Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Easter @ Thames Valley Tango

A friend suggested we meet up at Thames Valley Tango's Easter event. As I didn't have anything planned for my long weekend, I decided to get out of London and have two milongas while I was about it, the Friday and the Saturday. They also do a thing at Christmas, and a regular monthly Tea Dance. There were, I think, three days of workshops and three milongas in total.

The Class: I didn't attend the workshops - I went on impulse, and it was too late to book. They were given by Jenney Frances and Ricardo Oria, and my friends and other students were enthusiastic about the quality, saying it was well communicated, enjoyable, and good on technical fundamentals. I think Jenney and Ricardo normally teach in Edinburgh.

Layout and Atmosphere: The hall is very handsome, more so on a spring evening than it looks in the pictures. It's brick building with a pointed roof, a little set back from the high street, and they put a big banner up on the side entrance that says TANGO, so you can find the way in. It has a high beamed roof with skylights, a stage at one end and a balcony at the other. The floor is light wood, smooth, flat, and even, with white lines for games, which my feet didn't notice. To your right as you go in is an L-shaped arrangement of tables so that one person can be both desk and DJ when it's not too busy, or two people can sit companionably and do two jobs. In one corner under the balcony was a small display of Nueva Epoca tango shoes (made by Werner Kern), jewellery, accessories, drapey bamboo-fibre knitwear and practice T-shirts with messages like "sacada me baby", and "I am not a shopping trolley". There were tables round three sides of the hall, laid out with their ends pointing into the middle. There were enough of them in proportion to the crowd so that I could always find a seat - mostly the same one, where my mug of tea was - when I wanted it, and could perch elsewhere from time to time. The whole hall was very prettily dressed with white net, red tablecloths, tealights, giant pictures of roses, and loops of white LEDs. I think there were fresh flowers here and there. The look and feel struck me as attractive, and relaxed - maybe it was just the contrast with cramped, battered, crowded, frenetic, uneven London. There was a good mix of ages.

Hospitality: Excellent. As soon as I walked in Charles, at the desk, perceived that he did not remember my face, asked me whether it was my first time there, welcomed me kindly and told me where to find the refreshments and the loos. (The possibility that he knew I was me and might write this, is, AFAIK, remote). In the kitchen, through the door in the far corner, were two kettles on the boil, some jugs of filter coffee, lots of IKEA mugs, and ample supplies of the teas, coffees, and biscuits. On the tables were plastic cups and bottles of water, and trays of crisps and those tiny chocolate eggs with sugar shells that make your teeth squeak. All included. The loos were clean, supplied, well lit, and very spacious, and behind the door marked Ladies' there is not only the Ladies' but also a large changing room with chairs, numerous coathooks (where I left my coat and shoe bag on the Saturday) and a full length mirror. One of the loo locks was broken. I was impressed with the bunch of daffs.

Anyone or anything interesting that turned up or happened: On the Saturday, Jenney and Ricardo gave a performance. I think three of the pieces were planned and the last one, my favourite, probably wholly or partly improvised. They performed in a fluid front-on style with quite a few flicks and flourishes, but it wasn't heels-to-ears stuff. And they looked like they still loved each other after a dodgy moment, which was nice.

What I thought of the DJing: It was all traditional and all strong and included a lot of things I know and like and a few things I hadn't heard before. There were (nearly always) cortinas. I think the tandas varied in length, but were mostly fours. There was a good sprinkling of milonga and vals. The last tanda on each evening was different, more what I would call semi-traditional - then La Cumparsita to finish. The sound system was good, and the sound was consistent between tracks and all over the hall.

Getting in: It was £10 on the Saturday, £8 on the Friday. If you went to both, I think the Sunday was free, but I went back to London on Sunday morning.

Getting there and getting home: I was staying round the corner, and there are several other choices of reasonably-priced accommodation within five minutes' walk, if you want to make a weekend of it. My friends had driven from North London, which I think took well under an hour. It's five minutes' walk from Eton Riverside station, which is just under an hour from Vauxhall on the train, and I knitted peacefully all the way there and back. It would probably be quite feasible for me to take the train there for the monthly tea dance. The train ticket would be £16.40 - four drinks at Wild Court, if that.

The website: At http://www.thamesvalleytango.co.uk, well organised, looks nice, tells you what you need to know.

How it went: Very well. There were people I knew there, to give me a start, so I can't really tell how easy it would be for a total stranger to get her first dance. A simple salon style predominated strongly, and the general impression of dancing was nicer to my eyes than any London milonga I've been to yet. On the Friday I didn't have a single bump; on the Saturday, although the floor did get quite full, I had a total of two, both when dancing with Londoners if I remember correctly. My impression of the dancing in general over the weekend made me think that Charles probably does a good job in the beginner's class. Being out of town, I took one or two risks and had a couple of poor dances, but the majority were good to excellent, and not with people I had met before. Anyway, everything worked out so that I could dance about as much as I wanted to and sit quietly drinking tea or chatting about as much as I wanted to, and I enjoyed the watching a lot more than I usually do. When I wanted to dance, a persistent look sufficed as an invitation. There were also direct requests, but I wasn't pestered. Generally the whole thing was a relaxed and pleasant experience. I don't know how much of that was just the fact that I'd got out of London and felt like I was on holiday, but my friends had the same impression - a "good vibe".


OwenMc said...

Wot she said :-)

I like Eton a lot, and had a great time all 3 nights this w'end - for once the music and the partners and myself were 'aligned', so to speak, and I had some fab dances. And yes, the Sun night was free if you'd attended the previous 2 (which helped soften my petrol-bill from So'ton way)

Most folk were enthusiastic about the workshops, and enjoyed it all, though a couple of "also-jivers" were saying that it was a lot more leisurely then they were used to!

Sun night I had a marvellous walz tanda with a follower who I'd had my first dance with earlier that night - end of the evening, end of the tanda, all I could say was 'Wow'.

For a bit of tango magic, the summer 'Eton bridge' milongas are a lovely setting, but an absolutely brutal surface to dance one. Practise shoes only, I'd suggest, but try it once if the weather's mild.

And no, Charles isn't paying me to say that ;-)

(drat - missed 'er :-)

David Bailey said...

I've got another review up here:

Sounds like a great weekend.

Captain J said...

Hi Ms H

A pleasure to meet and dance with you at the weekend.

Funny how performances affect different people. Ive seen J&R several times and I thought they were a little below par at the weekend. The one I liked best was funnily enough the first one - great musicality. It felt later on they were doing "moves" sometimes at the expense of connection. But maybe Im being too critical - they are still fantastic to watch.

The Eton weekend was unusual in that people tended to be out to town for the meals. Usually at a tango weekender you're either all cooking together or there's a cafe on site. I actually really enjoyed that aspect of it. It gave me a chance to get to know people in a way that otherwise I wouldnt. And of course it led to that rather bizarre Sat night in the pub :)

After Sun night one of the locals also held an open house, to which J&R went. That was lovely (a big thanks to T&R!)

All in all a fab weekend

Captain J said...

Oh and I forgot to say - Sunday night was very well attended compared to other weekenders. Obviously having Monday as a bank holiday the day after had an effect. So it really was 3 nights dancing - not 2 1/2 nights! :)

msHedgehog said...

Hi CaptainJ! The first one was good too. And the eating out did work out well. I knew I ought to have stayed the Sunday night. From RubyRed's account of the workshops it sounded as though I would have got a lot out of those too.