Monday, 11 October 2010

TangoDeSalon Tea Dance in the Middle of Nowhere

This is a tea dance (which means it's in the afternoon and there are refreshments included) at Aldenham War Memorial Hall, Grange Lane, Letchmore Heath, WD25 8DY, running from 2pm to 6pm on a Sunday. It is not a fully regular event, so far - at the moment it happens every couple of months. The next is on 24th October 2010. [Edit summer 2011; it's now every 2nd Sunday of the month. Edit 2012: it got popular and is now every other Sunday: 2nd and 4th. Also, there are now cheese-and-spinach veggie empañadas.] It's organised by Asta Moro, Beto Ortiz and friends.

Disclosure: I was there because my friend Flower, who helps to organise it, invited me and made it possible for me to get there. She had not asked me to write a review - she invites all her tango friends all the time because she wants to make it a good milonga - and as is my custom I insisted on paying the normal entrance fee. I was pleased to see Flower and was predisposed to have a good time.

The Class:  Before each milonga Asta and Beto do a two-part class. [Edit 2011: this is the basic format but they invite guest teachers from time to time, in which case it will be a workshop format.] Part 1 is walking and basic technique, Part 2 introduces something-or-other a little more complicated that's practically useful in social dancing. In this case it was a turn good for making use of the corners. Broadly the approach is to build up basic skills with regular attendance. Also, they're very explicitly against anything that creates a tendency to kick people or causes problems with navigation and they issue a warning if they think you might get the wrong end of the stick. Both parts were attended by dancers at higher and lower levels of competence; Part 1 was designed to be suitable for beginners. I did not actually take the class, as I had not planned to and was keeping Flower company while she sat at the door, and finishing my knitting, but I thought it did what it said on the tin.

Layout and Atmosphere:  It's a good quality village hall - a good sized traditional style rectangular building, painted black and white on the outside, with a stage at the far end. Nicer than you could get in London for five times the money, which is the advantage of village halls in the middle of nowhere. For the milonga they add little ornaments like electronic candles, welcome signs, a sari draped along the stage, pretty blue paper tablecloths, beaded lampshades and so on. Lighting is good, with a lot of natural daylight coming in through the windows and the fire doors along the sides.

Along the left hand side are little tables, each with three chairs; along the right hand side, just chairs against the wall. Along the left side you can walk behind the tables to get to the refreshments. At the far end the dancefloor is bounded by the stage, and the part of the entrance end that's not taken up by the door also has chairs. There was plenty of seating for everyone. Once it got going after the class, it was well attended and felt all afternoon like everyone was having fun. The food and drink are set out on a couple of tables at the far corner and as I'd arrived at the setup stage with Flower, I saw that the exact layout of these was the fruit of much discussion as to how to provide good access to the food without eaters getting in the way of the dancers. It was worth spending some time on this, as the end result was pretty much successful.

There are some pictures at the blog.

Hospitality: Very good. Water, tea, coffee, and I think some wine are included as well as a mountain of food. It included strawberries as well as apple pie, cakes, scones, cookies (I mean big american-style homemade cookies, not biscuits), all the usual nibbles and Beto's excellent homemade empanadas. They are smaller than the otherwise-similar Cornish miner's pasty I had eaten on the train, but extremely tasty, in a light but structurally-sound pastry case; I remarked on their herby goodness and Beto informed me that onions are very important. A couple of them were about right to keep me going for five or six tandas but you could easily stuff in many more. There was so much food that they forgot to put out the sandwiches.

The loos are between the outer and inner doors: the ladies is very roomy, with coathooks, but there's only one of it, with a tiny mirror, so you couldn't really change in there. I think there are more through the door at the back. The facilities are what you'd expect from a village hall, clean and hardwearing and functional as long as it's all treated with care, but not luxurious.

The hall is a bit cold in winter and is difficult to heat; you'll be fine once you're dancing but you may want a woolly layer for the pauses and before you get going.

Anyone or anything interesting that turned up or happened: Beto and Asta gave a modest demo of a tango and a milonga, with mild heckling in between from a female friend of Asta's in the audience. It was short and sweet, best kind of demo in my view.

What I thought of the DJing: Tony Walker DJ'd. He plays good music. For this milonga he was briefed to play 100% traditional, and did so. Tandas were of 4, normal proportion of milongas and valses, cortinas were Golden Age bluesy things. There were a couple of technical hitches that interrupted songs, and I swear he played the same song twice (in different arrangements), but it passed the test that I was dancing most of the time and thinking it was beautiful. I think most of the time Beto DJ's, I don't know anything at all about his DJing except that I liked what he played for the class and he has strong views about what is dance music and what is not. [Edit 2011: he's a reliable DJ. You can check him out at Carablanca sometimes. Also guess what, they've bought a proper sound system! Proper quality wires, speakers on stalks and everything! Edit 2012: 2 more big speakers to go up in the gallery and even out the sound.]

Getting in: £8 for the milonga or £10 for the milonga and class.

Getting there and getting home:
I took a train to Watford Junction [Edit: now normally Radlett, which is nearer and on a line from St Pancras] and Flower picked me up from there and set me down again afterwards. I'm not sure it's possible to get there on public transport. It's a bit confusing if you drive - the DJ and several others got lost, check the map carefully. There's parking at a little group of shops opposite.

The website: Notices here, and there is a Facebook group.

How it went: It was fab actually. I danced nearly all the time and it was all good. I was in no danger of running out of people I wanted to dance with. People danced in a civilised way - they stuck to the line of dance - they were listening to the music - they kept moving - a high proportion were highly competent, although there was also room for the less experienced. I had very few bumps and those harmless. I had confidence accepting dances from people I didn't know. It's very new but seems to have acquired a pleasant crowd already; I'll definitely try to go again.

Incidentally, it is possible to go to this and then go to Tango South London afterwards [Edit: now not the same weekend so question doesn't arise]. One couple there actually did so. It makes sense, as they are both aiming for similar things and I'd expect them to attract quite a few of the same people. Lovely atmosphere.

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