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Islington Gazette: Save the last tea dance for me

January 13, 2011

A tea dance for the modern ages

To many people, a tea party might seem like childish pastime, a splendid spectacle straight from the pages of Alice in Wonderland.

In today’s society, tea parties and dances are viewed by the majority as more of a tiresome tradition, best reserved for the more rigid and reserved among us.

But Islington resident Vic Doggart has been on a determined mission to prove the timeless value of the traditional tea dance, highlighting the whimsical wonders that each elegant affair holds in store.

She says: “Tea dances are a beautiful and exciting way to bring people of all ages and backgrounds together. What could be more incredible than people waltzing around in art-deco splendour accompanied by tea and cakes?”

Vic is a member of Islington-based arts group, Art of the Dog, which, along with Brighton’s Ragroof Theatre Company, has been hosting monthly tea dances at the Old Finsbury Town Hall, in Rosebery Avenue, Finsbury.

The dance fan, along with the other members of Art of the Dog, has been bringing together local residents, both young and old, through a variety of “quality, affordable and interesting events”, such as the tea dances.

“We wanted it to be really inter-generational and inter-cultural,” she explains. “It doesn’t matter how old you are.”

Vic’s evident passion and enthusiasm for the intricate artistry of the tea dance comes from her first experience of the delightful dances at a Ragroof event in Brighton.

She says: “I went to Brighton and visited a tea dance there. I thought it was brilliant. I wanted to bring that back with me. I just had such a brilliant time and I wanted to bring that sense of energy and excitement to my local area.”

You cannot help but find the 44-year-old’s incredible excitement about the monthly merrymaking infectious, and she is as energetic and interesting a tea host as the Mad Hatter himself. Her detailed descriptions of the colourful costumes and fascinating dance moves help to paint a lively picture of a bright and bustling party – a far cry from the dull and stuffy affairs many imagine tea dances to be.

“The dances are always themed and the people from Ragroof dress up in beautiful costumes and do demonstrations for everyone. They bring a real sense of occasion and people just love them,” she explains.

“There are real characters like Champagne Charlie, Burlington Bertie and Dorothy Shoes – the dance instructor – who are all so lively and entertaining that they fill the room with energy.”

The hostess-with-the-mostest stresses age is not important when it comes to joining in.

She says: “Last time we had a tea dance there was a four-month-old girl and an 85-year-old man. That’s the kind of age range that we get here.”

Fear of ending up as a lone wallflower can be left at the door, Vic assuredly explains, as Ragroof members stand on hand to partner anyone who is left without someone to dance with, or indeed anyone who is game for a “sensational twirl around the dance floor”.

During the dances Vic herself can be seen demonstrating the most dazzling of moves during the tea trolley dance, a piece of celebratory choreography that heralds the coming of the cakes.

“I do dance, yes,” she admits. “I can’t say I am the best at it but it’s fun to take part and to show people that it’s something to do for fun, not something that they need to be worried about or nervous about. If I can take part then so can anyone else.”

Whatever your age or occupation, Vic insists the tea dances provide something that anyone and everyone can enjoy, including “delightful tunes, the beautiful demonstrations, a lovely cuppa, delicious homemade cake and a sneaky tipple”.

This feature was published in the Islington Gazette during my recent work experience placement – www.islingtongazette.co.uk

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