Friday, 15 June 2012

Voodoo Milonga Club

In April 2012 a small group of visionaries met at the Cantina Voodoo Cafe, Darlington. Among them were the cafe proprietors, Les and Kendra, and the tango dancers, Stephen and Stephanie supported by their tanguero friends who just love to dance.

This was the moment that gave birth to a new tradition: the Voodoo Milonga Club. The idea was to create a new milonga experience in Darlington. For inspiration, we gazed back to the 1920's in Buenos Aires, when the early immigrants to Argentina who danced on the stone flags of La Boca, first got together to hire a room. This was what we would do - a meeting place where everyone could sit, relax, eat, drink, dance, watch, meet, chat and chill. Yes, those who wanted to dance could get up and dance or take the early faltering steps that eventually fascinate and ensnare the would-be dancer in tango. And those who simply want to watch, or listen to the intricate, delicious music from the Golden Age of tango, could do just that.

With our dance shoes strapped across our shoulders, Stephanie and I walked the historic gates of Darlington - through Houndgate, across Blackwellgate into Skinnergate where, at number 84, the Voodoo Cafe announced its presence with the faint sound of tango. The tables had been pulled to the sides of the room and the warm glow of the bar cast intimate shadows into quiet corners. The scene was authentic 1930's Buenos Aires.

Dancers and watchers arrived, to be met with smiles and hugs. A tradition of Buenos Aires is the greeting - the most important part of genuine connection between two people. In Argentina, the hug is ubiquitous, and so forms part of the Voodoo Milonga experience. Colin and Joan, Catherine and Phyllis, Geoff and Corinne, Jayne, Morgan and Kat, Greg and Sarah were the early arrivals, taking to the floor, or simply chatting and watching. Voices of English, Spanish, Haitian Creole and French curled like smoke amongst the tango music of Rodriguez, Donato, Canaro, Biagi and Verela. Shards of light were created by the contemporary tango of Otras Aires, Bajo Fondo and Gotan Project.

So, what of the future? Our tango dream has taken form. The Thursday haven of beautiful tango music and dance is now a new reality. A place where friends meet, enjoy an embrace, share a glass of Malbec or Champagne, taste the flavours of burritos, chimichanga, feijoadas and fajitas. An oasis of Latin culture in the sea of turbulent English life.

If you dance, perform, sing, play or simply love to soak up the atmosphere of something new and entirely different, join us at the Voodoo Milonga Cafe. It will probably change your life.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Argentine tango....where?

photo courtesy of  john hennessy

If you think slipping from the Pennine clouds into Cumbria does not seem the proper prelude for a milonga... wrong!

Leaving my home in Darlington for the Pennines meant exchanging light rain for heavy mist which encircles my little Smart car and gives the feeling of being raised on a vortex of cloud. From the Stainmore gap and Brough, the high A66 road drops gently into Westmorland - despite its' geographic assimilation into Cumbria I still see this lush and gentle landscape thus. The Gypsy and Romany travellers heading for the hills with their horse pulled caravans are now behind us, and ahead is their destination - the town of Appleby, where a famous horse market is held each year in the late Spring bank holiday. Down below, curls of woodsmoke rise from the red sandstone chimneys of the tiniest cottages, and the rich, sumptuous fields of the North West open towards spring-green woodland and raindrops on tousled cobwebs.

My ultimate destination is Dalston in Cumberland, a small village tossed around a green, bearing that well-washed Cumbria feel. Down on the right is the Victory Hall. After the First World War, the worthy and wealthy Cumbrians of Dalston subscribed to the project, and by 1921 Victory Hall opened its doors for the first time. Then, and for the next ninety years, the mainstay of social life in this remote backwater was to be the village dance. This was where young men met the lasses they would marry, and where after the wedding they would celebrate by dancing.

Today, the dance is not the Cumberland Square Eight (do look it up if you are not familiar with it) but more remote - from 7,000 Atlantic miles away - tango from Buenos Aires, Argentina. As the Smart car nestles into the smallest of spaces to the right of the hall's canopy, the sound of 'Vida Mía played by Osvaldo Fresedo's orchestra slips beneath the double doors that give onto the main hall. Inside, already dancers walk easily and gently on the polished wooden blocks, and the smell of old curtains is replaced by the scent of fresh baked cakes and tea. Yes, this is Tango in Cumbria's tea dance.

The tea dance is one of the most special events you could conceive. Imagine a table laden with fresh sandwiches, home made cakes and scones. Add to the mix an aromatic Darjeeling tea and the clink of tea cups on saucers. Now finish the picture with the sounds of tango, a late afternoon blackbird singing, and the swish and swirl of dancers. And there you have it....the tea dance.

Francesca has entreated those attending to come as 'Monarchists or Republicans', but being England's most remote county, there is not a Republican to be seen. Queen Victoria is here, as is Prince Albert, the current Queen's grandparents. In their shadow, we are but footman and lady-in-waiting - but it is Francesca that attracts the attention. She is the 'Pippa Middleton of Dalston', her delicious curves shown to great effect beneath her micro skirt: "I shall have to wear less clothes next time"...yes, Francesca, yes.

Today, Philip, event organiser (no relation to the Duke), has skillfully created a piece of Buenos Aires in Cumbria. We change into dancing shoes, mine the Darcos and Stephanie the Comme il Fauts. Then to the floor, to be wrapped in Cumbrian romance and later satiated with carrot cake, strawberry flan and Earl Grey. 

As the last of the late Spring showers taps the windows, giving way to shards of sunshine through the clouds, the music ends, tea cups are carried tinkling away, and the tango embrace ends. Who said that you need to be Argentine to host a milonga? Well, Dalston proves you wrong!