Streetcar Named Lindy is a brilliantly named swing festival in Zagreb that few people say it correctly. At least in English (in Croatian – “Tramvaj zvan Lindy” – it works very well). First of all, no one really says “streetcar” anymore. People say “tram”. Then this adjective “named”. Everybody says “called”. The origin of the name is of course the black-and-white classic Streetcar Named Desire and everyone has that in mind but would love it if the film was named Tram Called Desire. But okay, let’s put the name aside.
Streetcar started as an idea of bringing a few international teachers to Zagreb for a weekend, to give the locals an opportunity to learn a thing or two from experts and see how swing can be danced. The primary goal was to make prices low and available to the locals. Every year the teachers’ line up became a bit fancier than the year before, and the organizers from Back To Swing Zagreb struggled to keep the prices as low as possible.
This year’s Streetcar – the third in a row – was the most ambitious: cool teachers (a few of the world’s top class dancers, followed by the rising stars you can’t miss on any Youtube video from any swing event in Europe), two tracks of workshops (couples and solo) and four live bands.
I have to say, I am always slightly disappointed by the response of the locals. I can’t understand how anyone who is even slightly into this dancing thing, can miss an event like this. It’s not that we have here on a monthly basis the ones that we watch in videos and try to copy while dancing. And if you compare the prices with those of the similar events abroad, you have to admit they are quite low. I understand it’s still a considerable amount of money for a student for example, but nevertheless…
This city is somewhat strange – it’s big, but doesn’t have a normal venue. Slovenians, for example, have a great hall in every town (it’s in a hotel or in a sort of a community center). Those halls usually have tall ceilings, with chandeliers, red, five meters long heavy curtains, and perforated walls, with frescos on them. A place for, I don’t know, 200 to 300 dancers. Zagreb just doesn’t have places like that – or maybe it has, but at ridiculously unaffordable prices. So, we’re pretty much left with no choice other than having workshops in a shopping center and a bar’s basement, and having the parties in bars and coffee shops that weren’t built with dancing in mind. Sunday, though, was an exception. The Sunday night in Pivana was great and just right. I mean, the atmosphere during the whole weekend was great and, luckily, a mediocre venue can’t ruin the whole weekend.
This year, the Streetcar featured more competitions than usual. Except the standard Lindy Jack ‘n’ Jill, which can be seen at any bigger festival, we also had the obscure Balboa J ‘n’ J and Strictly Shag. I call them obscure because not many people actually dance Balboa and Shag. So, an obscure number of contestants was a sure bet – Strictly Shag had only four contestants, while in Balboa J ‘n’ J a slightly more impressive number of ten enthusiasts competed. Whereas the Shag competition was mostly composed of dancers from Maribor (75% of dancers were from Maribor, often referred to as Shagibor – and you can understand why), Balboa was 100% made in Croatia. I almost ended up in the Shag competition, but I kindly refused Lea’s even kinder invitation to take part in it because I realized that I couldn’t dance Shag for even one third of a song. On the other hand, I was convinced that I could rock Balboa for at least a half of a song, so I entered the Balboa J ‘n’ J with high hopes. As it turned out, I overestimated my Balboa skills. All in all, it was a huge disappointment. (Even though my mother and girlfriend passionately claimed I was the best.)
Another huge disappointment followed the next night, when I didn’t make it to the Lindy J ‘n’ J finals either. (And I can lindy for a whole song, that I’m sure of. My girlfriend, mother, plus grandmother this time, still claimed I was the best.) The only consolation was that Enrique, too, didn’t get into the finals. When the top two leaders aren’t in the finals, you can’t stay angry neither with the judges nor the organizers – it was evident that they had no idea what they were doing. Enrique and I realized that, actually, the premise of the Jack ‘n’ Jill was entirely wrong. The male teachers choose the leaders that will enter the finals, and the female teachers choose the followers. It should, in fact, be done the opposite way. If the women were choosing men, the men wouldn’t be blinded by jealousy and envy for hot arse. They should change that next year.
On Friday, Got’ Dixie Rhythm played in a bar called Ritam grada. They were very lively and quite good. On Saturday, the HRT Big Band played in Gradska kavana (a beautiful venue with a very nice staircase, just made for taking photographs on it; however, this was the venue that was the least equipped for dancing). The band was good, and very pleased that it played for dancers (which is out of the ordinary for them), but didn’t play for too long. They packed their instruments before midnight. But nothing you do or don’t do can ruin Saturday’s reputation as the fanciest party of the weekend. If nothing, everybody is in their best clothes. Plus the not-obscure Lindy Jack ‘n’ Jill, teachers’ presentation and a showcase or two.
Sunday was a complete surprise. It turned out to be a relaxed party with lots of dancing, and not a slow party that everyone expects on the last day of a festival. The Sci Fidelity band (who were absolutely great last year) gave their contribution to the atmosphere, although many would say that they were superb and not on the last year’s level. Personally, I had no objections to their performance and had the best time.
The workshops were great. Lindy Hop workshops were held in three groups, and the Solo Jazz ones in two. Vincenzo and Katja are world class dancers, but having world class dancers doesn’t guarantee anything on its own. Sometimes, that just brings delusions of grandeur, but Vincenzo and Katja are always down to earth and you can be sure that they only bring quality when they come. The rising stars of Lindy Hop are usually a better choice for festivals, as they are trying to get their place among the top dancers, and that is clearly visible in their enthusiasm during their classes. Sep, Janez and Nina, Felipe and Laura, and Peter are a great choice for any festival, and are very approachable and ready to dance with anyone.
One of the perks of smaller festivals are the smaller groups at the workshops. However, we saw the Streetcar growing this year, and so did the groups. Nevertheless, one group had only five couples which can seem like a private lesson, something that is quite impossible at big well-known festivals. Less couples, less people – a more intimate atmosphere. The Solo Jazz workshops were especially good, and, because of the small number of participants (but not as small as I was fearing), quite cozy. Something like that is always useful and of high quality.
All in all, with or without any local subjectivity, I will claim the Streetcar is the best buy swing festival.
More photos in the gallery, thanks Bruno Papić!