp in Europe? Note to self for future reference, I guess.
The wedding clothes proved just as irritating as I’d thought: sure, I could have dressed up for the blues nights at Herrang (one can never be over dressed for blues night), but then I’d not have felt as comfortable as I did. Ah well.
I’m going to have to hunt for something clean for flying in. Something I can bear to wear for 24 hours straight

Future Herrang visits: more trousers. More loose, comfy cotton trousers. More thai fisherman pants. Ten tshirts is enough. Bring bike pants to manage inevitable Chafing Issues. Never too many pairs of underwear or socks. Bring only machine-washable, quick-drying clothes. Care not for crinkles. Swimming costume an essential for shy-bies (not that I had the opportunity to see if I was shy). Sheets. Say yes to a sheet. Hat. Sarong – another essential.

How will I manage Melbourne’s winter weather and fashion requirements? Especially now I’m at least a size smaller than I was before I left. Goddamn this super-responsive metabolism. It adores exercise. And dancing truly is the best exercise there is.

brit hop revisited

I subsequently met the young fella from London who designed the London Lindy Exchange (LLX) Brit Hop tshirts. He was in Herrang. He was young, cute and a lovely dancer. I know it’s wrong to be patronise, and I do try not to. But he was.
And it was a brit pop joke.
Eeeexcellent.

doris

here is a pretty picture of doris in herrang. that’s my arm there next to her, but i looked crappy so i took me out.

eating in herrang

here we are lining up for breakfast. things are moving slow…. note the cheese. cheese is big with the swedes. we eat a lot of crackers as well. the food is bloody good.

and here we are eating in the tent.
the tents are important features on the herrang landscape. we eat in them, we learn in them, we practice in them. meals are my favourite thing – good food and lots of good company.

laundry report

things have gotten dire. last pair of knickers. last pair of pants. all else is in the laundry, being washed. it may or may not all come back to me. then i have to get it dried. tricky in this climate. they have these big drier thingies that look like fridges, and they’re pretty good. but there’ll be that moment between getting up and walking the 10minutes across town to the driers where i’ll have nothing to wear. lucky herrang is 24hours a day.
i am so sweaty all the time, i go through clothes at a phenomenal rate. so does everyone.

herrang fashion: loose, comfortable trousers; tshirt, thongs or sandals by day, and the same with dance shoes at night. loose, comfy tshirts for men, smaller, tighter tshirts for women. the dress standards are definitely casual. except on the party nights. then people dress up like fools: check out these pictures.

this one is my favourite. that nursey there is a lovely german boy. and the wrestler is a lovely girl. ah, herrang.

still in herrang

but now i have a cold. everyone’s got it. and now i do too. poop.
didn’t stop me staying up til 7am dancing. the thing that’s really giving me trouble are my feet – the joints in my toes are really really hurting. i worry that i’ve done something nasty to myself… oh well.

the dancing is good. my dancing is now better than it has been in a million years. the dancers are also good – good company, good fun, good music, good dancing. it’s like being on holiday with a couple of hundred totally excellent people who love to dance and do interesting things. …which i guess is actually the situation. i’m still very tired, but now that i’m nocturnal, it’s not so much of a problem. the sun is only down for about 6 hours at night, so it’s not so hard to stay up. i’m super fit again, and have dropped so much weight i have to safety pin my pants on. last week i was doing classes, so that was 4 and a half hours of dance classes during the day, with one or two casual classes and a bit of practice as well. then hours on end of social dancing. all we do here is eat, dance, talk and muck about. and people sleep whenever and wherever they can. in the cafe between songs. in hammocks, in the gym on mattresses, on the grass between classes.
the cutest thing i’ve seen so far has been two swedish girls squashed into a hammock sidebyside, battling with a mosquito net. they were giggling and tired and hidden away under a tree. very sweet.

it’s that crazy disco dancing. it’s led me astray.

i am about as boring as boring gets at the moment. i’m full of goob, and trying not to panic about getting well in time to travel…
i’m flying out on the 26th (straight through to the uk… aw yeah, that’ll be excellent fun), so i’ve about 26 days to get the tubes in my head clear so i won’t explode in the plane. speaking of eustachian tubes. guess i shouldn’t have jinxed myself.

things weren’t helped by my dancing like a nut on two seperate occasions over the past week – a wednesday night at a pub, dancing like an idiot for too long, followed by talking and dancing with germ-ridden blues dancers til 6:30 in the morning; and a friday night at a bar (dancing like a complete fool, and without inhibition for about an hour).

it seems i have not only lost the few inhibitions i once had about dancing in public, but also any good sense about caring for ill bodies. it’s that crazy disco dancing. it’s led me astray.
i just don’t seem to care at all any more about what people think about me when i’m dancing. and while i’ve always loved disco dancing, i’ve not always been as prone to spasticity on the dance floor.
the next day i cringe at the memories… it seems there’s no dance move i won’t do, no limit on the amount of dance floor i’ll coopt for my own use, no unsuspecting peer i’ll not rope into dancing with me.

the perfect antidote to swing, i think.

Rent parties

I realise I’ve not actually given much useful information in my previous entry on rent parties.

Simply put:
In the 30s (and in the prior and later years), people living in Harlem in New York were often short of money. When rent time loomed, people who were short of money might hold a party in their house, invite lots of people, and have them pay to attend. They’d put on music (a band or records), and people would dance.

That’s the short story.
Some more details? Sure.

What went on at a rent party?
Eating, drinking, dancing, music playing, talking, love-making, fighting, arguing, kissing
party stuff.

Who were these people holding the rent parties?
For the most part, the majority of the stories I’ve found about rent parties placed them firmly in the Afro-American community. In the first 30 years of the 20th century – between 1919 and 1926, many freed slaves moved north from the southern states to northern cities like New York, Washington and Chicago. They followed the promise of work, fleeing lynching, poverty and scary-arse southern politics for the more tolerant north. Not that tolerant, but at least you weren’t being lynched.
The 1920s and 30s are referred to as an Afro-American renaissance. The Harlem Renaissance is of greatest interest to swingers (as it is the birthplace of lindy hop).

Harlem in the 30s was a predominantly Afro-American community. Conditions were crowded, there were more people arriving every day, and not enough work to go around. It was also a time of great creative and artistic endeavour (see the links to sites discussing the Harlem Renaissance below), human rights activism and social change.

Rent party hosts were usually ordinary Harlem people trying to raise their rent money. The rent party convention was later appropriated by more enterprising individuals, and often served as a front for brothels or illegal casinos.

Why did people hold rent parties?
During the 20s and 30s an estimated 200 000 people were living in this one neighbourhood in New York. The sudden influx of residents pushed rents higher than most families could accord. Families opened their homes to lodgers and often shared apartments with other families. Despite these measures, the rent was often due before the residents could find the money.

Residents would hold ‘parties’ in their homes, charging for entry or food, and ‘guests’ would come to dance and socialise, often all night. Advertisement was done surreptitiously, so as to avoid the wrong sort of guests, as well as the law, in this era of prohibition. The ‘rent party’ often served as a pseudonym for brothels.

On this site a woman explains why she held rent parties. This page provides a more detailed explanation of rent parties (with links to the site I referenced in my other post).

What did rent parties mean to swing dance?
For swingers, it’s an important time as these conditions saw the rise of the lindy hop, in tandem with the development of jazz. While the night clubs, cabarets, theatres and dance halls were pivotal public places in the development of lindy hop, the rent parties are important as they were private places made public, in a city where crowding and intensely interpersonal social and kin networks dominated. Rent parties fostered dancing and music, not only as fund raisers, but also as a site for individual self expression and the formation of community identity.

The following quote comes from this site.
“The dancers organize little impromptu contests among themselves and this competition is often responsible for the birth of many new and original dance-steps. The house-rent party takes credit for the innovation of the Lindy-Hop that was subsequently improved upon at the Savoy Ballroom. For years, it has been a great favorite with the regular rug-cutting crowd. Nothing has been able to supplant it, not ever the Boogie-Woogie that has recently enjoyed a great wave of popularity in Uptown New York.”

References:
This link provides an interesting section of the book ‘12 million black voices’, written and illustrated by Richard Wright and Edwin Rosskam respectively. The site ‘America in the 1930s’ provides some archival and historical material from the States during this period.
The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture provides an interesting overview of the Harlem Renaissance period.
Harlem Renaissance has a useful range of Afro-American authors, artists and their works.