This is an annual weekender organised by Milongueando France; it's now been going for two years and it's planned for next year at least. This time, it was held at the Hotel Cercle du Marin, Toulon. There are seven milongas over four days: Friday evening, Friday night, Saturday evening (then a sit-down meal), Saturday night, Sunday evening, Sunday night, and Monday afternoon/evening. It might or might not be in the exact same place next year, but it will be somewhere on the Cote D'Azur. In case it is in the same place, which seems to be the current plan, I'm going to add some detail about the venue at the end, since it would be important if you were planning to come on your own. [Update 06/06/2011: read this update post, there were some problems with the 2011 event].
The Deal: "Rencuentro Milonguero" means the deal is proper close-embrace salon tango, in an unbroken and truly close embrace, i.e. plastered-around-his-neck-and-staying there 'close', to traditional music (what the Europeans call 'milonguero style'). That is the whole point and purpose of this gig, so if it's not what you do or what principally interests you, if you can't already do it with a fair level of comptence, or if you don't know and love the traditional music, it makes no sense at all to bother with this. You will be wasting your time, feeling out of place, looking like a fool, and stuck with unsuitable partners. Consider the Berlin Tango Festival instead, which is on at about the same time in that marvellous town and has many and varied tango-substances to offer which may suit you.
The Class: There aren't any. No workshops, no classes, nada. If you admire a particular dancer who's going, you watch them dance socially or dance with them, you don't take lessons.
Local customs: Most people generally used some version of the 'nod' to request a dance, so the whole question of who asks whom is more or less meaningless. There were exceptions; refusals were always polite and accepted with grace as far as I observed. Nobody bats an eyelid at same-sex dancing, men or women, you can dance with whoever is willing to dance with you in whatever role you both wish, and people did.
Hospitality: Very good. In particular, there is a lady who greets you when you come into the dance hall and finds you a place to sit, and she did an excellent job. Having established what languages I spoke or understood, she sat me with some Italians of similar age to myself, and we got on very well. There is enough space for the seating and there are enough seats for the people, so you can keep yours and nest a bit, which makes a huge difference to the social aspect. It was so nice to have an idea where people were, or at least where they were likely to return to, and not to have your things muddled up all the time. There isn't water on the tables, but a free drink is included in entry for each day, and nobody stops you bringing your own either. Wine and soft drinks from the bar, with prompt service, were all around 2€, espresso 1€, and sandwiches. The whole thing was very well organised. On arrival I got an envelope with my name on it containing wristbands for admission to each day, my free-drink vouchers and the timetable. The military-establishment loos were pretty rickety, though, the best I can say was that they were clean and worked and you could always find paper somewhere, if not always a perfectly dry piece of floor or anything to dry your hands. They aren't even segregated. On the other hand, the patio was a nice place to cool off or just retreat, and the doors to it were usually open.
Anyone or anything interesting: It was just such a joy to watch so many good dancers. You never had to turn your eyes away from the dance floor, so it didn't even matter if your feet hurt up to the knees and you had to sit down. And the T-shirts were genius - they're black, in men's and women's styles, you buy one with the logo and date on it, you put it on, and then there's a pot of paint and a roller and you get someone to paint their arm and embrace you, and you do the same for them. It looks so cute.
What I thought of the DJing: The DJs were Melina Sedò, Philippe Gonella (Gitango), Enrico il Mali Malinverni, Théo 'El Greco' Chatzipetros, and Marcel Lambert (Marcelo). It was all good. All the DJ's played proper tandas that made perfect sense and always used cortinas. Everybody cleared the floor. You could stop, find a new partner, organise your evening. Most stuck strictly to the traditional frequency of milongas and valses, others used somewhat fewer. Some also used salsa or rock interludes that were long enough for people to dance to. Melina's style is very smooth (and I think with fewer milongas), others more rhythmic, and I think it was Enrico or maybe Philippe who played some rather jazz-tinged modern versions, I'n not quite sure. There was some quite marked variation of taste, but it was all music that people could use with the style of dance and the floor and the partners. Basically the music for the weekend was 100% traditional by a broadish definition, but perhaps 5-10% was not traditional by all definitions, or not played by the golden age orchestras. But all of it was strong and professionally put together.
Getting in: 60€ included all seven milongas and a pretty good three-course dinner on Saturday and a free drink each day. It's necessary to book but you can pay cash on arrival.
Getting there and getting home: If you do as I did and stay in the centre of town, near the station, you'll need to walk to the venue. The easiest way is to follow the street that goes across the bottom of Place de la Liberté, staying on the uphill side of it, and keep going, working your way around all the crossings and intersections: when you reach the huge Holiday Inn, you can see Cercle du Marin diagonally across the main road. Keep going past the street of shops and cross at the crossing directly in front of Cercle du Marin. There is another way, along a sort of sunken car-park-like road along the front, and it involves far fewer crossings, but I preferred this one. The sunken one is easier to find from the hotel end.
As for getting to Toulon, I took the Eurostar from London and changed at Lille. I took the 06:20 from St. Pancras and was settled into my hotel room by four in the afternoon, having lost an hour to the time difference and an hour to the change of trains. I am averse to flying unless strictly necessary, but flying is much cheaper, and you can go to Nice and catch a train from there. Either way you are deposited within 5 mins walk of my hotel and 15 mins walk of the venue. The journey is tiring either way - I was glad I'd done it on the Thursday and slept for twelve hours.
The website: en version originel.
How it went: Although I enjoyed all of it, the milongas I enjoyed most on their own were the afternoon ones on Friday and Monday, especially Monday. Saturday and Sunday
Generally, however, the quality of dancing was extremely high. In the whole weekend of 7 milongas I had two bad dances (amusical and poorly controlled), one seriously flawed dance (bad posture with sideways force), and one perfectly inoffensive beginner dance. The rest of them were all fab. Particularly notable was a dance on Saturday night with a Frenchman of whose face I have virtually no memory but with whom I had such an intense connection that we didn't even change weight or break the embrace between songs. A thing suspended in time. Also many delightful Italians, some splendid
The daylight hours, when not sleeping, I spent in the brilliant sunshine of the Cote D'Azur, contemplating the Mediterranean. Another post for all that, but I can recommend the Roy D'Ys, on the seafront, for excellent crepes, teas, and icecreams. And you can get a reasonable breakfast till 12 in the square in front of the Opera House.
Note on accommodation
The hotel itself, where the dancing is and you can stay if you book early, is not really a hotel at all - it's called a hotel and looks like one from the outside but it's really a military outfit dedicated to military clients visiting the naval base. The dance hall is great, but the rooms are extremely basic. There are few double beds, there may or may not be window curtains or shower curtains, and if you want a bath-sized towel you have to bring your own, like a good galactic hitchiker. En-suite accommodation does not include the loo, which is along the corridor. The hotel is also ten minutes' walk out of town. However, it's extremely cheap and it does serve food, including sandwiches at odd times. Having had a good look at it on Google Earth and a bit of a nose at the website, I decided that being able to fall out of a comfortable room and into a nice breakfast in the sunshine was a higher priority than being able to fall out of the milonga directly into bed - ten minutes' quiet walk helps me sleep, anyway. I stayed at the two-star Hotel Celenya, just off Place de la Liberté, which happened to offer a discount through the corporate scheme where I work and was very reasonable and comfortable with very nice staff. The walk back into town is perfectly all right and there's always someone else going. If you're on a tight budget or less attached to comfort, and you're not interested in exploring other aspects of this fascinating town, the Cercle du Marin is a very good deal. Be aware that everything shuts on Sundays, and the only place to get breakfast is on the front.