Ballroom Dancing Bath
Today we hosted an afternoon ballroom dance in the fabulous Assembly Rooms Bath. It’s something we do more or less monthly throughout the year (details here) to give dancers a great opportunity to dance in a wonderful ballroom, to a live dance band, and enjoy what many have learning and practicing in their Ballroom and Latin lessons and classes across the Southwest. Dancers in fact travel quite some distance to come to our Ballroom dances, also for the lesson beforehand but as we spoke to several attendees today we realised how increasingly rare the combination of live dance band, large ballroom and formal dancing was, even though there are so many million ballroom dancers out there in the UK alone. So, we thought we’d drop a few notes down here for interest.
Dancing in Bath – the prime-time!
Years ago, and many reading this may well remember these times, you could go dancing in Bath and other cities every night of the week with several different hosts. These wouldn’t all necessarily have live dance music but some certainly would. Right across the UK, ballroom dancing went hand-in-hand with live dance bands whose names still permeate through to today (Victor Silvester, for example). The best venues would be packed out with dancers. So why is a live dance band becoming more of a rarity today? What has changed?
Enter the Electronic Age
On the face of it you can easily say pre-recorded music and electronic sound systems have taken over – why should the dance host go to the expense of a live band when pre-recorded music is so much more convenient and far less of an overhead? Certainly the days have passed when you had to have a band to offer loud enough music as the gramophone just wasn’t cutting it! PA systems are so much more capable and practical now. We use a system where one of us could pick up, with one hand, a 1000W (rms) speaker, and it doesn’t take many of those to offer enough power to run a large venue for ballroom dancing.
But there is something about pre-recorded music that’s just not the same as the live experience. Imagine Blackpool without the Empress orchestra – even imagine Strictly without David Arch and the Strictly Band, but a pre-recorded sound-over instead… it’s not quite right is it? There are doubtless many articles on the web debating the DJ vs Band arguments so let’s not get into that too much, other than to say for ballroom dancing a live band clearly adds to the atmosphere.
Everyone Needs to Earn their Living
So there is a combination of increase in capability and affordability of the electronic systems, and decrease in viability of the bigger bands for ballroom dancing that has spiralled to some extent. For example, imagine a 12-piece band working every night of the week, when some hosts take the decision to cut back and they find their workload reduced to 3 nights of the week. What do they do – double their fees, scale back their players? If dances want to remain an affordable community activity then they couldn’t face additional overheads, but musicians should still be paid correctly. This is why increasingly live dance bands are offering smaller groups of 3-5 players to try and keep a viable offering.
On top of that, there are issues with venue viability. Many of the large dance halls across the UK have given way to other commercial activity, some have even closed. Perhaps the difference here is that many are now run with business acumen at the helm and previously they had been motivated by passion for dance activity. You can sympathise with the temptation of the corporate conference or large wedding with the all of the additional business brought into the venue, compared to the affordable dances that dance teachers and hosts want to offer.
Community Does Matter
Perhaps this offers the key difference – perhaps there was a time when community venues held 100% community offerings for people whereas now they have the difficult balance to take in more commercial activity for private and business sectors. Surely this highlights the value of those venues that today remain accessible for large community uses.
Take a look at the Bath Assembly Rooms Ballroom where our monthly ballroom dances are held – a period building with substantial overheads in maintenance, staffing and operating costs, with nine chandeliers worth over £500,000 each, and each cleaned every 6 months, you begin to see how important it is for the venue to be sustainable and how much of a tough task that is. The venue is nothing short of spectacular for dancing with its magnificent sprung oak flooring and high ceilings. Ok, the acoustics are a nightmare, which makes for a very lengthy and tricky set-up just to get it within acceptable, but what a room for dancing!
Dance Teachers: It’s up to us.
So maybe the responsibility lies with us as teachers and hosts not to stop taking on these premium dancing venues and divert to the nearest school hall with an eye on the bank balance! In the commercial world maybe it would make sense, but for a dance, a real dance, where atmosphere and an enjoyable setting is important, lets take the bull by the horns and keep the glorious flags flying. Haven’t we a responsibility to keep dance bands alive, keep the venues in good use, and also to our dancers to offer them a really high quality dance? Well, we think so. Whether we’ll be able to continue looking at it like that forever, who knows, but for now we’ll work as hard as we can to keep a good standard of dance going. Its thanks to the Assembly Rooms and live dance bands like Tony and the Sapphires that we are able to do just that.
So keep dancing, and definitely keep supporting the dances as they need you just as much as you need them!
Viva La Dance