No offence to Devon; it’s a pretty part of the world. But given that I could travel to many European cities in the same time and for the same money, I wouldn’t be heading there without a very good reason. The Feast tango festival was that very good reason.
I first attended The Feast in December, and fell head-over-heels in love with it …
I’ve already written a post which was more about my tango journey than the festival itself, so I wanted to write a brief follow-up on why I’d whole-heartedly recommend The Feast despite being located in a sleepy retirement town.
Tango, as we all know, is a fickle creature. Having an amazing time at one milonga or event doesn’t necessarily mean the same will be true next time. But my experience this time was every bit as good as my first time – and regulars tell me that The Feast is always heaven. Here’s what I’d say makes it special.
For me, this is about two things. First, the traditional sense of people chatting to each other. The layout at the summer venue isn’t quite as good for this, but the main venue is ideal, with a coffee area just off the floor, which serves as a natural gathering place. People are also very open to chatting in the seating area.
Second, there’s no cliqueness or snobbishness in the dance. Granted it’s probably not a place for early beginners, but otherwise everyone dances with everyone.
In theory, it’s role-balanced. I suspect no festival is in reality, as some followers book with an Invisible Leader – someone who only exists on paper – as they are happy to pay for two tickets if they can’t find a partner. But I would say that it was close to balanced most of the time (Saturday night being an exception), and because the milongas are long and there’s no elitism, I imagine most people get to dance as much as they’d like.
I noted before the very prominent messaging on this:
Floor Craft (line of dance), ronda. It is not rocket science, it is line of dance! A Tango Feast is renowned for its relaxed dancing in a friendly and respectful atmosphere. To keep it like this we ask you, please, to be aware of other dancers. While expressing yourselves do make your priority the line of dance, don’t jump onto the dance floor or move from one line of dance to another without first ensuring you will not upset the dancers near and around you.
I’ve talked before about why this is such a crucial element. Even leaving aside the magic of couples dancing with other couples, it’s the difference between being able to dance, and having to mix dancing and dodgems. When you remove the latter from the equation, it’s a night-and-day difference in the quality of the experience.
There are many different ways we can judge a DJ, and we all have our own criteria. In large part, of course, this will depend on the music we love.
But I was struck by something teacher and DJ Felipe Martinez said in a recent podcast. He said that at a local milonga, where everyone knows each other, a DJ might be more experimental, and aim to introduce dancers to lesser-known songs. But at a festival, where people are dancing with unfamiliar partners in an unfamiliar ronda, they already have enough new things to cope with. In those circumstances, he said, he would stick more to the classic songs.
The various DJs at The Feast of course each have their own styles, but I do think they work on this principle. It was mostly familiar music, sometimes lesser-known versions of well-known songs, and a good mix of rhythmic and lyrical. Most also had a rhythmic bias early on, and a lyrical bias later, which meant that those who have a preference for one or the other knew when to arrive.
Older demographic, with nothing to prove
I’d guess that the modal age of the participants was in the 50s, and I suspect many have been dancing for a decade or more. The combination of the two factors meant that nobody there had anything to prove. Everyone was focused on their partner, the music, and the ronda.
That doesn’t mean it was in any way stuffy. Indeed, it was way more relaxed than a typical London milonga. The music is almost entirely traditional (with a bit of Romantica Milonguera thrown in), but there’s a separate room for alternative music. Personally, I didn’t even visit the room – I do sometimes enjoy dancing to alternative music, but I was happy with all the tango classics all the time! It is, however, there if you want it.
I think once an event has a particular ethos which is clear to everyone, then it becomes a self-perpetuating phenomenon. Those who are all about the music and connection will love it, and keep returning. Those who aren’t, won’t.
Many thanks to Fernando, all the co-organisers, the DJs, and the wonderful followers! The next Feast is in November, with booking likely to open in early September, and I fully intend to be there.