Reflections on Mother City Hop 2016, South Africa’s inaugural swing festival

Lindy hop has had a presence in Cape Town for nearly 5 years, since Jeannie Elliott moved to Cape Town from Texas to further her studies, and started teaching lindy hop classes to a handful of keen individuals who’d been learning from YouTube. We discovered Jeannie’s classes while looking for something to dance at our wedding and were hooked from day one… We’d been taking classes with Boogie Back Dance Co. for a little over a year when we found ourselves at the Orient Lindy Express in Istanbul: Turkey was our chosen destination for our (delayed) honeymoon, and we found out about the festival the day we arrived – couldn’t believe our luck! Those four days were pretty much mind-blowing to our fresh faces, and it dawned on us that we could maybe create a similar experience to Cape Town: first, to inspire our local dancers and second, to connect our beautiful city to lindy hoppers around the world.

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Just a few of the organising team! From left: David, me!, Ros, Laura, Lise-Mari

We assembled a team and started planning in early 2015. Our first major decision was on the scale of the event: would it be small, bringing in one teaching couple and advertising it mainly to local dancers? Or would it be big, with several teaching couples, attracting dancers from other continents? Or would it be something in between? At that point, most of our team felt that a big event would not be viable as it would require a large capital outlay (to pay for flights, accommodation and venues): we’d be better off “starting small” and growing the event each year. On the flip side, we were concerned that, ironic as it sounded, starting small would be a greater financial risk: there would be no international interest, and there wouldn’t be enough local interest either – our scene was too small to support even one teaching couple flying to Cape Town for the weekend (and besides, the parties would be small and dismal!). On the other hand, if we went big, we could attract a lot of international dancers (Cape Town reached no. 1 on the NY Times destinations list in 2014) – and then attract more local dancers because of the high profile of the event. We decided to go big! (Note: big by small-festival standards 🙂 )

How to pull off a big event with a big budget, but zero financial capital? Crowd fund it, of course! We set up an Indiegogo campaign – which itself took a lot of planning – but the platform was great: it allowed us to sell “ early bird” tickets and merchandise as part of the fundraising effort, as well as accept donations – and all of the promised funds would only be processed at the end of the campaign, if we met our minimum target. Thanks to the Frankie Manning Foundation, we were awarded the Ambassador Scholarship to attend Herräng Dance Camp (a trip that we would not normally be able to afford) so we timed the crowd-funding period to overlap with our trip. This gave us an opportunity to connect in person, with dancers and scene leaders from around the world, and tell them about Cape Town and our dream for Mother City Hop, South Africa’s first international Lindy Hop event. The enthusiastic reception that the project received was really encouraging, and we reached our goal with a few days to spare – thanks in large part to the support of the international lindy hop community. Our teachers – Peter Strom, Naomi Uyama, Thomas Blacharz, Remy Kouakou Kouame and Chazz Young – were generous too, and their willingness to reduce their rates for this event helped make it financially viable.

We met our minimum target and went full steam ahead with the planning: booking flights, setting up the new ticketing platform, working on sponsorship proposals (very challenging without a track-record and no photographs or videos and a bit of a dead end this year). In terms of ticket sales, we had amazing support from international dancers, who made up almost 70% of our attendees. Our local scene is quite small, and getting new lindy hoppers to buy a fairly pricey ticket to a 3-day event is quite a big ask, we realised. With that in mind, we knew we had to push for more support from “globe-trotting lindy hoppers” from other countries who’d be keen to visit our beautiful city.

Once the Indiegogo campaign was over, we switched to a local ticketing platform (which for ticket sales, is considerably less expensive). In the end we sold about 170 tickets, just over half of which were from outside South Africa and representing 17 different countries including Germany, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, the UK, US, Belgium, Reunion Island and Brazil. The Frankie Manning Foundation stepped in again to enable us to invite our closest lindy hopping neighbours: a group of Mozambican dancers and musicians from Hodi Maputo Afro Swing. This wonderful group of professional Afro Swing dancers incorporate their traditional Mozambican dancing with the Lindy Hop – resulting in amazing, high energy performances. Their presence at Mother City Hop and their stunning performances made a very special contribution that wowed our guests locals alike.

One of the ticketing options we offered was a “tour package”, to help our guests make the most of their stay in Cape Town: a hike up Table Mountain, picnic on the beach, an exploration of the Peninsula and the dramatic Cape Point, a trip to Robben Island (where former president Nelson Mandela was held prisoner for 18 years) and other historic locations, and a day in the winelands for wine and chocolate tastings. This was a great way for dancers to get to know each other as well as the teachers, who also joined the tours, in a non-dancing context. We ended the tours in Stellenbosch and hosted our welcome party there, on a beautiful wine estate.

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Our guests of honour at the festival were Chazz Young and Norma Miller, once again thanks to the Frankie Manning Foundation, who loaned us funds to bring them to South Africa. However, Norma was sadly unable to join us due to passport issues – instead we Skyped her in for a live interview with Chazz, where Peter Strom kindly facilitated the interview. Hearing their stories from “back in the day”, about the Savoy, Frankie, showbiz, and the changing times, made a substantial impact on the local dancers who’d never met the “old-timers”. And Norma was pretty hilarious, too – she sure doesn’t hold back on the jokes!

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Our festivities continued with the teacher introductions (watch the video!) and the dancing got underway with live music from the Swanky Doodles. The classes ran for the following three days (three lindy hop tracks and one solo jazz track), with taster classes in Mozambican Dancing with Hodi Maputo Afro Swing, Steals with Thomas, Frankie’s Favourites with Peter and Naomi, Tap with Chazz, and the Caribbean Shim Sham with Remy. Being so far from most of the swing world, taking classes with these amazing teachers was a first for almost all of our local dancers and the difference in everyone’s dancing was evident from just those 3 days.

The party on Saturday night was our feature event with nothing but live music all night, as well as performances from the teachers and Mozambicans. It went remarkably smoothly considering that we were forced to change venues just a week before the event! The 18-piece Delft Big Band (a social project that brings young adults out of the township and into a musical career) and the Swanky Doodles traded sets, filling the hall with swinging jazz standards and some of South Africa’s township jazz favourites, and Cape Town saw the biggest lindy hop social floor it had ever seen – that alone was a real inspiration!

From left: Brendan, me, Thomas, Chazz, Naomi, Peter, Remy

From left: Brendan, me, Thomas, Chazz, Naomi, Peter, Remy

After Mother City Hop, a group of us from South Africa, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Germany and Brazil joined the Mozambicans back in Maputo for the Mozambique Afro Swing Exchange. As the only two lindy hop scenes on the Southern African continent, we figured it was best to join forces and put these two first-time events back-to-back. More on that in another post…

This was me for a lot of the weekend

Brendan MC’ing the Jack ‘n Jill, Mother City-style

All in all – we’re so grateful for all the support we had from our attendees (to both events!) who trusted us despite our inexperience, and who brought some wonderful friendly vibes to our city. A heartfelt thanks goes to the Frankie Manning Foundation who helped us make this event extra special and more widely accessible, as well as the donations that came from a handful of generous dancers around the world. More than anything, we’re especially grateful to the incredible team that came together, got as excited as we were from the start, and made this project happen despite numerous challenges and set-backs.

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Get your calendars out and pencil in our dates for Mother City Hop 2017: 19 – 27 March!

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Two years

Today marks two years since I married this guy (and eight years and a day since we started dating). I can hardly believe how lucky we are to have found each other. Of course he’s my best friend – but he’s also the most wonderfully loving, kind, fun, supportive, generous, adventurous, thoughtful, inspiring human being. The most amazing thing about being with someone for so long and living and working so closely is noticing how you grow together and shape each other in a way that would have been inconceivable if you hadn’t met.

Our wedding is testament to how wonderful life is with you, B: watching this video, I have such happy memories of that weekend with our family and so many of our friends – the ceremony that we personalised to suit our beliefs and preferences, the emotional high (I’ve never seen you cry that much, haha), the incredible food and the weeks of work with friends and family and Laetitia that went into preparing it (such a pity the video doesn’t do it any justice), the noob first dance, Max!, the most incredible gift of song from Caitlin, Phil, Matt, Mark (I’m so so happy it’s captured on video – I get so emotional whenever I watch it), the wild party that ensued with Manouche, the wonderful, joyful celebration with so many people… Ah the memories!

B, I love how you’ve influenced me and I friggin love everything you are and everything you’ve become. Here’s to many many more years of loving you and loving life – dancing, cooking, eating, talking, sharing and who knows what else! ❤

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.

HERRÄNG!

Alright, flights are booked and I think it’s time to share the news properly:

WE’RE GOING TO HERRÄNG DANCE CAMP!!!

Yeah… What is that, you say? Well, it’s only the biggest and longest-running lindy hop camp in the world. Take this in: 5 weeks of (pretty much) 24/7 dancing, with thousands of other dancers of all levels from around the world, with amazing, world-class instructors, huge parties with live bands and DJs, crazy themed dress-ups… Watch the intro vid for the 2015 event here: 

There’s no way we could have afforded to go on this camp. We have been super fortunate to have been awarded an ambassador scholarship by the Frankie Manning Foundation. Frankie was one of the dancers from the original swing era (1930s) and was considered by many to be the father of lindy hop.

The mission of the Frankie Manning Foundation is to carry on the work and the spirit of Frankie Manning in spreading the joy of Lindy Hop, danced to big band swing music, throughout the world.

With the help of generous donors, the foundation works to help dancers from remote, fledgling scenes get to the big dance camps – thereby spreading the lindy hop far and wide. Luckily we ticked some of the right boxes, being lindy-obssessed and in an up-and-coming scene far from the rest of the swing world. The scholarship covers two weeks of classes plus one week’s party pass, and we’ll be volunteering for one week, in exchange for another week of classes.

We can’t wait to go, and also to come back and share what we learnt with our lindy buddies here. We leave Cape Town on the 24th of June, and we’ll spend an extra couple of weeks visiting friends and family in Europe. We’ll be posting updates in case you want to follow them!

Hello 2015

I started 2015 on a good footing: with a glass of water, a sun salutation to loosen up the hamstrings and wake up my back, followed by a good cup of strong Rwandan coffee. There’s something about January 1st that imbues me with positivity. It’s a nifty psychological trick, I’m sure it’s only a self-propelled mind game. Regardless, I think it’s harmless, in fact, pretty great. I’m super excited about 2015. There are some game-changing events on the horizon, and a positive attitude will help me make the most of them! So, here’s my (long?) list of New Year’s Resolutions. Perhaps it’s ambitious, but I might as well shoot high.

  • Personal growth:
    • smile more, and laugh more;
    • be more patient;
    • schedule my productive time;
    • improve my morning habit: make the bed, drink a glass of water, do a sun salutation, then have my coffee;
    • wean myself off sugar in coffee (I’m on a half-teaspoon now…);
    • do more for animals;
    • support the Big Issue more regularly;
    • write daily, even just a little, and blog regularly;
    • get back into the habit of reading a novel at bedtime and on weekends.
  • Family:
    • have more coffee/movie/dinner/hiking dates with my family
  • Friends:
    • stay in touch (or get back in touch) with the special people in my life that I don’t see enough (you know who you are, please hold me to this!)
  • Home:
    • keep the floor a no-clothes zone;
    • make dish-washing an obsessive habit;
    • do a monthly clean-out;
    • track my finances more diligently.
  • Lindy:
    • bounce more;
    • style more;
    • work on my responsiveness as a follow;
    • start learning to lead.
  •  Ballet:
    • work on my posture;
    • work on my feet for a better arch;
    • strengthen my core for better stability;
    • work on my feet and legs for better jumps;
    • work on my back and hamstrings for a higher and stronger arabesque;
    • do a bit of cross training.

The key to achieving these goals will be to keep them realistic and achievable, and measurable where possible, with regular check-ins. On the first of every month, I’ll refer back to this post to see where I’m at, and whether I need to re-evaluate anything.

Oh and one final resolution: I want to be more conscious about how I influence others. I want to make a positive impact on the world, and I think that’s best achieved with a positive attitude. My veganism has taken me through periods of frustration, despair and sadness, but it has also given me reason to hope for a better world, thanks to all the wonderful vegans I’ve met in the last few years. Here’s to a 2015 full of inspiration for others to join the path of compassion and justice for animals.

Love!

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Goodbye 2014

So. Here we are, with a glass of wine (mu) and a cup of tea (B), overlooking the city, dogs barking and music drifting from parties all around. We decided to have a quiet one this year, to reflect on 2014 and set some goals for 2015, and start the new year fresh-faced and eager.

We ended our rather eventful year with War Horse at the Artscape. What an beautiful production: more on that later. But for now…

2014 was the year that:

  • Brendan and I had our first vegan New Year’s Eve at a special friend’s, chilling by the pool, drinks in hand, with a delicious paella, seitan and salad.
  • Vegilicious became officially recognised as a UCT society, AND the year that it (unofficially) expanded to the broader Cape Town! With the help of an awesome team, we managed to get one of the UCT food vendors, Purple Haze, to include a whole bunch of vegan options on the menu in their new outlet. Not only do they offer wraps with lots of vegan fillings, but all of their muffins are vegan and they are the only outlet to stock soy milk!
  • TEDxCapeTown made a massive contribution to the vegan movement in Cape Town by hosting their headline event with a 100% plant-based food ethos. I was on the food team, coordinating these efforts, with Plant as the caterers. We showed 800 people that they could enjoy vegan food for a day, and not feel in any way deprived! Oh yes. Mainstreaming veganism FTW.
  • I curated a panel debate (hosted as a TEDxCapeTownSalon event), addressing the question “Should Animals Be Off South African Menus?” With Jacques Rousseau, Prof David Benatar, Margot Janse, Nikki Botha, Brett Thompson and Angus McIntosh, it was highly thought-provoking—overall, a success! You can find the full debate (with Q&A) on YouTube here, or if you want the abridged version, here.
  • Brendan and I first traveled together, on honeymoon! We received a number of financial contributions towards this trip, as wedding gifts—for which we’re very grateful. Some highlights: meeting wonderfully generous and heartfelt people, including a whole bunch of vegans in Istanbul (!), journeys into history (Ani Ruins, Mt Nemrut, Antalya and of course the great Istanbul), a magnificent ballon ride in Capadoccia, a gulet cruise on the Med, and of course, the Orient Lindy Express! Our first ever Lindy Hop festival. Speaking of which…10353713_10152530687051884_287110355444190117_n
  • 2014 was the year we became obsessed with the Lindy Hop. More on this in future posts 🙂
  • The family’s beloved furry friends, Tarka and Flash, left us after many years. Mila is a newcomer to the household, and …
  • My second production with the Cape Ballet Centre. This time, a production called Cirque du Ballet: despite many hours of rehearsals and a few grumpy moments, it was a wonderful experience to be part of. Good friends became better friends, and I’m really looking forward to more ballet in 2015 with my fellow ballet nerds.
  • B surprised me with a little escape to the West Coast National Park, to celebrate our first wedding anniversary. Just what we needed after a hectic few months!
  • The annual visit of B’s brother, is always a highlight.
  • We had our first vegan Christmas. Yup, totally vegan, thanks to the generosity of both our families. We celebrated Christmas Eve with my in-laws, with nut loaf, seitan roast with stuffing, various festive salads, roast potatoes, Christmas pud with a cashew-based brandy sauce, brownies and ice-cream (it goes without saying that we had leftovers). Christmas Day was spent with my family, and we had a quiet lunch with mince pies, a tempeh meatloaf, salads and santa strawberries for dessert.

So to close the door on 2014, we’re feeling so much gratitude to all of the special people in our lives who contributed to making this year what it was for us. We love you, and we want to stay connected in 2015.

#myveganstory | Muriel

Here’s #‎myveganstory, maybe it will help inspire a #‎newyearsresolution or two, to take on the #‎veganchallenge!myveganstory

I was a self-proclaimed “ethical vegetarian”: I bought into the humane myth, and sought out “ethical” dairy and eggs. It somehow did not occur to me that dairy cows didn’t live out their lives in pasture, and neither did laying hens. I started to do some digging, and soon realised that there is no such thing as ethical dairy or eggs: cows are enslaved for their mammary secretions and chickens for their menstrual products; male calves are torn away long before their natural weaning period, and killed for their soft flesh (veal) and skin; billions of male chicks in the egg industry are killed every year, at just a day old, by gassing, maceration or suffocation.

As I was starting to learn all of these terrible realities, which the media and big business had quite carefully hidden from me, I had the opportunity to try vegan for 40 days with Brendan. He was looking for something to do for Lent, and couldn’t think of anything meaningful. I suggested we do the vegan challenge. BEST IDEA EVER. It wasn’t scary (I didn’t have to give up cheese “forever”) and it was awesome not to do it alone. Long story short, I never looked back. As I did more reading and met other vegans, I became happier and more comfortable in turning my back on that horrendous industry, and instead, discovering dozens of new foods. I bought my first vegan cookbook (The Vegan Table by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau), and learnt to love cooking. I’d always enjoyed baking, and I loved the challenge of baking without eggs and butter.

Being vegan today, in Cape Town, is easy as (vegan) pie. Seriously. There are hundreds of awesome vegan people here, and loads of “alternative” products in the supermarkets, and restaurant menus are becoming more and more vegan-friendly. Oh and of course, living in the Google age, there’s really no excuse!