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
Have a listen to them here
Now picture them on stage in 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.
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.