22/08/2015, 346-350 Brockley Road, Crofton Park, SE4 2BY
A blog of appreciation! The gentrification defying, monthly jive party, dances on in South East London. After a slight hiatus it was blissful to return on Saturday night.
Several years ago upon stepping into the Rivoli for the first time, I was wowed. The oldest intact ballroom in London was invitingly from the swing dance era, with more than five decades of dances behind it. The elaborate 1920’s inspired interior included swathes of red velvet, French chandeliers, Chinese lanterns, and dark wooden panels embedded with glass and mirrors.
A wide age range of benign dancers, every inch dressed the part looked at home – some even arriving in vintage cars, bands with shiny brass instruments delighting the eyes and ears, all bookended by two effective bars. I took Lindy Hop classes immediately.
Gleefully I also started to frequent a swing dance night at the 100 Club (100 Oxford Street, London), this stopped running, I was told due to a lack of cash, as dancers drink too much water to make the bar viable. 'Saturday Night Swing' at the Firefly in Central London became another favourite, but ended last year, along with the Lindy Hoppers paradise 'Wild Times' at Wild Court in Holborn.
The Rivoli was listed grade II in 2007, to protect it from development when under threat of imminent sale, and possible demolition. This former cinema and beloved ballroom has it’s punters fighting their corner well.
Last Saturday night I found myself tootling along, and carbing up on pizza, in the direction of this gem. Despite having been away for close to a year with no explanation, the Rivoli like a trusty friend immediately embraced me. It had been an odd day for me: setting off in the sunny morning without a clear plan, I spent the afternoon looking at a beautiful 95 year old face that I have loved all my life, understanding that I might not see it many more times. We knew that we both knew it is almost her time. On the train back into London, wondering where to go and what to do next, I felt like listening to music, but not at home being reflective. Dancing felt like a necessity.
With the usual suspects all busy, as you would expect on a Saturday night in spoilt London, and not feeling like being out alone, I had a brainwave - the Jive Party. Guaranteed stomping band, the comforting old hall with a sprung maple wooden floor, and The Crowd.
Smiling nicely at the door staff, we shared a knowing look that my denim shorts, sandals, and t-shirt are authentic swing dance attire, hence dress code would not be a problem. “Do you have a ticket”? I quietly replied “no”, whilst wandering in, recognising the antique smell I was looking forward to my seat. In this perfect spot near the band and under a fan, with a view of women flying about in frothy skirts, guys acting like wearing a vintage suit makes a gent and a dancer, I listened to the BAND! Captain Redeye and the Hoods, loud and perky with their gangster swing. Good looking dudes playing trumpet, trombone, saxophones, singing, drumming, double bass-ing real classics and their own inventions. Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole would have loved it, particularly the Conga dance, which had to coil to fit in the hall.
Barely had I sipped my beer when someone got me up onto the floor, which set the steadfast tone of jiving with young and old, including lots of friendly faces. “Haven’t seen you in a while! We’ll have a dance later.” From a guy I used to fly about the floor with when we were both beginners, sweating out the alcohol. He is a good dancer now, part of the furniture. “Oh yes I’ve moved too, I’m based in Worthing now”, from Suzie, a Lindy Hop world champion, “didn’t recognise you for a minute” (not dressed for jive).
It was quieter now that the trend for 50’s fashion has subsided. The style made a comeback, peaking around 2012 from what I remember, but now there is more space, and the old rules are back in action. It is general etiquette that you always accept a first dance request, a second ask tends to be if you are stepping along well together, and a third can be considered a bit flirty - fine to decline.
When it was at it’s busiest, flocks of trendy bops seemed to think asking for a dance was expressing desire for the person, and might say no when invited. I started only asking people whom clearly knew the score. Last night I did not need to ask at all, let alone face rejection. A raised brow replied with a nod, or an outstretched hand would mean off we spin! So much for my plan of sitting under the fan; pouring with sweat, ear into the music, heart into the beats, I even got some aerial moves in. Not that I know how to do aerial – minor irrelevant detail when being spun through the air.
After the band and during the remaining disco, I meandered off home, content that this other world was grooving on despite changes in the surrounding area. Regardless of politics and beyond fashion, this place firmly exists, with the eccentric community forever digging (it) in their dancing heels.