Hong Kong Swing Fest Review

Hey Lindy Friends,

Image via romainjl at DeviantArt.

Image via romainjl at DeviantArt.

Just wanted you to have a quick update on the event I was looking forward to since two years ago, when I moved away from Hong Kong. I intend to be as comprehensive as possible, as the event definitely had its highs and lows. Of course, you know I’m never one to just give the highlights reel. Unlike other posts, this will be a bit less pic heavy and more focused on content. If that’s not your cup of tea, feel free to wait for an update later.

Organization of Event: 3.5/5

As a semi-large, cross-country event, HKSF does a relatively decent job in welcoming visitors. However, it’s interesting attending this event as a lesser known foreign guest. In the U.S., I would say I have my swing dance friends, as many of you. In Asia, it’s a bit more lonely in a smaller circle of close ones within the host scene of Taipei. That being said, I do think HKSF could do with some less curt responses.

Take this encounter, for example. As a reference, the main e-mail we are responding to reads, “Thanks for booking. Your details are below. Please quote the Booking ID in any correspondence.” This was the only e-mail received, although traditionally a confirmation e-mail is sent. In response to my inquiries, this is what I got (names covered for privacy reasons).

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Albeit a bit short, but reasonable. Then, take into account the response below.

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The response speaks for itself. Short without excitement or common courtesy, in direct contrast to many previous and similar communications with other swing scenes. To be honest, I was quite taken aback by the level of curtness expressed by the organization here.

Outside of this hiccup, the rest of the event was organized pretty well. Lots of sponsors, lots of excellent food, GREAT swag bag.

Auditions & Competitions: 4/5

The marvelous finalists  Pamela (left) and Jingyi (right) alongside Sam, owner of Charlie Stone. Photograph courtesy of Gaspar Lin.

The marvelous finalists Pamela (left) and Jingyi (right) alongside Sam, owner of Charlie Stone. Photograph courtesy of Gaspar Lin.

I actually participated in the prelims for the Battle. I pretty much knew I wouldn’t make finals, but it was so much fun dancing with all the enthusiastic dancers in the scene! (Note to all the ladies out there: pin your outfits down! I had these suspenders on my skirt which kept falling off. What a nuisance.) The finals were amazing. Way to represent, Singapore dancers! All of the competitors did fabulously.

I thought HK Swings did quite well in conducting tap in dances. WOW. This was perfect. Dancers who didn’t get tapped in like myself still got to dance three heats or more in front of an audience. It was fun, to say the least. I can say nothing but well done.

Can I say, there was one slight hiccup though? I danced with the same dancer twice. My partner brought this up, but was quickly shot down. Actually, it might have been better to rotate in terms of better randomization. The reasoning behind not rotating was actually quite confusing. “It’s random, so just stick with it.” What? It’s a JnJ, we’re supposed to be improving though…hmm…

Now, auditions. I want to say, I’m fine being intermediate, first off the bat. People seem to think we’re always disgruntled at a medium level, but in this case, I was fine. Except, auditions lasted approximately 5 minutes. I danced with two people. Oh, did I mention it was tap out? Lovely, my favorite. Did I also mention that over 30 people made advanced? Or that intermediate was so follow heavy that it was nearly a 1:3 lead:follower ratio? Or that the organization let a few local dancers re-audition without informing the entire group? Interesting, to say the least. Suffice to say, not the most well-run scenario at auditions. Competitions were near perfection though.

Classes: 4/5

I’ve only got my own experience to go off of, so this is in direct relation to intermediate classes. Can I say, as a teacher, lesson plans are a must? I actually witnessed several improved classes. I’m not saying this is the wrong way to go, but it’s certainly a bit more difficult for teachers and students. Students are stressed because the teachers seem to want them to lead the class with their experience. Teachers are frustrated with the students for not showcasing their entire lindy knowledge or understanding the concept of an improved class. It’s for our own good, right? We should just automatically know how to pick up the techniques to move from good to great. It’s that “feeling.”

Anyways, outside of that minor frustrating issue, classes were fantastic. I mean, all star cast right? Can’t get any better than that. It was a great review of basics, grooving and AMAZING rhythm variations. I loved the rhythm variations in all of the classes. Absolutely marvelous.

A note on levels. I was in a wide bracket for intermediates, ranging from 6 months to over 3 years. This is too large of a range to provide honed critique or advice, or to properly observe technique. To say the least, I was very, very upset by this. I wasn’t alone. Several of my friends ditched classes to go explore HK. I can’t say that I blame them.

Venues: 4/5

Great wooden floors most nights, especially at Dansinn Heavenly on Des Vouex Road. I mean, look at that floor space. Add a live band, and it was a dream.

Image via Dansinn Heavenly.

Now, I know both the beginner and advanced levels had fabulous floors. However, guess what intermediate was dancing on? Take a look.

Talk about dangerous. Luckily, some savvy dancers and instructors brought baby powder, but otherwise, I wrecked two pairs of Keds on that floor. Yes, the floor was “springy” and “light” as some described, but it was far from a good floor. Many of us had trouble with spins, even with decent leather or suede soles, and ended up dancing in our socks.

Ambience: 4/5

There was a proposal. THERE WAS A PROPOSAL. Hard to top that one, right? Crystal Lee helped two of her fellow dancers get ready on the dance floor to get married. One of the most beautiful jams I have ever witnessed, to be sure.

Overall, there was a spirit of fun and excitement at this event. I got to catch up with new and familiar dancers alike (Hello, Sam from Charlie Stone and Lillian in HK!) However, I was a bit saddened by in-group mentality expressed. Some stayed within the confines of comfort circles, whether due to personal insecurities or…disdain? I don’t know, but I got that vibe from a few.

Oh my word, can I just say something to all the leads? Please, please, please, learn your floorcraft. On such a crowded floor, it pays to not get bowled over 5 times out of 10.

I also have to talk about this incident.

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I rolled my ankle at Sunday’s event, ending with a bang you could say. I happened to be happily solo jazzing when I slipped and fell. Common dancer accident, you might say. I just want to ask, how would you feel if this happened at an event and no one did anything when they saw you collapse on the dance floor? I ended up limping off by myself. To be honest, I cried a lot that night and not from the physical pain. It was more the pain of feeling completely invisible on the floor to the point of safety hazard. I’m alright with anonymity, just not to the point where I have to deal with a severe sprain on my own.

HKSF was a decent and quite well-stocked event. I don’t know that I would ever go back though. I’m getting this strange vibe from many events abroad that are putting me off the lindy scene…perhaps for a while. I think my two sprains (yes, my other one is messed up too) are an omen, good or bad. Perhaps it’s time to take a step away from the dancing and consider what kind of person I’m becoming. I’m not sure yet. I can only say, HKSF was a turning point in how I view my dancing.

Hoping for more happy feet.

Best & Blessings,

S.

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7 thoughts on “Hong Kong Swing Fest Review

  1. Derrick says:

    Wow! Thanks for the ariticle, and I quite enjoy the reading because I understand a good event worth to spent time to be reviewed and I believe HKSF will become greater adn better. Actually, the HKSF is an awesome event already.

    I have been attended HKSF every year since 2009, and it was my 7th time for it. As non-local dancer, every time I attended HKSF, and everytime it broughts me much great surprising and fun 🙂 The event has great quality, and I know the organizor and HKSF event team members works very hard to deliver their best, hence I see it improves every year that it has become an one of important swing events in Asia.

    The city, Hong Kong, is an international city that gathers many foriengers, espeically from Europe and Asia. Therefore you can see many forienger dancers there. Hong Kong swing scene maintains outstanding energy and it has been rolling and rolling up and you can see they have 3rd generation swing dancers within 10 years. Compared to other swing cities in Asia, I guess sometimes other organzors in Asia might envy and jealous for that.

    This year HKSF tried a little change on its event run down and on competition type. They decide to do their 1st time battle type on event instead of Jack & Jill. New competition experiences for dancers and it brings different excitings for audiences. Comparing to Jack & Jill, dancers have to be more focusing on self-dancing, partners, and musicality when doing battle type. I see some good dancers who cannot get in the semi-final or the final, not because of they are good enough, sometimes it is due to some reasons. However, I am not saying the battle is not fair, it is just a different way or competiting strategy that dancers need to do little change and themselves and on partner cooperation. The partner rotation

    HKSF has a little disadvantage on its venue arrangement. Every corner in Hong Kong island is expensive and has to be 100% used in right way. I understand it is the better idea for the event and workshop venues under much findings, compromizing, and considerations. It is not easy to get a large space in Hong Kong, and it is also requires many contact works and paper working to get a school to offer its hall and stadium for workshop. I really appreciate for some invisible hard works from the organizor and Hong Kong event team members.

    I believe there are always things to get improved, and I think HKSF requires more dancers to give more possitive suggestions and encouragements for making it better. It is an event that worth dancers to go for 2nd times or more because HKSF really do a great job on many things under limtied resources. Not only enjoy the event, but also enjoy local dancers great and sincere welcoming and passionate and eager hear to dancing better.

    • Hi Derrick,

      Thank you for the heartfelt response! I’m sure many who have visited this scene have similar feelings.

      However, from my own point of view, whether you agree or not, I did not feel very welcomed at this scene. Keep in mind that I have lived in Hong Kong and visited the scene semi-regularly a while ago. This is a specific Hong Kong Swing Festival 2015 review from one dance visitor, not on the 7 years of your attendance (though I’m sure it was spectacular). If you keep this in mind, this swing fest analysis can be kept in perspective. I’ll try to address your concerns in the order you brought them up.

      1. Your introduction talks about your experience at HKSF the past several years. While this is completely valid, it does not answer the important questions a newcomer to the event might have. Further, as a familiar face to the event, you will be treated quite differently in comparison to visitors. Even with both of our perspectives, we are still only two dancers in a pool of thousands. It makes sense that our responses to one event might be at opposite sides of the spectrum.

      2. To end your second argument or commentary, you said, “Compared to other swing cities in Asia, I guess sometimes other organzors [sic] in Asia might envy and jealous for that.” I’m not quite sure what you are basing this opinion on, except the rather rapid development of swing. I also think this is a strange and possibly rude dig at me, the writer. Just to respond to this, I do not hail from one scene, but several. I have been part of a college scene as well as Chicago lindy hop. I have lived in Budapest, as well as visited Washington, DC (DCLX), Seattle (SLX), many in the Midwest (Hawkeye/Heartland), Oklahoma (Greenwood Swingout), and of course, Lindy Focus. For you to question my validity or unsubstantiated opinion is fine, but I just want to say that I’m not envious or jealous of this scene. I am simply responding to how I was treated at this event.

      3. I agree with you on this point. I thought the Battle was fantastic and very well-run. However, judges need to rotate when partners are paired together more than one time. This is not in the spirit of improvisation.

      4. I worked at Frankie 100 at NYC. I saw organizers splurge for great venues in a crowded city. I’m not saying that the HK staff did not work hard, I’m saying that it was curious how a gym floor made the final cut for dancers. It’s not safe or particularly good for knees. Even if flooring could not be found, an alternative way to use the spaces could have been negotiated. For example, was alternative, temporary flooring an option? How about dividing one of the other spaces with a divider or wall? Or changing the time of advanced and intermediate classes to share the floor. There is always an option.

      5. Yes, there are many improvements that need to be made. I aim to be as positive as possible, but when I do not feel safe on the dance floor, I think other people need to know as a fair warning. It is important for dancers to feel safe when they are dancing. I would not have said anything, had I not rolled my ankle on the dance floor. I want to emphasize that absolutely no one from the scene asked how I was doing or if I was okay. This is mismanagement of safety, and it is quite serious. There is no way to sugarcoat it. Whether or not you have “limited resources,” you need to be looking out for those dancers who registered for the event assuming organizers are concerned for all individuals in attendance. For example, I received a more serious injury at another scene. These organizers immediately provided a First Aid Kit and emotional support. It is not a question of resources, as a First Aid Kit or even a bag of ice requires very little money.

      I hope this helps you understand where I am coming from.
      It is important that people understand not only the positive, but the reality of certain issues.

      My experience, though perhaps a bit complex, is as valid as a positive review. However, I just want to be as transparent as possible and give a fair review, not just one that “markets” a scene, that is NOT my intent. I want to be honest for other dancers out there and for myself.

      Best,
      S.

  2. Derrick says:

    Appreciate for prompt reply and kindly sharing. I will take some good feedbacks of yours, and leave those hiccups. Too much hiccups does not good to health.

    I Believe dancers will vote with their feet. Swing events in Asia requrie more postivie suggestions, encouragements, and supporting so that it will be greater and better.

    Cheers,
    Derrick

    • Derrick,

      Thank you for responding. I definitely understand and thank you for considering my thoughts. Albeit, “hiccup” is a bit of an understatement and generalization, wouldn’t you agree? To call someone’s pain a mere “hiccup?”

      I think events are always evolving and developing, so it’s important to take in any proactive feedback.

      I think dancers will continue to dance, no matter the circumstances. Sure, you can see it as voting with your feet. I prefer to see it as just another place you can dance, hopefully, safely and feeling happy.

      Wishing you happy feet as well,

      Sherry

  3. Karen Tong says:

    Sherry,
    I am the organizer for Hong Kong Swing Festival, and we actively aim to improve our event based on feedback each year. I would like to respond to your opinion, and we really welcome more people to give reviews on our 2015 event.

    In communications, our priority is always to be prompt, helpful and clear in responding to queries. Our Registration process is: 1) the system sends an automated email with booking details, then once paid 2) Paypal sends an automated payment confirmation to both you and us. In your email query to us asking for payment confirmation, we promptly re-sent that to you. When you put the same query on the Facebook page we replied again (in not so many words to you, since we knew we responded by email already) that we re-sent it. When a 2nd person said they didn’t get a confirmation, we responded with a clear statement that booking plus proof of payment would serve as confirmation, to avoid further confusion to anyone else. I trust our responses each time were prompt, helpful and accurate (though not effusive).

    I would welcome wider feedback under this label “Organization”, –ie. event planning: eg. information dissemination (online, print, MC announcements), event shuttle buses, event-staffed food and bar, check-in, general flow of evenings: contests, bands, DJs, Cabaret, performances etc.

    This was our first year conducting a tournament style contest. Our choice of randomizing partner choice was by picking a number from a cup, then rotating that number. We decided that random includes the random possibility of ending up with the same partner. After checking with our Battle organizing team, you were the only couple that ended up dancing twice together. A further rotation would have caused another couple to end up in the same position. To address your comment about “improving” through rounds in a JnJ, a same partner by random could, conceivably, be an advantage rather than disadvantage. You have more time to familiarize with your partner. You may have picked a fantastic partner. Or not – It’s random, it’s luck.

    This was our first year conducting auditions. Through our website and registration, we made clear in advance there would only be formal auditions for Advanced, and a brief level check for Intermediate during the first 5 minutes of class. The teachers in all tracks were given instructions to level check and observe through the entire first class, to move people up and down as they felt necessary – almost no one was moved, and we defer to their judgment. As to your comment about Intermediates being 6 months to 3 years, it is my firm belief that length of time dancing does not correlate to level. Next time, we may consider formal auditions for both Intermediate and Advanced. Lead/follow balance – next time we may consider auditioning with a view to keep balance in all classes, although this might result in a different complaint – that some people being kept in a track simply to keep balance even if they are not actually at that level. Appeals – a few people did approach teachers directly/individually on the second day to appeal their level but there was no bias as to whether they were local or not. We may consider a formal appeals process for next time.

    As to class venues, we don’t have a lot of choice as space is at an extreme premium in Hong Kong and we have tried different classroom options through the years. Considering size, location, room availability and budget, this venue was found to be the closest to our needs. Beginners was a small track so it got the smallest room. Last year the Advanced track went in the gym. Next time, we may consider having Intermediate and Advanced switch between “more desirable” and “less desirable” floored rooms. This year, we made a decision to move teachers (ie. 2 people at a time) between rooms, instead of 50 people at a time between rooms between classes.

    I’m sorry to hear about your ankle roll while dancing solo at a party and that you were not attended to by event staff. I have no doubt that if it was brought to our attention we would be right there with an ice pack and deepest sympathy. We have a small volunteer staff and many attendees, and we missed your injury. As to non-event staff/ general attendees coming to your aid, I’m open to suggestion as to how to improve.

    Karen Tong

  4. Dear Karen,

    Thank you for leaving such a thorough and focused response. It is quite rare to find an organizer willing to weed through all the reviews on the blogosphere. As with previous comments, I will attempt to respond methodically, in the same order as your reply.

    While the booking was prompt, I did not expect it to be “effusive,” as you indicated. The whole confusion began with several of us planning the trip and noticing that a confirmation e-mail was never sent by Hong Kong Swing Festival, rather only the Paypal confirmation. It is typically common, at least from the events I have attended, that the organization also sends an automated response confirming payment, not just booking. Perhaps this is a common practice only exhibited in the U.S. and Europe, though I’ve found the same to be true in Taiwan. For reference, this is a sample from Hawkeye 2014:

    “Dear Sherry _______,

    Thank you for registering for Hawkeye Swing Festival 2014. Your registration is confirmed.

    Total Payment: $_____
    Confirmation Code: __________
    Time of Transaction: 11/2/2013 7:24:47 PM

    Click here to share and invite your friends to Hawkeye Swing Festival 2014!

    If you have any questions about Hawkeye Swing Festival 2014, please contact:

    Contact: H____ M______
    Email: _______@gmail.com
    Phone:
    Website: http://www.HawkeyeSwingFest.com

    If you have any questions or comments specifically about this online transaction, please visit http://www.signmeup.com/support.

    Message from the Administrator
    Thank you for registering for Hawkeye Swing Festival 2014! Please note that registration is not considered complete until after payment has been received. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us at HawkeyeSwingFest@gmail.com We can’t wait to see you in April! Friend us on facebook to keep informed with the latest on HSF 2014.

    Click here for the online version of this Confirmation.”

    This response was automated and sent immediately after payment received in addition to the Paypal confirmation. It was not extravagant (which I did not need anyways) and very informative. I hope this gives a bit of reference to what I vocalized and some attendees also wondered about.

    In terms of wider organization, I will do my best in this short space to talk about the items you addressed.*
    1. Information dissemination: I mostly found out about this after my stay in Hong Kong over three years ago, but the scene closest to me did a wonderful job organizing things on the Facebook group. The HK Swing Fest website was accessible and easy to navigate. I received the printed flyer at Taipei Lindy Fest and found it as appealing as the other flyers–colorful, nice design and important links at the bottom.
    2. Event shuttle buses: I thought this was great to include and well organized. Very well run by organizers and great drivers.
    3. Food: Perfect, don’t change a thing.
    4. Check-in: smooth, though perhaps change the flow of the line away from right by the elevator. This leads to a bit of traffic. It was also hard to determine where the venue was from the street, other than the dark silhouettes of dancers.
    5. General flow of events: Everything seemed to go as planned. I though placing the performances later on at night for the Cabaret or competitions was genius. It gives those who just want to dance an open time to dance and socialize.

    *Please let me know if there are any other items you would like reviewed.

    I actually really enjoyed competing in the Battle. Thank you for contacting the organizers to figure out randomization, I really appreciate that. I suppose this will instead help a Battle in the future proceed with better logistics. Otherwise, like I said, I love tap in.

    In regards to auditions, I understand that the instructors were given 5 minutes to decide. However, two instructors are asked to do this while 2/3 of the follows in the room were not dancing, at least in the intermediate room. This was true for the entire class, so actual time dancing amounted to less than class time. It is your ” firm belief that length of time dancing does not correlate to level.” In some cases, this is true, whether based on natural talent or rigor of practice. However, I still believe that given more opportunities to dance, you pick up knowledge differently than the naturals. Regardless, what I want to focus on is gaps in knowledge. I was in a class where people did not know how to swing out. Or, they did not how to send out or did not know they were being sent out. I was in a class where a lead follow-blamed me, only to ask the exact same question to the instructor and have them notice it was his leading. I was in a class where knowledge gaps were clear. Perhaps it was my blunder to not have practiced hard enough, to not have taken enough privates while abroad as compared to the States. Regardless, there was enough of a gap that many of my cohort left the second day of classes. I stayed, I learned. I’m not saying it was a bad system, but I’m saying that people left for the aforementioned reasons.

    For improving, yes to all your suggestions! Formal level auditions sound great, as do attention to amount of leads and follows. Fantastic. Dancing with someone to learn connection is definitely more beneficial than if you’re just learning the moves by yourself. Or, elastic bands perhaps? In terms of the local v. foreign, I only heard about this appeal process being discussed by local dancers. Regardless, a formal appeals process would be much appreciated.

    The venue was not the most desirable for Intermediate dancers. Thank you for explaining about logistics, it really helps explain the decisions made. In the future, it might help to stagger the classes. Advanced in the morning, Intermediate/Beginner in the afternoon. It also depends on how large your level classes happen to be, but if you’re investing in dancers’ feet, I think flooring needs to be at the top of a coordinator’s concerns. Or, perhaps just a short advisory about how to dance on a porous, gym floor? Baby powder definitely made the best of the situation.

    In terms of creating safe spaces, there has been a lot of discussion recently as I’m sure you are aware of (https://swungover.wordpress.com/2015/01/28/how-to-move-forward-create-safe-dance-spaces/). I heard Lindy Focus recently made a creed or agreement of ways to make the floor a safe space. This has to be key in the community. I’ve seen smaller organizations in the past simply have a first aid station or let people know just to see the event organizers on staff. I’ve even been that organizer, manning the tickets and the kit. Otherwise, it’s a matter of asking how people are. When I fell down, people looked down and continued dancing. When is that okay? How do we change that? I believe compassion is inherent to us all, or at least known to us. I think it’s possible for us not the exhibit the Bystander Effect by just asking people. Instead, it was just unfortunate.

    Again, Karen, I’m really thankful that you not only took the time to read, but also the time to respond. The lindy hop scene in Hong Kong is really lucky to have you.

    As for me and my injury, I suppose it was time for me to take a backseat and reflect on my time in the community.

    Wishing you happy feet,

    Sherry

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