Monday, June 9, 2014

Top 10 Things To Bring With You To Herräng

Since becoming an avid swing dance enthusiast over ten years ago, I have attended a lot of events and have traveled to many different places for dancing. But as long as I’ve known about it, there was one event that, for a long time, remained just out of reach for either monetary or scheduling reasons . . . Herräng. Though it is just the name of a small village in Sweden, in the swing dance community the name is on par with fantasy world like Oz or Never Never Land. Attending this event has the same meaning to swing dancers as a visit to Mecca . . . and you must visit at least once in your lifetime! And last year, after putting it at the top of my New Year’s Resolutions List, I finally went and got to experience the event for myself.

The Folkets Hus (The Main Ballroom and location of evening shenanigans)

 What Exactly Is Herräng?

If you were unaware, swing dancers have conventions. There are different kinds, and the two most common are “camps” and “exchanges”. Camps tend to focus on workshops that take place in one location (like a hotel ballroom), while exchanges tend to be more about social dancing with the added convenience of staying with a local dancer rather than paying for a hotel room. These traits are not exclusive to the names though, and every event is different and offers a different experience.

So what is Herräng? It’s the longest and longest running swing camp in the world. It started in the summer of 1982, when some dancers in Sweden wanted to learn swing dancing, and it has happened every year since then. (Here's a great video to watch if you want to learn and see more about Herräng.) Most swing conventions last for a weekend (2 to 3 days, 4 if you’re lucky), but Herräng lasts for FIVE WEEKS! (Most people go for 1 or 2 weeks, but some stay the whole time.) The real thing, however, that sets this event apart from other events is the immersive culture of being in an isolated area while being surrounded by an international group of people who all have a an intense love of the Lindy Hop!

Yep 5 weeks!  (Too bad I was only there for one)

Before I went, there wasn’t much I knew about the camp, and too be honest, it's hard to put into words all of the amazing things that I experienced (this video helps give a little glimpse though), but in an attempt to help others who have yet to go, here are the top 10 things to bring with you to Herräng Swing Dance Camp in Sweden:

10) Bed Padding, Sheets, And A Sleep Mask

This is on the Herräng website, but it’s worth bringing up again. There are no hotels in Herräng. You have a choice of camping, bringing an RV to stay in, renting/sharing a house with friends, or communal bunk beds. No matter what, you can plan on sharing close quarters with people, but also there’s no room service. At the camp, you can buy/rent bed padding and a few other things, but I’d recommend either packing your own or buying it in Stockholm when you get there. Even when I stayed in a house, I found the bed that I slept on was pretty lacking in the back support department, so plan accordingly. I recommend getting a cheap inflatable mattress that only needs to be used for time you’re there.

It's also day time there for about 20 hours a day.  You only get maybe 4 hours of darkness a night, and even then it's more twilight than real darkness.  So if you are someone who needs total darkness to sleep well (like me), don't forget a sleeping mask.  Yeah, you may think you look stupid, but when you're completely exhausted on Day 3 and need to nap in the middle of the day, you'll thank me!

9) Vintage Clothes to Sell or Trade

Herräng has its own clothing store: The Lindy Hop Shop. If you have room, bring some items to sell or trade at the shop. If you live in the states, odds are you can get some great vintage pieces fairly cheap and make a profit by bringing them with you.

Try to buy your souvenirs on the last day so you don't run out of money!

8) Clothes That You Don't Care About

You will get dirty and sweaty, so don’t bring your favorite vintage clothes to wear out dancing for the Formal Night. Bring the outfit you found at a thrift store, and if its ripped or damaged, then you don’t have to worry about it!

7) A Towel And Picnic/Beach Blanket

There is a lake behind the Folkets Hus (the main dance location) and a beach in walking distance from the camp. If it’s a sunny day, there will definitely be people at the beach, so it’s nice to have a blanket to lay out on, and ask others to come and join you. The blanket can also double as one you can wrap yourself in at night if it gets too cold (and that can happen).  Plus, you need a towel too.  Don't let down your fellow Douglas Adams fans.

Sunrise at the Beach at 3:30 AM

6) The Most Outrageous Costume You Can Think Of

Friday Night, each week, there is a theme night. Dress up. Seriously. Even if you are not into costumes, you will feel out of place if you don’t have one.  The more outrageous and creative the better!  Also, if you love the theme, look into volunteering and helping set up decorations for the event.

5) A Musical Instrument

Herräng attracts people from all walks of life, including musicians who will get together and jam during the day. You’ll want to join in, so if you play something, bring it. Most of the musicians will probably be into jazz music (after all you’re at a swing dance camp), but pretty much any music style would be welcomed.

4) Your Talent And Creativity

So you don’t play an instrument. What else can you do? There’s a “talent” show each week at Herräng, where a small group get to show off their stupid human tricks (and seriously, they don’t have to be great, just something entertaining and short). If you’re more into film making, they recently introduced a film festival that anyone can enter. If you’re into photography, there are lots of places, people, and things to shoot. If you teach yoga, volunteer to lead a free class! Whatever you can do, you can probably find a place for it to be shared with everyone at the camp.

The "Dance Banana"

3) A Plan For The Worst

Everyone will tell you that mosquito repellent is a must, but what would you do if it rains? Or if it is colder than you expect? Or hotter? If you get sick or injured, there is a nurse on staff at the camp during the day, but you should bring something for if you get hurt during off hours (band-aids, ankle wrap, etc.). Also, what would happen if you’re checked bags get lost by the airline? Plan ahead by packing at least one change of clothes in your carry on.

2) Cash

This might seem obvious, but I was surprised by how many people showed up, looking for the nearest ATM. Plan on living card free while you’re here, and bring more cash than you think you’ll need. Go to your bank a few weeks before your trip and you can arrange an exchange of currency through them (and it will probably be a cheaper exchange rate than in Sweden).  There is a meal plan at Heaven's Kitchen (the main dining hall) where you can get breakfast and dinner for 7 days, and it's very reasonably priced, but you may want to also pickup something at the various bars/cafes in and around the Folkets Hus, or pick up some food at the Kuggen or Kiosken.

Did you now the Swedish translation of road is väg?  (You do now!)

1) Your Enthusiasm and Community Spirit

They have a saying at Herräng, and that is they like to say “Yes to everything.” So whatever you are passionate about, make it happen.  There's even a tradition of doing random things for 24 hours at the camp (like dancing, DJing, teaching, karaoke, and even dating).  But it's not just about what you can bring to the event, it's also about how you can support others who are exploring their passion projects and joining in on the fun!  So in the spirit of this amazing camp, embrace the motto, and personally try to say yes to everything!

I can't wait for my next opportunity to go again!