Category Archives: travel

Herräng report: part 1

Well, it’s 6.30am, and I’ve been awake since 5. My sleep cycle is well and truly borked. Curse you, jet lag. Why is that staying awake while flying around the world in a plane is more disruptive than staying awake dancing, eating, laughing, and talking in irregular patterns over several weeks?

I’m back from two weeks in Herräng (weeks 2 and 3), and a bit of time in Stockholm, and I’m taking a few days before I go back to work. It’d been ten years since I’d been to Herräng, and things had changed a bit. For one, things were more organised, which was a relief. The scale had also leapt: more places to eat, more people, more dance floors, more things to do. I was there to dance and DJ this time, rather than to ‘research’, so I approached each day in a different way.

I have lots of things to talk about, but I can’t quite keep hold of my thoughts, so I’m not sure how coherent this will be. Things I’d like to talk about, in no particular order:

  • the ‘how to DJ session’ in the library in week 3;
  • the way the insistence that Herräng is about lindy hop, and lindy hop is ‘such a happy dance’ makes it difficult to talk about problems or serious issues within the dance and event;
  • the somewhat disturbingly uncritical ‘spread the dance/grow the community’ discourse that dominates and justifies most activities (including a particular brand of cultural imperialism);
  • gender politics in the DJing and dancing culture of the camp (and the way critical engagement with this is forestalled by the ‘let’s just have a nice time/hedonism is us’ vibe);
  • the sheer joy and wonder of the Frankie Track in week 2;
  • teaching practice, and the balance between content and practice;
  • the effects of a coherent teaching approach in the Frankie Track versus the usual overall relationship between individual workshops at a dance weekend. I will say this: the Frankie Track was amazeballs because all the classes were linked by a coherent theme and concept: teaching Frankie Manning’s content, teaching classes in the way he taught classes, emphasising his priorities (MUSIC! PARTNERSHIP! SIMPLICITY! RHYTHM!), drawing on the old timers’ approach to learning dance generally…. and MORE;
  • the challenges and excitement of the beginners’ half week of tap in week 3;
  • the ebb and flow of energy and people and vibe over the course of a week;
  • economic factors and the effect of the Herräng Dance Camp’s decades of involvement in this small town’s economy and society;
  • the Swing Kids, Swing Teens and the way having children in the camp in week 2 provided social balance to the ‘hedonism’ of the camp, which was largely lost by the end of week 3;
  • hierarchies, power, and privilege in the camp;
  • the wheeling and dealing and networking and lobbying for work behind the scenes, from teachers, DJs, and organisers;
  • labour, work, gender, and knowledge in the Herräng economy;
  • mindfulness, computer literacy and online culture in camp (and how this had changed in the ten years since my last visit);
  • mindfulness, work, obsessive personalities, and the luxury of time in tap dance;
  • the argument that all DJs should learn to play a musical instrument if they want to be ‘good DJs’ (and the associated issues of power, time, labour, gender, and power);
  • sex, sexualisation, gender, and scoring a root;
  • the significance of Herräng’s place in Europe, and how this affected people’s attitudes to same-sex sex and gender. And how these progressive attitudes were ultimately subsumed or overshadowed by the overwhelming heteronormativity of modern lindy hop;
  • food, nutrition, body image, and the importance of the shared table at Herräng: my favourite part;
  • defining ‘swing’ music, and Herräng’s emphasis on classic swing era big band jazz, and how this affected DJing styles and set content, and dancers’ responses to music. Relatedly, the tension between modern day dancers’ learning to play music, the accessibility of small NOLA or hot combo style jazz versus the inaccessability of big band jazz for new musicians (ie dancers tend to play in small, hot combos which aren’t what Herräng values, but Herräng does value live music and independent creative projects very highly…. the tension needs a bit of discussion, I think);

As you can see, I have approximately one million things to write and talk about after my time in Herräng. One looming largest in my brains is DJing, as I was a staff DJ in week 2, and one of only 4 women out of 16 staff DJs in the 5 week camp. There were a number of volunteer DJs in the two weeks I was there, but not a whole bunch of them. A higher proportion of them were women than men.
I have a few things to say about how gender, networks of association and labour, and the professional skills required of DJs (primary of which is networking, in this case) work in Herräng, but I don’t really have the brains to articulate them properly here. In sum, though, I was very surprised by how few women DJs there were, after the last couple of years in Australia where women far outnumber men in the higher, most experienced ranks of lindy hop DJs. To the point where for the last MLX I had only one male DJ on the DJ team.

My approach to hiring DJs for events is to look for the most capable, most professional, most skilled, most useful and talented DJs, regardless of gender. They need to be not too over-exposed, and yet still have a degree of popularity with dancers (ie, be ‘in demand’). They might not be quite where they should be, in terms of experience or expanse of music collection, but I’m willing to invest in someone with promise and a good, strong work ethic.
I think that the reason I end up with more women than men, is that I actively seek out DJs, rather than waiting for them to approach me, and I put quite a bit of work into long term development for DJs. My own gender is probably significant too, though I’m often described as ‘intimidating’ by other women. But I’m very yolo about that: life is too short to worry about whether you intimidate other people. And I know other DJs and DJ organisers who are both male and very approachable.

I find that male DJs are more willing to put their hands up for gigs (to approach me for gigs) than women, and that women DJs are more critical of their own DJing, needing more encouragement, and also looking for more critical feedback on their DJing. The latter makes most women much better DJs (because they are open to improving, and open to communicating about their own DJing, and less defensive about their DJing), the former makes women less excellent at developing professional networks and ‘taking risks’ by applying for jobs they might not be ready for. They tend to play it too safe, and be more intimidated by hierarchies. There are male and female exceptions to these things, but very few. Very, very few.

My approach involves long term planning and development, including encouraging newer DJs, providing references and recommendations for new DJs with smaller events (so they can get the experience I need for the bigger events I work for), and keeping my local scene networks healthy – talking to people in different scenes to keep my finger on which DJs are looking and sounding good, and good to work with.
I’m also very keen on providing working conditions which make DJing more accessible for people: friendlier, safer, healthier, clearer (guidelines, etc), equitable pay, an open DJ recruitment process (so people know who to contact and how if they want to DJ, rather than using a quiet system of personal networks), and I am quite aggressive about getting feedback on my own work, and on the DJs’ experiences, so I can keep improving things. I think this transparency is the most important part of encouraging diversity in the DJing team: I am open about my ideas, process, and thinking.

Dargoff was the DJ coordinator for Herräng, and he was just a joy to work with. I don’t know his policies or approach to booking DJs for Herräng, so I can’t comment on them here, but I couldn’t find fault with his work. There are, however, broader systemic issues which make it harder for women to get into these higher profile DJing gigs which require active, fairly aggressive strategies from organisers to overcome. I simply don’t know enough about how Herräng works to be able to comment on this, though. And I don’t even know who organised the DJs in previous years. But I do have some ideas about international DJing culture, and most particularly DJing networks and interpersonal and professional associations which might be useful in this discussion. Again, my lack of experience here makes me reluctant to comment more. I have some ideas, but I just don’t think I know enough to start speculating.

So, when it comes to my experiences DJing at Herräng, I give it a big thumbs up, and I give all my fellow DJs, Dargoff, the huge sound crew, and the event organisers a big huzzah. It was a really great experience, and while challenging in some moments (looong sets are loooong), I would absolutely leap at a chance to do it again. I feel privileged and honoured to be a staff DJ at an event I admire so much, and I learnt SO MUCH about DJing over the two weeks I was there. I also made some new and good friends, and realised I have a lot to learn about the international DJing scene.

I also realised Australia is really isolated from the rest of the lindy hop world. This makes it harder for DJs to crack the higher echelons of DJing, but it has also had effects on our approach to labour and pay and professionalism. Overall, though, I’d say that Australia has quite a few DJs who are not only as good as, but better than some of the DJs I heard in Herräng, and that our lindy hop scene as a whole is something to be proud of. We aren’t a cultural backwater, we’re just a really distant tributary.

Do all the things

Omg I am so busy. SO BUSY.

Next Thursday I fly to Melbourne for MLX, the biggest, oldest, best lindy hop event in Australia. It’s fucking great – if you’re coming to Australia to dance, come for that. Nothing else comes close, and Melbourne is a great city. Weather is shitty, but there are good pubs. The music is THE BEST.
I’ll be head DJ for that, and the increasingly ambitious MLX program has made my job trickier this year. The number of bands: HIGH. I aim to dance until I might chuck. Yeah, that’s me running from the dance floor with my hand over my mouth. Super professional.

I get back on Monday. On the Wednesday our little teaching venue is hosting the charming singer Hetty Kate and the phenomenal guitarist Ian Date for a once-off ‘Swinging at the PBC’ gig. Every time I describe Hetty Kate as charming, or see her being described as ‘lovely’, I lol, because she is the saltiest arsekicker femme ever. We are very lucky to have them do this gig for us: Ian Date is now based in Ireland, and Hetty Kate is based in Melbourne.

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That’s the very awful ad I made. I wish I could have a solid designer on my staff to whip up these ads at a moment’s notice, because I need approximately one million items a year to promote things online and face to face.
I think it’s worth pointing out that Hetty Kate has the best online presence I’ve ever seen in a jazz musician. She has a lively, interesting instagram account, which was particularly cool to follow when she was recording with Gordon Webster. She’s fun to follow on twitter, she has a fab website, which has everything a promoter needs: high-res photos, tour dates, downloadable posters, pdfs with bio information. She also keeps an up to date facebook page. And she managed a very effective pozible campaign, where she capitalised on a performing relationship with Gordon Webster to record a crowd-funded album. Working with Gordon is, of course, promotional gold in the lindy hop world – the guy has massive pull. All of this is just so great when you’re promoting her for events. Add to this the fact that she’s a very good ‘product’ – a great singer, an entertaining performer and a very together, organised professional – and she is the perfect musician to hire. If only 90% of jazz bands could figure this stuff out.

I am quite excited about this gig because I’m running it independently. It’s tagged on the end of our classes, which we teach through a big dance school, but this social dancing bit is independent. I just thought ‘fuck it – let’s have a good party.’ I don’t care if no one turns up: it will be a brilliant fun time, and I figure: here’s a present for our group. I run a lot of events during the year, but this is the first one I’ve run completely independently. Well, there are still a lot of people involved, working the door, teaching with me, helping put the band together (there’re more musicians than just Hetty Kate and Ian), etc etc etc. But this is the first time I’ve gotten up the guts to do it all on my own. WINNAH.

On the Thursday after that, the teachers for the Little Big Weekend arrive, and the classes begin.

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The Little Big Weekend kicks off officially on Friday night. I’m running this one, too, but I run it for the dance school, which means they fund it, but I plan and manage it, and work with a few superawesome people to run it on the weekend. It’s not possible to run a good event entirely on your own, and furthermore, it’s not a good idea: get other people involved to save your sanity, but also to give other people a chance to get involved in event management. The more people with more skills in your local scene there are, the higher the quality of the events, the greater the range of event types and styles. Diversity is good for lindy hop.
This is the fourth Little Big Weekend (they’re biannual), and it’s the most ambitious. Leigh Barker’s band the New Sheiks is coming up to play the Friday and Saturday night gigs, and they’re part of the Melbourne Rhythm Project. The MRP is a collaboration between dancers and musicians – lindy hoppers, tap dancers, guitarists, pianists, trumpeters, fiddle players….
They will be performing at the Saturday dance, but the dancers are all coming up mostly to hang out and be a part of it all. There are only three main workshops on the Saturday, but the third one will involve the musicians playing in-class, as we look at musical and dance structure and history.

This is exactly the sort of thing I LOVE, so that’s very exciting. And it’s very very nice to finally get to work with Leigh on a project after such a long time emailing and talking online, and chatting in person. Even if the entire weekend collapses (which it won’t – we’ve sold out of workshop passes already), we are still WINNAHS because we are trying something very interesting, and right in our own creative and professional ballparks. And it will be MAD FUN.

But that’s not all there is to the Little Big Weekend. The Speakeasy kids are flying in another Melbourne act: Andy Swann’s band. He’s been involved in lindy hop almost as long as I have, and he has mad skills. That party is already fully sick (at the last one I nearly did chuck up because I was dancing too much), so I’m not sure I’m physically capable of handling it. That party is one of the main reasons we don’t have Sunday workshops: it is not physically possible after the Speakeasy. The Speakeasy is the sort of late night party where people can dance seriously hardcore lindy hop, and then find that they’re just dancing all over the place. Not ‘solo dance’, but just rocking out. And the band usually bring their girlfriends (yes, the bands are all straight men. I’m working on that, though) and friends and they get up and just rock out, and it is awesome. There’s really good food, a blues room, a nice cool, quiet room to chill out in (I rarely avail myself of that – I like to keep on rocking). When the band ends at 4am you think ‘wtf? we just got started!’

Anyway, the week after that we don’t have any classes to teach because our venue has finished for the year, but I’m off to Melbourne again for Sweet n Hot to do some classes with ‘Skye and Frida’. Seriously doods, why doesn’t anyone ever list the follow’s name first? I mean, Skye is great and everything, but Frida is freaking powerhouse. She has unmatched dancing experience, talent and knowledge. I have booked a nice, quiet single room studio space on airbnb, so I’m going to chill. Hopefully there won’t be any chucking up on this trip.

Then it’s back to Sydney for a nice, quiet christmas. Until January comes, and new plans are set in place, and shit gets even realer.

I like what I do for a job, but sometimes I worry that dancing isn’t really important enough to spend this much time thinking about. But then I remember that running a business and being an event organiser and teacher and all that is actually a lot of work, requiring skills that are useful in all sorts of businesses. And dancing brings people joy, and sends joy out into the world. I could be working in fucking retail again, for fuck’s sake. But dance is about empowering people, and I think it’s important. THE END.

To sum up, here is Norma Miller being fabulous again:

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Someone replied to my posting this by pointing out that the show itself didn’t seem so bad. That was interesting, but when I read Norma’s comment, it didn’t occur to me that I should engage with her criticism of the show. Who knows what that show’s like. I was reposting her criticism because Norma Miller is exciting. She makes me feel strong and reminds me that you need to be confident and loud and powerful.

My response was:

The thing I like about this is that Norma Miller is a confident black woman who calls herself ‘Queen of Swing’ calling out some dood who made a stage show, on public media. She just doesn’t give a fuck – she has a point to make.

Every time she calls someone out or declares, with confidence, that she is THE BEST, I get excited, because women aren’t allowed to do that in lindy hop. I bet no one sends her hate mail. Or if they do, she finds them at a party, stands really close to them and gives them the biggest telling off OF THEIR LIVES.

She’s fearless. FEARLESS. And for an older black woman living in America – that shit is AMAZING. …fuck, for a woman living anywhere these days, that shit is SO INSPIRING.

So I don’t even care one bit about that show or what it’s about. This is a story about how awesome Norma Miller is.

I love her comment, because she’s obviously doing a bit of self promotion (queen of swing), she’s calling bullshit, she’s shamelessly stroppy. And that’s what’s so exciting. Women aren’t supposed to be these things. We’re supposed to be shy and meek and modest. And Norma is not.

So, I’m going to end this post with this nice little quote which I found on I hope you like feminist rants:

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I think that a lot of women would like to do more organisationally things in lindy hop. We’re not all designed to be the famousinternationallindyhopcelebrity. There’s so much body image shit going on there, so much gender crap about working with male partners. But if you are ambitious, and you do have ideas, and you want to just do more than dance in lindy hop, there are lots of options. Start small, and work up. You don’t have to run events or DJ or do stuff like that. There are other cool things.

You could start a once-off performance group with two friends. I’ve done this many times, and it’s great. You mightn’t do the best performance ever, but the process will teach you SO MUCH. You could work the door at a dance. Sure, it’s not glamorous, but the people who work the door, bump in and bump out of dance events are the ones who make the whole thing possible. It’s like the office lady at uni: she is the most important person in the department. And seeing how an event works in front-of-house teaches you how important it is to have a friendly face greeting first time dancers: lindy hop scenes are built on welcoming dance spaces. You could design and make dance costumes. You could design decorations for dances. You could learn to work sound gear (please, please do this and come and work for me – I NEED you! I will CHERISH you!) There are so many interesting options!

For example, Sydney Lindy Hub is run by a woman. This cool guide is the most thorough, most comprehensive guide to swing dancing in Sydney. There are quite a few guides to jazz music for dancers around. I ran one myself years ago in Melbourne. But this one does it right. What’s so great about it? Firstly, the listings are comprehensive. You’ll find all the band gigs, all the DJed gigs, all the dancer-run gigs, all the council run gigs, all the musician run gigs, all the live music venue gigs there. This thoroughness is the result of good research skills and – even more importantly – good networking. People contribute gigs to SLH, they contribute reviews of gigs, and they are engaged with the site. This is a total WIN.

This engagement is a product of the guide’s cross-platformness (a website + FB + twitter), but also of the administrator’s style. She responds to people positively and with enthusiasm, and she’s proactive in her support of events. I never get a chance to send her my event’s details, because she’s already on it. I never get to suggest live music gigs, because she’s already there. As an organiser, I see SLH as an essential promotional tool, so it’s in my interests to engage with it (and with the administrator), but it’s also a pleasure to engage with it, as it’s so useful and productive.

I like the positive, inclusive tone of the listings. I LOVE that SLH encourages people to go out and review gigs. It’s easy to just list a heap of gigs, but it’s the dancers’ reviews that make this site so powerful. The up to date listings help make SLH a really useful social calendar as well. People organise their nights of dancing around SLH FB posts and listings.

And finally, SLH is perfectly positioned in this moment in Sydney. There was a bit of a decline in organised dance events a few years ago, and SLH slipped in just as local dancers were getting really desperate for social dancing. I think that Sydney dancers’ current passion for live music (and fierce enthusiasm for seeking out new gigs) is largely due to the role SLH plays in the swing dance community. It brings people together, it’s a useful information tool, and the tone is light, fresh and enthusiastic. WINNAH!

I don’t think the administrator’s gender is particularly important in the general scheme of things, but if we are talking gender, and we are talking about how seeing other women inspires women, then I do think it’s important. For me, it’s important to know that I’m part of a network of creative, ambitious, enthusiastic women in lindy hop. It really helps to know that I can ring up a woman organiser in Melbourne to talk about how to manage employing international teachers. It’s exciting to get a call from a woman oragniser in another city who wants to do a collaborative project. And it’s just so NICE to get together with other women organisers at exchanges to just talk shit and then DANCE like fools.

And then, it’s even more thrilling to see women doing things like organising the Melbourne Rhythm Project (Ramona is a driving force there, though I think it’s a pretty collaborative project generally). It’s really creatively stimulating to get together with other DJs (male or female, though increasingly female – we have so many great women DJs pushing up to the top tier in Australia), and I am particularly fond of a woman blues DJ in Melbourne, Manon von Pagee, who has such fascinating observations about DJing for blues dancers. Which I just don’t understand. And, finally, it’s wonderful to be on a dance floor where I know there are heaps of other women leads, so that I’m just one of them. I’m with my peeps.

Men are important and great too, but when there’s so much bullshit in your everyday life, telling you over and over again that you should shut up and be invisible (so you don’t get harassed on the street, sent nasty emails, challenged in dance classes, critiqued on the dance floor), having a couple of powerful women figures out there doing shit is so important. Norma Miller, you are loud and stroppy, and I mightn’t always agree with your opinions, but by fuck: you make me feel powerful.

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The influence of Frankie Manning on my lindy hop history

As I mentioned in the Frankie Fest post the other day, we’re teaching Frankie Manning themed classes this month at our weekly class. That means Frankie Manning themed lindy hop in the first class, and then Frankie Manning themed solo dance in the second class. Although making the distinction between the two seems to deliberately misunderstand exactly what Frankie Manning – and jazz dance – are all about.

I’m going to see if I can write a few blog posts about Frankie Manning, or, rather, using Frankie Manning as a jumping off point for some ideas. We’ll see how well things go – I’m not all that together in the longer-form writing way at the moment.

This is a post about how Frankie Manning moved into and out of my understanding of lindy hop. This is a story of personal growth (goddess, how I hope it’s about growth), not really about Frankie himself. If you want that story, you should read his autobiography.

Oh, yeah, Frankie Manning IS the best!: late 2000s and early 2010s

Frankie95, the massive birthday party for Frankie Manning, which he just missed out on seeing, seemed to suddenly change everything. It’s true, you know, you don’t know what you’ve got til you lose it. You don’t miss the water til the well runs dry. And the Silver Shadows, the most popular, and one of the most highly skilled lindy hop performance groups in the world at the time reminded people that Frankie was wonderful:

Frankie95 day3 Performance Silver Shadows tribute to Frakie Manning:

It feels, now, that the generation of international teachers being flown to Australia to teach (people like Thomas and Alice, for example, who taught a ‘Frankie class’ at Jumptown Jam last month), who mightn’t have been into this stuff in a big way before, are suddenly falling in love with Frankie Manning all over again. Or for the first time.

I’m feeling a profound sense of déjà vu. The steps that I first learnt to dance with – pecks, stomp offs, mini-dips – are now chic again. I’m not complaining. But I think that for a lot of dancers, the technique-heavy smooth style phase and then the popularity of blues dancing gave them the technical skills to really appreciate what Frankie Manning was doing, particularly in his later years. And I also think that the influence of Steven and Virgine in Melbourne (particularly during that 2000-2004 period) was very important. While their dance style was definitely juicier and groovier, their experience with Frankie Manning definitely informed their teaching, and Frankie’s understanding of music and rhythm and dance shaped the Melbourne lindy hop scene, even indirectly.

For myself, I think that Frankie himself makes it very clear that to be able to dance well, it’s just as important to able to shake your arse for Shiny Stockings at 120bpm as it is to move your arse at 230bpm with Jumpin’ at the Woodside.

Understanding Frankie’s bum and feet and hands and everything: early 2010s Sydney

Now that I’m teaching (again – the last time I taught was ~2002), I amazed by the content Frankie was teaching beginners:

Frankie Manning teaching in Denver, CO 2007:

That little sequence is quintessential Frankie Manning. He just assumed that if you were learning lindy hop, you were going to learn a complex sequence of rhythms and steps, and that that was going to be the heart of your dancing. Most lindy hop classes I see these days assume that beginners will be learning simple movements and that this sort of rhythmic work is a ‘variation’, an optional extra for more advanced dancers.

When I first started learning, this little film shows the sort of thing we learnt – in fact, I can still remember learning pretty much this exact sequence way back in about 2000. I strongly believe that this stuff – these rhythms, this use of open position, this combining partner work with individual improvisation – is the very core, the absolute essence of lindy hop. Without it, you’re just… well, you’re just doing something else. You’re not lindy hopping.

I know that right now, I’m really only beginning to properly understand just how amazing he was, even in his 90s. There are no modern dancers today who can approach his skill level. Let alone his choreographing ability. I think we are so lucky to have had him, not just in the early days of lindy hop, but most especially in the revival, when we really needed, as a community, to be taught not only how to dance, but how to love dancing and to be good to each other.

I think these interviews with today’s lindy hoppers talking about Frankie Manning at 90, at the 2004 Herrang Dance camp make all this clear:

Women’s History Month: some thoughts at day 6

It’s women’s history month again, and I’m listing a different woman musician from the first half of the century every day (as I explain here). Last year I did a different woman dancer every day, and that was super great fun. I’m enjoying the women musicians, but I haven’t really had a chance to research or push myself, as I’ve been away at a dance event for most of this month. And today, I’m still feeling a little tired and rough, so I’m not really ready to push myself. Tomorrow. Tomorrow.

I did decide in that first post of the month that I’d only dance as a lead this month, as a way of exploring International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month and what it means to be a woman dancing. Well, actually, I just decided that on a whim, without much thinking at all. I don’t follow much these days as I’m really trying to get my leading up to snuff, and the best way to get better at dancing is to dance. And as every lead knows, the real challenge comes on the social dance floor, when you need to come up with a series of moves, connect with your partner and attempt some sort of creativity all at the same time.
We won’t even mention the battle to maintain the fitness and aerobic capacity lindy hop demands.

I have to say, it hasn’t been hard, because I get to dance with amazing dancers, most of whom are my friends. And I’ve learnt so much in the past month or two it’s kind of scary – I suddenly find myself stretching and expanding my skills, pushing myself to try things that I’d never have tried before. But it’s certainly meant a bit of rethinking the way I operate socially at exchanges and dance weekends. My weekend pretty much felt like this:

I mean, the biggest change for me this past weekend in Melbourne was simply spending very little time with men. I have lots of lovely male friends, but I only danced with two of them this weekends, and I discovered that I just didn’t end up spending as much time catching up with blokes as I usually do. :( I think that’s mostly because I’d be chatting to some chicks, and then a song would start and one of them, or I would say “let’s dance!” and then we would, and then afterwards I’d end up mixing with chicks and chatting. Rinse repeat. This of course means that the men in the dancing scene need to man up and start with the following, because I refuse to miss out on their dancing wonderfulness! Good thing Keith and I got to DJ together, or I’d hardly have spent any quality time with a bloke at all this weekend. And that is UNACCEPTABLE.

Workshops on Sunday were fun. I learnt a LOT. And I did a private class with Ramona on Friday, which kind of broke my dancing for a bit, and then suddenly it all came back together and I was a dancing machine on Saturday night. Blues dancing: still a bit too dull for me atm. But then, only boring people are bored, and that’s doubly true of dancers – only a boring lead is bored. I need to woman up.

The DJ Dual with Keith went really well. In fact, I had the most fun DJing I’ve had in ages and ages. We ended up trading three songs until the last moment when we played alternative songs. I think we would have liked to continue for another hour or so, trading single songs, as we got more confident and figured out the skills and tactics we needed. But we’d been DJing for an hour and a half by then, so we might’ve gotten a bit tired. And I had to go in the jack and jill, and I’m not sure it would have been ok for me to DJ the competition I was in. Overall, it was nice to have a bit of a challenge, and it was nice to work with a friend I like and have lots in common with musically. But he is a bit of a sly dog, and wouldn’t tell me what he was playing next, most of the time, so I had to keep on my toes. But that was actually even more fun. DJ Dual: LIKE.

NB There were THREE women leads in the jack and jill competition, and one got through to the finals (in a group of six leads)!!11!1 That photo above is one I lifted from Faceplant – sorry I can’t remember whose it was. It’s of the J&J, I’m in there, and so is at least one of the other female leads.

Now: NEED MORE MALE FOLLOWS!!!

I ended up catching up with lots of internet friends over the weekend as well. Which is always a bit of a push, but well worth it. The best part was walking into a cafe, saying “Hello, I’m Sam, nice to meet you!” and then barrelling into an hour of solid, hardcore talking as though we’d known each other for years. Which we have, really. Just not in person. This trip I went for smaller catch ups, rather than bigger groups, because I wanted to get a chance to actually connect with everyone and I often don’t get that at bigger meet ups. But that also meant I didn’t get to see everyone I wanted to. Oh well, good thing I go to Melbourne regularly! I’m planning another trip in May for the Frankie Manning birthday celebrations, so I’ll see if I can fit in the people I missed this time. But that sucks, because you’re still missing people! And then there are all the dance people I want to see off the dance floor! This is, of course, why exchanges are so much fun and so challenging – so many friends descend on one city for just one weekend you really need an enormous dance floor to connect with them all!

Righto, I’d better write up today’s jazz woman!

Most overplayed songs of MLX

Bizarrely, they came from this Preservation Hall Jazz Band album: “Preservation: An album benefitting Preservation Hall and the Preservation Hall Music Outreach Program”. It’s a great album, and I had it on my ‘must play’ list for the weekend. I was pretty sure no one else would be DJing from it – and then they did! It’s such a fun album. I love Angelique Kidjo shouting her way through ‘La Vie En Rose’, but ‘Blue Skies’ (featuring Pete Seegar) is my favourite. After Andrew Bird doing ‘Shake It and Break It’, which I overplay here in Sydney.

I actually play quite a bit from this album, but the most-played songs on this album at MLX were ‘I Ain’t Got No Body’ (feat. Buddy Miller) and ‘Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea’ featuring Paolo Nutini. Nutini is, apparently, a famous pop singer (?). I like him because his vibrato reminds me of Putney Dandridge. I’m pretty sure other songs from the album popped up in other places.

It was really quite nice to hear all these songs in all sorts of sets. It’s actually not a bad thing when the most played songs at an exchange are from a fund-raising album by a living band, and a living band of such high calibre.

Here is a video about the album. If you hunt around you can find some great videos of the recording sessions for this album:

linky

NB: I am a really big fan of the ‘American Legacies’ album they did with the Del McCoury Band (see another promotional video here) because it combines my current passion for string bands and bluegrass with hot jazz.

[Edit: Interestingly, Andrew Bird and the Pres Hall Band's version of Shake It and Break It turned up at Snowball 2011 in Sweden this year in Nicolas and Mikaela's performance.]

is this your cat?



is this your cat?, originally uploaded by dogpossum.

We saw this piece of A4 paper sticky taped to a pole in Balmain. There were hundreds of them. It’s a very Balmain type of poster. I couldn’t quite believe what I was reading. At the top it asks ‘IS THIS YOUR CAT?” and supplies a phone number and name to ring if this is, in fact, your cat.

THIS IS A LARGE BLACK AND WHITE CAT WITH IRREGULAR MARKINGS. HE IS FRIENDLY, BUT WILL NOT ACCEPT LIMITS.
WE HAVE LIVED WITH HIS UNWANTED VISITS FOR MORE THAN A YEAR.
RECENTLY, THESE HAVE MARKEDLY ESCALATED.
HE IS SERIOUSLY BULLYING TWO CATS IN NORTH ST BALMAIN, AND THIS
CANNOT BE ALLOWED TO CONTINUE

MLX squee


I’m trying and trying to think of a way to talk about MLX. But I can’t. I’m sorry, I’m getting emotional. Mostly because you can’t hug every DJ. No matter how much you love them.

Right here, I need to make clear my association with the Melbourne Lindy Exchange. I was involved with the very first one in 2001 as a basic volunteer, doing the usual volunteer stooge sort of stuff. That year was the first year a major weekend event with a proper social program was held in Australia. It also featured workshops. In 2002 I was on the organising committee and played a big role in managing the event over the weekend. In 2003 I took a break. In 2004 MLX coincided with Swing City and was huge. It was also the most expensive event in the country at that time.
In 2005 a team made up of previous years’ organisers formed a nonprofit organisation (the MJDA) to run the event, and ran MLX as an all-social weekend. That was the cheapest full pass event in Australia at the time. I was on that team. As the weekend proceeded, numbers at each event increased massively, as locals who hadn’t bought passes were told by their friends that shit was hot, and the interstate visitor numbers were bolstered. In 2006 the same team ran the event, and we consciously decided to step things up in a big way. Two rooms at the late nights. Masses of bands. Serious promotion. The full pass was still ridiculously cheap. Crazy cheap. I think we doubled the pass sales. 2007 was a similar story. It was just nuts.

(a jam at MLX9, while I was DJing!)

Each year the attendee numbers increased massively. The event was run with the clear goals of being cheap and accessible for all dancers, yet also financially sustainable. I was involved because it was a nonprofit organisation, and because it is still stupidly cheap. It has a clear and firm policy of treating all volunteers really well, and the events themselves are very high quality. In 2008 I moved to Sydney and reduced my involvement to just finishing off coordinating the DJs. In 2009 I went to MLX as a punter and DJ and it was GREAT FUN. Same in 2010. BEST FUN EVER. I thoroughly recommend taking time off running your event to just attend as a punter. It makes you realise just how awesome it is, and it gives you a chance to actually enjoy the thing. This year I coordinated DJs for MLX11 and was blown away by just how tight and professional an event it is.
If you asked me whether I’d rather be involved with MLX as an organiser or as a punter/DJ, I’d be hard put choosing. I love going to it just as a punter because it’s an intense weekend in a great city, and total fun just to bum around at. But I also enjoyed working on the event this year because it’s such a big, interesting project. I think I’d be happy with either in the future. Maybe even prefer just DJing/puntering a bit, so I could really focus on DJing and dancing? Argh! What a choice to have to make!

So when I write about MLX, I’m a little biased. But my experience with the event over eleven years has varied so much, and I really feel now that I’m a contractor rather than a part of the core team, so I reckon I can write about it with some objectivity. Who am I kidding. But my love for MLX stems largely from its ethical intentions, its sheer quality as an event and its willingness to try new things and really set an example for other events in terms of music, working conditions for all involved and fiscal responsibility. It rocks.

Basically, MLX11 was the best event I’ve been to in Australia, ever. I’ve never been to an event with such a brilliant list of bands. Every single one was top shelf. And THEN, they ranged across all the best lindy hopping styles. Everything from hot early 30s medium sized band to juicy groovy hammond organ small group win. An 18 piece classic big band (from Perth!) doing arrangements so neat and performing them so well that I kept mistaking the band for the DJ. A chunky little swinging combo doing the sort of solid swinging powergroove/40s/50s swing that makes for brilliant lindy hop. A tight little late night band (from Perth!) made of dancers with a fun female vocalist that was actually really good. There were five bands, and they were all really, really good. I just couldn’t believe how good they were. I’ve never seen an Australian event with such consistently good and appropriate live music. Ever.

Then there were the DJs. I got to organise the DJs for MLX this year, so I able to put together a sampling of the strongest DJs I’d seen during the year (this is one of the reasons I travel a bit to dance events – so I can see who’s DJing, what they’re into, how popular they are with dancers) set them up in good time slots fun combinations, then just let them do their thing. That meant I was hearing my favourite sorts of music. But then things got BETTER! I couldn’t really get over just how GOOD all the DJs were. They’re all specialists in particular musical areas (including old scratchies, modern hot jazz bands, supergroove, chunky blues, classic big band swing), and I’d sort of set them up to do their sets expecting them to do X or Y or whatever it was I associated them with, musically. But EACH of them then managed their sets in the cleverest way, moving between styles and across genres to respond to the crowd’s interest, enthusiasm and stamina. It was just fucking magic. On Saturday night the main lindy hop room was still jammed with people lindy hopping at all the tempos at 5am! Even I was still in there dancing like a fool, and I was BUGGERED! I heard good reports from dancers all weekend, and I’m still getting emails and comments from people about the music. I just don’t think dancers could really get their heads around the quality of the music. I know I’m still kind of amazed. And I’m such a picky bastard, it’s very difficult to please me with every set.

The DJs at MLX11 included (in no particular order): Andy Fodor (Melb), Manon van Pagee (Melb), Trev Hutchison (Perth), Jarryd Reynolds (Adelaide), Matt Greenwood (Bris), Kenny Nelson (Colorado), Noni Mae Clarke (Melb), Sharon Callaghan (Melb), Keith Hsuan and me (Sam Carroll, Syd). The hardest part of coordinating DJs is knocking people back, and MLX is the highlight of the Australian DJing calendar, so lots of DJs look for sets at the event. It breaks my heart having to tell people the program is full, or that we’re looking for a specific type of DJ this year. There are still DJs that I’d like to add to a program like that, but we’d really reached maximum capacity this year. The program over all had a lot of live music – 1 band Friday evening, 2 Saturday evening/late night, 2 Sunday evening/late night – and this was GREAT. But it made for less DJing space. I was delighted, though, absolutely delighted by the way the DJs complemented the live music. It’s not often that I squee over a band break DJ’s work, but this MLX each of the band break DJs did really amazing jobs complementing, but not overshadowing the bands. It’s a tricky gig, and you’re really working all night, not just for the short blocks you’re playing music. There are performances, speeches, welcome dances and random interruptions to deal with during band break sets, as well as trying to avoid playing songs from the band’s set list. But these guys were guns.

MLX is generally the best social dancing weekend in the calendar, if you’re into hardcore dancing, but this year far outshone previous years. All through the weekend late night events ran over time. Main lindy hop rooms that usually finish at 4am were still pumping at 5.30am. Blues rooms just kept working and working. The Sunday didn’t end til 6am or something stupid. The venues were just right, the sound set ups were good, the provision of food and drink was important and done well, and the volunteers were cheery and well organised. All this, and MLX is a NONPROFIT event run by a team of volunteer coordinators. A committee. Anyone who’s ever worked on a dance event or on a committee knows just how difficult it is to get things done with a committee. Yet MLX consistently produces the best event in Australia. Every. Single. Year. I thought MSF was giving it a run for its money this year, but MLX pwnd all.

I like MLX because it’s just social dancing, and it tends to encourage random or crazy shenanigans. But not stupid shenanigans that make you cranky because they’re stopping you dancing. Fun shenanigans. I saw quite a few random costumes this weekend (my favourite was perhaps a bloke in a Black Swan costume for the Saturday dance), and I really liked the way the MLX theme (played to introduce the speeches and announcements) was, by the end of the weekend, met with loud singing-along and cheers, particularly as the MC Jarrod began initiating his speeches with some truly inspired interpretive dance. The theme was matched to the MLX theme – Turning it up to 11. I love this theme because it’s totally unrelated to lindy hop, it’s a bit lame (in a big hair way), and it also turned out to be totally fun to dress up for.

I think it’s worth talking a bit about why MLX is such good fun to DJ, and why it manages to get such brilliant sets from the DJs.

  • Firstly, MLX doesn’t stint on sound gear. We did have some problems on Thursday night this year, but that’s because we were using a gorgeous little hall with very high ceilings and lots of hard, bouncy surfaces. It was a lovely space, but it did make for weird acoustics with recorded music. But the team helped us fix stuff up as much as possible (I was DJing that night and did struggle a bit at first). Otherwise, every venue had the right amount of amplification, a good quality mixer and a good, comfortable space for the DJ to set up with the right lighting. I know that when I DJ MLX I can play any song, no matter how old or scratchy, because the sound gear will make it sound sweet. So I DJ to the limits of my collection, rather than playing it safe.
  • MLX treats DJs with lots of respect. DJs are introduced, back-announced, regularly cheered mentioned in speeches and listed all over the website. This year I made up a basic ‘Program of DJed music’ and put it up around the place so people could see who was on where and what they were doing in their sets, and it worked really well. The MLX peeps are also quick to buy DJs drinks and check in on them regularly to see if everything’s ok.
  • MLX pays DJs well, better than any other event in Australia, and gives them free entry to the events they work. There are still Australian events which don’t give DJs free entry to the events they’re DJing, and this makes me FURIOUS. I think it shows how little music is valued, and how little understanding these event coordinators have of the work that goes into DJing. Sure, I think live music is more important, but DJs do actually fill out the bulk of most Australian dancing weekends. And at events where the bands can be quite dodgy, the DJs extra important. Personally, I won’t DJ an event that doesn’t give me free entry, because when I’m DJing, I’m working. I’m also loathe to do gigs where I don’t get paid. My exceptions are for new or nonprofit or charity events, or for my best buddies (ie my really close personal friends) or for house parties. Really, I do so much DJing these days, and I like social dancing so much, I need an incentive to bring my laptop and work for a few hours at a social event. But MLX pays more than other events, and has recently introduced a blanket pay rate for band breaks, which recognises the amount of work band break DJs do, and which no other event does. DJs are also paid for any extra DJing they do beyond their rostered sets. DJs are also paid for the full length of their rostered sets, even if that set has to be cut short. Well done MLX!
  • MLX plans the DJing slots carefully and effectively. Set start and finish times are staggered, so that DJs can be properly introduced. Sets are at least an hour and a half long (unless there’s something difficult to work around), if not longer. The only challenge with MLX DJs is that they all love social dancing so much I had to stop myself pushing them to do more sets when I was planning the roster!
  • Probably the best part of DJing at MLX is that they have a creative and innovative approach to programming DJs and events. They’re willing to try new things. Sometimes these new things don’t work out, but most of the time they do. The B-Sides room a few years ago was super popular, and allowed for an alternative to the main lindy hopping room. The B-Sides room was just that – a BSide, where DJs could play whatever they liked and not be constrained by rules bout ‘what’s good for lindy hop’. It was a massively popular room, and has only been replaced in the last few years because hardcore blues dancing has been so incredibly popular. While DJs in the main room are encouraged to experiment with themes, most of them end up doing straight ahead, unthemed sets simply because MLX is such prime lindy hop DJing. DJs don’t need a theme to spice things up for themselves, and just want to PLAY ALL THE THINGS.

To sum up, then, I really enjoyed coordinating DJs for MLX because it allowed me to pick a team of awesome DJs, treat them really well, and set them up to do just do their thing. And they DID that thing. I love DJing at MLX because I know it will be the BEST DJing experience of the year. I’ll be able to play all the stuff I love but might not play at home. MLX brings the fittest, most adventurous, open-minded dancers to the floor, and they’re all willing to just give things a go, even if a song is faster or unfamiliar. And I don’t think it’s just the experienced dancers who are like this at MLX. I see newer dancers getting out there and giving it a go. The event really feels like a good place to try new stuff. And, hopefully, people go home to their scenes as inspired and enthusiastic about dancing as I am right now.

The season of snot and ridiculously beautiful parrots



IMGP6151_rainbow-lorikeet, originally uploaded by RaeAllen.

It’s spring here in Sydney (well, summer, technically), and that means flowers and pollen and snot. We’re in a temperate/subtropical zone, near the coast, and we get masses and masses of rain in the spring and autumn months. The European seasons are particularly useless as guides to weather in Sydney… well, for pretty much all of Australia, but I really feel the discrepency most here. The Dharawal calendar makes a lot more sense. Which isn’t surprising, seeing as how it’s the sum of 40 000 years worth of observation and knowledge, rather than 200 years of trying to force a round peg into a square hole. Despite the best efforts of British colonists, we are not England, and they have not made Australia so. But most European-Australians insist on using the European seasons to describe our climate and get all emotional about falling leaves and ‘real’ seasons from a country on the other side of the planet which really only exists in their parents’ imagination. It gives me the shits a bit.

The Dharawal calendar:

January/February/March
Burran
Gaalung Marool
(hot and dry)

April/May
Marrai’gang
Bana’murrai’yung
(wet becoming cooler)

June/July
Burrugin
Tugarah Tuli
(cold, frosty, short days)

August
Wiritjilribin
Tugarah Gunya’marri
(cold and windy)

September/October
Ngoonungi
Murrai’yunggory
(cool, getting warmer)

November/December
Parra’dowee
Goray’murrai
(warm and wet)

Right now we’re in Parra’dowee, which means warm and wet. Which is what it is. Big, masive pouring rain for a week, straight-down rain, like a warm, heavy shower. And then things dry out and the plants go INSANE with their flowers, the birds go NUTS with the nectar and pollen in the flowers (especially the rainbow lorikeets, adrenaline-charged sex addicts at this time of year) and the bats get crazy for the fruit coming into season. All this is very picturesque, but by geez it makes for bad hayfever. Snot. Snot. Snot.
But Parra’dowee describes this season – warm and wet – far more effectively than ‘spring’. It’s not as though the little plants are crawling out of the frozen ground. The plants have been steadily growing for the last few months, and really only slowed down during the coldest part of the year. And ‘cold’ in Sydney means, oh, below 20*C at least! I never wear my Melbourne winter clothes, and never need scarves or woolly hats. But I’ve invested in lots more light cotton dresses since I’ve moved here (you can check the average temperatures and rainfall in these graphs).
Melbourne is (sort of) covered by the Brambuk calendar, which is pretty harsh. Very hot and dry in summer, very cold and often wet in winter. Total rubbish. It reminds me of living in Wagga, which was also rubbish, weather-wise.

Living in Sydney is like living in Brisbane or Fiji, but with less humidity and more moderate temperatures. Which is probably because they’re tropical places. I adore Sydney weather. Even in this wet season, the blocks of rain are bracketed by weeks of perfect, gloriously blue-skied days and gentle temperatures. All this makes Canberra all the stranger. Just over a mountain range to the east (sort of), the winters are freezing cold with snow, and the summers are bakingly hot and dry. Sydney is best. Canberra is our closest lindy hop scene, and we are the two closest scenes in Australia, so we visit each other for special events. It’s a three hour drive, or three hours on the bus for a $30 ticket (or $15 if you get organised early enough). One year coming home from Canberrang, the bus drove through snow flurries, then we arrived in Sydney where people were at the beach swimming.

Sydney is the best, chuck out all the rest.

Starting DJing in Sydney: Some Basic Tips

Just as I finished posting that last ranty mcrantington rant about DJing (NEEDS MOAR DJS ? (part 2) (Thursday, November 17th, 2011)) there was a flurry of emailing and suddenly, DJing in Sydney gets very interesting. This is a post about getting into DJing in Sydney. Which is suddenly, thanks to the generosity of quite a few people, very doable.

Avril and Ryan who teach on Wednesdays at the Unity Hall Hotel in Balmain Rozelle Neighbourhood Centre, 665 Darling St Rozelle (classes 7 and 8pm), have opened their small and friendly social dancing slot up to new DJs. I’ve also heard that another couple of venues are interested in doing the same sort of thing, but I’ll have to add their details when I have them confirmed. [Edit 8/12/11: Amanda and Max who teach Tuesdays in North Sydney have also offered opportunities for new DJs during their social dancing] [Edit 25/07/12: Alice and I teach on Wednesdays at the Petersham Bowls Club, and have a 30minute spot at 8pm which is perfect for new DJs].

This is an excellent place to begin DJing. There’s no pay and the crowd will be small, but that’s really what you want for your very first (few) gigs – low pressure. Avril and Ryan [and Amanda and Max] [and Alice and I] are very nice and friendly, and Unity Hall is of course Home Of Mo Jazz in Sydney.

What do you do? Drop them an email, or better yet, go along to their class and have a chat to them about doing some DJing there in the future. That second option is probably the best as it’ll give you a chance to scope out the scene and get an idea of what goes down there each week.

Why start with an after-class gig rather than a larger social dancing night? Well, firstly, you might have some good ideas, but you ain’t got mad skills – yet!

Shorter after class social dancing slots are perfect for new DJs:

  • There’s no pressure to be major-awesome; you’re not making or breaking a major social dancing night;
  • Shorter sets mean you can get in, get a taste, get out. DJing can be quite tiring at first;
  • Teachers at these regular local gigs are relaxed and friendly, which means less stress for you;
  • Students are relaxed and friendly and supportive;
  • These are quieter, smaller events. Yes, I know the urge to show off for a big crowd is strong, but trust me – you don’t want to piss off a crowd of hardcore social dancers. Yet;
  • The timing generally is more relaxed. You can take a bit of extra time to figure out how you plug your laptop into the sound gear because there aren’t a hundred people standing about staring at you.

What should you bring?

  • Your laptop or ipod or whatever it is you’re playing music from, making sure it has a media player you know how to use (itunes, winamp, whatever you like). I’d go with something really simple and familiar at first – time enough to obsess about software later;
  • An RCA Red/ White Stereo connection cable (which cost very little, and can be found at most electronics shops and all music shops):
  • TWO ¼ inch (6.5mm) TS mono phone jack connections (which cost very little, and can be found at all music shops):
  • Your laptop’s power cord;

If you’ve been practicing for a while, or want to go hardcore, then bring your headphones and an external soundcard. But you don’t really need those for your first gig.

How do you prepare?

  • Listen to your music and get to know it. Practice dancing to it in your lounge room so you know how ‘fast’ it feels, whether it’s high or low energy, etc;
  • Learn to use your media player. Experiment with all the settings – every single one;
  • Practice plugging your laptop into your stereo at home;
  • Turn off all the applications on your laptop that you won’t be using – the internet stuff, etc. This means your computer can devote all its energy to playing music, and will make crashes less likely;
  • Turn off all the notification noises – the bing bongs that tell you when you’ve got an email, the boops! that tell you you’re turning the volume up or down;
  • Practice playing pretend sets. How do you drag and drop songs into your playlist?

What should you play?
That’s really up to you. I don’t think you can call yourself a swing DJ if you have less than 90% of your (DJing) collection devoted to swinging jazz. I have lots of other music, but I don’t DJ it for swing dancers. If you’re totally stuck for ideas, perhaps you should work on your music collection for a while before you start DJing.

  • There are basic lists of iconic songs all over the place: Reuben’s list is a good place to start, this is my short list of overplayed songs), and this is my list of ‘essential’ swing albums;
  • What do you hear in class/out social dancing? Ask the DJs. Talk to your local DJs, and be brave enough to chat to DJs at larger events. I know it’s tempting to interrogate a DJ who’s just sitting there, tapping their laptop, but resist the urge – they’re working. Grab them later on – they LOVE talking about music!
  • Don’t ask DJs or teachers to give you music. Would you ask your mechanic to give you free parts for your car?
  • Join the FB group of Australian DJs;
  • Check out www.SwingDJs.com;

Don’t expect to be the best DJ in the world your first time. Just go and treat this as a learning experience that could be fun. Just like dancing, the more social dancing you do, the better you’ll get, the more you’ll learn.

[EDIT: This is one of a number of loosely-associated posts about music in Sydney lindy hop today. This list includes:

]