Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Frankie Manning Foundation Ambassador Scholarships 2018


The aim of the Frankie Manning Foundation is to fulfil Frankie's dream of spreading the joy of Lindy hop around the globe.

The tireless passion of the FMF to realise this dream is occasionally underappreciated (and I hope to soon write an article specifically about them!) but one of the key ways in which the FMF have ensured that their labours bear fruit is by awarding scholarships to dancers from across the world.

These dancers are not only people who the FMF believe share Frankie's vision but they are also dancers who represent communities the FMF believe would benefit from extra support and who can serve as ambassadors for Lindy hop within their own local communities as well as within the global swing family.

As such, the FMF plays a crucial role by ensuring that anyone can be reached by Lindy hop and also by ensuring that Lindy hop is kept within reach of its roots.

Accordingly, these scholarships especially target those from African-American communities throughout the USA (who are chronically under-represented despite the celebrated origins of Lindy hop), those from geographical areas outside the USA where Lindy hop is in its early stages, and dancers who have participated in FMF youth programs.

As well as the honour of receiving such an accolade, ambassadors are awarded fully-paid scholarships to attend one of the world's leading dance camps (Herräng Dance CampLindyFestBeantown Camp, ILHCSwing Out New Hampshire) and are welcomed into a supportive community of alumni that offers as much help and wisdom as the dance camp itself.

But something that is often overlooked is that anyone can apply to be considered!

Applications for the 2018 Scholarship Programme opened last month and shall close on the 31st December 2017 so there is plenty of time to apply, and as someone who feels incredibly chuffed to have been awarded an Ambassador Scholarship in 2015 I cannot emphasise enough what an incredible experience it was and continues to be.

As I have mentioned, the FMF are keen to support dancers from some communities in particular but they welcome all applications and will consider each on its own merit, so for further information visit the Frankie Manning Foundation website.

A one, and a two, and you know what to do...

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Sophiatown: the revival of South Africa's 'Little Harlem'

Sophiatown's history is steeped in jazz music and dance

Earlier this year I spoke with Brendan Argent, one of the flag-bearers for Cape Town Swing and Mother City Hop, on the growth of their local swing community and its establishment as a global Lindy hop destination.

It's incredibly encouraging to hear about the success stories of nascent scenes, and especially in Africa where the rhythm roots of Lindy hop and jazz run deepest. But another South African community that is undergoing a swing revival is that of Sophiatown: a Johannesburg suburb that was once the nation's beating cultural heart. 

To get a feel for Sophiatown's former glory you need only discover its former nickname of 'Little Harlem', but its proudly held reputation for multiculturalism also attracted the attention of the apartheid regime which set about Sophiatown's systematic destruction in the early 1950s.

Off the back of my article with Brendan I was contacted by Kristina Kreul who, along with Mtsembeni Masina, is championing Sophiatown's jazz renaissance and is understandably keen to raise the profile of the project they hold dear.

left to right: Mtsembeni Masina, Kristna Kreul and Sakhile Gumbi



Kristina, I understand you're not from Sophiatown, or even from South Africa - how did you come to be involved?
I'm from Germany (currently living in Berlin) and originally I went to Swaziland with a friend from Sweden, Mia Bergdahl, to help build an amphitheatre for a rural community. Sadly, that project didn't get off the ground for a few reasons so we decided to leave Swaziland and travel around South Africa. As I like travelling and discovering different dances I wanted to find out a bit more about pantsula - a dance from South African townships that I'd seen featured in a short TV documentary. The documentary connected pantsula with the Jitterbug dances of Harlem, New York and as a Lindy hopper that really caught my attention.



How did you meet Mtsembeni and what is his connection to Sophiatown?
On my penultimate evening in Swaziland I went to a show where Swati artists were showcasing their music and poetry - so much talent there! And that´s where I met Mtsembeni - he was from Johannesburg and we soon started talking about jazz music and dance. I'd just visited Herräng for the first time in the summer of 2016 and I told him about Herräng and the history of Lindy hop, and then asked Mtsembeni if he knew anything about pantsula - as it happened he was just the right person.

He loves jazz, studied jazz music for a while himself and is deeply into South African jazz music, and on top of that he had worked as a tour guide in Johannesburg so he offered to show me around Johannesburg if I ever visited. And one week later I did just that so I got to see pantsula first hand and learned that it was born in Sophiatown.

I also got to start learning the dance itself and I have Eugene Maliboho to thank for that! He taught me pantsula and is associated with Move into Dance Mophatong in Johannesburg, whose contacts have been really helpful in getting this campaign going!

I was intrigued about this place that had been called Little Harlem due to the obvious reference to the Harlem that holds such a dear place in the hearts of the swing community and shares a similar history. And just as in the Savoy ballroom, in Sophiatown people of different skin colours would dance together, discuss politics and enjoy music. But as the Apartheid was on the rise the South African government levelled Sophiatown to the ground in 1955 as they pushed forward their racial segregation.

Mtsembeni leant me a lot of books, music, photographs and so much more to get a better understanding of this place. Soon I realised that, with its destruction, most of Sophiatown's culture had gone, and the dances that formerly had a home there no longer had a home anywhere anymore, and I then immediately thought of Lindy hop and its comeback in the 1980s after being forgotten for decades.

And though the reasons are very different I thought, well, if Lindy hop could make a comeback, why should that not be possible for the dances and culture of Sophiatown?

What do you most love about Sophiatown's past and present and what do you see for its future?
Its past is just so full of art and political energy, and there was insanely good music and dance. Hugh Masekela, South Africa´s most famous trumpet player got his first trumpet from Louis Armstrong! Trevor Huddleston, a priest in Sophiatown, recognised Masekela´s talent and wrote to Louis Armstrong and he was sent a trumpet in return! And Miriam Makeba, an icon of South African music, also started her career here. 

There was fashion, a special way to dress, that is slowly returning now. There was literature, photography and so much more - all of great importance to today's South African identity. And it was also a very political environment. Nelson Mandela held his first memorable speech there, and it was where people would meet and discuss how to overcome the racial discrimination.

I think I am still very much intrigued by how music and dance were used as a form of protest, as an expression of injustice.
  
Who else has been involved besides yourself and Mstembeni?
My friend Mia Bergdahl helped us with the development of the project as she is very experienced in cultural development. Sadly she had to leave the project though.

Sakhile Gumbi, a visual artist and dear friend of Mtsembeni, helped out with the graphic design and designed prints that are some of the 'perks' available to those who contribute to our crowdfunding campaign, and as part of our crowdfunding promotional video we were able to get a few big names on board to help us!

McCoy Mrubata is a multi award winning composer and saxophonist who has attained national legend status, and Sibusiso Lerole, 'Big Voice Jack Junior', continues to play the same penny whistle that his dad 'Big Voice Jack'  famously played back in the day in Sophiatown and across the world - both are internationally renown South African musicians who have celebrated their connection to Sophiatown and both have featured in our video!

"The Pennywhistlers" by Sakhile Gumbi


The nickname 'Little Harlem' certainly evokes a sense for how lively Sophiatown must have been in its heyday - what similarities were there between the home of Lindy hop?
Yes, it must have been a very vibrant place. People dressed in a special way, spoke their own language created from the different influences of African Languages and Afrikaans, and there were different gangs called the Berliners or the Americans, dressed in funky clothes.

The most obvious link to Harlem was music. Sophiatown was very much influenced by jazz music from the US. Which in the end is music from Africa, so that is kind of a back and forth. And the atmosphere must have been similar, exuberantly showcasing a different kind of lifestyle.

Harlem's Savoy Ballroom was the home of Lindy hop that has now sadly passed into legend - where was Sophiatown's old epicentre and where is becoming the new hub?
Sophiatown´s epicentre was Good Street. That´s where its cinema The Odin stood, which served as a kind of public gathering space and it's something you could compare to the Savoy Ballroom.

There were illegal drinking spots and shebeens that brimmed with life as, at that time, it was illegal for African natives to drink and shebeens were the meeting places - more or less the living rooms of different people transformed into bars, and that’s where everything happened - where jazz musicians performed and people drank and danced and discussed social ills. The most famous shebeen was called '39 Steps' and was located on Good Street.

"Inside Shebeen" by Sakhile Gumbi


And can you tell me about the dancing? Was Lindy hop or jazz dancing popular before apartheid?
The Apartheid regime was officially introduced in 1947 but the racial discrimination had already started well before that. Dance and music had always been a form of protest in South Africa, and I guess that is very understandable as a dancer. Dance and music go beyond words. They deliver a message that can neither be read or heard but be very much felt and understood in the heart. 

Even before Apartheid, Sophiatown was already called Little Harlem, and people were already hooked on jazz music and its blend, or should I say its re-blend, with African music and its dances.

Frankie Manning went to see Sophiatown sometime around 2004 but we couldn´t find out any more about it. It still seems that he also wanted to discover the link to the big Harlem in the US.

What about now - I've read a little about the fusion of swing and jazz with African dances, what are pantsula, township jive and marabi like and what are their origins? Do you have any videos to share?
All origins of those dances are in Sophiatown: Township jive and marabi relate a lot to Jitterbug and swing dances from the US but they have their own African dance influenced elements to it. They are not practised any more in the sense of a social dance community but you can see them on stages where people try to reconstruct them from the rare footage that is left of them. We could only find a few people that actually still remember some moves but the footage is mostly lost.

Pantsula is also rooted in jazz dance moves but kept on evolving until now and is still very much practised in South Africa. You can find some videos online but they are not original footage, rather, they are adaptations of what it used to look like. Unlike in the USA, in Africa at that time the same techniques and technology were not widely available to the African people so less footage was taken and most of it has been lost.



Dancing is impossible without good music - is there a Sophiatown 'sound' and who were/are the most iconic past and present artists and bands who provided it?
There definitely is such a sound. It´s very unique music and has recently been getting more attention. It´s mostly called Kwela and it has a very intriguing sound where you just can't stop tapping your feet! Back in the day, the most famous musicians were Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela, Dolly Rathebe, The Manhattan Brothers, Todd Matshikiza, Kippie Moeketsi, and Dollar Brand amongst others and today´s artists are reconnecting with that music.

Tell me a bit more about the festival itself - what else is it celebrating? Other art forms, famous former and current residents, food?
The festival is meant to celebrate Sophiatown´s cultural heritage as a whole, meaning its music, dance, literature, fashion, photography and atmosphere, and we want to bring the celebration to the place where it all started: the streets of Sophiatown. Today theses streets are mostly inhabited by white settlers but you can still fell the vibe when you walk around. It's still a very special place.

On the day of the festival, people will be able to experience Sophiatown through the arts that once made it famous. There will be dance workshops where people can learn some Township dance move and there will be literature readings that will give people an insight into what life used to be like. There will be a guided tour through the Sophiatown of today by Mbali Zwane, who was one of the first people to teach about Sophiatown´s cultural heritage and she will take visitors to the places that once played such an important role in Sophiatown, like the place where the Odin stood or where famous shebeens were standing. Her tours are very much alive and full of theatre and singing performances.

We will serve authentic food and the day will end with a big concert featuring famous South African jazz artists showcasing the music of bygone days with photos in the background illustrating how things were. Aaaaand hopefully people will feel inspired enough by their experiences that they will practise the moves they will have just learnt!

And perhaps most importantly, can anyone help make this happen?
Sure, we still have our crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo going on, where people can support us in any way that they can - either by making a donation or by purchasing 'perks' such as art prints, bags or CDs from McCoy Mrubata - and all of these contribute directly to our campaign.

Filming the crowdfunding video: Mtsembeni chatting to McCoy Mrubata, who is sat beside the statue of Sophiatown legend Kippie Moetketsi
Even if people could share and like our Facebook page it would help us get greater recognition and if they know anyone who is funding these kind of projects please help us get in touch! We feel that Sophiatown holds so much cultural heritage that we think it is more than worthy of getting the title of cultural world heritage by UNESCO. So if anybody has contacts leading there please let us know!

We also hope to get attention for the dances and also for Lindy hop. Murial and Brendan from Cape Town are trying to build a Lindy hop scene in Johannesburg but as yet, even in Africa, most of the dancers are white so we hope to attract more people of different backgrounds with the powerful interracial history of Sophiatown.

We want to celebrate the life and legacy that Sophiatown and its people left for us: to keep the spirit of Sophiatown alive for generations and generations to come; to discover and acknowledge.

Mayibuye iSophiatown!


Kristina with Vuyiswa Ntombela from Fruitcake Vintage and Eugene Maliboho.

I'm extremely grateful that Kristina not only got in touch to tell me about this amazing project but also that she took the time to share so much about its backstory and future direction. I shall be paying close attention to the resurgence of Little Harlem! Best of luck!

Monday, 3 July 2017

the Swing Slate refresh


A few folk had noticed that the look of my blog had changed but a few more were briefly confused if they had ended up on a completely different page altogether, so this is just a quick public service announcement to confirm those suspicions: the Swing Slate has been redesigned.

As to why - that is due to one reason in particular.

For my previous background I had made a montage of photos of the dancers who have had an influence on me and how I (hope I) dance. Some had influenced me directly through classes and workshops, some indirectly via videos online, and in the case of a few significant others it was my way of paying homage to historical figures who have played such a key role in establishing the dances that I love.

But recently, a couple of dancers on my background were identified as the subjects of a string of allegations and I certainly do not wish to lionise any such individuals so I thought it best to change things up. And I'd also like to apologise to anyone who may have been offended by the presence of those individuals on my background while it was up.

For my redesign I also thought I would give a bit of a nod to the music genre and era that I love above all else: Rock & Roll and the 1950s.

Adroitly this also allows me to side-step the issue of picking sides between a 1930-40s aesthetic that might be more reminiscent of the original Lindy hop generation, and a more contemporary theme to celebrate my other love of west coast swing.

So before any swing-era purists or WCS aficionados point fingers querying my blog allegiances, know that I am sitting squarely on the fence!

Interestingly, when I was doing a bit of research on period-authenticity I disappeared off down the wikipedia rabbit hole and found articles on gramophones/phonographs, microphones and all sorts of things that I may share later (e.g. the gramophone logo I had been using previously, had been modelled on the iconic Victor V and, like many gramophones, would have been extinct long before the swing era!).

Finally, if anyone finds any bugs or issues with my new site please let me know and I shall try to fix them as soon as I can!

Thanks!

Thursday, 8 June 2017

speaking swing with an accent

I refuse to apologise for puns.
As Belfast continues to blossom, and more and more new people come to classes and socials each month, it's always worthwhile asking a newbie for a dance or two.

For me, having a chat after (or during!) a dance is also largely unavoidable, and one of the things I usually end up asking is whether these newfound recruits have done any dancing before, often with my inquisitiveness driven by how rapidly the new dancers seem to pick things up.

Whether they are entirely new to dancing or have come from another style makes their nascent prowess no less impressive, but in the case of the latter, there are usually little giveaways as to their dancing background.

Salsa dancers have their hip sway, ballroom dancers are upright, ballet dancers are always on their toes, Irish dancers are upright and on their toes and have their arms straightened by their sides, and street/breakdancers have exaggerated rock-steps.

And I am sure that there must nuances of other dance styles that would seep into how someone swing dances (I don't know how to recognise them yet!) but nearly every time I ask if my hunch is correct it is misinterpreted as criticism. That couldn't be further from the truth.

I think of it in the same manner as having a chat with someone whose accent suggests they aren't speaking in their mother tongue - it's out of a genuine fascination that I'm curious to hear where they grew up, rather than any form of antipathy. And just as a slightly different cadence in someone's speech adds a little extra colour to their words, the unique colourful timbre of an individual's dancing adds to the myriad hues of a dancefloor.

In fact, speaking with an 'exotic' inflection doesn't even have to mean having origins in a different country - Northern Ireland has enough heterogeneity in its accents that you can tell when someone is from further than 20 miles away; and then it's considered polite to express amazement at how far they've travelled.

On top of that, accents not only reflect a dancer's background but can also reflect the background and culture of an entire community, country or continent, and the more I travel or watch videos online the more I start to recognise different aesthetics within our global swing family.

As a related historical note, two flavours of Lindy hop were considered to have developed in the USA in the late 1930s and early 1940s and were labelled as 'Savoy'-style and 'Hollywood'-style, as per their origins.

'Savoy'-style was so named for the Savoy Ballroom - the vaunted Harlem home of 'Shorty' George Snowden, Frankie Manning, Norma Miller and others, whilst 'Hollywood'-style became synonymous with Dean Collins: an erstwhile Savoy dancer who left New York in 1936 for the silver screens of Southern California and took his own brand of Lindy hop with him. (And depending on who you talk to, Collins is also considered the progenitor of west coast swing.)

The perceived differences between 'Savoy' and 'Hollywood'-style (and why the use of such labels has been abandoned by contemporary Lindy hop) have been thoroughly considered in an excellent article by Bobby White, but whilst these particular labels no longer hold water, I do not think I'm alone in recognising nuanced differences in the vernacular of current European, Asian and American dancers with regards to technique, styling and even demeanour.

What I', trying to emphasise, and especially to the new dancers, is that none of these differences has more merit than another: variety exists, and the global swing dancing community is all the healthier for it. So whether it's between or within scenes, on an international level or on an individual one, in all circumstances these differences celebrate the motley provenance of what is your own style.

We all speak the same swing language, we just do so with different accents.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Birmingham Bounce 2017












After waiting for what seemed like an age for it to arrive, the inaugural Birmingham Bounce has already come and gone.

For me it very nearly didn't happen at all, courtesy of delayed flights and lost, then found but damaged luggage, so I eventually arrived on the Saturday afternoon a tad knackered but raring to go.

Sadly, however, that meant I missed two highlights - the classes by Tatiana Udry, and seeing Swing Belfast's own Anna kicking ass in Friday night's competitions: coming second in the strictly finals with James, and third in the jack & jill.

I'm sorry not to have been there cheering Anna and James on but, just as I had mentioned before, anyone representing Belfast was not shy of support as I think we ended up taking about 35 people to Birmingham, and to say I am not also immensely proud of that in and of itself would be an understatement.

I don't think I've ever been to an event with more than three others from Belfast, so to more than decuple* that number (*yes, it's a new word to me also) was a glorious thing. But quantity isn't much without quality and from the many accounts I heard it sounded like everyone represented Swing Belfast with distinction.

In fact, when I got chatting to Paul on the Sunday afternoon, he told me that a number of people had even described the Belfast dancers as being "aggressively friendly", so it's clear to me that the enthusiasm and warmth that I fell in love with in our nascent scene is also an exportable quality!

Having such safety in numbers I think also proved to be a brilliant way for some of our newer dancers to experience their first ever big event and as I'm sure all of them would agree, the weekend itself was a lot of fun and a fantastic introduction to Lindy hop outside Belfast.

The weekend's teachers were Swing Express' own Paul & Sarah Neary and Scott Cupit & Jenny Thomas with Felix Berghäll rather enviably teaming up with both Tatiana Udry and Katja Završnik (probably my two favourite follows on the planet) for their partnered workshops, and between what I experienced and what I heard, it seems that the classes all went down a treat.

As I said, I missed Tatiana's classes with Felix but I was determined to make up for it somehow and decided that the Saturday night social was where to do it. Not only was I going to try to make up for the dancing I had missed that morning, and indeed the night before, but I was also going to attempt to compensate for missing out on a class with Tatiana by asking her for a dance.

I've commented before how my confidence escapes me when approaching my favourite top tier dancers and as the Birmingham Bounce was my first weekender in over a year, it's safe to say that I was feeling distinctly chutzpah-lite. But the second I rediscovered some testicular fortitude and actually approached Tatiana it turned out, unsurprisingly, that she was absolutely lovely and every bit as spectacular to dance with as to watch.

My erstwhile reticence was then completely shown up by some of the newer Belfast leads (some with less than a year of classes under their belts) who walked straight up to Tatiana and the rest weekend's pros and asked one or all of them for a dance: Brett, Curtis, Luke and Mark and a probably a few more didn't even blink, and I believe a few of our follows did the same!

And then when the inevitable jam circle kicked off, the Belfast crowd once again showed up and made us proud with about a third of the dancers who took the floor hailing from our scene.

Furthermore, a special mention must also go to Mark and Kristina who, despite being one of our newer couples, waited out the regular jam cool as you like and then bounced into the middle of the action as the fabulous Basin Street Brawlers really started to crank up the BPM.

All in all, it was a really fun weekend of dancing that I hope whetted the collective appetites of the 30-odd Belfast dancers for whom this was their first big event. A big thanks must go to Paul & Sarah and Swing Express for putting on a brilliant inaugural Birmingham Bounce (as well as an apology for taking so long to finally write this up but I'm using wedding prep as my excuse!) and I'm sure we're all looking forward to our next trip to Brum!

Thursday, 30 March 2017

the swing slate interviews: slide&swing













About a year after I'd started dancing I thought I’d get myself a proper pair of dance shoes rather than making do with old brogues or DIY suede-soled gutties (a.k.a. ‘Keds’ in non-Northern Irish parlance), and after spotting a dancer on youtube sporting a handsome pair of two-tone cap-toes I knew exactly the ones I wanted. I just had to find them...

Following some intensive googling I happened upon a company called slide&swing and very quickly spied the shoes I was seeking, but having now found the pair I desired it took considerable effort to restrain said desires and not also buy a few of their other styles. Although, that restraint completely dissolved when I was in Barcelona last year and got to visit slide&swing HQ.

In fact, it seems I am definitely not the only one to be a little taken by the slide&swing styles as none of their shoes I wear have ever failed to draw compliments or questions of their provenance (and I think I can comfortably say no other brand is more popular in my home scene of Belfast!).

However, aesthetics are only half the battle and if they aren't actually fun to dance in then, as my granny might have said, they'd be all fur coat and no knickers! But I'm more than happy to share that these shoes are an absolute joy.

The upper leather is incredibly soft, so they have a slipper-like comfort from the off, whilst the leather soles verge on the paradoxical as they are flexible enough to allow for ease of movement whilst retaining enough rigidity to ensure an even weight distribution that makes slides much smoother. Plus, they are fantastically light, especially in comparison with regular brogues or Saint Savoys which means I no longer get that 'heavy feet' sensation after a lot of dancing, and the all-leather sole definitely reduces strain on joints.

So, as no other brand has enticed me to greater expenditure over the past three years than slide&swing, I thought I would get in touch with their founder and CEO Laura Barbao to find out a bit more about the company's origins and inspiration.


Laura, thanks for taking the time to answer my questions! I imagine deciding to make a niche product was a scary prospect. What was your drive behind it?
Seven years ago when I was dancing many hours every week, I didn't have any good shoes for dancing and couldn't find any good brands at a fair price. I could only find Aris Allen but after I bought a pair they only worked well for two months before the soles began to fall apart.

I also go to thinking about all of the leather shoe factories we have here in Spain and especially in Alicante, which is Spain's most important region for shoe production.

It's great that you could tap into a proud Spanish industry! Do you have a background in fashion/footwear or was this a completely new challenge?
I'd never worked on anything to do with fashion or footwear so this was/is my first experience in that world but it's amazing when you start to work in something new (and everything is new!).

And how long did it take to go from the initial idea to having a marketable product?
I started the slide&swing project six years ago after attending a lot of training courses for entrepreneurs here in Barcelona, and we produced our first collection after a year and a half.

You are obviously as passionate about the shoes as the dance - are the rest of your staff all dancers as well?
I'm the only one of the slide&swing staff who swing dances, the rest of the staff are specialists in their work! :)

Laura with a few of slide&swing's designs. Photo credit: Dacil Azulcasiverde.














Your styles are so varied and quite different from the offerings of other dance shoe companies - from where do you get your inspiration?
We mix vintage styles with modern styles, materials and colours. We have a lot of books about shoe design in the vintage era, but we also really like shoes in general! We follow some actual designers we like and we make a lot of prototypes trying different leathers and colour combinations, etc.

We believe slide&swing are a brand who can make vintage styles for the present time, for present people with present materials and colours. Just like some of the clothes we like to wear, they've been made recently but are vintage-inspired along with many other influences.

And how do you go about deciding on a new style? As Barcelona has a brilliant swing scene - do you get feedback from local dancers or international pros?
From the first moment we thought about men's and women's shoes (and only flats initially) we sought feedback from some professional dancers. Some of them are from Barcelona and others are from France, Germany or the USA.

All of these dancers have given us really important tips because they dance many hours every week and we want to ensure we can produce a great product. That said, to us it's really important to pay attention to all the comments we receive from all of our customers because they help us to improve and mature our brand.

As well as the great look of your shoes they also feel incredibly soft and supple, not to mention light - what's the secret?
All of our shoes are handmade in Sax, a small village in Alicante, in a little factory where they work with really high quality materials and professionals from the shoe world. They also work with other brands and have a lot of experience as shoemakers so they have helped us a lot from day one. When we visited we talked about what we wanted and they helped us source really good leather.

The only secret is to look for the highest quality leather and pay the price to get it; if you have great leather and employ top craftsmen, you will get a really good product, and if the price of this product is a fair price, then I think you will also have a good business.

Well now a question I personally want to know the answer to - have you any plans to make more men's boots? Because if you were to make a men's equivalent of the 'Alice' cap-toe boots in honey leather I would be overjoyed!
Yes of course. This was our first year manufacturing boots, and we think the cap-toe model could be even more popular than our men's Chukkas, so we are now working on our new products for next winter, thank you very much for your comment. We think honey leather is one of the most comfortable, soft and beautiful colours (for men and women). :)

A slightly more pragmatic question, but - what is the best way to care for your dance shoes to ensure they have a long life?
Just like our own skin, brusque changes in temperature or humidity are the greatest enemy of leather shoes and as slide&swing are entirely made of leather it is important to keep them hydrated by rubbing some moisturising lotion into them once a month. It is important to moisturize the leather sole as well so that it doesn't crack over time.

If your shoes get too damp then the best solution is to fill them with kitchen roll or newspaper and wait at least 24 hours for them to dry out completely. Once dry, remove the paper and apply a good coating of moisturising lotion all over the shoe (inside, outside and on the sole) and leave them for 24 or 48 hours so that the lotion is absorbed completely.

It's normal after a while that small abrasions or scratches may appear in the leather and for this shoe polish can be used. The leather sole may also become worn after prolonged usage, but this does not mean that the shoe needs to be thrown away. It is possible to take the shoe to a cobbler for them to add a half leather sole like the original or a rubber one if a non-slip sole is preferred.

the shoes that started my love affair, and the storefront in Barcelona










Great tips, thanks! I've seen your shoes in a number of fashion magazines - do you exclusively make dance shoes?
We have a lot of customers who aren't dancers but who love our shoes because nowadays it is very difficult find this style of shoes. A lot of brands make similar shoes but with rubber soles, or a mix of leather/glue/rubber, so some people prefer to spend a little bit more to get better quality shoes that are full leather and handmade in Spain!

And are you considering other products?
We've been considering making other leather products, but at the moment these thoughts are on standby and we're focusing exclusively on making shoes.

I've seen a number of well-known pros in slide&swing shoes! Have you a list of famous customers?
We're honoured that pros are dancing in slide&swing shoes! Some of them are:

Sonia Ortega
Héctor Artal
Laia Puig
Gustav Jakobsson
Ali Taghavi
Katja Uckerman
Alice Mei
Frida Segerdahl
Tatiana Udry
Pamela Gaizutyte
Ksenia Parkhatskaya

And finally, where's the best place to pick up a pair of slide&swing shoes?
We have our own shop in Barcelona (a very little one, hahahaha) and of course there is our website www.slideandswing.es but you can also get our shoes from a few other vendors: the French store Vinsinn now sell some of our shoes at festivals they attend, Claire Chen sells slide&swing in Berlin, Footlight stocks them in Finland and we also have a stall at Herräng Dance Camp!


Muchas gracias a Laura for taking the time to answer my questions and my best wishes for slide&swing's future!

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Mother City Hop 2017: South Africa's Swingin'

Is the rest of this article even needed? Look. At. That. View!











As I proudly shared in my most recent article, the swing scene in my home city of Belfast, Northern Ireland is now growing apace, but there are of course myriad other scenes across the world with different stories yet similar trajectories and it is exhilarating to hear about them and what they're bringing to their respective cities.

Without question, one of the most exciting up-and-coming scenes is that of Cape Town, South Africa, which is one of only two Lindy hop communities on an entire continent and last year they hosted Africa's inaugural international Lindy hop event: Mother City Hop.

Through my Frankie Manning Foundation scholarship in 2015 I was fortunate to meet a couple at the vanguard of the (South) African Lindy hop community - Muriel and Brendan Argent - and I was able to hear the plans and enthusiasm they had for their swing scene in Cape Town.

Last year (2016) these plans came to fruition and Mother City Hop was by all accounts a massive success, so with MCH 2017 just a few months away, I got the opportunity to chat to Brendan and to learn a little more about how things all came together last year whilst also getting a preview of what's yet to come.


Brendan, from what I've heard, Mother City Hop went really well last year and yet it was your first ever event! How did you manage to pull it off?!
It really was a wonderful event and we got a lot of positive feedback, which was gratifying after the hard work! I think the international Lindy hop community was keen to support it, because it was the first big festival on the continent and we had contributors to the crowd-funding campaign from all over the world.

Having a really solid and enthusiastic team was key to it all working out. We also spent a lot of time speaking to experienced organisers from other events, so even though it was a first for us, we were able to learn from their combined experience. And then the teachers also deserve a really big thank you, they were there to step into gaps and help out when things got a bit chaotic.

Obviously a thriving local scene is a necessary bedrock for hosting a large event but I read, incredibly, that Cape Town Swing has only existed since 2015! How'd it all begin and how big are you now?
The first swing classes in Cape Town started in late-2011 thanks to Jeannie Elliott. A small group who had been learning from YouTube discovered that she had moved to Cape Town from Texas, where she had been teaching Lindy hop for 10 years. She started Boogie Back Dance Co. (a Lindy hop school) soon after that, and the dancers who were learning from her formed the Cape Underground Swing Syndicate to coordinate social dance opportunities. By the time Muriel and I started dancing in 2013, that group had largely moved on to other things and so we and a few others took over and rebranded as Cape Town Swing at the start of 2015.

At the beginning we could maybe draw 30 dancers to a party, but by Mother City Hop 2016 we had 85 dancers register from South Africa, which was basically every Lindy hopper in the country. In total we had 168 dancers at the festival, so about 50% were from overseas (representing 17 different countries). In the last year, in part due to the exposure from the festival, we have grown steadily and hope to have over 130 locals at the festival.

a class in full flow in one of MCH's beautiful venues: Youngblood Africa
I noticed a brilliant scholarship scheme on your website - how long has this been running and how do you raise money for it? Can anyone make donations?
We started the program in late 2015, and managed to award scholarships to five talented and enthusiastic dancers in Cape Town prior to the festival. They were each given free classes and their transport to and from home was covered.

For the funds, we basically set aside a percentage of our revenue from parties, but we also opened a “Pay It Forward” option on the Mother City Hop ticket sales last year, which helped a lot. It’s a really important program that we hope will help grow the Lindy hop scene beyond the city centre and the limited demographic in a very segregated city. If anyone would like to donate, they can do so here: mothercityhop.com/pay-it-forward

I hope you can continue that great work! I also remember from last year that you linked up with
Mozambique's swing scene - is something similar happening this year?
Yes, there is a growing swing community in Maputo and they are having an exchange in the week before Mother City Hop. Last year it was amazing, they are so welcoming and though the community has very little in terms of resources they are incredible dancers and it's a very special exchange. Check out a video of last year's MASX (Maputo Afro Swing eXchange) here.

It is really cool to hear that Africa's two nascent scenes are so supportive of each other! For this year's MCH I see that once again you've a fab teacher line up but what can you tell me about the bands?
Finding swing bands has been a huge challenge for us. One thing our scene really lacks is good live music for dancing. Both of the bands that played last year no longer exist, and although there is a big jazz culture in Cape Town, it’s not very dancer friendly and we've struggled to get bop-heavy musicians to see the value in good old-school swinging jazz!

[...that sounds a lot like Frankie's struggles in the 1940s!]

We have a Big Band project that is very exciting, with a group that has just started working on some classic big band charts. If anyone is able to support this project and help us cover the costs of the music, venues and transport (many of the musicians live quite far from the city centre) that would be much appreciated but we're hoping to have a set ready in time for the festival!

Ryan Calloway leads the Hot Baked Goods in San Francisco, and he will be working with a smaller group of local musicians in Cape Town prior to Mother City Hop, so they will play one of the nights. We do have a growing DJ group that has been keeping our dance floors jamming. This is led by Lise-Mari aka DJ 20th Century Fox, who DJs primarily from vinyl. We’ve also been discovering some really great South African swing that was played in the townships during apartheid (particularly Sophiatown, which was known as "Little Harlem"), like this track by the Manhattan Brothers.

I'm sure dancing to some local swing music will be a brilliantly unique experience! Your workshop & social venues look incredible - can you tell me a bit more about them?
Venues are always a challenge! As in many cities, there is a constant battle to keep live music venues open. There are sadly very few venues where music can be played after 11pm. We have however found some really stunning venues for our parties.

Oudekraal, the venue for our welcome party is a private beach just behind Table Mountain. We'll go there for sundowners and then dance under the stars on a specially prepared dance floor! Our main feature party is at a stunning ballroom at the Italian Club of Cape Town, which has a beautiful sprung wooden floor. We're going to keep our other two venues a mystery for now, as we'll be doing a big reveal soon!

another brilliant workshop venue, with Remy Kouakou Kouame showing the way

As well as the obvious dancing and warm greeting, what else should people expect from Cape Town and the tours you've put on?
Cape Town has something for everyone! Right under the mountain, there are hikes and trails just two minutes away and beaches in all directions, but besides its beautiful landscapes it also has a rich history and there are some very special museums and galleries worth exploring. Cape Town is famous for its diversity of culture, architecture and food and especially for its hospitality and we can't wait to welcome dancers to our city!

Something often left off the tourist brochure is the huge inequality in the city. Most of the city's population lives beyond the city centre in areas with fewer facilities, transport and opportunities. Due to the apartheid laws, people were forcibly moved to areas according to their skin colour, and sadly the city is still very segregated along these lines.

One of the stops on our tour package is a visit to one of the biggest townships. We don't support 'poverty tourism' and have been very careful in planning this so as to be sensitive about it, but we think that it’s important to see both sides of the city and it's also an opportunity to support some of the local businesses and cultural activities.

That's very admirable and I'm sure it'll be hugely informative for the hordes of visiting Lindy hoppers! I imagine most visitors may be coming from Europe/USA so getting to South Africa may initially appear more expensive, but how do daily expenses (accommodation, food, drink, public transport etc) compare to a European/US city?
There are some great flight specials on at the moment, so people might be surprised by what they can get away with in terms of airfares, but in terms of daily spending, a meal in Cape Town will range from R40-R90 and a beer from R20-35. Uber is very cheap and convenient with trips around the city centre from R20-R30 and longer trips like to/from the airport about R90-R120. There is also a fantastic new bus system (MyCiti) which works out even cheaper. March is busy in Cape Town and accommodation fills up fast, but prices for a night’s stay range from R450 (a nice backpackers) to R900 (guesthouse) to R1500 (hotel). Dancers can also apply to be hosted by local dancers.

[TheSwingSlate has conveniently averaged and exchanged those prices into GBP, EUR and USD:

     meal:  £3.90  /  4.60€  /  $4.90
     beer:  £1.65  /  1.85€  /  $2.05
     taxi:  £1.50  /  1.75€  /  $1.90
     hostel:  £27  /  32€  /  $34
     guesthouse:  £54  /  63€  /  $68
     hotel:  £90  /  105€  /  $113

That's a lot more affordable than the major European or American cities that travelling Lindy hoppers visit! Over a few days it may well offset the higher flight prices!

In case anyone inexplicably needs further convincing, do you have any videos from MCH 2016 or to showcase what a gem of a scene you've got?
Yes! We have an iCharleston video from 2015, some great photos from last year's MCH here, and below is the event highlights reel!



And finally, for any other growing scenes, what tips do you have to turn things into such a success in such a short space of time?
Outdoor dancing is the best way to draw people in. People love the music and can see how much fun the dancers are having, it’s infectious! This is definitely the number one piece of advice I would give.

...that may be brave in Northern Ireland but I suppose it did Gene Kelly no harm!

Apart from that, things that help: broaden the net. Target older folk and younger folk. Teach kids in schools and then teach their parents. Universities are also a great place to draw the student crowd. Get a strong team together so that no one person carries all the work. This is another way to keep people involved, as it makes them feel part of something. There can be a role for everyone.

Someone to coordinate DJing, someone to inspire the scene with the history, someone in charge of welcoming new dancers, someone in charge of scene safety etc. Link up with local musicians if you can. But Lindy hop speaks for itself and if people see you having a good time on the dance floor they will want to learn too :)

Brendan & Muriel casually getting in some practice on a local saunter.


A big thanks to Brendan for taking the time to answer my questions, and he tells me there are still a few tickets left so if anyone wants to visit the one of the world's freshest and most colourful swing scenes, visit the Mother City Hop website and get booking!

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Budding Belfast: swing is snowballing!!

Attendance at one of Swing Belfast's weekly classes











Last Saturday night I was at our first social of 2017 and as things started to heat up I noticed that dance floor space was at a premium. This may not be rare at many events and rarely is it welcomed at any, but seeing it in Belfast made me feel incredibly proud as it was proof that our scene is very clearly growing.

We have successfully hosted events in and around Belfast for the past few years where there have been north of 120 people trying to find space on a large dancefloor whilst a live band provides the soundtrack. But such events occur only 3-4 times a year and the bedrock of a scene is not the occasional big night out, when the swanky corner of your wardrobe is perused - no no! 'Tis the humble weekly social that provides the bread and butter of a healthy swing diet!

The weekly social is when someone's mp3 playlist is on shuffle (DJ optional) and folk are bouncing onto the dancefloor to practice everything they've recently learnt or perhaps they are taking the opportunity, drink in hand (and some freshly baked desserts if doing it the Swing Belfast way!) to really get to know others in their home scene.

For much of the first year after I started dancing in Belfast, we didn't have regular socials and actually getting to practice was entirely dependent upon you being free on one of those rare nights that an event reared its lovely head, or upon nabbing a partner with whom you could meet up outside of class.

But now, in the year that I celebrate my third swingaversary, we have regular social dancing every week and our scene is in rude health.

I should clarify that I'm not trying to take credit for my scene's growth but merely sharing that I have witnessed its genesis first hand: Lindy hop classes have gone from 6-8 people to 60-80, from one class a week to four, west coast swing numbers have quadrupled, we've seen the creation of our first regular monthly social, the addition of weekly mini-socials after classes, the establishment of a second monthly social, and now we are surging towards the delightful dilemma that soon we may need to find a bigger social venue.

It. Is. Incredible!!

And on top of that, a further measure of our scene's evolution shall be proudly on display at the Birmingham Bounce in March this year when Swing Belfast shall be represented by around THIRTY dancers - and that, once again, makes me swell with pride.

I have been to quite a few events over the past couple of years and as much as I have thoroughly enjoyed myself when flying solo, a lot can be said for travelling in a crew.

Having a few familiar faces by your side as you assess an unfamiliar dancefloor (especially when your confidence matches your ability and neither are high) can be immensely comforting whilst the craic to be had from four close friends sharing a room (when it really only has enough space for two people) is something else.

But I have yet to attend an event beyond Ireland's shores with more than three other Belfast dancers, so the idea of rocking up at the Bounce with about six times that number is hugely exciting for the following reason:

I choose the events I go to, not just because the teachers are good or the host city is interesting, but because I've met amazing people at previous events who left me thinking that I absolutely had to visit their home scene.

So considering how many brilliant Belfast ambassadors we shall have in Birmingham, I am well and truly stoked that others may think the same way and start to wonder when they are going to visit our home scene.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Paul & Sarah one year (and a bit) on












About 16 months ago Galway grieved and Birmingham bubbled as Paul & Sarah Neary swapped the West of Ireland for the West Midlands so I thought it was time to find out how they were getting on in their new home, how Swing Express was progressing and also to find out a bit more about the big event they have planned for next year: Birmingham Bounce.


Paul, it's almost a year and a half since you both upped sticks and moved. How long did it take for you to feel properly settled and at home?

I'm not sure that we've yet achieved that. The place we're living in was always meant to be short-term, so it always feels like we're just waiting to find that alternative place where we will be comfortable and set up as 'home'. Work-wise Sarah has a job she is very dedicated to, and has grown enormously in that role, which is great. From the dancing side of things, it's been slow going but things have gradually begun to take shape. It's an extremely different set-up to Galway, and the relationships we've built with dancers here are very different to the relationships we built in Galway.

One of Galway's strengths is the intimacy of a buzzing scene in a small city and I have mentioned a few times how much I love dancing there so what do you love most about Birmingham? Is it possible to create intimacy in the second largest city in the British Isles?

Galway and Birmingham are so different. In fact, I shouldn't say Birmingham, I should say the West Midlands, as our classes take place in Birmingham, Coventry, and Sutton Coldfield. I've even done a fair bit of teaching in Leicester. Our classes are very spread out, so you rarely the see the same people twice in any given week. In Galway there were always die-hards (they know who they are!) who I would see three or four times per week. You got to know people very quickly and become really familiar with them. Our current set-up makes that a bit harder, but we've been lucky enough to meet some really great people and those relationships have slowly come.

I will say the dancers here have been very supportive, especially the ones that are a little more removed from Birmingham city itself. Our dancers in Coventry and Sutton Coldfield, for example, really appreciate having some classes in the their local area and not being forced to travel to find a dance class. They really have gone out of their way to make us feel welcome.

In comparison with starting a completely new swing scene in Galway (and by extension, kicking things off in Ireland as a whole), how did getting started in Birmingham compare? New obstacles or was it much easier the second time around?

Mate, so, so different. As an instructor you're always trying to work out what people need to know. As a scene builder you need to work out what people want to know. I've walked into an established scene here where people are used to things being done a certain way. That's not necessarily a bad thing - it's up to me to adapt to that mindset. Some people are really hungry for new ideas and to hear a different perspective, others not so much. It's my job to walk that line, try and keep everyone interested and work out inventive ways of delivering my message as an instructor. Walking in to an established scene has presented some really interesting challenges, but has also given us a great opportunity to practice what we preach and work together with local schools. We've worked really hard on that and just a few months ago were part of the team that delivered the first ever Birmingham Lindy Exchange: BrumLX with two other local schools. It was a great test for all of us to see how well we played with others :-)

In terms of the dancing and students, how has your first year gone? Did you have many already established local dancers who came along or has it been a fairly new thing for most of your crowd?

It's been a mixture. Our Sutton Coldfield class (to the north of Birmingham) and our Coventry class picked up a few established dancers, primarily because they are a little starved of options in their local area. There have also been a good number of newbies come along, which has really helped as it's nice to have some blank slates with which to start. There's great enthusiasm amongst the newer dancers and the older ones really do feed off their enthusiasm. Our more centralised classes in Birmingham City and Bournville (to the south of Birmingham), where there are a lot more options available to people, primarily consist of brand new

Bournville... so swing dancing and chocolate?! Gadzooks I'd be in heaven. Anyway, when you started last year you had three classes on the go. Is that still the same or have things changed and do you see Swing Express expanding any further?

We still have three going, plus I teach regularly in Leicester as a 'hired hand' (i.e. it's not Swing Express I'm teaching for in Leicester, it's the local school). We do have a fourth venue set to kick off on the 20th of September, so that's exciting. Being new we've had opportunities to try a few different things, set up classes in different areas. If something doesn't work, we tweak it, try again etc. Being new definitely has its advantages.

Did you ever consider naming your event BirmingJAM? I chanced upon that suggestion due to a typo and had to ask...

No, too cheesy Adam. That's just silly. That's a 15 minute time-out from the internet for you...

Pffftt... Well, similar to my name suggestion I think the line-up for the Bounce is also top notch. The teachers are some of my absolute favourite dancers and you've also roped in one of the top jazz bands in the UK - what influences these choices and can I borrow your phonebook?

When I run events I do tend to focus on the learning aspect. Some organisers prefer to concentrate on the entertainment/social aspect of their events. There's no right and wrong there, it's just a preference of which approach to take.

For example, someone suggested I organise a late night party for the Birmingham Bounce. My response was "I'm not flying William and Maeva and JB and Tatiana over from France just so people can sleep in and miss their workshops". I'm a teacher first, and I want to help people not just become better dancers, but to also understand their dance better. That's why I choose the teachers I do. I believe the instructors I tend to work with have a genuine passion for what they do and work very hard to pass on that passion to the scenes they visit.

For the Bounce I put together a wish list of Lindy Hop instructors, and also figured that there might be slightly more interest in a specific authentic jazz track here in the UK, so also asked Sarah to help me put together a wish list of instructors that could anchor a jazz stream. William and Maeva are absolutely perfect to lead a Lindy Hop stream, and JB and Tatiana were high on Sarah's list for jazz. To call Scott and Jenny icing on the cake is doing them both a stupendous injustice. Jenny is an absolute legend, in every sense of the word, in Lindy and Jazz circles and it's only that she is based in the UK that she doesn't generate as much excitement as some of the other visiting teachers. It's my first time working on an event with her and it's a huge honour to have had her say yes.

Bottom line, I'm interested in instructors that can help me shape my students and make them better dancers - to challenge them but also leave them feeling inspired. I've been fortunate to generally hit those targets.

As for borrowing my phone-book - that's not as silly as it sounds. I have been so lucky to have built the relationships I have, and those relationships have helped me build other relationships and so on. Scott Cupit, for example, helped me build relationships with a few of the bigger personalities within the scene, and they, in turn, helped me with others. Dax Hock has gone out of his way in the past to help me generate relationships, and I will always be grateful to both Scott and Dax for giving me a leg up when I needed it. For the Birmingham Bounce, William and Maeva, who I've worked with before in Galway, were instrumental in helping me reach out to JB and Tatiana. Sometimes you just need a foot in the door, and given the help I've received in the past, I'm happy to 'pay it forward'.

I booked my pass the day they went on sale but for anyone who has not yet registered, why should they make sure to get on it as soon as possible?

The longer you take the less likely you'll get the track you want. There are seven to choose from, but eventually some will book out and you'll either be stuck on a wait list or you'll have to find a track that maybe wasn't your first choice (not that you'd complain too much. Can you imagine - "Oh, I don't want to take classes from JB, Tatiana and Jenny. I wanted William, Maeva and Scott").

From an organisers point of view, booking early means I know you're coming, and allows me to be a little more flexible budget-wise. There are plenty of cool things I'd love to do for dancers at the Bounce, but it depends on numbers as to how I put these things together.

For those already committed, do you have any suggestions for accommodation or additional tips?

We're working on trying to get some deals from local hotels to help with accommodation, and we'll also be setting up some hosting. We recently ran the first ever Lindy Exchange here and managed to do a pretty good job getting people to offer hosting. We should be able to replicate that for the Bounce.



A huge thanks to Paul for taking the time out of a busy schedule to answer my questions! If anyone in the West Midlands or beyond is interested in taking up swing dancing or attending their forthcoming event, details and registration can be found on the Swing Express and Birmingham Bounce websites.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Herräng Survival Guide

a list of what to bring to Herrang











With just under a week to go until this year's Herräng swings out for the first time, I thought I would share a bit of self-anointed wisdom based on my own experiences.

For people travelling from big scenes it's probably easy to ask a savvy someone for tips but as I didn't know another sinner from Northern Ireland who had ever been to Herräng before, it was a mad case of the unknown.

Herräng is hardly the uncharted tropics but as an animal behaviour researcher - having spent weeks living in tents in the back of beyond getting little sleep, battling mosquitoes and alternating between sun-cream and waterproofs in the same day - I can safely say the similarities with Herräng end there.

I did a bit of googling before my trip and that helped a bit (unsurprisingly, other people have been to Herräng and written about it), however, there are quite a few blog posts that simply instruct you to pack comfy dance shoes, a "say yes!" attitude and to "bring your best self!". hashtagsmileyface

Now, call me a cynic, but I can tell you that a bit of effervescence bubbling behind some pearly whites is just not going to stave off hunger or the Herräng flu. I do of course encourage you to head off to Sweden with a positive attitude (not terribly difficult for Lindy hoppers) but I thought I'd extend the list a tad and pad it out with a few tips that are are a bit more... tangible.

So whether this is your first trip, or you've been before but need a few reminders, here we go...

So you know what to expect, this is 'downtown' Herräng (courtesy of Google Streetview). That red building on the left houses the Kuggen and this is the most built-up area in the town.













Cash

There are no ATMs and nowhere does cashback, so whether you bring it from home or exchange at the airport, you really want to have enough Swedish krona (and NOT EUROS!!) with you. And more than you think. There are no hidden costs for the dancing, but some people, especially non-Europeans, were a tad shocked by the price of food and drink. FYI: it's not capitalist extortion, it's just Sweden being Scandinavian.

For larger purchases in the office, Lindy Hop Shop or in the Kuggen (the grocery store in the centre of Herräng) cards are accepted but for everything else, you need cash: cafes, laundry, bike hire, internet access, pop-up food wagons, bedding rental (all accommodation is bring your own bedding so you will need to rent that if you arrive unprepared).


Food

There are several food options in camp. Heaven's Kitchen is the main food hut/tent, whilst Café Blue Moon, Bar Bedlam and the Ice Cream Parlor (ICP to the cool kids) offer lighter alternatives. I really recommend buying a food card as it works out quite reasonable, the food is hearty, it's no hassle, and communal dining is a huge social activity in and of itself - last year I had dinner with Norma Miller, Dawn Hampton, Chazz Young, Chester Whitmore and a handful of the pros. That's some premium namedropping right there but my point is how open and convivial this place is and this time next year you too can write a smug blog post about it.

NB - vegans shouldn't expect a huge selection but they are catered for.

There are also a handful of pop-up food wagons in and around Herräng that offer pizza, noodles, and burgers, and the Kuggen is also there for your basic grocery needs.

clockwise from top left: outside one of the tent dorms, inside one of the tent dorms, private (bring your own) tents, laundry


















Accommodation

As I've already said, you will need to bring your own bedding no matter where you're staying, but for those in any of the tented dorms be aware that you also have zero privacy. If you're a light sleeper, bring a sleep mask or ear plugs because it will be noisier and brighter than you're used to. If you are lucky enough to get a bottom bunk, some folk managed to attach spare sheets to the edges of the bunk above to create a slightly private partition but that will be the height of it.

Also, whilst the vibe in Herräng is overwhelmingly friendly, be aware that, yes, even in the Lindy hop community, there are unsavoury wazzocks with sticky fingers and valuables occasionally go missing, so take the necessary precautions or use one of the on-site lockers (although you must bring your own padlock).


Clothes

What you choose to wear to most Herräng socials/classes is entirely up to you and on any given night/day you could be surrounded by an impeccably dressed 1930s gent, a 1950s gal, some dude in a football shirt and tracksuit bottoms, a potential lumberjack, or a girl that looks like she just walked off the pages of a Zara catalogue. People generally opt for whatever makes them feel most comfortable and this is exactly how you should approach things too, but I also suggest bringing twice as many tops/pairs of underwear as you're thinking, or be prepared to launder, and for classes especially I really recommend light shorts or skirts and avoiding anything cotton (it gets wet and heavy). If you haven't yet considered buying a good sports compression vest, consider it.

That said, there are two nights that require more planning. Slow Drag Night (AKA blues night) on the Tuesday and the new Savoy night (replacing the Friday costume parties) are occasions for high vintage fashion so bring something a little special to avoid feeling out of place. On the Friday nights, smart dress (i.e. no jeans, tshirts etc) is now compulsory.

Shoes. Similar to what clothes to wear, your shoe choice is again entirely personal preference but if you can forgo style for a few hours a day, do it. Your feet will never have experienced such a pounding and if they don't want to dance, you won't want to dance, so look after them! The most comfortable shoes you own are the ones you want to wear to classes (although make sure they don't have too much grip or you will feel it in your knees).

Also come prepared for different dance floors. The dance tents (where most of the classes are held) have temporary floors that have a nice spring to them but can be rough and uneven, whilst the main ballroom in the Folkets Hus, especially if you experience it just after waxing, can be like polished glass.

Non-dancing gear. Something to saunter about in, something to sleep in, something to swim in, warm clothes, warm-weather clothes, wet-weather clothes. Bring the lot.


Health & Herräng flu

I fancy I've a decent immune system (years of drinking unpasteurised milk will do that) but after operating for two weeks critically under-slept, I definitely had a tickle in my throat and a cough for a few days towards the end. The best precautions you can take are: nap when you can (although I think I tried to nap every day I was there and every time I just ended up lying in bed thinking about dancing!), wash your hands regularly, and eat properly.

You may also want to pack cough-medicine, sun-cream and mosquito repellent but they usually have all you need at the Kuggen or Kiosk.

Definitely pack an antiseptic cream like Savlon - whether for mosquito bites, skin chafing or something else: I guarantee you will be glad you brought it.

Re-hydration chat can sound a bit 'personal trainer' but have a listen to me anyway - you want to bring an isotonic drink. Water may suffice for your standard weekly hour-long dance but it won't cut it when you're doing such a high energy activity for so long. Stand back, here's the science:

Drinking high volumes of plain water won't quench thirst but will make you feel bloated and will stimulate higher sweat and urine output. This depletes your electrolytes (sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, chloride, bicarbonate, phosphate, sulphate... all those things that are listed on the side of your average bottle of multivitamins) as they're what's oozing out of your pores and making your eyes sting; if you don't top them up you definitely will flag.

And do not rely on high sugar energy drinks - they will give you an ephemeral kick and then the extra build-up of lactic acid will leave you worse off. Look for a drink that includes carbohydrates (that's where your energy comes from) and best of all, look for it in powder form: last year, I took a single container of isotonic drink powder and it lasted for my entire trip.

Shower regularly. This sounds obvious but even if you are absolutely wrecked, have a shower before going to bed. Not only will you beat the rush in the morning but it will also reduce your chances of skin irritation (less chafing!) and means you are not climbing into an increasingly dirty bed each night.

clockwise from top left: approaching the checkpoint and looking up at Folkets Hus, looking down from the centre of Folkets Hus at the queue for the Daily Meeting, Dansbanan at 7am, Folkets Hus ballroom during the Hot Sugar Band set: dancing room was nonexistent & breathing room was a luxury




















Additional tips

I really enjoyed the 9pm Daily Meetings but so did most people. So much so that the queues for them were huge; make sure you get there early (at least 20 minutes early).

The social dancing starts not long after the daily meetings and there are obvious peak social dancing hours when the floor is absolutely mobbed. Go earlier in the night, 9pm-11pm, and there is more space and it is more beginner-friendly, between 11pm-3am most people will be on the floor and your dance etiquette and floor craft needs to be on point, 3am-6am there are fewer people but the music can vary considerably between DJs, 6am-10am it's diehards running on steam but I had some of my favourite dances after 7am when some of the music got a bit wilder.

Notebooks are very useful as not all pros give video recaps and you definitely won't remember everything you've been taught.

Bring a needle and thread. If you need an explanation why, you probably shouldn't be handling anything pointy.

You do not have to dance at every available opportunity. Coming from a small scene and wading into Lindy hop mecca where the level is high, partners abundant, music fantastic and socials never-ending it was incredibly tempting to dance every given second. Depending on how long you are going to Herräng for, and whether or not you are taking classes, there is no shame in taking a break now and then. In the end, this is one of the things that will help you get the most out of your experience.

For any who can't bear to be without their mobile phones or internet, there is signal and there is also wifi (for a fee) but a lot's to be said for leaving the electronics somewhere safe and just interacting with those around you. Old school.

The Lindy Hop Shop stocks a host of vintage gear and dance shoes so if you come from somewhere where this kind of stuff is hard to come by, Herräng may be the place to get it. There is also a vintage hairdresser/barber on site and a sauna - you're in Scandinavia after all.

There is generally a two-dance standard in Sweden (something that doesn't exist in my own scene) so check with each partner to avoid confusion and/or insult. And this can work both ways - a partner sauntering off after the first dance can trigger a brief existential dilemma, whilst a partner continuing to hold hands and eye contact after one song has finished can cause an altogether different uncertainty.


And finally:

  • hej - hello
  • hej då - goodbye
  • ja - yes
  • nej - no
  • tack - thanks
  • fika - coffee break (very important!)
  • ursäkta - sorry
  • skål - cheers
  • får jag lov? - may we dance?

Ha så kul!