Review: Thames Valley Tango

Date: Tuesday, 28th October 2008

Location: Adams Park, Hillbottom Road, High Wycombe, Bucks HP12 4HJ (Map)

Cost: £9

Review and comments:

The venue:

It is clearly signposted as it is home to the town's Football Club (Wycombe Wanderers). There is ample secure parking and the car park is well lit.

The Dance Hall

The lessons are held in the 'Scores Bar'. There is a reception upon entering. The Gents and Ladies lavatories on the left. Joy, at reception desk, is pleasant and very welcoming. I am also met by the teacher, Charles, who spots me through the glass pane of the entry door and is quick to come and meet and greet the new face. I'm ushered in. The room is rectangular shaped, however, it feels more 'square' than rectangular. The dance floor was good - not too slippery, not sticky, felt just right. There is a bar at one end of the room (next to the main entry / exit door) and this enhances its 'sociable' ambience. The room is just big enough to accommodate all dancers.

The classes

Unlike the places I've been to, the venue opens at 6:30pm, for a 1 hour practice session. Then the beginners lesson is at 7:30pm for 1 hour, followed by the improvers (1 hour) then the advanced class at 9:30pm for 1 hour, and then finishing off with another "practica".

The dancers

Good mix. Charles explained that the classes reduce in size as the evening progresses. I got there just as the beginner's class was drawing to a close; so can't form an opinion about the 6:30pm practica nor the beginner's class. But from what I could make it, it was a fairly busy class although, it didn't feel cramped. It was 'buzzy' and the dancers looked like they had a fun time. I immediately got in the mood. There was probably about 15 couples if not more. Some of whom joined in for the 8:30 class; included are 4 familiar faces from Ceroc/MJ. Again, probably 15 + couples for the 8:30 class, and about 7 couples for the 9:30 class.

8:30 - 9:30

The lead - walking outside and inside of the frame, moving the follower into a cross - cross basic; then side step and then into back ocho's. The teacher's, Charles and Irina, were very clear in instructing both leads and followers. Leads had a couple of options to experiment - a novelty for me in teaching technique.

Basically, Charles would provide optional steps to work on, for example, either lead to cross or lead to directly into forward ocho's or both. It was for the dancer to determine their ability and that of their partner. The teachers would demonstrate for a good 2-3 minutes or so, explain the system (see below, bus stop) each time, gain consensus from the dancers to make sure everyone knew what they were doing; before playing the music. One could tell Charles had paid attention to detail in his prep time. I think the music was pre-selected. Charles would tell us what we were going to dance to - and name both the artist and track title. Now that's impressive surely!!

9:30 - 10:30

Pleasantly surprised to learn that I didn't have to pay or use up a 2nd voucher for taking this lesson. We covered the close-embrace hold and then 'walking' into side by side step, also known as American Promenade I'm told. Where the lead right leg is side by side with the followers left leg. The whole side of both bodies is in fact side by side. The follower is then led into a 'sideways' volcada, where the follower transfers weight onto her left foot, both upper body frames slightly shifting to inward towards the centre of their axis and the followers right foot is then led, creating a circular motion on the floor; gently sweeping/caressing the floor until it arrives at the lead's leg and can't go any further. So immediately forced into a gancho - where it hooks up onto the leads right leg.

Again the teachers provided us with options of coming out of it; with the followers right leg in gancho position, lead to transfer weight immediately onto right leg, in the middle of their axis. At the same time the lead will force a sacada and the follower has the choice of an illusionary decoration with her left leg. Can be finished either with a Giro or back ochos.

The Bus-stop system

The changing of partners is done after the teachers demonstration. Followers are moved-on according to the number of those over. There were 3 ladies over for the 8:30 class. The 'bus-stop' was situated at the front of the bar. During the dance, the couple who got to the bus stop, was required to stop and change partners then. The follower dancing would 'get-off', join the back of the queue and the follower at the front of the queue would 'get-on'. This ensured that everyone got a chance to join in the lesson.

It is a good system. It worked well it seems due to the music - the music selected for each round was decently long enough to merit a change in partners at least twice. By the end of the class I probably got to dance with everyone, once if not twice. And it didn't feel that the changing of the partners came round too quickly either. The timing was just right.

Overall reflection:

Teaching Technique: The pace of the class, felt more like a "practica" than a class and so for the first time, I left remembering what we covered. This may be coupled by the fact that I'm building my mental stamina and my ability is better than compared to 3/4 months ago when I started my Tango journey.

The Music: Charles' music selection was to my taste. The 8:30 class, Charles selected a mix of both classical Tango and NeoTango, however, the 9:30 class and the 'practica' after was solely Neo-Tango. In my opinion, the music was sensual and suited the style of dance (close-embrace) we were learning. Charles reminds us of the milonga taking place this coming Saturday and if his music is anything to go by, its tempting.

The energy: lively, fun (light-hearted and informal). It may have been down to the size of the room, the people or the hosts (or all three!). I'm excited. I've found a good venue, marvellous teachers and a decent crowd of dancers. Did I mention that it's only moments away from my home?

More details: www.thamesvalleytango.co.uk.

- Betty Smith