Herräng update #1

Herräng. Where to start….
Herräng is a tiny, sleepy town in Sweden that used to be a mining town and now has just 500 inhabitants and some holiday homes. It’s picturesque and quaint, with red-and-white houses, bicycles (ok, cars too), birch woods, tiny daisies and magpies. The locals put up with the dance camp craziness and are seen to enjoy the occasional game of boulle. It’s surprisingly warm so far, and the little lake behind the Folkets Hus (town hall) has a couple of boats that are itching to be rowed out. The beach, well, isn’t so impressive. But then Cape Town beaches are tough to beat…
Every year the town is transformed for the Herräng Dance Camp, which has been running annually for the last three decades. It started as a week long camp with a small group of dancers, and was a bit of a boot camp with exercise and training in addition to the dancing. Since then it has grown to a massive, 7-week operation (including set up and take down) with thousands of dancers from all over the world. The Folkets Hus (or town hall) is the main hub, with the upstairs hall being used as the main dance venue and the Daily Meetings, the Dans Baan below (another floor for social dancing), the Library (which contains no books but is a wonderful place where all kinds of things happen – last night there was a Honky Tonk evening, the night before a talk and demo on Bebop Swing). There are also Frankie Floats (vanilla ice cream with root beer) on sale between 11pm and 2am, and there’s a whole wall dedicated to Frankie’s memory. We eat lunch at the Blue Moon Café, just above Bar Bedlam (downstairs in Folkets Hus), which serves breakfast, dinner, snacks and expensive drinks (alcohol is insanely pricey in Sweden).

Outside the Folkets Hus, there’s the Reception, the Lindy Hop Shop (second hand vintage wear, lindy heels, Keds, Frankie Manning-branded merchandise, tie pins, pantyhose etc), Tingle Tangle the Event Tent (fuseball, chess, cards, boardgames) and the Prop Shop (bits and bobs for costumes). There’s also the bicycle shed.

The school area is also transformed into temporary accommodation, with rows of bunk beds for dancers. Heaven’s Kitchen (buffet breakfast and dinner, surprisingly good vegan options!), the Ice Cream Parlour (I kinda feel like ice cream is an essential Herräng experience, it’s tough being vegan sometimes!), and a bunch of semi-permanent tents (Savoy, Smalls, Alhambra, Palladium and Roseland ballrooms) with wooden dance floors and sound systems for classes. (Yes that’s 7 class venues in total, all running in parallel!)

This description doesn’t do Herräng justice, but maybe a sketch of the Daily Meetings will help to convey the atmosphere.

Every day at 9pm, after dinner and before the dance floors open, the upper hall in Folkets Hus fills up and the stage curtains open with dramatic music, as Lennart enters under a spot light, with a stool in one hand and notes and microphone in the other, to applause and whistles. The Meeting proceeds with impromptu teacher interviews, video clips from the archives, many jokes, sometimes a performance (on the first night we had a chorus line performance in the style of dancers from the 20s). Even the Daily News is a mini cabaret performance by a Swiss yodeller. 

Lennart is a central personality of Herräng Dance Camp. He was part of the original group in the 80s who started HDC, after discovering clips of dance scenes from movies shot in the 50s. The style they danced originally was more like boogie woogie (which is very popular in Germany and Sweden today, but is pretty similar to lindy actually, the music is just a bit different – more on this later). Later they tracked down Frankie Manning, one of the original African American lindy hoppers from the 40s, who was a key figure in the Harlem scene. They brought him to Herräng, and he started teaching Savoy style lindy hop. From then, HDC grew and grew, and Frankie was an integral part of the camp and the main influence on the swing revival of the 90s.

Every evening after the meeting (which is more of a talk show really), there are a bunch of activities to choose from. There are evening classes, held by anyone who feels like it and not necessarily swing related. Anything from “How to speak Australian” to “Killer Boogie in 2 minutes”. In the Library (that has no books), there are interviews with teachers, lectures on all things swing, music tasters and what not. There are games in the Event Tent and other happenings as they announce themselves, and of course, the dance floors are open each night with a live band and/or DJ. The Carling Family Band played twice this week. A remarkable group of talented musicians that had the dance floor packed! The music plays until breakfast the next morning, or when the last dancers leave the floor. Needless to say, sleeping patterns are weird at HDC. On Tuesday nights the dance floor opens at midnight with Slow Drag night. Everyone is dressed in their best, the lights are low, and dances are in close embrace. Fridays are the themed parties, where a dedicated team dresses up the hall accordingly and everyone goes crazy with costumes. This Friday is 4th of July (‘Murica!).

So far this week, we’ve had classes for about 3.5 hours a day. The audition process was interesting, worth describing perhaps. When you register for HDC, you select a level (beginner, beginner-intermediate, intermediate, intermediate-advanced or advanced). On day 1, you go to a peer audition: each person gets a slip of paper with their names in a series of blocks. You social dance for half a song with a random person, tear off a block, exchange blocks, rate your enjoyment of the dance from 1-6, and drop it in a box. Rotate to the next random person, and repeat 5 times. That night, a group of volunteers labours through the slips of paper, to divide the groups into streams.

The next day, we had more auditions. We danced in rotations while a few teachers watched, shifting people up (into advanced) or down (into intermediate) and the rest stay (intermediate-advanced).

The advanced class is pretty big, with about 25 couples. We’re still kinda stuck in old times here, with all-male leads and all-female follows, although we did swap roles in one class with Hasse and Marie (more on that later) – they’re my favorite teachers so far, we had three classes with them yesterday. We’ve also had two classes with Tatiana and JB (they’re amazing dancers, currently on the competitive scene), three with Kevin and Jo (full of jokes: “Balls!” and “Kevin’s a dancer…”), and one with Lennart and Alessandra.

So that’s a sweeping description of Herräng so far, we’ll write up some more descriptions of various aspects of the camp.

Today we’re chilling a bit after a late Slow Drag night. Humongous group picture in front of the Folkets Hus this afternoon, a couple of classes, dinner, Daily Meeting, taster class, dancing, then a “secret” blues party at 2am where the leads will be blindfolded 😝

This week has been intense so far, and a bit short on sleep, but an absolute blast.