Prague Swing Xmas 2018 review
Event: Prague Swing Xmas 2018 (Crítica en español aquí)
Place and date: Prague (Czech Republic) 6-9 December 2018
Organizer presentation: It is a swing dance festival with international teachers, great live bands, beautiful venues and christmas atmosphere on top. It all happens in the downtown of Prague, the capital of Czech Republic and has been on since 2008.
Web of the festival: https://www.pragueswingfestivals.com/psx/
Advertencia: This 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. Check here our criteria.
If you have had a lot of fun and nothing has bothered you, give the event the highest score and do not keep reading.
This criticism corresponds only to the «Lindy Hop full pass» that included all the parties and Lindy Hop classes of the program. Also included were 3 free tasters. The event included a St. Louis Shag track, and extra «Jazz for all» workshops, which will not be taken into account.
The management of the inscriptions, payments and transfers was correct and effective. Documents were prepared with schedules, maps and other necessary details to orientate and develop in Prague, since up to four main locations were used during the event. It deserves mention the mobile application developed ad hoc, which facilitated the organization of the experience.
Perhaps the nonexistence of a global document that integrates all the schedules and addresses on the same grid can be pointed out. Instead, it was necessary to consult up to 3 different documents to know the details of classes, parties, competitions and tasters, something cumbersome to organize quickly.
In our critique of the organizational aspects we also analyze the system of auditions or level tests. In the case at hand, the levels offered were intermediate, intermediate-advanced, advanced and invitational, and it was necessary to pass a test on Saturday morning to access the advanced level. Those who did not pass the test would be lowered to the previous, intermediate-advanced level, while passing it would allow them to take the advanced level classes.
At the beginning of the audition, directed by Kevin St. Laurent and Jo Hoffberg, it was indicated that there were only four places left for the invitational level, something that left the process unequal because the majority of places at this level had been assigned to acquaintances and / or local teachers, who had not passed any auditions. Another way to accredit the level should have been proposed so as to not limit the possibilities of access to people not known by the organizers. This reduces the rating of this section.
Although the biases introduced by conventional auditions always be present as we explain here, at least Kevin and Jo organized random couples to avoid the rotations agreed between friends (a frequent trick), and were careful to divide the audition into two groups to be able to examine each dancer more closely. It should be noted that they were uniquely professionals in providing indications on the movements they needed to see. Fundamentally basic as the swing out that, as all lindy hopper knows, is the movement that instantly reveals our technical capacity.
However, cannot be said that passing the audition was proof of a correct swing out. It is possible to achieve this level if from the outside the mechanics seem correct, although from the inside an extra effort is being made to compensate for the errors of the other member of the couple. We insist that, at present, there are systems of auditions such as peer review (followed, if you will, by a teacher review), and we do not understand the atavism of the classical audition system.
During the parties, personnel of the organization were available at all times, ready to answer questions or make records, something to be valued very positively.
The advanced level classes were held in the «Akademie» room, a spacious space with wooden floors, toilets and a bar. The parties and intermediate-advanced level classes were held in the «Autoklub» room, a few meters from the previous room. This space also had a large wooden floor, toilets, bar and restaurant. In general, we have observed that all the spaces chosen were central and a few minutes’ walk away from each other, which greatly increases the convenience and allows better management of time.
Although the «Autoklub» room, where the main classes were held, although it did not have artistic architectural elements or of special beauty, it proved as a wide and effective space to accommodate the dancers. In the peak hours of the festivities it was necessary to take extreme precautions and observe a good floorcraft to avoid collisions, so that at this time the festival would have benefited from a larger room (or a smaller number of competitors). Autoklub had a first amphitheater from where it was possible to witness the performances and competitions from a better perspective.
But as in our previous review of Amber Swing Festival, the true location and absolute protagonist is the city. Prague is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and was one of the most influential capitals of Europe until the 20th century, in which it had to resist the Nazi dictatorship first and the Soviet influence later.
Walking through its streets is getting drunk on medieval, Gothic and Baroque architecture. Many of its corners evoke the Soviet era while still blooming an exquisite romanticism. The Astrological Clock or the Tower of the Powder are mere milestones for the astonished traveler of a wandering that invites to love and dream.
For all the wonders of Prague and the persistent power of its spell, we are well persuaded to give this section the highest rating.
Regarding the work of the DJs, we observe the typical tone of the countries beyond our borders; high tempos, long themes, taste for the original jazz swing and with texture. Interestingly, no concern was observed in this area for maintaining a careful alternation of tempos (sinusoidal graphic representation), or for adjusting the durations (not even in fast subjects that could exceed 4 minutes). For that reason, the punctured music turned out to be something flat and monotonous, although the songs taken individually were suitable.
We continue to draw attention to the lack of care of the essential parameters in a DJ session. Although some tempos alternated, there were two fundamental registers for «slow» and «fast», and the musical arrangements of the selected themes were very similar. This point impairs the musical section, fortunately raised several integers by the magnificent performances of Shirt Tail Stompers and Miss Mikey May.
Shirt Tail Stomper, native of the United Kingdom, entertained the parties on Saturday and Sunday displaying a solid repertoire of classic execution. With strong roots in the original swing-jazz tradition, they consummated two magnificent performances combining musical and vocal virtuosity, with an old style that was as authentic as it was intoxicating. There was no lack of final apotheosis with themes designed for that purpose. They could only be reproached for the long duration of the themes, not adapted to the demands of social dancing, and a certain monotony in the tempos (from the point of view of a dancer and the different resources that are invoked by music). Despite these shortcomings, which may rather be considered attributes of the bands that play live without strictly adapting their repertoire, they deserved all the applause they received.
The second group, Miss Mikey May, admirably complemented the performance of the first band. We do not know if this was casual or not, but while Shirt Tail Stomper moved into the stylistic cradle and texture of swing-jazz from the 30s-40s, Miss Mikey May focused on musical forms more related to blues, such as the rhythm and blues, the boogie-woogie, the jump blues or the primitive 12 bar form. An exquisite counterpoint and a new range of sensations and rhythms to explore with our dance. The prodigious American-Israeli singer Mikey, displayed all the nuances of a voice born in Africa: now deep and powerful, now sweet and fiery. He scored an outstanding performance that was worth all the melancholy poured. We can only point out as a minor defect the little variety of tempos.
In this section we do not judge whether «we like» the music or not, only the 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. Unfortunately, sometimes drinks were spilled in the vicinity of the track. This was because some people hid glasses from the bar under the chairs of the dance space, which ended up spilled. It would have been advisable to have some control over this, since an apparently innocuous act can cause slips or broken glass.
However, condensation and moisture accumulation were kept to a minimum during the parties, so the floor did not show the increase in friction that is typical in these cases. This point significantly increases our assessment, since the floor is the «third person» with whom we dance. Without a smooth, slightly cushioned and dry floor, the physical and joint wear increases, and the technical possibilities are reduced.
In both classes and parties, the floor observed characteristics that protect joint health and improve the dance experience. Only the deleterious factors already commented on that were observed in the parties, slightly reduces the final qualification of this section.
The usual in large format festivals. The spaces used had easily accessible toilets and bar. Although bottles of mineral water were not available during the workshops, nor were there any edible elements such as fruit, which is a tendency practiced in other festivals. We believe that having some bottles of mineral water during the classes would not have meant a large outlay and would have greatly improved the comfort of the attendees, who had to choose between hydrating consuming at the bar or bringing their own bottles from the outside. Clearly, unacceptable for a festival of this level.
But the greatest defect of the festival was the air conditioning. During the parties at Autoklub, an excess of heat was perceived, particularly at times of maximum affluence. The environment warmed up requiring frequent changes of clothes and constant cleaning to maintain hygiene. The funny thing is that the existing air conditioning was reserved for the last moments of the party, when you could feel the action of the air conditioning and a more pleasant temperature. Something incomprehensible, unless it was a premeditated strategy to increase consumption at the bar. The Lazarillo de Tormes is a universal classic ..
This defect drastically reduced the quality of the experience, imposed the use of many changes and a constant visit to the toilets (if you care about, as is desirable, your hygiene in the social dance). Due to the aforementioned defects, the rating of this section is significantly reduced.
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, this being a somewhat more traditional community at this point (the man is the one requesting the dance, the followers prefer to lose dances to ask a free leader to dance). It seems that in Central European countries this is the keynote, and we doubt whether it should be considered a negative aspect or a cultural fact. At the end of the day, if the country’s culture determines the attitude in the social dance, we as mere guests, are the ones who must adapt and not suffer a severe case of cultural provincialism (being basically a redneck). Avoid falling into ethnocentrism, it is important when the historical and cultural coordinates of the country are different from ours.
But, on the other hand, the criticism is made from the point of view of the culture in which we are enrolled, and from this perspective It was difficult to guess who was willing to dance with you or if it was appropriate to ask for a dance from those who were sitting. Although in practice almost no one refuses a dance and education is impeccable, the environment will seem airtight and contained. For being the devil’s advocate, maybe it’s better so in Spain … at least, when there are smiles you’ll know they’re authentic!
The Czech community also brought together dancers from Germany, Russia, Poland, Bulgaria and other nearby countries, and the general level was remarkable.
We also observe here the classic Kilimanjaro’s monkeys effect, a funny phenomenon that we see in many places: occupying the proscenium and its margins, the most advanced dancers or who think they are. In the middle zone, dancers who consider themselves intermediate. In the background, beginners and people who still feel insecure. A spontaneous and natural hierarchy is produced, which is funny when it becomes conscious and observed. The Kilimanjaro’s monkeys effect creates more or less watertight groups, sometimes orchestrated around a leader, a sort of social stratification of the dance.
Normally no one leaves their area, and if they get too far away, they return immediately to it. Although we try to move around the room and dance with everyone, this hierarchical scheme seems unbreakable and the social dance is compartmentalized. Although we insist, that this effect is practically universal in communities that have grown enough.
In any case, and cultural barriers aside, in short distances we discover a nice and sincere community.
This was the poster of teachers who taught the main workshops of the Prague Swing Xmas 2018:
- Jenna & Jon (USA)
- Jo & Kevin (USA)
- Moe (UK) & Andreas (SWE)
- Robyn & Ben (UK)
- Simona & Rokas (LT) (Managed the St. Louis Shag track, which will not be considered)
In this section, only the personal nature of the invited teachers, their openness and generosity to the community they visited 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, highlighting the couple formed by Jo Hoffberg and Kevin St. Laurent, and the couple formed by Moe Sakan and Andreas, at least in terms of precedence of fame and chevrons. As we know, this is not a necessary or sufficient condition to provide an effective pedagogy in the classes. After all, what interests the attendee is not that the teachers are excellent dancers when performing their choreography or exhibition, but they are also excellent communicators and pedagogues. One thing can happen without the other, and it is important to highlight this fact.
All teachers held exhibitions. Some teachers were seen dancing during at least one of the parties (Moe Sakan, Jon Tigert, Ben, Jo and Andreas come to mind) who participated in the social dance. Some did not lavish themselves, others did not appear at all to dance with the people present. But we appreciate the willingness of those who did, and this generosity, which sometimes does not go in the salary, generates in us a deep respect. Some of the deans showed clear signs of fatigue and did not let themselves be seen in the social dance, which can be understood.
In summary, remembering that what is judged in this section is the general quality of the teachers and their level of personal involvement, we give a remarkable score.
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.
We have considered the experience of other attendees of the advanced level, whom we have surveyed to ensure a uniformity of criteria. We have also analyzed the audiovisual material collected to establish a better criterion in the evaluation of the classes.
Jo & Kevin (USA): 8
A couple that has nothing to prove. Excellent dancers with a long career and a recognizable and personal style. The most recognizable names and headliners. As dancers, they combine the excellence of a refined technique with an original creativity that has differentiated them from the rest. Dancers with a lot of personality and a special eagerness to take care of the communication between roles. Jo Hoffberg is a dancer with an overwhelming character, who does not consider the role of follower to be limited to «follow».
In this line, the two hours of workshop were about the exchange of eights (trading eights). A workshop eminently oriented to the social dance, and at first sight something gaseous, but that showed its kindness in the nocturnal dance. The first hour the leaders acted as mere comparsas offering their arms so that the followers could auto-lead at pleasure; The follower had the responsibility to auto-lead their passbys, circles, sugar pushes and swing outs. The leader did not execute footwork, limited to rotating on the site readjusting their position, but could respond with the necessary tension or compression as appropriate. In the manner of one of those wooden dolls with which martial arts are practiced.
During the second class the leader added his footwork. He was still responding to the initiatives of the follower, but adding the correct steps, executed on his own axis without moving. It was the follower who caused the necessary rotations of the leader according to the chosen pattern. It was explained that to dance by trading eights, it was necessary to previously agree that each one would lead four eights, and who would start. Therefore, we do not speak of pure leading-following techniques, but rather of a pact that add new nuances and joy to social dancing. Jo commented with disgust how some leaders pulled their hand down, unbalancing her, or suffered other kinds of vices with which unconscious leaders undermine their partner. The «trade of eights» seems designed to balance the dance and distribute responsibility, yes, we do not believe that this system works with high tempos.
In short, on the one hand, we would have preferred a workshop with more technical content, given that the technique and the fine details that provide quality when dancing are the most difficult to master. But it must be recognized that the initial disappointment vanished with social practice, where new ideas and vibrant communication were provoked.
We also value from Kevin and Jo the crushing of expectations and the commitment to a heterodox concept. They did not rotate during the classes with the students, and the personalized indications were scarce, and this point somewhat reduces the final grade. It was not necessary to record on video because it was a conceptual class, and because these concepts have been demonstrated by Kevin and Jo in some of their exhibitions available on YouTube.
Jenna & Jon (USA): 9
Natives of the United States, and habitual companions in several competitions, they managed a class well structured, systematic and with progressive difficulty. They introduced corrections on a personal level when they considered it necessary, and they were scrupulous with technical details (leading, posture, connection, frame …). Good balance between theory and practice, good dynamics in rotations.
Swing outs were performed with infrequent connections and directions, rotating passes and other similar combinations of 6 and 8 stroke patterns. Simple movements, but the greatness of the dance is to make the complex look simple. If all the pieces fit correctly and in synchrony, a complex movement produces the illusion of being simple. However, when some essential detail fails, the curtain falls and the Wizard of Oz reveals himself as an insignificant little man.
Extract of the summary in video. A brief fragment is presented.
We especially value the adaptation to the general level of the class, and how they insisted on the weak points of the average. We also emphasize their humility, not pretending to impress with some sophisticated combo, but showing the beauty of the simple when it is done with purpose.
Although they did not rotate, they provided personal information and allowed the video recording of detailed explanations as well as a demo with music, which is the preferred option to remember and take advantage of the content of the class. Therefore, they receive an outstanding grade.
Robyn & Ben (UK): 9
Come from the United Kingdom, they are two young dancers who stand out, deservedly, as figures of the Lindy Hop. Their didactics opted for the learning of a choreography. This choreography was taken directly from a famous sequence of the classic «A day at the races», of which it was a fragment.
From this method of work, we can present several objections: First, the learning of a choreography has no transfer to the leading-following communication of social dance, which is the primary objective by which most of the attendees take classes. Complex choreographies are not reproducible in the context of social dancing, unless both parties know and have rehearsed the same choreography. Second, if the practice is not maintained in memory (something that the average dancer does not do) the choreography ends up dissolving into oblivion. Third, sometimes it is a trick that excuses teachers to explain real concepts and techniques, which are the most difficult to transmit, producing however the illusion of a dynamic and fun class without real learning.
Extract of the summary in video. A brief fragment is presented.
On the other hand, teaching a choreography can also be a working method that allows to condense many combinations and movements, some unusual, in the scarce two hours of class; The benefits are a multiangular practice of inherent technical abilities, coordination and memory. And another benefit no less important, is the connection with the African-American roots of this dance. Experiencing the spirit of a sequence with almost 100 years of history, allows us to remember where we came from, and how it was danced before the snobbery of «musicality» and the languid bouncing took over the modern swing community. The best way to understand something is by attending to its genesis, understanding its origin. And, in conclusion, we can say that getting off on a tangent has been the best that Robyn and Ben could have done.
After a viewing of the famous sequence of the film «A day at the races», different portions of the sequence were worked on paying special attention to timing and rhythm. Personal corrections were made, and the video of the teachers’ demonstration was allowed.
For all this, and considering that the positive rather than the negative weighs more in this choreographic teaching, we describe the performance of Robyn and Ben as outstanding. It is difficult to do more in such a short time.
Moe (UK) & Andreas (SWE): 9
Regular couple in competitions of Lindy Hop and Balboa, this couple has a soft and sophisticated style that exudes elegance. The start of this class was to our understanding something slow; Work began on the fundamental details of a reverse swingout, and from this combination progressed to unusual combinations that were led from the left side of the leader. Not devoid of challenge, but assumable with appropriate technical foundations, these movements explored all the edges of stretcht and compression, tension and direction, in an original way.
Extract of the summary in video. A brief fragment is presented.
Moe and Andreas supplemented each other in the explanations and progressed carefully towards the final conclusion. They did not precipitate the events and made sure of the general progress of the class before adding additional information. The format chosen for the class was that of the progressive sequence; that implies starting with a specific movement or combination, to be adding new steps as they assimilate the previous ones. The amount of assimilable material will depend on the speed of absorption of those present. It is an effective and convenient format in most cases.
Finally, they did not perform a final demonstration with music for video recording, but a detailed breakdown of the steps of the workshop. If you cannot have both, this last is preferable, and raises the final rating of this extraordinary couple.
Remember in the first place that in this section we do not think 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 amount paid. Or, in other words, if the value of the offered exceeds, equals or remains below the price paid.
Prices ranged from € 170 for registration as a couple and € 190 for individual registration. This full pass included all classes and festival parties. Extra classes of «SOLO TRAINING FOR LINDY HOPPERS» were offered, led by Jo Hoffberg, at the price of € 70. Different tasters of back leading, slow dance, etc. were proposed before each of the main parties.
It should be remembered that this festival included 8 hours of Lindy Hop classes distributed over two days, in addition to the three main parties with live music. A price adjusted for everything that was offered. 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. It would be unforgivable to fly to Prague only to lock oneself in the dance halls and not spend one or several afternoons to enrapture us with its beautiful corners.
As a discordant note we have observed that Prague is a very tourist city, and in a certain way adapted to the needs of the tourist. For this reason, we can sometimes perceive the most picturesque places as a kind of theme park where the tourists take the typical photos. Do not miss the Czech version of the restaurant with «typical food» (local version of the frozen paella) and things like that. But the careful and well informed traveler will know how to leave the most touristic circuits and establishments to see his effort rewarded with a deeper and more authentic impression of the old Prague.
In conclusion, considering festival and location, it is an interesting investment if we can attend with margin to travel the city without haste.
Prague Swing Xmas Festival is a bright and balanced festival. Accusing only minor defects, it is a perfect excuse to pack the backpack and visit the beautiful city of Prague. If everyday life has turned you into a clay golem like the one of the legend, the Czech swing will once again insufflate in you the divine spark of curiosity and dance.