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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: