Everyone takes home memories of Herrang. Here are some of mine.
I had thought of trying to put these into some kind of order, but that would fail to convey the magnificently random and non-sequitous way in which events unfold in Herrang. So, in no particular order...
It could only happen at Herrang (1): At the beginning of one of Peter Loggins and Lisa Ferguson’s Balboa classes (advanced), an unknown person (identified as ‘Jeff’) ran into the gym with a towel wrapped around his waist. With a cry of "Hey! Swing dance!" he took it off to reveal nothing underneath. Now that’s not the sort of thing you want to see first thing in the morning.
Wednesdays are a double-edged sword. An afternoon to relax, but a really early 8am start. One way to get the blood circulating was the boot camp warm up on Wednesday 25 in Paul Overton and Sharon Ashe’s class. Emerging in a line at a brisk pace from the Cotton Club tent, they ran though the neighbouring Savoy, where they picked up Steve and Virginie’s class.
It was then a sharp right by the restaurant to head for the gym, where a bemused class broke out in to spontaneous applause, although they had enough sense not to join in. This type of warm-up routine proved popular with the Competition and Show Off classes.
The Cozy Room: When it comes to misnomers, this takes the biscuit. Part of the Blue Moon café was sectioned off to provide some privacy to people who wanted to relax away from the maddening crowd. Yeah right. As the room only contained a dresser and a double bed, it was clear what kind of ‘discussions’ were going to go on here. Surprisingly, according to Frederika, the hostess with the mostest (and the bookings organiser) there were often free slots. Perhaps if they’d called it something like The Boom Boom Room or The Horizontal Hop Shop people would have caught on earlier.
It could only happen at Herrang (2): Those arriving in Week 3 had to catch up at the evening meetings with the progress of Froggy. Apparently a stuffed frog that Lennart had been using (?) was attacked by a dog and had to go to hospital. There were adults actually listening to this stuff and taking it in. Incredible.
Is it just me, or are the jam sessions less exciting than they were back in the day? As soon as an uptempo tune comes on the decks, two things happen: a circle of clapping dancers emerges, and a dozen people scurry to their bags for video cameras. They then proceed to film several minutes of empty floor space as no-one goes in the circle. Either that or a couple of renown goes in and ups the ante to such an extent that no-one else fancies it. There’s sometimes some enthusiastic social dancing, but where are all those things you can’t do on the social dance floor, the aerials, the long sweeping moves? If anyone finds them – the floor is yours.
It could only happen at Herrang (3): Abandoning the press-ups punishment for late appearance by teachers (Janice Wilson would look like Arnold Schwarzenegger by now if she’d done all hers), Lennart introduced the pig nose, which had to be worn for a number of hours. Asa Palm was give one to wear for Week 4 Blues Night, and told to wear it until 3am. As she was appearing as part of the opening show at 1am, it would have detracted from her appearance somewhat if the figure-hugging slinky number she was wearing had been topped off by a pig nose.
Every evening after the meeting but before the dancing, there were additional classes. This proved a huge hit with everyone. There was the excitement, not least amongst the teachers themselves, of finding out who was giving the classes, and where they were. The styles included Savoy smooth style, Dips ‘n’ Tricks, Aerials, Tango, Swingo, Appalachian and Waltz. Some better planning would mean that when Asa and Janice were doing women’s styling, there were no other classes that required follows.
A great Herrang tradition was broken in 2001, when it was decided to start the evening meetings on time. Good grief! Have these people no sense of heritage? For years dancers have relied on turning up at 9.15pm or later to find that nothing had started yet. This year was different. Lennart Westerlund explained "In previous years we did not have enough technical people to get everything set up in time. Together with the bridge (a purpose-built wooden structure at the back for sound, vision and lighting), we can now start at 9pm". The beginning of each meeting showed a clock counting down to 9pm. Not everyone was aware that this was in fact a video recording put on by videographer Jan Forsell (Fish). This emerged when one meeting started at 9.30pm and Lennart asked "Why no clock" and Fish answered "I only have a video for 9pm!"
The introduction of a video player suspended from the ceiling was a great innovation for the evening meetings. Projecting on to a large screen at the back of the stage, it meant that clips could be shown every night. So it was that The Condos Brothers, Teddy Hale, George Snowden and many others could be brought to a wider audience. As soon as Lennart works out how to use the remote control, it really will be a slick show.
The dance clip from Hellzapoppin’ was shown at the evening meeting at a slower speed. The music was also slowed down to give an interesting new look at the Mother of all Lindy Hop routines. At the end of it, Frankie Manning commented "Even slowed down it looks fast!"
Lennart introduced another clip by saying that it was an improved version of Hellzapoppin’ What it actually was appeared to be The Rhythm Hot Shots circa 1981 in horrifying spandex gear committing all kinds of dance atrocities. Lennart dancing in tight shorts was an image that may take months of therapy to erase.
No Herrang is complete without the talks. Dawn Hampton was her usual entertaining self, partnering Sharon Ashe, Paul Overton and Janice Wilson in demonstrating the art of dancing to the music. Frankie Manning told Lennart that he probably had been on stage at Herrang more times than he appeared at The Apollo. Skip Cunningham, the tap instructor for week 4, talked about his background and gave Lennart the wrong tape to show. Local speakers gave talks on jazz theory and big bands.
This was the year that the plebs finally won out. After years of correctly calling it "Dansbanan", even Lennart was reduced to joining the rest of us by referring to it as the Dance Banana.
Dawn Hampton: "I hear that the headline act at the Montreal Jazz Festival is Prince. Prince may be jazzy, but he don’t swing!"
Frankie Manning on his best birthday: "When I was young I thought that if I get to 35 I’ll be lucky! Everything from 35 has been – Wow!"
In his first class, Skip Cunningham was interrupted in the Dance Banana by Chester Whitmore. After a brief exchange, Skip said: "Come back and see me when I’m better dressed!"
Frankie Manning: Duke Ellington would have a revue, which would include other acts such as singers, dancers, comedians, chorus line. FM won a competition to dance with Duke Ellington. Duke asked him "What tunes would you like to dance to?" Frankie answered "One O’Clock Jump, Swing That Jive…" Duke said "Don’t you like any of our tunes?" Frankie replied: "No!" Eventually he danced to Stompy Jones.
Skip Cunningham explaining how they worked out their cabaret act: "On the way to Folkets Hus with Chazz I said to him why don’t we try this? He said, yeah, that would work. When we got there we said to Chester, let’s do this. He said ok. So rehearsals consisted of me saying: OK, so what are we going to wear?"
For the first time in recorded Herrang history, the total numbers for the month were down on the previous year. This was due to fewer making the trip from the US. However, you would have had a hard job convincing people of that in Week 3, when over 500 had to regularly crush into Folkets Hus for the evening meetings, cabarets and dancing. Once the Dance Banana closed at 1.30am, it wasn't until around 5am that you could find some space upstairs...
During the talk with Skip and Chazz, Frankie Manning played a recently-discovered clip of Shorty George Snowden and Big Bea. It dated from 1939, when, according to Frankie, Snowden was past his best, but it was still a delight to see. It shows that there is still undiscovered stuff out there. Keep searching!
Lennart Westerlund returned to Russia in August to continue the swingingisation of the former Soviet state.
Janice Wilson is trying to raise funds to restore the Alhambra Ballroom in New York.
The drive to raise funds to place a commemorative plaque on the sidewalk near the former site of the Savoy Ballroom has nearly reached its target.
An appeal was made for dancers to donate money to fly Frankie Manning to Africa.
Was this the first year that we had mobile phones ringing during the evening meetings?
Is it just me, or are the cabarets becoming less exciting than they were back in the day? The highlight of week 3’s efforts by general agreement was Steve Mitchell’s vocal turn. There was also a Russian Hustle, and some highly entertaining MC-ing by Frankie and Chazz, following their now-obligatory Shim Sham. Other highlights included a curious baby-eating sketch and a Hungarian Charleston.
The final week’s cabaret had the benefit of its own band, featuring Chester Whitmore on drums and Anders Lund on saxophone. The evening opened with a showstopper: Kevin St. Laurent and Maggie Moon were joined by Yuval Hod and Natalie of Hop Swing And A Jump, to perform a marvellous routine with the girls playing the parts of puppets.
The 19 acts were impressively moved along by MC Paul Overton, who also performed a gravity-defying act with the aid of four friends and some stools (you needed to be there). Local kids got a look in with a couple of routines (joined in one by Frida), and Killi Johanssen did his Elvis impression, with an impressive array of backing dancers. Skip Cunningham put on some considerable style in his tap routine, and the show ended with Bim, Bam and Boom, when Skip was joined by Chester Whitmore and Chazz Young.
You all want to know so here it is: Poor weather in the first two weeks changed for the better for the last two. Some rain on Sunday afternoon of week 3, and a couple of late night showers on week 4 was the only time you got wet. Unless you were Head of the Alti Allos and it was your birthday, then you got thrown in the pool. On the last Saturday it really chucked it down as we were all leaving, though.
Consequently, the mosquito pest quota was not as bad as it might have been, but Saturday morning saw a plague of frogs infest the Dance Banana. One night I didn’t put on any of the asphyxiating spray, to see if I would attract more mosquitoes or women. The results were inconclusive, but I couldn’t work out the origin of a few bite marks in the morning.
By general consent of diners, the restaurant food was way better this year. An evening choice of meat, fish and veggie found general approval. Meanwhile in Folkets Hus, The Bar battled it out with the Café for the best food. The contest was decided by Marie’s dog Tess, who started on the café food, but moved on to the bar. It emerged that certain cheating had occurred, when the bar found out who the judge would be, and included dog snacks in their offering. A subsequent human testing team awarded top honours to the bar.
Is it just me, or are the parties becoming less exciting than they were back in the day? Nothing to match the Science Fiction Night or Circus Herrang of yesteryear this time. Week 2’s Health and Fitness featured a lot of people in towels and athletics gear. Gee, like that must have been hard to find in your suitcase when you’re at a dance camp.
Week 3 was Love Love Love, and a bit more imagination was shown here, with hearts and hippies featuring heavily. Week 4’s Olympics again featured a lot of sports gear, but hats off to the Swedish Fir Tree Throwing Team, and also those who looked at the more corrupt side of sport, with bribe organisers and drug dealers making their presence known.
So what about the classes? Late additions to the teaching staff Steve Mitchell and partner Virginie introduced the waltz to their repertoire. The idea of holding your partner and moving them as you move your body was well illustrated with this dance. Meanwhile, Mattias Lundmark and Asa Palm got their Competition and Show Off classes doing the cakewalk, with a wonderful routine that was performed in the Dance Banana.
Chester tied everyone up in knots with his jazz steps and leaping moves, while Janice Wilson took the Advanced Plus class through ten seconds of Hellzapoppin’. Frederik and Frida showed some really good Charleston variations while Peter Loggins and Lisa Ferguson taught Balboa only during Week 3. And of course Frankie Manning did his thing like only he can.
This Year’s Big Thing was The Rueda, taught by Paul and Sharon to all their classes. It is a circular swing line dance, with a caller and a set number of moves, with startlingly evocative names like "Coca Cola!" and "Amoeba!" Thankfully there’s enough swing outs, Texas Tommys and regular moves to make sense of it all.
Generally, followers move clockwise after each move, although leads tend to shift in the opposite direction too. In an effort to spread the word, Paul and Sharon allowed the routine to be videoed at their last class, and yes, there were enough people without cameras to actually perform the dance.
It could only happen at Herrang (4): On Thursday 26, Lawrence Ilg, organiser of Swing City, stood up at the evening meeting to say he had found a notebook. After reading a few entries, it was agreed by the meeting that it probably belonged to Angela Andrew, who was in Stockholm that night to see a concert.
Lawrence then proceeded to auction it, with proceeds going to the Savoy Plaque fund. As might be expected, the opening bid of five crowns was followed by silence, but through a combination of enthusiasm and mildly threatening behaviour, Lawrence closed the auction when the book was bought by Lennart Westerlund for 1,000 crowns!
During Week 4, Paul Overton went on stage at an evening meeting to make an appeal. Not for a charity or other similar cause, but for common sense. Some people had been putting themselves into classes at a level that was clearly beyond them. "Anyone wanting to change levels must audition with myself and Sharon or Frederik and Frida" he said, to much applause from most, but judging by the token clapping of some, he had clearly hit the mark. It’s the perennial problem. Paul told the audience to enjoy the intermediate days, as plateaux get longer as you progress. This comment led me to develop the following theory:
Lindy Hop is like a tube of toothpaste. To get the most out of it, you have to start at the bottom, and work your way to the top. If you start at the bottom and then jump to the middle, then you’ll lose out; you simply won’t get the most out of it. You’ll think you reached the end and then someone will say "Hey! You haven’t finished! You missed out this part!" And point to something that you should have got much earlier, but didn’t because you skipped ahead. Lindy Hop also prevents tooth decay, as you can’t dance and eat ice cream with chocolate brownies at the same time. And of course, like toothpaste, it’s predominately white these days.
Herrang: It's mad, bad and dangerous to go - but you'd be crazier not to!
Sites and links
www.paulandsharon.com Paul Overton and Sharon Ashe
www.kevinandmaggie.com Kevin St Laurent and Maggie Moon
www.hopswingandajump.com Yuval Hod and Natalie
www.rhythmhotshots.com The Rhythm Hotshots
www.mooforangecounty.com Mo Jones
www.yeahman.com Rob and Diane van Haaren
© 2001 Andrew Winton.
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