Sidmouth FolkWeek 2011 - comments on the dance (3): Blackmore Gardens marquee.

The Blackmore Gardens marquee is likely to be one of the venues that determines if social dance thrives at Sidmouth. Further effort therefore needs to be devoted to getting it right.

It was particularly disappointing that features that had been the subject of much criticism in 2010 (and previously) had still not been addressed.

sidmouth event 202.jpg (201927 bytes) Early Saturday morning and a good crowd of about 50 experienced social dancers in Blackmore Gardens marquee.

Barrie Bullimore and Folkus Pocus got off to a good start.

The young girl in blue (front left of picture) was one of the children rescued by the Sidmouth Lifeboat. She is a strong swimmer and was wearing a lifejacket but still got into difficulties in a rip current around the offshore rocks.

Injuries were limited to a few bruises. A video of one of the week's rescues is here.

sidmouth event 219.jpg (147356 bytes) Early afternoon - are they all at lunch or already on the beach? A tea dance with Madeleine Smith, event 219.

There were only 4 couples in the marquee at 2.30pm and the set included two stewards, one of whom had not removed her reflective jacket.

Not even the music from Narrow Escape could attract people.

This was a poor start to the early afternoon dances. Madeleine Smith is not a woman ever to admit defeat - so she may well have continued with just a few dancers right through to 4pm. 

It mirrored what had happened on one or two occasions in 2010.

sidmouth event 219 2.jpg (131143 bytes) One wonders what was the cost of staging this event per unit dancer?

Most of these people (stewards excepted?) are experienced social dancers.

The event may have improved later but I was en-route to the European dance at 2.45pm - which attracted a capacity crowd - mainly of experienced dancers.

Why was this 2.15 event so poorly attended - simply not enough social dancers at Sidmouth, or maybe just too soon after lunch?

This is no reason to abandon use of the Blackmore marquee - but more people need to come back to Sidmouth. The ticket structure may also need tweaking to make it more attractive to people who wish primarily to attend dance events.

sidmouth event 219 3.jpg (163632 bytes) Friendly as ever but with no customers, the bar staff in Blackmore Gardens were no doubt looking forward to the evening.

Chatting to some of them, the subject of Joan Crump somehow came up - I gave them my opinion that the only ideas she ever listens to are those she thinks she has thought of herself - and I do know a couple of people who work with her!

"She likes listening to the sound of her own voice" was the general consensus - but that can be said of many of us!

In contrast, the evening ceilidh with Grand Union was well attended - 64 people when I counted and enough to make a good atmosphere - and the dance in St Teresa's was packed. So there were lots of dancers around on Saturday evening, but more would have been welcome.

On the Sunday, the morning workshop (302) attracted only 30 to start with but rising to 60 at the end - not packed but adequate. It was in this dance that I tripped badly on the wooden 'patch' that had been screwed over a hole in the floor and with no hazard tape around it. I notified stewards of my injury (severe neck pain) and asked them to ensure the patch was properly marked. Social dancers do not look at the floor - they are trained not to - they look at their partners and at the other dancers. That is why floors need to be either perfect or very clearly marked as having dangerous areas.

sidmouth trip floor.jpg (40866 bytes) sidmouth trip floor 2.jpg (39417 bytes) The 'patch' on the Blackmore Gardens dance floor. It was covering up a large hole.

This patch was dangerous. I sprained my neck as I jolted over it. Stewards were tardy in applying hazard tape - even after I complained twice. They even had to obtain some hazard tape from another venue. They only had black tape to hand - and I said that would not do!

It was a poor advertisement for competence and management's understanding of dancer requirements.

Other, less dangerous imperfections on the same floor were only marked with tape on the last day of the week.

Overall, this amounted to negligence.

The following workshop (313) with Barrie Bullimore featured complex dances and excellent music - a pity about the dull floor. The tea dance at 2.15 (event 330) had attracted only 32 people by 3.30pm suggesting that perhaps the timing was the problem - maybe early afternoon is when so many dancers just take it easy for an hour and then don't want to pay to attend just the last few dances? I tried and failed to get into John Kirkpatrick (event 332) - it was 'house full' and my neck pain was too severe to dance. Nothing had been done to mark the dangerous area of floor: this was an introduction to the less than perfect stewarding of the Blackmore Gardens marquee.

The evening dance (354) showed just how absurd was the idea of having a 'family ticket' for 15 - as in the programme. The first hour was largely dominated by children and their parents in silly dances where there was no learning at all - just playtime. Many people thought the 'special' 5 family entrance was worthwhile. Things improved from 8pm (if you knew how to dance well because there was little or no instruction) and with a good attendance the marquee became overheated. I complained that there were at least 4 stewards and three security goons hanging around yet side flaps had not been opened to provide better ventilation. I was told nothing could be done and there were no instructions to open the flaps. Again, and following from several years of complaints - this was a poor standard of customer service.

415 was my next experience - my notes say 'excellent' but pity about the floor.

sidmouth event 468.jpg (159804 bytes) During the evening ceilidh (468) I again remonstrated with stewards about the side flaps - the marquee was stifling and an enterprising steward actually responded.

I have a (very poor) photograph to prove it!

Unusually for the Old Swan Band it was too loud.

This was around 10pm - long after the children and their parents had departed.

It could be a ceilidh almost anywhere - lots of the same people!

Even one side flap partially opened made a difference to the temperature.

Cross ventilation of large spaces is so much more effective because there is usually a pressure difference across the sides to drive air flow.

The Tuesday morning workshop (502) with Mike Courthold produced perhaps the first really well attended and quality dance session in this marquee and with 91 people. But again it was HOT and no side flaps were opened (despite asking). It was a similar story for event 515.

Despite the marquee offering obvious promise as a dance venue the steward numbers and/or training were simply inadequate to respond helpfully to complaints about the temperature. Two stewards were sitting around at the fire exits into the fenced off area - one could have been far more use guarding a large area of open flap. I probably complained again - especially as my notes say one or more of these stewards joined in the dancing (thus deserting their posts at the fire exits!) and still we had no side ventilation. To be fair, they would have been asked to join in to make up numbers.

sidmouth flap tied.jpg (155078 bytes) By event 538 numbers were down to 30 but despite this it was still far too hot. But miracles do happen: 3 side panels were partially opened.

This photo is again event 468 - showing use of nylon ties to form a barrier across the opened flap.

Management needs to sort out proper arrangements to enable large openings to be made as and when required - and to have the necessary number of stewards on hand.

During one event we had an entire side panel open - but that introduced the severe risk of tripping over the pole running along the bottom of the marquee wall if you stepped outside. I nearly went flat on my face! The solution is to have free standing metal barriers maybe inside the maquee placed in readiness against side panels, so these can be opened fully on request.

So, half the way through the week, Blackmore Gardens was a promising venue let down by a dull floor, poor stewarding and (usually) low numbers attending. The evening ceilidh with Random was 'OK' but maybe too loud. Several friends who were put off by the overly loud music in 2010 simply didn't attend FolkWeek in 2011 - maybe one day the organisers will learn that very loud music can drive people away (thus losing the festival revenue) but that very few would not attend merely because they knew they might not be deafened. This town centre venue potentially offers so much - it just needs to be managed better.

By the last day, the morning workshop attracted 50 to 60 dancers (about half full) and stewards opened side panels when asked to do so. Why does progress have to be so painful? Numbers fell to 45 for the next session (814) and dropping to 36 at the end - not even one third full. This was probably 'end of the week fatigue' setting in, yet there were adequate numbers for the last ceilidh with Mike Courthold. He ended it at 10pm because of the fireworks - a pity because a few of us would have stayed to 10.30!

In summary, the Blackmore Gardens marquee never fulfilled its potential as a serious dance venue in 2011. It was rarely more than half full.

Stewarding was unhelpful at several times (contrast this to the Ham!), the floor was too dull for spirited social or ceilidh dancing and too springy for some type of dance - I've suggested elsewhere that a 3000 investment in good quality polished plywood boards to be fixed over the floor as a final layer could much improve it.

The major comfort problem remains the unwillingness to open side flaps either partially or fully - 2011 proved that persistent complaining does produce results. Maybe in 2012 if every unhelpful act is videoed and placed on youtube that might have an effect? How many years do people have to complain before FolkWeek management takes any interest in the wellbeing of dancers?

There can be no excuse about 'steward numbers' either - it is simply a matter of using available stewards to the best effect. If absurd rules relating to manning of large open fire exit routes is a problem then this needs to be addressed and any unhelpful people in EDDC and elsewhere identified. If the venue continues to be used for social and ceilidh dances and if numbers attending increase then it will be imperative to address the ventilation issue properly, especially if FolkWeek is ever again really hot.

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