Saturday, 5 December 2009

Milonga Marina, Plymouth

The milonga is at the National Marine Aquarium, and when it's on it's a monthly event, but, sadly, this one was the last one for a while.

Disclosure: I know Andreas and Lynn, and consider them friends; they were happy to see me and since I'd come such a long way, offered me guest status; but I did not accept it, because if you do that I can't give you a writeup.

This writeup is of limited use to anyone anyway because the Aquarium is closing for refurbishment and won't open till April. No-one knows yet whether the room will be available then or not. I'm going to use my usual format anyway.

The Class: There isn't one, just the milonga.

Layout and Atmosphere: The dance floor is in the café at the very top of the National Marine Aquarium. As you come up the stairs you can see a table with a white cloth, and the floor and the DJ, with her own little floor-facing table, on the other side. Having said Hello and handed over your money, there is a space with some coat racks and chairs for metamorphosing yourself from woolly caterpillar into twinkly butterfly. This process took me several minutes, in late November at Plymouth docks, and I was glad not to be doing it on the edge of the dance floor. Then you go round a bit of wall and see a small bar where an employee of the Aquarium serves hot and cold drinks with biscuits, and then there are some tall tables and sofas.

The rest of the room is a glass-walled, curved space looking out over the quay, with fishing boats, charter boats and small sailing yachts visible far below. Around the outer wall are little round tables with white tablecloths, candles, pretty fake rose petals, and enough chairs for everyone. You will not find yourself sitting with your back to the wall and your feet on the dancefloor. The floor is small and roundish or maybe triangular. It was quite well filled with a dozen couples on it, which I think was what I counted at the peak, but the dancing was calm and orderly so more would be able to fit, dancing small. Lighting is good but not harsh. You can catch someone's eye from the other side of the fairly small room quite easily.

It is a very pretty, light and airy space, nicely set up for dancing, and I was intrigued by the idea that if you were on one of the boats outside, the dancers going gently round and round on the brightly-lit dancefloor behind glass at the top of the Aquarium would look like a school of tropical fishes. The atmosphere was gentle and civilised as though everyone was relaxed and enjoying themselves.

Hospitality and comfort: Good to fair. The layout was more comfortable than I'm used to and the general look and atmosphere much nicer. I appreciated the biscuits. My single G&T was £3.15, but sabotaged because the Aquarium had run out of ice and lemon. I didn't really want it and drank tea instead at I think £1.80, which is a lot for tea, but what you'd expect from a tourist attraction like the Aquarium. Because it was cold I forgot to ask for water; bottled water was for sale at the bar. The loos are on the second floor - take the little lift down and they're on your left. They were clean, working, properly supplied and roomy, with just a few spots of water on the floor. And very well lit - I had awful panda eyes.

The cold was the only problem. The room was really quite cold, I suppose because the walls are almost entirely glass, it's open to the huge space of the stairwell, and it was very, very cold and windy outside. It might be hot in summer. Now the cold had a big upside, in that the men mostly kept their jackets on and didn't get sweaty; I had only one even slightly sweaty tanda. But if I'd known it was so cold I would have worn a different outfit. Or a bra.

Anything or anyone interesting that turned up or happened: There were Greta Flora tango shoes for sale, which I haven't seen before. They came in a variety of heel heights as well as designs and colours, and the little detachable flowers are very nice. I saw some on the dance floor too and they looked good. The two ladies who were selling them don't seem to have a website, but they're in Totnes and the first email on their flyer is annasalsa at gmail.

What I thought of the DJing: Lynn Collins DJ'd. It's 100% Golden-Age tango music. I remember noticing many things I liked, but not particularly things that get played all the time. It kept me interested and the time flew. The tandas are fours for tango, so you can get into it properly, or threes for milonga and vals. The cortinas made me feel cheerful and refreshed.

Getting in: £10. When you get to the Aquarium you won't see any sign that it's open or anything is on. The sign at the front says "Pedestrian Entrance" or something, with a big arrow pointing to a very small, ugly, clearly shut door. Ignore that door, but follow the arrow and the pedestrian pathway on the left right round to the back of the building - it still looks shut - until you see a lit glass door with Aquarium employees inside. Maybe this door is left open when the weather's warm. They will open the door when they see you outside it, and let you in, whereupon you hear the music and can follow it up the stairs to the top.

Getting there and getting home: Even if you live locally, I think you probably need to drive or get a taxi. The area didn't strike me as pedestrian-friendly - certainly the entrance to the Aquarium isn't - and I didn't see any buses. I think there's free parking. I was staying at the hotel across the road, and although the area felt perfectly safe I wouldn't have wanted to walk from much further away, especially afterwards. The station is really much too far.

The website: Tangokombinat. Milonga announcements appear on the News page, but it's not just about the milonga, it covers various activities, have a look around. Announcements are also usually posted on tango-uk.

How it went: there were more and less experienced dancers there, but nobody needed to open the embrace to do a turn. There was a clear line of dance all the time using the full size of the floor, sometimes with two or three couples in the middle, and people were respecting each other's space. The only thing my heel made contact with was the leg of a stray chair.

I could relax. I could dance. I could even dance well. I remembered that tango is actually good. I could hear all of the music properly all of the time. I met neither General Melée nor Major Scrum. I didn't have to sit with my back to the wall and my feet on the dancefloor, hide from anyone, watch my bag, leave my stuff in a big dusty pile in the dark, or even change seats unless I wanted to. I met congenial people. I had really good dances (much better than I would get in London) with friends and strangers to good music in a charming setting. Not getting bashed into every three seconds or having to be on guard meant I could maintain a reasonable level of dance to the end of the evening, and if anyone was unsatisfied with my dancing he didn't let me know about it. You should consider my bias, in being used to London, and in being happy to see friends. But as far as I'm concerned it was magic.


Tango en el Cielo said...

Sounds wonderful. Hope it reopens then I might go there for a summer milonga. I bet Andreas trains his male students to keep their jackets on all year round!

msHedgehog said...

It was lovely - and I really needed it! They're looking for another venue. I would have been happy to accept pretty much anyone there. There were several people from Bristol, which is not so far away and might be another good place to visit.

OwenMc said...

Bristol has a good tango scene, and some great dancers, both leaders (always in demand when they travel over our way) and followers (looooovely :-),
so I'd say give it a shot

(keeping milonga hours :-)

Andreas said...

@Tango en el Cielo: I hope you can make it here someday, you'd be most welcome! And no, so far my classes don't include jacket training...

Andreas said...

@MsHedgehog: It was great to see you! Thanks for coming, and thanks for the very nice review.
As for going to Bristol, my place for dancing there is Tango West at Redland Club.
Nice observation, by the way, about the correlation between floorcraft and dance quality.

msHedgehog said...

I like jackets - as long as they fit. I think men who have long arms and narrow shoulders should get one made because it's annoying if you rattle around in them. It doesn't have to be expensive - and they do them for women now too.

Bristol sounds like a good tip for after Christmas some time.

The floorcraft thing has been really getting to me in the last few weeks - I hate the effect that being bumped has on my dancing. It doesn't do the men any favours either - even the good ones who are trying their best tend to take the wrong sorts of evasive action and just make it worse.

msHedgehog said...

@Andreas it was lovely to see you too, and you're welcome :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks to everyone for an interesting review & comments. I enjoyed reading about it. I have been to the Milonga Marina previously and hope to be down that way again.

As a leader, I wholeheartedly agree with comments on floorcraft problems. I recently spent 3 consecutive nights in a well-known South of England venue dancing to(mainly) nice music with very pleasant partners but did not enjoy the milongas at all because the floorcraft was atrocious.

It is great that there are at least a few milongas where this is being addressed - including some new ones.

Anonymous said...

Please dont do this!!!, stop!!! spreading the word that you can dance fantastic Tango outside of London. I Have danced in London a couple of times and I would not want all the Barge Boys and Flicky Felines heading South and West.
Let us continue to hide the fantastic Milongas and nice dancers that are all over the South west

msHedgehog said...

@Anon2 - Bristol's next! You're just going to have to keep turning up and improving London!

Chris, UK said...

"the fantastic Milongas and nice dancers that are all over the South west"

Nice to hear the scene there is pickup up. Is there a weekly milonga yet?