The following guest blog posts was written by Brendan Argent, one of the Frankie Manning Ambassadors from South Africa. You can view the original post on his website here.
Reflections on Mother City Hop 2016, South Africa’s inaugural swing festival
Lindy hop has had a presence in Cape Town for nearly 5 years, since Jeannie Elliott moved to Cape Town from Texas to further her studies, and started teaching lindy hop classes to a handful of keen individuals who’d been learning from YouTube. We discovered Jeannie’s classes while looking for something to dance at our wedding and were hooked from day one… We’d been taking classes with Boogie Back Dance Co. for a little over a year when we found ourselves at the Orient Lindy Express in Istanbul: Turkey was our chosen destination for our (delayed) honeymoon, and we found out about the festival the day we arrived – couldn’t believe our luck! Those four days were pretty much mind-blowing to our fresh faces, and it dawned on us that we could maybe create a similar experience to Cape Town: first, to inspire our local dancers and second, to connect our beautiful city to lindy hoppers around the world.
We assembled a team and started planning in early 2015. Our first major decision was on the scale of the event: would it be small, bringing in one teaching couple and advertising it mainly to local dancers? Or would it be big, with several teaching couples, attracting dancers from other continents? Or would it be something in between? At that point, most of our team felt that a big event would not be viable as it would require a large capital outlay (to pay for flights, accommodation and venues): we’d be better off “starting small” and growing the event each year. On the flip side, we were concerned that, ironic as it sounded, starting small would be a greater financial risk: there would be no international interest, and there wouldn’t be enough local interest either – our scene was too small to support even one teaching couple flying to Cape Town for the weekend (and besides, the parties would be small and dismal!). On the other hand, if we went big, we could attract a lot of international dancers (Cape Town reached no. 1 on the NY Times destinations list in 2014) – and then attract more local dancers because of the high profile of the event. We decided to go big! (Note: big by small-festival standards )
How to pull off a big event with a big budget, but zero financial capital? Crowd fund it, of course! We set up an Indiegogo campaign – which itself took a lot of planning – but the platform was great: it allowed us to sell “ early bird” tickets and merchandise as part of the fundraising effort, as well as accept donations – and all of the promised funds would only be processed at the end of the campaign, if we met our minimum target. Thanks to the Frankie Manning Foundation, we were awarded the Ambassador Scholarship toattend Herräng Dance Camp (a trip that we would not normally be able to afford) so we timed the crowd-funding period to overlap with our trip. This gave us an opportunity to connect in person, with dancers and scene leaders from around the world, and tell them about Cape Town and our dream for Mother City Hop, South Africa’s first international Lindy Hop event. The enthusiastic reception that the project received was really encouraging, and we reached our goal with a few days to spare – thanks in large part to the support of the international lindy hop community. Our teachers – Peter Strom,Naomi Uyama, Thomas Blacharz, Remy Kouakou Kouame and Chazz Young – were generous too, and their willingness to reduce their rates for this event helped make it financially viable.
We met our minimum target and went full steam ahead with the planning: booking flights, setting up the new ticketing platform, working on sponsorship proposals (very challenging without a track-record and no photographs or videos and a bit of a dead end this year). In terms of ticket sales, we had amazing support from international dancers, who made up almost 70% of our attendees. Our local scene is quite small, and getting new lindy hoppers to buy a fairly pricey ticket to a 3-day event is quite a big ask, we realised. With that in mind, we knew we had to push for more support from “globe-trotting lindy hoppers” from other countries who’d be keen to visit our beautiful city.
Once the Indiegogo campaign was over, we switched to a local ticketing platform (which for ticket sales, is considerably less expensive). In the end we sold about 170 tickets, just over half of which were from outside South Africa and representing 17 different countries including Germany, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, the UK, US, Belgium, Reunion Island and Brazil. The Frankie Manning Foundation stepped in again to enable us to invite our closest lindy hopping neighbours: a group of Mozambican dancers and musicians from Hodi Maputo Afro Swing. This wonderful group of professional Afro Swing dancers incorporate their traditional Mozambican dancing with the Lindy Hop – resulting in amazing, high energy performances. Their presence at Mother City Hop and their stunning performances made a very special contribution that wowed our guests locals alike.
One of the ticketing options we offered was a “tour package”, to help our guests make the most of their stay in Cape Town: a hike up Table Mountain, picnic on the beach, an exploration of the Peninsula and the dramatic Cape Point, a trip to Robben Island (where former president Nelson Mandela was held prisoner for 18 years) and other historic locations, and a day in the winelands for wine and chocolate tastings. This was a great way for dancers to get to know each other as well as the teachers, who also joined the tours, in a non-dancing context. We ended the tours in Stellenbosch and hosted our welcome party there, on a beautiful wine estate.
Our guests of honour at the festival were Chazz Young and Norma Miller, once again thanks to the Frankie Manning Foundation, who loaned us funds to bring them to South Africa. However, Norma was sadly unable to join us due to passport issues – instead we Skyped her in for a live interview with Chazz, where Peter Strom kindly facilitated the interview. Hearing their stories from “back in the day”, about the Savoy, Frankie, showbiz, and the changing times, made a substantial impact on the local dancers who’d never met the “old-timers”. And Norma was pretty hilarious, too – she sure doesn’t hold back on the jokes!
Our festivities continued with the teacher introductions (watch the video!) and the dancing got underway with live music from the Swanky Doodles. The classes ran for the following three days (three lindy hop tracks and one solo jazz track), with taster classes in Mozambican Dancing with Hodi Maputo Afro Swing, Steals with Thomas, Frankie’s Favourites with Peter and Naomi, Tap with Chazz, and the Caribbean Shim Sham with Remy. Being so far from most of the swing world, taking classes with these amazing teachers was a first for almost all of our local dancers and the difference in everyone’s dancing was evident from just those 3 days.
The party on Saturday night was our feature event with nothing but live music all night, as well as performances from the teachers and Mozambicans. It went remarkably smoothly considering that we were forced to change venues just a week before the event! The 18-piece Delft Big Band (a social project that brings young adults out of the township and into a musical career) and the Swanky Doodles traded sets, filling the hall with swinging jazz standards and some of South Africa’s township jazz favourites, and Cape Town saw the biggest lindy hop social floor it had ever seen – that alone was a real inspiration!
After Mother City Hop, a group of us from South Africa, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Germany and Brazil joined the Mozambicans back in Maputo for the Mozambique Afro Swing Exchange. As the only two lindy hop scenes on the Southern African continent, we figured it was best to join forces and put these two first-time events back-to-back. More on that in another post…
All in all – we’re so grateful for all the support we had from our attendees (to both events!) who trusted us despite our inexperience, and who brought some wonderful friendly vibes to our city. A heartfelt thanks goes to the Frankie Manning Foundation who helped us make this event extra special and more widely accessible, as well as the donations that came from a handful of generous dancers around the world. More than anything, we’re especially grateful to the incredible team that came together, got as excited as we were from the start, and made this project happen despite numerous challenges and set-backs.
Get your calendars out and pencil in our dates for Mother City Hop 2017: 19 – 27 March!