Monday, 27 April 2015

Dancing in the Asylum

It's been a long time since one of my occasional random blogs about tango. Some of the reviews I wrote of tango venues in Buenos Aires remain amongst my most popular posts, so I thought I might risk something similar today.

Some people think that tango aficionados treat their dance like a religion. A famous venue in Buenos Aires is called La Catedral, but it is not, in fact, a cathedral. (Actually, it's an old power station.) Only in London, as far as I know, can you dance tango in an abandoned church.

The Asylum Milonga is held in the chapel of an alms house complex in Peckham. The Licensed Victuallers Benevolent Institution built the almshouses around 1830 for the benefit of  poor and aged members of the licensed victualling trade and their wives or widows. The chapel was burned out by an incendiary bomb in the Second World War and remains semi-derelict, but it has been made safe as a place for parties and performances. And there, on a Sunday afternoon, we gathered with other dancers to listen to music and dance.

I only had my camera phone with me, but the place is so amazing that I wanted to share the photographs. Somehow, the stained glass windows survived the fire.

TheAsylum Milonga (The photo was taken very early on, before most people had arrived. It gets quite busy.)

There was something surreal about spending Sunday afternoon dancing in church, a band where the altar used to be. And something poignant about the boards listing the Ten Commandments, still scorched from the blaze of over half a century ago.

It is good to live in London, where the 19th century that I write about constantly impinges on my world today. And good, too, to live in a city that brings together so many different people. It was through tango that I first made Argentinian friends in London and that led to me visiting Buenos Aires and eventually writing Burke in the Land of Silver.

If you're ever in Peckham, have a look at the almshouses: they're worth a visit. And if it's a Sunday and you hear music coming from the chapel, take a peek. It really is rather special.

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