This past weekend (August 20-22), was the International Lindy Hop Championships (ILHC), held in Washington DC. A relatively new event, only in its third year, ILHC has emerged as one of the few "must go" events in the lindy hopper's calendar. This year's ILHC continued to raise the bar for swing events with world-class competitions, great social dancing, lots of live music, workshops, inspiring talks and more.
Organizers Tena Morales, Nina Gilkenson, and Sylvia Sykes — all dancers themselves — bring a lot of love of the dance and music to the organization of the event. They have thought of the unique needs of lindy hoppers, from a relatively affordable and easy-to-get-to venue, a smooth and sprung wooden dance floor, free water everywhere, cheap eateries nearby, and vendors selling dancewear and vintage items.
But of course we came for the dancing, and we weren't disappointed.
Let me start with my few quibbles I have about the event:
To bill yourself as the "International Lindy Hop Championships" means that you promise to bring together the best swing talent from all over the world. While I don't have the official numbers, it seemed to me like this year was not as diverse nationally as in the previous year. A number of international dancers from past years were missing, including Sharon Davis of Australia, Juan Villafane of Argentina, the Ninjammers of Canada, and Frida Segerdahl of Sweden. And given the large number of high level dancers in Korea, I was sad to see few entrants from that country in any division.
That said, there were many countries strongly represented. For example, it was great seeing in the finals of the Advanced Jack and Jill that there were dancers from France, Canada, Sweden, and the UK in group.
I'm not sure why there weren't more countries represented. Perhaps its too close to Herrang International Dance Camp, which finished just two weeks ago. So many dancers hoping to travel internationally have to decide between the two amazing events.
The Connection to History
Perhaps it's too much to ask, but I wish there at least a couple of our "elders" from the swing era at the event. Particularly with the addition of the LED talks, this might have been the perfect venue for helping dancers from both near and far hear from their predecessors and innovators of the dance their perspectives and opinions.
Having Chazz, Norma, Dawn, and Mable Lee in Herrang definitely changes the tenor of the whole camp, which I think ILHC would have benefited from.
The Next Generation?
Sadly, there was no junior division this year at ILHC, unlike past years. I don't know what that means for the future of this dance, but it makes me a bit sad that there weren't enough entrants to hold this division.
On the other hand, there were several folks at ILHC who came with their babies and small children in tow. So perhaps we just need to wait a few years as this next swing generation gets old enough to compete!
Ok, now that I got that out of the way, here's what was so awesome about ILHC 2010.
Most inspiring Moment: Jana in the Solo Charleston Division
There were many, many ridiculously awesome heats, spotlights, performances and shines during the various divisions of ILHC. During some competitions, I know there are some parts that I can easily miss, knowing that I'm not going to see anything new. At ILHC, you had to be at every single round, and make sure that you had a good seat, or you might miss someone's bad ass move, unique styling, or hilarious dance "joke."
That said, if I have to choose, Seeing Jana Grulichova of Barcelona just tear it up in the solo charleston division was the standout performance for me at this ILHC. I met Jana a few years ago, but I have never seen her in finer form like she was in the finals of the charleston comp. And she was up against some of the best lindy hoppers in the world, including Kevin St Laurent, Max Pitruzella and Jo Hoffberg.
What she brought, that no one else really had, was 300% commitment to what she was doing, plus a beaming joy to be doing this dance. It reminded me of the first time I saw Hurley Francois at the first ILHC in 2008. Jana didn't need to do any of the acrobatics or flashy tricks that the boys were pulling out in their solos. She delivered very classic charleston and jazz vocabulary, but amped up to a whole new level. So incredible.
Other Competition Highlights
- The Open Jack and Jill Finals: I've been dancing for a lot longer than most of the kids in these competitions. So when I watch an open Jack and Jill, I typically expect to see dancing that is at or typically below my level. But watching this year's finals, I was blown away by the high level of dancing that was on display.
- "The History of Lindy Hop" by Andrew Thigpen and Karen Turman: Watch this clip and see if you can identify all the swing history references throughout. So clever and funny. (UPDATE 8/23 6:30pm: GuruReuben created a YouTube playlist of many of the swing performances referenced in Andrew and Karen's routine. Thanks, Reuben!)
- Kevin and Jo's Showcase Performance: This performance for me has everything you want to see in a showcase — humor, musicality, tricks, amazing technique. My favorite Jo Hoffberg and Kevin St Laurent routine ever.
- Max and Annie's Showcase Performance: Max Pitruzella and Annie Trudeau do some of the most innovative and mind-blowing lindy of anyone in the world. Lots of folks are going to be watching and studying this clip for a long time.
- "The Yes Dance": This is the one cabaret performance that we'll be talking about for a long, long time. I've already seen it performed in Herrang, but even knowing what was coming up I was shocked all over again. BTW, here is the original viral video it was inspired by, if you haven't seen it yet. Probably NSFW.
I'm pretty brain-fried after a weekend full of dancing, so I'm sure I'm forgetting other standout dances and performances. I'll be reviewing YouTube footage over the next days to see if there are others I forgot to mention. And I left before the awards, so I don't even know who won or lost each division. Which in the end doesn't even matter that much to me.
Awesome Social Dancing to Live Music
Typically at competitions you don't expect to get much social dancing in, since most of the afternoon and evening time is spent running the various divisions and heats. But ILHC has a really nice balance of social dancing and competition. Between each round typically there's 20-30 minutes of DJed music, played by some of the best DJs anywhere. And after the competitions each evening there was live music performed by world-class bands Jonathan Stout and his Campus Five, the Boilermakers Jazz Band and the Gordon Webster 7. There's nothing in the world like dancing to a live band that knows how to play for dancers.
The live music didn't stop there though. This year there were several impromptu music jams in the hallway of the hotel ballroom, performed by lindy hoppers / musicians. The jams went on until early in the morning every night — way past my bedtime for sure. I love this trend of dancers picking up instruments and learning the other side of swing.
Workshops and LED Talks
Although I made very few of these daytime events (see above), I was happy to see the variety of workshops and talks offered at this year's ILHC. Even the early morning workshops seemed really well attended at ILHC, and several of talks were standing room only. So clearly folks are interested in learning more about swing from both a technical and an intellectual level.
The addition of the "LED Talks" at this year's ILHC was a brilliant idea. Inspired by the TED Talk model, the LED ("Lindy. Enlightenment. Dialogue.") talks are short, thought-provoking talks on subjects that dancers care about, like:
- Sylvia Sykes on "The Craziest Things That have Happened While Judging"
- Naomi Uyama on "Magical Moments in Movement (Non-Lindy Hop movement, that is)"
- Nick Williams on "Musical Theatre and how acting skills correlate to Performances"
- Jonathan Stout on "Breaking down a Charlies Christian Solo"
Talking with organizer Tena Morales, I know they have even bigger plans for next year's ILHC. I'll let them give you the news once they are ready, but it looks to be an even more amazing event in 2011.
All-in-all, ILHC 2010 was memorable as a unique gathering of 700+ lindy hoppers from around the world, coming together to compete, dance together, jam and hangout. Yes, it's a competition and someone has to take home the trophy. But as head judge Sylvia Sykes said in her LED Talk, "I had a roomful of 50 plus trophies, and when my house burned down I lost them all. So let me tell you from personal experience, winning isn't everything." Beyond who "won" and "lost", I think we all took home something precious and irreplacable from DC this weekend.
Can't wait for next year!