Tuesday, August 21, 2018

My story with people in Herrang Dance Camp (3) -- in the class

Classes are of course an important part of a dance camp. There are many world-class instructors coming to this camp to teach. For me, however, I think Herrang Dance Camp offers something unique, making classes a bit less of an importance. Thus, I signed up for the half session classes rather than full session.

Half session has the following advantages:
- Classes start at 3 pm at the earliest and end at 7:30 pm at the latest. Thus, I can stay in the dance party longer. On average, I left at 3:30 am, and then I could still get a decent amount of sleep. I could get 8 hours of sleep if I wake up after noon time.
- It is cheaper.
- There is no need for audition, but the half session class is supposedly at the int/adv level.


Yet, I think I miss some cool stuff in the full session. I think in the full session, all the lindy instructors stated in the weekly schedule would be eventually met. Not in the half session, though. I was expecting to see Skye in the Week 2 half session, but it did not happen. Thus, I sometimes looked into the tent in the early afternoon to see his way of teaching.

According to those who took the full session, the full session also had at least a class of African dance (because jazz dance comes from this), and a class of swing history from the Herrang's point of view. As a person who would like to know more about the history of swing dancing, I feel that I miss a bit by just taking the half session.

This does not mean the half session is bad, though. Somehow, the classmates in the half session were pretty good. The swingout basics of the follows were mostly solid. Not surprisingly, they were the people that I often danced to in the dance parties. Normally, as a lead, I would meet more follows in the class than the other leads. This time, however, I also got acquainted with several leads. Besides Phillippe from Switzerland and Drew, I met Ivars that is from Latvia. I had his photo swimming in the middle of a lake.


The interactions with instructors in Herrang are quite different from the other workshops. They not only appeared in the classes and dance parties. They were around everywhere during the class breaks. One of my favorite instructors in this camp, Katja, could be met several times in a day in the Ice Cream Parlor (ICP). She seemed to need coffee every day before teaching the classes. She might get my attention because her red hair style is unmistakable. I eventually got to dance with her in two different days! Skye was another instructor that I randomly passed by a lot. He gave me an impression of humbleness. When he danced, his upper body gave me attention, since he seemed so relaxed with the movement.

In Week 3, there were more instructors that I could recognize. I somewhat feel that it was too bad that I could not take classes in Week 3. Peter, Naomi, Remy, Pamela, and Ramona were teaching. Laura was also there, although she was just enjoying the dance parties. I sometimes watched briefly on how they taught the classes. In the dance party, I also watched their dance style characteristics.

By the way, in the Herrang Dance Camp's audition, students first dance with several people, and they rate each other the dancing ability. The score for each student is calculated, so that a rough draft of the level cutoff is made. On the second day of the audition, the instructors come in to fine-tune the levels in each group. Normally, there are only 3-4 people being moved up or down the levels, meaning that peer audition is quite effective.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

My story with people in Herrang Dance Camp (2) -- at the ice cream store

There are several places that one can buy food in the Herrang Dance Camp. One place is called the Ice Cream Parlor (ICP), which sells not only ice cream, but also snack foods and drinks. It is also a place to buy WiFi access for an hour, a day, or a week, in case there is such need. This place is next to many tents where the classes are taught, as well as most of the general accommodation. Thus, many people visit ICP every day.

On my first day in Herrang, I would like to get WiFi for a week, since the phone card that I bought was 30 days, but my trip was a week longer than that. I did not believe a food place would sell WiFi password, but I was told that this place sells it. Eventually, I got a week of WiFi for 150 SEK, which I think buying a phone card elsewhere should be a bit cheaper.

It is also a time to look at the price of stuff in Herrang (in 2018). All prices are in SEK (1 EUR = 10 SEK = 9 HKD).


I think the price for most of the snacks and drinks, while a bit expensive to my standard, are still acceptable. The prices of the coffee drinks are actually not too expensive. Yet, look at the prices of the ice cream (cup/ cone). They are really affordable!

So, I got my first 2-scoop ice cream on the first day of the camp. "Hallooo!" the cashier said casually with a bit of happy energy. I asked about the price of the WiFi password. I also learned about an ice cream card that cost exactly 5 rounds of ice cream (2-scoop?), but card owner can wait outside, as an express lane, for ice cream. I thought I probably would not have ice cream every day, so I did not get the card. The cashier then showed me the list of ice cream flavors. After I learned about the choices and got the ice cream, we introduced ourselves. At that point, I did not quite remember her name, but I only remembered she is from Lithuania. I thought: perhaps I could learn about swing dancing opportunities in Lithuania, since I would be there later in the trip.

I was wrong about my ice cream consumption in Herrang. There was no rain in Sweden for at least 2 months. Wildfire and water shortage warning were announced during the Week 2 and 3 camp period. It was hot every day during daytime. Moreover, ice cream can provide me inexpensive sugar before taking classes at around 4 pm. I did not really need to eat breakfast. Lunch was sometimes just snack food, also provided by ICP. Thus, I visited ICP very often each day. Sometimes it was snack for lunch, but I got my ice cream every day. It was 2 scoops earlier, but I got 3 scoops later on. I also tried different flavors each day, always in a cone.

My everyday ice cream allowed me to look at the life of the staff in the Herrang Dance Camp. That cashier, who greeted customers in a playful way, was there most of the time. I could then remember her name: Ruta. She seemed to work almost all the time in the ICP during the open hours, which was around 11:30 am to 7:00 pm. Before coming to the camp, I saw the option of signing up as part of the camp staff. A week of work as a staff can mean waiving some cost of the classes and dances in another week. Yet, staff needs to commit for at least a week of time. Seeing that I had to leave early in Week 3, and I would like to enjoy the camp fully in Week 2, I did not sign up to be the staff.

I tried to relate names with what they do to remember, so I mentally called her Ruta the Ice Cream Server. One day, I was with the ice cream and checked the laundry service. A female staff there told me that the ice cream was too enticing, and she would not help me to wash laundry if I brought the laundry with ice cream. I later knew that she is from Italy and her name, and learned what they did every day for the laundry service. FYI, I don't think the camp has public washing machine for the participants to use. Yet, the laundry service helps people to wash, dry, and fold clothes, for a fee by weight. I think it was 4 kg for 60 SEK. So, I mentally called her as the laundry helper.

Staff, including instructors and DJs, seemed to have perks that normal camp participants do not have. They have a special area for dinner (known as the Hell's Kitchen). They have staff classes, probably on Wednesday when the cultural activities mean a break for the staff (I saw one of my favorite instructors taking classes on Wednesday when I was wandering around). There is an afternoon staff party each week to appreciate the hard work of the staff.

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Back to the ICP, I later found that there was another staff that guarded the cashier also called Ruta. She is also from Lithuania, and told me that the name is a name of a flower. So, how can I identify them? The two have the same name, same country of origin, and same occupation in the camp. They do look different, but I do not like to use appearance as an identifier. So, Ruta 1 and Ruta 2? I probably cannot read out their last name (past experience: look at Pamela's last name), and calling the full name is too formal anyways.

For the rest of the dance camp, I could meet either one of the Rutas, or both, when I wanted to get food in the ICP. Besides ice cream, I tried the banana bread with different varieties; I tried Herrang Slap, which is espresso with lemon juice, and sleepy people should really wake up with this drink.

Then, there is anti-cold juice:


This is a great product to sell because a dedicated dance camp goer will never get enough sleep. Thus, it is easy to get sick due to prolonged sleep deprivation. I love the ingredients in the juice. When I get sick, I like drinking ginger tea to help me to recover. People in Europe seem to know the anti-cold ability of ginger.

At some point, the two Rutas could recognize me as a regular customer, and gave me recommendations of the ice cream flavors. Once, when I got a cone with three scoops, I got an extra cone. When the ICP had fewer customers, we talked about events happening around the camp.

Did I see them in the dance? Yes, but not often. I believe the day work already tired them out a lot, so they sometimes came and sometimes not. If they come, they will also not be able to stay for too long, for tomorrow is another day of work. Once I danced with them, however, I think they have probably been to many dance events, perhaps even winning competitions. "Beyond my ability to harness their following potential" was the phrase that I wrote before with someone else, and this probably applied to them.

I not only met them in the whole Week 2, but also in Week 3. Before I left, we exchanged Facebook and had some pictures together. One of them even met Sinclair from Singapore. I bet I would meet Sinclair sooner or later, and I would pass down words to him.

Ruta 1

Ruta 2

The evening before I left the camp (Week 3 ,Wednesday), I wish I could use my GoPro camera to take a video around the dance floor, and with one of the Rutas. I forgot that the room is dark, and I forgot I should change the ISO setting (or EV compensation) to make the video look brighter. Thus, I got a really dark video that is hard to watch. Now, I wonder if video editing can brighten up the video a bit. I also wonder if she would like to watch it or not.

Before the O-Ringen Hong Kong team came to the camp to pick me up, I got my last ice cream in the ICP, and bid farewell to them. Once again, who knows when I will come to Europe again to dance.

My story with people in Herrang Dance Camp (1) -- in the general accommodation

On my first day in Herrang, Phillippe and Vicky, from the scene of my hometown Hong Kong, were already there. Since they are experienced about the camp, I learned about some rooms for general accommodation are quieter than the others. I also needed to queue up early to get the room that I wanted.

The room for general accommodation looks like this.


Basically, this is like living in a hostel, where many people live in the same room. It is also not expensive, 500 SEK per week (1 SEK = 0.9 HKD = 0.1 EUR in July 2018). The general accommodation is unisex.

Phillippe from Hong Kong showed me the room that is supposed to be quiet. I chose the bed next to the window without good thinking. In the following days, I had to sleep with the rising sun at 3 - 4 am.

Yet, this is probably my only complaint. Power outlet was next to me for charging the phone. Best of all, the people who stayed around me gave me great Herrang experience.

Above my bed, there was already a girl staying there. We introduced ourselves. Her name is Ella. She is from London, already stayed in Week 1 of the camp, and she will stay for the entire Week 2 also. When I introduced myself, I once again felt that "John" is too generic, so I switched back to introduce myself as "Wangki" -- you know, "Onekey".

Every day from 9 pm - 10 pm (except Friday), there is a daily meeting of the camp. Yet, a better name for the meeting is probably "the Daily Show of Lennert". It is far from a boring list of announcement. Instead, a long-time organizer of the camp, Lennert, hosted the "meeting". On top of announcement, there are interviews and performances, some with great surprises. On the first day, I was with a new friend to attend the meeting.

On the next day, there was another guy from Switzerland joining this company. His name is also Phillippe. His general accommodation was far away at the marina, which is about 1 km from the main facilities. Thus, he rented a bike for a week. He had the same class schedule as me, which was the half-time session lindy. The key for the half-time session is that the classes would not start until 3 pm at the earliest, so we could party more in the evening. It is of course less expensive than the full-time session. Besides, one does not need an audition to enter the half-time session, but it is expected that the class is at the intermediate-advanced level.

Since this next day (Sunday), Ella, Phillippe (from Switzerland, same below unless stated otherwise), and I always attend the general meeting, standing or sitting at the back of the second-floor ballroom. After that, we usually either attend the Library Talk or the Crash Courses together. Throughout the day and the evening, we often sat together, and talked about what we had learned and what we had done. Of course, we danced during the evening parties.

We became closer friends each day. Phillippe asked me suggestions on where to fly to after his Week 2 in the camp. He said he would like to go to Singapore. I told him it is a good idea, since the world is hot everywhere anyways, so going to a city near the equator is not too bad in comparison. Plus, I told him about the inexpensive and good food there. In the end, he got his ticket to travel to the SE Asia.

Wednesday is the cultural activity day. According to Lennert, Wednesday used to have masquerade party, but low number of people dressing up for the masquerade led to a change to the cultural activity day. On that day, the two swing VIPs (how I called those who are old enough to live through two ages of swing dancing), Sugar and Barbara showed us a routine that they did in the Savoy Ballroom (?), the place where the dance was evolved. After the one-hour lesson, there was originally a plan to take recap video of the routine. Even Phillippe from Hong Kong asked me to get the recap because he was leaving. Yet, the two VIPs became the photo booth with the students, and eventually there was no recap from them. Since Ella also learned the routine, we asked someone to take a video of us dancing this routine. Thus, we both had the routine with ourselves performing it.

On one occasion, the original plan was to take a Crash Course of a fast dance routine, Mama Stew. Yet, it became watching the World Cup semi-final, since England was in it

We also got pizza together in the evening party. The pizza was sold out fast, and it could take 30 - 60 minutes between the order and the pizza. Pizza became our dance breaks.

Here is a picture of the Friday Savoy Night, the last night of the week:


Good things eventually come to an end. On Saturday morning, they left the camp by different bus. I also needed to move my luggage to another place to stay for Week 3. We had a farewell photo:


This did make me feel a bit sad. It is really great to have friends around during a week-long workshop. Now, we do not know when our paths will meet. Going to Europe is a trip too long for me.

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Besides, next to my bed there were also 3 Americans. Two of them are from Oregon and one from Hawaii. The closest swing scene that I have been to near these states is probably in San Francisco or in Seattle. I met Drew (the guy) more often, since we took the same half-time session of classes.



There was also a German girl who lived near me. I now forgot the name. Nevertheless, we sometimes talked about the classes and danced together.

I feel that if I go to Herrang for a week in the future, I will definitely choose general accommodation again, since I had a great experience with this housing option. General accommodation is a great place to meet new people and may forge friendship (classes are of course another place to meet new people, but I will not discuss this further here).

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Your name, happened in trail orienteering

It was my first time to be in the World Trail Orienteering Championship (WTOC), experiencing how a trail orienteering competition at a world-class level looked like. This year, in 2018, WTOC happened in Daugavpils, Latvia. This is the second largest city in Latvia.

Background about the competition procedures

In Day 1, there was a model event to demonstrate how the two types of competitions, Pre-O (precision orienteering) and Temp-O, were organized. The Pre-O consisted of a timed control (TC) and a main course. The main course has a number of multiple-choice questions, represented by the flags placed in the field. The questions are always in the form of "which flag correctly corresponds to a point at an orienteering map". TC is used for tie-breaker: if several people answer the same number of questions correctly in the main course, whoever answers the TC the fastest (with penalty time for wrong answers) wins.

In this model event, the TC was before the main course. Before reaching the TC, some staff members managed queuing up of the competitors. At the queue, the competitors are not supposed to see any flags of the TC. The first person at the queue is then led by a staff member with an umbrella to the TC station. The umbrella staff is supposed to use the umbrella to block the view of the flags, while leading the competitor from the queue to the TC station.

Once the competitor reaches the TC station, there are three staff members blocking the front view, and another staff member guides the competitor to be seated, asks for the answering sheet, and lets the competitor choose whether to answer the questions by pointing or by speaking, and whether the question maps are bounded or not. The three staff members can then walk away to reveal 5 flags of the TC. A staff member then says this familiar line with finger: "there are 5 flags: alpha, bravo, charlie, delta, echo. Time starts now." The competitor can then open the question maps from the top to the bottom, answering which flag corresponds to the center of the circle in the map. After answering all the map questions, the total time is recorded. The staff member confirms the answers by the competitor with the record. The competitor can then leave the TC and go to the start point of the main course.

Things are simpler at the main course. Competitors just need to record the answers for each question on the map. The staff in the main course just makes sure the competitors do not get off trail and not into any restricted paths. In between some controls, there is one-way section path to forbid competitors from going back, which is also guarded by the staff. There is also a time limit of the main course, which is timed by the electronic punch. Overtime means deducting number of correct answers for the competitor in the main course.

Back to the main point

After the model of Pre-O, there is a model of Temp-O. Temp-O is basically a series of TC stations, with the difference that there are 6 flags, and there is a possibility of a zero answer -- none of the flags are correct. Thus, the procedures for the Temp-O station is almost exactly the same as the TC station.

When waiting in the queue, the staff members with the umbrellas, who were all girls, were talking to each other. Of course I had no idea what they were talking about, since they probably all talked in their local language. Then, a competitor behind me asked one of the umbrella staff why her finger was bandaged. She seemed not to be able to reply in English, so she gave a breaking sound while pointing at the fingernail -- you know, nail arts.

These umbrella staff members worked at rotation: one staff moved a competitor to the TC station, while another was standby to cover the next competitor in the queue. These umbrella staff seemed to decide who covered the next competitor, and they looked at me. Perhaps I was acting like rotating myself, and they were giggling by themselves. One of the staff then took out a phone, asking me to take a selfie with her. This was spotted by my team manager, who commented "focus on the competition". Yes I would, but I was not person who initiated the selfie. She was then the umbrella staff for me to get to the Temp-O station. At this model temp-O station, I got 1 out of 4 questions wrong and used 40 seconds in total. Not very fast, but at least I was recovering from the dismal results when I was in Lithuania.

I told about what happened to some of my teammates after the model. One teammate commented that Latvia has the highest female-to-male ratio in the world. Well, I did notice fewer guys when I got to the Baltic states.

The next few days

The story was not over. In Day 2 of the Temp-O competition, when I was waiting at a station, I felt that I met her again as the umbrella staff. She smiled back to me. She again giggled with another umbrella staff. Then, the other staff took another selfie with me, before entering the station. At that moment, I think another team member of mine spotted what had happened. Yet, he actually did not know what had happened at that point.

Something strange was happening. Perhaps I should ask. At the end of the competition, a lot of staff gathered, but I did not think I saw her. There was an opening ceremony, and heavy rain was started at the middle of the ceremony. I did not see her.

In Day 3 of the first Pre-O competition, I was a public race participant. I think I spotted her guarding at one point of the main course, since she once again smiled at me, and whispering and giggling with another staff. I wish we could introduce ourselves and perhaps get a selfie together with my phone. Yet, I could not bring a phone during the competition, and I should not do anything that disrupts the other competitors, such as talking out loud. Thus, I proceeded to the next question. Another team member of mine, who seemed to be sagacious to know what had happened, gave me a scary grin.

In Day 4 of the second model event, I did not see her at all, probably because the course was short and there was no TC station, and fewer staff was needed.

Your name...

Day 5, which was my last day in WTOC, was the second Pre-O competition. I also participated as a public race. Before starting, I saw her with the bandaged finger, at the registration with other staff members. I was also with my other team members. I mentioned to my team members that someone in the staff team seemed to show interest of me. Perhaps before the competition, my team could help me to take the picture of us. The staff was whispering in their language, and our team member discussed in our language. Finally, I asked her, and she was excited!

After the pictures, we got ready to start with a TC station. My team members cared that I did not ask her email or Facebook account. Yet, I got another chance.

She once again was my umbrella staff.

When waiting for the next person answering the TC questions, we got a chance to introduce ourselves. I knew her name, and I told her my name. Her friend once again talked in their language, and I picked up some words like "email" and "pen". So I said, "I would be happy to write down my contact, but I am competing and do not have a pen." She was then thrown with a water pen, and she asked me to write down my name. I did. I said she may search me on Facebook, but I think she seemed confused. Later, she asked me whether I have an Instagram account. I do, but when she asked, the staff in the TC station asked me to go in. Probably, she does not use Facebook (which is already one generation ago), but uses Instagram.

I did not have time to write my Instagram account name.

After answering the TC questions, she was gone. I had to continue the process of the competition by starting the main course of the Pre-O. After finishing the Pre-O, the staff was packing, and our team had to go back to the place to stay.

I planned to leave Daugavpils on the next morning because of a public foot-O race in Riga. My team members suggested me to come back for the banquet after the race, but it was too much of a hassle to travel between the foot-O race and Daugavpils, which takes at least 4-hour travel time one-way.

Thus, I was like the guy who wrote the wrong thing on the girl's hand, and God knows whether we will meet again. Looking back, this story was really like the climax scene in Makoto Shinkai's "Your Name".


Wednesday, June 27, 2018

我心目中的搖擺舞精神

本來我沒想到要鑽研下去跳社交舞。不過,當我觀察久了,發覺各種社交舞中帶和跟(lead and follow)的概念很有意思。當中搖擺舞(swing dance)的獨特之處,使我繼續留在搖擺舞的圏子之中。慢慢地,開始感到搖擺舞有一種精神在內。

以下我會列出我心目中兩個獨特的搖擺舞精神。下面的概念,或者較適合於跳了多個月或以上的人士作為參考。如果你是一個跳舞初學者,仍在搞清楚基本步法和如何帶舞,你可以只當以下的說話為你未來的目標。總之,你覺得跳舞好玩便可以了。

1) 敢於創新

搖擺舞,有一些其他社交舞沒有那麼著重的東西。

當我體驗過標準和拉丁的社交舞,發覺著重的只是編舞(choreography)。先做動作一,再做動作二,全部已經排好了。兩人也許好像看起來一起跳,也許有經驗的亦知道帶和跟的原理,但我亦見個有些初學者,只是各人背了整套動作。也許兩個人看來跳得合拍,但為何不自己一個人去跳?社交舞的特別之處,就是兩個人之間的連繫(connection)。換句來說,跟舞的如何知道帶舞的做甚麼,和要自己做甚麼。做了動作一,如何知道下一步是動作二,而不是動作三或是動作一。為了跳編好的舞而忽略兩人間的連繫,有失社交舞的原意。

我覺得搖擺舞的創造空間比很多社交舞為高,這可能因為搖擺舞和搖擺爵士樂(swing jazz)的關係密切。爵士樂的精神是即興的創作(improvisation),亦正是搖擺舞其中的一種精神。頭幾課搖擺舞,老師應該會提到學了的動作不用順序地做,只要帶舞者能清晰地令跟舞者知道要做甚麼便可以。正因如此,帶舞和跟舞的技術非常重要。而且,搖擺舞者非常講究音樂感(musicality)。簡單地說,搖擺舞者基本上可以跳得像是搖擺爵士樂團的一部分。音樂暫停,我停,音樂有特殊拍子,我跳特殊拍子。另外,由於樂團各團手的旋律和拍子可能有異,搖擺舞者只能用一個旋律和拍子去跳,所以一首搖擺爵士樂可以有十萬個演繹形式。這種以音樂為主導的社交舞,是比較特別的。可能因為如此,搖擺舞不像標準和拉丁舞有固定的課程(syllabus),因為本身即興的搖擺舞不能受太多的規範。

2) 與眾同樂

搖擺舞,比起其他舞有更多與眾同樂的精神。

未懂跳時看別人跳,覺得別人很厲害,但沒有想過想學,因為很像很難。作為一個過來人,我可以肯定地說︰只要每星期肯抽到一小時去舞會跳幾首歌的舞,即使四肢不協調的人,都會起碼跳到。肯付出時間,人人都可以學會。不一定要跳得很棒,但最少不會覺得自己學不會。

一個最理想的搖擺舞團體,是不論跳舞經驗多寡、男女老少,都能夠願意互相切磋舞術。搖擺舞其中一個最重要的宗師Frankie Manning,可以說是搖擺舞精神的學習對象。他曾經在搖擺舞興起時紅極一時,但當搖擺舞在五十年代沒落時,很少人知道他的專業跳舞生涯,而他亦不願意和人說。即使在搖擺舞復興的年代(八十年代),他亦不太想標榜自己跳舞有多本事。雖然我不知道他為甚麼可以有這種謙卑,但我估計他的謙卑對搖擺舞復興有很大的幫助。

在我從前在美國跳過其他社交舞的經驗,搖擺舞似乎可以最容易大眾化。阿根庭探戈(Argentine tango)看來優雅得太高檔,Salsa、Bachata之類的拉丁舞又好像晚晚去酒吧那麼樣,但搖擺舞的跳舞場合可以很多樣化。有時搞在公園跳可以,在舞廳內高貴地跳亦可以。比起其他社交舞的圏子,搖擺舞的圏子似乎很為沒有經濟能力的人著想。上課有為未畢業的學生提供特價,本地人免費提供地方給去一個週末跳舞的外地人住,似乎只是在搖擺舞的圏子才會見到。

搖擺舞的圏子亦較易放手給有少許經驗的舞者從事其他義務,例如DJ和老師的訓練。

搖擺舞的圏子特別尊重平等和安全。雖然帶舞的通上是男,跟舞的通常是女,但在搖擺舞的圏子沒有限制,亦有較多女和女甚至男和男跳的情況。近年來,正因為Jack and Jill比賽(一個跟舞者和帶舞者隨機分配的比賽)的名字暗示只是男和女跳,忽略兩個女的或兩個男的跳之可能性,搖擺舞團體開始不叫Jack and Jill,改做其他名字(例如Mix and Match)。至於安全,舞池通常有指引減少身體上的受傷,和處理涉嫌性侵的方法。這些指引,其他類型的社交舞比較少見。
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我認為「敢於創新」和「與眾同樂」,是在搖擺舞的圏子特別需要捍衞的。至於如何實踐,下回再說。


Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Swing, as I know from the US

When I returned home to Hong Kong and continued the swing dancing, I referred it less as "vintage swing". I could safely say that swing dancing is usually a partner dancing with relaxed connection, downward pulse, and using swing jazz music that has an uneven "swing" rhythm.

In the US, however, the word "swing" can mean several styles of dancing that use different techniques. Moreover, different dance scenes may have different seriousness in dancing, and may result in conflicts between groups.

Here is what I observed in several of the my college dance scenes that have "swing" connotation. Somehow I feel uncomfortable to name the clubs out loud, so I will just call them Club A, B, and C.

A college club that deals with vintage swing

Club A is the one that preserves the root of swing, meaning that they are doing vintage swing style with dances such as Lindy Hop, Charleston, Balboa, and various forms of Shags. This is the place to dance with swing jazz music, with relaxed connection and downward pulse. Club A cares a lot about the history of swing. The classes will often put in information like Frankie Manning and Savoy Ballroom in different places. The beginner class always has a dance etiquette section to talk about the manners for being a social dancer. The experienced dancers sometimes form a group to practice for performances, and they compete. Yet, the focus is still social dancing.

Club A was not the first club that I learned swing from. When I was a beginner, I did not even realize that I did not do swing in the vintage swing style. When I knew, I took several years to understand a bit about the techniques. My first class was in Club B, which I will discuss next.

A college club that introduces partner dancing, mostly ballroom

Club B is the one that focuses on introducing beginners about any forms of partner dancing. This includes ballroom dancing in Standard and Latin styles, but also includes salsa, swing, and west Coast Swing. It is important to point out that in American Latin style, swing, as in East Coast Swing, is one of the dances. Ballroom dancers emphasize firm frames, and ballroom-style swing is no exception. By the way, I think the counterpart of swing for International Latin style is Jive. The posture for Jive is different from the vintage swing and ballroom swing. For a little history, the swing in ballroom style came from the standardization of vintage swing in the 1940s.

Club B was the first club that I started to learn partner dancing. The idea that having a good frame is good dancing was getting into my mind from Club B. When I got to Club A for more social dance, I used what I learned in Club B to dance. When I was told to relax the arms, I was thinking that how I can lead well when I do not have a firm frame, and I ignored the advice. I only understood that what "swing" in Club A is different than "swing " in Club B a few years later. After I did not do ballroom anymore, I put my goal to unlearn the frame and learn the relaxed vintage swing connection.

As a side note, I quit ballroom and went to vintage swing because while ballroom can be danced socially, it is more associated with competitive dancing, where dancing to a routine with perfect technical execution is the goal. As a beginner, I did not find it attractive. Swing dancing seems to offer more creativity. If I know how to lead a move, I can do many different things. Later on, I also knew how vintage swing dancers care about dancing to the music (musicality).

Before I left the US, I could see someone doing vintage swing in Club A using ballroom techniques, since I was like that person before. It was great that they still came to Club A to dance swing, though. Club B is still a friendly club that emphasizes dance etiquette, and Club A had worked with Club B before to introduce vintage swing to the beginners. I guess if the Club B beginners are reminded sometimes that firm frames are no good use in vintage swing, they may learn about the subtle differences between the vintage swing and the ballroom swing.

A college club that dances for fun only

Club C is the one that I have a mix feeling of it.

Club C also focuses on the beginners. They mainly teach swing, and sometimes have one-day lesson on other dances. Their teach style, however, is sometimes like monkey see monkey do -- no pointers on how to execute the moves. They really focus on many moves, and sometimes fancy moves -- pretzels, aerials, you name it. In many of these classes, the whole time is just figure out how to do the one move, at the expense of not doing the basics. The beginners seem to buy it, though. They are happy that they can try to learn something difficult to show off. What they do not know are that difficult moves without techniques do not make them more advanced. Yet, I guess many of them do not care to be advanced.

One of the flash mob activities that they do is to dance on the crossroads. When the pedestrian green light is on, they dance on the road for the duration of the green light, and repeat for an hour. It does have a public display power, but dancing for less than 30 seconds feels too rushed for me. Nevertheless, the college students who participate this enjoy it, so who cares?

Club A, of course, does not like what Club C is doing. The more experienced Club A members think that Club C members sometimes do something unsafe in their dances. Most importantly, Club C misrepresents swing dancing, since they almost spend no time in explaining techniques, and fancy moves tend not to be useful in social dancing environment. It is quite common in the US swing dance scene to have a rule that aerial moves (air steps) should not be performed on the social dance floor, since these moves not only may hurt the dancers themselves, but also the other dancers. When Club C members come to Club A to dance, and find that aerials are not allowed on the floor, some of them never come again.

Club C, of course, also does not like what Club A is doing. The members of Club C may think that swing is characterized by all those crazy moves. Watch the movie Swing Kids (1993). Watch the famous Gap ads. They really want to learn how these people dance! Why can't they do these moves in Club A's dance floors?

Well, Frankie Manning did them, too. However, I think he also emphasizes the importance of social dancing, and his aerials are just for the performances (correct me if I am wrong).

I guess members in Club C only want to have fun in learning to dance, and do not want to be judged. They do not care to learn things in the wrong way, since they want the freedom to dance whatever they want. Perhaps because of this, they can maintain a good number of members.

Before I left the US, a few members in Club C also stayed in the dance in Club A. They stayed for a while, but they would comment why aerials or pretzels would not be taught in the classes of Club A.

This is the struggle between Club A and Club C. If a club tries to preserve the history of swing, would that be done with the loss of fun? Unfortunately, I think Club C can attract more young people than Club A because Club C seems to have more moves to learn. Please think this in the view of the first-time dancers.

This struggle also shows why the experienced dancers should not be too judgmental to the beginners. They sometimes really don't know what they don't know. If the beginners have two left feet, making them move their legs is already busy for them, and they could not listen to the details of the techniques. When the beginners do not feel the fun of the dance because the experienced dancers avoid the beginners, the beginners leave forever. Because of this, I do not support instructors that do not spend time to dance with the beginners in the social dance floor.

A balance of the fun of dancing and the technique of dancing gives me the mixed feeling. Also, I previously said that I stopped doing ballroom because of less freedom, but what Club C does is too much freedom, at a point of no longer defining the spirit of vintage swing.

A minor pocket of west coast swing

There is not much west coast swing in my college scene for now. In other parts of the US, however, there are large events that give west coast swing workshop. Sometimes they also just call themselves swing (example here). The techniques of west coast swing are of course different from vintage swing, even though west coast swing is a direct descendant of Lindy Hop. My incomplete understanding is that west coast swing is a smooth dance (no pulse), and the most important step count is 7 & 8, also known as the anchor step. Lindy Hoppers focus on 1 - 2, the rock step. This is just another source of confusion on "what swing you are doing".

Summary

I hope this explains why I feel that it is a blessing that the swing beginners in Hong Kong does not need to care too much about the definition of "swing" too much. Swing dancing is relatively new in Hong Kong, around 10 years in history (I think). Ballroom people probably only know about jive, and west coast swing is completely new to Hong Kong for now.

It also explains my reluctance in learning some fancy moves that have little use in the social dance setting, or do not have the swing technique foundations. I always focus on social dancing. Solo jazz is just a side dish that helps me with the social dancing. If (vintage) swing is just about solo jazz, I probably will not think about dancing swing at all.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

The 10th Illinois Marathon in 2018 -- the unexpected finish

Registration

After successfully defending my research, my co-worker, Emily, asked me if I would run the Illinois Marathon at the end of the month. At first, I was against it. I may be able to run a half marathon, but I could not run a full marathon without extensive training. Yet, Emily emphasized how active I am, and she was doing a full. Since she did a full with me before I left, and this Illinois Marathon was in the 10th anniversary, I decided to register for a full if I could finish a half in a weekend.

(Besides, I felt that I would like to know my physical limit. Doing a full marathon without enough training would likely result in an unpleasant experience, but how it was like? I would like to find out. If it results in walking the second half of the marathon, or even results me to quit the race, I think it will be an experience, too. Still, I would not push myself to death.)

Thus, I ran a dog route half marathon in the weekend, and I could finish it, and registered for a full.


Training

As expected, there was no marathon training at all.

I still tried to run every Tuesday to Thursday, in a 4 mile (6.4 km) - 6 mile (9.6 km) - 4 mile (6.4 km) schedule. However, I never did long distance training (more than a half marathon distance) in the weekend ever since. My weekends were either orienteering or dancing. On the week before the race weekend, I traveled for the whole week, doing a lot of dancing and orienteering, and some biking, but not any running.

The race

Thus, I was really under-trained for this full marathon. I did not run any distance more than a half. I was not sure whether I could even finish the race. On the day before the race, I went to Courier Cafe to have a creamy soup, a piece of lasagna, and a butterscotch milkshake for the dinner, so that I could have energy to run on the next day.

On the race day, I had to run/walk about 2 miles to get to the start. I registered in the Corral C, where people expected their marathon finish time between 3:45:00 and 4:00:00. The race used a wave start. Corral A would start the race first, followed by a couple of minutes of wait. Then, Corral B started and had another couple of minutes of wait. Then, Corral C, Corral D, and so on.

There were also pacers. I was thinking of following the 3:40 pacer, but they were in Corral B. Since I was supposed to stay in my corral, I went to the front of the corral. When the race started for Corral C, I at first ran slowly to avoid hitting other runners, but I soon ran at my comfortable pace, which meant that I passed a lot of the people to the front.

In Mile 1 and 2, I was running with only 2 or 3 people, until I caught up with the people in Corral B. After Mile 2, I saw the 3:40 pacer, and I stayed with the pacer for a while. Yet, I found myself that the pace was too slow for me, so I passed. Later, I also stayed with the 3:35 pacer at Mile 5. I went to pee, which was not good because it could take more than a minute, and I lost the tempo of the race. Yet, I caught up with the 3:35 pacer again. I eventually passed it, and found the 3:30 pacer at around Mile 9.

I stayed with this pacer for quite a while. At the halfway point, I found that I used 1:40:XX, which was almost my personal best (PB) time for my half-marathon. I knew I was running too fast for a full marathon, and I guessed something wrong would happen soon. I passed the pacer a bit after the halfway point, but I went to pee for a second time in Mile 14, and the pacer passed me again.

I began to feel tired at around Mile 17. At Mile 19, the 3:30 pacer finally passed me. I could still run, but very slowly. Besides, my tummy started to feel hurt, and would like to go to the toilet for an extended period of time. I guess it may be because of the milkshake last night. At Mile 19, I got to ask for a toilet at someone's place. It was nice that the race sometimes passed through neighborhood, and spectators were willing to offer help. Based on the split time, I was in the toilet for more than 5 minutes. I thought I should just focus on finishing the race. My quads were hurt, but after going to the toilet, I felt easier to run again.

In the last 6 miles (note: a marathon is 26.2 miles), I suddenly felt a new stream of energy in my body, and I could push myself to continue running. I might not be as fast as in the beginning, but I could at least run with reasonable ease. When I passed the finish line, I found my finish time to be 3:34:XX. This was faster than my previous marathon in Chicago by at least 2 minutes!

That was great, but I also felt that my result was horrifying: with minimal training and being in restroom for three times, I could still beat my previous PB. I was quite sure that if I got to train seriously, I could easily beat the 3:30 mark.

This race also told me that:

1) I do not need to slow my current half-marathon pace to finish a full marathon.
2) Having a milkshake may not be good the day before the marathon.
3) Even without running as a training, other cross-training (e.g., biking, orienteering, dancing) helps me to stay fit to finish the race.

Post-race

After the race, I first got a lot of food that was served to the runners. This included unlimited pasta, pizza, cookies, and bananas. There was also Gatorade provided.

They also had chocolate milk:


I was waiting for Emily to finish, so that we could take pictures together for this final race. Yet, I knew that she was in trouble because from the racer status, she took almost 2 hours to reach from 13-mile point to 20-mile point. Thus, I went out to get free beer for the racers. This was not surprising for me. Along the course, I had seen unofficial refreshment like beer, or even margarita.


Later, I found this booth for taking picture. I did beat my PB (or PR) today!


Emily finished almost at the 6-hour mark. She talked about the leg cramping at the halfway point. I think we both did something crazy. She challenged me to finish a full marathon with minimal training, and I accepted it.


After this marathon, I probably would not aim for a better time in the future for now. There are many things in life more important than finishing a full marathon under 3:30, and I do not think I can put time to train for a better marathon time.

Still, this daring marathon experiment should be kept in my life record.

My GPS record:

(P.S. as per previous tradition, after finishing the Illinois Marathon, there was a swing dancing event in the same evening. Thus, I went swing dancing in that evening, too. I was too tired and could not dance much, though. It might be because I became old, or because I did it after finishing a full marathon. In the past, I only did a half before the dance night.)