Full of bright ideas - that was Ryan and Jenny's first dance camp.
The end of July and early August saw a weekend of swing at Camp Savoy, hosted by Ryan Francois and Jenny Thomas, at the University of Surrey in Guildford. This was the first time that these leading lights of Lindy Hop had put something together and it was a camp with a difference.
Several differences actually, As the calendar gets more and more crowded with events in ever more far-flung corners of the world, new entrants into the weekend dance market are going to have to come up with what marketing people call unique selling points. As there are now so many too choose from, why should we pick a particular camp?
So. Camp Savoy. What have you got for us? Yes, a good teaching roster, yes live and DJ music and yes little band thingies to wrap around our wrists - but doesn't every camp have those?
The strength of Camp Savoy lay in several areas. In no particular order, the first thing was that it was on a campus. That meant no commuting and easy access to rooms and beds when tiredness and shirking seemed like preferable options.
Next there were the classes. Ryan himself taught a jazz routine that stretched from the first class on Friday afternoon, to a performance of the whole thing on the Sunday night. Tony and Aurelie Tye taught an intermediate Lindy Hop routine which was also performed on the last night. So often you come away from a weekend with a part of something; here you got the whole thing, yours to keep for as long as your memory or videotape lasts.
Rob and Diane van Haaren, Joel and Alison Plys, Tony and Aurleie Tye and Angela Andrew made up the teaching staff. The schedule meant that with two consecutive classes with each set of teachers it was possible to actually build something during the sessions, rather than an 80-minute session and then off scurrying off to another class.
Another aspect of swing music and Lindy Hop that Ryan wanted to emphasise was the history of the dance. To that end, you Joel and Alison taught a superb Charleston class, which showed where some of the current moves originated, while giving a swinging option to try out when the fast music is played.
There was also a video show on the Sunday afternoon for the beginners. Here they could catch up with a documentary film of Frankie Manning explaining the origins of the dance and his life in swing. And inevitably there were clips of Hellzapoppin', A Day At The Races, Stormy Weather and other classics from the past masters.
Then there was the music. Yes, we had top DJs, with Smartie, Groove Juice Special and Ronnie Slide dropping by to press some buttons (wasn't it better when you could say 'spin some records'?), and the choice of music was always danceable.
But Ryan and Jenny had thrown something else in to the mix: the live performances. Direct from the USA, Casey MacGill and His Blue Four played all three nights at the camp. Now for some bands, this might end up being a repetitious chore, with the same set of songs coming up every night. Not for Casey. The man behind A Little Late Night Swing could play 'em fast, slow and medium-paced, and every night dug out something new.
Ryan and Jenny first met Casey when they danced in the Broadway revue Swing back in 1999. They managed to convince him to come over for Camp Savoy and several other gigs besides. Anyone who saw them was well impressed.
And that included the teachers. Because it was not only the students who had to work hard. Oh no. Ryan wasn't going to let ANYONE off easy this weekend! And the results were spectacular.
The Saturday night cabaret was more of a complete show than the usual teachers' party tricks that you get to see at most camps. And to add to the special nature of it all, the 45-minute performance was danced entirely to live music from Casey MacGill's band.
The ensemble pieces had been choreographed by Ryan and learned by the teachers during the weekend. Joel and Alison dance in Ryan and Jenny's troupe in Pasadena, so they had an inkling of what was required. But somehow it was good to see those that had been telling us what to do out there sweating their way through some great routines.
No one at Camp Savoy will forget the incredible closing night encore, when instead of going for a ear-bendingly loud display of pyrotechnics, the band came down on to the dance floor with only a mike and acoustic instruments. They played soft and sweet and sent everyone home with happy faces as well as feet.
The whole event was superbly organised by Tony and Paula Levy, and many members of their monthly 500 Club. Although the camp calendar gets increasingly more crowded with each successive year, Camp Savoy is definitely worth a look in 2005.
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© 2004 Andrew Winton.
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