Tuesday, 21 July 2009

El Once @ Crypt

*** UPDATE 2013 - NOW CLOSED. ***

The Saturday milonga in the crypt of St. James' Church, Clerkenwell Green, is organised by different people on alternate weeks. The layouts, hospitality arrangements, and DJs are different, and the organisers swap weeks from time to time. Their websites always agree about which week is which but they won't necessarily have each other's pricing or events right. This post updates my previous one on Paul and Michiko's night because some things have changed. You'll usually see announcements on Tango-UK.

The Class: I skipped the class but I've often taken them before. There's an absolute beginners class, followed by an intermediate class, followed by the milonga at half past nine. Generally, you have to be alert to work out where the intermediate class is going, but the alert and motivated student can learn a lot of very useful reusable techniques and concepts. And Paul leads extremely well. But it's a bit Zen. He won't necessarily tell you what the deal is.

Layout and Atmosphere: It's a large brick-vaulted space under a church. The wooden floor is large and smooth but has a slight slope, which I don't notice but some do. A shiny new wooden bar-like thing has recently been installed underneath the shelf-like thing on the far wall that's used to hold a projector or light equipment. The space for dancing is quite large and rectangular, you can get a good long walk down one uninterrupted wall. About a third of the space is given to chairs and tables, and it's possible to sit a reasonable distance off the dance floor, though not really to put yourself clearly out of play. It's nearly always possible to sit down. As for hazards, the pillars are slender but in groups of two, and two pairs interrupt the dancefloor; there are tramlines for a temporary wall, which can catch a spiky heel. It gets hot in there, but windows and doors can be opened and you can cool off near a door or outside. Old tango record sleeves and posters are projected on the large wall. It's not excessively dark but the lighting is coloured, varying with the projection. People generally find the atmosphere friendly and welcoming, it's not too difficult for beginners to get dances. The space itself is rather beautiful with its repeated arches in warm red brick.

Hospitality: Very good. They now have a second room behind the desk, where you can hang your coat and sit down to change your shoes. There's plentiful water in jugs flavoured with lemon, free, with plastic cups. It's unlicensed, so they can't sell alcoholic drinks, but a glass of wine is provided free. I had a cup of tea at 25p and there are herbal teas, instant coffee, and soft drinks available very cheap. There are also pieces of home made cake, and a friend of a friend told me she had bought a piece to eat and two to take home. The loos are what you'd expect from a church hall, cramped and awkward but clean and working and nearly always correctly supplied.

Anyone or anything interesting that turned up or happened: It's extremely rare for Paul and Michiko to have guest teachers or a performance - it only happens once or twice a year. When they do, it tends to be someone genuninely interesting that you can't see every week, or even every year, so it's likely to be worth turning up. They do have live music every now and then, and you can rely on them not to hire a band without listening to it first. On this occasion, a quiet summer evening, there was no special event.

What I thought of the DJing: It's 80%-90% traditional, but not necessarily Golden Age. Some very early material is often included, which I like, and there's usually a small amount of the kind of modern music that has some appeal for me given the right partner. For cortinas, Paul uses inaudible announcements about the next orchestra to be played; I don't know anybody who's ever claimed to have understood one of these in full, though I occasionally hear the name of the orchestra or the word 'tango', 'milonga' or 'vals'. People do quite often clear the floor for the announcements, at least when it's not crowded so you have somewhere to go. Paul and Michiko's collection of music is large; I don't get bored, but it does get wierd sometimes. On this occasion the oddities I remember were a super-super-slo-mo recording of Milonga Sentimental, a recording of something vaguely familiar that seemed to change into something else for about ten seconds half way through, causing the entire floor to stop and look puzzled, an extremely hissy recording of I forget what, and oh, I don't know what else, I may have imagined some of it. He played one salsa interlude, which is usual. Usually there's something modern at half past eleven or twelveish; in this case an immensely long track that was quite nice for the first four or five minutes if you like that sort of thing. There was one man there who danced well to it, so I watched him. I've got harder to please since the last time I wrote about this, but I usually enjoy the modern stuff Paul plays.

Getting in: £9 on this occasion, more if there is a special event.

Getting there and getting home: Take a train to Farringdon or a bus to Clerkenwell Green. From Farringdon, turn left out of the station and immediately left again so that you're walking beside the train tracks. When you reach the main road, which is where the bus stops are, turn right and cross cautiously at the lights (cars coming from your left sometimes don't respect the crossing). Take the next left, which leads into Clerkenwell Green, an open space with a large island in the middle. Cross this diagonally towards the pub on the other side and somewhat to your right; as you get there you should be able to see the spire of the church, with its clock. Turn left uphill past the pub, and go in to the church by the left hand gate, up four steps then down, you'll be able to hear the music. Map link.

The website: Style of 1998 with itchy bits. It will take you ages to find anything, so I have done it for you: here are the bit about Paul and Michiko, the bit about the milonga, the milonga schedule, and the Monday classes.

How it went: Okay, it's usually thinly attended in high summer. This happened to be an unusually quiet night. I have had excellent nights there, and poor ones; the best probably when there was live music. The crowd seems to vary quite a lot over time, with a core that's older than average, plus younger beginners, plus people who just like the happy atmosphere or like the music or like the cake, and people who just can't bear to let Saturday go by without some tango. I've had better and worse nights there. It's straightforward to get a few dances as a beginner, and gradually more and different ones if you go regularly, and it's a Saturday night in a safe, accessible area, and you'll be exposed to a variety of music.

Update: I remembered this video of Gustavo Naveira & Giselle Anne's performance from December 2007: it gives you a good idea of what the space is like.


Henry (@knowtango.com) said...

Great review! Thanks for all the detailed info.

hbboogie1 said...

Dear Mrs Hedgehog:
First off, thank you for the clear directions to The Crypt. Being visitors in London, we danced in other venues on Thursday and Friday and even though we had a nice time, we were not that impressed overall, especially when it comes to floorcraft and line of dance.
What a pleasant surprise it was to have The Crypt experience. It was a friendly, welcoming environment, excellent respectful dancers, good music and we loved the general look of the place. It has so much character! We actually decided to make a special return trip to London next Saturday before going back home, just to enjoy The Crypt one more time. Once again, thank you for your informative website, which proved to be very helpful for newcomers like ourselves! David and Gloria

msHedgehog said...

Hi David and Gloria, thank you! I'm glad someone likes the directions. I put them in because I always find it stressful finding a place I don't know. I should point out that yesterday was Nikki's night; next week will be El Once, with live music. It is a very pretty space.