dance, Things To Do

Dance Days with NDCWales

Wowzers. We started our Easter holidays as we meant to go on: having an awesome time. More specifically, dancing. My kids and their mate had a whale of a time with National Dance Company Wales at Dance Days.

I drove us over to Cardiff Bay, parked in the Red Dragon Centre (because I’d rather buy a coffee and ice creams in Cadwalader’s to validate my parking than just throw pound coins away in a car park machine) and trotted over to the Dance House, the home of NDCWales in Wales Millennium Centre.

Guy, the organiser of Dance Days, greeted us with a smile at the door. Guy is calm, warm and helpful so put the three boys at ease and made them feel really welcome. Going along to courses and workshops like this in the holidays isn’t only about the facilitator, it’s also about all the other people you meet and talk to along the way.

Dance Days are our national dance company’s way of introducing contemporary dance to children and young people, using the choreographic ideas that their professional touring company perform around the world. For context, my boys don’t go to regular dance classes but their friend goes to street dance on the weekly and all three of them were buzzing when they came out. Experience level didn’t matter. There’s no specialist kit to wear, they take part in bare feet and comfy clothes so no one feels like the odd one out or a newbie in the wrong gear.

The outside of the Dance House with large printed words saying Ty Dawns and a massive Discover Dance poster showing a male dancer and a boy in school uniform copying his one legged, arms out pose.

The children don’t stay for the whole day. It’s split into two sessions of 3 hours for 7-11 year olds in the morning and 12-16 year olds in the afternoon. My dancing trio were 7, 7 and 10 and it was perfectly pitched at them and the other children in the group.

The date and timing worked out well for me (selfish!) as I had a work meeting in the Bay that morning but from all the little scooters that accompanied younger siblings at pick up time I think most families made the most of the location and school holiday by zooming across the Barrage during Dance Days. We also had a crack at the free crafting in the Wales Millennium Centre foyer on our walk back to the car.

You could opt to do one day at £15 or two days at £25 per child. I worked through the holidays and couldn’t get the logistics to work out for two days. It would have been more convenient for me to have them both in one place for a full day but I appreciate for the younger dancers that it might be a bit much and it’s not designed for babysitting or childcare (but that is a Brucey Bonus of taking kids to this sort of thing). If money’s a barrier, NDCWales also offer some Dance Days tickets at £5.

At the end of the hour session, the grown-ups and siblings were invited to watch a “quick sharing of what they’ve been up to”. The amount of work that they showed back to us was bonkers.

a group of 9 children in leggings, joggers and t shirts balance and freeze as a group with arms, legs and feet stretching out. They're in a dance studio.

I particularly loved the general positive vibe in the room. There were no show offs, they were all happy and silly but behaving respectfully, working together and listening to the dance ambassador who led the session. A diverse bunch of children of difference abilities and ages all worked together and shared something really special.

They didn’t just spend the three hours learning routines. They had creative tasks using Caroline Finn’s choreographic ideas that the company use in Revellers’ Mass, one of their 2019 touring productions. In this case, they were greeting partners as they met from opposite sides of the stage; what might start with a handshake or a high five becomes a back roll, jump or cartwheel. They also learnt a to dance part of the show, quite a gestural section that the children performed with real earnestness.

I’ve gone into so much detail about the “quick sharing” because I also ended up taking my sons to see National Dance Company Wales perform Awakening, their spring tour at Sherman Theatre, Cardiff. I’d been regretful about my possibly optimistic plan to take them to a night of three contemporary dance works. On the train. For the evening show. They were being boisterous but I’d paid my money so we’d give it a go. I’m so glad we did.

The piece that informed the Dance Days session was the longest of the night, it didn’t have the same visual trickery of the first two (which they loved but I’ll have to write that up separately so this doesn’t become a novella), it was later in the evening, past bedtime and I only had the dregs of the sweeties left. I needn’t have fretted. They were gripped. They gasped a little in delighted surprise and whispered “it’s the same music, we know this!” and subtly echoed the moves on stage that they’d remembered from Dance Days. That connection between physically putting their own bodies into learning moves, exploring the choreographer’s ideas, creatively problem solving then seeing actual real life dancers perform to the same music sparked something in them. Respect for the craft? A connection with the performance? Feeling involved in something exquisite and different? Maybe all of that, maybe none of it but it’s an experience that’s stayed with them.

a blackboard pillar has been written on with chalk with dates and times for Dance Days. A Dance Days flyer is stuck to the pillar with a magnet.
New dates are on the NDCWales website

Dance Days aren’t just for keeno dancing kids. The sessions for ages 7-11 are especially great for kids who are just happy to give something a bit different a go. Head over to the NDCWales website for details of future Dance Days: ndcwales.co.uk (CLUE: there are some coming up at the end of July)

*We were very kindly invited to take part in this event in return for a review. I bought our own tickets for the show at the Sherman. Dance Days are well worth the price and they do offer some bursaries if money is a barrier for you.

Places To Go, theatre, Things To Do

February Half Term 2019 – Shows

I know the weather is glorious at the moment so you might not be thinking of indoors things this half term but I’ve been hunting theatre shows for a birthday treat this week. Thinking of my imaginative boy with his love of magic and reading, this is what I’ve found.

The Small Space Theatre, Barry

Family Magic Show

New for 2019, Family Magic Show, suitable for ages 8+ starts this half term in the smallest magic theatre in Wales. Tuesday 26th February, 5.30pm doors for 6pm, show tickets £12.50. thesmallspace.co.uk

Sherman Theatre, Cardiff

The Giant Jam Sandwich

The Giant Jam Sandwich for ages 3-7 is based on the children’s picture book which tells the tale of four million wasps invading a quiet village. It’s had great reviews and the trailer looks suitably silly. Friday 1st March, 12pm & 3pm, tickets £10. shermantheatre.co.uk

New Theatre, Cardiff

Billionaire Boy

For toilet humour and David Walliams fans, Billionaire Boy is at the New Theatre for most of half term. 26th February – Saturday 2nd March with evening and daytime shows (Tues 7pm, Wed 2.30pm, Thurs & Fri 2.30pm & 7pm, Sat 11am & 3pm), tickets start at £13 with £3 off for under 16s. newtheatrecardiff.co.uk

   

Tim Peake's spacesuit and helmet on display at National Museum Cardiff. the light bounces off the top of the glass helmet and the dark background make it look like it's in space.
Places To Go, Things To Do

Tim Peake’s Spacecraft lands in Cardiff

I don’t think I’ve ever felt such a buzz in National Museum Cardiff as we experienced at  Tim Peake’s Spacecraft Family Day last weekend and we go there pretty frequently. It was alive with people of all ages getting excited about space.

Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama held a lunchtime concert featuring the Star Wars theme. Live music accompanied visitors journeying through the Evolution of Wales. Dizzy Pineapple glittered the faces of children at their stall. Cardiff Astronomic Society helped children and grown-ups to use their telescopes and share their passion. Did you know their observatory is in the Vale of Glamorgan’s very own National Trust site Dyffryn Gardens?

The most thrilling part of our whistle stop tour was seeing Tim Peake’s actual real life capsule that he hurtled back to Earth in FROM ACTUAL SPACE complete with genuine scorch marks. Looking like the result of a giant conker, a submarine and a bell merging in a mad science experiment,  the Soyuz capsule is accompanied by its colossal draped parachute.  Tim Peake’s spacesuit is on display too and the whole thing totally grabbed our imaginations. It’s free! You can see this for no pennies. There are space themed activities you can have a go at and you can step into a spacesuit for those essential selfies and boomerangs.

The Soyuz space capsule in whichTim Peake hurtled back to Earth from the ISS. Looking like a cubmarine crossed with a conker, this bell shaped capsule has a small circular window and scorch marks.
Tim Peake’s Soyuz Capsule

We zoomed through on the opening weekend partly because we were going to the Wales v Tonga match that day at the Principality Stadium but also because we have every intention of heading back another time or two to delve deeper into the exhibition and mooch more slowly on a quieter day.

There’s a Virtual Reality experience for teens and up as part of the exhibition which costs £6 per person and is narrated by the main man himself, Tim Peake. This VR adventure takes you on a 250 mile journey from the International Space Station back to Earth in a Soyuz capsule just like the one on display.

The exhibition is in Cardiff until 10th February 2019. It’s part of a national tour presented by Samsung and the Science Museum Group so make space in your diary to see it before it launches elsewhere.

For full details, head to the museum’s website: https://museum.wales/cardiff/whatson/10260/Tim-Peakes-Spacecraft/

A poorly drunk lady is comforted by another lady in a Christmas jumper
Thinking Out Loud

Black Friday

Remember when Black Friday wasn’t about greedy people grabbing giant tellies in Tesco or incessant emails from every company you’ve ever bought anything from ever? Black Friday was about swarms of drunken office parties, boozy mates and students home from uni who descended upon Cardiff and Swansea for the last Friday piss up before Christmas with a pocketful of payday pounds.

Sandra from accounts pukes her Malibu and coke into a city centre shrub while Linda holds her sequinned Santa hat and wishes she’d got that taxi home with Boring Barbara. In the queue for Walkabout Kelly finally gets to snog Steve who lovingly buys her WKD blues for the rest of the night. Gareth regrettably punches Dave in the smoking area for something they’ll both forget. Sian and Louise giggle while they piss behind the Christmas market sheds. Matt goes the full show off with his street performance of the Macarena and Anna gorges herself on chicken curry half ‘n’ half as she sits on the curb of Chippy Lane bedecked in tinsel.

What are your Black Friday tales? I’m talking festive binge drinking yarns not that 25% you had off an electric drill in 2016.

 

Christmas revellers on the streets, Christmas lights in the background, a man dancing in the road and a woman sits on the curb.
photo from Wales Online
Places To Go, Things To Do

Cardiff’s Winter Wonderland 2018

We haven’t been to Cardiff’s Winter Wonderland for a few years, partly because my husband is Buzz Killington when it comes to ice skating, partly because of the cost and partly because it’s one of those things I mean to do but just don’t get around to and then all of a sudden it’s February and I’ve missed it. Full disclosure, we had food, drink and ride tokens in return for a review. #ad and all that.

A few things have changed since we last went. The bar is two storeys high so not as rammed as I remember, the biggest ride has changed and the ice skating is now undercover, probably for the best in the rainiest city* in the UK.

winter wonderland sur la piste

It did drizzle while we were there but it didn’t dampen our spirits. You can take food bought at the stands into the bar so we ate and drank in the dry. Sur La Piste (see what they did there?!) was going for that après ski, wooden chalet vibe complete with stag antler paraphernalia and a rainbow of faux furs on the roomy booths. Word to the wise: if you want a mulled wine or mulled cider you’ve got to use the downstairs bar.  We were at the upstairs bar so I panic ordered a Rekorderlig.

Unsurprisingly, the food isn’t super cheap at £5 for a bratwurst in a hot dog bun and £3.50 for chips but it’s filling and cheaper than buying the family a meal in a pub or restaurant. Kids meals (chicken nuggets, chips and a fruity drink) were also a fiver each. The sauces were squeezed from an udder contraption which tickled my stepdaughter. Make sure you use the right condiment though, unlike the poor little kid we saw who made the school boy error of dousing his chippies in chilli ketchup. Service was a little slow but it was the first night so I’m sure they’ll get into a rhythm.

winter wonderland bratwurst

As we first approached Winter Wonderland (we parked on road near the museum but it’s easy to reach on public transport from the Vale, just get off the train at Cathays or Queen Street and walk) we were greeted by the screams of grown men calling for their mothers. Festive. We had the heebie jeebies just watching the source of the squeals, the 90M Tower, a new attraction this year that replaces the Big Wheel**. I damn near wet myself with terror on ferris wheels so this 90 meter high thriller was not for me. We hit a few of the tamer rides instead. I say “we” but I watched and waved whilst sipping my mulled wine.

The Ice Skater ride was one of those spinning ones that I vowed never to go on again after being forced onto a similar one at Barry Island. The kids (ages 12, 10 and 6) loved it. It’s exciting, fast and covered in bright lights. The Fun House is awesome. It’s massive, took ages to get around and is only 2 tokens per person. Think classic fairground cake walks and Danny and Sandy at the end of Grease. For smaller children, the reindeer ride was gloriously Christmassy, blasting passengers with fake snow.

winter wonderland ride

We didn’t ice skate last night, saving that for another time with friends while Buzz Killington holds the bags. As I told the kids, we can’t do everything every time. Winter Wonderland has the potential to be one of those experiences with kids where they turn into brats asking for all the treats, more rides, more drinks, those maddening flashy light things. It works best for us to tell them exactly what we’re doing and not doing. So “we’re only ice skating tonight, don’t ask about the rides” or “you can have a drink, pick one ride each and we’ll share some churros”. Ah yes, the churros. Big hit and good for sharing. £6 for 6 churros and dipping sauce.

Skating sessions on the Admiral Ice Rink are 1 hour including time to put on your skates so get there 15 minutes before your slot. No under 3s on the ice, kids under 7 need an adult. The penguin things are £5 to hire per session. Group bookings give you a bit of a discount (buy 10, get 1 free etc). It’s cheaper if you pre book and the off peak prices start at £7 for kids or £27 for a family of 4 (Christmas Eve and NYE are the most expensive. Obvs). This year they’re also holding several Relaxed Access Sessions with lowered lighting, sound and number of skaters which is worth looking into if someone in your family has an autism spectrum condition or sensory sensitivity. Full details on cardiffswinterwonderland.com, call 029 2009 9087 or email info@ice-skate.co.uk.

winter wonderland skating

If Cardiff’s Winter Wonderland is the kind of thing you’d usually put off until the Christmas holidays, give it a go on a random November midweek night. It’ll be less crowded, you’ll get a better deal on skating and it means you’re spreading out the treats. Cardiff’s Winter Wonderland and Admiral Ice Rink are there in front of City Hall and the museum*** until 6th January 2019.

* true story. http://www.freeflush.co.uk says so and they’re rainwater harvesting experts using Met Office data

** It is tradition while watching the biggest scariest ride for Buzz to retell his tale of his mate Simon who had one too many purple ciders before being spun meters in the air above Winter Wonderland and sprayed the crowd with his purple vomit.

*** Tim Peake’s actual spacecraft is at the National Museum until 10th February. We’re mega excited. The exhibition launch day is this Saturday 17th November 11am-4pm and is free. Not connected with Winter Wonderland but it’s right next door so you could combine the two in one visit to Cardiff. Be warned: the 17th November will be very busy in Cardiff, especially on public transport as it’s Wales v Tonga at the Principality Stadium.