Popping into Manchester
A Cross-Cultural Journey
At first the suggestion of a tango marathon in Manchester seemed – well – odd! For most, the mention of the city conjures images of premier league football; the city is after all, synonymous with the nation’s favourite sport. However, for a fortunate few of us, Manchester now resounds the warmth of friendly smiles and memorable tango embraces of the very first Big Pop Tango Marathon.
While it was fun to tell probing tangueros that we were visiting all the way from Australia – just for the astonishment value - the truth was less adventurous. We had just whizzed across the Pennines on the M62 from Leeds midst a family visit. Returning to the UK after a 9-year gap, this was my first foray into the British tango scene.
The Big Pop was held a short drive south of Manchester City in the affluent town of Altrincham. The gender-balanced marathon had a weighty European flair having attracted enthusiasts from across the Channel as far as Italy, Germany and Norway.
We danced in the opulence of a charmingly Edwardian venue amongst 260 participants. Fragrant of an English summer in the country, the airy Bowdon Rooms are set amongst leafy surrounds with inviting alcoves for social preludes and stolen moments of respite. The maple sprung dance floor proved to be a tad bit sticky despite our fervent attempts to counter it with puffs of talc, though it didn’t dull the enthusiasm. The European line up of DJ’s kept the ronda pulsating while a continual stream of warm cabaceo’s flowed through the marathon as dancers mingled with old friends and made new ones.
Perhaps to uphold the city image, or to cater to the late hours of dancing, the after milongas were held in Altrincham Football Club, so we didn’t escape the football theme altogether. Tangueros were swiftly and comfortably shuttled between venues, which kept the party going almost uninterrupted into the wee hours of the morning.
It was gratifying to see the multi-racial profile of participants, true of most tango communities, also prevail in the group that flocked to Manchester. Even the resident Brits were mostly from somewhere else.
The harmonious diversity in the milongas demonstrated yet again the social proximity of tango quashing a multitude of perceived differences, be they cultural, racial, religious or otherwise. The ethnic mosaic was a far cry from my own childhood memories of life in England. Born to immigrant parents of Pakistani origin, my early years, in an all white neighbourhood, were suffused with a sense of exclusion and a fundamental craving to belong and connect.
The embraces I shared in Manchester, with a spectrum of ethnicities, stirred a sense of acceptance and inclusion in my own birthplace so many years later. Knowing that others have too made the cross-cultural journey from isolation to acceptance to embrace - made our fleeting connection even more meaningful.
The long dancing hours and generously catered events left little time or reason for us to explore the culinary offerings of Altrincham. We did manage a trip to the historic markets on a sunny Saturday morning for a sampling of the local Cheshire cheese. The sharp crumbly delight is a lesser-known cheese but still one of my favourite childhood tastes.
In a tea loyal nation infiltrated by the Costa Coffee and Café Nero chains, I was relieved to find Common Ground on my ritualistic search for a caffeine fix. The rich speciality coffee served up in Bondi Beach inspired interiors delivered an invigorating taste of home and certainly kept me energised through the 3-day event.
The face of Manchester has transformed over recent years; the characteristic red-bricked architecture is now punctuated with modern design. A quick stop in the once upon a time textile powerhouse allowed us a brief introduction to the city’s key landmarks centred around the medieval Manchester Cathedral. Rumour has it that the city is now the next best shopping destination after London specifically for Middle Eastern tourists. It is also, naturally, home to the National Football Museum.
The organizers were undecided as to whether there would be a Manchester Pop 2018 despite the overwhelmingly positive feedback. I voted a big YES and will be keeping an ear to the ground so to strategically plan the next family visit!
Tango Highlight: Sharing an embrace with tangueros of British-Asian heritage enhanced the enjoyment factor of the marathon. The smooth organisation and the pre-event marketing built a sense of excitement and engagement.
Destination Highlight: Having decided to forgo the recommended town centre hotels we opted for a country B&B on the fringe of Cheshire. The meditative ten-minute drive to and from the venues on winding country lanes fringed with grazing sheep and cows made for an immersive British countryside experience.
More on the Big Pop: www.manchesterpopup.co.uk