Daventry did at one time exist as a regular Ceroc venue with classes, and also occasional dances catering for people from the area and club members, in a rather fine room suitable for the numbers.
That has all gone now and we are left with the four times a year Daventry Balls, which are huge occasions and attract many dancers from across the country.
These events themselves used to be bigger, with the large sports hall that is used decked out with decorations to make it look less like a big sports hall. But following a dispute with the owners of the venue (I presume Daventry District Council) this has stopped.
Numbers seem to have declined in the last couple of years but for most of us this is a good thing, since it does mean there is more space to dance and it was getting just too crowded for comfort.
So, to the details.
What you get are three rooms – the gigantic main sports hall, a fair size blues room and a tango room. The blues room is always well populated (in some locations only a few people go in and dance the blues, here that is not the case – many head straight for it). Most events have a theme or colour for the evening. At one event recently about 80% of the people there were dressed in red as per instructions – the ones who really stood out were the people who deliberately went in different colours.
The main room has seats and tables on three sides, the fourth side contains the stage. Many people go in groups, and that can be a bit intimidating for those who come alone and maybe don’t have anyone to latch onto. But of course everyone is there to dance, so walking around the tables and asking for dances will keep you going for as long as you like – normally speaking that means 2am or 3am.
The big problem has been that the venue has attracted a number of couples who come along with the prime intent of showing how wonderful they are on the dance floor. These couples tend to dance right in front of the tables and chairs, and utterly give way to no one so that they can show off,. This gets very boring, makes them look thoroughly prattish, and makes it hard to walk around the edge of the dance floor to get to and from one’s own table, or to look for dancers to invite to dance.
The DJs change regularly, which is good, and so the music can be varied although in the main room it never gets very far away from Ceroc mainstream.
There is a bar within the blues room, and a coffee bar in the large reception area between the three dance rooms. Because of the size of the event, many do gather there to take a break and have natter.
There has on occasion been quite an aggressive policy against bringing one’s own drinks in, which is understandable for alcohol but ludicrous when it comes to people who have brought in their own bottle of water. If you do take a bottle of water in, keep it in your dance bag.
You don’t have to be a great dancer to have fun here, but I suspect anyone with under 6 months of jive dancing experience would find it intimidating. But really you are going to get the most out of it by tagging along with a group of friends and sharing their table. And incidentally tables can all be taken quite quickly so it is worth getting there within the first hour or so.
There is usually a break around 10.30pm when a cabaret comes on. This is made up of dance couples or companies doing their routine, so dancing in the main hall stops for about 20 minutes. Some of the performances are quite stunning, others look what one might call “under-rehearsed”. I don’t think dancers are paid to do the gig, so I suspect occasionally there are last minute cancellations, replaced by a local teacher and partner. Not everyone watches – many do, but many others stay in the blues room, or use this as a time to get some free food (snacks are provided), coffee etc in the reception area.
Booking in advance is possible, and usually cheaper, but I’ve never known it sold out. However it is a very popular venue, and so most people seem to book in advance. Be prepared to queue to get in.
- Air conditioning: 5 out of 5 – it is a huge venue so the heat rises and seems to dissipate. Never felt over heated at the venue.
- Atmosphere: 4 out of 5. The hall isn’t designed for atmosphere but after half an hour there, one easily forgets that. In many ways the sheer number of people can make it wonderful, but if you go alone and don’t know people or have problems with the “look at us” types at the edges, that takes the shine off.
- Do ladies ask men: 4 out of 5. Yes they do, but again outsiders can suffer. If you have not gone before and you are going alone, be prepared to have to ask for dances all the time.
- Facilities: 4 out of 5 – it is a huge sports hall with no decorations (although they used to put a lot of effort into that). Good toilets facilities, it is modern, there are even lockers where you can store clothes etc (as you would expect in a sports venue). Take a £1 coin.
- Free water: Yes, but they have a silly habit of only supplying very tiny plastic cups.
- Friendliness: 2 out of 5. For the complete outsider, no it isn’t friendly. But that is because this is one of the big gigs of the year and many people go in groups. It is a place where old friends who have not seen each other in months meet by chance.
- Location: 3 out of 5. It’s on the outskirts of Daventry, Northants. Not too far from the M1 if you are travelling from north or south. From the east use the A14, go on to junction 1 of the M6, double back and follow the M1 south – unless of course you know your way through the villages. But Daventry is a place that is near nowhere.
- Music: 4 out of 5. None of the DJs are that adventurous, but they are varied so if you get one you don’t like, they will be moved on anon.
- Parking: 1 out of 5. This is the problem. There is a car park a few minutes walk away, but it gets absolutely full within the first hour, and after that it is a case of driving around and taking your chance, or parking illegally. I have found a residential street nearby and walked – but even these places get very full very quickly.
- Space: 4 out of 5 – at the moment it seems fine – around 2013 it just felt too crowded and anyone who wanted to dance expressively was either forced into one corner, or basically unable to dance as they wished. But if we stay at the levels seen in 2017 it is ok.
- Venue overall: 4 out of 5