Thursday, 29 April 2010

Tango South London

The Tango South London Ball is on every last Sunday of the month. It's at the Dulwich Constitutional Club, 33 East Dulwich Grove, SE22 8PW [Update: this is the right postcode - according to the Post Office and to my physical check. The map and route correspond to what's on the ground.] It starts at 20:30 and ends at about 23:15.

The Class: I didn't plan to be there for the class but I arrived earlier than I meant to and came in ten minutes before it ended, so I sat down to watch. Claire Loewe and Luis Rodriguez were teaching a class on how to dance milonga socially in a civilised way. It included some simple elements, feasible musicality, and a lot of encouragement to respect one anothers' space, refrain from rushing, and use the corners of the floor properly. A lot of the results looked pretty good. Both of them sometimes teach with other people too. You'll see them dancing socially with plenty of people at various places in London.

Layout and Atmosphere: It's a longish rectangular room like a large school hall or the kind of place the local drama society might put on plays. You come in at one end of one long side, and the stage is at the other end to your right. In the corner facing you is a booth for the DJ. Around three sides of the dance floor, facing it, are lots of tables with pretty gauzy tablecloths, and chairs behind. They form a nearly-solid barrier with spaces here and there. There are twinkly LEDs draped along the front of the stage on the fourth side, and tealights on the tables. The tables were far enough in to leave two or three feet between seated people and wall; I almost never had to step onto the dancefloor except to dance. This is a blessing and helps the flow a lot; the only problem is people leaving their stuff scattered all over the place. The floor was more than big enough. There were slightly too few chairs for everyone to sit down during the concert. Lighting is good - I could get the nod (albeit a very spelled-out one) from right across the room. The loos are through the door to the left of the stage.Through doors on the other side of the room is a large comfortable bar, very roomy and quiet, with muzak. There was also a bit of smooth floor in there which someone used to review with a friend what had been done in the class.  Basically it's a community hall, the same sort of thing as the Welsh Centre, but nicer. The room was quite warm, but not excessively. It was a very warm evening.

The atmosphere all evening was calm, civilised and cheerful. From what I saw, I felt that had been consciously encouraged by the content and presentation of the class, and my impression from other people is that, if so, they've been fairly consistent about this for long enough that it's positively affected who goes and how they behave. It had a nice family feeling which I felt welcomed into. It felt as though the general idea was to have fun and permit other people to do the same.

Hospitality: Good. My single G&T with an ice cube and slice of lemon was £2.40 from the members bar, served by venue staff. I was also served an orange juice and a large glass of tap water for £1.25. There is a coat rack in the bar, which I and some others made use of, but many people left their things on chairs. It's probably a good idea to bring a kitbag. There were two or three club members in the bar (ignore the 'members only' signs - they don't count on tango night) and I felt that my stuff was perfectly safe. The Ladies' sprang a leak during the class and was put out of action - this was dealt with by a series of emergency announcements which converted the Gents' into the Ladies' and opened a different Gents' downstairs. So I can report, unusually, that the Gents is roomy and clean and dry with good light, but has a broken lock.

Anyone or anything interesting that turned up or happened: They had live music, a young bandoneonist, Carlos Becu. He played two sets, each consisting of a concert part and a dancing part. He was fine, he played what he played, you could dance to it, and people did, including me. He likes Pugliese. I wouldn't have minded dispensing with at least one of the non-danceable sets, but it's always exciting to dance to live music. You can form your own opinion from his MySpace page.

What I thought of the DJing: Marek Szotkowski DJ'd. I've seen him before, and again he did a professional job; tandas of four, cortinas, relaxed upbeat stuff to start with and keeping the more challenging pieces for later although in this case that it was mostly supplanted by the live music. 100% traditional, 0% alternative. Even the valses and milongas were tandas of four. I think there was the classic proportion of valses and milongas, which is significantly more than most people play. He doesn't seem to mind people dancing to the cortinas, which are rock and salsa, sometimes a full track so you can do it properly. The tandas made sense to me and didn't do any silly attention-seeking or make me go "what??".

Getting in: £10 including the class, £7 later according to the website (I was charged even less, by a person temporarily on the desk near the end of the class, so I think that must have been a mistake). Bargain either way.

Getting there and getting home: I got a train to Brixton and walked around the corner to take a bus at Lambeth Town Hall. If you take the 37 from there, get off at next stop after Dulwich Community Hospital; walk a few steps in the same direction the bus was going, cross at the zebra crossing, and you're there. The stop going the other way is directly outside the hall.  You can stay to the end and just make it back onto the Tube network in time for the last train, but I cut it very very fine because my bus did not appear and I had to wait an extra fifteen minutes for the next one. I saw many other buses a short distance away on the main road, and East Dulwich station is within 10 minutes' walk. The buses are given on the website. Check your route carefully - remember it's Sunday, and everything closes earlier.

The website: - it tells you when, where, and how much it is to get in, but not all of the pages get updated. The News page, which does, is here. [Update: Watch out for mixed up postcodes. If it doesn't make sense to you, ask.]

How it went: Very well. I had a very nice evening. I knew quite a few of the women there, but hardly any of the men, so I just took the first dance that presented itself to start myself off; my dances ranged from the harmless to the excellent and included more than one new partner I would be delighted to dance with again. I got very few bumps, and they were very trivial, nothing more than gentle contact - everyone could, and did, pull out in time. I noticed that there was quite a lot of variation in style on the floor, in the sense of fairly recognisable and distinct flavours of embrace, technique, and content of dance, and I danced more than one of them myself, but there wasn't a lot of zigzagging wildly about at high speed, or grabbing huge amounts of space, so the variations didn't seem to be creating stress. At least, there was nothing serious and persistent enough to affect the atmosphere so that it became noticeable to me.

I had an evening that made me happier than I had been when I set out, at a very moderate price, with the music and dancing well above average. I might even make this journey in the winter. It's a pity that I have to leave before the end to get home in less than an hour and a half. If I was in South London there'd be no question at all, every time.

[Update: added postcode and journey planner. Journey planner messes up the layout.]


Golondrina said...

You can also take the tube to Elephant and Castle (Bakerloo line)and then the 176 bus to Penge; or go to Oval (Northern) and then got the 185 bus to Lewisham.

Both go straight to Lordship Lane and if you get off at the first stop (past the Black Cherry pub) then East Dulwich Grove is on the opposite side of the road, 2 mins back up (near Cafe Nero).

Good review Ms H.

msHedgehog said...

Thanks, Golondrina. That stuff is useful to people. Wonder if you are watching election coverage as well ...