Tuesday, October 11, 2011

ULHS 2011 trip report

I recently returned from a weekend+ spent down in at the New Orleans Swing Dance Festival and Ultimate Lindy Hop Showdown, which is both a weekend of social dancing to live music and a weekend of competitions to live music.  There is a theme, is what I’m saying, and the theme is live music.  All of which was fantastic.

So the weekend for me in a way began on Wednesday afternoon, when I dyed my hair purple.  I worked all day, then I got my hair dyed purple, then I hit Swingin’ Wednesday, so I didn’t start packing until 11pm.  So the weekend began on Wednesday also in the sense that I got to “practice” staying up late.  Easing myself into it, as it were. 

I did technically go to work on Thursday morning, though I can’t say I accomplished much in my jittery anticipation of finally going down to the Big Easy.  I signed up for the event back in June, after I attended Stompology and everyone was already talking about “Are you going to Showdown?!”  Finally, Thursday evening, I landed in the city, caught a bus to the French quarter, and walked down to the hotel just as it was getting dark. (By myself! On a bus! I win.) Dancing began at 11pm. 

The weekend was pretty much nuts from the word go.  One of the things about Showdown is that it was a cultural experience as much as strictly dancing.  A lot of this stemmed from the immersive nature of walking through the city to all of the venues. The venues were all a pretty easy walk from the hotel, scattered around the French Quarter, and so you arrived and departed at things as you pleased, and it was at once very communal and very autonomous, which I liked a lot. I’m a shut-down-the-venue kind of girl, and some of my roomates were the kind of people who “need” “sleep.”  But enough dancers were staying at the same hotel that I never had any problem finding someone to walk me back through the French Quarter at 4 or 6 or whatever in the morning.  This was particularly noticeable to me, because in contrast, the last event I attended was ILHC, in which all the events happen within a hotel, and it’s like going to another planet.  It is a fantastic planet; I’d board a colony transport ship in a heartbeat.  But it’s not like being in a city. 

Another theme of the weekend was: all the venues were crowded. In some cases probably easily twice the density or more of what we would call crowded at the weekly venue in Columbus.  It is something the NOLA dancers just roll with though; one of the nights, I asked one of the locals to dance, and we eyed the floor for a minute, assessing the space.  There was only one couple dancing in the comparatively free space at the front of the pit, between the band and the railing. While we watched, the couple gave each other frustrated looks and made their way off of the floor.  (Name redacted to protect the guilty) looks at me and leads me onto the floor.  “Guess that wasn’t enough room for them,” he quips, cheerfully. “Fuck them.”  So we went and danced in that space. Later in the weekend, I’d share that same space with two other couples with no mishaps.  Which is not to say that the weekend was mishap-free- one of my roommates ended up with a purple toe.

Thursday night was social dancing only, and it was awesome, but scary crowded. Friday afternoon was the Second Line, complete with bitchin’ music and Dancing Man.  Friday night was awesome social dancing, plus the “Slow dance”/blues prelims and J&J prelims.  I wore a purple dress that was the same color as my hair and it was made of awesome.  Saturday afternoon was the SHOWDOWN prelims, up on a hot sunny stage in the French Market, and the competitors were all sick. I don’t have a ton to say about them, that isn’t just me sitting here, sputtering in awe, except for I sort of didn’t agree with the judges first elimination of Andrew and Delilah.  Plus, I really wanted to watch them dance more, so I was bummed they got out in the prelims.

I also consumed one of the finest alcoholic beverages I have ever had in my life, a mango-blackberry daiquiri.  And had a fantastic dance with Rosanne from BaltiMORE, where we switched leads a couple dozen times, super smoothly and naturally.

Saturday night was more awesome social dancing, as well as the J&J finals, the Choreography comp, and the SHOWDOWN finals. More sputtering in awe. The choreography performance that most enchanted me, though, I must confess, was Maggie Moon on the “silks.”  Suspended from the ceiling was a very long length of pale fabric that was tied around a hitch at the top, and hung like boudoir curtains to pool on the floor.  Ms. Moon began her performance laying down, and proceeded to climb up and down the curtains like gym ropes (but far more alluringly), and wrap herself in the fabric in interesting ways to free her hands, and to pose like a bow, or an arrow, or both, and was just generally awesome.  I wanted to try it so badly after she was done, but obviously there was no way to do that.  The floor was full of dancers, and it was somebody’s personal equipment, ect.  But I would love to try it sometime.

The Solo Jazz comp was another highlight of the event.  Evita Arce won, but as a moment of particular note, check out Soochan Lee’s execution of some of the more inspired Charleston “basics” I’ve ever seen (~6:23).  Bobby Bonsey also did a fricken layout off of the stage. 

I feel like it’s getting repetitive to just keep saying how good the music was, but on the other hand I feel like it’s necessary to say how awesome the music was at each and every venue.  Saturday late night was no exception.  More fun, more dancing, more awesomeness.  I spent a bit of time outside on the secondary dance floor, which was a lot less crowded than the inside floor.  The outside DJ was also playing some blues, and I got a handful of blues dances which I enjoyed very much.  I also- and not that this matters to anyone but me, but it’s my trip report so whatever: there was a particular very good dancer who I’d danced with at Stompology, who I danced very badly with at that event.  I sort of mentioned this in my previous post.  But I got to dance with him again Saturday night, on the non-crowded floor, and I really enjoyed it.  Under the euro/high-level-dancer/big-event tradition of “I don’t know when I’ll see you again, even at this event, let’s make the most of this and have another,” I actually go two dances.  I am pretty fond of that convention, actually, at really big events. I had a handful of two-dance sets at ILHC and also ULHS, and the second dance with the same partner is almost always better than the first.

Sunday, the only class I made it to was Chance Bushman and Bobby Bonsey’s Collaboration and Competition in Solo Jazz Contests It was a really good class, but I’m going to hold that thought and write another post about it, because I don’t want it to get lost in this long thing. 

After we left the solo jazz class, we walked down the block a bit and heard jazz music coming from a restaurant, the Three Muses. This wasn’t on the official ULHS schedule anywhere, and the place was not set up for dancing, but the music was great, and the place had a reputation for great food, so we decided to stay and dance in between the tables until we could get a table and order food.  There was seriously little room, but as the saying goes, “Tables don’t kick,” so it was all good.  All the lead-follow pairs watched out for each other and for the servers very keenly, and I think we did a great job of staying out of their way.  I was nervous at first, because I was wearing trail shoes with tread that have *no* slip or slide, and the margins of error were very small on either side, lest we hit diners.  But there were no mishaps, yay! And the food ended up being frankly amazing.  I had some of my favorite dances of the weekend there. 

Sunday night there was more dancing at House of Blues, in two different rooms.  The first room went until midnight-ish, and hosted the Slow dance/Blues finals, as well as the Solo Blues competition.  

The Solo Blues competition was populated almost entirely by women.  I thought that was kind of interesting, in light of how the solo jazz/solo Charleston comps that I’ve seen are often dominated by men.  Evita Arce and Sharon Davis were the finalists in this, and both danced amazingly.  Sharon won.  Evita is an incredible dancer (which should go without saying, and I almost didn’t but I decided it bears mentioning) and an astonishingly good performer, but she looked like she was performing. (Having fun performing, definitely, but performing.) Sharon danced like she was showing us her soul.  It was powerful. 

After the comps wrapped up, we had to move to a different room at House of Blues, which resulted in the possibly most crowded floor yet.  I sat out a lot of dances between midnight and 2, when the floor started to thin out a bit more.  I also happened to be dancing with Peter Loggins when the band was ending and they played a traditional waltz.  Peter was thrilled, I… don’t know how to waltz, haha.  I didn’t mention this to him until most of the way through the song, just tried to follow as we danced in front a bit and then made a line of dance, crowd be damned, around the floor because we were waltzing, by god.  I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have my eyes closed for most of that, but I could not stop giggling.

After they stopped playing any music at all, and many good byes had been said, and the Swedes made puppy dog eyes and asked when I was coming to Herräng, since they go to the Snow Ball instead of Lindy Focus, and I said I don’t know, we went back to the hotel.

Just kidding, we went to Café du Monde for a couple of hours! A bunch of other dancers were there, and we hung out and ate beignets, consumed massive amounts of sugar, and took silly pictures. And I never wanted to leave, because it would mean ULHS was over. But we eventually left. Walked back to the hotel and packed. Went to sleep and woke up. Prepared to go to the airport. Missed my bus because the Phoenicians and Swedes were down for doing elevator swingouts. Totally worth it. I caught the next bus and arrived at the airport less than 40 minutes before my plane was scheduled to take off, and I had to check a bag. As I was hustling through security, the TSA officer looks at me and drawls, “slow down, plenty of time!” But I made my flight.

Goodbye, ULHS. I will come back next year. And I will hopefully be able to stay for a week, because there was so much of New Oleans that I did not get to see. Such a cool city, such a great event.

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