Thursday, 3 May 2012

Abrazos London

This is normally on Saturday afternoons, organised by Jenny Surelia at a place called Goodenough Hall, which belongs to Goodenough College, which seems to be named after its founder. There's another milonga on Wednesday in a different room at the same place, but I haven't tried that one yet as I'm generally busy on Wednesdays. There's one on this Bank Holiday Monday as well, so this is a great time to try it, and check the website for other Bank Holidays.

The Class: Jenny usually gives a basic to general-level class before the milonga for those who want it.

Layout and Atmosphere: The hall is absolutely beautiful. To find your way in, you have to buzz the bell or shoulder-surf to get into reception, which is on the left side of the entrance, and they will direct you to the Great Hall. You just go out of the door that's behind you as you face the reception desk, turn left, go into another door which is right there and follow the music up the stairs. The hall looks as though it was built some time between, say, 1890 and 1914, with the aim to imitate and surpass the halls of Oxford and Cambridge colleges (generally built much earlier and with less light). The roof is very high, the walls are wood-panelled half way up, and above this are wide, tall, bright windows letting in the sky. Above that is a white plaster curve magnificently embellished with coloured and gilded coats of arms, and a creamy plaster cieling. Beto told me that it reminded him of a place in Buenos Aires that I don't remember the name of. The heavy wooden chairs and tables are pushed to the four sides for the milonga. If it was crowded, there wouldn't be enough room to get between the chairs, which are very substantial - but there's plenty of room for a milonga of 180 people or so.

The sound is good, the wooden walls flattering it even with small speakers. It might be more of a struggle if it were full. And the wooden floor is absolutely gorgeous - not just smooth and soft on the feet, but also quiet, sucking away the sounds of your toes.

The only problem with the hall is that the windows have been incorrectly maintained and can't be opened at the moment. The room is designed for openable windows, and on a warm day it gets hot. Dress, or bring whatever you need, accordingly.

Look for the Empire Clock at the far end of the room. There's some information in a glass case on the wall to the left of it. It is an ingenious little memorial to that short-lived seaborne empire on which the sun never set; and once you spot the silver fern you realise it's telling you what time it is in New Zealand.

Hospitality: Good, slightly overwhelmed if more people turn up than expected. A table at one end has water, plastic cups, fruit, sweets, miscellaneous cakes and chocolate-brownie-like things, all included. If there's no one at the desk when you come in, it's probably because Jenny is busy DJing - just sort yourself out and either someone will come and find you later, or you can go over and just offer them money. If the jugs run out of water, you might have to attract someone's attention to refill them. As for the loos, they are clean, roomy, and very well lit, but allow an entire tanda to get there and back. It's a rather long way. Go out of the door at the other end, down the stairs on the right, and follow signs. Don't be alarmed by surprise violinists or hot steamy laundry machines. You'll get there in the end. On the bank holiday Monday when I went, it was also possible to get a substantial student lunch and a beer in the canteen next door, and several people did.

Anyone or anything interesting that turned up or happened: Just social dancing.

What I thought of the DJing: The first time I went, Beto DJd; he's a totally reliable DJ and a favourite of mine. The second time, Jenny DJd, and she did a perfectly reasonable job. It was all nice danceable tango music played in an orderly manner. She made one mistake (dancing) and had to run back to fix it but it was all nice music and the cortinas made me happy.

Getting in: £10. Market rate for London. The class is £5 extra, if there is one.

Getting there and getting home: It's a few minutes' walk from Russell Square and doesn't end late enough for getting home to be a problem. The address is Goodenough College, London House,  Mecklenburgh Square, London WC1N 2AB. I turned right from Russell Square and more or less followed my nose until I reached a fence, then turned right again and followed the walls on my left till I got there - which results in walking round three sides of Mecklenburgh Square - and that might not actually be necessary. But I couldn't at the time see a way of getting round the other way. Try it.

The website: Scroll down for the little calendar thingie. Does the job.

How it went: I went twice before writing, once for the regular Saturday matinee and once for a Bank Holiday Special. It was very quiet on the Saturday, but I'd arranged for a friend to go as well, so it didn't matter. On the bank holiday there were quite a few people there, after a while, including some excellent choices, and I'd definitely do that again. It was still quietish, but it'll probably become more popular. It's so nice and so convenient that it's hard to see how it wouldn't. You might try something like this group to coordinate with a few friends; but it'll be ok either way. On the bank holiday Monday, it was a little wierd at first because some of the students of Goodenough Hall were still having their lunch; they did so very quietly, but totally fascinated by our activities, and it always feels a bit bizarre having an audience. A friend mistakenly invited one of the students to dance; but he's very good at dancing with beginners and actually she did totally fine, as true total absolute beginners sometimes do in response to a good lead. The dancing was very civilised; the floor wasn't full, but it was very orderly and I think the quietness and the style of the hall is really conducive to a good milonga. I had a lovely time, and it ends at just the right moment to have dinner nearby afterwards. Give it a try on Monday, if you're in town.


Anonymous said...

What is the date of the bank holiday Abrazos reviewed here?

msHedgehog said...

The last bank holiday. Not today's, obviously. I don't have the date or a calendar right now but it was the Spring bank holiday. The other one was a Saturday and the event was exactly the same, just the people who came were different.

msHedgehog said...

Oh, wait, it was Easter Monday of course. 9th April. The Spring Bank Holiday is another date this year.

There were no confused students on the Saturday.

Polly Valente said...

Thanks for the thoroughly useful review.