I’m writing this post on my long flight back to Sydney (fourteen and a half hours from LAX, if you were wondering, and yes, I had to spell the number out… I need to kill time somehow). I have a little while, so here is the rundown on Camp Jitterbug.
THE. SOCIALS. WERE. INCREDIBLE. As I said in a Facebook post from day one of the camp, this is what seven nights of dancing a week does to a city’s scene! That said, I do recognise that I danced with Americans from all over (as well as a Canadian and another Australian), but the general calibre of dancing is noticeably elevated to what I’m used to getting. The first night, I got to the welcome dance and was on the floor for an hour, perhaps a little longer, before I took any kind of break! I thoroughly enjoyed almost all of my dances, the only exceptions being those with novices, but even some of those were quite pleasant. One of my leads had only been dancing for about six to eight months, which he mentioned as we chatted while I took a break from the floor for about two songs (this was well into the camp and I needed to take breaks at this point, because my feet and legs were so sore’ I thought they might be on the verge of threatening secession or at the very least, staging some sort of rebellion, not to mention that nasty blister I obtained at the track level auditions). Once I felt ready to return to the floor, I did, with this lead, and we had a most pleasant dance. I mentioned something about how much I was enjoying the dance as we danced and he reminded me that he was only new – a fact which I had completely forgotten, that’s how good the dance was. I would have thought he had been dancing two, maybe three years, based solely on this dance that we shared.
I think it might be appropriate to mention that the live bands also did a fantastic job of keeping the dancers on the floor. I definitely enjoyed Casey McGill LIVE (although I was a little bit disappointed that Deep Rhythm/Swing Brother Swing was played slower than the recorded version, because the recorded speed is PERFECT to do fast swingouts to). Careless Lovers was also great – I think they knew how to work the floor best of all the bands. I also think that it was a brilliant idea to showcase local bands.
The teaching lineup was phenomenal. All the big names. Michael and Evita. Pontus and Isabella. The Frankie 100 Hellzapoppin place-getters, the DecaVita sisters. Peter Flahiff. Todd Yannacone. Nina Gilkinson. They did not disappoint. The workshops were very good in terms of content; personally, I felt that I learned a lot and was stretched and challenged, which I very much enjoyed. There was some cool stuff in there, but also a lot of thinking, and some stuff that just got me thinking. The teachers certainly brought it. It was also great to see them on the social floor, kicking it with the rest of us!
The competitions. They were fierce! I competed, but unfortunately, didn’t make the finals. (Having watched some of the video footage, I know why: my basics got lost in my variations. Oops. Rule number one: music is king. Rule number two: connection, connection, connection. Rule number three: have a solid basic. And that’s where I failed.) Even though I didn’t make the finals, I enjoyed them thoroughly; they were definitely something to witness! And I think the winners were deserving. But! A big thank you to Cedric, my partner for the strictly lindy, who I had danced with for a day before we signed up to compete on the day of the comp! We just connected really well and I had some of my best dances with him – it was always so much fun, and I can’t wait to dance with him again someday!
This act from the Jump Session show. Also the kids. The kids in the show were pretty spectacular. I will hate them in five years’ time.
The venues were also quite pleasant, my favourite being the Temple de Hirsch, with its high ceilings and comfortable floors, side dance floor for those too shy to fully get in on the action and outdoor cooling off area (which I was told was new this year). I enjoyed having the venues spread out over a part of Seattle, because it felt like we got to explore parts of the city, rather than being cooped up in a hotel (not to say that I didn’t enjoy my CSC experience, but it’s different. They each have their merits. Pros and cons, y’know? Pros and cons…).
THE MUSICIANS’ JAM AT THE LAST LATE-NIGHT DANCE! I loved the intimacy of the room and had one of my best dances of the weekend to Mr Todd Yannacone caressing the ivories. Also got some compliments after exercising my pipes a little… With microphones. Oh yes. The last dance I had in this room was to blue skies. We were dancing right up in front of the jamming musicians and I harmonised as I danced. I WAS SINGING AND DANCING SIMULTANEOUSLY. BEST.
Before coming to the camp, I had never met my amazeballs roomies, Monica and Mark, but they were certainly a lot of fun. We had lots of fun talks and some more serious ones, plenty of sleepless hours, the occasional wardrobe consultation (I still hold that stripy shirts look like pyjamas), and some good grub. I truly hope I can make it to another swing event in the States and bunk with them again, soon! As Cyndi Lauper might say, “I don’t want anybody else…” 😉
My roomies for the camp, Monica and Mark, and me. Photo courtesy Jessica Keener Photography.
Another personal highlight was hearing news of people talking about my dancing on the social floor! One of the girls there told me that the leads were talking about me and saying, “have you seen her footwork? She’s a stud!”. Kind of an ego-booster, and definitely validation of my dance ability. I felt about as proud as peacock punch, but tried to take it in like pie, of course (and I don’t mean in large quantities).
Here, folks, is where the post gets a little less friendly. I must say, I was disappointed in the track level auditions. First off, the teaching staff were not consulted for the audition process, it was simply in the hands of the organisers. Now, I’m not saying the organisers know nothing about dance, but the teachers should probably have a say in who gets taught what. Then there’s the placings themselves. Allow me to elaborate on this.
This year, Camp Jitterbug ran several track levels (which, in itself, is a great thing! I think more events should acknowledge the subtle differences between different levels, although I understand that this is harder to do for smaller events.), Beginners, Intermediate, Intermediate Plus, Advanced, Advanced Plus, and Masters. I would try to explain these in my own words, but to avoid any confusion, I think it best that I copy-paste the level descriptions directly from the site.
You are new to Lindy Hop, have taken a few classes, or you are a lead/follow that wants to learn how to reverse roles. If you want to fine-tune your fundamentals and really get solid fundamentals, this track is for you! You will have a small class size along with a coach that guides you through the classes to make sure everybody gets the most out of Camp Jitterbug!
You have a few Lindy Hop classes and/or workshops under your belt. The basics are comfortable, but you would like to fine-tune them and get more comfortable on the social dance floor. Higher tempos are a bit challenging
Requirement for this track is to know the basics of Lindy Hop.
You have been dancing Lindy Hop socially for a few years now and you are definitely striving to reach a profound level with your dancing. Social dancing comes more naturally to you now and you are building confidence on the floor. You are executing moves and patterns, but your repertoire is getting old. You want to bring more styling and footwork variations into your dancing. You want more options out on the dance floor, you want to further fine-tune your technique and you are ready to bring your Lindy Hop to the next level!
You are one of the better dancers on the social floor and you have a lot of confidence. Moves are old news…you are starting to master your technique and bring musicality into your dancing now. You have been Lindy Hopping for a while and have most likely traveled to events. You have probably taught some local classes and/or workshops and possibly won/placed in some competitions, but you wouldn’t say you are the best of the best quite yet. Locally, you may be having trouble finding challenging material so you feel like you aren’t improving or being inspired as much as you would like to. You are eager to learn from masters of the dance and want to be inspired so you can move to the next level.
You are one of the best dancers on any social floor and the crème of the crop! You have been doing lindy hop for a long time now and have traveled to many lindy hop events to better your dancing. You have a lot of repertoire but want to bring your overall dancing to the next level. You are trying to figure out how to cross into that new territory in lindy hop that is sometimes hard to pin-point. You have developed your own style, but are always open to re-molding yourself. You are ready to be inspired and figure out how to break into being a master.
Okay, this is serious business, folks. If you are in the masters track, you are at a level where it is difficult for you to find instruction to better your dancing. You are thinking more conceptually. You are looking to the worlds [sic] top lindy hoppers to help guide you into new ways of thinking and where you can go with your dancing. Nationally, you are one of the TOP social dancers and you have most likely competed and placed in national competitions and/or have taught workshops/classes nationally.
I signed myself up for the Advanced Plus level. According to the descriptions, I believed – and still believe – that this is the level that best suits me. When, however, I got to the auditions, I saw the people auditioning for the Masters level and thought, ‘hey, I could be up there.’ One of my friends who was auditioning for masters actually wondered why I wasn’t up there and by the time the third and last song came on, dragged me onto the floor to one of the spare leads. Unfortunately I wasn’t given a bracelet. So, I stayed to audition for the Advanced Plus level, which, as you’ll remember I had originally signed up to join. Fine by me. And after a few songs, they announced that everyone had made the level. Great news! We were told that if we wished to contest our placements, we could do so at lunch; I briefly took note of this, but debated whether or not I should contest it. Based on the level of some of the people who had made it into the Masters track, I wondered whether I should contest. Anyway, I went to my Advanced Plus workshops. These would have been okay; I’m sure I would have found things to work on, but the level of the leads was, let’s say, less than thrilling. I found myself having to teach about half the leads – and as I said, I did not fly thousands of miles to teach. I decided to contest my level and was able to move up to Masters.
Evita herself called the Advanced Plus track out. She told them that they were lacking in basics. She mentioned the Masters track was “dubious.” Here’s the thing: I believe I should have been in the Advanced Plus track, but many of the people who were in that track needed a downgrade. And many of those in Masters should have been in Advanced Plus.
What solution then, can I suggest for something like this? Perhaps a review of how the auditions were conducted – input from the teachers is definitely something that should come into play. And, and perhaps it may be slightly too much, but could a more stringent enforcement of the guideline for the signups themselves help? I think there needs to be better self-assessment, but that’s a tricky one to regulate, since egos tend to get in the way. This is definitely a touchy topic, to say the least, and not having been on the organising team of an event before, I realise that I am not in any way to be regarded as speaking from a position of authority when it comes to these suggestions. However, as a participant who believes she could have gotten more had the track levels been better distributed in terms of ability, I definitely feel the need to speak up about the issue.
I’m not at all saying my Camp Jitterbug experience was ruined. This was the single drawback to the weekend. Other than this one small bump, I enjoyed it all very, very much. Camp Jitterbug was an experience that I would hate to forget! I would definitely consider coming again, but for now, I have other swing camps and exchanges to check off the list!