Camp Jitterbug is one of those events that gets buzz for the next year the minute it finishes. This year was truly no exception.
I had attended Camp Jitterbug back in 2005 when the main dances were still held at the Century Ballroom and the tracks were almost manageable in size. This year had approximately 500 attendees and the classes were overflowing.
The event began with registration at Kane Hall on the University of Washington campus. They lost my registration somehow, but still managed to have the three numbers for the various competitions that I had registered for so after a bit of waiting in line I had my packet and was queued up with friends outside one of the entrances to the theatre.
For the past couple years I have heard wonderful things about the Jump Session show which is the opening attraction for Camp Jitterbug (enjoy this trailer from last year). It is the only show devoted solely to vernacular jazz dance that I know of in the U.S. It was a full hour and a half production with an Act I and II focusing on jazz dance from charleston, blues and lindy hop to tap and even bop. Download the Jump Session program for a full list of performers here.
The show was M.C.’d by Sean Morris who was dressed sharply in a tuxedo. The opening number was a blues piece performed by members of 23 Skidoo (Teni Lopez-Cardenas, Dan Newsome, Joe Demers and Danielle Hatley) to Wild Man Blues by Sidney Bechet; followed by a charleston piece by Nick Williams and Laura Keat to Charleston by John Barry; and then a lindy hop piece by Max Pitruzella and Annie Trudeau to That Lindy Hop by Duke Ellington. Throughout the remainder of the show there were a couple pieces that truly stood out. Mickey Fortanasce and Kelly Arsenault performed a balboa routine to Wire Brush Stomp by Gene Krupa that had exceptional musicality, shading and quality of movement. Mikey Pedroza and Ramona Staffeld performed a modern jazz piece to Dark Eyes by Earl Hines that was lyrical and built tension very well, it was very nice to see a modern style number in the show.
The Jump Session show was overall quite an enjoyable experience that provides a unique outlet for performance jazz dance that isn’t competition oriented. I would have liked to see the show shortened a bit and some of the numbers cleaned up a bit more but with many of the dancers coming from across the country and putting numbers together in only a short amount of practice it was quite impressive. Additionally, half of all of the proceeds from the Jump Session show is donated to Snohomish County Campfire USA where it is used to fund Jazz Dance programming for youth.
The Friday evening dance was held in the University of Washington HUB. The space was massive although it had a nicer appearance than you would find in a hotel banquet hall. The floor was parquet laid over concrete. It was difficult to dance on, very sticky even wearing hard leather shoes which made it quite hard on the knees and ankles. Jonathon Stout and his Campus Five played the evening dance although with the floor conditions and the incredible humidity in the venue it was hard to get into it. The Jack & Jill prelims were during the last band break on Friday. You can find some videos of the prelims on Youtube here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.
Unfortunately quite tired from the rough floor and with the slight jet lag, I skipped the first late night and instead went to the Broadway Grill for a bit of food before my room headed back to the Hilton downtown for the night.
Saturday morning I made it to a couple of the classes starting with Skye & Frida’s masters class. I was surprised at the size of the class and a little disappointed. A masters class to me should be considerably smaller than the regular tracks and the level of instruction and students much higher than even an advanced class. The class contained some interesting material but it did not address issues at a conceptual enough level in comparison to masters classes I’ve taken elsewhere. The class following lunch was the masters class with Peter and Ramona where we warmed up to the California Routine which was a great idea. One interesting point that I think I will take for future use from that class is preceding swing outs from standing with a stomp-off rather than just beginning with a rock step. It definitely felt more grounded and added more energy to the swing outs.
The Saturday evening dance was at the HUB again, although the floor was a bit smoother than Friday evening which made for easier dancing. The Solomon Douglas Swingtet was the band for the evening. I found their songs clean and the band well put together but it lacked a certain level of drive and swing that gives the dance its rawness. In all, a very refined sound but almost too such an extent that it took away some of the edge and energy that makes me want to swing out.
The prelims for the Lindy Couples competition division were during one of the band breaks. I had originally registered without a partner but luckily ended up partnering with Delilah Williams from Denver, CO at the Saturday night dance. The heats were well divided into approximately seven or eight couples per which made it much easier to watch the entire floor than at other events where sometimes 15 or 20 couples can be on the floor at once.
Later in the evening the finals for the Jack & Jill were held with the band. The seven finalist couples were Teni Lopez-Cardenas and Dan Newsome, Juan Villafane and Robin Nunnally, Jamie Cameron and Karen Turman, Carl Nelson (myself) and Jean Ma, Bromley Palamountain and Valerie Brown, Laura Glaess and Michael Darigol, and Hunter Demaray and Mel Varriano. After one warmup song we transitioned to a jam format with one phrase out the first time and then eight 8′s the second time out with an all-skate to finish it off. The energy was buzzing and the crowd incredibly receptive to the dancers. A great competition to be a part of. First place went to Karen and Jamie. Second place to Laura and Michael. Third place to Bromley and Valerie.
We stopped off at the Broadway Grill for a second night in a row for a quick bite to eat before heading to the late night.
The late nights were held at Washington Dance Club which is a nice dance space that doesn’t have such a studio feel to it. With changing rooms, a secondary room with a small kitchen area and a proper DJ booth it’s a great space. The floor is a nice smooth hardwood which makes dancing even in rubber shoes slick enough to slide a bit.
Sunday I missed the classes and ended up in the park across from the Century Ballroom hanging out in the grass while Marty Klempner and Teni were practicing a new aerial they had been working on. Nick Williams and Carla Heiney stopped by to work out a sequence and run an aerial for the Lindy Couples finals. It was interesting to see how different people work on aerials as I don’t have a great deal of background with them. This summer I hope to have the chance to spend some time in Denver and improve in that area of the dance.
For the final large dance of Camp Jitterbug Jonathon Stout and the Campus Five returned to play at the Naval Armory. The floor was slightly sticky in hard leather shoes and incredibly hard. Despite less than savory floor conditions the band was driving hard and it was difficult not to just get out there song after song.
The Lindy Hop finals were with performed to the band with a similar spotlight sequence followed by an all-skate as the Jack & Jill finals; one phrase and then 8 eights into an all-skate. The competitors were Jean Ma and Bromley Palamountain, Marty Klempner and Teni Lopez-Cardenas, Nick Williams and Carla Heiney, Juan Villafane and Sharon Davis, Todd Yannaconne and Kelly Arsenault, Patrick Wall and Kelly Wilkerson, and Jamie Cameron and Crista Seipp (apologies). It was probably one of the best competitions I have seen with many of the lesser known competitors really stepping it up.
First place went to Nick and Carla. You could see the exemplary connection and technique in their dancing as well as top notch musicality and some solid tricks. Second place went to Marty and Teni. Their first spotlight was a little shaky with a slight stumble during an aerial but their second spotlight owned the stage with an amazing break away ending that showcased the line of dancers as they all started into the all-skate. They had some exceptional moments during the all-skate including the Berry Brothers lock with Teni flying amongst all of the other dancers (seen in this clip at 1:18). Third place went to Jean and Bromley.
One of the best awards that Camp Jitterbug gives out is the Spirit of Lindy award that goes to the individual(s) that go out of their way to give back to the community, continue to take classes at the highest levels, compete and perform at various events. This year the Spirit of Lindy award, for the first time, went to two people: Joseph Demers and Danielle Hatley from Denver, CO.
After the finals the band kicked it up for their last set and blew hard and fast. On the last song a jam broke out in front of the band with Jonathon Stout starting off in the jam. This was really the only jam circle that broke out during the weekend but it was a hopping one. My favorite part is when Mark rolls a pancake into a whole different aerial just by turning around and having his partner land on his back. Taking a classic idea and doing something spectacular and new with it.
After the evening dance ended we stopped off back at the hotel room to change; most of us dressing up even more for the late night and the charleston contest than we had for the main dance. With a quick stop off at a pizza shop for a bite to eat we hit the Washington Dance Club all dressed in finery.
Sunday’s late night was probably the best part of the whole event. The DJs were playing solid tunes; a small jam band formed in the secondary room with folks on guitar, washboard, spoons and more. Mike Faltesek wrote about the jam on his own blog here (as well his opinion of the whole weekend). It was really inspiring and I am definitely one of those people he mentioned who is itching to pick up an instrument and play.
The Solo Charleston contest was the last contest of the event, finalists decided by the judges in a “tap-in” all-skate and then the winner decided by the audience. They played two songs during the prelims which definitely can tire a dancer out. I know it tired me out a bit. When I was tapped in to the finals I was very excited; partly because I could sit out for a minute.
The finalists were Laura Glaess, Sara Deckard, Sharon Davis, Juan Villafane, and Carl Nelson (myself). Already warmed up and with a bit of a breather following the all-skate they put on Lafayette from the Kansas City soundtrack. We went out eight 8′s at a time and the crowd gave back so much energy. All of the competitors showed their best and it was fantastic to be out there with them. It is amazing how dancers play off of each other as they follow each other up in a jam format. The song was perfect as we each went out an even number of times and as I was the last one out I got to finish the song.
Audience decision laid out a dance-off between Sharon Davis and myself which was spectacular. We traded off back and forth and then went out together with a tribute to Marty Klempner (who spent the entire all-skate trucking) by trucking forward. I am happy to say that Sharon Davis won the competition and she deserved it; she had such wonderful, clean movement with great personality and I was happy to dance with her in front of everyone.
After the competition the night got down and we all partied til the last songs of the night that came with day break. I didn’t get to bed until at least 8am in the morning Monday.
Having been up so late I missed almost the entire day of classes on Monday but managed to sit in on Skye & Frida’s fast dance class held in the Pradva space. It was probably one of the largest classes I had ever seen of people swinging out together with approximately 200 people in the one room. While I’m sure it was difficult to be in such a large class and get a lot out of it it is also promising to see so many dancers yearning for knowledge.
With the wrap-up party at Pradva people filtered in and out as they prepared to leave or hang around for the rest of the night. Unfortunately the sound in Pradva was relatively poor so only on half the floor could you really make out the music. I left about half an hour before it finished, said my goodbyes and went to meet my sister for dinner before my flight home.
Camp Jitterbug is really one of the hottest, perhaps trendiest events, to attend. It was well organized overall with some unfortunate choices in venue (which are already scheduled for a change for 2009). Perhaps it’s largest downfall is its popularity. Large events lose their intimacy especially when venues with a warm and authentic atmosphere are traded for halls that are chosen to fit the most people possible. It happened to this years ULHS as well. Managing the size of an event versus the quality of an event can be a challenge; Camp Jitterbug was successful in that regard.
It is an event to look forward to next year; I guarantee.
Did you go to Camp Jitterbug? What did you think of the dances, classes and competitions? Let me know and comment.