I just returned home from an awesome weekend at the International
Lindy Hop Championships in Washington DC. A new entrant in the lindy
hop competition circuit, ILHC was organized by Tena Morales of Houston
and Nina Gilkenson of DC, two well-respected dancers and organizers in
the national scene. So the expectations were quite high for me.
I was not disappointed.
The overall organization of the event was top-notch. If there were logistical glitches or mess-ups, I didn’t notice them.
The venue, the Sheraton Crystal City just outside of DC, was a fine place to hold a swing dance competition. Accessible by plane, automobile, bus and subway, the Sheraton had pretty much everything you could ask for in a lindy hop event – reasonably priced rooms, a lovely ballroom and side rooms for workshops, free wifi in the lobby, a bar, and an ample and affordable range of restaurants within walking distance.
The actual running of the event was smooth and nearly error-free. Registration for me was a pleasant two minutes, plus five minutes of kibbitzing with the friendly volunteers and staff.
The event MC’s – Peter Strom of Minneapolis and Nicole “Mouth” Frydman – were entertaining, lively and connected to the community. They were critical to keeping things moving as we transitioned from one competition division to the next, with social dance breaks in between. I think we were at most 10 minutes late starting any particular division, which is quite an achievement for a three-day event with a lot of moving parts.
The actual competitions were awesome to watch — and for many of us — to compete in. The people who come to these things usually come to compete, to watch the competitions and to social dance – in that order of priority. I found the level of dancing, both in the competitions and socially, to be really high. Very few times did I see someone in a division and wonder what they were doing there.
Here’s Max and Annie in the Showcase Division just doing some amazing dancing and aerials:
One of my favorite things about Lindy Hop competitions is how friendly and attitude-free they tend to be. Ballroom and West Coast Swing competitions seem to have so much more drama and contention involved with them. But in Lindy contests, everyone cheers on everyone – even the most rank newbie competitor and someone who clearly needs to practice more.
At one point in the Classic Division, one dancer lost one of her shoes mid-performance. She had on a beautiful 20s vintage number to match her partner’s dashing tuxedo. We all cheered when she gamely continued dancing, even casting off the other shoe at one point to applause and laughter. Sure, they didn’t win, but they never broke their stride.
My favorite dancer of the entire event — and probably lots of others would agree with me – was a dapper young African-american guy named Hurley Francois. It was a joy watching Hurley perform and social dance the whole weekend. He just has this joyful beaming smile on his face when he is dancing that just draws you in. And he dances with abandon and a silly attitude. When he won the solo charleston division, amidst an incredibly tough field of seasoned “pros,” we all went nuts.
Another favorite moment of mine was watching “Team Canada” just blow away the competition in the teams division. It looked like much of country was up there on the stage doing some raw, badass lindy hop that reminded me of “Mad Dog” and the Silver Shadows from past years, but with a Canadian flavor.
Of course, the main reason I was there was to compete in the Cabaret Division along with my teammates in the Brooklyn Bombshells, under the adept leadership of my friend Heather Flock. Heather took a diverse set of largely newer dancers and molded them into a tight cadre of 14 performers doing a complicated Busby Berkeley-esque jazz routine.
After more than 2-3 months of preparation, to finally take the stage at ILHC with my team just felt so good. As I watched my teammates assemble on the stage and looked out onto the audience, I knew we were going to bring it. Which we did, in our finest performance to date.
I’m not going to lie – it would have been great if we had won or placed. But that’s not really what we came to do. We came to represent New York / Coney Island spirit and entertain the crowd. The thundrous applause was all the award that I needed.
Besides the competitions, I had a ton of amazing social dances with people during the competitions breaks and at the after-hours dances. I didn’t come expecting that to happen, so it was a pleasant surprise. Often you come to these kinds of events and the popular “rock star” dancers just hang out with themselves in the “cat’s corner” and don’t mingle with the regular folk like me. And there’s usually a lot of stress in the room from everyone thinking about the competitions coming up. But at ILHC everyone I encountered was very approachable, friendly and happy to dance.
I’m far from well-known in the national scene, still it was nice seeing folks that I’ve met at previous events or only virtually on Yehoodi. It was great meeting / seeing again Alain Wong, VLG/Meg, Mikey Pedroza, Tacky Annie/Leah, Mouth/Nicole, Peter Strom, Dr. Joan, and so many others! And of course I had a great time hanging out with my fellow New Yorkers, who must have numbered at least 30 strong.
One quibble I have with the participants was that I wish it was actually more international. It’s the first year of this event, so one could hardly expect hordes of Europeans, Asians and others to fly to DC just to compete. There was a sizable number — perhaps 50-75 — of Canadians who were there, as well as competitors from France, Australia, and Sweden. But still, it was largely an American affair. I’m sure that once the word gets out about how successful and fun ILHC was that were will be a much larger international contingent, as well as hundreds more Americans.
Also it would have been good if they had at least one of the lindy hoppers from back in the day present. True, Frankie Manning is still recouperating from his hip surgery, and there aren’t that many others left from the Savoy years. Still it would have added a nice inter-generational touch.
Speaking of inter-generational, one of my favorite parts of the weekend was watching the Junior Division. There were only three couples competing, but they all brought such great energy and youthful spirit to the proceedings. It was great seeing them partying with the rest of us at the dance on Sunday night. We even threw a jam for them that was really awesome to watch.
The final event of the weekend was a late night Soul Party, DJ’ed by Mr. Peter Strom. Peter always throws together a funky and eclectic mix of soul music that just makes you happy. What a great way to end the weekend – jamming out to James Brown, Otis Redding and the Supremes!
I’ll definitely be back next year. And maybe the Brooklyn Bombshells will too.