Amber Swing festival 2018 review
Event: Amber Swing festival 2018 (Spanish review here)
Place and date: Gdansk (Poland) from August 16 to 19, 2018
Presentation of the organizer: It’s five years already since Amber Swing Festival makes a mark on the map of the most important swing festivals in Europe. Every year in August, dancers, and enthusiasts of swing flock to the Polish Baltic coast to learn, dance and party in the wonderful city of freedom – Gdansk. The festival brings together international instructors and European bands for 3 days of fun. That’s over 40 hours of workshops, shows, tasters, 4 dance parties and LIVE music. Join us in Gdansk to celebrate the 5th anniversary of Amber swing together!
Festival site: http://www.amberswing.pl/
Warning: The evaluation is done exclusively from the technical point of view of a swing dancer. We do not consider subjective, emotional, or imponderable criteria, such as fun or mood that is experienced individually. This series of criticisms only deals with technical, formal and logistical aspects, and they will not necessarily relate to your subjective experience of the event.
If you have had a lot of fun and nothing has bothered you, give the event the highest score and do not keep reading.
The criticism corresponds only to the «Lindy Hop full pass» that includes all the parties and classes of Lindy Hop of the program. Three extra classes were also offered, of which we will analyze two. The event included Slow Lindy and Solo Jazz classes, which will not be taken into account.
The complete program included 7 hours of Lindy Hop classes, 4 hours of Slow Dance, 3 extra classes, 4 parties and 3 tasters. The price ranged between € 100 and € 200 depending on the contracted options.
The management of the inscriptions, payments and transfers was correct and effective. Documents were prepared with schedules, maps and other necessary details to get oriented in Gdansk, since up to four different locations were used during the event. On this point we have not detected problems.
The audition system used to distribute the attendees to the four levels offered deserves a special mention. This system, proven outdated and ineffective, resented the experience of many of the attendees.
The system consisted in requesting that the participants dance different songs of varied tempos, changing pairs randomly when requested. The teachers were handing out bracelets according to their observations. In a room with around 300 people and many unbalanced pairings, this obsolete system produced an almost completely random distribution of the levels.
Although not the subject of this critique, we can distinguish three main biases in this type of audition:
- Privilege the acquaintances / organizers. The highest levels are usually offered to dancers previously known, or who belong to the contracting organization.
- Some applicants agreed to alternate between them during the audition, thus avoiding disadvantageous pairings (something that also happened in the infamous audition of GastroSwing 2014).
- Finally, the third bias lies in the subjective factor, as teachers tend to privilege those who dance with a style similar to them, ignoring the internal flow of dance as a couple (quality of connection, technique and frame) or the actual baggage of each individual (a greater knowledge of the dance vocabulary makes similar patterns easier to reproduce).
We can add that the fatigue of dancing for an hour to determine the final level is an extra handicap. At present, there are more advanced and less arbitrary hearing systems, namely, systems that include peer audition (as the employ sometimes in Herrang).
This system avoids penalizing dancers who are not striking from the outside but who have a solid technique, as opposed to the tendency to place colorful dancers in the upper levels whose technical deficiencies impair the dynamics of dancing as a couple.
This point is enough to drastically reduce the score of this section, since arbitrary hearing can ruin learning. Many participants were displaced from their appropriate level, although to be honest, the class material was similar between levels since the progression was determined by the average.
First of all, we cannot ignore the overwhelming beauty of a city like Gdansk, its fascinating architecture and the atmosphere of its streets. The trip would be fully justified only by the experience of traveling the city. It is also the world capital of amber, since the largest deposits of this precious fossil resin are found in the area.
The two main stages of the festival were SoSalsa and BHP Hall, both picturesque scenarios, located in the vicinity of a freight port and occupying old industrial buildings renovated for that purpose.
The SoSala room required a multi-storey ascent to the dependencies of the upper zone, where interesting views of the port and its portico cranes were obtained. This room offered two different musical environments, with a parquet floor and large windows.
The BHP room was the setting for the main parties and concerts. Located at ground level, it did not require climbing stairs and its parquet room was the widest. Again, it was an industrial building reconstructed for that purpose, with large windows, a restaurant and other facilities.
In this section we do not evaluate the level of comfort or air conditioning, which, as we will see in the corresponding section, was the great scourge of these spaces. If we only take into account geographical, historical and artistic factors, this picturesque city and the chosen enclaves receive an outstanding qualification.
We observe the typical trend in the countries beyond our borders; high tempos, long themes, taste for the original and textured jazz swing.
No concern was observed to maintain a careful alternation of tempos (sinusoidal graphic representation), to adjust the durations (not even in fast songs that could exceed 4 minutes) or to offer simple structure themes (in general, except in DJ sessions). ).
This is not negative, since it evokes the spirit of the original Lindy Hop, the predominance of rhythm over melody (as opposed to the current trend of «musicality») and a strong link with the roots of jazz swing. Consequently, the experience was more visceral, exciting and raw than in festivals conceived for beginners (the minimum level of dance for this festival was «intermediate», and an intermediate in Spain is not the same as in Poland or Russia).
There was no shortage of Boogie-Woogie rhythms or themes with a blues structure, although it can be objected that there were practically no middle tempos; we had mostly very fast songs (people then resorted to Fast Lindy or Shag), and sometimes we had excessively slow songs (conceived to dance Blues, curiously they use the trick of saying «Slow dance» instead of calling it Blues; Perhaps the Blues needs a Trojan horse to prosper? We believe that the Blues has enough interest to do without these tricks, but we also understand that people usually lack the knowledge to appreciate what does not relate to something already known).
The group invited to offer live music, Reverent Juke, followed the same trend. Very long tracks and complex musicality, but perfectly executed. Little variety of tempos, although sufficient not to frustrate the experienced dancer. In general, a brilliant group that achieved complicity with the public.
In this section we do not judge if «we like» the music or not, only its adaptation to the average level of the dancers and other factors that can be objectified independently of the individual subjective experience. All in all, only the monotony of tempos and the length of the tracks (both live and DJ sessions) reduce the rating in this section.
The two main enclaves had parquet flooring, but not wooden flooring, which is the ideal floor. Both floors presented optimal sliding properties, although as was natural they were lost as the evening progressed and moisture condensed, or some drinks were poured in the vicinity of the track.
In both classes and parties, the floor observed characteristics that protect joint health and improve the dance experience. Only the deleterious factors already commented that were observed in the parties, reduces the final qualification of this section.
The big problem of the festival. The spaces used had easily accessible toilets, changing rooms and a bar. Mineral water bottles were available during the workshops, although not edible elements such as fruit, which is a recommended trend practiced at other festivals.
The fruit hydrates, helps replenish electrolytes and supplies short-chain carbohydrates; it is a very economical extra, and its inclusion would have helped to combat the fatigue of the sessions of more than 3 hours of class.
But the greatest issue of the festival was the air conditioning. In both spaces (SoSalsa and BHP), sweat broke quickly, and there were no refrigeration measures apart from a small number of fans and the opening of windows and doors.
The atmosphere warmed up to the unbearable during the parties (where around 300 people cohabited) requiring frequent changes of clothes and constant cleanliness to maintain hygiene. It was necessary to leave the premises to cool down outside. We do not understand how in the middle of August the application of effective measures was ignored on this point. If there were means of air conditioning or air extraction, they were not used.
This defect drastically reduces the quality of the experience, imposes the use of many clothes and a constant visit to the toilets. The degree of heat and humidity exceeded those known in the latest editions of GastroSwing.
Nothing new under the sun. Apart from the coexistence in workshops, there was no integration or cohesion activity for foreign visitors. Tendency to dance with acquaintances and scarce initiative to do the same with strangers.
The followers in particular were not especially proactive, being a somewhat old-fashioned community (the man is the one requesting the dance, the followers prefer to lose dances instead of asking a free leader to dance).
The Polish community also brought together dancers from Germany, Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria and other nearby countries, and the general level was remarkable. Almost all the dances were satisfactory, and the personal attitude, although passive, was good.
We also observed what we call «Kilimanjaro’s Monkey effect», a funny phenomenon that we see in many places. The effect consists of the following: It is possible to deduce the dancer’s level (or at least the size of his ego) by performing a gaze sweep of the dance floor, from the foreground in front of the stage to the far end of the stage. In Kilimanjaro, the higher-ranking monkeys occupy the highest areas of the mountain and are close to the leader, and below them, hierarchically, each individual occupies different heights according to their rank.
Invariably, the dancers of the community (usually in suit and tie) occupy the front line before the stage; to these follows a middle zone of dancers with experience, but more insecure, and at the back of the room are the beginners. There is no one who leaves the assigned area, and if they go too far, they return immediately.
Although we try to move around the room and dance with everyone, there is no way to break this hierarchical scheme to obtain a more plural and less compartmentalized social dance.
This was the poster of teachers who taught the main workshops of the Amber Swing Festival 2018:
- Nils & Bianca
- Daniil & Maria
- Felipe Braga & Lucile Pinteaux
- Konrad & Agnieszka
In this section, only the personal nature of the invited teachers, their openness and generosity to the community they visit, and their quality as dancers are judged, without entering into the content of the workshops or their pedagogical value.
All the invited artists were of proven quality. Although the only front-line couple were Bianca and Nils, the rest of the cast possessed comparable teaching skills.
In the end, what interests the assistant is not that the teachers are excellent dancers when performing their choreography or exhibition, but also that they are excellent communicators and pedagogues. One thing can happen without the other, and it is important to highlight this fact.
All the teachers made choreographed exhibitions, with the exception of Felipe and Lucille and Konrad and Agnieszka, who improvised with slower themes. The exhibition of Bianca and Nils was especially memorable and was a highlight at Saturday’s party.
Some professors were seen dancing in at least one of the parties (Nils, Konrad or Maria come to mind), although in general they looked for a proper corner to talk to each other, or they disappeared after the mandatory exhibitions.
In summary, and although in general we cannot talk about a great participation beyond what is necessary, the quality of the dancers and particularly the headliner (Blanca and Nils) maintains a high score in this section.
We evaluate the workshops considering the quality of the teaching given, its adaptation to the general level of the class, the clarity of the explanations, the progression of difficulty, and the pedagogical value of the teachers, who will be individually qualified.
Amber Swing 2018 Teachers introduction
We have considered the experience of attendees of all levels, who we have surveyed to ensure uniformity of criteria. We have also analyzed the audiovisual material collected to establish a better criterion in the evaluation of the classes.
Nils & Bianca: 10
Couple that excels in the current competitions of Lindy Hop and Boogie-Woogie with their impressive style and dynamism. They resemble dancers drawn from a cartoon film: quick and ethereal steps, extreme body mobility, impossible maneuvers executed in a fraction of a second, and all without losing a humorous attitude.
His workshops were unanimously the most celebrated. Clarity in explanations, clear didactic resources for other learning models, well-modulated difficulty progression. They also invited people to watch a video of Frankie Manning dancing with Norma Miller as inspiration and source. A significant and emotional moment.
In addition, they conducted the Boogie-Woogie extra classes, again, effectively and perfectly connected with the audience.
In short, Bianca and Nils are one of the rare cases in which virtuosity and competition at the highest level are not incompatible with an excellent pedagogy (if you like a dancer or if his/her classes are «fun» does not imply that you will have improvement after the classes, it is important to maintain proportion between what the teacher can do and what he/she can teach effectively, something that is not always understood). They allowed to record in video both the explanations and the demonstration with music. Therefore, it received the highest rating.
Daniil & Maria: –
A newly emancipated couple with their own school in Moscow, which also actively competes in different modalities. Good dancers and good attitude. Unfortunately we did not have enough first-hand experience with them (and we do not believe that the majority opinion constitutes a criterion).
Considering other observed elements, they were not at all a mediocre couple and scored at a good general level. Not having frequented them enough, we refrain from qualifying their participation and will not be considered in the final average.
Felipe Braga & Lucile Pinteaux: 9
Ad hoc couple for this festival. Felipe, of Brazilian origin, and Lucile, an old acquaintance of the Barcelona scene, is now in France. We can say that they are a very remarkable couple in terms of transmission of teaching. Closeness, kindness, good spirit and positive attitude. They were very generous in teaching, and they had the initiative to rotate with some students, something that we value greatly.
They managed the extra class of Fast Swing out, where they did not skimp on sweat or effort, getting involved with the attendees, rotating and dancing despite the exhausting task. Felipe and Lucille also left some extra hints for those who could apply them, but they did not leave anyone behind either.
In video only the demo with music was collected, and it is the only thing that slightly reduces its rating. A great pair who are, without preaching so much, the quintessence of an excellent didactic capacity and great generosity. There are teachers who do not get their hands dirty, and this is not the case.
Konrad & Agnieszka: 9
The only national couple, with activity and a school in the city of Warsaw. Experts in Blues, they also dominate the Lindy Hop.
They were pedagogical, clear, systematic. They did not dispense with challenging technical moments, and they worried about rotating personally with some students according to need. Their classes had a good rhythm and a lot of practice with music, including general considerations about «musicality» and modulation of dance energy levels using different steps.
Although they did not offer a demo with music, they offered an extensive detailed summary with all the details of the classes, which largely covers this gap and catapults them to an excellent final score.
Remember in the first place that in this section we do not judge if the festival is expensive or cheap. This is subjective. What we evaluate is whether there is an effective correspondence between the value of the experience and the paid price.
Prices ranged from € 100 for the Slow Dance option to € 200 for the late bird that included all classes and festival parties. The intermediate option, the Lindy Hop pass could be obtained for € 140 and also included all parties. Extra classes were offered that could be contracted independently for 50 zloty (around € 12).
It should be remembered that this festival included 7 hours of Lindy Hop classes distributed over three days, in addition to the four parties, which is cheap compared to national festivals. In addition, the quality of the facilities and the staff of guest teachers was remarkable.
The cost of the flight, booked with enough time, is not too high if we approach this experience as a vacation and do not constrain the stay to the duration of the festival.
We can add that Poland is a cheap country for Spanish visitors, and although a change of currency is required for daily expenses, it is possible to stay overnight and attend basic expenses for a small amount. Gdansk deserves more than a walk for its beauty, and this adds value to the investment. We do not believe that you should manage a trip like that only to lock yourself in the dance halls. It is worth spending a few extra days and filling your eyes with the charm and radiance of «the pearl of the Baltic».
To conclude, we can say that the quality-price ratio is very good, particularly if you are a curious traveler who enjoys history, architecture and meeting new cultures. If not, subtract 2 points to this section.
If Gdansk is the «pearl of the Baltic» then the 2018 Amber Swing festival is the «pearl of the Polish Swing». A festival full of success, with a brilliant staff, but weakened by the lack of air conditioning and the poor social aspect. Inescapable appointment if you are a swing dancer with a traveling spirit.
Final score: 7,5
¡Crítica en español aquí!