Sneak peek behind the scenes at Dance Al Fresco
Dance Al Fresco in a nutshell:
Outdoor dancing – for a good charitable cause - on the Broadwalk pedestrian path in London’s renowned Regent’s Park. The location offers both elegance and casualness, on one side is a grassy area surrounded by trees so people can relax, watch or picnic come rain or shine, whilst on the other side there is dancing on the boulevard. The portable dance floor opens up the opportunity to enjoy both Latin American and ballroom dancing.
Who set up this unique event:
Kele Baker began as a tap and jazz dancer as well as a professional actress – in her adult life she discovered the charms of ballroom dancing. It was after her first ballroom class that she knew she was going to be a dance teacher – teaching in New York and New Jersey, then in London. Kele is a FitSteps™ instructor and master trainer – a combination of ballroom and Latin dance moves turned into a fun and energetic fitness class – set up by Strictly Come Dancing’s Ian White and Natalie Lowe.
A most impressive fact is that Kele currently choreographs the tango dances on Strictly Come Dancing – which is no doubt a challenge given that some contestants may have never danced a step of tango before and in only three days they need to master it, learn it and perform it.
From Kele Baker:
We just had to ask...! Who impressed you most from Strictly Come Dancing?
“In terms of style and performance it must go to Mark Rampotash (cricketer) and Karen Hardy (dancer). It was the semi finals, Mark had never received a 10 before, just in the last few minutes it all came together, and what a magical performance it was. He had the look and air of a gaucho, dark skin, slicked back hair – a sort of urban gangster – with such a smoulder he didn’t have to be too showy, he could just focus on his partner.”
What inspired Dance Al Fresco?
“When I moved to London 18 years ago there wasn’t any outdoor dancing – this had to change.”
“I like to dance outdoors; I danced outdoors at Northwestern University with our contemporary dance company and I just loved it. I’m also from New York City where there are wonderful outdoor events throughout summer – for example Midsummer Night's Swing in Lincoln Center. Given how much I enjoy outdoors dancing, I could see that more people might enjoy dancing under the sky here in London.”
“My main reason behind organising the event was to raise money and enlighten people to the importance of trees in our urban life – if we don’t support them, then we might not have them for much longer.”
What’s the story behind donating to ‘The Royal Parks Foundation’?
“One sunny day in May I started to search the parks for a nice outdoor dance venue. I stumbled upon a pedestrian path called the Broadwalk in Regent’s Park – it had a really nice balance of elegance and casualness – ideal for those who wanted to just sit comfortably and those who want to dance.”
“As I went to approach the park manager, I learnt about ‘The Prince of Wales Royal Park’s Tree Appeal’ – founded after the brutal Great Storm of 1987 which uprooted many of the trees in the park. Having always wanted to contribute to an environmental charity, the idea came to me; we donate in order to dance in this charming (or characterful) open air spot and the proceeds go to help restore the park. The open-minded park manager was keen to try, so three months later we hosted out first “al fresco dance” – it went really, really well – to the extent that the manager suggested we organise three “al fresco dances” for the following year.
A few years later, The Tree Appeal finished its work, and The Royal Parks Foundation was established. Dance Al Fresco now donates to the Foundation, with the funds still used for tree planting and maintenance in Regent's Park.
How much money have you managed to raise for the trust?
“We have raised over £45,000 for tree planting in London, through a beginner class and a social dancing session.”
“London's eight royal parks have to depend on charitable contributions along with government funding to keep them running. London is blessed with having so much green space – it’s a very earthy tree-filled city (especially to someone from New York!) – the earthiness of London needs to be better-appreciated. Being around nature and trees in the middle of a capital city is calming and therapeutic, so we need the trees to survive.”
Who attends Dance Al Fresco?
Dance Al Fresco appeals to a very broad spectrum of people from many backgrounds. You can transcend the labels we use in contemporary society because what becomes important is the way you dance. Sometimes people who would never otherwise meet each other will interact and socialise in a dance hall. It doesn’t matter how much money you earn of where you’re from, it’s whether you have the cha-cha-cha. Technology separates people while dancing brings them back together. You are in safe hands, in this comfortable and great way to interact.”
“I actually have people calling me in January asking me for the dates (which are in summer!) because they need to plan their holidays around the event! If the weather’s fine I have people coming from as far as the Midlands and the South Coast. The ballroom dancing attracts around 200 people while the tango can draw in over 400 people!”
What type of reaction does Dance Al Fresco spark?
“What is most astonishing is that Argentinians in London who come to the event, often they tell me that they can’t believe they’ve found the spirit of Argentina in the middle of London. Tango is normally associated with a sultry, serious style, in a basement at night time – Dance Al Fresco is more casual, elegant and free-spirited, like the classic courtyard tango which we have combined with a classy picnic in the sunshine.”