Sunday, 1 February 2009

Fire and Flame Ball

This happens once a year, in winter: see Brigitte's website, Paris-Tango for details. Brigitte also organises events in Paris, so you might have a look if you're going there.

The Class: Adrian and Amanda Costa taught two workshops of the highest quality before the ball. The first was on embrace and the second on milonga. They were fully equal partners in the teaching, and at least half of the time was spent teaching the followers. The first workshop was about the embrace, both open and closed, backed up by challenging and instructive practical exercises and precise explanations of why you would want to do it that way. Followers were taught to dance, not just follow, and take responsibility for their own dancing, and were given the information they needed to do so. And it wasn't lip service - everything Adrian and Amanda did was consistent with it.

The milonga workshop included work on the milonga rhythm, and getting all of us to stand still and listen properly right through the track. We were asked to dance to the rhythm of the bass alone, taking notice of where it stopped for a moment (It would be wonderful to do this with live music - it would be so much easier to tune your ear in if you could actually see the bass player. But not practical, I fear). We were advised to practice this listening at home. It was the kind of simple but challenging work that makes a big difference to the quality of your dancing and expands your choices about how to dance.

Adrian and Amanda are both citizens of France, and their entire performance - teaching and dancing - struck me as French, in the best way; passion for the subject combined with intelligence and an uncompromising, systematic concern with aesthetic values. They have a sense of humour and good class control, and the classes were fun. They teach a salon or Villa Urquiza style, and advertise themselves as such, and they point out the relationships between style and technique when it matters.

We didn't rotate. Given the content of the class, it wasn't as important as it normally is, and I had booked with a suitable partner, so it wasn't a problem. A lot of people prefer to work in couples. Speaking of couples, a glance around the room and a swift mental comparison with experience confirmed that Adrian and Amanda attract students who are serious about wanting to dance well. EU passports, too.

Layout and Atmosphere: The Carisbrooke Hall is a convention centre belonging to the Victory Services Club. The ballroom, also called the Carisbrooke Hall, is a bit magnolia but it's a good strong shape and was perked up with glitter dust, little pink tealights, pretty shoes on the mezzanine, and strings of LEDs. You enter by coming down a zigzag of open stairs from the mezzanine, which gives you a great view of the room as well as a fun chance to make an entrance or pose on the landing half way down. There's a giant chandelier in greenish-yellow glass. On the mezzanine was the shoe shop, where Coleccion la Recoleta had brought along a generous display of Comme Il Faut shoes for women and men, a large gilt mirror, and a rug - giving the experience of trying on shoes an air of luxury. It well-lit up there all the time, so you could see what you were buying. You could also go there for a rest. Opposite the mezzanine is the stage, with the DJ box on the right hand side. There were lots of seats under the mezzanine, but it was dark and you couldn't be seen, and the arrangement of tables made it a little tricky to get into and out of that area. Other unreserved seats had around the edges had their feet on the dance floor. It was also possible to sit on the steps of the stage, which a few people did for the performance.

The ball had a dress code; “chic and elegant, no jeans, no trainers”. People dressed well. The men who usually wear just plain dark trousers and a dark, smart shirt had no need to change. Some added a jacket, or even a tie, to their usual look, or wore a lighter-coloured suit. Some of the women had gone for a little frill, a little more shine, a little more glitter or colour than usual. It was pretty, and added to the fun.

Hospitality: Good. It's a convention centre. The bar was conveniently just off the hall and had alert, professional service and some seating of its own. The bar prices were reasonable. The loos are clean and well supplied, if not well designed or built - exactly what you'd expect from a convention centre. The only thing that threw me were the reserved tables; the reservation markers looked like advertising and didn't obviously say ‘RESERVED’. I had not noticed on the website that there was more than one class of ticket, or that it was possible to reserve a table. People having to turf each other off reserved tables and chairs caused some minor embarrassments. It didn't matter much, since there were enough chairs under the mezzanine, and quite a few between tables and around the edges not covered by the reservations. You could put your drink or your bag with bar money on the floor underneath one. There was probably a cloakroom somewhere, where I could have hung my coat, but I overlooked it (put it in the comments, please, if you know where it was). Luckily, I was invited to sit down in a good spot by friends.

Anyone or anything interesting that turned up or happened: Adrian and Amanda gave a performance of stunning musicality, elegance and grace, which started and ended well before I had to leave to make my way home, which was not true of the last pair of visiting stars whose performance I actually wanted (and had already paid) to see. The Tanguarda quartet played two sets. I thought they played very well; they were eminently danceable, with the occasional naughtiness, and they chose strong, well-known pieces to play.

What I thought of the DJing: Luis Rodriguez DJ'd. It was all good traditional stuff, more or less in tandas, though not clearly defined, but no cortinas. It didn't especially draw attention to itself. There were a lot of milongas, more than I felt was common. I like milongas, and would have appreciated this more if I hadn't been so tired from the workshops.

Getting in: The price for the ball only was £20 in advance or £25 on the door. The prices of the workshops also included the ball, and the total was £38 per person for one workshop and the ball, or £55 for both workshops and the ball. There was a small discount for booking as a couple; the couple rate for the whole lot was £105.

Getting there and getting home: At Marble Arch tube, take the exit for the north side of Oxford Street. Turn right, cross Great Cumberland Place, then turn right at Edgware Road (a main road) and cross it at the next lights. Seymour Street is the street in front of you and the Carisbrooke Hall is immediately on the left. Go in and follow the signs for the room itself, which is also called 'Carisbrooke Hall'.

The website: Brigitte's website is The design has gone for looks, and doesn't fit on my screen at work, but it's fine at home. Scroll both sideways and down on each page to find what you are looking for. Other websites: Adrian and Amanda Costa, Tanguarda, Coleccion la Recoleta (schedule currently here).

How it went: I had a good evening. It was well attended and the music was great. There were lots of people I knew, and I danced with one or two that I didn't. Although the ticket cost significantly more than I'd usually pay for a milonga, the event was special enough to justify it. I would probably go again with or without the workshops. The layout gave me a few problems finding people, and I didn't dance very well, because I'd taken both workshops and was tired as well as being rather out of practice recently. And processing information from a workshop always makes me pretty rough. I was one of the first to leave, going around midnight rather than wait for a bus in the cold, but Tanguarda were still playing and it went till 1am.


Arlene said...

The cloak room was on the right coming in after having paid or had your name checked on the list. Easy to miss. I didn't see you there, was busy talking and dancing. I had a great time, glad you did too. A

Anonymous said...

Hello Ms Hedgehog,
Tanguarda was playing the previous night at Carablanca, and the pianist had the use of a gorgeous grand piano which sounded amazing - actually the whole band sounded amazing, the instruments really resounding off the Grand and off the volume of Carablanca - making for a truly amazing musical experience. By far some of the best tango danced music i've heard in London to date.
They sounded distinctly less grand at Carisbrooke, which is a shame.

msHedgehog said...

I was at Carablanca too and I quite agree, they sounded even better with a proper grand piano. That was an exceptionally nice night, and extended to 2am - I would have liked to be able to stay. It's a very good space for live music.

Anonymous said...

Hello Ms Hedgehog,
Thank you for your comments. I am delighted you enjoyed both the workshops and the Ball.
I love a grand piano too! I even have one myself that Maria Martinova has enjoyed playing on many times during her visits to London.
Unfortunately the Carisbrooke Hall does not have a piano and does not have facilities to bring one into the hall. A great shame but every thing else they offer allowed me to make this Ball a big success.
Your comments are noted and will help me make it even better next year. Thank you.
For your information, the tickets were all the same. Only 5 tables were reserved for the teachers/ organisers who committed and pre-booked for their crowd. It seemed like a good idea at the time and does not appear to have disturbed anyone except 1 couple who behaved abominably.
I have already received a lot of emails from people who thank me for a fabulous time.
Amanda and Adrian will be back on the 20th March.

Anonymous said...

Hello Ms Hedgehog,
What happened to your usual investigations of the toilets and locating FREE cold drinking water?

Carablanca charged us almost half price compared to the Ball and there were none of that abusive behaviour regarding where people could or could not sit.

Carablanca's evening was by far much more superior, entertaining, and thoughtful about their customers and the service they gave for HALF THE PRICE!

So DJ did a messy job from what we read between your lines, and many people were treated as second class unless they were part of the act, and the live music could not compete in quality with carablanca, and you had paid a lot of money for workshops and milonga that you tell us made you feel rough and tired to enjoy yourself.

After all those how can you be recommending it? Perhaps the answer is that you are hoping for a seat at one of those reserved tables next year?

Jack (The Lad)

msHedgehog said...

I don't make recommendations, or otherwise: I just tell the social dancer what to expect and prepare for so they can judge whether they will like somewhere, why they might want to go, and what to take with them.

The DJing was fine, perhaps above average; your reading between the lines is erroneous. The loos were fine, as I wrote. The bar service was professional, as I wrote, and reasonably priced. I forgot to ask them for a glass of water, as I wasn't thirsty, so perhaps someone who did can comment.

It was a pleasant experience in a handsome setting with an outstanding performance and the opportunity to take the workshops. I wouldn't pay £25 to get in to a milonga more than once or twice a year, but this is an annual event, and the ball was included in the workshops fee.

I also had a good time at Carablanca the previous evening - they were not in competition, but on different nights. A&A also gave a useful class, though not a performance, at Carablanca, which I enjoyed (entire evening £12).

You can read Brigitte's comments about the reservations. It would have been a good idea to advertise the block booking scheme on the website.

Being tired after workshops is my reponsibility, because I'm unfit and can't be bothered to buy practice shoes. It has nothing at all to do with the workshops or the ball and it didn't affect my enjoyment of the evening.