The Gangsters Ball is an annual vintage themed night of entertainment complete with its own vaudeville show, gambling den, and live swing band. The event has been running for eight years and aims to recreate a 1930s speakeasy club in style and atmosphere. The event runs in Sydney and Melbourne as well as at the Tivoli Theatre in Brisbane and I just happened to be there last Saturday night.
Part of the fun of the Gangsters Ball is being part of the show: the event relies on the attendees dressing up, interacting with the settings, gambling and dancing to create the atmosphere. The dress code is 20s to 50s and everyone goes all out with their costumes. There has been a tendency in the past for women to wear nothing more than corsets and fishnets, but it was nice to see costumes were a bit classier this year with some fabulous sequined dresses and 30s silk gowns. Unfortunately (or fortunately) the gambling is fake, and most of the night the dance floor is full of girls dancing around handbags and covered in spilled alcoholic beverages- 2 parts slick, 1 part sticky. Of course, that doesn’t stop any self respecting swing dancer when the music swings- we even escaped the dance floor during the second band set to dance on far less crowded and consistently floored carpet next to the side bar. There’s no stopping us.
The cabaret part of evening is… a mixed bag. The best act by far was Acrobatica: a team of 3 men competing to show us the most impressive feats of acrobatic strength. The Redheaded Pocket Rocket was also fantastically entertaining with her insane hula hooping skills and her glitter platforms. Now, I don’t mind a bit of burlesque but the burlesque acts failed to impress the crowd. I’ve seen some wonderfully unique, funny burlesque around the swing scene but the three ladies from Saturday night, while great performers, were all kind of samey with nothing more to entertain the crowd but some sexy moves and their nudity. The women weren’t that impressed by the nudity and the men felt awkward cheering for naked women. The best of the Burlesque was Sina King, aka Miss Burlesque Australia 2011, who had sparkly red lips and shot ‘Sina King’ money out of a money gun to great applause. There was also some mildly amusing so-bad-they’re-funny magicians to fill out the line-up. The star of the show was the presenter: Aurora Kurth aka Chanteuse - an hilarious, eccentric, character with a terrible fake french accent but a surprisingly fantastic singing voice. She actually made the night.
But what about the dancing? Well, while the Gangsters Ball seems to have a bit more of a focus on swing dancing and even has swing performers in Sydney and Melbourne, they don’t seem to emphasise the dancing up here in little ol’ Brisbane. It has been a couple of years since they had Brisbane dancers perform, we get the feeling they didn’t like cleaning the floor of spilled drinks and broken glass for them. The band, The Lucky Seven Orchestra, played some good dance numbers, but they also played some crooner songs as well as a lot of neo swing. It is also curious that while the Gangsters Ball used local bands in Sydney and Melbourne, they felt the need to fly an Adelaide band up for the Brisbane gig.
[As a side note, we luckily got a head start on our dancing fix at the Jubilee Hotel before the Gangsters Ball - a small band played in-the-pocket swing for a couple of hours and oh boy, were they good! They call themselves Dan's Hot 5, they play there every Thursday from 4-6pm and some of them also play with the Rhythm Society Dance Orchestra. So check them out when you can!]
So…. Gangsters Ball: to go or not to go? It is definitely a fun night out. It is not the best place to go if you are itching to dance BUT you do get to dress up in your vintage finery and have a dance (which is still fun). If you’re going to do it make sure you bring a group of dance friends along (BYO partners is pretty much required at this gig, you can’t rely on other dancers attending unless you’ve talked to them) and feel free to bring along your non-dancing friends to show them how awesome vintage style and entertainment is!