Dance Night - Thames Valley Tango

November 7th 2008

Dance Date: Saturday, 1st November 2008

Location: Baldwin Hall, Eton Court, Eton, SL4 6BQ

Cost: £8

Review and comments:

Getting there

Despite the normal Great British weather, wet, foggy, not great for driving on the motorway' and my friend not being able to make it, the milonga temptation overcomes and I decide to change from "mummy" to er, "mummy - in pretty dress, make-up and heels" and head out.

It was not as long a journey as expected, probably 25 minutes door to door and relatively easy too. Typically had a moment of doubt just after exiting the M4 to join the A355. I found myself making a u-turn driving back in the opposite direction of the A355 as if going back onto the M4 - but relieved to spot the A332 slip road! This is the road that leads to Eton.

There is a large banner that reads "TANGO" hung above the entrance door, so I knew I was at the right place. I'm very lucky to find a parking space just outside the venue in the Pay and Display car park - Eton was busy that night. Parking charges do not apply after 7pm - it's gone 9 so I don't need a ticket.

The Dance Hall

There is a lobby before entering the main hall and once you open the door to go in, you're in! This felt a bit daunting I must admit - comes as a bit of a shock; there is no hiding, no pillars, you are in full view, people can see you coming in, the dance floor is right in front of you and you can't turn back! I take a deep breath, I'm on my own, not been here before, but this doesn't last long as I begin a conversation with the lady at the reception desk. I can't recall her name, but she can probably read my thoughts and is re-assuring and briefs me on what's what where I can find the changing room, the kitchen and so on. I thank her and find my way to the back or front of the hall, depending on your interpretation of it. There is a stage where the DJ is positioned and on either side, the exits / passage-way to the back. Phew! I can breath now; I'm out of "their" sight. I find the changing room. It's a warm, spacious, comfortable room - and feels purpose-built for the occasion. Lots of mirrors, hooks to hang your extra clothing, and there are a couple of seats to use to change into the all important Tango shoes! Get chatting to a couple of ladies in there - as you do. I'm ready now. I leave the room. Next door is the kitchen where dancers are welcome to help themselves to prepare teas and coffee's - a selection of various flavours of teas - didn't pay attention to coffees much. There is a tray of biscuits and some nibbles out too. The back rooms feel very homey. I could stay back there longer, but, music is calling!!

I walk into the main hall, my eyes scouting for a place to sit. It's tricky. The tables seem occupied. What do I do? Halt at reception to give me more time. I see one almost exactly opposite the main entrance door so I continue walking right round. There is just one seat between 2 gentlemen, so I ask if it's free and so it is, so I sit. And then the evening begins with a chat and dance from Charles, the teacher.

In between dances, I get to marvel at the beauty of the hall - it's breathtaking if you are charmed by period architecture. High ceiling, exposed beams, stunning! The hall itself is rectangular in shape and the floor is busy but I didn't get bumped or tramped on, either leads are "playing nicely" paying attention to floorcraft or the dance floor is that large. I'd say there were probably 80 or more people, but this is just a flimsy guesstimate based on the number of tables and seats (at my table)

On the tables, there are more nibbles and After Eight choc's. It seems that dancers are welcome to bring their own drinks - a group of 4 (2 ladies and 2 gentlemen) join our table and they have come prepared to party with their bottle of wine and champagne. I'm happy with my tea!

The Music sounds fresh every so often - as a matter of fact, there was an interlude of Jive music half way through the night. Quite hilarious to sit back and watch the transition from what looks like elegant, graceful, calm to pandemonium! The dancers are made aware of what's coming next as this is projected on the screen behind / above the DJ stage. The night draws to a close with a Neo-Tango Tanda, comprising 6 or so tracks.

Pro's and Con's

The host does a good job - one gets that from him and his guests. A couple of people I spoke to have travelled from quite a way away and had all but praises about TVT classes, practica's and dance nights. The venue, hitherto, I'm yet to find one that is as beautiful - visually and practical, especially the all in one room - doubles up as a dressing room, cloakroom and lavatory. The only couple of drawbacks to note, I didn't like the entrance, it's slap bang more or less positioned in the centre. Secondly, the night concludes at 11pm! A bit early-ish, don't you think?

Overall reflection

I was deprived of that cliche'd tip-off that Tango dance nights are somewhat pompous. I'm actually beginning to question the perception altogether especially where it's a MJ/Ceroc vs. Tango comparison. I'm not convinced Tango to be more cliquey than MJ/Ceroc (or vice versa).

It's taken me a slightly longer time to get a sense of "to fit-in" in Ceroc than it has with Tango, but again, it may have not a lot to do with the people or the places, it may just be me. But in Ceroc, as a beginner, I got to dance more with Taxi Dancers than with general punters, whereas in Tango, I jump in the deep, cold and rough water; holding on very tightly to my lead (and holding my breadth too!) Once I got in, it was warm and I was staying afloat! (OK, perhaps it's a good time to give credit to the LGTN group meetings as if it weren't for this, my first Tango night would not have been the same and possibly have a different opinion on the matter...). Now, not all dances have felt this way, oh no! It all depends on the lead. Well, it might also slightly depend on moods and emotional state (yes, ladies, the generic "time of month" mood-swing thing, and just generally for both men and women, 'how we are feeling' does affect how we engage in the dance, when even milonga therapy adds insult to injury especially in the hands of a bad lead. But you get my drift, and broadly speaking, I do rely on my lead in making it a good experience, rousing me to get more and more of Tango. But then there are those experiences where all that is beautiful, suddenly changes into an ugly beast (which you hate!). And here, I reference leads whose interest is strutting their stuff at the expense of making their follower look like a fool!

On this particular night, the leads (I danced with) were careful not to exceed my 'ability' compensating to meet with me half way. Good enough to have an incline about my level of ability (without asking me "how long have you been dancing for?"), match it and possibly 'teach' me a thing or two during our moment. Now I use teach loosely here, what I mean is that I left the floor thinking I was a better dancer now than I was 10 minutes ago - I leave with a sense of progression. I'm made to unleash moves which I didn't know I knew to do and in-fact quite difficult to recall or reproduce the step or sequence. We just danced. The connection was there. We were in harmony. This is a sign of a good dancer. It's magic when it happens, and it did with most of the leads tonight.

For now, I am all for subtle movements and not "showy" Tango, simply because I can't and am not a Tango dancer just yet, but I do attempt to dance Tango. I may have been lucky tonight, and tonight I'm (still) in love with Tango.

More details: www.thamesvalleytango.co.uk.

- Betty Smith, November 7th 2008