Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Tango West

Tango West have milongas at the Redland Club, Bristol, every other Friday (but check dates), and on special occasions from time to time. This visit was one of their Saturday late-nighters, 8pm-1am on a Saturday in September.

The Class: there was no class on this date. There are classes before the regular milongas, taught by the organisers, Michele, Iwona and Andrew, and they also have Andreas Wichter (who some of you will know) regularly on Wednesdays, dates shown on the website. You can take it, therefore, that the focus will be on practical social dancing, and that's backed up by what they say about their aims and who they admire on the website.

Layout and Atmosphere: If you approach from Burlington Road, you will see a big sign on the side of the building with the Tango West name. They have taken over full or partial responsibility for the hall, and so have a good deal of control. As you go in it feels more like an upmarket village hall or school hall than a gym or health club as you might expect from the name. There is an entrance hall with the kitchen opposite you, the loos on your right behinds some felt screens with notices, and the dance hall on your left. You have a bit of space to sort yourself out and take your coat off. The dance hall itself is quite large, more or less square, and has a pleasing wooden ceiling with a peculiar construction I don't know the name of but which reminds me of a sort of hammer-beam, only going all the way round to make a square. I think it's really some sort of steel suspension thing. The floor is the same colour but a different pattern, and in very good condition. You are asked not to wear shoes that may damage it, and heel covers are available. Refreshments are to your left, along with a sofa, under a sort of partly-curtained gallery, and there are plenty of chairs set around little tables on the other three sides of the room. They warm it more with I think a red gauze curtain under the gallery, and little purply fake tealights on the tables. There are no chairs alone or against the walls.

The hall as a whole is good looking and comfortable, and contributes to a warm atmosphere.

Hospitality: Excellent. I was greeted in a very friendly way on arriving (I was very early, having guessed wrong how long it would take me to walk from the station) and given a seat at my own little table where my friends joined me later. Plentiful water, wine, pots of tea, coffee, and various fruity and salty nibbles are included, with disposable cups and the now-standard pens for writing your name on them. Tea - standard and Earl Grey - is served in proper cups and saucers, out of a pot. There were enough seats for everyone. The loos are roomy, clean and working, with hooks for your stuff, so you can do a fair amount of fixing your outfit and makeup before you make your entrance.

Anyone or anything interesting that turned up or happened: They were trying an experiment of seating most of the women on one side, most of the men on the other, with mixed groups along the third side opposite the door, and encouraging people with announcements to use the 'nod' for getting dances, and to clear the floor between tandas so as to make it possible. It didn't entirely work out - there weren't enough men or women arriving alone to be able to do it convincingly, and Bristolians like everyone else are inclined to sit with their friends and would consider it rather bizarre to be told they couldn't because of a chromosome. But it was interesting and worth a try. The lighting was good, but the hall is a bit big; although I had no problems at all zapping partners from reasonable distances away, I couldn't make it work to the other side of the room. But it was fun to try and would have worked better with a bigger turnout, especially of men, or more people who were used to getting their dances that way.

Otherwise, just social dancing. There was a birthday vals; two of the ladies involved in organising it have a birthday on nearly the same day.

What I thought of the DJing: Andrew Oldroyd DJ'd. [Update - looked up surname and added, as I see from an anonymous comment that some people read "Andrew" and confuse it with "Andreas" naturally enough as he is well known as a DJ - I don't know if Andreas ever DJs at Bristol or not, but he certainly didn't on this occasion]. 100% traditional, tandas of 4, cortinas, golden age, standard proportion of milongas and vals. I enjoyed it, it was orderly and varied. Just a bit of a hiccup after the birthday vals. Andrew told me that he had somewhat changed his approach to DJing recently, and others said they thought it had been a fairly dramatic improvement.

Getting in: £9 on this occasion, I think you could get £1 off for booking in advance. They have a membership scheme at £20 per annum which gets you some discounts on classes and entry; you might think this worthwhile if you plan to take a lot of classes there.

Getting there and getting home: I took a train from Paddington and changed at Bristol Temple Meads to be deposited at Clifton Down, within a few minutes' walk of the venue. Turn left out of the station and walk uphill along Whiteladies Road with the church on your left. Turn right when you reach Burlington Road and continue to the next corner where you will find the venue. It's an easy walk, there are shops and people milling around. It probably would have been just about possible to travel back to London the same night, especially if I had left early, but I did a 'tango sleepover' with a friend who was driving back to her home in Cardiff about 40 minutes away, and took a train back from there the next day. There are also quite a few hotels, guest houses and serviced apartments within a short walk, which you could use if you went for a special event. The trains each way took about two hours and the ticket each way was about £28 - I could probably have done better by booking more in advance. A map is given on the website.

The Website: www.tangowest.co.uk - you'll need to scroll down. It's a bit mixed up but it's all there and straightfoward to find - where, when, what, and how much it is to get in, and it has been updated since my visit in the places I'd expect. The About page is quite interesting.

How it Went:  Not knowing many people there, I chatted to the lady sitting at the next table when I came in, and to my friends when they arrived. Perhaps because the scene is evolving quite fast at the moment, I got contradictory advice, I made a few over-cautious decisions, and I probably missed one or two dances I could have enjoyed, especially early in the evening. But the dances I had were all fab. The turnout was just a bit  low on this occasion. It's a nice venue with good organisation and now that I have the practicalities sussed, if it were a special occasion (the kind that makes lots of people I want to dance with come out of the woodwork, like Melina and Detlef's visit earlier in the year) then I would definitely make the journey again. [Added: oh yeah, there was a good ronda throughout and as far as I remember I had just one or two very minor contacts. I think my heel made contact with a chair leg and maybe someone's trouser hem. No harm done. Sorry I'm not at my best today.]


Anonymous said...

I'm curious about Andreas's change of approach to DJing - could you explain a little?

msHedgehog said...

Not Andreas - Andrew, the regular DJ there. Not to be confused!

AW doesn't DJ there AFAIK. I gathered that Andrew used to use a lot more downbeat, tragicy tangos - but I have no personal knowledge of this.

msHedgehog said...

Oh, also I think someone else told me that he'd got more demanding about the quality of the recordings.

David Bailey said...

From the site:

"Tango West is ... dedicated to presenting the Tango in a form closest to the way that it is danced in the Traditional Salons of Buenos Aires"
Hmmm.... I'm not completely convinced that approach works 100% in the UK.

It also says:
"Many seek to change the dance into a form more familiar or readily acceptable for mass consumption. This is often justified under the banners of 'progress' and 'evolution' "
- I think that's a little harsh.

msHedgehog said...

@David - well, it works for me. I'm a practical woman, and so far it's been the case that those who try to go somewhat in that direction provide better hospitality, better dancing, and a better experience than those who don't.

That doesn't mean it's cause and effect - I personally think it's two effects of the same cause, but that's all speculation as far as I'm concerned, I wouldn't take it to seriously. They're only really trying to explain there what they themselves are doing, and why. If they deliver, they deliver. I don't remember anyone ever giving me such a justification for anything they did, but I may not have been listening because I probably wasn't interested or wasn't there.

David Bailey said...

Don't get me wrong, I like the idea of trying to develop a good consistent culture for asking, accepting and rejecting dances.

And I think Barry at Tango Cats has done something similar in terms of segregating genders, and so on - and I'd like to see how that works.

But I just think that if you go too far in that direction, you can blind yourself with your own purity, you know? You get to the point where everything is automatically correct because "That's how it's done in BsAs". Which allows for no development, discussion or, yes, evolution.

And some things won't work that way, because we're not in Buenos Aires, we're in the UK. The only way to get it working exactly as it does in BsAs is to run it in BsAs.

msHedgehog said...

@David, I can see why you might worry about that in theory, if you just looked at what they said and took it literally, but I think they're just making an innocuous mission statement about trying to deliver a quality product.

It's so obviously meaningless if taken literally (according to residents they 'do it' in all sorts of different ways in BsAs - but what they mainly do is dance better) that I just don't think this is a thing that needs to concern us. The adaptation to local conditions happens automatically and gets taken for granted without anyone even acknowledging it.