He is hosting his own talk show in Herräng. He travels the world to spread the origin of swing. He is one of the reasons why Lindy hop has such strong foothold in Sweden and other countries. He has no cellular phone and does not want one. He likes spending time alone. Meet Lennart Westerlund.
Lennart Westerlund was born on the Swedish west coast and he didn´t start dancing until he moved to Stockholm in the 70s. He liked swing music but did not know anything about the origins. After a while in Sweden’s capital, he took jitterbug classes at legend Lasse Kühlers Dance School.
– I knew nothing about jazz and swing and the teachers never talked about the history of the movement. It was when I saw the movie Hellzapoppin I began to dig into the history. I almost became obsessed.
He and his friends copied what they saw in film clips, practiced and could not get enough. In the early 80’s they went to the US to seek the dancers in the movies. Lennart invited lindy-stars such as Al Minns and later Frankie Manning to Sweden. In many ways, this became the start of a new swing era, in Sweden and globally. Lennart started Herrang Dance Camp, he established the dance company The Rhythm Hot Shots (today known as Harlem Hot Shots) and opened a dance studio in Stockholm called Chicago. He gained great success. Herrang Dance Camp is known as the largest swing dance event in the world. Chicago has become the epicenter of Lindy hop and swing dance in Stockholm.
– When I stepped into this in my twenties, I found that anything but dancing was a waste of my time. I did nothing else! Later on, when the organizations became larger, the administration increased and nowadays I have become more normal.
What else has changed?
– The dance has changed and become more figure and detail oriented. I and a bunch of my colleagues want to stick with the traditional style. I find the vernacular style much closer to the music, much more rhythmic and not at all technical. Everything starts with the music, you have to like jazz! From that angle, you can attack the dance from many different directions. Nowadays I sometimes see people dance and I think: I would never listen to an orchestra playing the way they dance. Keep that in mind! Lindy hop the vernacular way is an art form, and an expression – not a computer.
Why do you like swing dancing so much?
– It is a simple pleasure, a great way to hang out and socialize. To learn the basics takes only twenty minutes, then you can dance socially. It is a language, and it´s all about to move with the music, look at each other and copy. The joy of movements is central. Technic and drills are less important. Not listening to the music is like trying to learn geography without maps.
Are Swedes talented swing dancers?
– Swedes do well and have a good reputation in the world. USA and Sweden are at the top of the dance scene, but a lot of other countries are coming strong. France and Lithuania have talented dancers and Korea and Russia as well.
Is the Lindy scene still growing?
– There is clearly an ongoing and steady upward trend both in Sweden and abroad. When I started it was mostly young people, 17-25 years of age, who danced the jitterbug. It was competitive and a lot of grooving! Today the average age is higher.
You describe yourself as a simple man, why?
– I am born in the wrong era and I don’t appreciate contemporary life in some ways. I reckon there is a general nonchalance between humans and that is because of technology if you ask me. I protest against it. I don’t use a cellular phone, I don’t own a computer and I prefer to heat my food on a stove, not in a microwave oven. I also think spending time alone is nice.
About Lennart Westerlund
Born: in Sweden 1958
Lives: in Stockholm
Work: as instructor and travel the world with his dance partner Ewa Burak. He is one of three owners of dance hall Chicago in Stockholm and every year he organizes Herräng Dance camp where he hosts the evening meetings in the format of a talk show.
MORE: Visit Chicago in Stockholm