MY TIME AT HERRÄNG 2003
Sorry if you find that this page takes an age to down-load. This year I took 214 shots with my digital camera, and I felt like using lots of them.
It is difficult to express just how much I had been looking forward to going to Herräng this year. I started looking forward to it intensely before I had even left the year before. Like a love-sick boy I thought of my Herräng every day. I get one short holiday a year, and I have invested this precious time in Herräng for five years on the trot. Through the drabness of the rest of my year I dreamed of dancing the night away with the world's best swingers.
At long last the time came to buy my 'plane ticket and stock up on mosquito repellents, and with tight-packed rucksack take the Metro to Newcastle airport, and thence to the skies. The night before leaving, a friend rang me to invite me over for a couple of hours. I said I might but that I was feeling a bit bushed. He suggested that I might be coming down with a cold, as he was. The thought had not struck me until that moment, but I realised with horror that he was right. This was the thing I had in previous years feared more than anything, and this year I had given it no thought. I packed some throat lozenges and aspirins. It would take a dose of bubonic plague to stop me going to Herräng.
I arrived on the Wednesday of Week 3. Again I took the public bus to Herräng, at a cost of 30 Kr. as opposed to the 350 Kr that they were charging for the "limousine service". The bus drivers are all friendly and speak enough English to help a traveller get to Herräng without much trouble. I looked for my favoured tent site but it was taken, and so I camped nearby, and almost immediately met a Finn who had been reading these accounts of my time there, and who had been e-mailing me about them. One hears horror stories of people who meet through the internet, and I was relieved to discover that she was indeed a young Finnish swing dancer, and not a middle-aged bricklayer from Clapham called Gary.
I was summoned into the office and asked if I knew "In the Summertime". I did, and on this strength was recruited by Chester into the band that was going to play a concert to kick off the Woodstock party on the Friday. He had a playlist sorted out, and I spent a while on the internet down-loading lyrics for him of the songs that had been chosen. I was also going to sing "Teen Angel", and perhaps "Hey Jude".
By this method, I managed to miss the start of blues night. I met Gunnar, who proudly told me that his lighting effects for the performance that kicks off blues night every week were slick, spectacular, and much-complimented. I got into my zoot suit trousers and home made spats, and joined in with blues night.
Through will-power and an immune system inherited from my father Zeus, I managed to fight back all the symptoms of my cold except for a general feeling of inner bleargh. My nose did not run, nor did I cough or sneeze on my partners, but I could not really enjoy my dancing, and I think I danced fairly poorly.
THURSDAY WEEK 3
My plan was to have a long lie-in, but this proved impossible. The sun hit my tent in the morning and heated me to sweating delirium. I rose, and tried to sort my head out. I moved my tent to somewhere calculated to be shadier in the mornings.
I wanted to avoid wasting the whole of Saturday trying to register, which happened to me the last two years. In 1999 I registered on arrival, and this was quick and easy. Now, though, they were being strict about not registering anyone until the proper time. I wandered about observing classes, taking a few notes of the moves, and trying to spot people I knew. The place seemed so empty in comparison with past years. I took these photographs with my new digital camera.
There was a band rehearsal in the early evening in the basement. As is typical at such events, people turned up in dribs and drabs, and much had to be improvised. No one was really in charge, and sometimes there seemed either to be too many chiefs and not enough Indians, or perhaps too many Indians and not enough chiefs. Opinions differed as to whether we should try and keep things simple, go for big production numbers, stick to the way the numbers were played on the recordings of the original Woodstock concert, or do our own thing with them. There was also confusion as to who was doing what. Someone else was under the impression that he was singing "Teen Angel" which was fine by me since I didn't know the song anyway, and had only heard a downloaded MP3 file of another song with the same name. I was bit disappointed to lose "Hey Jude" though, because I think my voice suited the song. I got to sing "In the Summertime" a grand total of once, and was not sure that they had the right key for the pitch of my voice. Most of the time I just sat quietly being dripped on by the condensation from the drying washing. We had a couple of hours to decide on and rehearse a forty-five minute concert. We made do. Actually, I think people were on the whole pretty reasonable and competent, given the task in hand. We didn't actually rehearse all the songs, though.
I went to the evening meeting, and then got ready for the cabaret. For reasons I didn't fully understand, I had again volunteered to appear in the cabaret, this time with three spots. The organiser was relieved when I told him that the longest of these was under two minutes. The cabaret artistes gathered in the bar downstairs, and I helped to cut down the two lampshades blocking the view of the monitor we'd all watch the show on. The sound was a bit dodgy. One of the acts was a tap dance but it took me a while to realise this, since the dancers were not using microphones and in the bar we heard no taps.
Here we see the performers in the bar, waiting for their spots. Prominent is the British group which will go on and dance a Balboa routine. Oddly, most of them weren't from Britain. Some were even from France, which just goes to show how much the law can be relaxed by swing dance.
I was a bit worried that my acts wouldn't go down well. Perhaps my humour would miss the mark. I considered that if the first didn't come off, I could just cancel the third. My first spot involved reading out the words of Pennsylvania 6-5000 as though they were terribly moving and meaningful. This took thirty seconds, and seemed to get a couple of little chuckles. My second spot involved reciting some of the words the Tutti Frutti in the manner of a British army officer, and seemed tolerably well-received, so I went ahead with my third: a few lines from Surry With A Fringe On Top read out in the voice of a horror film trailer ("Nosey folks will peep through their shutters, and theirs eyes... will POP!" etc.). I seemed to get away with it. My second spot wasn't miked-up, so no one in the bar heard a thing.
One of my spots followed a fast routine by the Harlem Hotshots. They came off the stage running with sweat and all panting very hard. Other acts included an exceptionally tall man trying various ways to dance with an exceptionally short woman, and a slow sexy dance by a group of women to All That Jazz. The curtains closed, and the compères followed their instructions and asked the audience if it wanted to see this last act again. The audience knew its part and chorused the affirmative. The curtains parted to reveal the same scene, except that the women had all been replaced by chunky men in lipstick, who proceeded to repeat the same routine very badly, and to great laughs. The compères had not been let in on the joke, and their look of amazement was worth the secrecy.
Overall the cabaret was not the greatest, but the audiences at Herräng are always pretty warm and a good time was had. The compères were unrehearsed, and not quite up to filling the gaps left by the disorganised technicians. I later learned that the old guard who had been training up the new blood to take over the tasks of lighting, curtain opening, and sound mixing, had chosen this night as the first when the new crew would be on its own for the first time, and it seems that novices didn't quite rise to the occasion. I gathered that the older organisers at the camp were trying to hand over responsibility for the running of things in general to younger folk. I also gathered that this process was not being entirely successful. Many of the tasks turn a load of larks into actual work.
That evening I tried out my social Lindy hop. My cold still held me back a lot, and I didn't last long, and couldn't really enjoy myself, but I noticed immediately how the combination of great music, smooth floor, and confident partners meant that fast numbers no longer felt fast. You must understand that for a year I had danced with no one but absolute beginners, and so the sensation of leading a partner into a fast Lindy turn with ease was unfamiliar and wonderful. I found too that my feet were freed up by the quality of my partners, and I was doing footwork that for the rest of the year never happens for me.
FRIDAY WEEK 3
I had my first ever lesson with Frankie Manning. I wasn't signed up for any classes yet, but was invited in to make up for a lack of chaps in that class. He taught moves I've seen on the Herräng video for a few years running, and his patter had a rehearsed charm. In the years to come, I will be able to say that I was taught by an original Savoy Ballroom dancer.
As a man of science, I was curious to notice this ghostly image of a bicycle on the tarmac outside the Folkets Hus. The image is made up of light coloured sand. I noticed others like it showing where once had been standing bikes. I formed the theory that during a rain shower, the rain had washed away sand from the surface of the tarmac except where that surface was sheltered by a bike. This seemed unlikely, but it was the best I could think of. I couldn't see how this would explain the image of the standing bikes, because I couldn't believe that rain could fall at so consistent an angle. More of this later.
Hanna of the Harlem Hotshots was in charge of the Friday night party entertainment and I asked whether she already had plans for a sign saying "Tune in, turn on, swing out" which struck me as apt for a swing Woodstock party. She instantly recruited me to paint one. I supposed I walked into that. I spent the afternoon painting signs, and doing other work for Hanna, which included hacking down lots of tree branches for decorations.
Every year they put a map on a pin board and invite people to stick red (women) and blue (men) pins into it to show where the people at the camp are from. This photograph shows what an urban phenomenon swing is. I also suspect that it shows the influence of a small number of people. Two clusters in Russia show that Moscow and Saint Petersburg are home to almost all the Russian swingers. Spain is empty but for a few in Barcelona. My lonely pin is in Newcastle, while London has a big rosette of the things. All the pins in Hungary are in Budapest, and all those in the Ukraine are in Kiev. Hamburg and Berlin account for most of the Germans, and swing doesn't seem to have taken off at all in Italy or Denmark. I gather that the Russian interest in swing dance all comes from the trips made there by Swedes. Presumably just a tiny number of people started the swing scenes in Budapest, Barcelona, and Kiev. Only Switzerland appears to be evenly covered with pins, but this is an illusion brought about by the smallness of the country and the size of the pin-heads. The sharp ends are all in cities.
The band met again to rehearse. We had very little time, and decided to spend much of it faffing about. We never did rehearse all the numbers. I asked when would I know when to come in with my singing. I was told that the band would be playing the same chord all the time, so I should come in whenever I liked. I didn't know what key we would be in, nor, for that matter, the words. We would have to wing it. A discussion occured over the running order. The band's leader had Hey Jude as the end number. This was changed to Rolling to the River.
After a while, we were told to leave, because people were turning up for the concert, and shouldn't hear the songs in advance. I did a bit of mingling, while the rest of the band got into costume. Here are some more photographs. A group photo of the band was taken, but I wasn't in it, because I had knocked over someone's glass of water and was returning having gone to refill it. There was also a group hug, but I missed it, having gone to the Prop Shop to look for something resembling a costume (I was later told that I looked like a Chinese boy scout).
I was waiting behind, not having anything to do in this song, ready for my number. Eventually, the musicians agreed tacitly to end the number, and Chester Whitmore on drums immediately started playing the rhythm for my song. He has the confidence and experience to keep things moving in a show when they need to. I stalked onto the stage, grabbed a mike and started going "Ohm-kajoom-AH!" into it, and tried to get the audience to join in. My backing singers took up the noise, and this went on for a bit, and still the guitars hadn't started strumming, or if they had, I couldn't hear them. I started singing. I may for all I know have been 72 bars early, or perhaps on time. It sounded to me as though I had taken the guitarists by surprise. No matter, I kept going. I have little idea if anyone could hear me. I couldn't hear myself much. I fluffed the words, as I knew I would, but didn't worry too much, and I bopped about amiably enough. I got off and mucked about behind for a couple of numbers, pretending to play the flute and mock-crying through Teen Angel.
My next task was to start the number Wipe Out. I walked to the front, donned sunglasses, placed a large lump of foam rubber cheese on my head, laughed manicly into the microphone, yelled the number's title, then leapt back and mucked about, first doing the rushing-up-and-down-to-no-purpose trick, then striking silly poses, doing a bit of ska dancing, and then pretending to be having trouble balancing on a surf-board. I stood back to let the audience get a view of Chester during a fast drum solo, and saw that Harlem Hotshot Hanna had hurled herself (That's enough Hs - Ed.) onto the stage next to me, and was trying to get me to dance with her. We strung a few vaguely in-period moves together, clashed hands at one point (I think she came off worse - sorry Hanna), and then after what seemed like long enough, I went up to the mike again, yelled "Wipe Out!" and the band worked out a way to end it all. Phew.
Next I played deadly-serious maraca in Hey Jude and did what I could as a backing singer during the bit that goes "Na na na na-na-na nah!" I managed a few embellishments, but I think that they all got lost in the mix, though I doubt that this is a great loss to music.
The concert seemed to have a mellowing effect on the audience at times. You can see here that during one number it went all blurred.
Chester looked at me and said, "Shall we go on the roof?" Ignoring a sign that said "No Hurtling", we hurtled to the roof and stood above the band doing a sort of Status Quo dance. Rolling to the River proved to be an excellent number to end on, and as we struck the drum kit, the crowd left in a good mood. Apparently, we "kicked". Actually, there was a caveat to this, but I never found out what it was. I was told that we "kicked but..." and then this sentence, though spoken a few times, was never finished.
There was next a tap dance display. The tap classes were showing off what they had been doing all week. The first number was danced to Hey Big Spender and I didn't think it worked. The music just didn't lend itself to tap dancing. To be honest, despite the fact that it was tap dancing that got me into dancing in the first place, it leaves me pretty cold most of the time. The best tap dancers cannot tap out rhythms as accurately or complex as a drummer, and their movements are forced to comply with the needs of the tapping which hampers their versatility of expression. The second number was pretty good, though.
For a while, hippies swayed to period music in the dansbanan, but then the real dancing started up in the Folkets Hus. A video of the Woodstock concert played on the screen. You can see in this picture a tent on the stage. Photographing dancers in this context is tricky. They move, it is dark, and one doesn't want to use flash or be otherwise intrusive. It didn't look this red to the naked eye. I wanted to dance all night, but I was feeling below par. I had a full week ahead of me in which to dance. I heard many people say of this party that is was an especially good one, that got off to a great start and kept its energy and good will all night. I didn't notice this, but this could be explained by my personal mood at the time.
"That's killer hair, Janice," I said to Miss Wilson. She was sporting an amazing Afro (later confirmed as a wig). I had tried to get a dance the year before with Janice and failed, and was hoping for one this year. On encountering the barmaid in the same room, I commented that her wig was frightening because it looked as though it might just conceivably be her real hair. It was her real hair. I don't think that she was terribly pleased to have her hair mistaken for a wig. Here is a photograph of that barmaid. You can decide whether my mistake was understandable or forgivable.
I was determined not to waste this day, as I had the two years previously. I had hoped to get a lot of the video done on this day, if I were involved in the video. I had tried all year to contact Chester in the vain hope of having a story and perhaps even shooting schedule worked out before we got to the camp, and this way we might be able to shoot the big scenes on the Saturday when everyone is free. All I knew by this stage, though, was that he wanted to do a spoof of The Incredible Hulk. I had wanted to get to the beach, which I hadn't seen for years despite its being not many minutes' walk away from where I was camping.
I got up latish, but again sleeping in was prevented by torrid sun on my tent, which I moved again to an even shadier spot. I tried sleeping in the open but without great success, partly because the mosquitoes adore me so. 100% DEET having proven not entirely effective, this year I experimented with some stronger stuff. I tried the poultry-repellent Duck-Off, and even the extra-strength pachyderm repellent Rhi-No but still the mosquitoes attacked. When swatting one that had just landed on me, I often saw it leave a splatter of blood - presumably someone else's. What I don't understand is why a mosquito doesn't drink its fill in one go. If it had bitten someone else and sucked their blood, why didn't it get all it needed then, rather than leaving room for some of my blood?
There was some rain that morning, and during my wandering about I took this scientific photograph. You'll notice that the tarmac is darkened by the water that has just precipitated. You'll also notice dry sandy shadows of the standing bikes. How is this possible? Clearly the rain did not fall vertically, so there must have been some wind, but that wind must have been of perfectly consistent speed not to have blown the raindrops into the shadow at any point. Also, since small raindrops would be deflected by wind differently from larger drops, the drops must all have been of exactly the same size. Also, the drops, on hitting the ground, must never have splashed at all, else the splashes would have wet the thin lines of the shadow. Also, the ground water must not have run about at all, else this would have washed away the neat piles of sand in the rain-shadow. None of these seems possible, and I have not seen the like of it elsewhere. Clearly the rain in Herräng is very special rain.
They didn't start registration until three o'clock. I waited around in the dansbanan for them to set up, determined to get this over with quickly and be away. I queued and when I got to the front was told that unlike in previous years, they wouldn't accept travellers' cheques. A sign to this effect would have been nice. I was sent to the "Love Box" to change my cheques. There was no one there. I went around trying to find out what was going on, and as I did so, a queue of others in the same position as me formed at the Love Box. I noticed a sign out in front of the Folkets Hus which mentioned that cheques had to be cashed first. Eventually I got someone to do the job, but they immediately ran out of cash. We then had to wait in the hot sun while enough people paid in cash in the dansbanan to provide the Love Box with cash to change for travellers' cheques. The queue moved with the speed of a pouncing limpet, as those changing money chatted to every person in turn. Eventually armed with a large amount of cash, I went to the dansbanan again, queued again, and having felt cash-rich for a short time, bought my passport. It was now supper time, and I was very hungry. Saturday had passed.
I had my first meal at the Yum Yum Restaurant, and the first proper meal I had had since getting to Sweden, and I ate double portions of everything. For the rest of the week, I hadn't my usual appetite, which I'm sure was a bad sign. I had been under the impression that buying a week's meals in one go was a bargain at this restaurant, but others informed me that they had saved themselves a lot of money by eating elsewhere, and even Swedes said that by Swedish standards it was very expensive there. Certainly I find myself busy enough at Herräng without having to think about shopping and cooking.
The evening meeting involved Lorenz Ilg's explaining to us that certain fire regulations had to be adhered to. As he spoke, he handed Lennart a fire extinguisher. He made very sure that Lennart had the means, motive, and opportunity to use that extinguisher. The inevitable occurred and a water fight broke out on stage, eventually involving much of the audience. Due to an under-pants-related item earlier, Lennart was playing his part while jumping around the stage with his trousers around his ankles. Later I was surprised to hear from a few people that this was very unlike Lennart. It struck me as much-precedented.
That evening I spent a lot of dancing time working out the story for "The Incredible Bulk" - this year's big production number for the camp video. Chester would not be persuaded to make something simpler. I wrote the simplest story I could, and then typed up the script. Apparently, this was the first time there had been a script.
CLASSES (starting on Sunday)
I had been registered in the Advanced Plus class. This hadn't actually been my choice, but was that of the person who noted my e-mailed notification. I had considered this level the year before. Every year I have had doubts about which level I should be doing, but until this year I had always ended up concluding that I had chosen correctly. This year I'm not sure, even as I write this, that I was in the right class.
My first lesson was with Janice Wilson and Peter Loggins. These two were an interesting combination, having very different styles, and I had been looking forward to their lessons. The lesson started with what I had been dreading: competition. We were asked to form a ring in couples, then dance two eight-counts, the first copying the couple before us, and the second doing something of our own. They put on some lightning-fast music and we obeyed. This was not my idea of fun: judgement right at the very start. I managed something half decent the first time, and even got a "Good!" from Peter. The next one I botched hideously. I put my hand up and asked whether we could all at least agree to start and finish in the open position to give the next couple a chance. Janice looked appalled to be asked this, and said, "At this level?" Several couples were caught out by the couple in front's suddenly going into jockey position. When the music is going hell-for-leather, you are stuffed if you have to change position, while watching the last couple's moves, before you can even start. I thought that in swing dance we all tried to make each other look good. This seemed more like an exercise in how to make the next couple look bad. All my long-held desire to dance with Janice at that moment vanished.
After this lesson, one girl in it told me that many of the men in the class couldn't even do a proper Lindy turn ("swing out"). I heard an American girl saying, "I'm going to ask for my money back. I'm not going to learn anything. This is supposed to be Advanced Plus." I thought, "Oh no - here we go again."
There are lots of reasons that a person might be a good dancer. In my case I think it is musical interpretation and an ability to muck about. When I know what I'm doing I have a clear lead too. I cannot do triple spins, and I'm not experienced at dancing to super-fast music, and I don't know many aerials. I pick up new moves quickly, and so if a whole class is being taught something new, then even if there are better dancers in it that me, I am on at least a level playing field.
Who was in my class varied a lot. I did all my classes, and no one else's in Week 4. Many people choose to skip classes and join others. Often there were people who teach at Herräng in my class. I was once next in the line to Manu who often teaches with Janice and it was instructive to see how he was struggling to get moves in one class that I got quickly. It was also a bit of a relief to see that these teachers are human.
A vicious circle formed. A woman would dance with me, and for whatever reason things would go wrong. Next time we came to partner up in class, she would come to me with the belief that I would probably get it wrong again, and this prediction would often be true. After a while, she would arrive next to me with the attitude that she was wasting her time dancing with me, and she would not bother to try dancing well with me, which would make her near-unleadable, and the dance would go wrong again. About a third of the women in my classes were like this. Another third were quite the opposite. I would get things right with them every time. The looks on their faces were quite different when they changed partners to me. They would have a look of, "Oh good - it's this guy, he usually gets it right so perhaps I'll get it right this time." Even if things were going badly, these women seemed to be on my side. The last third were somewhere in between. After a few lessons, I would be playing a game of reading the expression whenever I changed partners. Some women would look at me with a look that said, "Oh for pity's sake, what is this oaf doing in this class?" and with them I would get the move wrong almost always. Others would smile with their eyes, and seem to be saying, "Hello, this is fun isn't it? Let's try it out. I trust you," and with these I seldom went wrong. Others would look unsure, and if things went well, would look pleasantly surprised (which isn't actually an expression of trust in my ability).
Of course, this does not mean that I was not putting out signals too. It could well be that when faced with a woman who appeared to be expressing little but contempt for my existence, that my outward expression betrayed my low morale, which in turn affected their morale. If a couple is sure that it will fail to do a move, then it probably will. All this could be avoided if people weren't so serious about getting things right all the time. Being in the Advanced Plus Class was like a week-long exercise in having to prove myself to everyone all the blinking time, and I rapidly got sick of it.
Crowded classes were a bit of a frustration. Very often I couldn't lead my partner properly, because I had to devote all my attention to preventing her from crashing into other couples. Of course, the more I did this, the more room those couples around me had to do their stuff, and the worse I looked.
Eddie and Eva Jansson's classes I liked. Eddie did a warm up once by getting us to do a shim-sham. I was amazed and impressed at the number of variations he managed of the standard moves, using different joints of his body. Eva doesn't speak much, but is very pretty, and Eddie, sporting his new bright yellow hair, taught us some nice moves. Theirs was the sort of class I like: moves taught one after the other, with all the nuts and bolts explained. Their style is there to be emulated, and they give out the occasional useful general tip. The moves were a bit big to use on the social dance floor, but they were good. The tricky thing was finding the time to note them down before I forgot them. I still don't have them perfectly noted. This wasn't just me, though. A short while after one class I asked three guys if they could remember the Charleston variant we had just done, and none could.
Mattias Lundmark and Åsa Palm's classes also involved a fair few moves, although their classes were a bit vaguer and more performance oriented/less leadable. One class in the dansbanan I found very frustrating. For a start, it was oppressively hot, it was also too crowded to do the moves, and if I'm told to do four Shorty Georges, I do four, and when I find that this doesn't fit, I don't like to have to try other numbers at random in the quest for the correct number. Frustration leads to more frustration, and less annoyed people than me were doing quite a bit better than I was by the end of the class. At one point it was assumed that we all knew how to do Apple Jacks. I didn't. I don't think that this makes me a bad dancer, I just hadn't ever been shown the step. After the class, I asked someone else to show me the step, and she did something very different from what we were shown in class.
Chester Whitmore taught us a very fast and tricky jazz routine. It was very good, though, and was used later in the video The Incredible Bulk.
Fredrik Åberg and Hanna Zetterman taught just one class. It started with a jazz routine taught by Fredrik, and he made it look excellent. I joined the class a bit late and didn't quite get it, but no matter. He then taught some good moves which I used on the social dance floor that night.
Steve Mitchell and Virginie in all their classes combined taught a grand total of six moves. Actually, I might contend that they taught none at all. They devoted all their time to talking about exactly how to do the moves, without first taking the I-think-necessary step of telling us what the moves were. I understood what they were saying about lead and follow, and shifting weight, I really did, but all this was little help when I didn't know what the hell it was they expected me to lead. I did try asking, but I never got an answer. Their classes were especially crowded with women. Virginie's style is very different from other women's and she does most of the talking. Learning moves is of less use to followers, so one might expect women to like these classes, however, these women still expected their partners to lead the moves properly so that they could practise them. In some of their classes, there were twice as many women as men. This was one of the reasons that they rotated partners so very often. I would get a partner, try the move with her, go wrong because I didn't know where my right foot should be on 6, try to ask her for help, but then we would hear the call, "Rotate!" and I would have a new partner, with whom I would go wrong because I didn't have any idea where my right foot was meant to be on 6. I went an entire lesson getting a move wrong over and over again, never having any chance of putting it right because I never got long enough with any one partner to sort it out, and because the teachers neglected to tell us what the damn move was. Since we were spending so long on every move, the women were very unimpressed with the men who couldn't lead them properly. After this class, I spoke to one guy who was in an even worse position. He was the guy on the end of the last row whose partner had to run round the crowded room to join him. Every partner arrived just in time to change to the next partner, and he never got to dance the move with anyone even once.
Talking about this to women, I was told that, "at this level, you are expected to pick the moves up quickly". I don't think that there is an excuse for not teaching the moves. It is pointless going over the finer points of lead and follow if the leader is clueless about the basics such as whether he's going forwards or backwards on the fifth beat. It is like spending an hour talking about the finer points of brushwork with a painter, and then telling him to get on with the painting, when he hasn't actually got a canvass or any paint. At the end of the last class, they divided us into two groups so that we could watch each other dance, and have a bit more room. My lot went first and I just about managed the moves. I then watched the other half of the class, and most of them went wrong. I did not see men doing moves okay but leading them badly. Instead I saw a load of men dancing on completely the wrong beat, getting the moves in the wrong order, and other such basic errors because they had been left to try and guess what the routine actually was. I knew from other classes that all these men were perfectly capable of learning moves.
Instead of the usual sort of instructions to the leader which go, "Push her into a rock step on 1, then with your weight on your right foot, start turning to your right on 3…", Steve's dialogue is more like, "Watch this: boom… click… click… ba-doom… click… bajah-bajah-bajah-bajoom. Yeah?" I asked a few other men what their interpretation of "click" was. It wasn't the beat, nor the moment weight was transferred, nor when the lead changed, nor anything else we could identify. My best guess is that it sometimes coincided with one of these things, but was used so inconsistently as to be rendered meaningless.
I didn't come away with nothing from Steve and Virginie's classes, but I could have learned a great deal more and been a great deal happier had things been different. They are good dancers, and as a couple they have a very recognisable style and I can see why many people, women in particular, would be interested in their teaching. I have since talked to someone who did their intermediate classes, and these sounded excellent.
I was mildly alarmed to learn that I was teaching a ska lesson after the meeting on Sunday. I had volunteered to do a class a few days before, but then it was sprung on me. I got up in the meeting, too tired to be nervous, and announced the class. I didn't get nearly so many people this year as last, but it was good to see so many of those who did the class last year coming to watch. Again it was interesting to see how people had trouble adapting from swing, and how much trouble they had with what I thought were fairly simple moves. During a swing lesson later in the week, we were asked to form circles and each do a move for the others to copy. I did a ska move, and everyone copied me without any trouble. We were dancing to swing music then, so perhaps people in the ska class had been flummoxed by unfamiliar music.
I was asked by no fewer than seven people to do the class again. Lennart asked in an evening meeting for a show of hands for how many people would take the class were it offered again. Eight hands were raised, and I said I'd do it for that many, but it didn't happen in the end. One Swedish school teacher said that her pupils were listening to ska, and that she wanted some moves to show them. I hope I helped.
That evening, my new and rather expensive camera went missing from the dansbanan. I was concerned, of course, but fatigue and trust in the good character of people at the camp stopped me from getting too worried. It turned up soon enough, having been handed in at the bar.
I had to get up in time for breakfast. After all, I had paid for it, and a good start to the day is important. I still hadn't had a full night's sleep, though. This is me, at my tent at 4.30 in the morning on Monday, just about to go to bed. I felt even worse than I looked. There were adverts years ago in Britain showing tired and ill-looking people with the caption, "Heroin screws you up". Herräng has its effects too.
I did my lessons, kept reasonably up to date with my notes, then at the evening meeting was asked up onto the stage during an on-stage staff crayfish party and was asked various questions about ska, while being forcibly plied with powerful vodka. I thought I had got away with not having to do a demonstration, but this, under rather sub-optimal circumstances, I was obliged to give. I stepped out of view while other things happened, including a remarkable exhibition of body-popping electro-boogie danced to Flight of the Bumblebee to wish a happy birthday to Dawn Hampton. I returned to ask the audience with Chester for volunteers to be in the video. Afterwards, I got a bit confused and went to the wrong place to meet the volunteers. To tell the truth I think I had my head on other things. I still hadn't had a decent night's dancing.
At the meeting, I cast the remaining parts, and tried to draw up a shooting schedule. That everyone was available at different times made it tricky. What made it near impossible was that I was very very tired indeed. Still, I drew up a shooting schedule. In theory, it meant that we would shoot the thing over the next two days. In practice, I knew things would be a bit different, but I wasn't prepared for how different they would be.
Much of that evening was taken up with preparations for the video. I had to make lots of daft front page headlines to be grafted onto newspapers the next day, such as "GIANT PELICAN SWALLOWS CORSICA - French Annoyed", and "KILLER BUTTERFLY STINGS BEE". I danced for a bit that night, but only until perhaps two in the morning. I was exhausted and had classes the next day. Even so it was an act of will to leave the floor, because I had come for the dancing and still hadn't really got into my stride.
Just how tired people can get can be illustrated by a conversation I had with a French guy and his sweetheart sitting on his knee. I was trying to include her in the conversation, but her English was not good, and she kept getting left out. The French guy started repeating what I was saying to her, in a French accent. I pointed out to him that this probably wasn't helping her much, and that translating into actual French might be better. Later on, I started speaking French, and to my amazement (but more to my amusement) he started translating this into English for her benefit. Now that's tired.
INTERLUDE OF THE MISCELLANEOUS
Supposedly, this was going to be the most-attended Herräng ever, and they said on the web-site that the people were for the first time fairly evenly distributed across the four weeks, which should have made Week Four unusually populous. I had never seen it so empty. If there were more people there than usual, then many must have been resting out of the heat in their rooms.
I am still interested to investigate the mystery of why The Jiving Lindyhoppers are not seen at Herräng. I have now heard their side of the story, but have not heard the Herräng organisers' version, and I suppose that it would be unfair to put one version on the net before knowing the other. Whatever the truth is, I wish that these two very similar groups would get it together. The world of swing is too small for such discord.
I did eventually save up and buy last year's camp video. I had been rather hoping that having co-directed the video I might have got it cheaper or even free. The cover was an odd design: very reminiscent of Edvard Munch's The Scream except that Munch's picture is a lot jollier. I was disappointed to see that my fabulous stunt in which I bravely hurled myself into the side of a building, wasn't used.
The fashion this year was for ersatz paratrooper jump over-trousers, with long ties either dangling distractingly from them, or else tied in random and hazardous patterns. I don't think that any of these trousers I saw had ever been used to strap equipment to someone before he dropped behind enemy lines.
For the first time in my life I bought some second-hand socks. Just before going to Herräng I shopped around for some thick wool socks, and found some in an army surplus shop. They were excellent, and for the first time ever, my feet suffered not at all from their week of pounding, A well-padded shoe is a good thing.
I was pleased to be approached by a few strangers who asked me if I was the guy who wrote "those diaries" on the net about Herräng. They seemed appreciative, and one even claimed to have gone there as a result of reading these pages. I do hope she had a good time.
I think that the British have the most interesting, varied, characterful and expressive faces in the world. At Herräng, though, one does become rather aware of the big drawback of this. We are an ugly lot.
TUESDAY - We start shooting the video
I staggered out of my tent, ate the same breakfast I would eat every morning (please could they have some cereal other than blinking cornflakes?), and started classes. I would have no time to note these ones down, because I was shooting video in the free periods in between. Unfortunately, the first mental ability to suffer when one is tired is the ability to make new memories, so some moves got lost to the void. I shot the first scene in which a man is killed by a mysterious monster and his body discovered. I then took another class while Chester directed another scene in Drax's laboratory. I then joined him again and we shot the scenes of Bruce Banner's arrival at Herräng.
We were on, or even slightly ahead of schedule. This would go horribly wrong at 6.30p.m. I was told that it was 5.30p.m. and went to eat, but even when I realised my mistake, there was nothing I could do immediately, because it also turned out that everyone had been told to meet at a different place, and we were scattered. Some people were waiting for me by the Prop Shop, and were to blame me for this for the rest of the week. Chester did not share my feeling of shame, nor of urgency, and had us hold our positions, and we wasted our time. He would in these situations look at me and say, "Trust me." Frankly I'd have rather been rushing about sorting things out than standing still and trusting him.
That evening I was so exhausted I could hardly see straight. Everyone had to say everything twice to me. Responsibility, sleep deprivation, vigorous physical activity, and viral infection combine in me to make me rather tired. Perhaps other people find the same. I was too tired to dance properly and went to bed early, still feeling annoyed that I hadn't had a decent night's dance.
Even after two tent moves, the sun made a lie-in impossible. The weather all week was very hot, and worse than that, very humid. In the humidity, I would wake up clammy and groggy, and never get properly dry all day. The weather sapped my energy on top of everything else. This year I had brought no sleeping bag, in order to save space in my rucksack. I had also for the first time brought more than enough socks. I didn't need a sleeping bag in that weather, and slept instead in a duvet cover. Every night I'd zip up the tent, burn half an inch of anti-mosquito incense on the inside of my tent, and zonk out.
I was told that Chester had injured his foot and been taken with great haste to hospital. From the graphic description given, it seemed likely that Chester might have to have both legs amputated, perhaps as far up as the neck. When I got to the Prop Shop, I found Chester with a pair of new trainers, nursing a burst blister. It takes more than a bit of light maiming to slow Chester down.
We were to shoot the big action sequence in which the Incredible Bulk (sic) went on the rampage. For no reason I completely understood, things got off to a very leisurely start. No amount of persuasion seemed to get Chester to keep his ambitions simple. "I've gotta have action!" he would say. I agreed that action was good, but I hated making people who were on holiday like me hang about for hours, and I wanted us to shoot all the vital stuff straight away, and then perhaps add in some fancy extra stuff if we had time. Fish, our cameraman, would get irritated by having two directors. Actually I think that the benefits of two directors much out-weighed the drawbacks. We could shoot stuff when the other was busy. If only I could have hurried things up a bit. The man playing Incredible had to be painted green head to foot, and we planned to do this only once, and told him so. Well, I suppose I should write that I planned to do this only once. I must say that our green cast member showed remarkable patience and good humour despite being made to wait for hours in hot weather, painted green. He got very annoyed that the upholstery on his car got green stains on it, and I don't blame him one bit. We missed our chance to shoot a vital scene with one of our cast who had to drive someone to the airport. This was unnecessary and annoyed me.
After this shoot, I was thinking about various ways we could just make something out of what we had, or ways to finish the story in the absolute minimum number of shots. I was also considering that we might have to abandon the project altogether. We knew from last year that it was a very bad idea indeed to have to shoot anything on the Friday, because that was when Fish was needed to shoot the final routines as demonstrated by all the various teachers, for the main part of the video. We were not the main reason for the video, we were the add-on, subordinate to the dance routines.
That evening I attended a private party in a rather nice fully-furnished flat two American guys had rented. I didn't realise that they had invited so many people, though I quickly got some idea of their invitations policy. After sorting out drinks and the like in the kitchen, I stepped through into the sitting room to be amongst twelve near-drool-inducingly-gorgeous women.
That night, it was blues night again, and I donned my most dapper clothing ever. I am justly known as a bit of a scruff, so this was unusual for me. Here we see me before the night has started. Already I am starting to sweat because it is so horribly humid. The show will start soon, and I don't want to miss it again...
Below you see the opening number. A man is stalked by two women, who see each other as deadly rivals. Cookie (Angela Andrew) when looking at her rival had a withering stare that could kill an untrained blues dancer at fifty paces. She ended up stabbing them both.
Here we have Chester miming to a song, with a backing of steam in two forms.
The show expanded to the floor, and soon people were being pulled out of the audience to join in. I actually got to blues dance with Cookie for nearly twenty seconds.
Everyone then got down to the business in hand: slow dancing the night away. There was never a shortage of either sex. My cold was now defeated, and I had a much better night than the previous week. Some dances were more than pleasantly warm, and a few of my partners stick in the memory. Still there were a few women who fled the floor, because they weren't in the mood, or because they had had, or feared to have, a bad dance.
After all this, a walk back to my tent in the cooler morning air. I didn't dance through to breakfast like last year. I hadn't found the right partner to do that with.
I had a couple of annoying lessons this day that I started late. One was scheduled to be in the dansbanan, but there were other people there. No one I asked knew what was going on. Three times I checked the notice boards to see if the lesson had been moved elsewhere. I went to reception and asked there. No one knew. No one in the office knew either. I went to the dansbanan again but no luck. I was told by reception to go up to the dance floors by the school, so I did. My class was nowhere to be found. I walked back and eventually found my class in the Folkets Hus, and I had missed the start of the lesson. It would have helped had they told the person in reception and put up a simple sign in the dansbanan. I don't know how many people gave up trying to find the class, but it was a lot smaller than most others. This happened twice this day.
I tried to get some rest between lessons, but I was too tired to rest, and too anxious to socialise and note down moves, neither of which I actually did. One aid to relaxation would have been a greater grasp of what time it was. There were very few clocks about, and almost none that worked. This may make me seem like a whingeing git, but when one is having a great time, nothing matters, and when one is having a pretty gruelling time, every little irritation matters.
During Janice and Peter's class in ultra-fast dancing, which I had been dreading but in the event turned out to be quite manageable, Peter told us that we were going to have a jam competition against the Competition and Show class that evening.
We were carrying on with the video, but I was wanting more and more to walk away from it, and Fish's desire for a single director gave me an excuse. We got the cast together to shoot scenes 1 and 3, and for no good reason sat about doing nothing for an age, until the evening meeting started. I then went to the location and shot both scenes in forty minutes flat, and caught the end of the meeting.
Though I had considered several cabaret acts, I had no time or energy to rehearse anything, so contented myself to watch. It was one of the best ever. Hanna and Åsa were the compères, and they did an excellent job. Some of their links were so long that they were like little acts in themselves. One wouldn't guess from meeting them in other contexts that they would have such a flair for that sort of thing. Every act was good. The crowd was impressed by a clever routine in which two men repeatedly stole the other's partner. Some steals were very slick, and even involved one man's stealing the woman back before the first had finished his steal move, and all this was performed to a front. Eddie did a tap duet/duel with Chazz Young and in my opinion Eddie 'took him'. Eddie's style was solid, muscular and confident while Chazz's was more wiggley and ecstatic. The cabaret had in it a strong contender for the weirdest act I've ever seen. Someone at the camp was an enthusiastic hairdresser, and the act involved a lot of people with bizarre hairstyles, and that was it. Each of them would stand in one place for a bit with a bizarre hairstyle, and then walk over to some other part of the stage where they would continue to have the same bizarre hairstyle, and after a bit the curtains closed. Notably, whereas the women generally looked pretty good in their sculpted coiffures, both the men looked utterly ludicrous. I don't think that there is any fancy hair style you can put on a man without making him look daft, while it seems that almost anything on a woman's head looks all right.
Another well-received act was one by a remarkably pretty Spanish girl who gave us a belly dance. I loved the shapes her shadow made on the back curtain and was inspired to take several shots of her with a slow shutter, which accounts for the blurry look to this composite picture. I'll get the hang of this digital malarkey yet.
Much hilarity ensued when this German comedian (a professional, it seems) did his act. He came on ever so slowly, and in a timid voice announced that he was in love with one of the teachers, but that she didn't know he existed. He said that she was perfect, and that he would sing her a song. He then slowly opened a packet of something. "And I will play the spaghettis," he announced. He then used the spaghetti to play a cardboard box, as a drummer would use brushes to play a snare-drum. As he sang the song Perfect, his brushes slowly disintegrated. The audience laughed all the way through.
The show-stopper, though, was a load of cheap laughs. Six shameless types did a "Full Monty" act. They stripped, struck ridiculous poses, and then behind a sheet of material appeared to remove their underpants. Whether by accident or design, the material slipped to reveal that some had cheated. By tradition, the show ends with all the performers crowding onto the stage and dancing the shim-sham. By undoubted contrivance, the Full Monty men ended up at the front, and three of them only had hats to preserve their modesty. This posed a particular challenge when it came to the part where they had to clap their hands while dancing the boogie-back, but they all found a way to do this, while many female shrieks filled the air. I suspect that images of this particular bit exist on many video tapes.
After the cabaret, the scheduled jam battle took place. A circle formed near the stage, and a very small circle it was. This would not be a battle on open terrain, but one of close-quarters fighting. I climbed onto the stage and watched, taking a few photographs and little movie files with my digital gizmo. Whereas it had been billed as a battle between Advanced Plus and Competition and Show, most of these classes stayed out of the heat. The pressure to dance phenomenally well was so intense that few tried dancing at all, and most people instead postured, shouted along with the music, and mock-fought. Almost all those who danced were teachers. Peter Loggins, that man who somehow regardless what he wears always looks simultaneously scruffy and dapper, several times danced in pretty much the same way with Janice Wilson. At one point Cookie was signalling with an exaggerated stage-yawn that we'd seen enough of this, and that it was time for them to get off. Cookie has extraordinary cheek, but she can get away with it. She told me afterwards that it didn't get bloody enough for her tastes. It did get fairly animal, though, with people responding in chorus to the music with animal roars. I could have made a spectacular entrance by jumping down into the ring from the stage, but I doubt I'd have contributed much after that. Tiny Frida with her futuristic sinister scientist haircut bounced off various people. I did see one couple from my class have a go, but they danced too conventionally to be crowd-pleasers. The moment didn't call for gracious leads and fun-loving Lindy hop, it called for violent kicks and intimidating glares. The DJ kept trying to bring it to a close, but demands rang out for more and more music to break skulls to.
Here is the best of my shots of the battle. Peter Loggins has dipped into the splits while dancing again with Janice. At this point the circle is wider than often it was. I now will take one of those very rare opportunities to use the following expression literally: there was hardly room to swing a cat.
Now having recovered from my cold, one might think that I was free at last to dance the night away and have fun, but I had started to come down with the Herräng flu.
This night there would be the Porridge Removal Party. No one knew what a porridge removal party was. I had e-mailed Swedes in advance asking them what this was, and they were at as much of a loss as I. After the success of Woodstock, people were a little doubtful about porridge.
The second lesson of the morning was Chester's class in which he planned to shoot the dance routine we'd been learning as part of the video. I stepped back from the process and let him get on with it. I did take the initiative to go and wake the actress who was playing Edith, Bruce Banner's girlfriend, in order to shoot the final transformation scene. Waking someone who is enjoying the most precious commodity there is in Herräng - sleep - is not a pleasant task. I shot this needed scene and then walked away from the project. Chester spent much of the rest of the day shooting extra scenes for the video, which required Fish to miss shooting several dance class routines for the video. The actor playing the bulk was in green paint from seven in the morning to six at night, and I'm glad I didn't have to ask him to do much that day. If I ever get involved in the video again, it will have to be under clearly different circumstances. Here you see The Incredible Bulk rehearsing the Huckle-Buck dance with his erstwhile foe the giant mosquito.
Fish, the long-suffering cameraman.
The evening party started. People gathered uncertainly in either no costume, or something resembling a removal worker's garb. I cobbled together my costume while half-watching a tap display. The kids who had done the "mini-Herräng" course then performed a couple of dances for the assembled host, and seemed to be having some fun, although many seemed a bit embarrassed and inhibited. Then a competition was announced, and teams of various nations were invited to form. Thinking that I should try to strain every last bit of experience from this holiday, I stepped up and declared myself a Commonwealth team leader and invited people to join me. I had imagined that there wouldn't be enough Brits who would volunteer, but quickly I formed this solid team of Brits, Aussies and Canadians. You see it pictured here after its victory in the sack race.
There were four events. One was pallet-throwing. The way to win this event seemed to be to have an all-woman team, because women were given tiny little pallets to throw, while the men were given huge heavy things. I pioneered an underarm technique which deservedly did not catch on, and my team did fairly dismally in this event. Another event involved running around a stick ten times before running dizzily to a finish line. This one was entertaining. We seemed to be near victory when my last team member finished his tenth turn with time to spare. We yelled encouragement for him to finish, but he just stood there a while, grinned, and then took a few steps ninety degrees off course and then fell over. He was a stout lad, though, and soon was up and I claim that he crossed the finish line first, but the judges ruled otherwise.
The last event required me to stand while my team mates threw large lumps of cold "porridge" (I don't know what it was actually, but the fact that it was bright pink suggested to me that it wasn't standard porridge - perhaps some sort of Olympic throwing-porridge) at my face. Since the teams and events had become rather congested, it was while I was suffering this indignity ("Oh Lloyd, this is way too much fun," declared one of my Australian underlings) that the finals started taking place, and so our score that was the sum of all our game efforts, was ignored. The final event was a tug of war between the German and American teams. People of various nationalities joined both sides, and it was more like Europe versus America, and victory went to Europe.
This over, it was time to clean porridge off my face, and start dancing. I could rest or distract myself with table football, and spend time drinking and cooling my face, but the real business was dancing. I was so appallingly tired I could hardly face dancing. A friend I met there in 1999 turned up, and bought me some ice cream and cake, and then we danced. After a while I found some deep-stored cache of energy and I started dancing half-decently. I was determined to bash on to dawn, and just about did so, but I never found my form.
SATURDAY - time to go.
I stayed up until breakfast, then had a bit of a rest before packing. I had plenty of time before the bus I wanted to catch. I arranged to meet a friend in Stockholm.
For the last three years now, it has rained when I have been packing my tent. This year, however, the rain god excelled himself and caused the Monsoon to break over Sweden. For an hour I stood under the overhang of a building and marvelled at the storm-drains around me backing up. I got a bit alarmed when I saw a queue of different kinds of animal in pairs making its way down to the marina. Had it rained any harder I could have swum upwards. After more waiting, I gave up, and started to pack my tent anyway. Everything got sopping wet, and the exercise took a lot longer than normal. I kept running into people and chatting, saying goodbyes, and I missed the bus by a couple of minutes. I was incredulous that I had missed the bus, but missed it I had. There wasn't another for hours and I waited dejectedly for it. Not a good ending.
Towards the end, I was longing to leave. I was just too exhausted to enjoy myself, and in too bad a mood. At the same time, however, I was longing to stay, so that I might have the opportunity to enjoy dance there as I had known it in previous years. Thinking back, exhaustion spoiled every moment of the holiday. There wasn't a moment I couldn't have enjoyed more if I hadn't been so tired. At times, I was close to collapse. I can remember the audience rising after the evening meeting on the Tuesday, leaving me trying to summon the energy to get off my seat. The hall cleared about me, and people started dancing, but I just slumped where I was. The only way to enjoy something was to go and sleep first, in which case I would miss it. I was busy all week with extra stuff: painting signs, making costumes, rehearsing bands, shooting videos, discussing cabaret acts, and I missed out on the one thing I had been looking forward to so much: the dancing.
I never once got to dance full throttle. Never once did the right partner, the right music, room to swing, and the energy to do it all come together. A year of dancing with beginners had given me some bad habits. My jockey lead could be too hard sometimes, and other leads could be too big and too visual. I needed a few good nights of social dance to get rid of all that and feel again what it is to dance with really good partners on a really good floor. The music at Herräng always sounds great. When they play a track I own on CD, it sounds like a different piece altogether, and very much better. I just needed to feel the magic once.
I didn't get to Lindy hop with the stars there. I had been keen to dance with a few teachers, but danced with none, not even with the one who had promised me five dances a night. Dancing with my Advanced Plus class-mates was not always something I greatly looked forward to, because so many seemed to have a low enough opinion of me as it was. Some had good footwork technique but still hadn't got the hang of dancing and smiling at the same time.
Perhaps I did pick the wrong level. Perhaps I was at least as good as half the men in my class. I don't know. Perhaps, though, regardless of how good I am or am not, I would have been happier in a lower level class. I don't think that I learned very much more in Advanced Plus than I would have learned in a lower class, but at least I might not have felt so judged by the women and teachers in it. Last year I was a bit disappointed with how poor some of the women in my class were (and there is of course a danger that I made some of them feel judged by me, but I hope not). This year it seemed that one way they had of proving how good they were was to think little of me. I don't want to be in a class where everyone is trying to prove himself. I just want to take part in what can be the most friendly and social activity in the world.
Every year at Herräng I have made new friends. Every year save this one. It is unreasonable to imagine that people in general at Herräng were any less sociable than in other years, so I must have been too tired and grumpy to befriend them, I suppose. Next year, if I go again, I had better not get ill, and had better make sure that I don't try to do everything possible in one week. If you see me there, and are female, ask me for a dance.
A shot of a few of the folks from my class. There are plenty of good dancers in this shot, and some very friendly people too. Back row: British (muggins); second row standing: British, Finnish, Finnish, Finnish, Swedish, Italian, Finnish, unknown; third row kneeling: German, French, Spanish, Spanish, unknown, Spanish, British, British; fourth row, sitting: American, Finnish, French, American, Swedish, Swedish, unknown; front row, lying: the irrepressible Chester Whitmore (American).
Blinking flip! I simply must read the next one of these.