Bath Latin and Ballroom : The rare Assembly Rooms dance

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!

Best wishes,

Viva La Dance

Corsham, Trowbridge, Bath Latin and Ballroom : what is it?

We’ve had several people ask us more recently as to what Latin and Ballroom is – what specifically are the dances and which do we teach. So, just a short entry from us to explain a little more of what our Latin and Ballroom classes and lessons in Bath, Corsham and Trowbridge actually feature.

Firstly Latin, or Latin American dancing, consists of 5 dances: Cha Cha Cha, Samba, Rumba, Paso Doble and Jive. There are several variations of these dances around the world, for example many people refer to Jive and they could mean one of several different dances. The Jive we dance and teach is sometimes known as International Jive and is distinct in it’s technique – it’s the Jive you see being danced on Strictly with fast foot and leg actions, although we don’t start people’s Jive careers off with needs for Oxygen so don’t worry. Essentially the dances have both formal foot patterns to learn as well as very well developed leads, follows, actions and distinct characters. There are of course several other “Latin” dances like Salsa, Argentine Tango, Mambo, Merengue and others but these fall into a catagory of Latin outside of the Latin and Ballroom framework.

The Ballroom or standard dances consist of 5 famous styles; Waltz (sometimes referred to as Slow Waltz or English Waltz), Viennese Waltz, Quickstep, Tango and Slow Foxtrot. Each of these dances commands a different technique although some do have similarities to each other. Tango, or International Tango, is different from Argentine Tango which we also teach but despite what some may tell you, there is a huge amount of commonality in the mechanisms you need to understand in order to master the Tango styles – we’re not saying they are similar but once you are aware of axes, how to move with quality, lead and follow, different requirements of posture, stance and hold, then you can carry your understanding far beyond the remit of one dance style.

This means Latin and Ballroom is a collect of dances, ten in total, and not just one style. It also means it’s quite a challenge to master all ten, especially when each one in it’s own right is well developed and requires patience to become good at. For those just starting out this is no reason to panic or run for the door! Normally you would be introduced to the easier styles first and rather than rush into a frenzy of frantic show dance steps in lesson number one, a good Latin and Ballroom teacher would take you through basic fundamentals and develop them as you gain confidence and familiarity with each of the Latin and Ballroom styles.

We hope that clarifies a little – if you need more information on each of the dances we teach then just take a look on our web page where there is a little text about each one. If you want to find out more about our classes for Corsham, Trowbridge and Bath Latin and Ballroom then just take a look on the website under Classes and you should see all the information you need. If you’re really intrigued then the only way is to come and see for yourself and probably, like most, you’ll end up never looking back.

Best wishes,

James & Joanna


Tango in Bath

We’ve been teaching the wonderful Argentine Tango in Bath for a good number of years now and the classes are very well established. As well as actually teaching the dance, getting complete beginners going from scratch, and then developing existing Tango dancers repertoire and technique, we also aim to highlight the origins and characters of all of the partner dancers we teach and Argentine Tango is no exception to this.

It made us think recently, as we were explaining the nature of Argentine Tango to one group, about how well suited Tango is to Bath, steeped in culture, heritage and encrusted with magnificent ballroom venues like the Guildhall, Assembly Rooms or Pump Room.

But the dance actually requires more than those things; more than the setting, more than the place. It requires a type of person to embrace it (excuse the pun), and there lies the challenge. Do we belong to a society a little more reserved for such an intimate style? In the other extreme, would we set off to the Tango Salon for the evening, smartly dressed, arm-in-arm, or would this prove to be a dignified step too far; actions that might turn the dance into a secluded society going slightly outside the norm? Maybe there is something quintessentially English about it all if that quality hasn’t long since been lost in us.

In Buenos Aires you could Tango every night of the week at different venues for several weeks before you were back to your first haunt. You could Tango in the open air with hundreds of others and the only thing that would cause a stir would be if your Tango didn’t look like it was with you from birth! There it is not just an interesting dance to learn, it is part of life’s rich pattern whereby you are exposed to the national (OK, we know there is some debate but lets not get into that here) dance, see it day-in, day-out and doubtless it will contact you at some point even if you hadn’t got in touch before then.

So while Tango in Bath sounds as though it was meant to be, and may still be, perhaps we’re not quite ready or prepared for it to become part of common culture just yet. Maybe we also have too much variety in the huge range of different dance styles and activities we can try too. We doubt it would take too much to change the norm though and all the signs are that Tango in Bath is extremely popular and growing a wider following. The city has all the credentials to be a world-class host if the dance style ever became more mainstream; perhaps the streets of Bath even deserve more frequent visits from classy, attention-grabbing dancers. Maybe we’ll have to give up a Saturday afternoon and show the shoppers some soulful, playful Tango one day? Oh, for more free time.

One thing we would add; we live in an increasingly busy society but if you’ve never experienced it, grab someone and go and try a Tango lesson, or for that matter any dance lesson. It’s an experience not to be missed and many remember forever. If you’re in Bath, then you’re lucky, but do drop in sometime soon and try it out.

Tango in Bath? Oh, yes please.

Best wishes,

James & Joanna

Dance Classes Bath: History

We were wondering about the history of dancing in the Guildhall, Bath, as we were teaching the ballroom and Latin classes last Monday. There are magnificent paintings around the Banqueting room with eyes that seem to follow you around, checking out your steps as you try and do them justice and we couldn’t help wondering how may pairs of dancing feet they’d all scrutinized before. Bath’s famous names gazed down on us – Ralph Allen seemed slightly entertained at one point. So we made a few enquiries regarding dance classes there and encountered the brilliantly helpful people of Bath Council’s archives group.

We’ll not post their full and thoughtful reply to us here, but just give a short summary for those interested:

In the 18th and 19th centuries regular public dances (not necessarily lessons or classes) were of course advertised  and held at the Assembly Rooms and Pump Room, but the Guildhall was reserved for mainly civic occasions such as banquets, concerts, lectures and the occasional grand ball although not on a frequent basis.

In the early 20th century the Council minutes record that applications to hold regular dances and whist-drives at the Guildhall were refused. In the 1920s and 1930s the Guildhall was occasionally hired for dances, each application being considered independently, one of the conditions being no smoking, which was more of an unusual restriction in those days.

During World War II many weekly dances were organised for local residents, Ministry of Defence staff evacuated from London, and servicemen stationed in Bath, but these were held at the Pump Room, Assembly Rooms, and the Pavilion, not at the Guildhall.

In post-war years there is little mention of regular dances held at the Guildhall although we are aware of several annual or occasional dances, but certainly no regular ballroom or Latin lessons or other weekly dancing classes.

As it turns out, the new classes in the Guildhall may be the first weekly or frequent lessons ever held there. We found this amazing given such a wonderful venue in the heart of a vibrant community city is just crying out to be used. It really is a world class venue to be hosting ballroom and Latin classes and dancing later in the evening so if you haven’t tried it already, or if you’re an experienced dancer looking for some more practice or social dance time, do come along and try out the atmosphere there; its something quite special.

Who knows, one day you might feature in the council archives as the time of boom for dancing when the Guildhall hosted its own vibrant dance classes.

Best wishes,

James & Joanna

Strictly Line-up: first impressions

First of all, if you’re going to watch the partnering show on Saturday, don’t read any further than here otherwise all may be spoilt for you. For those who can’t wait until then, we have our ears to the ground, this is what we believe will be revealed at the weekend for the line-up.

Well, the BBC have done it again haven’t they? A willing (?) collection of sports, soap, TV and celebrity worlds are coming together to discover ballroom dancing. No doubt some with business hats on spot an opportunity to build on their fame, and maybe see an opportunity to re-profile TV careers, but you’ve got to hand it to them, they really have put themselves forward for viewing entertainment and a fair bit of judicial review of their dance-floor skills.

So, this is what we think the line-up will look like in alphabetical order of the male partner. Don’t blame us if we’re wrong on every count!:

Aliona with Harry : rhythm will not be a problem here one would hope! So if Harry can get those feet going like his drum sticks surely there’s some potential in this partnership. Aliona should feel pleased too, as last year’s runner-up and handed a partner with rhythm, surely she’ll be fancying her chances. Sounds like its got potential.

Anton with Nancy : the gentleman of dance turned-tv-presenter gets the lady lawyer, international lawyer (maybe there’s a line for the next James Bond movie). 50 year old Nancy has maybe landed on her feet with the charm and composed Anton. Will it be a good match-up? We’re not so sure. She’ll maybe prefer the Latin but Anton’s forte is so much for ballroom and there’s two very different characters thrust together in the pressure cooker.

Artem with Holly : Well this one looks promising for some hot Latin doesn’t it? Holly (who apparently could give Harry a run for his money on the drum kit) should be no stranger to rhythm and getting her body moving but will she be able to take the pressure and scrutiny? Well, Russian Latin dancer Artem has a title to defend and maybe he’s just been given his chance.

Brendan with Lulu : What a pairing! Cor! Brendan has experienced surely the full force of the highs and lows of Strictly, but here what a terrific partner he’s been given and wouldn’t you think they go well together? Lulu will surely have no fear of the big stage and should bring with her great musicality if she has time to get that in to her dancing. She’s at least some small dance experience too although the costume may need reworking. Whether its out first round or all the way to the final, the “bad” boy (He isn’t really bad at all is he? Just speaks his mind when he should keep quiet.) will surely enjoy this pairing if she works hard and he can hold it together.

Erin with Rory : We get the impression (!) this could go either way; will he prove the dark horse? Certainly something different for the intelligent impressionist and one might expect he would gel with Erin, herself a SCD finalist. You can’t imagine they’d be able to produce the fire-like, show-stopping latin of some of the other couples that seems to draw the audience vote though.

Flavia and Russell : Fame and fortune? Well it’s been widely reported Russell has been nursing an injured back and given we know the demands of dancing all too well, this has to be playing on his mind. Its an interesting match buy maybe not one that’s going all the way to the final unless they can get to full strength quickly.

James with Alex : If the One Show’s Alex can prove more of an Alesha than a Bridget Jones, maybe this will be a couple to watch. Certainly looking like they have potential to do well, but how will Alex cope with all the moves James will pull out? We think she might. How much poise can she remember from her ballet and theatre training? This might prove key in how far they can go. Definitely one to watch.

Katya with Dan : The key to this match up will be if Dan can be as light on his feet as he was 15 years ago. If the former professional tennis player’s foot speed is brought back into play early in training, then maybe these two will be another couple to look out for.

Kristina and Jason : The Australian actor and singer should be no stranger to musicality, and has proved to be a performer on the biggest of stages, occasionally showing off his stage dance skills too. Much like we wondered with Rory, will Jason really be able to light up a dancing stage? Maybe Kristina is the one to drag it out of him. We really hope he enjoys the experience though so hope he goes through a few weeks at least.

Natalie with Audley : Maybe this was a height match-up! Based on the past record of giant sportsmen’s success on Strictly, Audley has his work cut out. He’s no stranger to that however – one of the most stubborn boxers we’ve seen so don’t count him out too early. You’ve got to rate them as outsiders but maybe, just maybe, there could be an upset and Harrison could go a few rounds longer than we think.

Ola with Robbie : Will little Ola be able to bring this sportsman into play? Leading sports stars have had a good track record on Strictly and perhaps Robbie is likely to follow suit. He should have the pace and coordination but how quickly will Ola be able to get him into dancing shape? We hope they find form and do well.

Pasha with Chelsea : The new Siberian Latin dancer Pasha Kovalev is paired with the youngest celebrity Chelsea and surely therefore one of the more nervous novices to take to the Strictly floor? Don’t underestimate these two though – Pasha isn’t entirely new to the SCD format, finaling on the highly competitive American version of So You Think You Can Dance and making several guest and choreographer appearances. If he can adapt quickly to SCD, and prove strong for Chelsea then maybe the 23 year old should do well, at least certainly with Latin – ballroom may not be their forte. Her previous dance experience? We don’t think so. Very tricky to foresee how they will do.

Robin with Anita : You’ve just got to feel that Anita will have a good time. Who knows if she’ll be able to get enough fire in the belly to keep up with the sports stars and pocket rockets of the line-up and maybe that doesn’t matter. We think she’ll have a great time and anything on top of that is a bonus.

Vincent with Edwina : Hmm. Italian Curry? Don’t mention eggs! The BBC were clearly looking for a replacement for John Sergeant but did they find it? Possibly not, we feel. With Vincent’s engine revving like a Ferrari, it wouldn’t suit him to have a rusty truck to go racing with now would it. We feel he might just find a way of extracting some dance from Edwina in a way that never quite made it out of the very likable Mr Sergeant. Maybe this is not so much about Edwina then, but how good is Vincent and can he really work his hardest together with her to produce something expected. This is our dark horse number two but we may eat our words after show number one!

Enjoy the shows and whatever happens, whoever takes to it quickest or slowest, we hope they all have a great experience learning to dance and performing for the nation.

Best wishes,

James & Joanna


Guildhall Bath Ballroom Night

Last night was the first of our new weekly ballroom and Latin dance nights in the wonderful Guildhall, Bath. It’s a real treat for us to be teaching and hosting a night in such a superb venue with a magnificent, spacious floor, chandeliers fit for a Jane Austen novel and the watchful gazes of Ralph Allen, Pitt and the Prince and Princess of Wales – do their eyes really follow us waltzing around the dance floor?

Its always tricky starting new ballroom classes, especially in a new venue for us in Bath so we were pleased to see a strong turnout wanting to learn about waltz, quickstep, cha cha, jive and more. There was a good atmosphere all evening with a terrific diversity of people and dance experience.

We took them through the basics of ballroom in the first class, and after a short break whisked everyone off to Latin America to experience the jive and cha cha. We think anyone who watches the launch of Strictly this weekend will watch with new found sympathy of how hard the dancers are working; it really is terrific exercise and if the gym is not your thing, this is a fantastic alternative and a great way of spending some time together as well.

More experienced dancers came for some teaching and practice later in the evening; maybe the legs will be aching this morning but everyone, beginners included, joined in the teaching with great enthusiasm and really started to look like they’d been dancing a good deal longer than a first lesson. The first lesson is always the most daunting, not knowing what to expect but once you realise everyone is in the same boat, things get much easier and you do start to enjoy it. Well done to all; we thought you were terrific!

We hope to see you again next week, and some new faces too. The ballroom is asking to be danced in so come along and try out the beginner classes or if you dance already, come and join in the later classes and dance in this fantastic space. Help us spread the word too if you know friends, colleagues or relatives who might like to join in. We’ll both be there to help you and them through the evening.

Best wishes,

James & Joanna


All things Argentine

Just a quick note to all you Argentine fans that Great Western Wine in Bath are organising a very interesting Argentine Wine tasting evening on Thursday 15th September. The link is here and if you go along, do mention that we recommended it; we hope it’s interesting and tasty!

Of course our Thursday night dancers better not turn up to classes with rosey cheeks or we’ll know where you’ve been!

James & Joanna

Tough at the top – tip top tap

Interesting documentary on BBC2 this evening about Irish dancing’s top competitions chasing their dream of the Worlds – a World Championship title against 6000 competitors. It made us remember bringing the Senior Ladies World Champion, Cecily Charlton to Bath back in 2009 for the Dancestars Show who left a lasting impression and many people commented to us how they had stolen the show (from the likes of Vincent & Flavia too!).

Competitive dance in general seems to be continually developing and evolving. In Ballroom and Latin it used to be the case that professionals would dance both disciplines when they competed. More recently things have progressed to such a point where it is all but impossible to prepare yourselves for both disciplines consecutively; most pro couples now take on one or the other.

This coming season we’re making final preparations to enter the world of pro competition in the UK. Who knows where we’ll end up fitting in at the end of it all. We’re unusual in that we have some good pro experience behind us and can teach to a good level but haven’t yet competed as pros. Maybe we would have tried our hand (feet) earlier but bones and other things shelved earlier plans.

Its considerable work to rise to the challenge of pro dance competition, and largely unrewarded unless you make it to the unlikely very top of the field, other than, oh yes, some self-satisfaction and self-development along the way. Once you have an understanding for the dances, then you need time, a lot of it, great coaching and some space. It does give added motivation to raise you own game and in that way you can see how competitive dance has really helped to move things on.

Its tough at the top.

We’ll keep you posted and maybe see you at Blackpool.

Best wishes,

James & Joanna

Classes Restarting

Just the news that everyone wanted to hear we hope! We are full of energy and looking forward to restarting our evening classes and teaching in Bath, Trowbridge & Corsham next week.

The week starts with a bang as we open a brand new dance night in the Guildhall, Bath, from 7pm on Monday evening. Take a look through the classes section for full information. This is a different format to our other teaching evenings, featuring several classes and significant dance time during the evening. If you live not far from Bath then come along and join the fun on Monday.

Wednesday and Thursday will see the re-start of our popular Ballroom & Latin teaching evenings in Trowbridge and Corsham. We’ve missed you during the extended break and look forward to seeing you next week to get you dancing well again. If you know anyone, friends, family or colleagues who would like to join the new beginners classes then let them know its a week later, on 14th and 15th September onwards. Next week is only for the Novice and Improver levels!

From 15th September, Argentine Tango restarts in Claverton Hall, Bath, with another opportunity to learn this amazing dance style. Start with the basic building blocks then you can unleash those legs!

Finally, you might be looking out for the next Assembly Rooms Monthly Dance date in the ballroom – Sunday 25th September and to help you get a grip of things, the masterclass will be all about holds; how to hold each other correctly, with style and in the healthiest way to let you dance well and look good.

Looking forward to seeing you soon,

James & Joanna