ILHC 2011: Hurri-Quake Edition

I like ILHC.

Three weeks after, and that’s about as analytical as I can get about the event.

I just like being in the event. Not just part of it, but in it. A lot of it has to do with the people. Like this guy.

That he’s a good dancer is apparent. You might have heard that he won first place if you looked it up. I saw him mostly working with the Juniors program, wrangling two dozen kids all weekend. But those aren’t the reasons why I like this guy. In the midst of coming to ILHC for the first time after only Lindy Hopping for about a year, preparing to compete, and helping with all those kids during one of his precious few free moments he asked Tena if there was anything else he could do.

That’s the kind of person that makes ILHC the event that it is. The really fun part for me is working with an entire staff that have the same attitude. Some of them are more well known than others.  Many don’t travel very much for dancing, and when they do they’re usually working. Yet they do this because for some odd reason they consider the work they do challenging, personally enriching, and even just as fun as dancing.

There’s Yvonne Evrard who uses her Ph.D. in Molecular and Developmental Biology to run registration. Somehow.

Ken Heil. An engineer who keeps the ballroom in order.

Robert Patch. Owns his own roofing business. Collects sound equipment like other people collect comic books, and does sound and lighting just for the hell of it.

Michelle Postles owns a studio where she works with families of children with special needs and practices pediatric occupational therapy. A lot of people saw her at ILHC selling flowers and pins in the lobby, but she spent most of her time keeping our staff conveniently fed throughout the weekend.

Mike Marcotte spends a lot of time building up the blues scene here in DC, but didn’t miss a beat to personally oversee floor trials even after I told him that they were starting at freakishly early times like 7 am on Saturday morning.

Abigail Browning is studying for a Masters in Fine Arts in Poetry and helped us to our first ever bona fide sell out.

Between Yvonne, Robert, Abigail, and Mike, they have a hand in running almost every Lindy Hop, Blues, and West Coast Swing event in the DC area. The rest of our staff is no joke. A veritable all star line up of event organizers. Jaya Gamble (Lindy Focus), Jenna Applegarth (Catalina Swing Dance Festival), Scott Angelius (Lone Star Championships), Tony & Aurelie Tye (Beantown Camp) run major events in every corner of this country.

Any event would murder to have any one of these people in charge. We have so many of them on staff that there are seasoned organizers just keeping an eye on the doors. Rather than a clash of approaches and personalities, everyone understands of how they fit in the greater whole. They made my job 5 million times easier.  It’s embarrassing to even admit that some of these people answer to me because most of the time they run themselves.

The common thread that unites everyone is simply a willingness to be a part of something worthwhile.

That something is this  forum for creative ideas. It takes place in the form of competitions of all levels and formats for dancers from all over the world to show everyone else what they’re about; To show the world what Lindy Hop is about.

By now you’ve probably seen most of the videos, looked at the scores sheets, and heard some of the gossip.  That’s only part of the story, but the rest is hard to know unless you were there.

As I was walking around the people gathered for one of the competitions on Saturday night of ILHC, they got so loud and rowdy that it sounded like they were in a shouting contest with Hurricane Irene just outside the building. This wasn’t during one of the choreographed performances or the final jam to one of the Strictly divisions. It was at the start of a preliminary round all skate. I couldn’t use my radio to find hotel staff, the MC signaling everyone to begin was drowned out, and the competitors on the floor couldn’t even hear the music to start dancing.

I think what has really elevated ILHC is the way everyone who comes to the event makes it their own. Not just the people competing or the ones working it, but everyone who claps their hands raw and yells until they’re hoarse.  The energy coming from the audience was damn near tangible all weekend. I remember watching the very first couple come out for the Classic Division on Friday night, Mary Freitag and Andrew Hsi. The crowd was so jacked that Mary & Andrew could have stood there for three minutes and the audience would have cheered every second of it.

The performers didn’t let them down. the Classic division this year was one the strongest hours of Lindy Hop in recent memory. With that many performers, you expect at least one bad one, but even a piece that came in last could have placed in the top five in a different year. After the first six routines, Tena Morales, who has judged her fair share of these things, turned to me and confessed that she would not have wanted to be in the judges’  seats for this one. The choices made it that hard.

One of the really unexpected things that differed this year from others was how many peple gathered for the J&J prelims on Saturday afternoon. Usually these rounds are super casual affairs, with only competitors and a few of their friends showing up. This year we had a bigger than usual crowd, and they gave everyone who competed a small taste of glory. It made those rounds way more exciting than I’ve ever seen them.

Well, maybe not for everyone.

There was also lot of good will between the competitors too. It almost made you forget it was a competition the way they would rush back into the crowd after their performance to cheer on the next. During the team division, I stood by the door into the hallway where everyone gathered before going out. Every time a team returned to that hallway after their performance, they were greeted with a round of applause and high fives from the other teams

I can’t talk about crowd energy without talking about Baltimore. Again. Usually when you talk about certain scenes, it’s related to their style of dance like southern California or Seattle. Or maybe some sort of musical or historical link like New Orleans or New York. It’s remarkable that a small scene is known just for being. I was talking to a friend who has been dancing for 13 years or so, and she remarked how, individually, a Baltimore dancer doesn’t really grab your attention, but as a group they cannot be ignored. You have to give credit them for adding a 12th man aspect (or third partner if we’re talking a couple’s performance) to the proceedings, and giving the event a Big Game sort of atmosphere.

The fun part is that Baltimore isn’t very partisan. They just love cheering. (And partying.) They’ll support anyone. They just need a little nudge, and the next thing you know, they’re pouring a Gatorade cooler of scream all over you. Check out the very beginning of this video where someone from the Fly Rights, a team from Southern California, yells at the Charm Cityto get some East Coast love.

Even Max & Annie toss out a Baltimore nod at the beginning of their Showcase piece.

Jo & Kevin went the distance to make a bodily sacrifice to appease the rat god worshippers at 7:10.

It was just a continuous cycle of energy going back and through competitors and audience alike. But the best example was the Juniors division on Sunday. We all knew that not all of them could win, but everyone there wanted to give them that feeling that they accomplished something. However, its hard to say whether everyone there will fully realize what exactly that was.

We know Frankie’s life in several different stages. The two we know most about include his youthful heyday-the time when he was creating aerials, swinging out around the globe, and throwing down on the Savoy Ballroom floor. The other part was the last 30 years of his life, the part when most of us met him because he spent so much of his time sharing his knowledge so we could all experience that rush he felt every time he swung out in front of thousands of strangers or alone with just one other person. Now that he’s gone, I like to think of what we do at ILHC and other events is a continuation of that generous spirit.

Like Frankie, some of those kids come from very challenging backgrounds, and probably didn’t know what to expect on that Sunday afternoon. At the very least, I think they got a feeling of what it’s like to be part of this family that now lives across the US, Canada, Korea, Australia, Argentina, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Japan, Lithuania, Sweden, Italy, France, Spain, Russia, and an exotic place called Baltiquerque.

Despite having a huge room we gathered everyone around into a circle for all the competitions. I like to say we do it for some sort of greater symbolism-the never ending cycle of life or whatever-but the truth is that it’s very practical. It’s a way to get everyone as close to the action as possible. A great byproduct of this is that it allows performers to be enveloped by a whirlwind  of good will.

I won’t lie. There’s a lot of pressure in there too, but a lot of it is self imposed. In the end, everyone wants to be out there right with you. I think that was one of the things that Karen & Andrew demonstrated in their ILHC Showcase routine last year, and they did it again this year in Cabaret.

I love that the first people out when Karen & Andrew invite them onto the floor at the end are the kids from the Juniors program, followed shortly by all the judges including Lennart. Where else are you going to see that? More importantly, where else can you go to be a part of something so powerful that it can’t be discouraged by consecutive natural disasters?

After 5 am, kicked out of the ballroom, and a hurricane raging outside, they still can't stop dancing or playing music. I think Falty is waiting to sing or count in the next couple.

All of this is thanks to the vision and efforts of Tena Morales, Nina Gilkenson, and Sylvia Sykes.  I’m forever thankful to them for letting me be a part of this. I can’t wait to do it again next year.

August 23-26, 2012.

Believe it or not, it’s going to be in a bigger and fancier hotel, so more of you can be a part of it. I hope to see you there, so you’ll know for yourself what I’m talking about.


  1. karen said,

    September 19, 2011 at 11:09 am

    Great post, Jerry! Thanks for all you do for ILHC 🙂

  2. Leah said,

    September 19, 2011 at 1:40 pm

    Brilliantly written, thank you for catchin so many amazing moments in one post.

  3. September 19, 2011 at 10:14 pm

    I’ll I want to say is that I’m proud to be from Baltiquerque. The land where dreams come true.

  4. September 20, 2011 at 12:35 pm

    Jerry, this is so great at capturing the event. ILHC really completely changed my (negative) feelings about competitions. To me it was the global lindy hop community at its best, a fitting tribute to Frankie Manning. Thanks to all the wonderful people who worked so hard!

  5. September 20, 2011 at 12:56 pm

    Thanks Jerry— can’t wait until next year!

  6. Leah said,

    September 20, 2011 at 9:53 pm

    Jerry, this is so great at capturing the event. ILHC really completely changed my (negative) feelings about competitions. To me it was the global lindy hop community at its best, a fitting tribute to Frankie Manning. Thanks to all the wonderful people who worked so hard!

  7. September 22, 2011 at 8:22 am

    Jerry, just want to add that Jamin Jackson was a recipient of the first annual Frankie Manning Ambassador scholarship to Herrang this past summer. He exemplifies what the scholarship is about, both in his excellence as a dancer and in his service to the community. People like him keep Frankie Manning’s spirit with us.

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