Event review: Cambridge Vintage Night – & some thoughts on future events

Summary

Is Cambridge’s lindy hop and swing dance beginning to reach critical mass? This high-energy event showed its potential – but can the city help groups like these achieve that potential?

Well over 100 people turned up to The Guildhall in Cambridge for Cambridge Vintage Night. I went along for a number of reasons – including liking the live bands of the music’s genre, having an excuse to dress up in outfits that otherwise don’t see the light of day and wanting to get back into dancing but not having found something that ‘clicks’ with me. One of the things I feel about Cambridge is that we have the potential to put on large and exciting events, but a number of things are stopping us from doing so. I congratulate the organisers of this event for taking the risk and breaking down some of the barriers to put on this event.

“What is lindy hop and swing?”

Have a look at this sequence

Now, that’s the dance at a very high tempo to a stupendously high standard. That said, the dancers from Cambridge Lindy and a couple of the other collectives in & around the city were dancing to a very high standard.

Pinstripe Suit Band and Kirsty Jarvis

Just…wow!

Have a listen to them here

Now picture them on stage in the Guildhall.

Kirsty Jarvis with Pinstripe Band at the Guildhall

Kirsty Jarvis with Pinstripe Suit Band at the Guildhall

Now, the acoustics at the Guildhall are appalling. They always have been over the time I’ve been attending events there. Any Cambridge City Council councillors reading this blog – Puffles is going to start chasing after you to get the acoustics in the big hall sorted out. It’s been negatively impacting on events for far too long.

“What was the format of the event?”

As all good dance-related events of this nature do, they always start with a beginners class – and one that has people changing partners regularly. I’ve done about a terms worth of swing/lindy but that was several years ago. That said, the basics were relatively straight forward for anyone who has done ballroom, salsa or ceroc. It broke a lot of the barriers and the tension that was in the room at the start – no one really knew what to expect in terms of those who had never danced before. From those that I spoke to and danced with, they seemed to be more than happy.

That class was then followed by both Pinstripe Suit’s set which unfortunately clashed with a food buffet that was put on. This meant the floor was vacated by all except the high-standard swing dancers. (Ideally you open the buffet after the band have done their first set). There is always the inevitable tension between the high standard dancers wanting to ‘let rip’ on the dance floor vs not wanting to put off beginners there for the first time. In all styles of dancing I’ve done over the past decade or so – ballroom, latin-american, salsa, swing/lindy, ceroc, this has been a common theme running through. I’ve not seen an event (either in the UK or abroad – yes, I’ve travelled to other countries purely for dancing-related events) that’s managed to overcome that tension.

Recommendations for future events?

First things first, in my view the event was a success. I certainly hope the organisers didn’t lose any money on putting it on. Secondly I hope they repeat it. Cambridge Guildhall has a limitation as far as an onsite bar is concerned: There isn’t one. Personally I’d like to see it have a setup similar to to what St Ives just to the west of Cambridge has with the Burgess Hall. (It’s where Cambridge Dancers’ Club hold their seasonal ballroom balls). As a result, organisers for events are left having to bulk-by drinks and sell them themselves. Accordingly, the quality of drinks for sale is ‘variable’.

In terms of publicity, I think Cambridge City Council should throw in a few publicity freebies for anyone hiring out the halls for evening events open to the public. Posters all over the community notice boards, a press release and social media posts should all be thrown in as part of the package. The reason being that more people attending such events makes them more commercially viable – increasing the chances of repeat bookings. At the same time such events bring people together and provide an alternative big night out on a Friday/Saturday night.

Talking of venues, the continued emptiness of this masterpiece in the centre of Cambridge remains an outrageous scandal.

The old bingo hall that has remained unused for far longer than is sensible

The old bingo hall that has remained unused for far longer than is sensible

Given that a large size (but not so large as to be Guildhall size) concert and dance venue, it was a tragedy that the plans (detailed here) were thrown out by the council not so long ago. (See here). It’s such a shame that in the city centre we don’t have a non-cram-them-in-and-booze-them-up concert and dance venue that’s available for groups to put on regular performances of the like seen at the Guildhall this evening.

One thing that also got me thinking was an article in a community magazine not so long ago that featured ‘early disco’ events along the lines that these chaps seem to be working on. In a nutshell, something hits you in your late 20s/early 30s that makes recovering from late nights out far more difficult than in your late teens. Remember when you could be out till 3am and not feel the after-effects the following morning? Yeah – I can’t do that now. That plus public transport issues means that for some people, having events that finish in the early hours are not suitable – but there’s little alternative. Some people want to dance, but not all of them want to go to a mainstream nightclub.

Managing the financial risks

This is something my Teacambs collaborator Liz Stephenson tweeted to Puffles earlier this evening about. There are groups who would love to hire out places and put on events regularly, but the costs of doing so (and the risks of making a big financial loss) mean it’s simply not worth taking. This then begs the question: What can the city do to help mitigate the risks associated with putting on these events?

Back to community development strategies again. The Cambridge Vintage Night was publicised almost entirely on social media. I can’t recall seeing any posters or anything in the mainstream print media. Thus we have the issue I’ve raised in previous blogposts (such as this one) of local self-organised social media-based communities doing lots of really interesting things while being completely off the radar of the mainstream institutions. The fault in my view is with the latter as they have the money and the venues. Yes Cambridge University, Puffles is looking at you.

What was lovely about Cambridge Vintage Night at The Guildhall was the event organisers proved a concept that seldom tried in the dancing-related world locally: They were able to bring together people who took part in an activity across a number of different venues, places and organisations to put on something greater than the sum of their parts. Cambridge has a vibrant dancing scene, with courses, clubs, classes and societies dotted around all over the place. However, not nearly enough goes beyond the school, church and community halls they are hosted in – despite the potential. This evening for me demonstrated what can be achieved if such groups can come together. Hopefully we’ll see more of these events in the near future.

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16 Responses to Event review: Cambridge Vintage Night – & some thoughts on future events

  1. stoobieland says:

    I thought the event was good fun. Having known the organiser for about as long as we’ve both been alive I went along to show my support, not entirely sure of what to expect. I rarely fancy dress, let alone dance (at least not ‘properly’). The lindy hop beginners lesson was very accessible even for someone with twelvety nine left feet like me. And I got to dance and meet lots of people who I otherwise wouldn’t have met, and lots of them had nice things to say about my costume – RAF Airman, you may have even seen me. I only regret being so flustered about the level of complements I forgot to return the favour. All the guys looked amazing, and the ladies were all looking stunning. All in all the organisers did a good job for what is probably amongst the first events of its kind in the city (?), and the guests met the event head on with the same level of enthusiasm and optimism as those who organised it. Top show, old boy!

  2. Snuffles says:

    There were posters around, albeit small-in-shop-window posters (mostly along Mill Road), and I agree that the city could do more to help people advertising these events. It was a good night, but I think some of the in-venue organisation needed stepping up a little. (the catering being the prime example) but in future events, it also is the case that the bigger the advertising and profit, the better this would be.

  3. Lozzy says:

    Puffles, I totally agree with this entire post. I also went, unfortunately what was planned to be a large group of friends ended up being just two of us in our finest. It was great to have an opportunity to dress up. We had fun but were slight wimps, arrived just as the dance class started and felt too awkward to try and join. This perhaps meant it took us a while to get into the swing. I certainly hope this gets organised again, and we can get a bigger group together next time. Hopefully the few organisational niggles, such as food timing, will get ironed out with experience. We did wonder how much it cost to hire the hall and I second hopes no money was lost.

    A note about the sound though, it was a mess. I don’t know about the hall generally, I’ve not been to enough events to know but in a large hall the band don’t need reverb on the vocals. My friend and I are musicians so we also noted that putting the PA speakers to the sides, on the stage above everyone’s head meant the sound splashed around and all we got were reflections. As I said, the acoustics might not be great in the Guildhall I don’t know, but I don’t think the set up helped. That said, it certainly didn’t stop us dancing.

  4. Simon Mullen says:

    Just to add some colour . . . the “old bingo hall” above was the Central Cinema from 1921 to 1972.

    I think it might have been the cinema that all the Mods went to.

    Some details here

    http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/36845

    http://cambridgestuff.webplex.co.uk/cinemas/

  5. Paul says:

    Fairly good revue of the event but just a few points about the dancers and dance community, acoustics etc.
    Firstly, particularly for the benefit of the organiser, thank you for the effort put in and risk involved in doing such an event.
    To try and help (as a dance event organiser myself), as already mentioned, I thought it terribly sad that the dance floor was vacated at the start of the bands first set due to an oversight of putting out the inclusive buffet at what I feel, was a very inappropriate time, i really felt for the band.
    Highly importantly, the acoustics of the hall seriously impeded the success of the night due to not being properly able to appreciate such a good swinging band (rare in Cambridge), and making it difficult for some to dance to.
    This i feel could be addressed to a degree (if permitted by the venue) by having the blinds closed on the windows- already fitted but not used, and due to the sound “reflecting”, the need for “softening” the reflection of sound may be possible by adding things like a curtain/material from the balcony etc without impacting on the fabulous vintage features.
    The PA could also be improved upon to provide a better clarity of sound at a potentially lower volume to reduce sound bounce.
    Currently, i know of quite a few dancers that would be reluctant to return, due to such poor quality sound, even from such a good band so this should be looked at with a high priority.
    Next, advertising: Social media alone i think meant a large loss of potential customers as even at “local” dance classes many are not using sites like Facebook so the old fashioned flier is still invaluable.
    Many of the the dancers were not “local” to Cambridge and travelled over 40 miles to get there, to have a good night and to support an event in appreciation of an organisers hope and vision (and mine) in a potential bringing together of the regions swing dance clubs and vintage fans (many Cambridgeshire dance nights are not all supported regularly by all local clubs unfortunately).
    Communication and support between dance clubs in the area is Ok, but I feel this could be greatly improved upon by more events of this nature.
    For the writer of the review, i would like to clarify that Burgess Hall has a permanent bar so is very different to the Guildhall in that respect, and dancers ( and those travelling long distances) are not fussed about a licensed bar as most don’t drink alcohol and don’t want to pay extortionate prices for soft drinks. That said, I know that non dancers may want a tipple or two so perhaps a solution would be to get in an outside bar?
    I agree entirely with venue prices dramatically restricting the success of such events, something i have experienced many times.
    I’m sorry but I don’t agree with the authors comment on quote “the event organisers proved a concept that seldom tried in the dancing-related world locally: They were able to bring together people who took part in an activity across a number of different venues, places and organisations to put on something greater than the sum of their parts” Unquote.
    ALL local event/dance organisers as far as I am aware all want this to happen, but due to locations, large affordable venues, financial risk and means of accessing a venue due to location (students for example are unable to travel far without public transport or car) mean that this seldom, but does happen else where in this county/region.
    The reason it was a good event in Cambridge (in my view) was that there were people able to drive to get there, the students were able to get in as it was in the centre of the city, and the organiser was able to secure a central venue to the region and a very good band at a sustainable cost (I hope).
    Many event organisers don’t have the financial affluence to take the risk, so i greatly applaud the organiser for taking this risk to put the event on for us all in the Cambridge region. Sorry if I’m repeating things here but don’t usually have opportunity to reply to such reviews.
    With reference to “high standard dancers” and wanting to “let rip”: the band were playing tunes that meant that not all dancers were able to participate for example at high speed, most people vacated the floor to have a buffet and some dancers cannot dance (especially at high speed) straight after eating food, so declined having the buffet, and also wished to show appreciation of the musicians by dancing to their tunes.
    I would agree that beginner classes at the start of an evening are a good ice breaker, but perceived tension between high standard dancers and beginners is more often from the beginners rather than more experienced dancers (but as you said, experienced dancers do consider thoughts of not wanting to deter new dancers) and can often be eased significantly by having “dance with a stranger” dances- announced by DJ/band, or what we know as a “Snowball” (Dancers start to dance, and when the caller-band member or DJ, says the word “snowball” all the dancers go and find another partner and continue dancing to the song, this being called out many times during one song).
    Lastly, good review, good event and let’s hope it will be repeated with some improvements mentioned by many.

  6. Mark says:

    Too many compliments for a night that really did not hit it off.
    In fainess we did not arrive until towards the end of the first set
    Zero ambience created at the entrance, reception did not know if there was a cloakroom or where we should leave our bags(lucky it was a dry evening) Nothing indicated that it was a Vintage night The buffet had already been totally demolished and the bar was poor
    A least a dozen people complained about the poor accoustics and the music being too fast before my first dance and there should have been a Swing DJ between the band sets to balance the nights music
    When the band played I realised what the fuss was about, – a really good set of Musicians with a dodgy drummer(must have been a stand in) and an awful PA set up. You cannot blame the poor accoustics of the Guildhall for everything
    Some of the very good dancers were putting there coats on to leave shortly after the second set started. If there were a hundred people at the start at least a third left early. You really need to cater for all the dancers needs on an event like this – if you are going to have a beginners lesson then at least play some music that they can dance too
    In over two years Lindy Hopping.this is the first event where I would be quite happy to ask for my money back

    • stoobieland says:

      Still Mark, it was Cambridge Vintage Nights’ first event in town. It’s never going to be easy to gauge everything the first time. Lots of lessons were learnt by the organisers, some of which were made more difficult by the venue management who failed to deliver on at least 3 of their promises. At the next event it will be better. It’s a shame it didn’t meet your expectations this time around, but if you see a Cambridge Vintage Nights event coming up in the future, don’t immediately dismiss it. It took a small, passionate and hard-working team a lot of work to make it what it was. It’s just a shame they hit so many hurdles on their first outing.

    • Rob Grayston says:

      Mark,

      I’m sorry you did not enjoy yourself at the event and would like to ask if you have any more feedback concerning the event setup? I’d like to guarantee that everyone has an enjoyable experience for my events and every bit of criticism is valued so it can be improved upon for next time.

      Once again I offer my sincere apologies that Cambridge Vintage Night did not meet your expectations, and it’s hoped you will find it more enjoyable should you choose to attend the next (improved) one.

      Regards,

      Rob Grayston – Vintage Nights

  7. Sorry I missed this event – it sounds right up my street. You mentioned the ‘early disco’ in your article. The event you linked to is a night in London. The event in Cambridge which you might have been thinking of is called the Early Night Club – http://earlynightclub

    Best of luck with your next event – I’ll look out for it.

  8. Nick Welsh says:

    Sorry – that should’ve been http://www.earlynightclub.com/ – and I spelt my own name wrong. It must be Monday morning.

  9. brian reilly says:

    I have a scientifically proven way of determining if you had a good night or not.
    Now, next time your at an event or do, ask yourself this “how much more fun can you have for that price” and you will arrive at you answer. Some places in Cambridge charge £10 or so to get in the door so at £12 I think this event was great value. I had no concerns about the floor being vacant for a few mins at any time as it was hot in there and I myself had to go cool down for five mins or so. I did have to throw my overcoat in the back room with lots of other peoples, so I feared for my camera for a little while but all was OK in the end. I never got to try any food so I cant comment but there was large Que for the drinks at one point and i’m sure the organizers will address this for next.

    Overall I liked this event and I liked the raw high school feel prom of it, there is too much made of formal events these days thus opening the door for Mark Kermode like lunatics to criticize or praise depending on their mood for self gratification. I shall return with a lady next so I can have a good old dance..

    THE END…

    • Mark says:

      So Brian in summary of your musings,
      It was 20% more expensive than other venues
      There was nowhere to hang your coat
      There was a long Que(sic) for the bar
      (you forgot the plastic glasses and the tinned beer)
      You did not eat anything
      You did not dance
      You did not have a date
      and you were worried abour being robbed
      And finally you had to ask yourself how much fun you could be having elsewhere

      Yep – sounds like a cracking night to me

  10. Georgie says:

    Thank you Dragons best friend for the link to Cambridge Lindy Exchange Saturday Ball.. I had thought that this was a weekend only event but it turns out that you can buy tickets for the Bootleggers Ball separately. I saw the Sticky Wicket Band at THe Savoy Ball earlier this year and they were fantastic to dance to, a real band for Lindy Hoppers.

    I found your info on The old Central cinema building very interesting. What a shame this project did not happen.

    The Vintage Night was a bit of a flop for us. It had been advertised as music “idealy suited to Lindy Hop dancing” but it was far too fast and only suitable for the best and the fittest dancers. We headed for the pub but I am sure that if the music was good all the other issues would have melted away.

    Perhaps you will review other events like this as it is useful to be able to comment and see others views on this type of event. At the end of the day we only want to dance and eat cake.

  11. Paul Wright says:

    One odd thing about this event was that I wasn’t quite sure what it was trying to be: it wasn’t quite advertised as a lindy event, but it was advertised to the local lindy hoppers (on Facebook) and it started with an introductory lindy lesson. There was a reasonable contingent of people from the various lindy scenes around Cambs, but we were outnumbered by muggles. I think everyone complaining about the music being too fast is a lindy hopper and so they mean “too many fast songs for (sustained) lindy” (which I’d agree with). I’m not sure what the non-dancers thought of it. The other Paul (who, if he’s who I think he is, runs a fun local event outside Cambridge, he’s probably too modest to say) has some good points on how you welcome in newbies at lindy events. There are plenty of people in Cambs who know how to do events like that if that’s what you want your event to be.

    Playing for lindy hoppers is a different thing from playing from people who’ve come to bop around while wearing flapper dresses (there’s nothing wrong with the latter, of course). Lindy hoppers do turn up to things where there might be suitable music and make what we can of it without feeling hard done by if it doesn’t work out. But if you’ve sort of positioned it as a lindy thing and then it doesn’t work, the people who came thinking it was a lindy thing will be annoyed (hi Mark!)

    The acoustics were bad. When there was recorded music in the band’s breaks it seemed clearer, so maybe Lozzy (above) is right to say that there was something wrong with the band’s setup. I’ll have to see how the band at the Bootlegger’s Ball do.

    The food was pretty bad too: I’d ditch the dodgy savoury stuff in favour of just serving cake and not call it a “buffet”.

    For just over a tenner, I’d go to the next one out of curiosity, I think (assuming it’s pitched as another 1930s and 1940s thing: “vintage” covers a lot of ground, including later periods where you wouldn’t get the lindy crowd turning up).

  12. Pingback: Elsewhere: Cambridge vintage night | Name and Nature

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