I just got home from a long weekend at the Camp Hollywood lindy hop camp in Los Angeles.
To be perfectly honest, I have not been a fan of Camp Hollywood. In the past, I found the vibe superficial, clique-ish, and borderline sexist. I felt isolated and inadequate as a dancer at the event. I remember hanging out by the hotel pool, feeling out of shape and awkward next to the chiseled, tanned bodies of other dancers, clearly having a much better time than me.
The 20th anniversary Camp Hollywood this weekend turned that around for me. While I don't think it's still quite the right swing event for me, it's definitely got something special that I can appreciate and respect.
First off, the removal of Miss Camp Hollywood I view as a positive change. I understand the historic connection of a "Miss" whatever and the swing era. But a beauty contest at a swing event just sends the wrong message about what we value and pay attention to, in my opinion.
I've also had conflicted feelings about the dance contests at Camp Hollywood. I appreciate the extremely high level of dancing on display. But the wild, chaotic energy of the comps was a bit much, and took away from my appreciation of the dance.
Competing in the competitions this year in the Mix and Match and Solo Jazz Teams division has given me newfound respect for the camp. The energy of the crowd is just so much more amped than at other competitions I've been to. The feeling of being cheered for by hundreds of your fellow dancers in a more intimate space really inspired me to dance my best. Here's my team the Shimmy Shakers doing our thing.
Even being in the Advanced Mix and Match with some of the best dancers in the world didn't feel incredibly intimidating. While I don't put myself anywhere in the league of other dancers like Adam Brozowski, Dax Hock, Vincenzo Fezi, or Nick Williams, seeing even seasoned dancers nervously pacing or practicing steps made me realize that we all face our own inner fears and nervousness.
Going with a crew of Bay Area dancers ameliorated a lot of my feelings of being an outsider that I experienced in past years. I always felt like I could find other friendly folks to do stuff with whenever I wanted. I even organized a fun pastry outing / birthday celebration to a local Danish bakery that a dozen or so people happily attended.
Sitting by the pool this year, I hung out with my Bay Area friends, and really appreciated the multi-generational nature of the camp. There were lots of parents with their babies and toddlers in the pool. Older folks were lounging in the hot tub or socializing on the loungers. It was just a friendlier vibe than I remembered.
Other stuff about Camp Hollywood that I appreciate:
- The live music is just incredible, largely thanks to Jonathan Stout and his orchestra. There's also smaller bands during the late night and pick up bands in the hallways after hours, all during the weekend.
- The international nature of the camp is so awesome -- I love getting to watch and dancing with all the incredible talent from Europe and Asia that come to this event.
- I love the vendor room with awesome clothes and jewelry like Chloe Hong and Saint Savoy, even if I find it financially challenging.
- As I've gotten older, I've come to appreciate hotel events. Being able to run to my room and crash out for 20 minutes or make myself a snack makes all the difference to my overall well being.
- It's a super easy event to attend from San Francisco. You can grab a cheap flight, carpool with buddies, or take a cheap bus.
- And of course it's in LA, which has beautiful beaches, an incredible food scene, fantastic museums, Disneyland and much more.
So, despite my reservations, I had a great time this weekend. Honestly, I can't really separate whether it was changes at the camp or changes in my own attitude that made the experience so much better this year. Probably a bit of both. Thanks Camp Hollywood for an awesome event. Congrats on 20 years!