Things to take to Herrang

Each year I forget something. So I’m going to write a list of stuff.
Most of my stuff also has to travel to places like Seoul and other cities before it gets to Herrang, so it has to be multi-use.
I’m usually in Herrang for two weeks, and I assume I’ll be staying somewhere where I’ll need to bring sheets and towels.

Before I leave on a long trip….

  • back up laptop files in triplicate, one online, one on hard drive, one in a third format
  • notify bank of countries and dates of travel
  • cash in Swedish kr (budget $AU50 a day + private accommodation rent + deposit for a bike)
  • cash in other local currencies for trip

Electrical stuff

  • laptop
  • power cord for laptop
  • power converter with usb plug point (Au -> Eu)
  • sound card
  • headphones
  • headphone charging cable
  • headphone input cable
  • phone charger
  • phone charging cable
  • external battery and cable
  • kindle and charging cable

Clothes

  • raincoat
  • jeans or cold weather trousers
  • thick cardigan or jacket for cold weather
  • short legged pyjama bottoms
  • long legged pyjama bottoms or tracksuit pants
  • sulu
  • hot weather cotton dress
  • a nice dress or fancy outfit for slow drag night
  • a nice dress or fancy outfit for Savoy night
  • clothes for workshops
  • clothes for parties
  • 12 x pairs socks
  • 12 x underwear
  • sports bras
  • fancy bras
  • belt(s)

Allow for a laundry that washes with hot water (and shrinks clothes) and tumble dries aggressively.

Linens and stuff

  • 2 x towels (so you can wash one while the other is in use, or use one for the beach and one for the shower
  • 2 x queen sized sheets (can be used as top and bottom sheets when one is in the wash)
  • 2x pillow cases

Random things

  • travel washing line
  • travel cup for coffees and teas
  • tea bags or special teas and drinks
  • special food or drinks (eg spices, instant noodles) that will make you feel at home in Sweden, land of no-flavours
  • presents for friends (from your home town, or your travels)

Shoes

  • thongs (or flip flops for non-Australians), for use in the communal showers, or in wet weather or just generally shlepping around
  • sandals for warm weather
  • 2 x sueded (or ‘fast’) dance shoes (these get used night and day, so just one pair will never dry out, and will get grooooss)
  • 1 x sticky (or ‘slow’) dance shoes
  • tap shoes

Medications and bathroom stuff

  • paracetemol
  • pain killer with codeine
  • anti-inflamatories
  • 2 x cold and flu tablets
  • prescription medications (enough for the entire trip + extra)
  • if you get a feeling you’ll be unlucky this trip, bring some anti-spew and anti-poo medications too
  • Bring copies of all your prescriptions, and letters from your doctor explaining what you take and why. Things like codeine are controlled drugs in many countries.
  • vitamin E cream
  • general moisturiser
  • 2 x deoderant
  • toothpaste and toothbrush and dental floss
  • shampoo and conditioner
  • nail file, nail scissors, tweezers, nail varnish, etc

Other things that people like to bring

  • make up and perfume
  • jewelry
  • alcohol from duty free
  • random costume things
  • musical instrument
  • promotional postcards for promoting events

Why do I go back to Herrang each year?

Why do I go back to Herrang?

I’m going to assume that you know what Herrang dance camp is, and that you have some passing familiarity with concerns about the enterprise. People who know me are surprised that I keep returning to an event that seems to break all my personal and professional rules. Why do I keep going back, trying to be useful and to contribute to constructive political work at this huge, rambling pile of a dance event?

Why do I go back each year?

It’s a huge enterprise. 300 odd paid staff + volunteers + 20-odd DJ + dozens of musicians + dozens of teachers, over 5 weeks of camp programming, and two additional weeks of set up and bump out in a small village in rural Sweden.
There is no other event like it in the world.

Buildings need to be cleaned, food cooked, classes taught, music played, bills paid, cars driven, sound gear fixed, dance courses administered, classrooms booked, dance floors built and repaired, sets built. For 7 weeks. Each week a new group of staff needs to be inducted. A huge, volunteer and largely untrained staff. Managers start from scratch, with staff of varying ability and inclination.

Because it’s the only long term event in the world, we get to see processes and ideologies play out in real time, in a durational sense. We see the usual tensions of late nights and high adrenaline play out over a longer time. Which means that we see things that we don’t at other events. We see how humans from a range of cultures and language groups interact with each other in a pressure cooker environment. Structures or systems that might be stable over a weekend or a just a week might not remain stable over 5 weeks. Ideas or processes that work for 3 days with a staff working to the brink of exhaustion show cracks over longer periods, where staff must begin thinking about care, rest, recuperation, down time. All elements that don’t come into play at other dance events.

Sexual harassment and assault are symptoms of power relationships and dynamics between individuals and within groups of humans. They aren’t inevitable, but they are characteristic of patriarchy. They can be managed and eradicated, but only through concentrated, strategic planning and policy. And most of this work is conducted by inexperienced ordinary people. This work is increasingly professional and sophisticated. I often wonder, though, if the codes of conduct and safety policies of American events, for example, would stand the test of a five (or seven) week time frame. They are, essentially, experiments in social politics, and working largely against the broader patriarchal culture of their home societies. Would Lindy Focus’s exceptional approach to sexual violence remain steady over five weeks? I think that it could, perhaps, but it would require a lot of on-the-ground, real time adjustment and tinkering. Because shit changes over time.
While Herrang does not have an over-arching code of conduct or safety policy, each of its many departments _does_ have a particular set of rules and guidelines for determining how staff and volunteers should treat each other and the general campers. As DJs, for example, we were reminded again in week 3 that drinking to excess while DJing is not ok. That we have to treat fellow DJs with respect and professionalism, by turning up on time for our sets, checking in with our DJ peers, and being supportive of their work. We were reminded of emergency procedures and shown how to use the emergency phones placed around the camp.

Each of Herrang’s departments change staff each week, so the managers and more permanent staff have the opportunity to edit, change, and adjust processes to respond to their participants’ changing needs. And the work of training and enculturating an entirely new group of people each week.

This agile people management is the most fascinating part of Herrang. Shane and Spela are juggling hundreds and hundreds of staff members across hundreds of roles. They are dealing with changing and unpredictable conditions (too many campers! a water shortage! disease! excessive heat!) within a framework that has to be reflexive and responsive. It’s a truly impressive thing to see in action.
These staff coordinators manage a base of general staff and volunteers, but work through and with a group of department managers. Each of those managers juggles a 24 hour schedule and a shifting group of workers of various skill, ability, and inclination. If you thought it was difficult managing entitled middle class white men on the dance floor, imagine trying to get them to work hard in an industrial kitchen for a black woman manager.
One of the primary concerns of the staff coordinators and managers is morale. How do you keep so many people feeling good over a long period of time under difficult circumstances? They don’t sleep enough, they don’t eat properly, they’re saturated in endorphines and adrenaline, and they’re doing unfamiliar work. How do you keep the whole machine running?

Herrang has a broad system of processes for handling these issues, from staff appreciation parties to balanced shift lengths and times, and a fairly efficient process for handling complaints, concerns, and questions. It is certainly not perfect, and it has flaws. But not because no one is trying. The staff managers and coordinators are caring people, and they work hard to improve processes every year. They’re also clever and inventive. Because they are also jazz dancers :D

What I’ve noticed about Herrang, is that the more permanent staff (people who are there for more than two weeks) tend to be curious, inventive, industrious, cooperative people. To the point of obsessive. Living in the countryside for 7 weeks, they start making things. Inventing things. Experimenting with things. While a conventional office workplace might foster pranks, Herrang staff move beyond your random ‘wrap a car in toilet paper’ prank to ‘wrap every item in the camp in toilet paper’. They come up with brilliant ideas, but then they truly relish figuring out how to execute these plans, and then do so within a contracted time span and limited resources. Someone might decide that the theme for this party is ‘Savoy’, and by the end of the day, staff have build an entire New York neighbourhood out of cardboard, wood, and fabric. A woman might have lost her phone, and by the end of afternoon, staff have built a human sized phone, put a jazz band on a truck (including a piano) and moved the whole thing across the village to her dinner table where she’s serenaded by her friends and peers. And giant phone. Someone else finds a giant glowing model moon, and by the end of the week she’s not only suspended above the square, she’s lit from within with a suspended table and chairs beneath her to be enjoyed by dining lovers.

This is the part of Herrang I like most. It’s exciting. It’s stimulating. Over-stimulating. I really enjoy real-time problem solving at the best of times, but on this scale it’s invigorating. Thrilling. Dangerously addictive.
I really like working with such a clever, creative group of people from all over the world. They manage language differences, tiredness, negative budgets, and sexual tension with enthusiasm and professionalism. And good will. Yes, people crack the shits and get overtired. But they also laugh a lot every day, and seek out ways to delight each other.

They’re also some of the kindest, most generous-hearted people I’ve ever met. One of the most common things I see and hear in the camp is a person going to great lengths to find out what their colleague likes best, hunting it down (even going driving hours to find it), then surprising them with it. Just because they looked tired or a bit sad. Or because they love them. Yes, there are pranks, but they aren’t cruel pranks. They’re loving, affectionate pranks. Filling a new teacher’s classroom with balloons for their first class. Swapping wardrobes with another dancer for a day. Learning an entire, complex jazz routine in a day, then recruiting a jazz band to surprise someone with it in their office at lunch time. Organising a parade of children and adults playing musical instruments and wearing costumes to tramp through the camp, just to entertain the participants and audience. Leaving a punnet of perfect strawberries on a colleague’s desk, because you know they are lovely.

And on top of all that, they love to dance and sing. To eat and cook and make love. To work hard and sleep deeply. To argue and talk and laugh.

These are the reasons I, personally, go back to Herrang. I like to spend my days visiting people’s offices, learning about their work, seeing how they do things. Watching people be kind and generous. Laughing til I can’t breathe.

Eat Your Jazz: Herräng’s ‘no’ list and the advantages of limitations

The now-infamous ‘Herräng no list’ came up in my interview with Ryan for his podcast. I’m not sure how it developed, but this ‘no list’ was a complement to the ‘yes list’, which sadly gets a lot less attention. These lists were playlists on spotify developed as a general guide to the type of music you may or may not choose to play at Herräng. The ‘yes’ and ‘no’ titles are typically Swedish. Functional. :D

The first year I DJed at Herräng (2015?), there was an actual booklety thing, setting out the same sort of information, but as a pie graph, with percentages.

Last year I made up a new version of this pie graph for myself. You can see it at the top of this post.

That’s three ways of saying the same thing: this is the type of music we’d prefer you play, as a staff DJ at Herräng. This is a fairly specific description, and it aligns nicely with Herräng’s branding as ‘vernacular jazz dance’ blah blah.

The rules for DJing at Herräng are as you’d expect:

  1. Play swinging jazz from the 1930-40s (with a smear of 50s)
  2. Don’t just lean on the standards

So really it should be a ‘do’ list, not a don’t list.

Does it sound like there are a lot of rules for DJing at Herräng? Not that I’ve noticed. In fact, DJing at Herräng is lots of fun because our bosses simply assume we know all this and won’t play any bullshit, then they just set us up with a time slot or a task, and say “GO.” And then we just go sick. There’s a microphone, there’re lighting switches, there’s a dance floor full of Europeans in a democratic socialist country with far too much daylight. NO RULES TIL BROOKLYN

Advantages of each of the ‘rules’:

Point 2.
You have to really work on your set, not just play your easy-win faves. This makes you work harder and play more interesting sets.
This is especially true because we are on staff for a week, playing every night. One set in a weekend means you can phone it in, but 7 or more sets in a week means you really have to stretch.
This makes the whole week more interesting for dancers, because they’re hearing a wider range of music (within a genre): they get a deeper taste of swing music. But it also makes it more interesting for DJs, and much more creative. You’re more likely to take risks. Here is the good bit. More risks = potentially more errors. But really good DJs know how to recover from errors, and how to avoid them.
So while a DJ’s collection is on display, their skills are too.

I actually love it. I come away from the event with a much better understanding of my collection, having played far more than my usual ‘safe’ songs. And I’ve heard sets that are far more than just a handful of Naomi Uyama and Gordon Webster favourites.

Point 1.
This seems obvious. Playing from the swing era makes for good swing dancing. I see far better lindy hop at Herräng, in part because the music makes it easier to lindy hop.
Less jump blues. This is one that caught me by surprise. I hadn’t realised how much I leant on 40s jump blues. Louis jordan, Big Joe Turner, and others. Wonderful, but when I pushed myself to limit the number of these in my set, again they improved. How? a) different rhythmic emphasis and structure to the songs, b) less vocal driven, more ensemble driven melodies and structure, and c) a shift away from jump blues = shift towards small and big band swing. More complex songs and arrangements. Much more interesting for dancing lindy hop.

So the point isn’t that the no list stops you playing songs. It’s that the no list asks you to start playing a whole heap of other songs. Songs that are just much better for lindy hop and balboa.

I know I come away from the event a much better DJ. Two thumbs up from me.

Being a woman in a gallery enjoying art


I remember once reading a blog post or art review where a reviewer tells the story of two young women (teenagers?) experiencing a gallery. They were basically running and laughing and trying to do the poses of the statues, and just generally having a very good time. The reviewer made a very good point about how this way of enjoying art was given lots of frowns in the gallery, but that they thought it was a really interesting, active way of enjoying art.

This image really stayed with me, and now when I go to galleries I try to remember that: I can experience art in lots of ways as well as just as standing and watching. The whole ‘stand and watch’ model is a bit elitist and assumes you have time and $$ to do art like this. When I’m in a gallery I give myself permission to skip things or to just wander about randomly, stopping if something catches my eye. And the ‘recreating poses’ thing is always really fun. It helps you understand poses and point of view and perspective and all that. And I LOVE making selfies with pictures. I found instagram gave me a good way of engaging with art and then sharing it with my friends. Next challenge: not taking too many pics :D

btw this is my favourite statue. I saw her in… the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam? I can’t remember who it is, but she was a queen*. I adore her. Taking a photo helped me remember her, and how I felt when I saw her, a strong mature woman in a sea of male artists and nymphs.

*She is Caroline, Queen of England (Bust of Caroline, Queen of England, John Michael Rysbrack, 1738). Looking at the photo on the website doesn’t feel the way it did looking at in person, on a plinth in the middle of the room. She was at my eye height, more or less, and she had presence, even in terracotta.

the Yarts

The Average Person Spends 27 Seconds Looking at a Work of Art. Now, 166 Museums Are Joining Forces to Ask You to Slow Down
Museums in Australia, Canada, the UK, the US, and elsewhere are holding special events for Slow Art Day on April 6.
….
Founded in 2009 by Phil Terry, the CEO of the consulting firm Creative Good, Slow Art Day asks museum-goers to spend ten minutes looking at a single work of art, focusing intently on the piece before them. The initiative is “counter-cultural to the smartphone and its growing dominance in culture, but also to blockbuster exhibits and the focus on absolute numbers,” (Slow Art Day)

I like to enjoy art in lots of different ways, depending on how I feel or where I am. Sometimes slow, sometimes fast. This idea that we have to look at art in one way (slow) is poop. Because it excludes those of us with little time, or kiddies on hand, or with special needs, etc etc etc. And some pieces of art want us to look quickly, to let our eye move. Even Warhol would probably have liked it most if we barely glanced at his soup cans as we walked past.

I do a lot of gallery and museum looking when I travel, and I’m super picky. I never ever need to see another Brett Whitely, and I’m a bit tired of Warhol (which he’d probably like). Good curating makes a collection lookable. I like a well-curated exhibit, but I can also take more time in a truly terrible exhibit bitching about the shocking layout, impenetrable text, or confusing space (eg I reckon that street photography exhibit at the Sydney Museum is woeful, when the subject matter is fascinating).

I’m a big fan of exhibitions that have pieces ‘in conversation’ with other pieces, or that involve the gallery itself in the exhibit. Rather than a featureless white wall that fades into the background, I like a gallery that speaks to us, that asks us to think about where we are, as well as what we are looking at.

The Secession building in Vienna is one of those places that asks us to think about the place of art in space (a building), a city (Vienna, wealthy European city, home to zillions of galleries and museums), a culture. The building is beyond beautiful, and home to the gorgeous Klimt Beethoven frieze. The Secession movement, though, was about freedom. To quote our friend wikipedia,

Secession artists were concerned, above all else, with the possibilities of art outside the confines of academic tradition.

They physically got themselves and their art up and out of the Vienna Künstlerhaus. But just walking past this incredible building – far smaller than the many of the galleries and museums all through the city – is exciting and inspiring.

I saw a great exhibit of contemporary radical British art (lots of black British art, feminist British art, etc) in Arario at Space in Seoul which was really cool because it was mostly 80s art* in a 1970s office building which was itself a comment on community and space. It was truly mesmerising and engaging. The building’s architect, Kim Swoo-geun, was making clear comments on the role of community, shared work, national identity v local identity, and shared space. The art, of course, was commenting on 70s and 80s Britain, and locating cultural space and identity as black and women artists in a colonial empire. Also there was swearing and many fucks thrown in Thatcher’s direction.


Similarly, I loved the Hundertvasser Haus in Vienna for the relationship between art and space.




For me, it’s not so much about individual pieces, but about the relationship between the pieces in a room, or a space. And that means having places to sit, to take selfies with pieces, to try a statue’s pose, to walk back and forth comparing pieces, to stop and peer at a bunch of tiny things in a case, etc etc etc.
I like a well thought out bit of text with useful information, and I’m a massive fan of exhibits combining different media (eg costume with paintings with prints with drawings…)





I saw a fabulous one of the Matisse cut outs at the Stedelijk which was in an interesting building, and used the concept of the cut outs in a fantastic way: we saw the pieces, we saw huge rooms dominated by huge colourful pieces, we saw tapestries inspired by them, we got to cut out our own and stick them up on the wall, we see films about the process, etc etc etc. It was just magical.

Years ago I saw an exhibit of a Lartigue’s journals (photos, notes, drawings, etc) in a British gallery (I think it was the Lartigue: album of a century exhibit at the Hayward in 2004)? It was just one room, but I spent HOURS there, pouring over the pages and photos. It wasn’t even hugely interesting in layout: they just had the journals open at pages and bigger prints of the images. But it was the subject material that made it so cool. It was so memorable that when I saw a tiny exhibit of his photos in Seoul years later, I was overcome by the feels.

Sometimes, though, I do like to stop and stare at one piece for ages.

I’ve been caught and stopped dead by some of the massive big pieces in the entrance way of the AGNSW lately. There was a fantastic, mindblowing series of huge canvases of Indigenous Art there last year that just stopped me in my tracks. They were so incredible, just on their own, that I had to stop and stare. For them, it was the sheer size and colour in a space that is functional – you walk through it to get to everything. They didn’t need anything more than to just be there, huge and bright and complex and wonderful, in a white, utilitarian space.

I occasionally stop in to see my favourite lady at breakfast picture at the AGNSW. Sometimes we do just want to sit and look at one piece for ages.

*This is ‘The New Black’ by Tracy Emin, 2002. Appliqué blanket. Emin’s most famous work is ‘Everyone ‘ which appeared in Saatchi’s exhibition of Young British Artists‘ work, ‘Sensation’ in 1997. YBA were ‘shocking’ young artists, and the exhibit included Emin’s work Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963–1995.

Going to Seoul to lindy hop

Hello! Do you love travelling and lindy hopping? Seoul is the city for you.

Here’s a note: I don’t know everything about Seoul or lindy hopping in Seoul; you should double check my observations with a local.
I’m also assuming that because you’re reading this post, you can read and speak english. That’s my only language.

First things first.

Where will you go?
South Korea.
South Korea has some pretty good cities, and you can lindy hop or attend lindy hop, blues, balboa, solo jazz events in most of them. But I like Seoul because it’s a fantastic city visit for other things besides dancing. I fly in to Incheon airport, the best airport in the world. It has on-site hotels, rest zones, showers, massage, endless restaurants and bars and shops, a roller skating rink, cinemas… it’s HUGE. And the train will take you directly to Seoul (it takes about 50-60 minutes, and you can buy a ticket at the airport).

Where should you stay in Seoul?
That depends on what you’re doing while you’re in the city. If you’re attending a particular event to take classes as well as party, then you’ll probably want to stay near the event venues. But if you’re planning to spend a week in the city (I recommend!), then you needn’t be tied to just one place. There are dance ‘bars’ all over the city, so it doesn’t really matter where you stay, though most visitors like to stay near a green line train station. This line of the excellent subway captures a few loops of the river and the CBD within it. You can catch it from Hongik University down to Bangbae (home to swing bars like Big Apple).

I like Hongdae. Hongdae isn’t technically a suburb or district; it’s the abbreviation of two words – Hongik Daehakgyo (Hongik University). Ask google translate for pronounciation tips. It’s an artsy/indy/studenty sort of area – lots of shops and arts centres and teeny little places to explore. And it’s well serviced by trains and buses, and it’s easy to find something to eat at any time of day.


link

If you look at that map above, you can see there’s a yellow squigly circle on the Hongik University train station. This is an epic big station, and you should always double check the station entrance you need before you try to exit :D I like to use this station as my base for accommodation when I’m staying in this area.
There’s also a red pointer, which is centred on an address: 29 Donggyo-ro 46-gil, Yeonnam-dong, Mapo-gu. Mapo-gu is the district (which is a loose part of ‘hongdae’). Yeonnam-dong is a ‘dong’ – a neighbourhood inside the Mapo-gu district. Donggyo-ro is Donggyo Road.

If you zoom in as close as you can, you’ll see this:

Note the scale: you’re at about 20m:1cm. This should give you an idea of the density of this part of Seoul. You can’t get to it with google maps, because the road barely fits a car. But the shop looks like this:

As you can see, this makes areas like Mapo-gu very walkable, and wonderful for exploring. A tiny little shop like this will often be in a three of four story building with lots of things to explore on each level.

This is how I like to spend my days.

General Seoul tips

Internet and your phone.
The internet is huge in Korea. Like, so big you will not be able to fit their kittens into your little phone. And everyone uses a big phone to talk to their friends and family, watch tv on the train, get around the city. Public use of phones is a way to politely ‘make space’ and not crowd other people, but it’s also important for finding out what’s cool in this huge, cosmopolitan city.
You can hire a wifi ‘egg’ at the airport, or most airbnb hosts provide them free of charge (check when you register).

Buy a selfie-stick and use it with abandon. It’s cool.
Take photos of everything – your meal, your drink, your friends. That’s also cool, and it’s a way to show your host that you appreciate what they’ve done. And go nuts with tags. BUT don’t take photos inside boutique shops, or in designer outlets or places where artists work and display. Especially when it comes to handmade or indy clothes. That’s not cool – that’s a bit like stealing ideas.

Use google maps and google translate.
Everyone in Seoul, even locals, use maps to find new things in tiny little dense areas. It’s totally ok to use your phone to navigate, especially if you are looking for that super chic bar/restaurant that’s just opened.

Learn some basic Korean.
Hello, goodbye, yes, no, thank you, I’m sorry, cool, delicious. A lot of people don’t speak english, so you should get some basic words. And use them! Trains, stations, and most signage use english (and chinese, japanese, and korean), and people are helpful, but you will need to use your words.

Use the underground and buses.
Cheap, clean, easy. Charge up your reuseable metcard and enjoy! BUT stay out of the train at peakhour, noob!
Note for westerners: you are bigger than most Koreans, so you will take up too much space. Make yourself small. Take off your backpack, hunch your shoulders, and keep your feet and arms close to your body. Lower your voice, and don’t make eye contact with strangers!

Eat everything.

Seoul is a city of foodies, and there are endless places to eat and drink, from traditional Korean food to the latest in gastro-porn. Learn a little bit about Korean food before you go, so you know what to expect.
Vegetarians and vegans: learn to eat some meat :D Soz, but while there are vegetarian and vegan restaurants (esp in Buddhist families or areas), they are few and far between.
Chilli eaters, get ready for FUN. Koreans like things spicy and delicious. If something looks red, it’s spicy. And there are lots of ways to add more chilli to your food! kimchee, chilli paste, etc etc.

Easy things to eat that don’t have too much chilli: kimbap (a korean version of sushi), bibimbap (a hot stone bowl with rice, some veggies, meat, and an egg sizzling inside, accompanied by kimchee and sides), bulgogi with rice (just beef with rice). I also like BBQ, but it’s not really a meal for one person :( :(

There are also a lot of places in Seoul that specialise in western foods. As in, the best croissants you will ever eat. The best bagels.

Take Out Food
You know uber eats and deliveroo? Those things will never take off in Seoul, because Seoulites have been delivering food locally forever. Motorbikes zip around the streets, weaving in and out of crowds, and doods in helmets crowd into apartment building lifts with bags full of delicious smelling food.

Coffee.
It is the best. Iced in summer, hot in winter. Pour over, cold drip, brewed. Seoul is THE place for coffee. So don’t just settle for a chain store like Starbucks. Use a guide.

Tea.
Seoul is very very very good for tea and tea houses. Treat yoself.

Mangoplate is a great app, but I find it’s often a bit out of date, as things change quickly in Seoul. I also use Time Out Seoul.

Where should you dance in Seoul?
That depends entirely on the day of the week, and whether there’s a big event on. Though it’s a little out of date, I still use Swing Dance In Korea (run by Adamas (KIM, Kang Seok)). This lists 15 different swing ‘bars’, and which days of the week are the ‘best’ for social dancing. Because Seoul is so high density, and there are relatively few big spaces for dancing, each of these ‘bars’ is essentially a dance studio devoted to lindy hop. Yes, there are at least 15 studios in Seoul alone where you can dance every day of the week.
These bars do look like dance studios, but they are incredibly well laid out. There are changing rooms, toilets, shoe and bag storage, heaters, air-con, great sound systems, and room for beer on tap and food. Yes, parties in Seoul include beer and snacks.

Note: not everyone who works in or runs these bars speaks English (or any language other than Korean), so you’ll need to learn some Korean words!

What night should you dance where?
Ah, that’s a tricky one. Adamas’ site does give you pretty reliable tips for which venues are ‘best’ for which nights. And by ‘best’ I mean have lots of people to dance with and a good DJ. But there are occasionally other things on – special band nights (!!!), classes with guest teachers, etc – which will change the ‘bestness’ of venues. For that you’ll need a) local contacts to ask, or b) post in the Fun Swing Dance In Korea facebook group. The latter is pretty good, but having a local contact is even better.
Yes, just as anywhere else in the world, you’ll have to make some local friends to get the most out of the local dance scene. YAY!

What is it like dancing in Seoul?
FUN.
The bars are crowded, and the music is good. Solid, swinging classic jazz. And the dancers are very, very good. There are, as per any scene, local politics and hierarchies which affect how people arrange themselves in the room, and who dances with who or asks who to dance. But as an out of towner, you can just ask anyone to dance, and they’ll probably say yes. If they say no, it’s usually because they feel very scared of dancing with someone they perceive as a ‘better’ dancer, or because they are just plain shy.

General stuff:

  • Dance one dance with each partner.
    You can ask for a second, but most people don’t. Say thanks and move on to your next victim! Ask anyone. As an out of towner, peeps will politely say yes, or even seek you out for a dance because you’re new and interesting. But as per usual, be cool with refusals, and be respectful.
  • Floor craft.
    Get it. Get it NOW. This is a big deal in Seoul, as floors are very crowded, and people are very good at not hurting each other. It’s not only good etiquette to be floor-safe, but also very socially important to respect other people’s dance space. Visiting leads, this means you: keep your rock steps tiny, and keep one eye open at all times. If you do stand on someone, hurt someone, touch someone, say sorry immediately. If it’s bad, you need to bow and check they’re ok. If you make contact with more than one person per dance, it’s you. It’s YOU. So you need to take yourself to the edge of the floor immediately.

    Important: how to say sorry in Korean.
    I use KWOW.

    “Mi ahn hae” is a casual way to say sorry to your peers or friends.
    BUT
    you don’t use this if you bump an aunty on the train! Then you add the ‘yo’ suffix: “mi ahn hae yo.”
    I like to add stop, say sorry, check in with the other person, add a little bow if I feel bad.

  • Music is fast.
    So get used to it. It’s only one song with each partner, but it’s crowded. My tips:
    – take small goddamm steps;
    – stay close to your partner;
    – hydrate regularly (you usually get a free drink card with entry price to parties);
    – change your shirt (everyone does) or dress (if you’re wearing them), especially in summer;
    – use deoderant.
    These last two are important in a culture where mutual respect is important. So don’t slack on this if you want to be polite.
  • Drinking and eating.
    There are little paper envelopes near big water tanks at most venues.


    For parties, there is often a keg of beer, paper cups (write your name on yours with pen), and lots of snacks, ranging from chips to fried chicken. Koreans can really hold their drinks, so be prepared. And don’t embarrass your mum. The snack room or table is a good place to meet people and make friends. Use your rubbishy beginner Korean and people will be charmed :D I find Korean dancers super friendly and nice, so it’s worth making an effort.
  • What to wear.
    Look, just wear what you’d usually dance in. For a regularly weekly dance, neat casual will work (eg jeans and tshirt, or dress pants and short sleeved shirt, nice dress or dress and blouse), but for a proper party or event, do it nice. Chloe Hong lives in Seoul, so you know the standards are high. You’ll see Korean men, for example, changing out of their gorgeous suits for the train ride home, to keep them safe. Men: avoid bare shoulders (ie no singlets/vests), and women, you can generally get away with everything, but be aware that Korean women are more likely to show leg than boob.
    Shoes.
    Do not wear your street shoes onto the dance floor. Do NOT.
    Koreans take their shoes off when entering a home or traditional restaurant, so this + respect for the floor = no street shoes on the floor.
  • Getting there.
    Catch a train! Most studios are near a train station. But be aware of a few things:
    – The last train usually leaves between 11.30pm and midnight;
    – Be sure you know which exit to use to get to the venue. The stations sprawl across levels and kilometres underground, but exits are clearly signed in english and korean;
    – use a multi-use train pass (like a metpass – called Tmoney), and keep it charged up with money. The train is crazy cheap, and not having the right money on your card is a bit shameful, as the gate will lock, then sing a loud song of shame :D;
    – missed the last train? Catch a cab. It’s very cheap. But remember what your address is in Korean, as most drivers don’t speak english. I usually memorise my closest station’s name in Korean pronounciation then add the suffix ‘yeog’ which sounds a bit like ‘yo’. Btw, you don’t tip in Soul.

Are you a DJ who’d like to DJ in Seoul?
Ok, this isn’t something I know a huge amount about. I do DJ when I go to Seoul, but usually only at bigger events. When I’m there for regular nights, I just want to DANCE!
Because there’re so many venues, and so much competition for crowds, DJing is pretty serious in Seoul, and I’ve no doubt the usual competition, rivalry, and professional networking and manoeuvering goes on.
So if I were you, I wouldn’t just jump in and ‘ask’ for a set. Because of language barriers (if you don’t speak Korean) and Korean manners (people will try to avoid being rude or shaming you), it can be very difficult for people to say ‘no’. Your asking for a set, then pushing the point will upset local balances and really make you looke like a jerk. So don’t be a jerk and put organisers and managers in awkward situations.

tbc…

Seoul Fashion Report, final

Neutral tones and natural fibres are de rigueur for the chic in Seoul this season. Straw hats and bags, leather sandals. Loose smock dresses, wide-legged cotton trousers. This most urban of urban cities is embracing a pastoral aesthetic, and they won’t let a little rain (and the threat of transparency!) dissuade them.

Seoul Fashion Report

The Sport Sandal. One of our favourites, because nothing says athleticism like exposed toes. Soles are thick and bouncy, colours are bright and diachromatic, straps are fat and ready for action. Ready, steady, go!

Seoul Fashion Report

Summer is for sandals, and this season Seoul is saying Hola! to the huarache. Complex braids or simple straps, leather to suit the natural fibre trend, or black and manmade fibres for an urban edge. However you choose to style this look, hurry, because they are flying off the shelves!

Seoul Fashion Report

Couples in matching ensembles is one of our favourite trends. Most usually the purview of the younger set, attention to detail is key. Matching shorts, heavy sandals, and wide-striped tshirts are trending, and after all, when one has a chic look, why not double it?