One City Stories: Annabel Lui, Co-Founder of Cutter & Squidge

Nicola Sheppey

Wander down Threadneedle St and you’re bound to stop at Cutter & Squidge – the quirky bakery with cakes, cookies, macarons and trademark ‘biskies’ in a rainbow of colours to grab your attention. From humble food market beginnings to iconic Soho store to City cafe, watch this space – Cutter & Squidge is set to take over the capital. We sat down with Annabel Lui, co-founder of the brand (created with her sister, Emily) to hear all about the journey so far.

Tell us the origin of Cutter & Squidge.

Annabel: I’m from a food background – I grew up in restaurants. I wanted to be a pastry chef when I was younger, but when I told my dad (who’s a trained chef himself) he said: ‘no! You’ve got to go to university.’ I actually started off in the City working in corporate finance, but decided when I was about 25 that I wanted to do something different. I used to spend all my money on food and dessert-making items like spray guns, things like that, and was always making cakes for my friends and family.

That’s kind of how it all started. I was looking at the sweet industry and noticed that people were all doing the same thing; it all tasted quite artificial – not the kind of thing we’d make at home. I convinced my sister to team up and create something tasty, so we made the ‘biskie’, a unique product that tasted real, using actual ingredients (like actual blueberries and lemons; no artificial flavouring). We wanted to make a product that we both really loved. In terms of texture, I love cookies, my sister loves cakes, so we combined them.

That’s how Cutter & Squidge started – we named it after ourselves, I would cut the biskie and she would squidge it together! I’m cutter, she’s squidge.

We started in food markets, which is a great way to start a small business and test whether people like your product. We began at the Up Market at One New Change and that’s how we got going and how people got to know us.

Cut, squidged and ready to eat – a selection of biskies.

What are the challenges you faced initially?

Trying to get your name out and get people to know who you are was difficult. It initially was quite easy as we had companies like Selfridges and Harrods approach us, but after that, knowing how to take the next step is difficult. Figuring out how to grow – that was a challenge.

With one store in Soho and a relatively new second store in the City, what are the differences you see in the two areas?

The areas are completely different. Soho does have its working crowd but it’s mostly tourists and people from overseas, people who don’t necessarily live or work in London, so there’s quite a variety of different people who come in. In the City, there’s a big community spirit and a routine. The same faces come in, you get to know your customers and know what they like or don’t like very quickly. Once they try your products they stick with you and keep coming back. It’s really nice to have that kind of customer base.

Flex your sweet tooth – the Raspberry Ripple cake.

Tell us your daily routine.

There really is no typical day! Every day looks completely different. Usually the day starts at around 5:30 to 6 in the morning. I go through emails, messages, see if anything is really pressing and urgent that the team needs to get going with as soon as they get to work, then I catch up with my Head of Operations. At the beginning of the week I’ll head to one of the stores or the head office so that I can spend equal amounts of time with everyone in my team, from the bakery managers to the store managers. 

During the afternoons I might meet with marketing, product development, finance, our property finder to find our next store, or others. We’ve also just finished writing our first cookbook which has taken up a lot of my time! And we’re beginning filming for our YouTube channel. There are a lot of things happening and I have a lot of hats on – one day it might be fixing something, the next it’ll be working out a strategy on how we can get our recipes out to the nation.

What music are you listening to at the moment?

I normally listen to Motown classics like Marvin Gaye or Al Green – they’re great to sing along to. I can’t listen to anything too beat-y when I‘m working, it’s got to be mellow so I can think and get the juices flowing. Nothing too distracting, otherwise I’m not going to do any work!

The original ‘Cutter’ and ‘Squidge’: founders and sisters Emily and Annabel Lui.

What advice would you give to someone looking to start a food business?

Get a good mentor who can give you advice. Go to events and make contacts with people in the industry – get yourself out there. For food brands the markets are a great way to start. Speak to other traders just to get a feel for what they’ve done, and what you can do. Don’t be shy – everyone’s there to help each other in that space. I know a lot of people who we used to trade alongside who have moved on as well, and we all keep in touch and know each other – it’s a little community, which is really nice. Don’t be afraid to speak to people, even if they’re in the same kind of space as you – it’s good to talk to everyone. And you might find yourself a mentor!

Find Cutter & Squidge at 23 the Royal Exchange, Threadneedle St. Click here to visit the website or find them on Instagram at @cutterandsquidge.

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What’s New in the City: Summer 2019

Nicola Sheppey

Summer may be well and truly over, but don’t worry – while you were away sipping on cocktails on a European island (we hope), some fantastic new businesses opened up shop in the City. Below, once again, see some of our recommendations of what to check out.

If you’re after: a beer (or three, or four)Bierschenke Bierkeller

German beer hall Bierschenke has opened its second branch in the form of a basement bar – just in time for Oktoberfest. With Bavarian beer halls being synonymous with tasty beer, fun outfits and a great deal of camaraderie (plus dancing on tables), your City social life just might get a little more lively after hours. 

The Bierkeller, a stone’s throw from Tower Hill station, specialises in importing authentic beers and delicacies straight from Germany, so you can be guaranteed a genuine experience with their Bavarian cuisine. But don’t stick to the sausages – vegetarians and vegans are well catered to (even carnivores can’t deny how tasty the vegan schnitzel is). 

And get ready – the venue’s about to gear up for Oktoberfest. From Weds – Sat, 18 Sep – 2 Nov across both Bierschenke’s sites (Tower Hill & London Wall), enjoy big Steins of the venue’s exclusive German beers, platters of authentic Wurst, live oompah bands playing a mix of German classics and modern anthems, and much, much more. Prost!

Find it: 9 Crutched Friars

Learn more: https://tower-hill-bierkeller.bierschenke.co.uk/ | @bierschenke | click here for Oktoberfest group bookings

If you’re after: the best sandwich in LondonSub Cult

Get here early to beat the queues, because Sub Cult is (rightfully) in high demand – submarine rolls fit to burst with fresh, gourmet ingredients in winning combinations. Sub Cult was born from a love of the great American sandwich, and how we Brits are starved for it over the pond – merged with the founders’ love of subcultures, the cult favourite sandwich brand has opened up its first sleek, stylish shop on Watling St, serving up superior sub rolls to the masses.

The food is the star here; we can’t pick just one sub to recommend, but you can rest assured all tastes are well catered for, from the truly original ‘Submarine’ (pulled pork, crackling and seafood? Trust us – it works) to the award-winning ‘Subterranean’ (blue cheese, truffle mayo, garlic herby mushrooms and more) to the meatball packed ‘Subfather’ … we could go on. Make it your new lunch spot – the reviews speak for themselves.

Psst – read our interview with founders Ben and Gaz here.

Find it: 82 Watling St

Learn more: http://subcult.com/ | @subcultsubs

If you’re after: some new sights on your commuteSculpture in the City 2019

Wondering what that strange and fascinating new sculpture outside your office is? It just might be part of 2019’s Sculpture in the City – a series of public artworks spanning the Square Mile from internationally acclaimed and emerging artists.

This year, thanks to our ever-changing City, the artworks are more diverse than ever. Highlights include: Jennifer Steinkamp’s Botanic playing on a loop on the enormous LED ceiling screen in the foyer of 120 Fenchurch St, creating a dazzling 3D flower show that’ll make you want to lie down to appreciate properly; Nathan Coley’s The Same for Everyone, with illuminated letters that glow against the glassy buildings of Cunnard Place and create an atmospheric, thought-provoking art piece; and over at Bury Court, Reza Aramesh’s extraordinary marble statue The Site of the Fall … (pictured) explores issues of war’s impact on the individual and masculinity. All this and much, much more as part of #SITC’s 9th annual edition.

Find it: all over the City

Learn more: https://www.sculptureinthecity.org.uk/ | @sculptureinthecity

If you’re after: a hot new takeaway lunchWaka

Great news for the City – once again, another brilliant London eatery wants a slice of the action here in the Square Mile. Waka, a favourite Japanese-Peruvian spot of White City, is about to open a takeaway joint in Houndsditch, bringing its classic ‘Nikkei’ fusion cuisine to your lunch break. What’s Nikkei, you ask? When Japanese migrants settled in Peru, Nikkei food was born (the term literally means Japanese folk who live outside Japan) – merging traditional Peruvian cuisine with Japanese ingredients.

Waka prides itself on ‘Japanese minimalism and harmony mixed with the fire and playfulness of Peru’ with a mix of hot and cold dishes available to take away, including Sake & Miso Salmon Anticucho, Vegan Bento, and Chicken Katsu Salad. It opens next week, so try it, fall in love, and report back – we want to hear your favourites.

Find it: 120 Houndsditch

Learn more: https://www.waka-uk.com/ | @wakalondon

Got any other new openings in the City you’d like to recommend? Drop us an email at info@onecity.london. For more updates on what’s happening in the City and exclusive discounts at some of our favourite brands, sign up for our newsletter by clicking here.

One City Stories: Charlotte Flint, Exhibition Assistant at Barbican Art Gallery

Nicola Sheppey
‘Vibrant, electric, and playful’: Charlotte stands against Palingenesis, 1971, on display as part of Lee Krasner: Living Colour.

What goes into creating one of the most acclaimed exhibitions of the summer? The highly experimental works from expressionist artist Lee Krasner have rarely been celebrated in such a thoughtful way as they are in the Barbican Art Gallery’s summer exhibition – Lee Krasner: Living Colour, showing until 1 September. But how did it go from a spark of an idea into a full-blown, multidisciplinary exhibition? We sat down with Exhibition Assistant Charlotte Flint to learn about how the show (and others like it) came to be, and what it’s like working at one of the leading art institutions in the world.

Tell us how you got into the role as Exhibition Assistant at the Barbican Art Gallery.

Charlotte: Around eight years ago I went to see an exhibition, ‘Postmodernism: Style and Subversion 1970 – 1990’ at the V&A, and completely fell in love with exhibitions and what goes into making one. I was studying Postmodernism at university at the time, but I couldn’t get my head around it until I saw this exhibition and it all came to life.

I was doing a History of Art BA, then I moved to London seven years ago to do my MA in History of Design for two years. After that, I worked at the Hayward Gallery and the V&A in a mix of production, curatorial and logistical roles. I’ve been working here for two years.

What does your role entail?

No day is ever the same, it’s really great. It’s a small team looking after a very big programme, considering we do three shows in the main gallery and three in the Curve, which means you get to do a bit of everything. It’s hard to describe day to day what my role’s like, it sits across the curatorial side which involves making the exhibition, doing the research, doing the public programme and the catalogue – I get to do a lot of writing, which I really love – and then there’s the production side, which would be working with an external architect and graphic designer on every aspect of making it a visible show. Then there are all the loans, transport and logistics. It’s a massively varied job, so it’s really exciting.

The programme here is modern and contemporary, which is what I’m interested in anyway, but the type of shows really vary – so for example the Krasner show is monographic show of a singular late modern artist, but before that Another Kind of Life was a photography show of 20 artists, most of whom were living. The exhibitions cover both sides of the spectrum.

Lee Krasner: Living Colour Installation View with Chrysalis, 1964 and Portrait in Green, 1969. Barbican Art Gallery, 30 May – 1 September 2019. © Tristan Fewings/Getty Images

Why did the Barbican decide to exhibit Lee Krasner?

Eleanor Nairne, the exhibition curator, saw a small touring exhibition of Krasner’s work. There hadn’t been a show of her work in Europe since 1965 – she’s not very well known here. Eleanor bought her biography and then started reading more about her, and this story unfolded – she was an incredible woman, born to Russian jewish émigrés in Brooklyn (her parents had fled Russia because of anti-Jewish violence); she decided to become an artist at 14, and then went on to have this incredible artistic training. She was working for the WPA during the Depression and made work all through the war, and built an esteemed reputation in New York.

Krasner’s always been present within recent art history and contemporary art but she’s generally seen as Mrs Jackson Pollock, so here we wanted to have a solo show about her as an individual and her work, rather than being seen in the shadow of Pollock or even alongside him. The decision was made very early on not to include any of Pollock’s work, and to focus solely on her. Lots of female abstract expressionists were sidelined in favour of their male counterparts, so the more Eleanor read about her story, the more she thought this would be an incredible exhibition about an artist – not just as a woman in the shadow of her husband, but as an individual creator.

How would you describe Krasner’s work to someone who’s not familiar with her or the style?

Krasner always worked in cycles, saying she always listened to her inner voice and rhythm, so the work she created really varies, which is something I love. In the exhibition we have eight small rooms upstairs, all of which have different bodies of work; downstairs we have four sections again all with different bodies of work. As an exhibition, it’s enormously varied. The term ‘Living Colour’ describes her work really well – it’s very vibrant, electric, playful, experimental – she was constantly seeking out new ideas. The exhibition is predominantly made up of paintings but then there are also a lot of works on paper that she did, lots of drawings, charcoal, crayon, works on paper with gouache on handmade paper that she’d dip in the bath, collage – all playful and very varied. That’s what I like about it so much as an exhibition, it’s so broad – you come out of this with this sense that you’ve seen a whole life’s career. She was making work from the age of 18 until almost up until she died. 50 years of work is on show here, which is amazing.


Lee Krasner: Living Colour Installation View with Composition, 1949 and Stop and Go, c.1949. Barbican Art Gallery, 30 May – 1 September 2019. © Tristan Fewings/Getty Images

What’s your favourite part of the exhibition?

Krasner’s got a great turn of phrase – she’s really interesting to listen to in interviews. What we wanted to do with this exhibition is foreground her voice, so each section of the show is introduced with a quote from her. We felt that we wanted to stay true to her way of working and her way of speaking – I like that we’ve integrated her quotes throughout the show.

I love the way it’s designed. The gallery always starts as a big concrete empty space, and for this exhibition we worked with David Chipperfield Architects. Their vision from the very beginning was to strip it back, rather than add to it. With big paintings like some of Krasner’s, it’s rare for them to have so much space to really sing, so what the architects wanted to do is let the work tell the story. It’s a clean, mid-century modern aesthetic that makes the work look beautiful. Sometimes exhibition design can almost forget about the work it’s showing off, but here it’s at the forefront and I love that.

You mentioned earlier that Krasner is often overshadowed by her famous husband. How important do you think it is to be giving this platform to women in the arts?

I think it’s incredibly important, but foregrounding the work of women is just as important as foregrounding the work of anybody who’s experienced a barrier to the culture industry. You’re addressing really big questions about racism, homophobia, ableism, classism – all of these things – just as much as sexism and the representation of women. That’s what I love about working here – there’s a designated Equality and Inclusion Group, and these issues of accessibility, diversity and equality are at the forefront of all the programming we do across the whole Centre.

What would your dream exhibition look like?

That’s a good question! I’d really like to do an exhibition about Black Mountain College, which was a college founded in 1933. When the Bauhaus was closed by the Nazis, lots of the teachers there went over to Black Mountain College and it became this liberal arts college in California. They had so many incredible artists there – Josef and Anni Albers were teaching there, Buckminster Fuller (who made the Geodesic Dome), Merce Cunningham, John Cage, Franz Kline – this incredible roster of artists but also performers, dancers, musicians, engineers, designers … it was this amazing melting pot for experimenting with what art and design could be. I think that could be a really great exhibition, a group show looking at lots of different art forms and styles. Because the Barbican’s an interdisciplinary art centre, I feel it would reflect that really well.

Another really nice thing about working in the art gallery here is that you can collaborate with all the different art forms. So for Lee Krasner we’re collaborating with music and we had a jazz performance alongside the show. It offers lots of different ways into exploring a subject, plus all the different disciplines.


Lee Krasner: Living Colour Installation View with Palingenesis, 1971. Barbican Art Gallery, 30 May – 1 September 2019. © Tristan Fewings/Getty Images

What’s a typical day in the life for you?

No day is the same! I always walk to and from work from Stoke Newington, but my hours vary – it’s usually Monday to Friday but if we’re installing or de-installing an exhibition or if there are events we work at all kinds of hours. Sometimes I’ll be researching in the library, some days I’ll be in back to back meetings with external collaborators, from graphic designers to architects to lenders to institutions. It’s always very varied, and I take advantage of being here, always going to the cinema here or seeing music. I feel very lucky to be working somewhere where there’s so much going on, not just in the Barbican but in the area itself.

What’s been the most unexpected part of the job?

It’s so varied you almost don’t get taken by surprise any more. Working with living artists can be very interesting – you can’t predict it, which is always exciting. Some artists are very relaxed in the sense that when they’re working with a curator they’re happy for you to take the lead on how the story’s told, but some like to be involved in different ways. Every artist we work with is unique and everyone has their own approach. It makes you very flexible and agile, and you build nice working relationships with them.

What advice would you give someone who wants to go down a similar career path?

It’s competitive, but don’t let that faze you. If it’s something that you really want to do, you’ll find a way, and I feel really lucky that it’s worked out for me. Keep going and stay true to why you want to do it in the first place.

Working in the arts can be challenging but the reason you go into it is loving what you do, learning how to communicate ideas to people in interesting ways, and it drives you, so always remember why you’re doing it – and take advantage of all the great stuff it brings you. I get to meet incredible artists, creators and writers, and see loads of shows and work with beautiful paintings, and for me, making sure I stay true to that is the most important thing.

Lee Krasner: Living Colour is on display at the Barbican Art Gallery until 1 Sep 2019. Click here for tickets and more info, plus related talks and events.

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The LFA City Parklets

Nicola Sheppey

Summer in the City – there’s no better time to stroll around and soak in the sights while the crowds escape for the summer holidays. But don’t keep your eyes on the skyscrapers – there’s plenty to enjoy at ground-level, too, including the London Festival of Architecture (LFA)’s ‘City Parklets’: temporary installations that bring little bits of fun into the urban jungle.

LFA challenged architects and designers to come up with creative ‘parklets’ (miniature parks) as part of a design competition, with the goal of creating unique spots for the public to rest, relax and observe the City. The three winners are scattered across the Square Mile for the summer, so if you haven’t enjoyed them already, you can still catch them before they disappear in September. Don’t miss:

The London Cablet

Image: https://fatkin-design.com/

You’ve never seen a cab like this. Fatkin Design Architects have taken the archetypal London symbol, the black cab, and stripped it open – transforming it into a structure for flowers to blossom and plants to poke through. As we move away from fossil-fuelled transport and towards a sustainable lifestyle, how can we make the best use of our old vehicles? Fatkin’s on the right path, turning a classic cab into a public space that lets nature flourish. All that makes for an Instagrammable spot like no other.

Find it: West Smithfield Rotunda
Click here to learn more about the London Cablet
Click here to learn more about Fatkin Design Architects

The Pavement Art Gallery

Image: http://www.pmcevoy.co.uk/

If you’ve spent, well, any time at all in London, you’ll have seen what incredible artists can do with pavements. The York slab forms a canvas for ‘screevers’ (pavement artists) around the city, but what happens when you lift that canvas up and place it on an easel? Patrick McEvoy has done just that, creating an interactive pavement art gallery – where you can grab a piece of chalk and create some art yourself (without having to bend too much). Pavement art is by nature temporary – drawn with chalk and washed away as soon as it rains – and McEvoy’s art gallery is the same, creating an artistic experiment that encourages you to look at pavement art at eye-height and notice how fleeting such creativity can be.

Find it: 1 St Martin le Grand
Click here to learn more about the Pavement Art Gallery
Click here to learn more about Patrick McEvoy

Rocks and Reeds

Image: https://www.londonfestivalofarchitecture.org

Rocks and reeds – two things we’re not used to seeing in our metropolitan capital in 2019, but a surprisingly significant part of London’s history as a marshland. PARTI Architecture Studio used this as an inspiration for their flamboyant structures, creating a bench and planter using construction rubble from nearby demolition works while installing tall grasses and wildflowers that quite literally inject a breath of fresh air into the City. With recent discoveries showing the power that hedges and grasses have on tackling air pollution in congested cities, this parklet might just become your new escape into nature.

Find it: Billiter Street
Click here to learn more about Rocks and Reeds
Click here to learn more about PARTI Architecture Studio

Want to learn more? The LFA City Showcase exhibition is up at The City Centre until 11 August, detailing more about the City Parklets and the other LFA Design Competition winners: A City of London Bench. Click here to find out more.

Learn more about the London Festival of Architecture at: https://www.londonfestivalofarchitecture.org/ 

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One City Stories: Jenney Surelia, Tango Teacher at Kahaila

Nicola Sheppey
Jenney Surelia (centre) leads a class. Image: https://tasteoftango.co.uk

‘Walk, enjoy the music, find someone whose movements interest you, and gravitate towards them.’ In Jenney Surelia’s weekly tango classes at Kahaila Aldgate, connection and conversation are at the forefront of class. The dancers – a group of perfectly ordinary, diverse Londoners of all ages, all willing to have fun and try something new – seem shy at first, but gradually open up and relax into the music, connect with one another, and become bolder with each step. This is the transformative experience of Jenney’s tango classes – bringing strangers together, not pushing a forced intimacy on the attendees but letting them find their own feet and explore the relationship it creates.

By day, Kahaila is an ordinary (albeit visually striking) cafe in Aldgate Square, but on Wednesdays at 7pm, the tables are pushed aside and the dance floor is cleared. Jenney’s weekly class is a place to explore a social side that you never knew you had, even for just an hour. In a country that feels full of division, this is more important than ever. Ahead of the taster class – which happens on the last Wednesday of every month, at 6:30pm – One City sat down with Jenney, the warm and graceful teacher bringing something very unusual to the Square Mile.

How did you get into teaching tango?

Jenney: It began completely by accident: I studied in Paris for a year, and by chance I found a tango class. I really got into it and started dancing a lot, and I was encouraged – i.e. set up! – by my sister and a friend to teach a class, even though I’d never taught before. They organised a space in a gym without telling me until a month before! Later, in London I approached Pineapple Dance Studios to teach a beginners’ class.

Two days before my first class, the London bombings happened. I thought it was over, thinking ‘why would anyone be interested in tango when this has happened?’ But to my surprise, a small group came: they needed some kind of connective experience.

Do you think tango is beneficial for hard-working Citysiders?

Definitely – when you’re in the rhythm of the City, it’s hard to not hear the drum that beats everyday, and sometimes London feels like a place where you can’t make eye contact with anyone! It’s the complete opposite to tango, where invitations are done by eye contact. For someone who’s not used to that, it can be intimidating.

What’s really nice about tango is that not only is it meditative, but it really is an exploration of yourself. It does develop you. In order to listen to somebody, you have to know the sound of yourself, to be present. For City workers that want to come to these classes, it’s an oasis for them once a week – they’re able to tap into that. It’s not just about being social and meeting new people, and not about the sexy side of tango – and there’s plenty of people selling that – it’s about a human connection that we’re all really thirsting for. By moving your body, you open your body up, you get endorphins running, you get to stretch, but you’re not doing it by yourself. You’re doing it in relation to another person, so that is really transformative. There’s no sense of competition; our glass bubble in Kahaila becomes a cocoon. We had a girl who works in FinTech take the class and she hit the nail on the head when she said ‘it’s not necessarily what I want, but it’s what I need.’

What do you like about teaching in Kahaila Aldgate?

Kahaila is brilliant. I teach at Pineapple, which is what always comes to mind when you think of dance classes and it is a lovely place to teach, but it’s a dance studio. Rather than trying to invoke this authentic experience which everyone imagines with fishnets and fedoras (all the cliche stereotypes of tango you can think about), what I wanted to focus on was the social side and creating an environment of exploration and experimentation, which is how people used to learn before there were commercial dance schools. In Argentina, before schools, people learned tango in two ways – the men learned amongst themselves in groups, in what was called una Academia, so they could go out and dance socially without embarrassing themselves in front of women, whereas the women were taught at home. It sounds old-school – times have moved on, our culture is much more diverse and much less macho, so I wanted to put that traditional learning experience into a modern context. 

I wanted to find a place that feels homely but also has room for experimentation, and we’re very flexible on the roles. It’s not just men leading, women following – that’s how it was traditionally allocated – now we have women leading men, men leading women, men leading men, women leading women – it’s about exploring what the body can do but also the relationships and feelings that come from this on both sides. We can do this here because it’s not a dance studio, it’s a cafe. It’s relaxed, social and has this beautiful view, and we’re really in the heart of the City – all this life and action is happening all around us, and we’re in a safe cocoon in the middle. For me it’s perfect.

Argentina itself is not the birthplace of tango, but more Buenos Aires and the Rio Plate area.  That’s an important point to make because we begin to understand that tango came from an urban, metropolitan context. It’s got a lot in common with London. Then when we understand that this was a dance that brought people – usually immigrants – together to socialise, we can see tango was the street dance of its day.  This atmosphere is impossible to copy and paste from Buenos Aires, and it would be wrong to do so. But London is a big metropolitan city with its own character and that is totally something that feeds into how we learn and dance tango here.

A social activity: participants of Jenney’s class in Kahaila Aldgate.

What would you say to someone who might want to try tango but is a little bit shy?

It’s frightening, and as Brits we’re not used to getting up close and dancing intimately, but you do choose the intimacy. This is what’s really nice, if you’re able to see beyond the stereotypes you’ll find there’s a whole spectrum of creativity and inspiration, but you’ve got to be present. If you were having a conversation with someone, you would either be engaged or disengaged. I’d encourage people to think of it in that way, and not to feel like people are scrutinising you. Even people who come from other dances (salsa, ballet, contemporary) see very quickly that this is not just dance steps. You’re not learning choreography. I give you an idea and we have fun and play with it.

Ultimately, you’ve got to want to do it – I don’t want people to come to class unless they want to do it. You don’t need to be a fantastic dancer to dance tango. I’ve heard ‘I’ve got two left feet’ and ‘I can’t dance’ a lot, and those tend to be the people who really enjoy the classes as it’s improvisation, you’re not learning choreography. I’m trying to give you tools to have fun and play with.

A famous musician once said: “the tango is waiting for you,” and without wanting it to sound too creepy, it is. Like anything, it’ll happen at the right time for you. But it’s up to you to take the chance.

A lot of people might only know of tango after seeing it on Strictly, and seeing that intensity with a partner – they might have ideas about what tango looks like and worry they’re not at the same level.

Well, I’m not one to say that Hollywood gets tango right but if anybody did Hollywood tango well, it’s Al Pacino. It wasn’t because he dances particularly well, but it’s because he got the idea: it’s about having a conversation with your partner and if the conversation goes adrift, you just bring it back in. The idea is to stay with your partner, not doing what is technically right and technically wrong. Through that you can create a safe space which creates trust and openness, and possibilities.

Anybody can come and try it, you don’t have to be an experienced dancer, but you’ve got to be open to it. You’ve got to be willing to try. It’s a really relaxed environment, not a hunting ground, and I really like that about Kahaila. It is very open and inclusive, and a really good way to get an idea of what tango is beyond Strictly. It’s great that tango has been showcased on TV and at the beginning it brought so many people to classes. But the tango I know and have lived with for the last 20 years is a more subtle animal. It’s a practice you build up with time – quite different to what you see on Strictly. It’s less important how tango looks, than how it feels, and if you can understand that then you’re on the right track.

If you’d told me 20 years ago ‘you’ll be teaching tango’, I would have said ‘what’s tango?’ Whereas now, through it I’ve learned languages, I’ve learned things about myself. I used to be very awkward when I first started dancing, I wasn’t comfortable with being physical with other people, and tango doesn’t necessarily pull that shyness out of you but it does encourage you to open up.

What’s your favourite cultural spot in London?

The Tate is amazing, there’s so much going on there. The free tours run by their volunteers are worth a visit. I love museums and galleries in general. We’re so lucky in London, we’re spoilt for choice and we don’t always realise that until we’re in different places. I went to St Paul’s Cathedral properly for the first time a couple of months ago and I was struck by how beautiful it is. I’ve taught in Italy and have seen my fair share of classical cathedrals, but St Paul’s is breathtaking – and you can climb it!

What’s the most important thing you’ve learnt, and what advice would you give to someone who wanted to teach tango (or similar)?

Balance is really important. You should be able to sustain yourself by doing different work outside of your passion, that’s a practical thing to do. You do need to work a lot at finding something that is authentic to what you do. I don’t tick the boxes of a typical tango teacher; I’m not Argentinian, I’m an East African Indian, London-born woman who teaches tango by myself. Many people might think I shouldn’t be doing it – but I am. There should be more people learning it, and if they see that a London-born, Indian woman who is teaching and has been to Buenos Aires and is trying to connect to this culture that is entirely unrelated to the cultures she has grown up with, then anyone can do it.

Tango is not the same in London, or Paris, or Buenos Aires, and it shouldn’t be – it should have a local flavour, and that’s what makes it real. So have respect for the art form, and don’t be afraid to be yourself. Being real and authentic also means doing the work. Learning doesn’t stop just because I teach and I love that. I take inspiration from everywhere: my students; my own teachers and peers; other dance forms; art. Never stop learning and having fun with it. 

Tango classes are held every Wednesday 7-8:30pm in Kahaila Aldgate (Aldgate Square) followed by a práctica until 9:30pm (£15 pp). On the last Wednesday of the month, there is a free taster session at 6:30pm (must be booked in advance). Click here for more info about Jenney and her classes.

There will be a 2-hour workshop at Pineapple Dance Studios on 21 July and on 1 September (£20 pp). Book using promo code ONECITYTANGO to get two places for the price of one. Click here to book.

Enjoy an audio taste of tango: https://www.tasteoftango.co.uk/tastes/

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