As Magdalena and I skipped our way along the pretty garden streets of Altrincham, a quaint and sleepy English village on the outskirts of Manchester, my tummy tickled with mirth that bubbled all the way to the surface and burst with laughter from my mouth.. A tango marathon in England. Ha! A proper marathon packed with ‘marathon people’ travelling in from ‘everywhere’. Yes, an all-weekender, with heavy-weight Tango DJ’s and a proper marathon program, just like the ‘others’, with after parties, shuttle buses n’ everything else. Ha! A tango marathon IN Manchester! This was NOT to be missed.
We all knew exactly what we wanted from these three days together. To be engulfed by the warmth of friends, to dance until we were positively filled to the brim with tango and to have the luxury of time to really appreciate both.
So now… Let’s see…
The Bowden Rooms are.. to put it in English.. “quite pleasant, yes, very nice indeed”. What we mean is, the venue was really great. Lovely actually, with its charming vintage style and old grandeur of yesteryear still glimmering softly under the milonga lights. Surrounded by gardens and a Croquet lawn besides.
In my books, a marathon venue needs to serve a multitude of ‘desires’. The dancefloor must be the right size, the right surface, with the right lighting, seating layout and ventilation. It has to feel like ‘tango’. There must be quiet, comfortable places to relax that aren’t too far away from the action. There must be a central congregating area straight off the dancefloor with all the snacks, teas, coffees and alchohol one could possibly think of needing over the course of 72hrs. The food hall must be close by with plenty of tables and chairs for people to ‘get together’.
For hungry Marathoners, the food MUST be of excellent quality, nutritious and be suitable for all palettes. There must be plenty of ways to escape the building at will and with ease. The toilets, changing and storage areas must be ultra clean and comfortable. The DJ deck must be visible but not too far away from the floor so both the dancers and DJ can stay connected.
And! It must be really REALLY easy to get from the dancefloor to said ‘cosy soft bed’ at ANY given time. Hmmmm ok. Check. Check and check. Top job.
The after-parties each night were in a nearby venue some six minutes down the road. At 0100hrs, little shuttle buses and every volunteer with ‘wheels’ pitched in to transport all 260 gender balanced dancers from the Bowden Rooms to the Altrincham Football Club. I was impressed with the efficiency and sheer speed of this transfer. Honestly, I took my shoes off, waited a few minutes and put them back on just in time for the next tanda. Later there were shuttle buses every 30min directly to my hotel door.
It was refreshing to swap venues. The room looked a lot like La Viruta. Altrincham Football Club was a fresh, airy space with an informal buffet, fully equipped bar, large changing area and our next DJ already at the deck awaiting our arrival. Again. Top job.
I would be hard pushed to say which DJ was better. The music was excellent from beginning until end. And I am suspicious that this is because the Big Pop Team, with remarkable discernment, placed the right DJ’s in the right sets, playing their individual strengths and style against the known challenges of each set. Thank you to Jens, Benedicte, Dark-Oh, Juliana, Mary, Ros and John (Meet the Big Pop DJ’s) for bringing us your very best music. Probably the peek of the weekend was the Big Popey Battle between John and Dark-Oh on Saturday night. LOVED it!. Top job.
But let’s be critical. Let’s be productive. Afterall, it is rudimentary when loving a marathon to criticise it to the hilt. The communication between the dancers and the organisers must be an open channel. Indeed blessed is the Marathon Organiser that undergoes this ruthless and demanding flood of communication annually for it is a marathon that truly belongs to its people.
So. What was not 100% awesome, how did the organising team handle it and how could we make it better next time.
For a start the floor at the Bowden Rooms was impossibly slow and sticky. By 0100hrs Friday night the bottom of my feet were burnt. Dammit! The cry rang out and the The Big Pop team responded mucho rapido. With super efficiency down came the talcum powder in giant white puffs on the wooden floorboards and it kept coming until the very last tanda. Top job.
Secondly. The food was good. Hearty ‘British’ meals. Hot and cold, vegetarian and meat. Just the kind of food we need. However. We all, with one unified voice, complain wholeheartedly, loudly and outrightly, banging our spoons on the table with joyful gusto. To our most beloved organisers, ‘PLEASE sir, can we have some more?!’ 🙂
I tick these both from my list. Easily remedied next year! I have no doubts.
Conclusively, however, the real magic of the Big Pop was the milonga culture. For me, this is the difference between ‘good enough’ and ‘outstanding’. It’s the deal-breaker. And this magic is not something that can be purchased or organised. It is conjured solely by the people who come together to dance. I really hope that everyone experienced the same as I did. A warm, friendly, open-minded, curious and positively cheerful vibe that lasted all weekend. I felt so welcome.
Magic needs time to grow of course. The first night’s excitement moves on to a settled rhythm, sinking deeper and slowly deeper into bliss sometime ‘early’ on Saturday morning. It was a vals… The room was completely relaxed. Folks languished around the dancefloor as the music washed over them, soothing them with contentedness… Each dancing couple a silent whirring cog in a giant ronda wheel, turning effortlessly as one with the music… Dancers eyes emerged from the shadows to meet mine as we spun together round… and round… and round… My partners heart beat against mine… And there… There in the darkness was the Big Pop Magic. Right there. Goosebumps. We had finally come undone.
Sigh…. An outstanding weekend.
And what’s more, another first for Manchester! A ground-breaking first for England. And a giant FIRST for The Big Pop Tango Marathon. Long may the story of The Big Pop continue and long may we say to enquiring fellows “Do you mean THE Big Pop?? Yeah, I know it.. I was there for the FIRST!”.
PS. Dear John, Stephanie, Paris and Team
Please confirm dates for the next POP as soon as POPPING possible. We need to POP that in our diaries! …Couldn’t resist one last cheesy POP at the Big POP. 😉
The Folly Crew
Tango Photographer – Magdalena Smolarska
Pen n’ Ink – Rita Horne
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This review is published solely at the discretion of the writer, is an unbiased account of the event and is strictly not approved or influenced by the event organisers prior to publication.