Sunday, July 15, 2007

Herräng, Sweden

Folkets Hus Entrance Our final week of the trip was spent in Herräng, for week one of the Herräng Dance Camp. This year is the 25th anniversary of the camp, and they've got 5 weeks of dancing madness there. Herräng itself used to be an ore-mining town, and now is just a small village of ~800 people. That population probably doubles or triples during July, depending on how many people are attending camp on any given week. Though I think a lot of the natives bail during the summer and rent out their homes or rooms to dance invaders.

The way classes worked was interesting, since I come from a Camp Harmony sort of background where everything is very flexible and on-the-fly. At Herräng you have to register for a specific class series, which gets marked on your Herräng "passport." They actually have a passport control squad that does random spot checks in the classes every day, to make sure nobody's sneaking around. I was signed up for Int.-Adv. Lindy Hop, so that's what I did, though I would have checked out some of the beginning Boogie Woogie classes if I could have. (Boogie Woogie was the non-Lindy focus for this week; each week is different.) We had about three 80-minute classes a day, some of which really pushed me, and some of which were easier, so I think it was a good level for me. There was a good variety of teachers, too. We spent the most time with Daniel and Åsa who I think made a really good backbone for the week. They seemed the most well-rounded teachers, covering musicality, fancy moves, footwork variations, niggling basic details, and other stuff. There were some other good teachers we only got one shot with, though, like Ichtiandras and Solveiga, who I would have liked to have seen a lot more of.

Miriam and Frankie Frankie Manning is sort of the patron saint of Herräng, though he didn't arrive until mid-week because of some events back in the States for his recently released autobiography. I got a copy at camp and got Frankie to sign it, then read most of it on the plane flight home. Absolutely fantastic book all the way through, but worth it even if all you read is his description of creating and performing the first air steps (aerials) ever. One of the classes for all the lindy hop students was actually just an hour with Frankie Manning and his son, Chazz Young, on stage telling us stories of what it was like dancing at the Savoy back in the 1930's to bands like Chick Webb and Count Basie. Frankie is 93 years old and says he's been dancing for 94 years, and he can tell you about all of them with such complete joy and humor that it's a delight to listen to. His voice comes through extremely well in the book, too, so I highly recommend reading it.

Hearing Stories One camp tradition I thought was a little weird until I experienced it was the daily meetings. At 9 PM each day there are no dances or classes or anything else scheduled and everyone goes and crams themselves into the main Folkets Hus room (fire safety limit: 150 people, actual limit: waaaay more) as well as a couple other rooms where they have live video broadcasts. Then Lennart Westerlund comes out on stage completely deadpan, sits down on a stool, and leads some of the most entertaining hour-long meetings I've ever been in. They include not only general camp information and announcements, but also video clips from previous camps and old movies, occasional performances, ongoing sitcoms with various teachers and staff, ongoing in-jokes (ice cream! salty fish! bugaloo!), and updates on projects such as trying to get the King of Sweden to visit the camp. It was well worth being packed in like sardines every night. (They'd have you cram in as far as you think you can, let you rest and get comfortable for 10 minutes, then tell you to squeeze in even more to get the latecomers in.)

Remains When I needed a break from camp a couple times, I took a walk down to the beach. The beach itself is an extremely modest little strip of sand with a dock and a picnic table. But there are also some interesting areas with remains of the old mining operations. Like enormous pits, or huge dirt/sand dunes in different colors. And giant, rusty pieces of equipment, like enormous iron wheels and railroad ties. It kind of reminded me of playing Myst years ago, exploring a deserted area and finding remnants of past civilizations. Also near the beach were some beautifully forested areas with some lovely paths to follow. So it was a good place to go and recharge if I got a little over-lindied once in a while.

Typical Dorm Room Miriam and I stayed in the general accommodations, which are mostly in the small school building and its gym. All furniture was removed from the classrooms and the entire thing (including hallways) was packed with bunk beds. They left the decorations up, though, so there are still little kids' drawings and dioramas on the walls, and a solar system hanging from the ceiling. Our classroom had 15 bunks, so 30 people. One one side, my bunk was flush up against another one (luckily neither of us were rollers). On the other side, I had to squeeze in sideways to fit between the beds. We were told we only had this much space because it was week one. Apparently in the more crowded weeks people are sharing beds and sleeping on the floor. As it was, it still got pretty unpleasant after a few days, when it just became a warm, damp, smelly petri dish of sweat and germs. As I think I mentioned in a previous post, I got sick midway through camp, and you could just hear the cough traveling from one bed to another. No way to keep anything quarantined in there.

Getting sick meant that I had a pretty rough time of the last half of camp. I still managed to attend classes and learn some stuff, but I wasn't able to dance much or have much fun in the evenings. So it was kind of a depressing end to the trip, having gone all the way out to Sweden for this and then blown so much of it. I'm not sure if or when I'll go back in future years. Part of me wants to, to do it right, but part of me would rather just spend my travel time and money on new trips. But someday, maybe, who knows.

3 comments:

Me said...

:O You went to HERRANG?? I didn't know you were that hard-core. Fun! Well, 'cept for the getting sick and not getting to dance at nights toward the end there. . . Did you meet my friend Adele? Curly red hair with blonde highlights. From Michigan, but living in England right now. Anyway, just curious. Sorry to have missed you at the picnic. CRAZY busy at work that day. :(

Coila said...

(P.S. I'm "Me")

Graham said...

Well, I wouldn't say I'm that hard-core, but I did go to Herräng. :-) Didn't run into an Adele, though, I'm afraid.