In Memorium: Jan "Fish" Forsell – Dancer, Photographer, Filmmaker

CREDIT: Jeremy Lawrence

CREDIT: Jeremy Lawrence

EDITOR’S NOTE: We are honored to feature this tribute to Jan “Fish” Forsell, written by Karl Lennart Westerlund, a longtime organizer of the Herrang Dance Camp and friend of Jan’s. While we did not know Fish well, we were always impressed with his modesty, professionalism and dedication to his work. The lindy hop community was lucky to have him in our lives.

Jan Forsell, 62 years old, died from cancer on December 5, 2017. Mister Forsell, also known as Fish, was one of the pioneers of Swedish Jitterbug and lindy hop dancing, starting out already in the late 1970s. After learning some basics, he soon joined Södertälje based dance society “Boogie Lovers,” and in the early 1980s he started to compete on a regular basis. When legendary Savoy dancer Albert Minns showed up in Stockholm in the fall of 1984, Jan was one of his proselytes. And when Frankie Manning made his début at the Herräng Dance Camp in 1989, Jan was one of his enthusiastic new students. 

In the early 1990s, Jan gradually found himself a position as photographer and cameraman with both The Rhythm Hot Shots (semi-professional Swedish swing dance troupe) and the Herräng Dance Camp. This engagement lead to a close connection to many of the old-timers including Dawn Hampton, Norma Miller, Frankie Manning and many more, but also to an intimate interaction with the constantly growing revival community of the Lindy Hop. Jan was also involved with many dance film side-projects such as documentaries, movie editing and general archive work and maintenance. His long-time camera experience also took him to many dance events outside of Sweden, and his skillful, reliable and engaged work was always in demand and highly appreciated.

Jan was all the way since 1991 the official cameraman of the Herräng Dance Camp. His film studio in Folkets Hus (main building at the event) was the old projector room on the third floor – no room at the camp had less oxygen, accordingly he was sometimes found there late at night more or less half-asleep from the lack of fresh air, trying to prepare new film material for next day's visual presentations. His work encompassed the entire range, from preserving all kind of dance routines and steps, performing interviews et cetera, to producing artistic short films and yearly movies. The later was for many of us a mid-December highlight, often better than Christmas Eve itself; first an invitation to his home in Södertälje outside of Stockholm, then a traditional Swedish pancake party where nothing was missing, and last but not least: the first showing of the new yearly Herräng Dance Camp movie! The same procedure year after year, nothing new and never any illustrious spotlights.

Life goes on, but nothing is forever. After a final heroic struggle, Jan finally succumbed in the evening of December 5. All the way up until the very end, he kept his spirit high and untouched by the mournful circumstances. Towards the end, he stayed at a palliative section of Södertälje sjukhus, but only six days before his passing, he decided to move back home to fully be able to stay and spend time together with his family. No matter being in the hospital or back home, he kept an open house policy, inviting and encouraging relatives and friends to come and visit. Many, many people showed up for a last conversation and to bid a very last farewell.

The memory of Jan is very bright. He was never one to look for the limelight or the big applauds, instead he always kept a low profile fulfilling his duties and obligations in a discreet but efficient way. His manners offered both integrity, tactfulness as well as a good sense of humour. Those of us that had the opportunity and privilege to learn to know him privately, experienced an extraordinary human being and a most loyal and reliable friend. We will miss him dearly, but we will never forget his contribution to the imaginary whereabouts of life.

 -- Karl Lennart Westerlund, Stockholm in December 2017



Special thanks to Ewa Burak and Michael Yuen for helping with the coordination of this feature. And appreciation to Jeremy Lawrence for permission to use this wonderful photo of Fish. See more of Jeremy's photos of Fish on his Facebook album.