The Cape Town Swing Team Getaway, 2023.

Alexander PenningtonNews

There are two entries about the Swing team’s getaway: “The Summary” and “The Weekend”. They need different kinds of attention. You can read the “The Summary” like you’re driving in a car to a place you have in mind. You only have to look at what you need to. The second is more for those who aren’t in a hurry, who can get out of the car and walk through the woods. If you don’t look closely, if you aren’t still, then you’re bound to miss something. There are also two entries because eight people wrote something. It’s easier to write a story with a single voice, but you get a much better idea of what something looks like with eight pairs of eyes. You can’t see everything from one perspective. With one, you get the story and, with eight, you get the picture. 

The path to the farmhouse (Photo by: Ruby Paton)

Part 1: The Summary

Day 1 – 8th September

“The Cape Town Swing Team Getaway” was at the Fynbos Estate, about an hour away from Cape Town. It was still Springtime, so the flowers lined the roads and cottages with colour scented by fresh air, soil, wild grass, and pollen. In the flower season, something in our chest gets dislodged and rises. We feel inspired. We feel grateful. Colour gets wrapped with emotion. Pink is glee. Purple entices. Orange is exciting. White calms. Red woos. The sun was warm and golden. The oak sprouted green while other trees burst with blossoms.

Yes, this is not strictly a summary, but which writer can resist writing about flowers?

Blossoms (Photo by James Hagen)

Gardens are not made by “Oh, how lovely it is to sit in the shade”. It is by work. The same is true of the getaway’s official purpose: to work, that is, by being together as a team and nourishing ideas through conversation: what’s being a DJ all about? What are the ways to help develop dance teachers? How can we make our spaces more welcoming and safer? Why is volunteering important? Is Swing a cult? How do we do even more tasks with even greater efficiency? People arrived at different times over the course of the first day and made their way through the farmhouse, where we tried to answer all of those questions. 

Evening shenanigans (Photo by: Derrick Lanor)

The farmhouse’s lounge was decorated with a fireplace and candles in old wine bottles. These were arranged on the windowsills, the piano, and next to mugs of tea, and lit up the room during load-shedding. 

When all the lights are on, we get on with work, watch TV, or talk about what we’re up to. When they’re off, things slow down. Sitting around in the light of candles and fire, people start to talk about how they are feeling, their burning questions, what they want. It’s a good light for dancing. To connect – the unofficial purpose of the getaway.

Day 2 – 9th September

We were aware that the morning would bring rain and mist, so we lit the fire while eating warm oats and fruit for breakfast before talking about the weekend’s plan in the farmhouse’s lounge. Over the day, the resident DJ’s shared with DJ-curious folks what being a DJ entails; we listened to Mik Gerard’s talk about the power of volunteering; after lunch, the dance teachers (both new and old) discussed the levels, expectations, and motivations of teaching dance. Afterwards, led by Selina Palm, we broke into groups and discussed ways to make spaces safe and how we could handle conflict, harm, or more serious incidents of abuse or violation. 

It was busy and, with the last conversation, intense. We took another break. The day had been cloudy and grey, the sun had silently faded over the mountain while we were meeting, and, by the day’s end, we found ourselves, once again, sitting together by candlelight. 

Over the day, a joke started to run: we were part of a cult? The photo above is suggestive. We laughed because there is a religious element to Swing. While dancing, we can experience self-transcendence. Anyone who has tasted this experience can become devoted, but Swing is a poor cult. Folks can come and go as they please. Whatever you look like or whoever you want to love is respected. Leaders regard new-comers as their equal. It’s possible to talk about almost anything you want to. We even had a split-off conversation where we tried to define what a cult actually is. If you are ever worried about being in a cult, make a joke about it. See what happens. 

Low lights and late nights (Photos by: James Hagen)

Day 3 – 10th September

After breakfast, we had our final meeting on team efficiencies led by Muriel Gravenor (which included moving to a new communication platform: so far so good!). The last word of the meeting signaled our time to clean before we went (a special thanks to Andri for marshaling the effort). 

It was still raining, but we left just as we arrived: on our own time and warmly. New ideas and friendships had taken root. There was a hint of that sweet melancholy when a good time comes to an end. 

Kurt Vonnegut would tell a story about his uncle who found it objectionable that human beings so rarely noticed when times were sweet. Kurt would write, “We could be drinking lemonade in the shade of an apple tree in the summertime, and my uncle would interrupt the conversation to say, “If this isn’t nice, what is?” When things are going sweetly and peacefully, please pause a moment, and then say out loud, “If this isn’t nice, what is?”

Conversations with friends (Photo by: James Hagen)

Part 2: The Weekend

The Arrival

“There is nothing like a retreat in the countryside with company” – Makeeda

“we’ve been building throughout the years” – Gabriela

“and good music and good food.” – Makeeda

The Food

“The food situation was excellent” – Julian

“We cooked together by candlelight” – Ruby

“and we all managed to make six delicious vegan meals” – James

“we ate by the fire” – Mary-Anne

The Fire

“Sunshine is always welcome” – Mary-Anne

“but it rained the whole weekend” – Alex

“so we spent most of our time in the farmhouse cosied by the fire” – Mary-Anne

“and each other’s company.” – Mary-Anne

Heartwarming” – Gabriela

“so heart-warming!” – Muriel

“We danced by the fire, had meetings by the fire, and played games by the fire.” – Mary-Anne

“It created a sense of togetherness that I will cherish.” – Grace 

The Togetherness

“I felt moved watching the team coming together because they want to connect” – Muriel

“more deeply.” – James R

“There was never a risk of being lonely” – Mary-Anne

“thanks to Makeeda’s friendly four-year-old, Mila” – Mary-Anne

“we were all handled with care” – James

“it allowed a lot of us to breathe deep.” – Ruby

“There was no obligation to socialise” – James R

“I felt so full of gratitude” – Mary-Anne

“People came and went” – Ruby

“and the community continues to grow.” – Makeeda 

“Of course, we danced” – Ruby

The Dancing 

“It was wonderful to see the machinery that makes this thing called Swing” – James R

“bigger and better” – Grace

“If you fancied it” – Mary-Anne

“Never a dull moment.”  – Julian

The Dull Moment

“Cleaning” – Alex

“Sometimes there was no electricity” – Eskom

The Electricity

“People had the same energy and passion” – Grace

“eager to jump in and make stuff happen.” – Muriel

“It was a beautiful space” – Makeeda

“in so many ways” – Muriel

“this felt like a bit of a phase-change, somehow.” – Muriel

The full CTS team  (Photo by: Julian Hulme)

Thanks for the words to…

Gabriela (Events)

Grace (Admin, Events) 

Julian (Website)

James R (DJ)

Makeeda (Community)

Mary-Anne (Blog)

Muriel (Operational Manager, Senior Teacher)

Ruby (Dep Operational Manager, Comms and Marketing assistant)

Rearranged by Alex Pennington 

About the Author

Alexander Pennington