The influence of television reaches far more into our own lives than perhaps we would generally imagine. Dairy farmers, for instance, are doing rather better than of late and indeed are struggling to keep up with a new and unexpected demand for butter. Why? The Great British Bake-Off, of course. A similarly vast number of people are addicted to Strictly Come Dancing. So surely it’s time we all polished off our dancing shoes and hit the dance floor?
There is, though, one big difference between the two activities. Baking you can do in the privacy of your own kitchen. Your puff pastry sinks instead of rising? Your cakes have a disastrous soggy bottom? No one need ever know. But dancing? Well, you just have to be a little bit braver. So if you’re not sure you remember the steps or you never learned them in the first place, how about a confidence boost before you take your first spin across the floor? I have just discovered a dance course where you not only learn your steps but relax in glorious surroundings near Frejus in the South of France. It sounded good and the reality turned out to be just as appealing.
Chateau Lou Casteou is a perfect spot for a salsa course. Five minutes from the Med in the South of France, it is more of a large, elegant villa than a chateau. Built by Lord Amherst at the very beginning of the 20th century it has a decidedly local Provencal style (its name means “chateau” in the local Provencal dialect). The only thing out of character is the tower – the noble lord was fond of stargazing.
He was also one of a number of wealthy aristocrats who chose to winter in the South of France for the climate. He himself declared: “Here the air is simply perfect, warm and at the same time a tonic.” The house he built was not only gracious and altogether lovely but it had all the mod cons of the day. There was heating even in the servants’ bedrooms!
By the time Morag McLaren Baxter bought the house it was pretty much a ruin. She has restored it with much loving care, keeping as much of the original as possible and repairing rather than replacing wherever possible. The result is a setting that is romantic, elegant and tranquil and the atmosphere is house party rather than hotel. In fact, Simon Cowell selected it as his “judge’s house” on the X Factor in 2011 (you just can’t escape television, can you?). So, the perfect place for a boot camp then.
Well, boot camp is putting it a bit strong but you do work at those steps and when you’re not salsa-ing, you’re almost certainly trying out another dance. So there was Kizomba and Kudero, Cha Cha and Charleston, Bachata and Lindy Hop and West Coast Swing. Then there are stretch classes by the pool, a coastal trek, tennis workshops, a table tennis tournament and a beach party – with dancing obviously.
And the rest of the time, it really is a party. Everyone eats together usually round the pool and the ice is swiftly broken. The food is excellent, the wine flows and the atmosphere really is house party rather than study group. Don’t be fooled, though, you will learn an awful lot in just four days. The salsa and cha cha classes are split into three groups including one for complete beginners. There are four excellent teachers. Morag herself is in the advanced group – she’s obviously been practising quite a bit. She’s obviously busy managing the whole event so it all runs seamlessly. So, the first night there’s a champagne reception, the second it’s a barbecue and on the final Saturday night, there’s a 1920s party with everyone dressed as flappers or gangsters.
Then, of course, everyone dances. Well, what else would you expect?
The course runs for four days. Everything is included in the price (all drinks, food, excursions and classes, and even transfers from Nice Airport).
More Salsa retreats are coming in 2018. Email [email protected] for more details. The first dates are:
Let’s Salsa: 5-8 April
Tennis Academy: 3-7 May
Body Tonic: 20-24 June