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!