Tuesday, 26 May 2009

The Welsh Centre

[UPDATE July 2010 - as far as I'm aware this milonga has stopped happening, there's been no update here since February, but it still says here that it's happening once a month and the facebook group still exists. Check before starting your journey.]

When Carablanca moved to Conway Hall, the Friday evening slot at the Welsh Centre fell free, and now there's a new early-evening milonga there. It starts at 7:30 and they have the room till half past ten. I went a few weeks ago to have a look, and then didn't write it up 'cause I was ill. Never mind, I took notes.

The Class: There wasn't one when I went, but they're now offering classes at three levels, simultaneously all in the same room, from 6:30.

Layout and Atmosphere: It really is a very nice space, with its good floor, red-curtained stage, and high roof. The building is of course just the same as it was for the milonga that used to be here. The floor is large and very smooth, a little slippery. A rail for coats is on the far side; walk round the edge to reach it. There were pretty LED strings round the far side of the floor, and a swirling projection of stars on the wall, and more than enough chairs, mostly near the entrance, for the number of people. The stage is great for the band when there's live music, or the DJ and kit when there isn't. There are comfy chairs and sofas in the foyer and the upstairs bar as well, nice if you want to sit out a set. The room is still very warm - the ventilation hasn't improved - but I never minded this too much and it's unlikely to become a serious issue unless a lot more people go. Of course it's less of a problem for women because we can just wear lighter clothing; it's harder on the men. So you might want to plan for it with a spare shirt. The general feel made me think of a student organisation, in a rather sweet way. The young lady at the desk was lovely but doesn't dance; I had to resist the tempation to evangelise or gossip.

Hospitality: Good. A substantial buffet is included, which might be very handy if you were coming straight from work. There were slices of two kinds of pizza, curious round things in batter that turned out to be a bready substance, vegetable dips, things with rice, and a bowl of extra strong mints. Water is free and plentiful from the water cooler opposite the desk. My G&T with lemon from the bar upstairs was a reasonable £3.50 (or maybe less - I remember that it wasn't more than that, but I don't seem to have written it down and it may not have been as much). The Ladies' was clean but in a poorer state of repair than it had been when I was there last, a bit more than a year before. Of the three cubicles, none had all three of paper, a light, and a lock, and it took me a moment's reflection to find the answer. Check before sitting down.

Anyone or anything interesting that turned up or happened: No special event on this occasion. Now and then they have live music.

What I thought of the DJing: It was about 70% traditional, 30% a mixture of well-known Nuevo and what sounded to me like Europop (I was visualising a Spanish version of Celine Dion). It was generally in tandas that made sense, so if you didn't like it you could sit down for a couple of tracks and it would change - no problem. No cortinas. I particularly liked the choice of a set of Russian tangos - I think I recognised the sound of Mazaika.

Getting in: £10 on your first visit. You can register on entry for a discount on your next visit by giving your full name; they give you a non-transferable card with your name on it, and your next visit will be £7, although I think the discount may expire. The food is included, either way.

Getting there and getting home: It's a longish walk from King's Cross, or about the same distance from Holborn. Either way, you could hop on a bus; there is a stop right outside, and at the Dental Hospital which is opposite. It takes me about ten minutes to walk from King's Cross, and I took a short bus ride to get back. From King's Cross underground station, take the exit for Euston Road (south side), and the left-hand side of that exit, which is T shaped - i.e., not the one signed for the library. Follow your nose in the same direction; you almost immediately take the right hand fork of the main road you are walking along. This is Gray's Inn Road. Keep walking along the same side long after you are certain you must be wrong and lost in a not-very-nice part of London, and just after you pass the office furniture place you will see a large Welsh flag above the door. The early finish means you can just reverse it to get home.

The website: it hasn't got one of it's own but OK Tango has the basics (scroll down). There's a Facebook group here, which I should imagine gets updated regularly, or monitor Tango-UK for announcements.

How it went: Rather well. It is true, as was announced by email (I can't find the message though), that there were more men there than women. But I didn't feel pressure to dance all the time. There was a wide range of levels represented, and I danced with both beginners and experts. Interestingly, if there was an under-represented group, it was the all-too-common Experienced Numpty; which may have been sheer chance, but was nice. An unusual feature is that there are both male and female "hosts" with little badges, whose job it is to make sure any newcomer gets a dance. I think this would make it a safe choice for beginners, especially women. The hosts were competent at various levels. They were also young, pleasant and happy to sit around and chat. However, there weren't a lot of people there in total so it felt a bit echoey. I expected that, however - this is a new milonga. I had a very easy evening.

I guessed that the connection between the seed group who go there might be the OKTango classes, and checking the website makes that look likely. I have to admit that the discount system made me less likely to return than I would have been otherwise, because I'm not crazy about the practice of collecting names on entry, and this was the only time I've ever been asked for my full name before getting in the door. But I think that's a personal preference and wouldn't apply to everyone. The only problems it has are the low numbers (so far, or at least on this occasion) - and the not-very-nice walk to get there. The early start and early finish have advantages if you just want to get out of work and start your weekend, and the food included is a bonus.


David Bailey said...

Hmmmm.... can't help wondering if we should port LGTN there...

msHedgehog said...

I don't think you could, because of the early finish (it's because of the neighbours). Most people would only get half an hour's dancing and the ones who come far probably just wouldn't. It would be more of a prequel really. But it wouldn't know what had hit it and it really is a nice space.

Anonymous said...

Jivers are probably used to early Friday nights since their only option in the past was South Ken/Casbah which closed at 10:45ish?

Also, a number of teachers/hosts in OKTango are jivers too! I bet if you held a LGTN there you could play a popular MJ tune or two or maybe even a tanda (in place of a tanda of Salsa like a lot of other places)

msHedgehog said...

I have very little experience of Jive so you two are more likely to be right on this than I am.

Anonymous said...

I haven't been able to get there as it starts and finishes too early. OK Tango is behind this and most of the people organising this milonga are students or ex-students. The ventilation will be an issue as they are not allowed to open windows because of the neighbours (and the fans were not enough)and the venue always closed at 11pm in the past. These issues prompted the move for Carablanca.
As for jive, The Casbah closes at 11pm (I used to go regularly after work as it was around the corner from me and then I used to pop over to Negracha after that!)Would think that if people were getting hot from Tango, that they would melt from dancing anything faster.
I am always suspicious of Taxi dancers, maybe good for the beginners.
Glad you enjoyed yourself.

David Bailey said...

The early finish might well be an issue. On the other hand, it might be an idea to use this as a warmup, (not too literally!), then go on to somewhere - e.g. Negracha's - later on. Harder on the wallet of course, but might be worth a try.

Not sure about the OKTango lot being jivers - Amir used to teach for them I believe, but I don't think he does anymore?

I've been meaning to check it out since the lovely Heather talked about it a few weeks ago. So I'll scout the place out...

ghost said...

Well it is still 3 hours dancing which would be the equivalent of 10pm to 1am at Negracha.

(Course if I turn up at 11 I may have problems...)

Ultimately the question is of that 3 hours how much time do you spend dancing? As opposed to sitting out because you don't like the music / no-one to dance with, moving defensively on the dancefloor, trying to stop the other person from injuring all and sundry etc.

I really don't want to become one of those guys who considers one tanda an hour an evening well spent! (Unless it actually is a very long tanda)

msHedgehog said...

Floorcraft's not a major problem while there's acres of room and not many people. I don't have anything more to say about the music but they say on Tango-UK that they're open to suggestions, so I think you should both check it out and see what you thought. If you were bringing a group it would even make sense to email them and see if the £7 price would apply. The ventilation is a problem in summer, and was indeed the reason for Carablanca moving. It does get hot and stuffy in there. I never really minded it much, but some people find it really hard.

ghost said...


Realistically it would take 'till the Autumn to organise it so the ventilation wouldn't be an issue for about a year.

It would be nice to have floorspace again *wistful sigh*

yunki said...

Hi David, I don't think Amir teaches at OKTango anymore but a number of the OKTango students/teachers dance MJ, either with Jive Nation or Ceroc. I've seen Octavian at Jive Nation at least once and I know he's not the only one.

I don't think the hosts Antonio and Anna dances MJ but they are very nice and I'm sure they're open to suggestions for music.

David Bailey said...

"If you were bringing a group it would even make sense to email them and see if the £7 price would apply."
Well, compared to the £25 ripoff that is Negracha's next week, £7 sounds pretty damn good value by itself...

ModernTanguera said...

Unrelated, but I this post and thought of you: http://highfashiongirl.blogspot.com/2009/05/all-i-want-for-my-very-merry-unbirthday.html

Have a lovely day!

msHedgehog said...

Hi Tanguera! I have to admit that I'm a European hedgehog, a different species, bigger and not quite so cute, and we don't make very good pets; but that is adorable.