Monday, 19 May 2008

Tango @ 33 Portland Place

[30th June 2009: Updated review with changes here!]

There's a new milonga every Sunday evening, from 8 to 11, at 33 Portland Place. [Edit: not every single Sunday, may be closed in August and around holidays, check Tango-UK]. The house belongs to Lord Edward Davenport, who courteously hires it out to 'οι πολλοι, and it's billed as a "celebrity hotspot". My interest in hotspottery is quite a long way below zero, so I didn't go for several weeks, then I overcame such weak-minded prejudice and went to have a look.

Layout and atmosphere: This venue is remarkable. Finding the little A4 notice on the giant door, you peep inside and are greeted by a very small organiser, from behind a very large and good-but-battered desk, in a hall that reminds me of a thousand fine old London houses butchered into awkward flats, only seven times the size and twelve times finer. You pass the foot of a Wedgewood stair, follow the music through a dark, narrow corridor with miscellaneous flooring and an achingly ugly lift, and enter a noble but dimly-seen room where you can leave your stuff. There's nowhere to hang it up, so take a bag big enough for your coat, preferably in a colour you'll be able to find in darkness. Flickering lights from a doorway invite you into a cosy, shabby-splendid, L-shaped room, with a dark wood floor, and a lowish ceiling that's nearly all skylight. The walls are deep red-brown, flaking, with little stencils in a corner, a fireplace for the barons, and wonderfully comfortable gilded chairs. If you want to sit on a properly battered, gilt, velvet chaise longue while you're waiting for your dance, you can. The room is lit by diffuse evening light, and by strings of LEDs and many, many candles. The floor has the right amount of grip, but some uneven boards - choose your shoes accordingly.

I really felt I should have been more inventive with my clothes; my usual mishmash of Jane Norman, Dorothy Perkins, and Topshop, while simple and effective, just doesn't quite do the job in this room. I should be wearing something remade from Oxfam, with my great-great-grandmother's emeralds. Or maybe just black. Not having had the kind of great-great-grandmother who had emeralds, I shall have to think it over and be a bit more creative next time.

The place could probably do with a fair few million in restoration, but it was built to last; the paint may be peeling, the plaster may be flaking, and electric light would surely reveal a sadness like the fall of Rome, but it's magnificent, truly interesting, and utterly perfect for tango.

They sometimes have the dancing in a bigger room upstairs, with balconies onto the street; I looked at that room as well, and it is very fine, but I agree with the organisers that the downstairs one is better, at least for anything up to 30 people.

What I thought of the DJing: The laptop in the corner started out very traditional, then at half past nine started attracting attention to itself by playing the occasional surprise cortina and some rather more challenging music. There was quite a bit near the borderline between slow milongas and fast tangos (which I like), and a little, but not much, vals. I didn't want to dance to everything, but I was very happy to watch the people who did, and some of them were well worth watching. A few people, at various times, used the stuff-room to go and puzzle out or discuss a move together, which I thought was rather nice.

Hospitality: Very good. Wine of two colours, bottled beer, crisps, water biscuits, orange juice, and adequate if not plentiful water are included in the price. The hosts are charming. I have to mention the ladies' loos, which are downstairs, are larger than my living room, and contain two giant gilt-framed mirrors, over six feet tall, standing against the wall. Only as I turned to leave did I notice that one of these had come out of its frame, and was merely leaning on it as an old, old friend. Clean, dry, working, well supplied with paper.

The website: there isn't one, but there is one for the building. It looks nothing like the pictures in real life - it's far shabbier, and much more interesting. [Edit: there's a facebook group.] [Edit 20th Sept: now it has a website, which requires flash - or doesn't display at all - and makes a noise. It does tell you what you need to know, though.]

Getting in: £6 dancing, £10 with class (beginners, 6:30), non-dancers £2. [Edit 20th Sept: increased by 33%, now £8 dancing.]

Getting there and getting home: short walk from Oxford Circus. It's Sunday, so check your train times home. Take Exit 1, walk up Regent Street towards All Souls' church (circular portico, pillars, stiletto spire), bear left around it and around BBC Broadcasting House. The numbers are large and clearly marked on the buildings. Number 33 is on the other side. When you get to where it seems 33 should be, cross over at the lights and look at the numbers again.

How it went: I had some dances with people I knew, and some dances with people I didn't. The crowd was mostly but by no means exclusively young. There was a good mix of levels and I saw some lovely dancing, and some inexperienced dancers having a good time.

Highly recommended, especially if you are a visitor to London. You will not see the inside of many houses like this, least of all being put to such good use.

22 comments:

Johanna said...

I want a great-aunt with emeralds!

Or at least a venue half as splendid as 33 Portland Place!

Jo A said...

Sounds intriguing. I half-fancy going just to see the house (it being round the corner from work).

msHedgehog said...

@Jo - you'd have a ball. But it's on Sunday. The beginners' class is at 6:30, if you fancy that ('ve just edited to add it). Vino Latino's is just around the corner from you, too.

@Johanna - perhaps something in cubic zirconia from Butler and Wilson or Mikey. That would really give the tealights something to do.

Johanna said...

Ooooh yes!!! This and it's related items!

And what exactly are "tealights"?

msHedgehog said...

Tealights are the little tiny flat cylindrical candles sold in bags of 50 or 100. Each of them sheds a minuscule light, but a hundred of them around a room are extremely pretty. And just what CZ were invented for.

Johanna said...

Well, I knew THAT!

I thought it was English slang for people-who-covet-other-people's-over-the-top-jewelry...

msHedgehog said...

What are they called in American, then?

Johanna said...

Tea lights. But like I said, I thought you were using them in some cool English slang way :-)

Anonymous said...

Hi is it as good as Portman square (currently closed I've heard. Any ideas on when it comes back?)?
great blog!

msHedgehog said...

I don't know of one at Portman Square. Most London milongas get announced on Tango-UK, so you could ask there.

Psyche said...

The Portman Square one is Home House, run by Eleonora / Tangology, usually every other Sunday. It's a favourite of mine, when it's on - elegant, intimate venue, good level of dancing, free drinks and food.

msHedgehog said...

Oh, now I know what you mean - that one's here, and it says it will be back in June. It also says, I see, that "tango has crossed all imaginary boundaries", which is delightful, and in many ways quite true, as the rest of the sentence shows. It reminds me of an Italian journalist describing Michael Schumacher as "mythical", thinking it was the English for "mitico", which it is not. He certainly meant "legendary".

Kris said...

website is up:
http://www.tangoat33.com/
and classes and milongas are on again from September the 21st...

msHedgehog said...

Updated with the website link, thanks!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
msHedgehog said...

@Anon, thanks for the info, I think when people organise milongas they can feel obliged to offer a class whether they are ready to or not. I've never taken a class there, but if you email me (address top right) I can suggest some reliable teachers based on my experience.

Mavis, a tiny lady who recently discovered she loves to dance. said...

I can honestly say I've had no experience like 'Anon's at all.

I learnt the basics of tango a couple of years ago and when I realised I wanted to pick it up again, 33 Portland Place was the first class I went to and it was great! Naomi who runs the classes, and the milonga, has a wonderful clear and expressive way of teaching. Not only does she teach a beautiful style of dancing, she takes time to go through the etiquette of the social dance, the embrace, the feeling, the stance, and posture, all the key important things which previously I had never been taught. I'd just been taught steps.

I went to 33 Portland Place several times before going and learning intensively in BA. And I have to say I thought the teaching was so good that I took private lessons with Naomi and was so glad that I did. The thing that really sealed how good her teaching is, was that when I was in BA, the teachers who I found most helpful (Aurora Lubiz and Marianna Falcon) often echoed things that Naomi had said in the group lessons and in my private lessons with her. Things that again, I haven’t heard in other beginners classes in London, yet are key proponents of Argentinian Tango.

Coming back to the UK, I've been to one of her classes to start to learn to lead, and again experienced the same clear and inspiring, way of explaining things. And she teaches *real* argentinian tango. Its all about leading with the chest, none of this short hand old fashioned back signals which still sometimes get taught. Plus she takes the time as you're practising to come round and check on everyone and correct everyone where necessary, and to praise when you're getting it right. So helpful when most of the time you feel like you're getting it wrong!

I’ve also thought the beginners classes so good that I’ve a couple of friends who I’ve brought with me who have now caught the tango bug and are loving learning there.

And yes, sometimes the classes are full…with sometimes a couple more women then men...but what dance classes aren't like that? That’s one of the reasons you change partners. And maybe you might have to pair up with another woman, but that's no bad thing. I think its very good to get an idea of what you might feel like for a leader, that's only going to help and improve your own dance.

As for the milonga, its my favourite I've been to so far. The setting is beautiful, rare and intimate. The music nicely varied, a great mix of people with some regulars and others dipping in and out. And a nice relaxed feel to it with less of the cliqueyness and sniffyness that I've experienced in other places. I think Naomi and her team have created a really warm, welcoming and beautiful environment.

I can only think that Anon went to another class at another milonga. Because my experience of 33 Portland Place has only been positive, every time. Its my favourite London milonga so far.

Mavis, a tiny lady who recently discovered she loves to dance. said...

PS I just found [URL=http://mshedgehog.blogspot.com/2008/10/beginners-questionnaire.html]this[/URL] excellent questionnaire that MsHedgehog wrote for people to use to help understand how good their classes have been. I scored 33 Portland Place 61 out of a possible 64.

msHedgehog said...

@Mavis, thanks for that, and here's the clickable link to the beginner's questionnaire.

Anonymous said...

As a complete novice I can wholeheartedly recommend Tango at 33 Portland Place. The house in all its dilapidated grandeur is a perfect backdrop for Naomi's beginners class and indeed the milonga that follows - I've even plucked up the courage to accept a dance or two without tripping over or stepping on anyone's toes. It's marvelous and has entirely transformed my sunday evenings - thank you.

msHedgehog said...

Comment above deleted because it was an anonymous, maybe intentional, Google-bomb.

The rest of the comment, minus the google-bomb, read:

"Anonymous said ... [Googlebomb] ... was very much looking forward to it. Sadly, the beginners class was led by two extremely unprofessional people who gave very poor instructions. As most of the people there came as couples I ended up having to dance with a girl (me being a girl) or missed out on turns completely. I ended up leaving the class after an hour and luckily got my £10 back.

Definitely wouldn't recommend the class led out by these two very inexperienced teachers

Dated: 06 October 2008 22:19

maxi dress said...

tea lights are candles!