Over the recent bank holiday weekend (25th - 28th May 2018) we had the privilege of being involved with the England International Tango Festival, organised by Tango Boot Camp. After a number of years of it being based in Ardingly, and then one year where they relocated to Brighton as a new venue was being agreed, this year it was held in the magnificent buildings and grounds of Tonbridge School in the heart of Kent. The school itself is around 500 years old, with most of the buildings you can see today dating back to the mid-nineteenth century, and this formed a stunning backdrop to an amazing weekend of tango.
Our role in the festival was a technical one, providing sound equipment, lighting, and making sure that everything worked seamlessly for the workshops, practice sessions, and milongas throughout the weekend. We began our set up on Friday evening, installing lighting in the main milonga hall, and a full sound system in the second milonga room. That evening the school was still in use for an end of term function, so we had to set up the daytime practice room and the workshop area (one space that could be split into two) on Saturday morning before the events started.
Throughout the three days of the event there were a number of configuration changes that needed to be made, including two sets of live musicians in the second milonga room (one on Saturday and one on Sunday), a variety of DJs playing in the various rooms at times throughout the weekend, and a repositioning of connections to allow teachers to play music from the dance floor rather than the DJ station. The event itself ran from around 10am on Saturday morning to 7pm on Monday evening, finishing at 3am on Saturday and Sunday nights. And then when it was all over we took the equipment down again, packed it away, and took it home!
So that was the technical side of things. But it was a tango festival, so what about the tango?
It is not often that you get to attend a tango workshop weekend with such an impressive line-up of world-class, world-renown teachers. Teaching at the festival were Homer Ladas & Cristina Ladas, Vanessa Vilalba & Facundo Piñero, Sebastian Achaval & Roxana Suarez, and Marcela Guevara & Stefano Guidice, and they taught 38 workshops between them at a variety of levels from beginner to advanced. All the couples performed a number of routines at the grand milongas on Saturday and Sunday night, and frequently made themselves available to dance with people in each of the milonga rooms.
The workshops were all paced well, and the detail and explanation they gave was just right for the levels they were aimed at. Each workshop lasted around 90 minutes, apart from a couple of 'masterclass' workshops which were double-length at three hours. We managed to get along to a few of the classes (including the 3-hour Nuevo Masterclass run by Homer & Cristina) and hopefully we will be filtering much of what we learned into our own classes over the next few weeks.
But all of that technical description of who was there and what they did cannot do justice to the atmosphere of the event as a whole, the truly immersive experience it was to be there and to sit on the grass outside the Cafe Bailar (the daytime milonga room) listening to the tango music whilst watching the school team play cricket, or walking between the buildings in the evening hearing nuevo tracks being played behind you, live music off to one side, and traditional Pugliese on the other. This was not just about learning tango or dancing tango, it was about experiencing tango in its pure form, a way to step out of the world for a few hours or days and enter that strange and mysterious dimension where tango is more than just a dance.
There was something for everyone. If, like us, you like your tango to be nuevo or modern then you could head for the Cafe Bailar and hear Homer Ladas or Adrian Newell playing their set in the evening. For lovers of the traditional music you could choose from Michael Lavocah, Paulita, Diego Doigneau, or Warren in one of the other rooms. And if you like your music to be live then that was there for you as well.
The England International Tango Festival is a one-of-a-kind event, and you can be sure that I've put next year's dates in my diary already.
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