Thursday, October 6, 2011

Berlin Blues Explosion 2011

Berlin Blues Explosion 2011 was the bomb! The event was well-organized, provided comfortable housing, fed the instructors well, and had great overall energy. This blog will highlight this event, how I came to be there, and show some pictures.
My arrival to BBE started with An Duc Dang. He contacted me via Facebook after attending Falling in Blues in Grenoble, France. He wanted more blues, especially in Berlin, and Joe and Nelle told him of their friend living and teaching in Portugal. He contacted me, mentioned he's been watching my youtube channel, and put me in touch with Claudia, the BBE organizer. Unfortunately we weren't able to get me to Berlin last spring because they had workshops with Chris and Campbell (May) and the Ninjammerz (June). However, if Berlin Blues Explosion tickets sold out, they might be interested in hiring me.
"Our goal is to organize a Blues dancing event of high quality in terms of teaching and socials to help Blues dancing get a good reputation in Europe. The Blues bug is just starting to spread here, so we are very careful in choosing what we are offering to our participants. We see it as kind of a mission." I submitted youtube videos (teaching, performances and competition), my blues dance history, categorized my dance style, submitted potential class topics, and crossed my fingers. BBE sold out (again!) and I was hired to teach with Louise Tangerman from Basel, Switzerland.
Q. When did you and Louise meet?
A. Monday, September 26
Q. How long have you and Louise been dancing together?
A. Since Tuesday, September 27
Q. When did you start teaching together?
A. Saturday of BBE
Q. Did the above pictured black olive ice cream taste good?
A. No. It was a bit too salty and sweet with a distinct olive taste. Save your olives for cheese pairings.
It's a bit crazy to think that my first blues-only event as a staff instructor was international and with a follow I never met before. Once online introductions were made, we started emailing back and forth. There was even one Skype conversation that took place while I was living in Boulder, Colorado and she was at a film festival. I was given youtube videos of her dancing with Chris Härm, so I studied them and thought of potential class ideas. We brainstormed via email and came up with 9-10 class titles and descriptions reflecting our individual strengths which could hopefully materialize as partnership strengths. We at least demonstrated we were prompt and timely since we were the first to submit class titles and descriptions for our 6 BBE workshops.
Louise and I brainstormed further once I arrived to Basel and started training. We bolstered our written ideas with patterns, movement exercises, connection drills, and dance philosophies. It was mentally exhausting but rewarding. Day 1 in Berlin brought sightseeing and more training and finalizing class material details. Day 1 also had a pre-party swing and blues dance at the Franz Club. The dj'ed "swing" music wasn't swinging enough for me and hard to get into, but my dancing settled more once the blues hour hit.
This is one reason I appreciate Claudia. She appreciates food and introduced me and others to the Berlin brunch at Anna Blume. It was also a way to celebrate her birthday before the event's craziness really started. The second reason I appreciate her is for her organization and communication. Chris Härm was also a co-organizer, but most of my communications went through Claudia.
Friday evening started with a Meet & Greet at The Dubliner. Us DJs had a meeting outside with Joe Buckett and Chris Härm where we were shown our schedules. Expectations were also communicated- no jazz, no Norah Jones, no Michael Buble. Keep the energy flowing between 90-110bpm during the main hours, play with it a bit more into the later hours. The life of a DJ is easy when expectations are known, schedules given, and you meet the other DJs and know you can trust the coordinator. Joe also gave me a good schedule. I kicked off Sunday evening after the blues discussion panel and I dj'ed Monday from 1:30h-3:00h. Both times I was in the main rooms, so I could still interact with dancers, dance if I chose to (I didn't), and have a lot of dancers to dj for.
Claudia also had the powerhouse team of Fiona and Marco (Lucy pictured instead) working with her. They were great at making sure we did not stand in line, whether for food or dance entrance, collecting our judges' clipboards and compiling finalists and overall placements, answering our questions, taking pictures while I planked, and did not mind when I was mesmerized by candle flame. Fiona thinks I ought to get out more. I'm not sure why.

In contrast, I worked two events this summer with very chaotic leadership. Because there was a loose vision or none at all, support staff's helpfulness was minimized or nullified. I stepped up as Head DJ at one, compiling a list minute DJ schedule, adjusting for random contest decisions, DJing when I wasn't supposed to, and even set up lights. At the other, well, each year Chaos in Motion brings something new to frustrate me with and this year I didn't pick up the pieces.
After a fun meet and greet party, everyone went to the Haus der Sinne for dancing. While everyone was dancing, the teachers had a meeting downstairs with Claudia and Chris. I found out the teacher jam would be Sunday and relatively low-key (yes!). The teachers had their info packets with schedules, maps, meal stipends, food tickets for workshop day lunches, and our own Unobtainium pass.
Saturday started the three day workshop series. Louise and I taught one Halfway Hero 2 class and two Halfway Hero 1 classes. Did you catch all the numbers? They had so many intermediate level students sign up, they had to split that level in two. Our teaching topics included creating and taking space within the dance, listening to your partner, waiting (spilling over the edges), single axis turns, off-axis movement and more. It was fun for us and I think we had nice rapport.
Gaston is rolling up his sleeves as he and all of us instructors prepared for an immense judging night. We had Jack and Jill prelims and finals, Battle of the Beast prelims and finals, Solo Blues, and Showcase. The upstairs judges meeting was pretty straightforward. As discussed previously, we were responsible for our personal judging criteria. Also, our names would be listed on the scoresheets so competitors could ask us questions later. I thought our judging sheets might also be published so I made sure I had legible penmanship. According to Fiona, my notes were not publishable. Hmmmm.... Wouldn't you like to know why?
The competitions started late, but with Shell's awesome competition djing, Chris' flowing emcee patter, our judging, and Fiona and Marco's scoresheet handling, we managed to catch up to the competition schedule. The fact we caught up to BBE's intense, but detailed Saturday schedule, is another testimony to this event's organization. The rest of the evening featured great live music, huge boxes of pizza, and great dancing.
Here are some random thoughts regarding Saturday. Insisting on wearing a suit for the time period you're judging is foolish. So is not going to the bathroom (another judge). The competitions intermingled with dancing lasted 4-5 hours. The venue's bright lights burned hot only adding to my sweatiness. They were kept dimmer during the social dancing fortunately. Dear solo dance competitors: I can't really see you when you're in my face. It's like sitting in the front row of a movie theater. I can't capture the full movement or the story. Crowd interaction is certainly part of the fun, but I tend to look at what's 1 meter in front of me rather than 1 centimeter. Perhaps us judges should head to the stage next time. At least I think that would promote better communication between us and MC Chris since we delayed that competition's flow.
Sunday featured some of my favorite classes: Ready, Set, Flow (Blues Baby), It's Madness! (Salty Vets), and Spirit Moves (Halfway Hero 2). We refined the beginners movement, taught them some ochos, and got them making sad faces with their butts. The Madness advanced class started with creative exercise drills and we ended up having a blues train. That was certainly unique. They asked great questions and had more cameras per capita. And finally, we got people dragging, sinking weight into the floor, played Kung Fu Fighting (briefly) for the Crane Kick move, and did some cool redirection turns.
Sunday evening also featured a blues panel with Lucky and Brenda that Louise organized. I napped for half of it thereby missing Lucky's portion. Brenda's portion about the music and dancing was quite interesting. However, I was half paying attention, half preparing my set list. Once I was done djing I settled into dancing. Competition results were posted that evening, so I was busy answering questions too. But back to more dancing! It was a crazy night and I actually closed that dance down. At one point I had a line of follows at the stage. Leaders! You need to step up!
Note: don't touch the walls in the downstairs dance room. They are wet and disgusting. Next time people see me, please ask me about the fox of 1912 and a half and its variation. Oh! And Israeli follows are demanding. I mean that in the kindest of ways.
Life started slowing down Monday. I caught up on The Office and How I Met Your Mother while preparing for a late night dj slot. Monday was filled with solo classes and alternatives such as Argentine Tango and Burlesque (no boys allowed). Claudia took us out to White Trash after that. We had a great time socializing, eating, and drinking in that eclectic environment.
Monday night was BBE's final night. People were on dance missions. The DJ booth was provided a bit of a relief. From what Fiona was saying, Chris could have used some DJ booth time to breathe and refuel. There was talk that this dance might go until 8am. We were pumping out the blues and Franz Club was pumping out the electronica vibe. Eventually, one of the blues room closed down and we were all dancing in the main room after a special burlesque class performance taught and led by Melanie Bruyer. The dance closed at 5am and people were left saying goodbyes, planking, imitating Dirty Dance moves, and wanting more dancing.
Gaston makes a great Jennifer Grey and I a great Patrick Swayze. The dancers sang and it was like a magical movie moment.
 Dear dancers: If I'm DJing, please realize that when you ask me to dance, I might say no. I don't have a playlist set for my entire time slot. I often don't know what I'm playing after the current song. Imagine that I'm playing off CDs instead of a laptop. I'm watching the crowd, finding appropriate songs to come after one and seamlessly flow into another 2 songs away. I want you to have a good time so please don't feel that I'm neglecting you as a dancers because I'm making up for it as a DJ.
With all that leftover dancer energy, we went over to our host's flat for more dancing. Chris fell asleep up top, I fell asleep sitting upright, and Joe practiced his sexy moves on the balcony. I went to bed at 7:30am.
They meant to ask me what I thought of Berlin Blues Explosion overall, but I was busy planking. They asked Joe instead.
He gave it a rousing two thumbs up and so do I. It was my best blues event yet. Apologies to STLBX, Emerald City Blues Fest, and Mile High Blues. And it was my best teaching event also. There were close second places (Southern Fried Swing). There was great communication between me, Chris, Claudia and Louise. Louise and I hit it off well. I'm happy to consider her a dance partner. I thought we taught well, had a nice order and flow, and played off each other well both on the teaching and dance floor. Chris had a great vision and Claudia and crew made it happen. The venues were excellent and diverse. The workshop daytime meals were stellar. Berlin's international food scene was awesome (more on that later). BBE purchased my flights early and Claudia even printed my Berlin to Lisbon path. When I arrived to my host's house, Claudia had already prepared Louise's bed and my mattresses with chocolate and a note.

The competitors brought it and I thought the crowd responded well. There were 264 attendees, 111 from Germany, 15 from the US, 4 from Israel and many more. The live music was great and kept the energy flowing. The teachers brought it during the teacher jam and a snowball jam ensued.

Most importantly, I never felt panicked, rushed, or doubtful. If I had questions, I could ask Claudia, Chris, Marco, or Fiona. When I wasn't looking for them, they would check on me. There was a sound guy that made sure all the rooms were set up for the teachers, djs and bands. If this event represents European Blues, I strongly believe Europe is in good hands.

Thank you Berlin Blues Explosion for a wonderful time. Thank you everyone for all the wonderful dances. I hope to return.