Almost there. Part nine of my Frankie Manning’s 95th Birthday Festival recap. Technically the end, but I'm going to add a couple other notes after this, including one that should have been at the beginning. You can see a compilation of all videos from the weekend here on my site. This note was originally posted on July 8, 2009.
I’d like to say I decompressed on the ride back, but I just sat on the train and stewed, making myself angrier. I started writing a summary of my weekend experiences, but that turned into a litany of threats, culminating in a step by step plan to take on everyone I held responsible for pissing me off. I was pretty much prepared never to step into another Lindy Hop dance again, but fortunately a few people stepped in to pull me from the edge.
Skye gave me a call while I was on the train. We only had a chance to chat very briefly at the event, but he knew I was upset. He had an interesting take on things. Among his observations was his thought it was a good thing that the event was big enough to absorb individual people’s bulls#!t without messing it up for everyone else too much.
I’m not sure that made me feel any better. A few days later, after I sent off a rather angry email to the main Frankie95 organizers, Tena gave me a call and was able to straighten a few things out including her talk with Judy about what happened on her end. She was also able to explain why I was upset. Or at least part of the reason.
I started writing these notes just as a simple exercise to let people know some cool odds and ends about the event. Pretty soon it turned into self therapy. I had a conversation with Elliot a couple weeks ago and noted that it seemed like everyone who worked on the event was suffering from a mild form of post traumatic stress syndrome.
Unlike other events I’ve been to, I didn’t really get meet any new people while dancing. Hardly danced at all actually. Everyone I met worked for the event. And by met, I mean I had to introduce myself for the first time to most of them just as I needed them to do something.
Funny thing is that we were together for five days and nights, and I really didn’t get a chance to know anyone the way you would normally do through small talk. There just wasn’t time. The only time we did talk were those moments in the green room when we just had to get away from everything, and just traded stories about whatever BS we had just gone through that drove us back there in the first place.
Looking back I feel we could have done something more for the staff up front at the registration desk and store. Some of those people were there non stop. I would go check on them, and everything was always go-go-go because that was the first and usually only place everyone went to with their questions. I have to tip my virtual hat to Patty, Leah, and Joan who stayed there for most of the weekend. I’m not sure I could have dealt with that kind of non stop sensory overload all weekend, but they did.
Even though I don’t know anymore about these people now than I did before the event, I do know that they are some of the hardest working and most trustworthy people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. It was like having a great first dance with someone you just met. Not only did they do what we asked them to do, but everyone went out of their way to help everyone else, or at the very least ask.
Honestly, it’s a little scary jumping into a huge project like this with a bunch of people you barely or don’t know at all. But looking back I can’t imagine how this could have happened without every single one of them.
Looking back at the 30 or so pages of nonsense that I’ve been writing about this event, I’m noticing that there is surprisingly little detail about what happened during the dances themselves. Sure I can remember the performances or a reaction to a couple of songs, but for the most part, the almost 10 hours a night in the dances are pretty much a blur to me.
The funny part is the sense of total recall I developed about every detail of the festival that only lasted just that weekend. That’s odd for me because there are some days I can’t even remember if I brushed my teeth after I’ve left for work in the morning. But during the festival I could tell you what was supposed to happen every minute through the dance even after we would change the schedule a dozen times.
The only way I can explain it is that it was like being “in the zone” if you’ve ever experienced such a thing, or at least heard other people talk about it. It’s hard to describe other than to say that it felt very natural to be amidst of all that chaos and uncertainty. I didn’t dance that much during the weekend and I didn’t get to hear as much of the music as I wanted to, but there’s no part of me that wishes I had.
A week before the event, I had a discussion with Ann where we talked about what our greatest moments in our lives were. We had this conversation in relation to Frankie95, and as much as I did not want to put that expectation on it, it was a kinda unavoidable.
The problem was that at every moment where you would think that I would have achieved some sense of satisfaction during the weekend, instead I felt like I was being punched in the face.
That was pretty much my weekend in a nutshell, teetering between total zen oneness with the universe and frustration with the world for not letting me have a moment to enjoy it.
During the late night on Saturday, I got a chance to talk with Manu and Tena after the craziness was over for that evening. Manu shared that he has a very hard time accepting compliments. It’s not that he feels that he’s very humble; it’s that he’s so critical of himself that he finds it difficult accept a compliment at face value.
Naomi and I joke with each other that we don’t believe people, especially our friends, when they say that it was an awesome event. But we’re also the first people to defend it when people say something critical about it. It’s like being the owner of an ugly pet. In other circumstances you wouldn’t stand the sight of it, but in this case it’s yours, and that added connection makes all the shortcomings tolerable, even proud.
The Frankie Manning 95th Birthday Festival was something unlike any Lindy Hop event before it. How many dances have you been at with a thousand other dancers at once? We did it seven times in five days and nights.
I left the event a little bitter, but slowly but surely I’m coming to the realization that we did shook the pillars of Lindy Hop heaven. If Frankie was napping up there at some point, I’m sure he woke up when he heard a thousand people stomp off the start of the Shim Sham.
Terry Monahan noted that pretty much everyone involved with “Can’t Top the Lindy Hop,” Frankie’s 80th birthday, dropped off the face of the Lindy scene after that event. That’s not surprising. In my experience, organizing events like this takes a lot out of you with little to no reward. People who do this sort of thing for some kind of recognition or other material reward tend to walk away unsatisfied.
I had no expectations when Tena asked me to be a part of this event. When I saw the opportunity to get involved with the Mt. Everest of Lindy Hop events, my first reaction was “Sign me, up.” I didn’t really think about anything else except the prospect of being a part of it. I'll admit I was a little cocky in the beginning. This was going to be some some serious sh!t, and if I didn't do it, some one else would f$%k it up.
Looking back, my disappointments are with everything where I built up my own expectations. I almost forgot about all the other amazing things that happened around me.
We spend a lot of time on little things like what genre’s of music to play at dances, how fast songs should be, or how much Charleston is appropriate. But these things pail in comparison to the inspirational power of one man.
I’ve always acknowledged Frankie’s contributions to people’s lives on an intellectual level. However, it was only through working the event that I was able to come face to face with how powerful his generous personality was. If everyone who was there only got a hint of that, then I still think we accomplished quite a bit.
I’m not sorry it’s over. Not glad either. But it's done and it's time for new challenges. Before I left the Manhattan Center early Tuesday Morning, I ran into Yvonne and Tena having an impromptu meeting about the next event we're working together: the International Lindy Hop Championships which is less than two months away. We just finished landing a dude on the Moon and they were already getting ready to go to Mars.
Doesn't seem to matter how much disappointment or triumph you experience, life just keeps going.
On a personal level, just the experience of writing this down has inspired me to finally start the blog I've been mulling over for the past couple of years: http://jsalmonte.wordpress.com/ If you enjoyed this bout of public, self important therapy, then rest assured, you won't see any of this kind of nonsense there.
Thanks for humoring me.