Herräng for Dummies.

I’ve been totally crappy with my blog writing this year. I had many ideas and intentions, but they are still half written pieces on my hard-drive which no longer seem relevant or recent enough to post. So, as usual I am going to my default topic: Herräng. This blog is also a little late, with my original intention being to post it a few months back when people were still debating whether or not to register. I then realised this week, that Herräng is only a little over a month away. So whilst it is too late for me to inspire those sitting on the fence to bite the bullet and register, hopefully there are some pieces of useful information here.

I got the idea for this post quite awhile back, after being asked numerous questions about Herräng from several very apprehensive potential first-timers. It seems to be no secret that I am one of the ‘hard core’ ones, heading over for my 3rd year of doing the full set-up through to crash down stint (and my 5th Herräng in total), so it is for this reason that I seem to be deemed the person ‘in the know’

I wouldn’t consider myself an expert on absolutely every aspect of this amazing camp, nor I am able to write a guide that covers it all. There is far too much that goes on, that it is practically impossible to know everything about it all. Unless you are somehow able to divide yourself into 2 or 3 people. Nonetheless, it is often the people that are considering going for the first time, or for more than one week for the first time that seem to ask me the most questions. Newcomers to the dance scene are often daunted at the concept of Herräng. Often all they know is that it is in Sweden, there are a lot of people there and you can dance until 9am in the morning.

I’m aiming to target this blog primarily to those who have never been to Herräng before. Those who have heard bits and pieces from friends and seen photos and videos on facebook, but otherwise know very little about what this camp is all about. I’m going to try and avoid writing information that you can find on the website. I’m also going to try and avoid information on the general infostructure and schedule of the camp. If you are looking for more details about this, then I can recommend my friends page which is regularly updated:

http://swingcamp.info/wiki/index.php?title=Main_Page

If you want a general idea of what the Herräng experience could be like, then you might want to read my earlier blogs.

Now that my introductory ramblings are over, let’s get down to business:

Firstly, I want to highlight a few points that I feel are very important to be aware of for newcomers:

BEGINNERS WELCOME.
Something I hear far too often is ‘I don’t think I am good enough’ or ‘I haven’t danced long enough to be ready for Herräng yet’. To me, this is a load of nonsense. Herräng is held by many with such high regard as THE dance camp to go to, that is automatically assumed that it is filled only with awesomely dancers who expect to only dance with awesome dancers. Newer dancers therefore feel like they won’t be welcome or won’t fit in with what they perceive to be a collection of the worlds best and most experienced dancers. The truth is, that the very nature of Herräng is what makes it probably the most accepting and inviting dance camp for people with very minimal, and sometimes even no, dance experience. Whist the vast majority of other dance camps and exchanges are primarily focused on workshops and/or social dancing (many not even having a beginners stream), Herräng not only offers classes for absolute beginners but also offers so much more than just dancing.

I have met several people who learnt to dance in Herräng, after being coerced into going by friends, some of whom have gone on to become quite involved in the camp itself

GREAT EXPECTATIONS.
When I was preparing to go to my first Herräng, one of my friends gave me the best piece of advice that you could give someone in my situation: Don’t go to Herräng with any expectations based on what people have already told you. I know I might be contradicting myself slightly by writing this post, but there is a difference between taking advice on how to ‘survive’ or make the most out of Herräng, and being told what Herräng will be like for you. Don’t go with an idea in you head of what you will do there, what your daily schedule will look like. Don’t assume that the dancing will be a certain way. And definitely do not try to make pictures in your head of what the camp looks like based on the information provided by the website. Just take things as they come and make the most of them as they do. If you end up dancing 16 hours a day, thats awesome. If you get caught up in all the other craziness that Herräng has to offer, then that is equally awesome.

HERRÄNG IS MORE THAN JUST A DANCE CAMP.
So make sure you treat it as such. Yes, you have the opportunity to dance shitloads, but you also have the opportunity to do so much more. You have the chance to hear old timers such as Dawn Hampton and Norma Miller talk about what it was really like back when the lindy hop first started. You get performances from the worlds best teachers and dancers. Everyday, Herräng has something crazy and random to offer be it speed dating, a 90s party, car bingo, karaoke, a makeshift Hooters restaurant, water bomb fights, pillow fights, sporting games, an assortment of random classes such as how to say ‘would you like to dance’ in as many languages as possible. The list is endless.  And those are just the things that are formally organised and publicised at the camp. In addition to that, you are quite likely to find beach parties, bonfires, sauna parties and more that the camp goers organise among themselves. So make the most of it. Don’t spend the entire week on the dancefloor.

Now that the basics are covered, here are a few more things to know:

VOLUNTEERING.
A large proportion of volunteers see it as a way to pay for classes. Which is fine to a point, but unless you genuinely can’t afford to pay for a week of classes no matter how hard you save, try to look at is as a way to help you be at Herräng for multiple weeks. Thats how I look at it. I like being in Herräng for the whole summer, and whilst I could probably skimp and save to pay for the 3 weeks of classes I registered for, being a volunteer allows me to be there for the remaining 4 weeks. It’s no secret that it is hard work, and it takes away some of your sleeping and/or dancing time, but don’t forget: whilst you are volunteering you are still in Herräng, regardless of what you get to experience during that week. Volunteering is a great way to get involved in the camp and an awesome way to meet people, so don’t be one of those douche bags that complains about how much hard work it is, or feels the need to point out that you are working for below minimum wage. If that bothers you, then you have completely missed the point of volunteering. If you happen to be one of the lucky ones to have a volunteer slot this year, then be sure to appreciate the opportunity you have been given. If you feel the need to complain about how hard you are working, and how little you are getting in return, think first about all the people who really wanted your slot, and then rest assured that if you voice your complaints, you will never have to worry about volunteering again.

WHAT TO PACK.
Herräng actually has a fairly decent list in the regard, but from memory you only get the list in an email once you have registered. There is also a list in the website I mentioned earlier, so I am only going to cover what is missed on those pages.

Dance camps can be hard to pack for, and Herräng is no exception. You need clothes for classes and clothes for social dancing. You also need something a little nicer to wear for slow drag night. If you are volunteering, then you may want to pack an extra pair of shorts or trousers that you are willing to get dirty as well.

Costumes:
Yes, they are an important part of the Friday Night parties. There are a supply of costumes as well as an assortment of material and props available in Herräng, so it is not a huge issue if you can’t fit a costume in your suitcase. Many people bring at least part of a costume from home, and then supplement it with props or extra material once they get to Herräng. Fabrics are easy to come by in Herräng, so try to think of things you can create out of a few pieces of coloured cloth If you are there for multiple weeks, then it can be hard to fit several elaborate costumes in your suitcase. Try to find something that you can use for several of the parties, using different props and accessories to go with it.. One of my friends used the same blue sheet for at least 3 or 4 weeks one year. You could also consider using the bed sheet you are required to bring for your costume on your last night in Herräng.

What else?
If you are only going for a week, then you can most likely get away with simply packing what you would take for a weekend exchange (with a few extra clothes of course). If you are going for longer, then, in addition to what is on the other lists, there are a few extra things I would recommend taking.

Antibiotics
Ok, so based on the abuse I got in response to a recent facebook status update, there is a difference of opinion regarding the efficacy of antibiotics, and whether they do more harm than good. But, the bottom line is, If you are there for more than 2 weeks, chances are you will get sick to one degree or another. If you are one of those people that can get REALLY sick from what initially appears to be a common cold, then you may want to consider going to your GP or a local travel clinic for some antibiotics. Contrary to the beliefs of some of my friends, I have used them the past 2 years after being sick for over a week, and they really did make a world of difference.

Camping mug & Spoon
Needle and Thread
Mirror (unless you want to be on of 30 girls fighting over the one mirror)
Safety pins.
More socks.
A bag for your dirty washing.
An extra towel.

WHAT LEVEL?
This can be a tricky one, seeing as the overall average level of those doing classes can vary from week to week. But the information you want to know is:
-        Intermediate/Advanced & Advanced levels have auditions, in which you will be placed into a stream within that level. The auditions are Jack and Jill style, which as many of you will know is not without it’s flaws. Generally, the really good dancers will be placed in the top stream and those out of their depth with be placed in the bottom one.
-        Sometimes those running the auditions make mistakes. If you feel you have been unfairly placed in a lower level, you can ask the teachers to watch you in class to see if you should go up. If they say know, the best thing you can do is just swallow your pride and make the most you can out of your class. These days, teachers tend to teach the same concepts to most of the levels, but progressing further with the higher levels, so you will get similar content regardless of which class you are in.
-        If a teacher thinks you should go up a whole level (eg: Intermediate/Advanced to Advanced), they will most likely tell you during the audition. Often, it can be better to be in the top stream of IA than the bottom stream of Advanced.
-        Classes are not the be all and end all of Herräng, so try not to take them too seriously. Yes, you have the potential to learn lots of new things to take back to your home towns, but don’t get disappointed if you don’t learn all the fancy stuff you were hoping for. Bear in mind that by weeks 4 and 5, many teachers have been there for several weeks and are starting to wear down, so be a little understanding if they don’t seem completely on form. Many of them will be tired from dancing into the early hours of the morning (teachers generally get paid less than usual in Herräng, so have less of an obligation to be fresh and spritely for classes). I have also heard stories about high-profile teachers turning up drunk or hungover, but this is not the place for that sort of speculation.

WHAT ABOUT BLUES NIGHT?

*Sigh* I personally feel that this topic gets FAR too much hype and speculation, hence the numerous dodgy connotations and stigma that seems to be attached to it. Yes, some people get too gropey on the dancefloor. Many people enjoy it and leave to continue the groping in a more socially acceptable location. Others (men and women) are forced to endure several minutes of discomfort.

I like to think of blues night, or ‘slow drag’ night as it is now called, as an opportunity to dress up and dance to some slightly different, awesome music. And escape the usual chaos of noise that usually fills the dance floor. If you don’t like the sound of this, go and dance in the lindy hop rooms (yes, they still exist). If you are curious to give the blues floor a go, my survival tips are:

-        Try to identify a few people you feel comfortable dancing with.
-        If you have an uncomfortable dance, simply thank the person at the end and then walk away.
-        Remember that whilst there will be a few people who know they are being inappropriate, a lot of the people that get too close will be new to blues dancing, and not fully aware that what they are doing is wrong.
-        Don’t feel that you need to conform with those who brag about ‘dancing all night’ ‘dancing with x number of people’ or ‘dancing x number of songs with a certain person’. Do what feels comfortable for you. If that happens to be a few songs with your friends, with the rest of the time watching, or mingling around outside of the ball room, then that’s ok.

WHAT ABOUT STOCKHOLM?
Yes, it is worth going to. Plan to spend a few days after your week/s in Herräng there. Most likely, you will meet other people at the camp during the week that are also planning to hang around for a few days, so it shouldn’t be too hard to find some sight seeing buddies!

WILL THIS BE MY LAST POST ABOUT HERRÄNG?
Not likely. Expect another long winded story about my 7 weeks there sometime late in August. But I will try to post about something different in the meantime.

IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE YOU SHOULD KNOW?
Probably, If you think of it, feel free to ask :)

IN CONCLUSION:
Herräng is pretty much as awesome as you allow it to be. Lose your expectations, step out of your comfort zone and chill out. Take things as they come, and be sure to seize as many opportunities as possible, no matter how obscure or ‘non-dancing’ they may be!

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Combining dance styles: Jeremy & Laura.

So the truth is, that I am procrastinating from writing a much harder blog post. It will be with you eventually, but in the meantime I am going to share another video I found. I stumbled across this one when I was looking for some Collegiate Shag videos.

Laura and Jeremy seem to get a lot less hype than many of the other high profile dancing couples. At least outside the US. I am struggling to see why. Sure, your Max & Annie’s or your Kevin and Jo’s might be flashier with their crazy aerials, use of props or super fancy jazz steps. BUT look at how awesomely these two manage to fit collegiate shag, balboa, lindy hop and charleston into the one song and make it all flow so seamlessly that you can barely notice the transition between styles!!

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Snowball 2011

I will write a slightly longer blog post about this once I am home and recovered from an epic week, but for now I felt the need to say that Snowball is absolutely AMAZING!! If you have been thinking of going, then start saving your pennies for next year. If might be considered one of the pricier dance events, but it is well worth every single cent. Here is a little clip to help me persuade you:

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What makes a good dance venue good?

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, I have moved across the world to a far bigger and more chaotic city than my hometown. Despite it being bigger, I still haven’t found a job, or a decent place to live. Which means that I haven’t had the finances or proximity to town to get out and dance as much as I would like to. Shame really, given the size of and number of places I can dance within this lindy scene, but I’ll find a job soon enough and will probably be able to write a more in depth post than what I am about to ramble now. Given that I am in a new city, with a greater ability to travel, I would like to be able to write more about my dancing experiences here.

So, despite being somewhat restricted by finances and location, I have made it several times to a couple of the regular dance events here. As I expected, whilst there are some people that regularly attend both, each of these schools that run the events seem to be able to exist as separate ‘scenes’ as such. Which is different to what I am used to. Where I come from; yes most of the schools, as well as the swing dance society, run their own events, but you will find a large majority of people at all the events. And they are most often acknowledged as being a part of the scene, no matter whos event they are at. Maybe it is like that here and I just haven’t been around long enough to witness it. I have no doubt that those who have been around long enough, and are skilled enough will stand out no matter whose event they dance at. But as usual, I have kind of digressed from my point. I was highlighting the fact that many of the dance schools here seem big enough to operate as their own separate scene in order to offer it as a potential explanation as to why I get very different vibes from these two nights. Yes, this could be explained by the fact that each venue has a different atmosphere, and is organised by different people. But again, I am coming from the smallish isolated city perspective, where (despite politics and pettiness) all the events have a similar vibe to them, which ultimately reflects the scene as a whole.

Back to my point. So, as I said, I have been to two of the regular social dance nights. One during the week, and one on a weekend night. One of them, I found to be very noisy, crowded and dark. Good if you want to just grab people to dance the night away (if you don’t get trodden on an injured). Not so good if you want to hold a conversation with someone. And even worse if you actually want to be able to meet new people and talk to them for longer than the 10 seconds following a dance together. But it’s not all negative, the dancing there is awesome, and I am yet to have a ‘bad dance’. The other venue is crowded, but it’s much easier to get outside for fresh air. The lighting is better, so you can actually see, from across the room. There is more space around the dance floor so it is possible to move around more easily. People seem to come up and talk to you before asking you to dance. And not because I’m ‘new’, because most people aren’t even aware that I am still new to the city and this scene. And possibly the thing I like most about this event, is that newcomers and visitors to the scene are welcomed, there are often birthday dances and dances for those who are leaving, and there is some form of announcements. To me, it’s little things like that that make those at the event feel like they are part of a community, and one of the things that makes a dance venue good.

I’ve deliberately left out some of the bad, and a few of the good things in my description of these venues. Mostly because I don’t want to piss anyone off in the event that they find this blog and realise I wrote it. What I want to do instead, is use my experiences so far, as well as my experiences back home to write a list of things that I feel make a good dance venue good. I guess this is my opinion of what my opinion of ‘good’ is, which is partly shaped by the notion that being part of a dance scene is not purely about going out and dancing until you are exhausted. So some of you may dispute my list or deem it incomplete. I’ve written previously about my reservations about blogging; so please just take this as my opinion, and not a well articulated argument that is being put out there for circulation and debate! Having said that, feel free to comment or add to the list if you wish :)

1. A welcoming front desk.
Assuming it is an event where payment is required, the way the front desk is set up can be important, particularly for making newcomers feel welcome. Decent lighting so people can find their money and/or club cards is definitely a plus. As is having the desk slightly away from the dancing area, so that people can stand around it and ask questions if they wish. A friendly person on the front desk is essential, and whilst this might not be feasible in larger scenes, it is nice if the person on the front desk is able to keep an eye out for people who look new (they often look a little lost, so they stand out quite easily), ask their names, and introduce themselves. Time permitting, it is also nice to make an effort to inform the new people of the regular events, and encourage them to sign up for newsletters or membership.

2. Access to water.
At the regular event I helped to run back home, we sold bottled water. People also had access to free water via the bathroom taps and water fountains (the event takes place in a primary school hall). I acknowledge that many dance venues are not able to sell their own cheap bottled water, as they are bars or what not, but access to free water should be obligatory at every venue. I’ve been to a venue, where not only do you have to pay for bottled water, but all the cold water taps in the bathrooms have been disabled. With the exception of one single bathroom, but people tend to use that for up to 10 minutes at a time to get changed and god knows what else, so it’s not really a viable option. When I asked about this, I was told that the venue does this so that a) More people buy bottled water (for much more than it is worth, might I add!) and b) To keep their water bills down. So it’s not the fault of the dance organisers, but it does highlight the need for such organisers to liase properly with the venue organisers to ensure that water is available. Where I come from, you are pretty much legally obligated to ensure access to free drinking water anywhere alcohol is served.

3. Announce yourself.
The vast majority of people that attend a social dance event will know at least who runs it and may have a vague idea of what it is about. But for those who don’t, and as a nice gesture, I think it is nice to have some form of announcements during the night. At a bare minimum, announce the night and introduce/thank the DJs. If it is an new/unfamiliar/larger venue, some basing housekeeping announcements never go astry either. Let people know where the bathrooms are, if/where they can buy drinks at the venue, and if there are any other important issues (eg parking) they should be aware of. I also it is nice to throw in something a little more social every now and then, like circle/steal dances for peoples birthdays and for those leaving the city. An occasional performance is nice too. Perhaps I was indulged to have all of these in my hometown, but I do feel that it really makes a difference in terms of making the place feel like a real community as opposed to somewhere to just dance.

4. Breathing room.
Any dancer will tell you that crowded dancefloors are often part of the package. Fair enough; many venues, awesome as they may be, just don’t have enough dance floor space for everyone to do massive swing outs at the same time. And whilst that isn’t awesome, it’s ok. What’s not ok is when, in addition to a small dancefloor space, there is minimal space for people to sit down/talk/change their shoes and any of the other things people do when they aren’t dancing. It’s really important that there is some non dance floor space, where people can chill out, without getting kicked  or knocked over by dancers 2 inches away from them. At a bare minimum, some chairs around the perimeter of the dance floor is a good start. What is even nicer is (and this applies more so to venues that aren’t also bars etc open to the general public), some space outside, that is easy to access, where people can get some fresh air, and have a conversation without shouting over the music.

5. Atmosphere.
There is a lot I could write here, but for now I will stick to the basics. Lighting is important. No dancer enjoys social dancing in a brightly lit venue; but a venue that is so dark you can’t see who is on the other side of the room is not cool either. Pair a lack of adequate lighting with a lack of adequate floor space and you pretty much have yourself a night club dance floor with less drunkeness. Unfortunately, many venues are not designed as dancing halls, so their lighting is not designed to function as such. Often there are only 2 options: all of the lights, or none of the lights. In these instances, it seems that venues choose to go for the no lights option. A lack of lighting in these circumstances can be easily solved with a couple of lamps or strings of IKEA lights. Affordable, easy to set up, and they can make all the difference.

6. Add a little novelty.
When the same social dance is held at the same time every week/fortnight/month, at the same venue, it’s easy for it to get a little monotonous, awesome dancing aside.  Mix it up a little with a bit of a theme every now and then. Doesn’t have to be anything  large scale; an occasional dress up for Halloween/Christmas; a silly hat night; a fundraiser night; a ‘bring a plate’ night (if the venue permits).  If possible, throw in some decorations to compliment the theme. If the dancing group running the event has a performance team, throw in a performance every now and then. Examples I have experienced are: Christmas parties, Halloween themes, ‘Mad Hatters Tea Party’ where everyone brought a plate of food, ‘Frocktober’ – (An Australian based charity for womens cancers) where everyone was encouraged to wear a dress (including the guys), and prizes were given. None of these required huge amounts of preparation in terms of decorations etc, but they were all fun, and the majority of those who attended got in to the theme and spirit of things.

As usual, I have started this blog with more ideas in my head than I am now able to recall. I might add them later. Or I might leave it. Feel free to add to the list!

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Reflections on Herräng: 2011

Yep, It’s finally here; Herräng 2011!

Several days after the camp ended, I found myself in a burger joint in Stockholm, with several of the friends I made in Herräng. A random Australian woman sitting nearby recognised my accent, and proceeded to start up a conversation. Shortly afterwards, she asked the people with me where they were from: England, Ireland, USA and Sweden. She then asked how on earth a bunch of people from all over the world managed to end up together in downtown Stockholm. And the simple answer was: Herräng. This is one of the main things I love about Herräng; the fact that people of all ages, from all over the world, from all walks of life come together to a tiny town in the middle of nowhere to share a mutual love of dancing, sleep deprivation and craziness.

2011 was my fourth time in Herräng, and my second time being there for every single week. I have to admit, whilst I still had an awesome time, it still didn’t meet the amazingness of last year. If you compare this years blog to last years, you will probably notice that there are considerably less stories about spontaneous non dancing activities, so I apologise if this post is not as interesting as last years. Maybe it was because I had done it before, so the novelty of being there for the whole time wasn’t there this time, maybe it was because there were different people there, maybe it was because some of the aspects that were so prominent last year such as the Lithuanian musicians jamming late in to the night or the security woman affectionately dubbed ”the no bitch” were absent. Maybe it was because the weather was not as nice this year so there were significantly less outdoor and spontaneous activities than last year. Perhaps it was my long lasting sickness that kept me in bed for the best part of a week and reduced my ability to be ‘hard core’. Or maybe, most likely, it was a combination of all the aforementioned factors. Nonetheless, Herräng 2011 was not quite as eventful as last year, hence the lack of earlier promised blog posts. Having said that, it was still the best 7 weeks of my year.

And as usual, I have digressed, so I will get back to my summary.

Coming back this year was a rather bizarre feeling. Although it has been over 10 months since I left last year; in many ways it felt like I had hardly been away at all. Arriving at the camp for set up week were many familiar faces from the previous year. Everything looked almost the same as it did when I left it last August, and over the week I saw the camp transform in the pretty much the exact same environment as I remember and loved so much last year. There were several of us who were able to remember how and where things were supposed to go, and recall how and why things were organised during crashdown last week.

Another thing that struck me was how easy it was to fall back in to the same friendships and interactions with people from last year, despite having next to no communication with them since last camp. Whilst I have made many new awesome friends, it was also been nice, and in some cases a little unexpected to basically pick up where we left off. I was also surprised at how easy it was to remember so many little details from last year, and that others also seemed to share this talent to recall even short conversations from last year.  One of my friends described these phenomena as life being like a succession of Herrängs with ‘stuff happening in between’. Or Herräng life being put on pause for 10 months, and then picking up again right where you left off the previous year. I’m inclined to agree with them.

So, back to my summary:

THE BEGINNING:

I arrived in Stockholm on the Thursday before set up week. Shortly after arriving I met up with a friend from last year, and then managed to make it to her apartment with my enormous amount of luggage all by myself, to enjoy my last night in a room by myself for at least 7 weeks. The following day, I made my way to another friends house, who I would be going up to Herräng with the next morning. Once I finally made it there (after realising that I was actually on a train, not a subway and had to backtrack my journey a little), it was nice to see a friendly familiar face again, despite having nearly no communication for the best part of the preceeding 10 months.

The next morning we made the pilgrimage up to Herräng via several busses, along with many other fellow dancers. Seeing the bus pull in at the bus stop with familiar faces waving out the window was a little surreal at first, but it finally made it feel like Herräng was really here at last!.

We arrived back at familiar territory to many familiar sights and faces.  There were a few of us from setup week last year who were crazy enough to do it all again. After doing the meet and greet, wandering around wondering what we were supposed to do, and being fed, we were soon put to work on bed duty. Our first job was to collect the beds from storage. Despite a few wrong turns, our driver managed to find his way to far barn. Or maybe it was far far barn, I can’t remember. Nonetheless, we soon found ourselves navigating the ‘map’ of the barn to find the beds we needed. Or rather the beds we decided then that we needed.

In terms of work, I had pretty similar duties to last year: bed assembling, fridge cleaning, organising the propshop; as well as some tent assembling and carrying a large tent/marquee down the road from the school house to the dancing area. It was amazing how much I was able to remember from the previous year. I was also given the task of making curtains for one of the rooms, a task for which I was given a box of assorted brightly coloured mattress covers and a stapler.

This set up week, I was also a little more social in the evenings, as opposed to last year where I pretty much went straight to bed after working every night. We had dancing parties, a bonfire/birthday party, and several ‘parties’ in what we dubbed the “squishy room”, which was basically a room with several bunk beds in it which you couldn’t actually see due to the huge pile of duvet and pillow filled bags. I’m pretty sure that at one point we had over 20 people in there.

WEEK ONE
Apparently I had forgotten from last year how exhausting it is volunteering two weeks in a row. This week I was back in my usual workplace, the Ice Cream Parlour, and managed to score the dishwashing job again. As far as volunteering weeks go, I am pretty sure this was the most fun out of all my years/weeks volunteering in Herräng. Like last year, I managed to get visitors every day to keep me company, and during the periods of sunshine, I was able to set myself up in a deckchair in the sun whilst I dried the dishes. Leisure and productivity at the same time!
Given that it was only the first week, I concluded that I still had many weeks left to dance, so consequently,  the majority of my evenings were spent hanging out in the volunteer box, often getting Swedish lessons from one of my friends. My favourite sentance is still: Du har tomtar på loftet.

WEEK TWO
Finally it was time for some classes!. I registered for the beginner-intermediate balboa stream, thinking that it would assume an understanding of the basics and teach variations and further steps. Alas, I found the classes more basic than I would have liked, with many of the students unfamiliar with core moves such as the come around. Whilst I appreciate the amount of detail some of the teachers when in to with regard to technique etc, I was also hoping for develop my repertoire of  common steps to help me be better able to get through an entire song of social dancing. Whilst I did miss some classes due to illness, my understanding is that I probably would not have got this even if I did go to all the classes. Nonetheless, it has given me a little more motivation to take my balboa seriously, and start going to classes once I am settled in London.
In terms of non-dancing highlights, we made the most of the clear (albeit cold) weather one night to have a bonfire down the beach. This ultimately ended with 5 people, 2 of them drunk, and 2 of them very drunk, trying to make their way back to the dance hall at 330am, using 2 bikes. Whilst I am still unable to ride a bike, I can now pedal from the luggage rack whilst someone is steering, and I can yell random Swedish sentences down the street at the same time. The later part of the week saw the emergence of what turned out to be my worst Herräng flu yet, so I unfortunately missed out on one of my favourite parts of the week; basement blues.

WEEK THREE
Volunteering time again!!. To the shock of many, I asked to get the dishwashing job again, and was granted this request. Again, I was working with a nice bunch of people, but for some reason they found it much harder to understand my accent. But I still got my visitors coming to see me. Or maybe it was come to get some of the free ‘dodgy cookies’ that we weren’t able to sell.
Week 3 saw the first of several 24 hour challenges; one of my friends, Dylan, accepted a challenge to live with the goats (yes, the camp now has 2 goats: Willy and Billy) for 24 hours.  We visited him about halfway through this feat, to find that he had become quite accustomed to his new environment.
By Tuesday, the Herräng flu took full hold over me. I had to miss most of a day of work, and miss blues night (as well as several other nights of blues dancing). My friend periodically fed me ginger, although I feel his generosity may have been linked to his amusement at the faces I pull when I eat it.

WEEK FOUR.
Although run down, and reduced in stamina, my sickness had subsided considerably, so I was better able to get out there an enjoy myself. This week I did the Collegiate Shag and 1920′s Charleston classes. Whilst I admit that I did skip a few, the classes that I did go to were awesome! And let me tell you, the shag was a damn good workout! (the ‘shag’ jokes never ceased to amuse us).
We also saw another crazy 24 hour challenge this week: 24 hour Karaoke. 10pm to 10pm. My hat goes off to the people that lasted the whole distance, and I have to admit that I feel slightly sorry for the people working in the bar, where the majority of the even took place!.
I noted earlier that this year was slightly lacking in spontaneous craziness, but here is an exception: The outdoor cinema. Find a generator, some large plastic tarps, some poles, and a projector; set them up at the big desert looking area by the beach and you have yourselves a cinema! To finish off this evening, we headed back to the folkets hus area to the Dennys restaurant that had been set up for its grand 2am opening.

WEEK FIVE
Another thing I had forgotten from last year, was that by this point I am too tired to really absorb much from lindy hop classes. When I registered, I must have been feeling really ambitious or foolish, and placed myself in the advanced stream. Whilst I was placed in the lower of the two streams, during the audition, I still found myself to be pretty out of my depth. Nonetheless, the classes I went to, I enjoyed. The lovely Swedes, Hasse & Marie and Hanna & Mattias stood out as my favourites.
Non-swing music managed to invade the dance floor on two occasions this week; which, from what I have heard, is probably 2 times more often as the traditionalist minded organisers would have liked. Nonetheless, it was quite refreshing after listening to pre 1950s jazz for the past 5 weeks. ”Bad Music Night” was back, on it’s usual Thursday night, and like last year ended up being my best dancing night of the camp. I did however notice, that there was overall less enthusiasm toward it compared to last year. Last year I had to tear myself away from a very enthusiastic dancefloor at about 515am to get some sleep; this year, the dancefloor had thinned out considerably by 330am, which is pretty much why I ended up going to bed.
The other night, was something I hadn’t seen before, and I have a feeling that we probably won’t see it again. One of the evening classes that night was ‘how to party really well’. Alas, my volunteering duties kept me away from this class, but around 11pm, the ‘class’ made it’s way to the main folkets hus area. Seemed that ‘class’ was a thinly disguised cover for ‘party’ or ‘piss up, which resulted in a large group of rowdy people, in varying states of intoxication, 90s music blaring out of a portable sound system, coming in to invade the library dance floor. Whilst I had fun, I must admit I was disappointed that I didn’t recognise many of the songs played. Seemed that ’90s’ music referred to the earlier part of the decade, and not the gems of the later part of the decade that I associate with my highschool youth.

CRASHDOWN.
Having found it incredibly difficult to leave halfway through this week last year, I made sure I was registered for it this time. Somehow I landed the job of doing all the laundry; apparently both the laundry boss, and the general accommodation manager were under the assumption that I was the right person for the job because I helped my friend do it for a day last year.  This job involved washing ALL the teachers and VIP sheets, ALL the general accomodation sheets that had been left behind by campers, ALL the private accommodation linen, ALL the lost property, and ALL the assorted junk that was deemed machine washable. The washing then had to be sorted by type, and then further sorted into ‘good’ and ‘not so good’ piles. I have no idea of the exact quantity, but what I can say is that it took me 4 days (2 with help), working 12 hours, with 5 washing machines and 5 dryers to get it all done. At some point, we had to close the laundry, and I had the awesome idea of leaving the excess linen in a bag to be washed next year to test to washing machines. I thought I was so smart for coming up with that…..until I realised that it will probably be me who has to set up the laundry next year.
By the time I finished in the laundry, most of the other duties had been done, so apart from some sweeping, mopping and scrubbing of stove tops, I didn’t really get to do much else.

THE END
Before we knew it, Thursday afternoon rolled around and it was time to say goodbye and leave the place many of us had called home for the last 7 weeks. For me, it was not quite as sad as last year, and I managed to avoid shedding any tears. Most likely due to the fact that I knew I was going to see many of the people again at or before Snowball at the end of the year. I could empathise a lot with one girl who was in tears as she said goodbye to everyone.
For most, the Herräng experience ended as soon as they left for the bus. For two of my friends and I, it wasn’t quite as simple. My friend was in charge of taking one of the trucks back to Stockholm, and we went along for the ride. This also involved dropping some bikes off at Chicago Dance Studio. Sounds like a simple task, but when there is no parking nearby, and the bikes are locked, it makes for an interesting experience, carrying 4 bikes between 3 people a block and a half down Stockholm. Then we got to drop everyones luggage off at the Swedish Swing Society, where the majority of people were staying for a night or two. Then we took the truck back to the garage. Then we waited back outside SSS until our knocking finally woke someone up who could let our friend in. Then we finally made it back to my friends place sometime shortly after midnight.

WHAT ABOUT THE DANCING? AND THE MUSIC?
So I’ve have noticed that many peoples blogs about dance camps and exchanges usually involved a long nerdy spiel about the music and dancing. What was good and what was not so good. I could pretend to be one of those nerds, but to be honest, I was too preoccupied with the rest of the spontaneity and culture of Herräng to  absorb enough to make valid comments. Of course the dancing was great, and the live bands were awesome as they always are, but for me, it isn’t the most important part of Herräng, hence the lack of comments about them. 

ANOTHER YEAR OVER.
So that’s it. Another Herräng over. Not as good as last year, but still amazing. Sadly, I’m not 100% if I can make it next year, but I will be doing everything I can to make sure I can. So until then, over and out.

UPDATE: PHOTOS NOW INCLUDED:

1. Repeated use and stacking of bedframes, unfortunately reduces the strength of some of them. Here is Herrängs safety solution to this problem:

My bed, creatively set up in a rather disorganised way, for the whole duration of the camp.

Admittedly, I became a little pedantic about how the dishes should be done in the ICP. Here are my rules, which remained there, even after I finished my volunteering:

The camps goats, acquired last year as a present for Lennart, proved to be quite a distraction. How could you not love these guys??

My friend made me a ‘sun’ for my bed, after I complained about the lack of summer weather this year. Pretty awesome, huh? And that light proved to be very handy!

A glimpse into the insane amount of laundry I did during crashdown:

 

 

 

 

Carrying bikes through Stockholm…

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Evita & Michael: Beantown Camp 2010

Another fun video I stumbled across recently. I am LOVING the musicality and playfulness in this one. So many awesome charleston and jazz steps :)

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Reflections on my life as a lindy hopper #1

This is going to be yet another one of my more personal blogs where I ramble on about my own experiences in my lindy hop scene. I figure that now is an appropriate time more than any, given that in less than a week I am moving to the other side of the world and in a few months after that (once I have returned from Herräng and settled a bit), I will be part of a completely new dance scene. With my departure looming closer and closer, I have found myself reflecting over the past 4 years; the ups, the downs and the impact this dance and everything associated with being part of a scene has had on my life. I have gone from being a newbie, excited and overwhelmed by this new world I had discovered, to one of the more longer term dancers, a perceived (somewhat) ‘person who knows most things’ on the committee who has lengthy conversations (and occasional whinges) about how things have changed since I started dancing.

I recently came across a blog post in which the author talks about how dancing helped him out of a dark hole of social isolation and depression. I have also spoken to a few other friends who describe how their new found love for dancing brought them out of the pits of depression. This made me think about the impact dancing had on me at that particular point in my life. It’s a little bit trickier for me to pinpoint timewise, as I actually only started to social dance and ‘discover’ the scene so to speak, nearly six months after I started doing classes (which I was attending sporadically). Nonetheless, my situation for the bulk of that year was pretty similar: I was in a job I wasn’t very happy in. I had numerous failed attempts to get back in to the area of work I enjoyed, a few of my closest friends had moved away. Other friends were starting to drift away and spend more time with their newer circles of friends. I was putting on weight. And mum was on my case about my weight, my apparent inability to manage a house, and my lack of desire to settle down and buy a house. To sum it up, I was miserable. And then my friend insisted that we start going to dance class more than once a week. And then we started social dancing. I quite quickly got a little group of friends that I hung out with a lot. We used to go for coffee in between class and social dancing on a Thursday night, and after the regular Friday night dancing gig in the city. Slowly but steadily, I started to get to know some of the other “regular” dancers. Dancing had started to take over my life; I was going to classes up to 4 times a week, in addition to social dancing. I then actually had regular Friday night plans and a core group of friends! I want to talk more about my experiences from the social aspect of dancing; but I have a fair amount to say, and I think those comments will fit in better with another blog idea in the back of my mind. The point is, for me dancing = new friends who accepted my quirkiness, regular plans and weight loss = a much happier me.

As for work, well I remember having this epiphany in a kebab shop one Friday night. Yes I know that sounds bizzare when worded like that, but it is essentially what happened. I was sitting in the kebab shops with a few of my friends, after another fun night of dancing, when I realised that I was HAPPY for the first time in ages. And it was dancing that made me happy. And whilst my job might not have beeen exactly what I wanted, it allowed me to do the dancing that makes me happy. It gaves me money to pay for classes, and I could take flexi time if I had overslept a little after a night of dancing. In other words, dancing was now the most important thing in my life, and being happy was no longer dependant on having a enjoyable challenging job. I ended up sticking with that job. For over 4 years in the end.

Now I am not saying that the past 4 years has been all flowers and ponies; I am not going to deny that my time in the dance scene has had it’s ups and downs. Because it has.  I have made some awesome friendships, but I have also lost some as well. I have gone through phases where I have felt really crap about my dancing, and struggled to find my ‘dancing mojo’ again. But I have always bounced back. I have had amazing experiences at Herräng and our local lindy exchange, but I have also experienced dance events that have left me feeling ”meh”. I have found people that I felt about to connect with and let my guard down to, but I have also been hurt by people too.  Seems you can’t avoid the ups and downs in life, no matter how awesome where you are or what you are doing is.

I seem to have digressed considerably. I don’t really remember exactly what the main topic of this blog was supposed to be. I was going to make a lot of comments about the changes I have witnessed during my time in the dance scene, and I have a lot to say about the different dynamics within it. But that will have to wait for another blog post. Or several posts.

Anyway, the reason why I started to write this blog (I think) was because I have been thinking a lot lately about what my life would be like if I hadn’t started dancing. Given how terrible I was feeling at the time, would I have descended into a severe depressive state? Or would I have channelled that unhappiness into pushing to get the sort of job I so desperately wanted. Would I now be working longer hours at one of my cities biggest hospitals?. Would I have been more or less successful than I have been in my current job? Who would my friends be? Would I have found new friends? Would I be a loner? or would I still be a token straight girl hitting the gay clubs with my friends every weekend?. Would there be something else filling the void that dancing filled? Would it be a different kind of dance? Would I have learnt how to use Excel had I not had the role of treasurer for my dance society? Would I have travelled? One of the main reasons I went to Europe for the first time was to go to Herräng. I did a lot of other things that time too, but my initial interest was sparked by my friend mentioning this dance camp he was going to in Sweden. If I wasn’t in love with this dance, I doubt I would have gone back to Herräng and Europe two more times after that initial trip. Would I even be moving next week if it wasn’t for dancing? Perhaps if I had never started dancing, I would have a different job, a mortgage (because I wouldn’t be spending all my money on holidays), and no desire to live anywhere other than here. Scary thought.

Nonetheless, I am pretty damn grateful for the impact dancing has had on my life.

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