I’m not big on resolutions. Part of this may be because I work in an education system that re-starts every September, so I experience “new year” syndrome twice as fast as most adults. Or it may be because I’m Chinese, and the lunar new year has always figured more prominently in my life. (And let’s face it, which is more fun for a kid? An annual celebration with plenty of good food, sweets, and everyone giving you money or a long night of stay-awake-chicken watching the television count backwards from 10? I leave it to you to decide.)
In any case, I don’t really make resolutions in January. It’s cold, it’s wet, it’s dark and anything I want to do probably won’t last very long anyway. But what I do do (hehe…doo doo) is put together a tentative list of dance events I want to attend. I decide how much money I want to spend, I put in requests for days off at work, and I weigh old favorites against new ideas. So I thought I would put together a bit of my process for those of you who have never attended a dance weekend before and are ready to jump into the wider lindy community.
WHAT EVENTS ARE OUT THERE?
Traditionally, the good ol’ flyer table at your weekly dance was a good place to look, and I still peruse it for tips of events I’ve never heard of. If Facebook is an ever-narrowing circle of networks, then the flyer table is like the 25cent-investment sheets that used to be direct-mailed to peeps. In this digital age, something like the flyer table has been replicated on weekly dance event pages in the form of a “Related Links” tab or some such.
That being said, Facebook is my biggest source of event information these days. Over time, you begin to build up invitations from your dance network and hear about various places through friends. Facebook gives you an easy way to see who is interested or attending these events and these are the dancers you could hit up for their past experiences, tips on traveling to that event, or warnings about what to expect. As a dancer, you probably already have a strong network of dance-friends at your disposal: leverage them!
Let’s say you don’t have a lot of friends, or your scene is really small, and you’re worried about missing events that you know are out there. An all-encompassing lindy hop calendar is impossible, but the idea has been bopping around the ‘Net for a very long time. Google searches for lindy event calendars should turn up useful information (ripe for cross-referencing). Sometimes local or regional event calendars will list popular weekend events so that local organizers can avoid them in their scheduling. So be resourceful.
WHICH EVENT DO I ATTEND?
For me, this is constrained primarily by budget and schedule. You will need to decide how much you want to spend by creating a spreadsheet of expenses related to the event: air/ground transportation, lodging, and daily food are the minimum. You might also want to consider if you can mitigate expenses by sharing hotel rooms, or being hosted by locals, by volunteering at the event, carpooling, or bringing snacks/meals instead of eating out. Plan for the worst-case scenario (by yourself, in a hotel room, eating out every day) in order to get the most liberal budget estimate.
Scheduling sounds rather straight-forward, but can be affected by different conditions. For instance, for an event up to 6 – 8 hours away, do I want to drive to save money (and take more time off work) or take a plane so I can work a full day on either end? Or perhaps I’m a seasoned road warrior who’s willing to drive in shifts overnight with several friends. How will I feel back at work on Monday? What are my priorities? Do I want to save that holiday weekend for a possible trip with my non-dancing friends, or do I want to go ahead and commit to that great dance workshop everyone’s been talking about?
Finally, the most important consideration for choosing an event is their REPUTATION. This is important, not just for choosing if you will put money down, but to set proper expectations. Not everyone likes the same kind of event, and something that might be fun and challenging for one dancer might be appalling to another. I do talk around with friends to ask what they thought about such and such an event and what they got out of it. I ask if they would recommend it and I balance that recommendation with what I know about them as a dancer and a student and a person. I look to see if the event has been offered before, or if this is their first time. I check to see if I know the organizers, not personally, but if they have done other work that I found reputable such as running weekly events or similar large-scale events. And I read the websites carefully to get a sense of the kind of event they want to run. Is it focused on the music I like? Classes? Socializing? What makes this event different? What do they hope to accomplish for their guests?
SOCIAL DANCE MEANS SOCIALIZING
I like to attend events with a group of friends. That’s just how I work, but I do recommend it if it’s your first time at an event. When choosing bunkmates, I choose those who have the same schedule I do to maximize sleepy dark times: are they getting up early for classes? Do they want to go to all the late-night dances? Do they care about getting to the evening dance early? Do they want to participate in all of the extra-curricular activities if there are any? Are they interested in having a room party, or drinking late at night, or going out for a big dinner? Where are my own priorities for this event?
If I’m taking classes or competing, I like to go with people I know will be supportive. Maybe we’re both auditioning for the same classes, or competing in the same category, or just have an agreement to meet up for lunch between courses or something. If you’re choosing your material wisely, there will be times during the workshop when you are straight up CHALLENGED. And these challenges will come with an assortment of new emotions: am I good enough? am I in the right class? am I making the most of my experience? Events can broaden your perspective on the lindy world, but also on yourself and your own capabilities. And those growing pains can be…painful. (I’m not gonna lie…I have definitely cried before…on a couch…in an abandoned hallway.) Good, supportive friends are people who will console you, encourage you, cheer you, and just plain sit by you when you feel bummed, or bored, or celebratory. These are the people you want to spend your time with.
So what am I doing this year? If you’re local, feel free to come by and ask me about any of these events and why I’ve chosen them. Remember, that Your Mileage May Vary; you might only choose to go to one event this year, or you might want a completely different experience than I do. I have weird quirks like I’ve never been to Herrang and can never get away to ABW. But if you ARE the type of person to make resolutions, then this is a good one: get out there and broaden your world by attending an event, just one event; you’ll always learn something, and what that something is may surprise you.
The following is in chronological order.
Swingin’ at the Savoy (Feb 26-28): I’ve worked at this event since its conception, so I’m pretty biased, but I can also attest to its unique historical slant. It was founded specifically to replace the weekend that Frankie Manning used to visit us annually in the East Bay and any dancer that heard him speak can tell you how enormously influential it was. These days, we have Queen of Swing, Norma Miller, as our headlining speaker, but also Chazz Young (Frankie’s son), and Chester Whitmore (less sleep and more energy than anyone I am ever likely to meet), who sit on two different panels centering on their experiences and the historical context of the dance. There are also lunches that will instruct you on the origins and evolution of the dance and music, with amazingly erudite jazz historians and their clips and slides. So yes, you will learn to dance. But you’ll also learn the meaty stuff about why this dance is important and unique, which is a perspective like no other.
Inspiration Weekend (Mar 4-6): This will be my second year at this event where I especially love how “levels” (arbitrary) have been replaced by “areas of interest” (factual). It’s also extremely reasonably priced: both for the weekend itself, and also for an AirBnb in downtown Fullerton. Great value, a relaxed atmosphere for maximum good feels, and bubble tea around the corner. This is currently my absolute favorite event of the year.
The Experiment (Week Two): This will be my first time at this highly unique event, and I’m so excited! You can read up on their meticulous planning and process at the link. As someone who works with admissions, I really respect the time and thought that has been put into creating, not just a learning experience with maximum absorption opportunity, but a cohort of dancers who work together to enhance each others’ development during the week and beyond.
Montreal Swing Riot (Jul 1-3): Honestly? I don’t know anyone who is going to this event so far and know next to nothing about it. It’s really far from my local area, but I’m going because (a) Sylwia Bielic gave a mind-blowing teachers workshop in SF last year and I want to check out her home scene, and (b) I got it as a Kickstarter award. Also, this should be pretty exciting to watch live.
The Process (Jul 22-24): After eyeing this event for years, I’m finally gonna commit! I have a lasting passion for all things pedagogy, and this kind of event looks right up my alley. The travel costs are much more expensive than I’m accustomed to for my regional events, but I’m balancing that against the opportunity to be inspired in a skill-set that gets relatively little attention.
Camp Hollywood (Sep 3-5): This will be my second year at this event. It is MASSIVE but, incredibly, still contained within a single hotel. I never did the hotel parties of teenage myth, but if I did, I imagine they would be something like this. My strategy is to sleep in, go to social activities, see if I can score a private lesson, compete, and dance until the wee hours when the musicians jam in the hallway and jazz is the only thing keeping you alive at that very moment. Wash and repeat.
Lastly, I also pencil in events that I’m interested in, but haven’t quite committed to yet, either for possible schedule problems, lack of funds, or lack of information. Events like Fog City Stomp (usually late autumn) or SloX (rave reviews by friends) or Northwest Balboa Fest (I can never attend ABW or Cal Bal, so it’s worth it for me to check out other regional balboa events). But with three out-of-state events, it definitely puts a strain on me this year to attend regional events, and that may be something I just have to live with.