Latin Late at the Horniman Museum. I had to go just because of the name, right?
The Horniman Museum is a fascinating little jewel tucked away in Forest Hill. I’d often thought about going but not as yet made the effort. Fortunately a friend spotted the Latin Late for Friday night, an event which promised live music, tango lessons, street food and circus! A museum open after hours with secret delights is my idea of a good time.
We did end up spending most of the evening in the taco queue, it must be admitted. When they said “street food” what they actually meant was one single truck serving tacos in the courtyard. Also the cafe was open late but I think the queue was even longer. As a result we missed all the tango lessons. Though they were being held in the glass conservatory, so at least we could crane our necks and get a view in as we achingly slowly shuffled forward. It is a very beautiful conservatory, a wonderful setting for dancers of all skill levels.
Betacoed, we wandered up to the top of the hill in the gardens and watched the sun set over the London skyline. What a wonderful place to spend a lush summer evening.
We then repaired to the main museum hall to hear the band finish their set, and this is where we saw something marvellous and in its own way uniquely British. The Brits, they like to think that they are all reserved, stiff-upper-lip type people. (Actually this is a complete fabrication and varies a great deal by region and class, but there is this perception that reservedness is part of the “national character,” whatever that odd phrase might mean.) But the truth is that I think Brits are rather endearingly enthusiastic about getting in the spirit of things as long as they feel they have permission. They never want to start anything off (don’t make a fuss!), but once it’s going–flash mob, conversation with a stranger, public singing, whatever it is–they’ll gladly play along.
We were standing on the balcony looking down at people in the crowd below. At first there were isolated couples or small groups dancing–properly dancing–around the edges. There was some polite bobbing about among the crowd and people were clearly enjoying the music very much, but apart from a few enthusiasts everyone was moving in a happy but subdued manner. Until, that is, one couple began to include other people in their dance. They’d been dancing exclusively with each other for the whole evening, already noticeable because of their enthusiasm and skill. Now they began to dance with what I believe was a friend or relative of theirs in a wheelchair, revolving around him joyously as he kept time with his shoulders. Another friend came to join them, and another–they formed a circle around the wheelchair, spinning around and picking up new recruits as they went. It evolved into a tunnel, with each pair of people forming a bridge for those following behind to go underneath. Soon at least half the crowd was involved in some way or another, tucking away all that reserve and making the tunnel longer and longer until it seemed to wind around the whole room.
You might be thinking that’s not uniquely British–that’s how any normal people would react to hearing a good Latin band! But it’s not the dancing that’s unique, or the whole crowd getting involved in one group dance: it’s the spontaneous nature of it, the sense that it’s still unexpected, still fresh and new and sweet. I’ve been in places where it would be a strange and mad night if everyone DIDN’T get up and dance, dance as a whole cohesive unit rather than little pockets of individuals scattered about not looking at each other. What I’m trying to say is that Brits aren’t reserved because they want to be necessarily, but because they feel it’s a duty. There’s a dual sense of it being a point of pride and a national curse. British people are generally up for the idea of spontaneity and interacting with strangers. It’s just that they need to feel they’ve been invited. During the Olympics last year it was like everyone took a national holiday from being reserved; people actually talked to each other in the street and everything. There was this sense of surprised enthusiasm that such a thing was possible. There was that same feeling on the dance floor Friday night.
I was left thinking of Margaret’s words from Much Ado About Nothing: “God match me with a good dancer!”
Even if I have to ferret it out of them.