Thursday, 16 January 2014

5 Ways to put the Äwesome in Your Herräng

So registrations are open and it's crunch time (for HDC's servers at least - depending on what you want to go there to do there's still time to make a decision for yourself). In my last post I set out some of the reasons why you might want to reconsider going. I'm not going to rebut myself here (let's be honest, pretty much everyone else will tell you why you should go to Herräng) - I'm really more interested in how your time in Herräng can go off like a frog in a sock.

Image by Warky
So here's a few ideas both on and off the beaten path that might make your Herräng more Awesome.

1 - Research and Planning 
Ralf Brown: Herrang 2010 &emdash; Kuggen grocery store
There is no ATM (and occasionally other essentials) at the Kuggen (photo by Ralf Brown)
Do your homework. As Herräng is stuck out in (almost) the middle of nowhere being unprepared for your time there can really cramp your enjoyment. A good place to start is my list of Herräng resources. Also make sure you check out the Friday Night Parties for costume ideas. A great resource are friends and people in your scene who have been recently, there's also the forums and the facebook group.

Even if you've been before don't assume that important things. Things get changed every year, particularly with things like registration, camp facilities, safety and security. Make sure you have a good look through the materials on the website, read the booklet you get on arrival and attend the first Saturday night meeting.

Armed with your research, it's time to start planning. Friday party costumes is the big one that everyone works on prior, but if you've got an idea for something cool (like break-away stripper pants) you may need to bring materials (like velcro) or even start scheming with fellow collaborators (if you want a full all-male revue).

2 - Volunteer
The 2013 Crashdown crew (photo by Herrang)
There are many people who keep going back to Herräng and volunteering. I did three weeks last year and can't recommend it highly enough. It's a great way to meet people, learn how the camp works and find out some of the inside information on what's happening around camp (like secret blues parties). If you're the kind of person who likes to get involved and give back, it can be incredibly rewarding. It can also make your time at Herräng much more affordable.

In addition to HDC volunteering you can volunteer for a week in Heaven's Kitchen/Bar Bedlam/Blue Moon Cafe, help out with Mission Impossible (rumour has it that the floating dancefloor will make its long awaited début this year) or the decorations and planning for the Friday Night parties, other random happenings in camp or just generally helping out when there's opportunity.

3 - Take Private Lessons
Finding somewhere to do your private lesson could also prove challenging (photo by Lloyd)
Herräng has one of the largest concentrations of the best lindy hoppers and the best lindy hop teachers of any event in the world. But whilst they might be there, that doesn't mean they're teaching you. You might be in a different class track, unable to be there the full week or just not have those teachers in your stream. If the lindyverse doesn't align in your favour, take matters into your own hands and arrange a private lesson with your favourite teacher(s).

Besides, if you really want to supercharge your lindy hop, then private lessons are a great way to help make that happen.

Private lessons are something you arrange yourself with the teachers - and fair warning they might say no. But hey, you got nothing to lose by asking.

4 - Bring your creative side
People making art of people making music - illustration by Jimbino Vegan
Do you play a musical instrument, dance (something other than Lindy hop), act, paint, do puppetry, sketch, stand up comedy, make films, write, or any one of zillions of other creative pursuits? Then you're in good company. Herräng is replete with tonnes of creative individuals having jam sessions, making movies, doing photoshoots, painting, circus and more.

Collaborate with like-minded creative people, who knows where it might take you. If you need tools, instruments or materials for your craft then make sure you bring them along.

5 - Do something awesome

Ask someone who has been in the last couple of years about the goats (photo by Niko Huttunen)
Herräng seems to be more famous for all the shenanigans that go on there than the dancing. From All of the "This one time at Herräng" and "Only in Herräng" stories need people to make them happen. Sure a lot of the crazy is done by staff, volunteers or in association with the Friday Night parties, but that shouldn't stop you. In fact one of the complaints I heard from a few old-hands at the camp is that regular campers aren't bringing the shenanigans like they used to.

So make something awesome happen - it could be as simple as fixing random posters around the camp;
We never figured out who was doing these (photo by Lloyd)
Borrowing a costume from the prop shop and wearing it for pretty much the entire camp; or something more complicated, requiring a group of people and some planning; like random performances from an 'all-male revue'.

But you should figure something out for yourself. Herräng is a place where you can make ideas happen - enlist the help of some other campers, ask if you can borrow tools and materials from the No-No Box, or even get Mission Impossible involved. If you're idea's good enough you might even be able to get an announcement in the camp newsletter or the evening meeting. And I wouldn't be too concerned about doing something that's already been done - even if it has, only a small number of folk there will have experienced it.

Jazz and Lindy Hop are all about improvisation, well so is Herräng. So do whatcha wanna and have an awesome time.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

5 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Go To Herräng

The opening of registrations for the Herräng Dance Camp are just around the corner. Many people are getting ready to sign-up for their summer and plenty more are wondering if for the first time: "Should I go to Herräng?"

There's plenty of articles on the internet telling you why you should go to Herräng (especially if you've never been before) and most lindy hoppers you'll meet who have been there will tell you that you "must go".

But, though it's one of the (if not the) major events in the international Lindy Hop calendar, Herräng is not for everyone. I loved my time there and can't wait to go back, but if you're not going to have an awesome time there's not really much point in going - despite many people's regular (and somewhat culturally insensitive) comparisons of Herräng to Mecca.

So besides all the usual reasons (money, time, family/work commitments, a deep aversion to meatballs etc.) here's why you shouldn't go to Herräng.

1 - It's a Camp

With the growing number of hotel events Lindy hoppers seem to be becoming accustomed to living in the lap of luxury. Herräng isn't a hotel event - it's a camp.
Lloyd explores the exciting accommodation options at Herräng

You dance in a tent, eat in a tent and you may very well sleep in a tent.* Much of the common space is outside and despite mosquito countermeasures the bugs feast on many of the camps residents (I suspect that this year with Sweden's rather warm winter will make them particularly bad this year). Herräng can also become rather unpleasant when it rains, as there's little undercover area and mud gets everywhere (including on the dancefloors which make them very dusty). Most of the facilities are set up for just 5 weeks of the year and whilst their temporary nature adds a certain level of charm they don't necessarily function terribly well. Many of the facilities that are found in a city aren't present in a small village in country Sweden like an ATM, somewhere to buy liquor or even at times soap.
If the idea of roughing it for a week or more is not appealing to you, you may not find Herräng so much fun.

2 - It's Ridiculously Social

Free love and pancakes!
Communal showers, communal accommodation*, communal kitchen, communal common space. Herräng is a place where you're around other people all the time. Sure Lindy hoppers have reputations as socially awkward nerds, but that's not evident at Herräng (well the socially awkward part anyway) nor are you dancing all the time (see #4). It's a very social experience and not always easy to get some personal time. If it's sunny it's quite possible to head for the beach or the lake for some quiet alone time, but in inclement weather that's a near impossibility. If you're not a people person or you actually experience social anxiety, and especially if you're not coming with a group of friends, Herräng can be an incredibly intimidating place.

After my 6 weeks there I didn't really want to have anything to do with people for about a month afterwards, which certainly made my travelling through Europe a somewhat tricky business.

3 - The Herräng Flu

HAND SANITIZER from Tor Helmstein on Vimeo.
Everyone knows about Swing Flu - the illness you pick up at a weekend event because close contact with sick people + not eating well + sleep deprivation + disturbed circadian rhythms. These factors are generally worse at Herräng. But there's an additional factor in play at Herräng: When tonnes of people stay there for more than one week the resident viruses get established in the general population, meaning there's way more people who can infect you than at a shorter event.

Now the Herräng Flu (which in reality is probably a collection of sicknesses - i.e. you can get it more than once) may be mild or it may confine you to your bunk in general accommodation. If you're the type of person who normally gets laid out by the flu - this is unlikely to be a fun way to spend Herräng.

4 - You can't actually dance 24/7

Lloyd explores the many things that have been done for 24 hours at Herräng

Although Herräng itself is a 24/7 operation and there are things to be doing for pretty much all hours of the day dancing is not one of those. The evening dances run from 10pm to whenever they finish (somewhere between 4am and 9am) and classes only go for 3 or 4 hours a day. The other hours contain the Evening meetings, Friday party activities, shows, competitions, cultural activities, jam sessions and plenty of random shenanigans. Dance floors are often and regularly co-opted for other activities like cabaret, party activities, talks etc. Now it's all this craziness that makes Herräng Herräng and quite possible to be there doing stuff for a week and not even dance, but if you're the kind of lindy hopper who just wants to dance that could be a bit of a bummer.

5 - The Classes

Stock photo - Nothing implied about this class
Now this one's probably a bit controversial (and was not my experience - but I have heard it enough from others) but not all teaching couples will bring their A-game to Herräng, particularly if they've been there mulitple weeks and its at the end of the camp.

An alternative explanation is that if you've been there for much of the camp, you might be totally exhausted and not be bringing your A-game to classes either. This happened to me at the end of one of my volunteer weeks which was backing onto a class week - exhausted from volunteering I pulled an all-nighter at the Friday party, had a very long volunteer day Saturday and thus performed rather poorly in the peer auditions that evening. I was still happy with the class I ended up in but want to point out that it's difficult for teachers to be enthused when the students are all members of the walking dead.

In Conclusion

Herräng is really quite an amazing place - check out the links in my previous post for a better idea of the craziness. If you like camping, being social, doing all sorts of crazy shenanigans besides dancing, are strangely attracted to sick people (or have a strong immune system) and aren't there solely for the learnz then you're probably going to have an awesome time. If not, then it's totally okay to not go. Either way, make it your decision - not someone else's.

* I've had a number of people point out that you can stay in private accommodation which can offer significant improvements in comfort over general accommodation or camping (at a much higher cost too - and it's worth noting that not all private accommodation is created equal, if you're cramming people into your house/flat/cabin it may not be much more private than general accommodation. Also some private accommodation can be a significant distance from the camp and its facilities), but even if you're camping 'in a cabin' the rest of the camp experience is still there.