Twelve months ago when the Pipers and I left the Engine Shed at the end of the night after Palenke's gig, there was no inkling of the turmoil which would buffet the venue, SalsaWorks and the lives of those involved. The Shed's unfortunate closure removed a salsa landmark from England's North, leaving a vacuum which many have since tried to fill. With true doggedness the SalsaWorks team continued to put on the same schedule of attractions - performers, teachers, and disc jockeys - re-homed at York's Holgate Club. But the Engine Shed's uniqueness, the atmosphere, the friendliness, the feel, the spirit, remained elusively... unique.
Then when Tony told me over the phone that the Shed was to open its doors, still as a dance venue, once again; and that SalsaWorks was back in Wetherby, I felt it was time for closure. That I had to be there for the re-opening, to put to bed the awful sadness of having been there when the sight and sound of the doors drawing shut could have been for the last time.
In the early afternoon, Tony picked me up from York station and delivered me to Piperland where, over cups of tea, our chins wagged and we put our kitchen skills to use on the night's buffet. Dusk was ushering in the night when I was chaperoned speedily south along winding country roads. The Engine Shed's front doors were shut exactly as I remembered them, but this time, signs of life on the other side cracked them open and I stepped through to a flood memories painted from her best of times.
The forms of Lorraine and Les of Mancuban were in the far corner, pacing out the content of the night's coming lesson. Alfie, I surprised with a generous hug and a bottle of champagne to commemorate what I hoped would be the closure of an uncertain year - I didn't make an effort to conceal my disappointment that Christine could not be there.
As salsa played, the main salon began to fill. A quarter of an hour later than billed, the pre-club lessons fired up: Lorraine and Les leading the main group downstairs, with Alfie upstairs introducing newcomers to possibly the most profound change in to their lifestyles. The main session's pacing was deliberate (I would have taught a classroom session at a quicker pace, but a club session in the same manner) with frequent partner changes, breaking the ice for everyone to meet each other.
Tony and I skulked about in the shadows rigging the video equipment, receiving the performers to their dressing area, and taking photos.
SalsaWorks bill this as a salsa night and are true to their word - only two bachatas, two bachata-tangos, and one kizomba dotted the un-apologetically salsa playlist - with Lorraine, Les, Alfredo and Tony alternating thirty-minute sets. Space on the dance-floor was tight but not un-navigably so; more than two hundred dancers had travelled from as far as Hull, Newcastle, Preston, and Sheffield to participate in the re-awakening.
The dance show provided a contrasting punctuation mark. Tony's never been one to shy away from controversy and has sometimes made room in the programming schedule for something a little different. True to Engine Shed form, this re-opening night was no exception, and he billed it as:
ANZHEXEN Dark Fusion Dance Troupe (Leeds)I found it conceptually interesting, but for me, the African tribal message struggled to emerge from the performers' strongly Gothic demeanour. Choreographically, a stronger movement style and increased floor coverage would have provided the dynamism to complement the high-contrast look.
This group of very scarey ladies is led by Beverley Spracklen. They deliver an extraordinary fusion of North African tribal styles in a deeply Gothic mood. Beverley said, ‘Our performance is designed to be unsettling!’ I said, 'Unsettle them as much as you like, Beverley!'
Until it happened for real, the success of Engine Shed's re-opening was a great unknown. A number of events had sprung up in the calendar same slot - a year is a long time in salsa promotion. But whereas a number of events I've been to recently are traded as pure commodities - a 'promoter' hires a room, a DJ, and announces it on Facebook - SalsaWorks is old school. They talk to you, make you feel welcome, dance with you, listen to your thoughts, provide means of forging that most primal of social bonds through the breaking of bread together.
For the revelling faithful, it was as if the Engine Shed had never been away. "It feels as though it's just missed a week" was a familiar sentiment, so easily did the vibe come back. I felt it too, dancing the rounds, reconnecting with old faces, and beguiling the new. It's still one of the few places where I have no reservations about approaching someone for a dance.
The doors shut once again. But this time there was, is, a prospect of a second, third and fourth time.
Closure, as I said, is about beginnings.