Sunday, 18 September 2011

Bailamos @ Tango West, Bristol

Last weekend Tango West decided to strike out a bit and organised a full-scale weekender at the Redland Club, with dancing on Friday night, Saturday afternoon, Saturday night, and Sunday afternoon. I've visited them before so I won't repeat the practical details, just talk about this event.

The music: For DJing they used two of their own, who are known as reasonable and reliable, and booked two guests:

Friday milonga Apertura 8.30-12pm DJ Andrew (Tango West)
Saturday Matinee 2.30-6pm DJ Mabel (Tango y Nada Mas)
Saturday eve late Milonga 8.30pm-1am DJ Andreas (Tangokombinat)
Sunday tango café 3.00-7.30pm DJ Michele (Tango West)

I liked all the DJing - it was all properly put together, in the standard format, the tandas made sense, it was all tango music and I never got stuck feeling sabotaged or uninspired. The favourites with me and the people I was staying with were Mabel and Andreas, which would make sense, as they were the guests - otherwise why book them?

Getting in: You could book all four sessions in advance for £32, but advance booking was not required. I paid for the whole package on arrival on Friday night and I think it was still £32, but if you only came for one or two sessions, that was fine too.

Miscelleaneous practicalities: Hospitality is great, as I said before, and there are plenty of refreshments included in the price. The space actually belongs to the Tango West organisation, and the floor is in very good condition. It does, however, get sticky when it's humid, so choose your shoes accordingly. Talc is not allowed as it slowly degrades the floor. My leather-soled shoes were fine, but the suede-soled ones for Saturday night were a mistake. They really do look after the floor. A man's heel disintegrated on Saturday night and scattered little bits of rubber over a radius of about two metres, like the little soft 'marbles' you get from racing car tyres. Andrew, Michelle, Iwona and an assistant were ready with brooms, mops, sprays, and everything necessary by the time the cortina came, and spent an extra-long cortina as the most glamorous mop-and-brush crew you're likely to see.

Layout isn't perfect, there weren't quite enough seats in the room for everyone on Saturday night, or, I think, Sunday afternoon - so some people ended up standing along the open wall where the kitchen is. I never found myself without a seat, I only moved about once, and I don't think I ever saw them all occupied at once - but if you were less lucky you might have had to go and sit away from the dancefloor for a while if you wanted a rest.

Getting there, getting home, and how it went: All these were connected. Making it a whole weekend of extended-session tango with reliable DJs meant that it was worth people's while to come some distance and arrange accommodation. There are lots of B&Bs in the area, and the organisers also tried to match up visitors with local dancers' spare rooms. I stayed with a friend, who filled her house with happy tango people, it was lovely.

What really makes this sort of event is the people, and that worked out excellently. The location is two hours from London on the train, and very accessible from the whole M4 and M5 corridors. You can get a local train to the station near the venue, or for about £8 get a taxi from Bristol Temple Meads (queue outside the station). People came from the Thames valley, Southampton, Plymouth, the New Forest, and Cornwall - generally, people from all points West who would normally go to Eton, Bramshaw, Menuda Milonga, Aldenham, and so on, as well as the usual Bristol and Cardiff crowd. 

Those who are willing to travel long distances tend, of course, to be those who put more effort into their dancing. Over time that means they also grow more discriminating about music and organisation quality. And putting on a long event like this where you can confidently expect decent DJing makes it worth those people's while to travel for at least part of it in the expectation that others will too. Then the presence of people who other people want to dance with, attracts the other people who want to dance with them, and who have reason to believe that their chances of doing so justify the distance. And because no classes are offered, it attracts those who want to dance socially rather than take classes for their own sake. You can do something that I don't think is achievable (here, yet) with a regular or short milonga.

The upshot of all that was that I was there for all four sessions and got to dance with lots of lovely people who were only there for one or two, like the gentlemen from Cornwall, as well as those who were there for the whole weekend. None of these people would ever normally come into London to dance - it's far too expensive, time consuming, and risky, and doesn't make a lot of sense. I'd only see them at things like Abrazos or (if I'm lucky) the European festivals, and all that means a lot more trouble, expense, and advance planning. So it was a great opportunity and I appreciated it. The travel and being away from home was emphatically worth my while.

All in all I had a really good time. I think that since it worked out well, they may repeat the exercise two or three times a year. Given the success of this first attempt, I think they could consider being more ambitous and having an all-guest DJ lineup with perhaps one extra special one. I certainly hope so, but at any rate I would happily go back multiple times for much the same event again.


LimerickTango said...

Really like the "weekender" concept. Not everything has to be a festival.

Kudos also to Tango West for having the cojones not to invite a big-name teacher to bolster the event and instead accept that what people want to do is dance.

msHedgehog said...

@Limerick, yes, I agree. I think this format is very conducive to people actually having a good time. It's the simplest way of treating classes as a means to an end rather than an end in themselves - you can also do that with some teachers, but the teacher has to be actively and consistently doing it themselves.

And it means the budget otherwise spent on the big-name teacher can be spent on the DJing, which is also much more favourable to an actually-good time.

Anonymous said...

This 'weekender' concept sounds just like a tango marathon, by a different name, just with a less international clientele. (The tango marathons are also dancing only; everyone travels to go to them -- they usually exclude locals from some or all of the milongas --; they are very fussy about which DJs they invite and there are never any performances or lessons). I love them.

msHedgehog said...

@Terps - 'Weekender' is my word, not theirs. They didn't attempt to brand it.

LimerickTango said...

@Terps 'Marathon' implies and has come to mean non-stop dancing over a period of days. The 'Weekender' model (and maybe brand) implies a weekends program of social dancing that one can slip in and out of as your capability/availability decides.

Anonymous said...

@Limerick Tango

Having been to many marathons recently, I think people´s understanding of what a tango marathon entails may have changed, as your description doesn´t fit my recent experiences.

Actually, most people don´t dance non-stop at the marathons over a period of days. They travel to a place for the weekend. Then there is generally a milonga on Friday evening; another on Saturday afternoon; a break for supper; a further milonga on Saturday night and a last milonga on Sunday afternoon. Most people go to whichever of those milongas they prefer (not usually all of them). The organisers make sure there are exactly equal numbers of men and women. And asking to dance is by cabeceo, in general.

I write in more detail about marathoning as an experience here: