I’m glad I didn’t promise to update during the weekend because that would have turned me into a dirty liar. However, I think this ILHC marks a significant milestone in the Lindy blogosphere. When I started this blog a little over a year ago, there were only a handful of Lindy related blogs that updated infrequently, but now the online community is really starting to blossom. A couple of blogs updated during the weekend and a few more posted reactions within days of the event. I’ll recap those when I have a chance. I didn’t post mostly because I ended up way busier than I was last year. Last year was the second one at the Sheraton Crystal City, and we had already gotten into a groove working with that venue. Being in a new place this year brought all kinds of new challenges in addition to all the regular unexpected problems that pop up. I spent most of Thursday and Friday putting out a bunch of brush fires that took out the free time I had last year to post.
A few people commented that as rough as it got Thursday night, it was still the sort of thing that you think you’ll say was exciting a week later. We just had to get through it. That we were able to get through all that is thanks to the efforts of some of the most dedicated people I’ve met.
The crew from Houston was everything you want from a group of volunteers. They took care of setting up the floor and then separating and reconnecting it every day. It was probably the most physically demanding task we needed done all weekend.
At one point on Thursday night we noticed that the floor was moving. I’ve seen it happen at other events before but it had been awhile. When it does happen, there’s nothing you can do to stop it. It’s just what happens on some carpets.
So we made the decision to just take apart the section closest to the stage and reattach it to the other side. If you don’t do it, then you risk damage to the floor and/or the ballroom. That meant that those Houston people had to give up dance time to do some more physical labor in the middle of the dances in addition to getting up ass early the next day to make more adjustments to the floor. But they didn’t complain. (At least not to my face) Quite the opposite. They seemed pretty excited to contribute something to the event.
To be honest it’s pretty intimidating to be responsible for other people’s commitment; knowing that it’s up to you to make sure that their work and sacrifice means something. Yet these kids didn’t even want or need that kind of assurance. They were on the job before we even finished explaining what we needed them to do.
One of them was Jerry Foote. (Not a bad name) He had never traveled in a plane before coming to ILHC from Houston. Most people at ILHC know him as “The Hip Hop Specialist” otherwise known as the first place winner of an incredibly talented and packed Cabaret division.
The Houston peeps weren't alone in this. I was up early on Friday morning, about 3 and a half hours after going to bed to make sure everything was ready to go for the day’s activities. For me that usually means hauling people out of bed or just covering for them if they don’t. It wasn’t necessary though. I went to the hospitality suite to sneak something to eat since I figured I was too early, but the Melody Sturdivant and Kiona Leah were laying out breakfast for the rest of the instructors. Those H-Town kids led by Brian Eley were already getting to work on the dance floor. Head DJ, Mike Marcotte, was in the booth prepared to manage the morning floor trials, and Robert Patch was there before him to make sure the sound system was ready to go. The registration coordinator, Yvonne Evaard, was on her way down to open the registration table.
With everyone up and about, I stood around and did nothing. Which is actually what I’m supposed to be doing when things go according to plan. I just don’t usually expect that to happen very often.
That’s what I like about working an event like ILHC. Everyone is all in. And it wasn’t just the people who work it. The Baltimore crew brought the party big time. Again. By their own admission, most of them aren’t very good dancers, although they are getting better. They didn’t expect to do that well in the competitions, but that didn’t stop them from throwing themselves into the event, making themselves a vital part of it with their sheer energy. I think it was a huge compliment to them during the Invitational Jack & Jill, when the best dancers of the world went out of their way to curry favor with the contingent from the Charm City.
And it wasn’t limited to Baltimore. My favorite blog post in reaction to the event is from Columbus, OH where they congratulated their team for coming in 8th place. They were just proud to represent amongst teams from across the US, Canada and as far away as Sweden. I love how they acknowledged everyone who did their part, even those that didn’t perform.
It was great to see that kind of camaraderie all throughout the weekend, and I was especially glad to see so many old friends who used to live in DC. Everyone is now scattered around the globe because of dancing, relationships, or professional pursuits, but that weekend marked the first time that me, Skye, Akemi, Melody, Gretta, Nina, Mikey, Leslie, Andy, Naomi, Jeff, Luke, and even Scratch were all at the same place in a long time. I spent a part of the Saturday late night with Skye, Mimi, and Marie watching ILHC videos put up online by Patrick Szmidt, Dave from Jazzpirations, and Jonathan from LindyLibrary. We used to watch dance videos until our eyes bled with the rest of our friends just a few years ago, and it was nice to enjoy a simple thing like that during such a big event.
Earlier that night I stood next to Carla Heiney right before the Champions Strictly finals and we just had these big goofy grins on our faces. I just shook my head and said "Look at us." September will mark 11 years since I first met Carla in a university ballroom a little over 10 miles from where we were standing that night. She was teaching the beginner lesson with a partner that predated Kevin and who was also Naomi Uyama's first partner.
In another quieter moment earlier on Saturday I was able to watch Naomi run through her cabaret routine. She was my first teacher, and I still remember the excitement when she demo'd a competition piece for us in that beginner lesson eleven springs ago. Naomi was way more subdued this time around. She had such a beautiful quiet confidence about her that made it hard to believe that she was the same person as that giddy teenager.
Competitions are usually known as high pressure affairs, but I really enjoyed the more laid back, “glad to be here” sort of vibe that pervades ILHC. There seemed like a healthy eagerness just to share something with everyone there. Nobody embodied that more than Karen Turman and Andrew Thigpen.
I can honestly say without exaggeration that they put on the performance of a lifetime with their showcase routine. When I went to go congratulate them right after they stepped off the floor Andrew was struggling for air and Karen was in tears. Nina, Tena, and Sylvia have been talking about giving out a “spirit” award since ILHC started 2 years ago, but never got around to it. As soon as that division was over, they knew they had to make it happen.
I told Andrew that they were going to be penalized for going over the time limit. Andrew said they didn’t care. They didn’t do it to win or place, they just wanted to share something with everyone. To express thanks to everyone that came before. I then mentioned that he set the bar so high, there's no way he could top it. He said he wasn't interested in topping that one. He'll just try to set a different bar next time around.
That’s the reason why I do these sort of events. I see ILHC more as a forum of ideas than a competition. A place where people can tell everyone what they’re about. Karen & Andrew’s performance felt like a love letter to the community. The thing about a lot of those later routines that they “quoted” is that many of them were performed at competitions and didn’t win either. But they stuck with us for different reasons.
During her Friday afternoon presentation about judging, Sylvia Sykes noted that she had accumulated about 500 trophies and medals from her competitive career. Her house burned down last year and turned them all into ash or plastic puddles. But she still has the experience of those performances. More importantly I think, other people witnessed those performances and paved the way to last weekend.
Karen & Andrew’s routine was a good reminder of that. You leave a piece of yourself on that floor, people will notice, and you’ll become a part of them in a way that you don’t expect.
I’ve always struggled with the idea that what we do is “just Lindy Hop.” But ILHC was a good example of a time when it can be so much more in people’s lives. Most of the world existed per usual that weekend, but I like to think that ILHC made a mark, a small but significant one, on everyone who was there.
Thank you Karen, Andrew, Jerry (Foote), Houston, Austin, Baltimore, Columbus, Seattle, Montreal, Montpellier, Stockholm, Sylvia, Tena, Nina, and everyone else that made ILHC 2010.