My time at the
Herräng Dance Camp 2023

It does not seem seven years since I was last at the camp. Two years of Covid has messed with everyone's sense of time, but even so – the camp has been so much a part of my life that seven years feels wrong. Why did I go? Well, hope springs eternal, and I would be unlikely to find a greater challenge for mind and body, so for old-times' sake I span the wheel again.

Sign on top of temporary dance floor teaching tent.

I had tried to get there for the start of week two, but work commitments piled up and deadlines loomed and multiplied. I had to turn down one lucrative sponsored video and in order to make the final deadline, I edited until four in the morning for three nights on the trot. I suppose that in some way, this nocturnal training was good preparation for Herräng, but when I had to get up at six to catch my flight, I felt differently about it.

I did not feel safe to book my flight until my sponsor manager had signed off on a job done. I was all ready to publish the video when I noticed that the sponsor had not given me the vital web-link for the offer it was promoting. When I go on holiday, I want to be properly on holiday, and not forever checking for and responding to (and thus encouraging more of) messages. Eventually, I e-mailed that I had had enough and that I was off. I had uploaded the video in time for the deadline, and that was proof that I had done my part of the deal. If they failed to provide me with the link, that was their fault. I went on-line, and bought my ticket a few hours before the flight took off. I did not get a bargain. Indeed, it was more expensive than my last flight to the USA.

Would I get from the airport to the camp before nightfall? As it turned out, I did. As before, the bus information is terrible and contradictory, but the buses themselves seem fine. These days, one pays with contactless debit cards. When I could keep my eyes open, I stared out at the now-familiar-and-yet-so-alien Swedish landscape, with its islands of rocks, uniform red houses, borderless fields, three-species forests, and tastefully muted colours. It is strange that it all seems so orderly and lush and yet so dull and bleak.

The bus driver alarmed me by driving the wrong way around a roundabout. Fortunately, all the other drivers humoured him and went the wrong way around too.

At Hallstavik bus station, it seemed that there would be a long wait. There I met a German hopper of Lindy, so at least I would have some company. Not much later, two ladies from Turkey and Spain joined us, and they had called the camp for help, because a local drunk man had spooked them a bit. Minutes later, a large red van pulled up driven by two more international-types. This was the Herräng response to the distress call, and we were on our way. I was already covered in mosquito repellent.

The camp seemed much like its usual self. There wasn't much happening when I arrived, and I pottered about and soon met a few people I knew and greeted them. How long would it be before I got ill? No sense in worrying about that. Reception told me to pitch a tent in one of the usual places, so I put it behind the big teaching marquees furthest from the school. The sign told us to pitch at least ten feet (“three metres”) from all other tents - but in order to fit in, I copied everyone else and picked a more intimate distance.

It was Friday night, and there was a time when that would have meant that many people would have gone to great efforts to create thematic decorations for the whole of the Folketshus, and that there would be a dozen fun activities laid out for people to try out, and a performance or two. Instead, there were: a few pieces of modern 'art', which, depressingly, were at least as good as the art they were mocking, with pretentious labels to match; and a man dressed as a taco to whom we could talk. The inside of the Folketshus was unchanged. Very few people had bothered to dress up at all, and most of those costumes were quite restrained and minimal.

I paid SEK 450 to attend the party. The parties used to be free. Indeed, they used to encourage people booking courses to turn up a day early in order to attend the end party of the previous week for free. I recall how expensive they felt by the time the price got to SEK 250. Still, it's only money. I later bought a party pass for the whole of week three. I don't want you to think that the evening was rubbish, or the theme ('Night at the Museum' although by this they clearly meant 'Modern Art Gallery') pointless, but this event was little different from any normal night at the camp, and was not a patch on the amazing parties of yesteryear. If you want some idea of what they used to be like, see my video made many years ago, about the 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea party, and you will see that everyone is in costume, and most of the costumes are good, the decorations extensive, and the activities and performances many. This wasn't even an especially good party of its day. Perhaps the most important thing it shows is the effort involved by many people. Lots of people put a lot in to get a lot out. Getting many people to do things that they don't normally do or get to do spreads out the feeling of specialness.

Many people didn't even know that there was a theme for the night. The themes used to be very prominent on the camp's website. The weeks were named after them. Today, they are difficult to find even when one goes looking, and are hidden away at the bottom of the FAQ page.

A picture from yesteryear that they had on file, listed under 'Lloyd' Lloyd.

Anyway, I danced, chatted to the few people I knew, and doubtless experienced some hilarious things that I was sure I would not forget before writing this. I recall dancing to some unusual music that was going down very well in the 'library' dance room. In there were the 'rambles' each night, at which differing styles of music were played. What musical style was it? I cannot recall, even though I do remember a few of my smiling partners. Something considerably post 1940, I'm sure.

I missed a few people that I wanted to catch up with. Twice I glimpsed Serena Rizzo on the dance floor, looking exactly the same as she always did, but never caught her eye. I was told that Peter Loggins was at the camp, but I think he had gone to bed early to be fresh for the next day's travel home.

The party did not rage long, and there came a time when the floors were sparsely filled, and I didn't feel that I had fully earned a brownie yet, and the cafe selling them had closed. It was time to go to bed. By the time I did this, of course, it was after dawn and so no torch was needed. The tricky bit was my back.

What I have not yet told you is that a year ago, two rather drunken Norwegian house guests of mine decided to dance with me in a way that was not at all conducive to spinal health. The following day was the first and so-far-only time I have called an ambulance. I woke up to find that almost any movement in any direction sent alarming shocks of pain through me. My telephone was just a yard from my bed but it took me an hour to reach it. For a couple of weeks, I could do little more than watch television. As the year went by, things improved but were far from great. I started dancing again, but had to remain bolt upright at all times, and take rests. Pain-killers had no effect on it at all, and all the various wonder-cures suggested by the many well-meaning folk I met proved sub-wonderful. Just a month or so ago, however, there was a marked improvement coincident with my reading a book on the topic of pain. I already knew that all pain is merely in the head, but this book ('The Painful Truth' by Monty Lyman) was a proper up-to-date science book that explained why the brain is so fickle about pain. Sometimes we suffer huge injuries yet feel little or no pain, and at other times a tiny little scrape is agony. It seems that the committee in my head of sub-conscious processes that decides how much pain to create had been somewhat more alarmist than was now necessary. To some degree, we train ourselves to feel pain as well as to ignore it. Had this change not come about, I would not have risked a week of dancing and camping and travelling with a backpack.

Fresh air and fatigue are good for sleep, and I slept, at least until the sun made my tent swelteringly hot. There were certainly times during the week when my back hurt a lot, but overall I more than held out. One concern was that what pain I did feel was predominantly on the left side, which was new, and suggested some actual damage. I'd say that my back now is actually better than it was before I went. The exercise did it good, and my brain's pain committee learned to trust it a bit more.

The next day, I encountered Yulia Takarera, and thus was the Dream Factory in the top office of the Folketshus alerted to my presence. Not much later, Gunnar and Marie asked me to sit with the teachers in the evening meeting so that Marie, who would be presenting the meeting, would know where I was and could talk to me. I was to give a tour of some sort.

The new permanent purpose-built Lindy Hop Shop

The Woodside Hotel now has wooden sides, and no longer looks like a pile of shipping containers. Still is, though.

I waited for the Lindy Hop Shop to open and presented my many badges for sale. They were not interested. When I frowned dubiously at each reason given, it was replaced with another. The badges were too small to sell. The only new stock they were accepting were shoes. They were promoting Herrang-produced items. Badges did not fit their new sales policy. They were already selling their own badges. There was no satisfactory way to display badges. We don' need no steenkin' badges! I had hoped to flog them off cheaply, partly to get rid of them, and partly because many of them had started to develop little orange spots that made them look as though I had printed them on artisanal flecked paper, but which I think were the start of rust formation, which meant that their lives were limited. I resolved to give them away. I could give them to people who took my classes.

Saturday is the quietest day at the camp. It is the day when people finishing one week leave, and others arrive, register for classes, and try to get their bearings. I walked down to the lake and found one of the refurbished-and-yet-still-falling-apart boats and took her for a spin. The sun shone, the water lapped, the lily pads were plentiful, but it would have been nicer with company.


The Kuggan was going strong, it seemed, still stocked with all the usual goods. There had been fears that it would shut. The village school has now stopped teaching children, and had been marked for demolition. The camp, I was told, had offered to buy it, but the local authorities asked too much. Some compromise must have been reached, for the school still stands, minus the decorations by the children. The sports hall and classrooms are still used for 'general accommodation' and by all accounts, it is still awful. Fire regulations forbid people from hanging any sheets on the bunks, thus effectively outlawing privacy. I heard a few stories of amorous young couples who were remarkably undaunted by this and who perturbed their many neighbours with their vigorous exercises.

The Swedes still love their random English words on things.

That's right – a few brown paper plates were five pounds!

When it was time for the meeting, I dutifully went up the side stairs, through the little door by the stage, and sat on the side bench and waited. Some people I knew came by, but mostly the teachers at the camp were new to my eyes. So many came in that I was eventually forced off the bench. Marie hosted the meeting, and gave the audience a tour of the camp by reference to a large projected map. Would she leave me anything to say in my tour? One odd thing that came up was a 'secret cafe' which Marie seemed not to know (much) about. This was somewhere beyond the football pitch. More on this would follow.

They showed a video summarising the events of the previous week. By this time, I was in the corner, and could hardy see a thing. I crouched down and stretched to my right to see more (still seeing next to nothing) and at this point, a tap teacher, returning from the stage after her introduction, trod on my fingers. I have for many years been curious about how much this would hurt, but had not run the experiment. I can now declare for you fans of science that the results were: yes, a lot.

Marie asked the audience to show who had been there before (lots of hands), had been there before more than once (many but fewer hands), as many as five times (fewer)... I could see what was coming. For me, the number was seventeen, and this seemed to impress some people. I had transformed into some elder statesman. Marie set me a task: a forty-five minute tour of the camp for newcomers, to act as an introduction. I could also talk about the old days. “I'll do it!” I cried.

The partition wall to the one-quarter size Prop Shop, seen in the act of being dismantled.

After the meeting, I went to the much-diminished Prop Shop and fetched a large Polish flag on a pole to act in the role of the traditional rainbow umbrella for the guide. A crowd gathered around me, and continued to grow as the people filed out slowly from the Folketshus. I had been expecting a dozen or a score. I got at least a gross. I had no megaphone with me, but thankfully was still equipped with my stentorian voice and by projecting heartily from the diaphragm I was I think able to make myself heard. I took my charges from the area in front of the Folketshus, up to the new reception building on the corner, left down the road into the heart of the village's business district, which now has a crazy golf course, and the burger van has a large area of mismatched chairs and tables around it and even an indoor dining area. Thence we went to behind the school, where we encountered a queue for bedding outside the Ice Cream Parlour ('ICP') and I organised a round of applause in appreciation of the excellent standard of queueing on display. If you were there you would know what I mean. Such straightness of line! Such evenness of spacing! Such patience!

The new permanent reception building.

Golf! Crazy!

Burger van and classy new dining area. The young man serving seemed very happy with the few teeth he had left.

Some things are starting to show their age.

We carried on through the school area, past the teaching tents, 'general kitchen' (still often referred to by its old name – the 'Russian kitchen' - which was changed due to reasons), the staff and customer restaurants, the sauna, and back to the T-junction outside reception. I fielded several questions along the way, may at some point have said something genuinely useful (perhaps this might have been that those in private accommodation with access to washing machines should be aware of the powerful bargaining position they were in, but it might have been the location of certain loos that they don't label), and I am proud to say that I brought the tour in, granted by luck as much as judgement, at exactly forty-five minutes. There were at least as many people with me at the end as there were at the start, so possibly some people thought it was compulsory.

The sauna timetable, with mixed periods which are American-free.

Chester was at the camp as always, and before I could shout 'diplomatic immunity' had roped me in to making a video. This was for one of the evening meetings. The evening meetings are not what they were. That is not to say that they are not good. They are still good and well worth attending, but they have changed. For decades, every meeting was chaired by Lennart. They were literally 'chaired'. He sat on a chair at the side of the stage and conducted things from there. He was behind the planning of the meetings, and did much with his dry but also mischievous humour to set the tone and pace of everything. At first, in his absence, people aped his style to some extent and also conducted the meetings from a chair, but that has changed now. Now each meeting is hosted by someone different, and the hosts stride about with a microphone and do things their way. To those familiar with the camp as it was, this makes the meetings feel more like the old cabaret nights. Oddly, this year, they had the same woman host all the cabaret nights – the lady who was stage manageress for the evening meetings.

For the video, I would play Sherlock Holmes, and Chester would be my Doctor Watson. I feel that my portrayal was closer to the original than his. I turned up in weskit and bow-tie, but we did not find a pipe. The full idea was not explained to me, but I knew that I had to investigate a murder, and that this involved the finding of a trumpet mouthpiece. The cameraman was I think one of three assigned to this task at the camp, and had his video-capable stills camera floating on a gimbal, and planned to shoot everything in long takes. Chester and I improvised our way up to the house, into the house, around the kitchen, and then we discovered the body in the shower. I explained away the strange fact that he had a towel wrapped around his waist with the line “He must have been just entering the shower with a towel wrapped around his waist like any normal man does”. We continued like this until the dead body burst out laughing, and there the take ended. The director/cameraman was happy with this, but I wasn't, and I asked for a second take. For one thing, I had seen that he wasn't always in the right place to get the action we were giving him. This was no failing on his part as a cameraman. How could he know where to be to best see something that we were making up as we went along? Also, I felt that we could be overall quicker and tighter, and that some things were funnier if they happened off-camera and that he should, for example, let Watson go out of shot when I shoved him into the kitchen and dub on the sound of crashing plates in post. We went for a second take. It was much better and the director thanked us. We then did pretty much the same with a second shot in the cellar, and this ended with Sherlock concluding that the killer was one of three men at the camp who played the trumpet.

And there my part in the video ended. I was told to be at an evening meeting to finish off the work live on stage. I was not told much more than that. While I enjoyed a rather nice free gin and tonic with cucumber, I watched them shoot a bit with Elze Visnevskyte running in mock panic down the stairs and out into the road after discovering the body. I found her first run rather lacklustre and unconvincing. They gave it another go.

I had been invited by Gunnar up to the top office to be photographed in my badge-covered T-shirt. His idea was to use this to promote my evening class on the Thursday which was to involve free badges. Up I went. Click click click from the nice lady there with a huge expensive-looking camera. She said she liked me because I gave her all the poses she wanted without her asking. Flattering the subject is an old technique. That evening, still wearing my weskit and tie, I arrived too late for the Folkethus, and so watched the meeting in the library, and you can perhaps imagine my interest and excitement when I heard the two ladies (K&K) who ran the evening classes and Wednesday extra activities (both good dancers who would do a little routine before each set of announcements) announce the first of my classes for that night, to start immediately after the meeting. I left in a bit of hurry. There would be no free badges, and I had not sorted out any music yet.

I got to the tent and watched the class gather. It was well-attended. This could not have been anything to do with my being well-known, because to the current crop of customers, I am not well-known. Perhaps the subject matter was more appealing than I had guessed – how to lead and follow the difference between walking and triple-stepping. It is a technical class involving some quite subtle ideas. It is a lesson I wish I had been taught at some point in my dance-learning journey. It is useful stuff for beginners to know, but unfortunately they are usually not good enough dancers to fully appreciate or enact the various tips I have, which if used well, can enable a couple to triple-step or walk in any combination together. You've just danced rock-step triple step. What comes next? How is he supposed to make it clear? How is she supposed to guess? You might need my class. Anyone might benefit, but perhaps a class of intermediates would benefit the most.

The class went fine, and I managed to get plenty of jokes in. Fortunately, someone had a portable telephone with a proper jack socket in it so that we could have some music. One thing I've learned to pick up on is the noise that people make in the room after trying out an exercise. If it goes well, they learn something, and understand it, the buzz in the room is loud and good. When they have not got it yet and had no success and so perhaps even remain dubious that what I'm teaching works, they are quiet and lack energy. This lesson was mostly the former, and when I heard the latter, I knew to work on that part of the lesson a bit more. Several people later thanked me for the lesson, but I heard nothing from the people who thought it was rubbish.


Again, I found myself at Herräng and marvelling at how little dancing I seemed to be doing. I would visit a dance floor, and find an excuse not to dance. I was thirsty, I needed the loo, I was hot, I was tired, my back hurt, I didn't like the music, I saw no one free to ask, it was time to eat. Also again, I found myself in more physical discomfort at this camp than is my norm. Why did my belly always feel a bit off? Why were my trousers so much tighter around the waist than normal? There always seems to be something wrong in the gut department. For one thing, it always felt as though I was at least a day behind in the chore of defecation. Plenty seemed to come out every now and then, but I never seemed to catch up with the back-log.

I could also potter around, have chats with people, and one way or another fritter away hours of good dancing time. Crowded hot floors, such as when a band was playing, were off-putting, as were some of the current trends in music. A lot of the DJs were putting on twenty-minute long jazz pieces which had rhythm sections that did nothing more interesting than go chug-chug-chug all the way through, and over the top of this would be long random noodling solos, especially from the Devil's reeded brass vuvuzela. These gave me nothing to interpret, and a spiralling sense of despair – when would it end, and would I be obliged to dance two of these? After about eight minutes or so, the DJ would fade them out with the slider, so there wouldn't even be a satisfying end point. The two-dance convention continues to be a curse, and the sooner it can be phased out, the better.

While scouting for data at the noticeboard outside the Activities Box, I struck up a conversation with a lady who was going to teach a class in round-singing. Soon, she taught me a couple of parts to sing over and over, and then she sang other parts over the top. It sounded quite good, and we soon attracted the attention of one and then another person, and the four of us sang three different parts. We resolved to perform this in an evening meeting to promote the class. At this point, my rumbling baritone was still working. Over the next day or two, we kept bumping into each other and having more rehearsals. Nicolle Rochelle, the professional jazz singer and all-round showgirl was at the camp. We are friends of old, and we managed to recruit her into the team to sing the fourth part.

There were several information boards around the camp, but though they from a distance appeared as standardised duplicates, they did not all carry all the important notices. Very often just one of them had the necessary info.

I think it was the Monday night when we performed the singing in the evening meeting. We sat on cushions near the front, and when the time came, took our places at the bottom of the world's fourth-steepest staircase, at the side of the stage. In the end, there were just four of us. We did not know what had happened to the other two. The lady with blue hair never showed up, and I later learned that the man who was to duplicate my part was ill. Never mind – four parts and four microphones worked fine with four singers. Our leader went on first, then the other two, and they took up sensible poses with serious faces, then I walked on as the clown. There had been a plan for me to clown about a lot more, but I cut that right back because the piece was to be short, and I didn't want to distract from the separate parts. I had the responsibility of singing first, which meant that if I set off in the wrong key, it would throw everyone off. My leader scowled at me, but she was being in-character. I was expecting her to give me the note, but I heard nothing, and there was an awkward moment. I started singing my slow droning bass part:

Baby cares for me,
Baby cares for me,
Baby cares for me,
My baby cares for only me!

And then as I kept this up, my neighbour came in with the much faster:

Baby cares, Baby cares, Baby cares for me,
Baby cares, Baby cares, Baby cares for me,
Baby cares, Baby cares, Baby cares for
Meeeee-EEEEEE! I'm so lucky!

Then as the first two parts continued, Nicolle added a more soulful line which slid over the first two parts:

Everybody loves my Baby,
Baby cares for only me,
I'm so lucky!

And finally, our leader rounded it off with:

My Baby I'd die for,
My Baby I'd sigh for,

[Last bit forgotten]

Bow. Clap. Off.

Legally, I think it counts as a 'ladder'.

At the next evening meeting, it was time to round off the Sherlock idea. I was told to show up at the rehearsal at 8:20 p.m. and all would become clear. What became clear was that the host of the show, an English musician called Steven, was very busy organising all the rest of the show, and had only the very vaguest of outlines of what we had to do. There would be three suspects: Fredrik Dahlberg the dance teacher and trumpeter, whom we would find innocent somehow; then Daniel Larsson the tap teacher, whom we would also find innocent thanks to his inability to play the trumpet; lastly we would come to Steven, the host himself, at the very end of the show, and we would end the show by arresting and carting him away. Following this would be a short video of Elze Visnevskyte, showing herself to be the true culprit, by playing the trumpet and doing the Evil Laugh.

While waiting to be briefed, I saw the shot of Elze Visnevskyte running from the house projected onto the cinema-sized screen. It looked absolutely great. I take it all back.

This left us with rather a lot to work out. Chester and I thrashed out a plan of sorts, and were continuing to do so long after the show started, in the cold narrow stairway next to the stage. This involved telephoning Freddie to brief him on what answers to give, and could he bring a spare trumpet mouthpiece? Someone was sent out to fetch a pair of black socks from which to fashion a prop cosh, a pipe, and a magnifying glass. He returned with a pair of tights. We made do.

Chester was understandably anxious to know when he was supposed to demonstrate the next of his series of time steps. Each night he did a few more, usually with the aid of one of the tap teachers, and he eventually covered all twenty-eight, many of which had to be taught to the tap teachers at the last moment. I managed to find out that he was to do that before any of our bits, so he changed into the appropriate clothing. That out of the way, we hastily prepared for the first of our three bits. It did not start well. Chester got the wrong idea when our bit came up, and entered the stage, forgetting that it started with the video that we shot a few days before. There was no stopping him, and the host had to dash out onto the stage and bundle him off.

The video got a lot of laughs, but they were frustrating. First, I could not see the video from where I was, and the early part of it, which I had never seen, was getting a lot of good laughs, but from the wings I could see only part of the picture, and it seemed never the funny part. Then, when I heard our bit in the video, the bits I found funniest went quietly received, while other bits got the laughs. This is always the way. Chester and I entered and greeted the crowd, and I explained that we were there to investigate a grisly crime perpetration by a villain with appalling manners. I apologised to the ladyfolk, but really there was no delicate way of putting it. I summoned Freddie AKA 'Snakehips' to the stage, and Watson dragged him up for questioning. I asked him where he was at the time of the crime. He answered as he had been briefed: that he didn't know when the crime occurred. I declared to the audience that I had hoped to catch him out with that question, and that we might be dealing with a criminal mastermind disguised as an idiot. I got him to play the trumpet, and he played it quite well. I then told the audience that I was unfamiliar with this 'jazz' music, and asked whether Freddie's playing was of the standard expected at the camp. The audience was mischievous and reacted ambiguously. We would continue our search.

The next time we came out, Watson (Chester) followed the trail of gold sequins to Daniel Larsson who sat wearing a gold sparkly jacket. With many threats of violence, Chester escorted him to the stage for questioning. He claimed to have been lent the jacket by Steven the host. I tested him with the trumpet. Steven's plan had been to surprise him, and he was acting on the assumption that Daniel would not have the necessary embouchure. As it turned out, he used to play the trombone, and he got some pretty good notes out of exhibit A. My solution was as usual to involve the audience, and again there were many people in the audience keen to obstruct justice by suggesting that Daniel's efforts had been worthy of jazz. I got one of my bigger laughs by thanking the audience in a sarcastic tone, and Daniel was ushered away under warning not to leave the building as he was still a suspect.

Last time on, we accosted the host. Dramatically, I walked away from him as I spoke of how the trail had led to... [turns suddenly back to face] “!”. Under threat of a coshing from Watson, I made him play the trumpet for us, but just before I gave it to him, I said that there was something about it I wanted to check. Chester then hammed it up wonderfully distracting Steven while I ostentatiously swapped the mouthpiece on the trumpet for the one in my pocket, signalling to the audience not to give the game away. I then handed over the doctored instrument, and Steven forgot that he was supposed to play badly, but fortunately did no more than play a few plain notes. “Well that wasn't very impressive,” I said, and this got a good laugh. “Can't you get a clean note out of it?” This cracked him up, which the audience loved. “You seem to be having a bit of trouble, would you like to give it another go?” was my way of reminding him to play badly. This he then did, and I was able to pounce – and I denounced him as the villain, because he had not known that I had swapped the mouthpiece from his rare type to an ordinary one. “We have our man! Book him, Watson!” Chester threw Steven over his shoulder, to the amazement of the audience, which was understandable given that Steven must have weighed double Chester's wiry corporeal form.

So we got away with it. This is something I get to do in Herräng: work with talented people who trust me. In some ways it may seem unreasonable to expect someone to throw together a series of short acts in a few minutes and then perform then live without rehearsal, but on the other hand it is great to be trusted like that, and to be surrounded by the sort of people that make it possible.

Over the next couple of days, I got a lot of compliments about the act, and people referred to me as 'Sherlock'. This would be useful when Thursday night came.


There are many things that have changed over the years at Herräng. There are more people, greater infrastructure, far more volunteers, everything costs more, things are much more regimented and on time, but on the other hand, lots is still the same. Perhaps the most important thing is the general sort of people that attend. That does not seem to have changed at all. The age range of the customers, and the 'types' that turn up are pretty much the same. Lots of doctors and engineers, as well as artists of various sorts. It is a good crowd, and there is no trouble to speak of. The audiences are always warm.

However, although the similarities may be most important, the differences are what people are most interested by, and I did spot a couple of changes. First, there were very few Americans there. Americans used to be a very large contingent, whereas today the Europeans are far more dominant. Fewer Russians than in previous years, which is understandable. Lots of Swiss this year, with Zurich very well represented, but they were also from French and Italian-speaking regions. Lots of Barcelonans as well. Why were there so few Americans? Well, increased air travel prices would be a factor, but keep reading for another.

Another change was the teacher line-up. In previous years (excepting of course the first), I have recognised most of the teachers. The camp boasted the world's top stars as teachers. This year, I knew just twenty out of fifty-seven, and they were from much more proximate bases. This did alter the atmosphere a bit. The norm in the past was for there to be a corner of the Folketshus floor (near the stage exit) where the rock-stars danced for much of the night. Not this year. Also, the evening meetings, evening lessons, and cabaret nights always involved these top showmen and showgirls showing off their many talents. The new crop of teachers seemed to have far fewer show-offs. I was told two reasons for this. One was that the camp had to draw its belt in a bit after two years of losses during the pandemic.

Above, the senior staff; below, the dance teachers.


This day, I had a lesson to teach: How To Dance Really Well. This is a lesson I have taught many times now at various camps, so it was pretty easy, and it went fine. There was a good turn-out, although it seems that almost no one knew about the free badge offer, so that does not explain it. People always look better when they are dancing at the end of this class than at the start, but how long this effect lasts, I cannot say. People seemed happy with their randomly-allotted free badges at the end.

I visited The Secret Cafe, which was of course not secret, although its relationship with the camp was mysterious. It seems that an enterprising local had turned her back garden into a cafe, and done a rather fine job of it, with a central kitchen area with pizza oven, a glasshouse for selling art and coffee, and pleasant lawns on which to lounge in the nice weather. One wonders for how much of the year it is nice to use the garden that way. The Swedish summer is short, but good.

Paying at the cafe involved cash, which had become unusual. At the camp this year, many of the places that needed to take payment could accept contactless debit cards or a new card they have introduced which was the standard size of a credit card, and had a magnetic stripe on it which would be swiped down the side of the till and could be topped up with money in various ways, and which gave a 5% discount on most things. Overall, this was an improvement. There is still no cashpoint (ATM, bankomat) in Herräng. I ended up not using all the cash I got at the airport, and coming home with more than was wise.

Hitherto unheard-of technology at the camp.

I think it was probably Wednesday when I took a class in improvised theatre. This consisted of various drama-school exercises, one of which was looking at someone else's eyes at close range for a while. I think it was thirty seconds or so. I did it because we were all asked to. Many people reported that they found this very difficult. I recall a similar exercise when I did a course in clowning many years ago, at which one man seemed close to fainting. Perhaps this indicates that there is absent in me something fundamental to being a decent human being, or possibly instead it is a symptom of a laudable strength in me, but I do not find this at all difficult. All I have to do is look at something for a bit. Yes, it is an eye, so it is looking at me, but so what? All it is looking at is my eye. What's the worst that can happen? What am I missing here? What am I supposed to learn from this exercise? That after thirty seconds I can stop? Don't normal people look each other in the eye for far longer when having a normal conversation?

Talking to one lady I was keen to impress, I learned that she had not seen the evening meeting the night before. I am always surprised that people so often miss the evening meetings at the camp. They are a major part of the camp. They are entertaining, educational about the history of swing dance, and make one feel far more connected to the many activities and people at the camp. Perhaps they should not call them 'meetings' but 'shows' for they are more show than meeting.

“You're amazing!” said a rather lovely lady from Switzerland to me in the foyer. There followed a conversation of a type that I had already once before at the camp. She started with a beaming light in her eyes, and I carried on being as gracious as I could be, and then came the inevitable moment when she realised that the conversation wasn't going anywhere, and the light died in her eyes and she looked away. Possibly there is some way that I reap some benefit from these situations, but in over twenty years, I have not found it. Still, at least I got a poem out of it.

The evening meetings continued to include amazing performances. One started with a duet to Rossini's Cat Duet. In this, clearly classically-trained Yulia Takarera and her partner did serious-faced contemporary ballet with muscular poses, to what is a silly piece of music. I think it was this night that Nicolle Rochelle did her amazing performance, mixing Billie Holiday vocals and Josephine Baker moves. She has also been a leading Broadway (NY, not Ealing) actress, so that makes her the all-round showgirl, and I was amazed to learn that she has been playing the Whitley Bay Jazz Festival for the last few years, which happens just down the road from me. On the spot I moved my party that was to be the same weekend as her appearance at the festival to the week before, so that she could attend. She came and sang and all my guests agreed that she was great.

Wednesday is now blues night, which they are still trying to call Slow Drag Night. In times past, people dressed up very nicely for this, but standards of retrovestry have slipped, and the sartorial splendour of yesteryear has been replaced by something a bit more casual. They now have roller-blinds over the windows, but these do not block out the light as effectively as the tatty bin-liners of old, and so the room never gets very dark. The new sound system in the Folketshus involves a lot of small modern speakers rather than the stacks of big old speakers, and the sound does not have the clarity or boom of before.

The new speakers.

Chester took me into the hall before the show without explaining why. The rehearsals were going on for the opening show, which he was coordinating. I don't know where he gets his dancers from, but he always has a good team of good-looking good dancers. They had had very little time to throw together a routine, and had filled in many gaps in Chester's choreography themselves. They also had a coordinated look, which involved wearing a lot of black, and smouldering. I had imagined that Chester might have had a role for me, perhaps playing a standard lamp in the background, but it seemed not, and I felt like an interloping fifth wheel. At least I got a good spot to watch the show from. They used the interlopers to form the front row and define the dance space on the floor.

In came the crowd. The lights went down. The smoke machine thickened the air. The show looked as slick as a pro show, and was two and a half numbers long. This ended with the usual blues snowball, and soon we were all up and dancing. I wish they would have a live band on blues night. That might do a lot for the atmosphere. It might pack people in, but whereas a crowded floor can spoil Lindy, for blues it might improve things. I danced a moderate amount, but these days feel inhibited by modern mores from getting very into it.

I encountered Gunnar and Yulia on the stairs that night. They asked me whether I would like to present the next evening meeting. They didn't say who had been indisposed to make this necessary, and I didn't ask. Though daunted a bit by the task, I said that I would. Yulia has a look about her which suggests that she knows people who could have me killed, so I didn't like to disappoint.

There were people at the camp who might not have understood why this gig might be daunting. As I said above, Lennart Westerlund hosted all the meetings for decades. He regarded it as so much his own territory that the strange year when he departed during the camp, he specifically forbade anyone to try to replace his evening meetings with equivalents of their own. I well recall the humility with which Peter Loggins took on the task when Lennart had to be away to attend Daniel and Åsa Heedman's wedding. I was considering explaining this to the crowd, and asked what the policy was on mentioning Lennart. I was told that the policy was to not mention Lennart. Gunnar added that most people wouldn't know who he was anyway.

So the next day I had to go to the 'Dream Factory' office at the top of the Folkethus for meetings about the show. I first arrived with a page of ideas for stuff I could do. Gunnar was not really in the mood. This was the end of the last week, and Gunnar had been doing three people's jobs, which included being head of infrastructure, meaning that he had to make sure that all the plumbing leaks, dance-floor repairs, and deliveries of lemon-soaked paper napkins were dealt with. I showed him my hilarious never-fails routine where I rush up and down ineffectually for a bit, and his face just told me that he wanted to go home. “Uhuh,” was his response to that one. Fortunately for me, I am able to find this sort of thing funny at the time, so I wasn't too dismayed. Little was sorted in that meeting. There were too many as-yet unanswered questions about what was to be in the show.

In the next meeting, I was given a print-out of the running order. It wasn't a huge amount to go on, but there were a few details that they could add by word of mouth. The main item was to be a wedding. We would stage a proposal early on in the show, to set up the main event which would be the finale. There was at the camp an American who had bought the rank of minister in some on-line Mickey Mouse church, which did actually have the legal power to marry people. He had done a couple of weddings already, even though he had trouble remembering the name of his religion. I think it might have been the 'Universal Life Church'. We did a quick Google to check whether Sweden recognised its weddings, and it seemed so, although Portugal did not. I voiced concern that the proposal should not be faked too well, because if people believed that, then they would be suspicious when we were then, mere minutes later, all ready with a wedding service. Better to make the proposal more fake so that the wedding would seem more real. I asked the bride whether she intended to fake surprise. She said she did.

There was no time for me to rehearse things with others, nor make videos, nor have props made. It would be just me, my mouth, and my post-card sized prompt card that would have what I hoped would be everything I needed on it. That card was written at the last minute, from all that I was able to glean in the last half an hour or so before the show itself. Some people showed up then to rehearse, some had been and gone, and others never showed up, so there was no opportunity for me to talk to all the other participants.

I watched them empty out the cushions for the audience from two huge duvet covers used as storage bags. The amount of dust was quite off-putting.

We tested the mic for the sound for my entrance, and then it was time to hide in the wings. I started whistling a tune my father wrote many years ago, which I'm hoping will become a jazz standard one day, walked with slow loud steps to the centre of the stage, the curtains parted, and there everyone was, looking bright-tailed and bushy-eyed. I welcomed everyone to the last meeting of 2023 International Sleep Deprivation Trials, and there was a huge cheer. Perhaps this would be easy.

One of the early items was Chester demonstrating the last of the twenty-eight time steps, with the aid of one of the camp's tap teachers, to whom he had been teaching these steps. In my intro, I suggested that there was a similarity betwixt Chester and Daffy Duck. I knew he didn't mind this. It got only a stifled laugh in the hall, though. I think many people felt that they didn't have permission to find it funny. Chester himself hammed it up, and as his act went on, got ever more daffy. I asked the stage manager for the name of the tap teacher. “Tomas”, she said, and so I could name him and Chester in the outro.

I had a bowl on stage, filled with the last of my badges. When some excuse to thank the audience for something came up, I started tossing badges into the audience. I was not prepared for the levels of enthusiasm this engendered, and soon I was flinging handfuls of badges hither and yon, only one of which did I see hit a woman in the face.

Next were the two ladies from the Activities Box doing their dance routine and announcements, followed by the staged proposal (“Yes!”), and then I had a lot of announcements to make about things like the pub night, cabaret, lost and found, singing with a live band in the bar, and the library talk. The significant one here for my story is the library talk. My instructions were to hand over this section to the speaker herself, who would be given a microphone and the opportunity to announce the talk her way. I knew her name was Breai Michele, but I was hoping to avoid having to say her name, because in the meeting in the office, at which at least half a dozen people were present, it was made clear to me that she was quite fussy about the way her name was spoken, and yet no one there knew how to say it. All they could say for certain was that this lady, whose first name was very unusual and strangely spelled, was very intolerant of mispronunciation. She did not volunteer her location, and so I was forced to ask for her, and I had what I think were a couple of fair stabs at saying her name. The spotlight searched for her, and another mic was being held in readiness for her appearance. She had not shown up. This was very odd, because not only was this particular talk considered particularly important, but also she definitely knew that she was expected to announce it at the meeting. Since I had been told that she would describe the talk in her own words, I had not found out what it was about, and I was not foolish enough to court disaster by having a guess, and so rather than dither, I simply kept good humour and moved things swiftly on, telling the audience when and where the talk was, and that people could go along and find out what it was about.

Soon after that, I introduced the dancers of Mozambique. I had been expecting a large troupe, but there were just three of them. Using USA terminology, one was 'white' and two were 'black'. You may be wondering why I am giving you so much detail. It became relevant later. Their leader wanted to say something, so we gave him a mic and he spoke briefly about Mozambique. Lots of smiles. All seemed well.

Other items:

An announcement from the bike shop telling people to bring back their bikes in one piece. This ended by littering the stage in bike parts thrown on from wings. This was of questionable timing given that the next item was a dance troupe.

Marie told that they had about 500 bicycles. That's enough for over half the camp.

The staff chorus line did a routine, that it had thrown together in a mere four hours. I announced that this was the very last routine that Kari would ever choreograph... as a single woman. She was the bride-to-be, and I was trying to keep the anticipation going.

The 'family photo' – a short video about the group photograph taken outside the Folketshus of everyone who turned up for it that week. I took the opportunity to say what a great Lindy family we all are, and that if anyone could give me a settee to crash on in Stockholm on Saturday night, that would be great. A bit cheeky, I admit and admitted at the time. This garnered not a single offer.

A video about frogs was added in during the show. This was one of a series, which, more than just telling people about the frog migrations in the area, and to watch where they were treading, also fantasised about a frog nightclub at the camp, with quite good special effects.

The Latin dance performers never showed up, so that item was very quick.

Next was a video which had been long in the gestation. The video man in the top office had slaved many hours over it, and I had seen the cast members on location for many hours a couple of nights before. Before the show, I had asked Chester, its director, to confirm what it was called. 'Blash' was what I had heard. He confirmed this. I wrote it down in block capitals and spelled it out back to him “B-L-A-S-H is that right?” It seemed it was. The epic started. It was long, complicated, and involved a lot of superheroes competing for a MacGuffin, while using a variety of superpowers. Predictably perhaps, the world was narrowly saved from evil tyranny. During the movie, I couldn't help but notice that the title 'Blast' came up in very fancy lettering. “It's pronounced 'blah-ssT' I spoke to an absent-but-for-comedy-purposes-notionally-present Chester in the wings.

Next up: the big finish. This was a combination of a formal declaration of the end of the camp from Marie, our end-of-level-three-big-boss lady, and the wedding. Gunnar had felt somewhat unheeded in the production meeting about this and had chosen to go silent, but just before the show started he came over to me quietly and we talked about the best way to do the ending, and I could see that he was right. I handed the mic to Marie, she did the main camp-closing speech, then she announced the start of the wedding and handed back to me. I then introduced the wedding as they set up an almost-red carpet, and various other props. In came the procession, and we had everyone in place on stage, but I sensed that the audience still didn't really know what it was looking at. I walked to the front of the stage, and explained that this was not a mock wedding, and that the minister standing ready was legally empowered to marry people. I'm glad I did because the audience seemed to perk up quite a bit at this, although possibly I undermined the authority of the minister slightly when I added that he was an actual cleric, who had bought his character class on-line.

I handed over the mic to the minister and the short ceremony was ceremonially enceremonied. Kiss the bride. Cheers. I then had to get the mic back to Marie, and she could draw things to a close, and they put on 'Dancing Queen' to play us out.

Phew! It seemed that I had gotten away with it. The stage manageress was pleased with me, because I had brought the show in bang on time – one hour. She showed me her timer. Word reached me that I had been getting big laughs in the bar downstairs, where there was a table of Brits cackling away, and people were perhaps less inhibited.

The happy couple had been engaged for six years. He was Polish and she Belarusian, and they had met at the camp. For reasons that I presume I need not explain, the Poles and Belarusians are not at present the best of neighbours, and leaving Belarusia is very difficult. Had their wedding been in Belarus, she might not have been able to leave. Had it been in Poland, her relatives would not have been able to attend, so a wedding at the camp was convenient. We wish them well.

The night wasn't over for me, because I was also appearing in the cabaret. Rehearsals for that started almost immediately. My act was very simple – just me and a microphone in a spotlight as I did my poem (I did I Am A Dance God again), so I didn't have to hang around long. The thing that took the most time was convincing them that I wanted to be in front of closed curtains, which they found very odd.

At some point in this evening's proceedings, I did toddle down to the library to have a quick scout for what was happening there. My memory is vague as to when exactly this was – before or after the cabaret. Quickly, I saw that the room was packed, so Breai would not be able to complain that I had robbed her of an audience. I stood at the end of the entrance corridor, just out of sight of the speaker, and listened for only a minute or so. The tone was what I had feared: the dour this-is-the-way-it-is-because-I-say-so-and-I-will-brook-no-dissent tone, and it included a lot of words like 'diaspora' giving it a quasi-academic sound. I sensed no attempt to entertain, and quickly concluded that I had been wise not to attend the whole thing. I didn't talk to many people who attended, but those few I did were unimpressed. One said “I was taking notes!” with a view to one day shooting down the arguments presented.


This was not one of the greatest. All the acts were quite low-key. They show had no big opener, no show-stopper in the middle, and no big closer. None of the acts was of the only-in-Herräng-Euro-weirdness type, of which it is worth seeing one example. Almost all were one or two people just doing a simple turn. As usual, some people had a skill rather than an act. I wouldn't say that standing still and doing a serious Shakespeare speech from Julius Caesar was ever likely to go down a storm in this context. Whereas in previous years, the rock-star teachers would have blown us away with a group performance of dance talent and showmanship, instead it was down to plucky amateurs to step up one at a time and have their moment.

Mine was the poem, and I came out, bade everyone good evening, and to my beflusterment, I got a cheer. After that, I said that I supposed that I should quit while I was ahead, and made to leave. I did the poem anyway. It went fine, but it was no show-stopper. It was an opportunity, though, for them to set up the next act on the hidden stage behind me.

For me, the highlight of the cabaret was the jazz version of John Cage's Four Minutes and Thirty-Three Seconds. The band was large, and all equipped with instruments, including a full drum-kit. The conductor had a stand and a baton. The piece was silence. 'Ha ha', you might think, 'but how was this such a highlight?' It was not the performers, but the audience that made it a highlight. The piece came to an end, and the band bowed and made to leave, and then the audience started clapping in time and chanting “ONE MORE SONG!” over and over. I was downstairs watching in the bar and said to my neighbour “I hope they've rehearsed an encore!” The performers showed their quality by following up with a second silent piece, and the audience showed its by applauding twice as much.

Up, shim-sham, off.


The next day, I was in the bar, when a lady told me that she had read my on-line accounts of my trips to the camp. She said this in a strangely neutral way. At no point did she hint that she liked them at all, and yet why would someone read them if she thought little of them? With my customary self-deprecating humour, I said “Is there anything you think I should add? Clarify? Expand upon? Remove? Apologise for?” Almost anyone would have at least smiled at that last suggestion, but she instead just looked thoughtful and then said that actually, yes, there was something I should apologise for. I sat down to listen.

She then spent some while tearing me off a strip about my hosting of the show the night before. She was too much of a coward to say what she was demanding I apologise for, but instead just said enough to be offensive and get the message across, without actually speaking the specific words. She said that it was bad that I had not named the dancers from Mozambique, and that it “could not have been a coincidence that...” - but she could not bring herself to say the rest of that sentence.

She also said that it was disrespectful of me not to know how to say Breai's name, and that I had not treated the item with the respect it was due, and that Breai was a wonderful person who had done “so much”, and that I should not have made light of this item. I told her that I had tried to find out how to say her name, and that I felt that I could not be blamed for her not showing up either to the rehearsals to supply me with any details, or to the meeting itself. I felt that all I could have done was supply the basic details I had and then move on.

She returned to the issue of my not naming the Mozambican dancers, and repeated that it “could not be a coincidence that they were the only...”

I pointed out to her that my information was to call them 'the dancers of Mozambique'. Had they wanted to be called something else, they could have told me. I also pointed out that we had given them a microphone to say whatever they wanted. I also pointed out that I did not name the staff chorus line (all white), nor the duo of (white) dancers that did the activities announcements, and that in fact I had only named two dancers in the whole show: Tomas and Chester (who is black).

Her response to this was to smile the most patronising of smiles, and to reach out and touch me in that patronising way that so often amongst men provokes a stout punch in the face, and say “Oh I see! You're not someone who is open to...” and even there her courage failed her. I suppose the facts of my answer were too inconvenient for her argument, so she resorted to abuse. Oddly enough, I do not take kindly to being called a racist.

The above, though, did not come out of nowhere, for there are sinister forces at work now in the world of swing dance, and these were adversely affecting the camp, and I had been hearing about them from several sources. It would be plain wrong of me not to write of them here. Let me first make clear that I am not setting myself up as any sort of expert in this field, and that I am aware that my sources were individuals who were voicing their individual opinions based on their limited information. No one could possibly know the whole truth of something so complicated. I am sure that there are others who could have given me contrasting accounts of the same events and issues.

There are people in the world now, who were almost always referred to as 'they' and 'them', who are manoeuvring to oppose camps like Herräng. I had to ask several times who 'they' were, and no one was ever able to supply me with a very simple answer. 'They' are people who share certain political methods, who are using these to undermine all the efforts of those who spent the last thirty or forty years reviving swing dance. 'They' are not Black Lives Matter, nor are they a single nameable group affiliated with it, but 'they' seem to be a loose confederation of like-minded types who are taking advantage of the fear currently engendered by BLM to push some race-based agenda, wielding it as a weapon.

This was an explanation for the absence of so many of the top international stars at the camp. The camp used to crawl with them, but it seems that 'they' had managed to scare them away. These teachers were frightened to teach at the camp, lest they be blacklisted and unable to teach elsewhere. How far would 'they' go? Well, one person who had had far more dealings with 'them' than anyone else I know said in all seriousness that they might use actual violence. One person prominent by absence at the camp had, I was told by a few people, had a 'nervous breakdown' after receiving 'death threats'. Were these very extreme terms justified? I do not know, but I do know that it would take a lot to keep that person away from this camp. Possibly 'had decided that it wasn't worth the bother' after receiving 'nasty threatening e-mails' might be closer to the truth. Some exaggeration through Chinese whispers is possible, but 'nervous breakdown' and 'death threats' were the terms used, and terms confirmed after I questioned them.

Is Herräng the least racist event on Earth? It must be a strong contender. People fly in from all around the world and share the joy for weeks on end. I have never known any trouble there. To people from the USA, there are only two races, which are sometimes 'blacks and everyone else' and sometimes 'whites and everyone else'. I recall seeing a report by CNN on murders. It said that in the USA between 2005 and 2010, of the (staggering) 53,000 murders, 44.1% were 'white-on-white', 43.2% were 'black-on-black', 3.9% were 'white-on-black' and 8.8% were 'black-on-white'. It seemed that this was to illustrate that 'whites' commit far fewer murders. Straight away I thought that there was something very fishy about these figures, so I got out my calculator and added the percentages up. The total was exactly 100. Apparently, then, in five years not one single Chinese American was murdered nor killed anyone, and not one Indian, nor native American, not one Polynesian American, nor Arab. Really? How likely is that? The people of the USA, however, take things much further and insist that everyone else not only does share this two-race system, but should share it. Even South African apartheid was more nuanced.

'They' should perhaps be careful what they wish for, lest they get it. If they demand that the teachers and special guests (already wildly disproportionately 'black') be more representative of the people dancing the dance, then the result would be far fewer blacks and lots and lots of Koreans, for Seoul has far and away the biggest swing dance scene in the world.

Chester told me at length, more than once, of his arrival at an event in the USA (Camp Hollywood 2022) to which he had not been invited. He had been tipped off that he had been announced as being on a panel there for a talk. Presumably, the tactic was designed to enable them to say that he had been invited but had chosen not to show up. In his telling, the people there were agape in amazement when he walked in. He then had to ask for a microphone, and then when he had one he asked why, if they were expecting him on the panel, was there no seat for him? Hurriedly, a seat was fetched. One issue was that a certain dance troupe of black dancers had not won a certain big competition over there, and the conclusion reached was that this could only have been because of racism. In Chester's story, he said, “In the words of Norma Miller: 'they sucked!' You cannot expect a bunch of kids who have just started dancing to win against full-time professionals who have been doing this for twenty years.”

'They' had been organising events to clash with long-established but insufficiently-on-message events. Further, they had been contacting those events to tell them to change dates, and make various other unreasonable demands. Intimidation is their only weapon, and if everyone just failed to be intimidated by them, they would be impotent, unless, perhaps, they really would go as far as serious violence.

Herräng got into trouble when it posted a video of one of the comedy sketches it did on stage at the camp some years before. At the time, the sketch had been well-received, but there were lurkers on the internet who, years later during the Covid pandemic, saw an opportunity to be offended. In the sketch, a teacher who had at one of the earlier evening meetings said that he'd love to be able to go back in time and dance with people from the swing era, was given the chance to do just that, because the camp's scientists had developed a time machine! The curtains parted to reveal a really quite good prop, complete with many flashing lights and lots of smoke. The teacher was loaded in and sent on his way and the curtains closed. Later in the show, they opened again, and the scene was a 'rent party' in Harlem. These were parties people threw to generate a bit of income. Strictly speaking, they were illegal, but they happened anyway. The teacher arrived, and was welcomed in, but the people from back in the day were unimpressed with his modern casual clothes, and gave him smarter period wear to don. He then joined in with the party and danced, and for a while, all went well, but then there were police sirens and the period folk all scarpered, apart from the old ladies sitting at the back, who looked downcast, and the time-traveller, who was unaware of what was happening. A policeman then came on stage and arrested him. Laugh. Curtain.

Can you see what is 'problematic' about this sketch? No, neither could anyone else for years. A detail I did not mention was that the time traveller and the policeman were both played by pale-skinned folk, whereas most of the people at the Harlem party were dark. Now do you see the problem? No, neither did I. Apparently, though, the offence is that the policeman did not beat the time-traveller up. Why is that offensive? Would added violence have made the sketch funnier? The argument goes that back in the day, had the man arrested been black, then he would have been beaten up by the police, and that the fact that the time traveller was not beaten up was an offensive display of 'white privilege'.

Now, it is of course possible that I have misrepresented the offence in this sketch, and that others would have phrased it differently. Please believe me, though, when I say that I have genuinely tried to represent the argument as accurately as I can. That the joke of the sketch was 'be careful what you wish for, because back in the day all was not sweetness and light' would, you might think, be in keeping with the views of the complainants. That it was obviously a comedy sketch that intended no offence seems to carry no weight with them. That it was historically accurate about the rent parties and the raids was also not accepted as a defence. Unfortunately, someone at the camp, writing in the name of the camp, penned an apology for it. I write 'unfortunately' because never has any apology in this sort of context ever done any good. It is always taken as an admission of guilt, and no amount of apology is ever enough to settle matters. If they can get you to apologise for one thing, then it just encourages them to demand more apologies for other things. Besides, there was nothing for which to apologise. The two little old ladies on the stage were played by two actual little old ladies, and both were American, and both were black, and so far as I know both were not just happy to be in the sketch at the time, but have defended it since.

At the camp, there were notices asking people to fill in a 'Culture Survey'. Many people were boycotting it, but I dare say others gave it a go. I had a look at it on-line. I do not know who wrote it, but it is written with a clear agenda. It comes across less as an honest enquiry after what people think, and more like a inspection to ensure that people are all thinking the correct thing. It is filled with questions that remind me of 'Have you stopped beating your wife?'

The survey tells you at the start what answers are required by stating the goals that the respondent is supposed to aim for. These are:

1) The camp has a healthy and diverse community.

What does this mean? Should this be the top priority of a dance camp? Shouldn't that be more like 'to teach dance and to have fun'? What does 'healthy' mean in this context? Is Herräng a health camp now? Does it even mean physical/medical health or might it instead refer to some sort of 'moral health'? If so, who decides what is morally healthy? What does 'diverse community' mean? We are not diverse – we are all united by something very rare and special = a love for swing dance. That makes us all unified, not diverse. Does it mean 'racially varied'? Why is that important?

2) The camp is a place to learn.

If it had been 'to learn swing dance, then I would have agreed, but to simply to 'learn' seems positively sinister. What more are we required to learn than how to swing dance? Is this to be an indoctrination camp?

3) The camp is a place to share African American culture.

Oh by all the gods no! It's a holiday camp. People go there to have fun, and they do. If you consider swing dance to be 'African American culture' then people will automatically be getting some of that, so you should be happy, but people have not gone there to be lectured in ebonics, hip-hop, and the works of Phillis Wheatley.

4) The camp is ethnically and racially diverse.

I know of no good reason for 'diversity' to be seen as good. Surely it just is what it is. Unity has its benefits too. As it is, the camp is 'diverse' in that there are people of many religions, shoe sizes, fields of academic qualification, and seldom will you ever go to a place with more nationalities present. They even let in someone Welsh once. This is stated as a 'goal', yet what does it mean to have this as a goal? It is a fact, for certain, so why does it have to be a goal? Do they strive for it to be more diverse? What would that entail? Which types of diversity are important and which not? At Herräng, whether you prefer Artie Shaw to Benny Goodman is a more important distinction than your parent's church. Why is race so important? If you are racist, then it is important, but if you are not, then it isn't. How would a change in racial diversity be achieved? Quotas? Would anyone benefit from those? Anyone of any race is free to go to the camp. That's good, isn't it?

5) The camp is ethnically and racially equitable.

As soon as the word 'equitable' is used, one knows that we are in the presence of political fanatics. This 'goal' seems to be an accusation – a suggestion that at present the camp is not 'equitable'. Given goals 1, 3 and 4, was this one really needed? They seem to be hammering home a racist message here. Five goals down and still no mention of dance nor fun. What will the next goal be? To harpoon fewer whales?

6) The camp provides a platform for and speaks about social justice issues.

Now this list is almost beyond parody. Really? Who would think that a holiday dance camp in Sweden should set this as a priority? Is there any likelihood that this will cause people there to be happier? People get enough of this rubbish at home. They want to escape all that and go wild. Herräng is a place that threw great parties and where amazing spontaneous and wacky things happened. No way would it have become anything like as popular by turning itself into a grievance centre.

7) The camp is a jazz and swing dance celebration that fulfils the needs of its diverse community.

Seventh goal and the first mention of jazz and dance! Even here, though, it seems that the celebration will only be allowable if it meets the needs of its 'diverse community'. Who defines what these needs ought to be? Do we have to cater to everyone? Even people who think Chick Webb was a better singer than Julie London?

8) We want to be transparent in communication.

Ha! Just ha!

After the 'goals', there was a lengthy section in which people were asked to define themselves not, as you might expect, by any of the important categories such as Balboa, Lindy or tap, but instead by race, sex, age etc. so that the analysts could presume our prejudices. After this, started the loaded questions. Here are some examples. They demanded one of the answers 'strongly agree', 'agree', 'neither agree nor disagree' etc.

“I can be myself here.”

We all have no choice but to be that, but of course, they may have some notion of a 'true self' that is otherwise hidden. There are plenty of informed people, however, who perhaps rightly pour scorn on the concept of the 'true self'. The way you behave is the way you behave. What will anyone learn from answers to this? If 98% people say that they can be themselves there, is that good, or is it proof that the 2% are the minority-type(s) who are repressed by the 98% majority?

“Differences are accepted here.”

What information does this glean that the previous question did not? If differences are not accepted, then people perhaps wouldn't feel free to be their different selves. If they are not accepted but people can be themselves, then presumably that they are not accepted does not matter. What 'differences' are they asking about? Differences in dance-skill matter a bit.

“There are people like me here.”

Anyone could answer 'yes' or 'no' to this depending on interpretation of the intent of the question-writer. There is no one exactly like me, and this is true for everyone, and so everyone could tick 'strongly disagree', on the other hand, we all had two legs this year and were all into dancing, and all were there voluntarily, and all subject to the laws of gravity, so everyone could also with a clear conscience tick 'strongly agree'.

“I socialize with people from other ethnic or racial groups here.”

“The camp has an inclusive culture.”

“The camp organization encourages diverse perspectives and ideas.”

I think you can see both where they are going with this, and where I am going with this. This questionnaire is pernicious rubbish.

“I feel connected to African American culture here at camp.”

“African Americans have the biggest influence on the sharing of their culture here at camp.”

Bringing race into it like this – and specifying one racial group – seems especially divisive. Imagine for a moment that you are trying to fill the form in in a way that will please the info-gatherers most? How would you answer these questions? You still don't know, do you? Do they want to read that everything at the camp is great, or that everything is terrible? Even if you knew which of these were the case, would you for certain know which answer to pick?

“The camp provided excellent opportunities for me to learn about the history of Jazz, Lindy Hop, Balboa, and other vernacular dancing and their emergence from African American culture.”

This question presumes that you agree that all these dances emerged from something called 'African American culture'. Do you? Were the first Balboa dancers 'Afro Americans'? The current population of swing dancers are overwhelmingly not 'black', so is swing dance 'African American culture'? The current lot of swing dancers are swing dancing thanks to the decades of effort by people like Warren Hayes, Lennart Westerlund, Terry Monaghan , Simon Selmon, Peter Loggins and many others who are not the people that most would think of as 'African Americans'. This is an example of the 'Have you stopped beating your wife?' question. Simply answering this at all could be used to suggest that you accept the questionable premise of the question.

“In the previous question you stated that your understanding of the African American origins of Jazz music and dance grew here. Please provide a a brief synopsis about what you learned or found most interesting in the box below and where you learned about it.”

The question is deliberately phrased in a loaded manner. It presumes that jazz dance is 'African American'. This in turn implies some sort of ownership by people who might self-describe in this manner. This is very pernicious. If you read "The Ambassador of Lindy Hop" by Frankie Manning, you will know that even in the early days, great dancers of different races would come to the clubs Frankie attended. Indeed, the Savoy was the only place in Harlem where people of differing races danced together. There were many places outside Harlem too. Jazz grew in popularity very fast and was multi-racial from the start. The first jazz records were made in Britain. I know this from years of interest in the subject, and I am appalled at the way that this survey has been phrased to suggest that the camp can only have taught me something if it peddled the story that Lindy is somehow an African dance. It is a ballroom dance, which comes out of the European traditions of couples dancing in ballrooms, which are very culturally specific things. Take people with European ballroom skills and put them in a European-style ballroom, and have European-style clothed musicians with European instruments tuned in the European way, and get them to play jazz, and guess what - people will move in a new way, because the music has changed! Their race will have nothing to do with it. At Herräng I met many of the old-timers. Many were what Americans would call 'black' and they were lovely polite pleasant people who were happy to see the younger folk having fun. A dance cannot have a race any more than pencil can. It is such a terrible shame that people are now trying to stir up trouble where there was none.

So did I ever encounter Breai, and what did I make of her? Well, actually, I now realise that I did see her a few times. A passing lady would give me a lingering gaze and sly smile, and I would smile back and nod, and she would move on. She never spoke. I now know that this was her, but only because I have since seen the picture accompanying her biography on the Herräng website. Hers is an unusually long biography there, and amazingly there is only one sole mention of anything to do with dance. She is introduced as “community activist, teacher, dancer, and cultural counselor”. After that, we learn about her academic studies into various non-dance projects, how she has had several grants to do things, and includes terms like “moral touchstone for African American youth... educational program... locus for social change... written numerous Arts-Integration curricula... explore the Diaspora [sic]... counter-narrative to popular media... Executive Director of... kinetic programming... the company’s education initiatives.” Certainly, no native Swedish speaker wrote that. In fairness to her, though, perhaps I should add that this biography could have been cut and pasted from a document never intended for swing dancers.

So I never spoke to her. She presumably knew me from my various appearances on the stage, but whether she knew any more about me, I do not know, so I should not read much into her behaviour towards me. I did speak to other people who mentioned her several times, however. Most regarded her as a thorn in the side of the camp at best, and as someone out to destroy the camp at worst. One told me of some rather unreasonable teaching demands she had. On the other hand, the lady in the bar thought she was “a wonderful person”, so now you know both sides as I witnessed them.

Since returning from Herräng, I have discovered the names of some groups who form part of 'them'. I have seen their baleful influence manifested as links posted by local swing dance scenes in Britain. You may notice that I have mentioned very few names here. I see no reason to stir up more trouble than necessary by naming individuals and organisations. When one side is issuing death threats and very clearly is prepared to ruin careers, one should be at least prudent. If I were a coward, I wouldn't be saying any of this. Cowardice is what got us here in the first place, and cowardice isn't going to get us out.

I have named Chester, however. I have twice spoken to him about whether he is willing to be named, and he was very clear. Chester is a problem for 'them'. You see, Chester is the bridge.

The timing of this is not random. It isn't just that western societies have shown themselves vulnerable to the demands of extremist groups playing the race card. It is also that the generation of black old timers has finally died out. We lost Frankie, we lost Dawn, we lost Norma. When they were around, they would not have stood by silently. They would have told 'them' to change their ways or clear off. Frankie would have been nice about it, for he was always a gent. Dawn would have wrong-footed everyone in her usual way, by starting off talking slowly and quietly like a frail old lady, and then she would have let them have it with a final cutting remark. Dawn used to love watching the new generation of swing dancers dancing. She would have throne erected for her by the side of the dance floor every night. Once a week, she gave a talk to the whole camp, and one of the things she always said near the end was that we should never listen to anyone who says that you have to be black to do this dance “I know black people who can't even tap a foot in time.” Norma could when she chose to (which was surprisingly often) swear like a drill sergeant. She had years of experience as a stand-up comedienne, and I doubt very much that she would have held much back.

But we are now in the post old-timer world. The people who were there when it all started have gone. This makes it possible for people to construct narratives of how things were without fear of contradiction by inconvenient facts. People going to camps now might hear and accept the new version of the past being peddled.

Chester, though, is the bridge. Swing dancing died out after jazz music stopped being the mainstream popular music and was replaced by things like rock and disco. Mama Lu Parks had kept the skills of the dance alive for a while, but by the height of disco in the 1970s, swing dancing as a popular dance form was dead. Frankie Manning was working in a post office. There was still Chester Whitmore, though. Chester not only maintained a thin thread of jazz dancing through until today, he also worked with everyone in the business. You name it, you name him or her – he was there and he worked with them. Chester isn't playing the game that 'they' want him to. He is able to put 'them' right when they start to make things up, and he isn't afraid to do this in public, and he is black, so they cannot play the race card against him.

The notion that Herräng has not paid attention to the history of the dance is a charge that is laughably wrong. Every evening meeting included film clips from back in the day, and the history of the dance featured in countless talks, interviews, displays and more. Indeed, there can't be many people, if any, who did more to research, preserve, and distribute knowledge about the first wave of swing dance than Lennart Westerlund. Herräng has always stressed historical authenticity, and was very particular (even too particular) about using only period music, and encouraging period dress. Every year the camp brought over 'special guests' even if they were too old to teach dance classes, and gave them a voice. Frankie Manning ended up spending two thirds of his year being flown around the world to attend dance camps. He loved it, was loved, and it started with Herräng.

But villains do not always know that they are villains. It is possible to do enormous harm while intending good. I should not assume malice in 'them'. It might for some be a conscious and cynical power-grab, or a spiteful act of petty destruction, but it might not be. No one who has any grasp of science or data collection could have in good faith constructed that questionnaire/survey. It could simply be the product of spectacular incompetence. As I write this, I have not seen any interpretations of the results of the survey. Perhaps they have been shelved quietly. We need to be wary, though, of how it might be interpreted:

Alex Them:The next question is, “The camp organization encourages diverse perspectives and ideas.” What was the result for that one?
Jesse They:Very clear result – 98% said 'strongly agree'.
Alex Them:Well then, we know what to tell the camp: this is an issue that is clearly very important to the attendees, so the camp should really push this hard.
Alex Them:The next question is, “The camp organization encourages diverse perspectives and ideas.” What was the result for that one?
Jesse They:Very clear result – 98% said 'strongly disagree'.
Alex Them:Well then, we know what to tell the camp: people feel that the camp is not doing anything like enough, so the camp should really push this hard.
Alex Them:The next question is, “The camp organization encourages diverse perspectives and ideas.” What was the result for that one?
Jesse They:Very vague result – the answers were evenly spread across the spectrum.
Alex Them:Well then, we know what to tell the camp: people are unsure what the camp's policy on this is, so the camp should really push this hard.
Jesse They:What are 'diverse perspectives and ideas'?
Alex Them:One joke, at a time, Jesse. One joke at a time.

Did you know that the British invented downhill skiing? This isn't obvious, and one might not guess it because at the top skiing competitions today, British skiers win next to nothing. We just don't have enough Alps to compete. Should an Austrian skier today be forced to learn about and celebrate the Britishness of downhill skiing? Should every ski resort be obliged to employ a minimum number of British instructors?

Swing dancers are the nerdy sorts who are happy to learn about a bit of history. Then they want to dance. Chester tells me that there are black people in the USA who won't book him because they haven't met him and assume that he is white, and this might be because they think of swing dance as a 'white' thing. That's a shame, because we want everyone to give it a try. Frankie Manning supported a fund that was set up to make it easier for African Americans to travel to learn Lindy hop. I know of no one who had any problem with that.

I shall not guess how much it may surprise you to learn that I ran this text by several people I know who are well acquainted with the camp and the swing dance scene, and some of these were pretty 'right on' (as we used to call 'woke' when I was younger) types. Some of them predicted that this would cause a 'shit-storm', but none told me not to publish. I took on board some of their suggestions and made a few alterations and many additions. Some may mistake my mentions of Lennart as attempts to raise him to sainthood. He is not a saint, and I have heard both what seem like sound criticisms of him, as well as ridiculously unfair and ungrateful things.

How will this all end? Well, possibly, the demand for non-racist fun will so out-weigh the demand for racial equity that long-established scenes and camps will just weather the storm and carry on. If the star teachers all just ignored the intimidation of 'them', 'they' would have no power. If the swing dance event organisers just told 'them' to go and jump in a lake, and offered employment to whomsoever they thought would be a good and entertaining teacher, then 'they' would be as scary as a Wicked Witch of the West with a bucket of water poured over her. If, however, 'they' succeed in bringing down the joyarchy, then 'they' will probably do what 'they' always do, and fall out with each other in a ferocious competition to be the most ideologically pure, and organise events in which so many social rules have to be policed that there will be no risk of anything joyous and spontaneous occurring. They will have replaced a thriving fun-sharing scene with a dismal display of competitive flag-waving. It seems, though, that no matter how much oil one has, someone will always find some troubled water to throw upon it.

Someone must have been very determined to achieve this, and must have used stout tools.


Anyway, how was my dancing? Well, fine, but not great. As the years go by I seem to dance fewer and fewer different figures, and my legs aren't as great as they used to be (they used to be great), and since my back injury last year, I can't really bend much, so I cannot rate myself highly on athleticism. On the other hand, I injured very few of my partners, and didn't have trouble finding people to accept offers of a dance, so that's all good.

The dancing wasn't through-to-breakfast as it used to be. The floors were surprisingly empty when there wasn't a band. I managed to dance through a jam circle or two - that is, I kept on dancing with my partner outside the circle. Although I can recall several individual dances I had, I don't have many that would make interesting notes for you to read. There was the one I had with a middle-aged east-Asian lady to a long and very hard-swinging number which inspired me to do lots of fast Lindy turns, and left her smiling hard but I think glad when it was over. I rushed over to the DJ to ask what the number was, and he told me, but of course I had next to no chance of remembering it.

The new fans. Oddly, they did not blow forwards but outwards.

I gave up worrying about how good I am years ago. I'm good enough to dance with anyone, my shirts are clean enough, and if I get the right partner and music, I can make it fun. I don't recall any epic dances with dozens of one-off moves and micro-interpretations of the music that required an inquiry to detect. I did though have some fun dances with the silver-haired Yana Sanamyantz, who was teaching at the camp. It may have helped that I didn't know that she was a teacher before first dancing with her. She was happy to go along with the silly stuff, and that'll do.


This year, I saw Nicolle sitting with the band in the bar and singing to various jazz numbers. Since I knew her, this was my 'in' with the band. She beckoned me over, and when sitting next to her, I was able to get the microphone and do a few whistle solos. Normally, a jazz band will not give way to someone sitting there with a pair of lips. Perhaps I should carry a tuba just for attracting attention. Once the band knew I could whistle, getting a solo wasn't tricky. The mic didn't always cooperate. Sometimes there was a lot of wind noise. Other times, I couldn't hear myself, or didn't know the tune well, or was perhaps a little stressed, which might explain why my notes weren't as clean as they normally are. I'm better in the shower.


On the last Friday, it was the themed party, and the theme was 'Pride'. I detected no excitement about this. It was a rather lack-lustre theme. Most swing dancers are heterosexual, and for them dancing with a member of the opposite sex is a large part of the appeal; but of course not all swing dance practitioners are heterosexual. In over twenty years of dancing around the world and participating in and organising events, I have remained unaware of any terrible injustices in the swing world in this field. Swing dancers are great at sharing the fun. As someone put it to me: a party where the theme is 'come as yourself' is not inspiring. Some people had little rainbows painted on their faces. That was about it on the costume front. In front of the Folketshus, they set up a pool, walled with pallets covered in tarpaulin, and filled with foam mattresses, which got very damp indeed. Otherwise, it was pretty much party-as-usual.

The pool of dampness.


I think I scored a few points when I said “Sheila?” to a lady I thought I recognised from years ago (2010, as it turned out). Her name was, miraculously, Sheila. We had swum out to an island off the coast together. Anyway, it turned out that she was organising a swing-dance add-on to an existing jazz festival in Ireland, so that is something that may lie in my future.

This menu didn't change, and there was only one main dish for normal people. It was also widely reported that the portion sizes drastically reduced as the night wore on.

There was a decent turn-out from my home scene of Newcastle. One had somewhat dived in with both feet, working as head chef of the bar for the whole three weeks. Two others were doing the performance track, which is a physical challenge, and most of them were there for the first time, and as far as I know, they all had a good time. One spent her evenings doing the 'pub nights'.


I had no offers of a place to crash in Stockholm, so I spent one more night in my tent in Herräng. Contacting my friend in Stockholm proved tricky, because for some reason, her texts were not getting through. When eventually I made contact, it turned out that her plans had changed dramatically, and she was far from Stockholm.

The camp changes atmosphere very quickly. The instant the camp draws close to the end, teams of tired people start dismantling everything and disconnecting the taps. The mosquitoes have fewer alternative targets.

I walked to the marina. There I met the rather impressive Sara who was arranging a surprise for her friend's hen party. This involved my helping her to find some keys hidden on an unknown boat moored along a jetty behind a locked gate. I found the boat, she found the keys. We got past the gate by asking nicely. Mission Possible. This done, she joined her friends. I walked about for a while, saw the oh-so spick-and-span marina, noticed how boats are more variable than cars, had a beer, and stared at the water for a bit.

All the pictures you see on this page were taken on the last day I was there.

I went to bed at a reasonable hour, when it was actually dark, and lay in my tent, unable to sleep for hour after hour after hour. My body was still on Herräng Party Time (HPT). I was wide awake at normal getting-up hour, and thought that this was probably a good thing, as I could pack and leave in good time. I then blinked, and woke up several hours later and was in a hurry. Buses back to the airport, flight to Heathrow, marvelling at how bad the signage was that gave no clues as to where to go for connecting flights, and then I returned to the mundane world.

Checking my e-mail for the first time in over a week, I saw that a lady from Barcelona with whom I had danced had invited me to meet her in Stockholm. Might have missed out, there.


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