An opportunity to try something very different

A phone call to my partner Jo leads to an opportunity to try something I wouldn’t normally do – dance on a Sunday afternoon.  I’d better explain.

‘Te Amo’ is a monthly Sunday afternoon Tea dance run by Ceroc Beds & Bucks in the village hall in Newton Longville near Milton Keynes.  Now, I’d regularly seen adverts for these tea dances and assumed, wrongly as it happens, they were chill-out sessions.

This is probably because Sunday dance sessions are well known for a more relaxed form of dancing, and Te Amo Tea Dances are run by Marc Forster and Rachel Pears, who have established quite a reputation for themselves as Chill-out room DJs

Te Amo Sunday includes a Smooth Workshop

Another reason that I thought the Te Amo dancing was a more chilled affair, was because there is usually a smooth workshop prior to the dancing.  This was the case last Sunday.  The advert on Facebook promised a Smooth Moves Workshop with teacher Joe Collins:

Take your dancing to the next level with the smooth, subtle, slotted styling of Mr Joe Collins in this 2 hour workshop.

The advert went on to explain about the Tea Dance itself:

From 3pm we play a wide range of music, with playful dancers in mind.  The last 90 minutes with Rachel are chilled & smooth.

Seems I’d got it wrong.  It was only the last hour and a half that was a chill-out zone.  You see the thing is, I’m a little cautious about chill-out dancing.  I love the music, but I feel that my smooth moves and techniques aren’t up to the standard that I see on my travels.

But hold on, I haven’t fully explained why I had an opportunity to go to Te Amo on Sunday afternoon.

A chance to improve my smooth moves

As well as Joe’s Smooth Workshop, Marc and Rachel were also putting on a Role Reversal Workshop.  Sadly Marc wasn’t able to attend so Rachel had asked Ashley Davis from Ceroc Heaven to step in at the last minute.

My partner Jo often demo’s with Ashley and hence the call.  Jo was eager to help out, so set about selling me the idea:

You are always writing about your ambition to dance at a Chill-out venue.

So, how about you do the Smooth Workshop, while I demo with Ashley at the Role Reversal lesson.  We can try out what you’ve learnt in the freestyle.

For all my eight years of dancing Ceroc, I still struggle with the idea of dancing in a slotted fashion to smooth chill-out music.  I feel comfortable dancing with Jo, and indeed some of the other ladies I know from my home patch in Nottingham, but I still struggle with the idea of asking a stranger on to the chill-out dance floor.

I know that I have to do more Smooth Workshops, like the one Joe was offering, and so I leapt at the chance to join Jo in Milton Keynes.

There was so much to write about

I also knew that this would also offer me an opportunity to write about something different for my blog.  It would be the first Tea Dance review I’d ever done, and the two workshops sounded very interesting.

In the end both myself and Jo had the most wonderful time, and both workshops were more than worthy of very positive reviews.  I also got to chat with some of the local dancers and found their perspective on the workshops very interesting.  I came away with so many notes that I’ve decided to actually write three separate reviews.

The first will be about Ashley’s ‘Role Reversal’ class, the second about Joe’s ‘Smooth Moves’ workshop and I’ll do a third review about the Tea Dance itself.

So what is Role Reversal?

It’s where the ladies lead the men, and conversely where the men follow the ladies.  I’ve done this before in a pre-Christmas fun class. It proved to be a barrel of laughs, as the ladies struggled to control the men, and the men had little idea which way to turn or spin.

Jo tells me that everyone had great fun in the lesson.  Ashley actually asked me whether the resulting laughter could be heard in Joe’s workshop next door.

Having said that, Sunday’s class did have a serious note, and was attended by some quite experienced dancers.

How did the idea of the lesson come about?

I couldn’t help wonder who had suggested the lesson.  Claire from Thornborough was happy to fill me in:

It was in a Beginners class, that Marc jokingly suggested that the men’s lead technique might benefit from them having to follow the ladies for a change.  The men seemed horrified at the thought, but the ladies in the class actually burst out clapping.

I and several others thought it would actually be a good idea, and suggested to Marc that he should put on a workshop and do just that.  I could see lots of benefits to both the men and the ladies for having such a class.

It seemed that a lot of people also saw the value  of the lesson and all the sixteen gender balanced places quickly sold out.

So what was the declared aim of the lesson?

I could see the benefits of the men having to follow the lead for a change.  It would help to make them understand how difficult it is for the ladies to follow their lead at times.  I asked teacher Ashley what his aim for the class was?

I wanted the men to have a greater understanding of the challenge their lady partners have in decoding their signals quickly.   For the men to realise that their signals have to be unambiguous so that the ladies are in no doubt what is expected of them.

Likewise for the ladies to realise that giving unambiguous signals is not easy at times, and that it can take the men a lot of lessons and considerable practice before their signalling skills are as good as they need to be.

I’ve always thought that being the man was more difficult because of the fact we have to lead.  It explains why, at beginners’ classes, we see more men drop out more than the ladies.

But thinking about it, it must be equally, if not more difficult for the ladies.  They have to interpret signals that at times can be a little unclear to say the least.  No wonder then that Marc saw the benefits of having a lesson where the roles were reversed.

So did Ashley achieve his aim?

I was interested to know if Ashley felt he achieved his aim.  I thought it best to ask the dancers themselves.  Here’s Claire again:

One of the reasons that I did the workshop was to improve my own leading skills.  I like to help out at the Beginners’ lesson, because if new ladies only ever get to dance with inexperienced men, they are going to struggle to learn.

I certainly appreciated how hard it is to lead, and how difficult it is at times to give unambiguous signals, but the workshop definitely helped me in my desire to become a better lead.

Claire also commented on one of the problems that was highlighted by the lesson:

All the ladies noticed that at times the men were anticipating the moves.  I know from being a lead in Beginners’ lessons this is a common problem amongst new ladies.  That the men were doing it too, gave Ashley an opportunity to discuss this problem.

Listening to Claire it was obvious that Ashley had an opportunity to cover some basics techniques, like the tendency for followers to anticipate moves.  It also gave Ashley a chance to make the point – that to be better dancers we don’t necessarily need to learn more moves, but instead we might be better to improve our execution of the basic beginners moves.

I’m sure the role reversal element of this class really helped get this point over.

Men can really enjoy being followers

I got another perspective on the lesson from Brendan from Ampthill:

I was at the Camber Weekender recently and saw lots of men being followers.  I had a go and really enjoyed it.

However I realised that I needed some help to be a better follower, so I was really pleased when this workshop was suggested.  I know that other men felt the same way too.

When ever I’ve been to Southport I’ve been amazed just how many men seem to enjoy being the follower.  After hearing Brendan chat so enthusiastically about the workshop and wanting to be a better follower, I’ve begun to consider having a go at being a follower myself.  I’ll keep you posted on that one.

Brendan felt that Ashley achieved his goal

I asked Brendan if he thought that the workshop had been useful in other ways:

Most definitely.   The ladies all said how difficult it was to lead.  They could see the men not responding, and quickly realised that their signals had to be better.  It certainly made me realise just how important it is to signal clearly.

It seems then that Ashley achieved his goal, and you can’t help wondering that this is a workshop that other Ceroc franchises might consider holding.  I would certainly attend it.

Ashley engages people with his enthusiasm

Because Ashley is one of Ceroc Heaven’s teachers on my home patch, I’ve spent many a time in the lines of his lessons.  Ashley has a lovely way of delivering his lessons and you can’t help but feel his enthusiasm for what he teaches.

Ashley’s mission seems to be to spread the joy of dancing and he does it by emphasising that dancing should be above everything else fun, and that’s how Ashley get people to engage with his lessons.  Here’s Jo his demo for Sunday:

It’s a great privilege to be on the stage with Ash.  You see the fun people are having on the floor.

On Sunday Ashley had fun with what we call Wiggle-age.

I’ll let Ashley explain Wiggle-age:

I often teach a move that gives the ladies an opportunity to wiggle.  It starts with a travelling return, then the man just holds his hand up and the lady wiggles for a couple of beats and then limbos under his outstretched arm.

I call this wiggling Wiggle-age.  Most women love the opportunity to move their bodies in this way, but some are a little more self-conscious.

On Sunday I included this move in to my routine.  I thought it would be good for the men to experience what it feels like to be expected to wiggle in front of their partner.

It seems that the men really went for it.  Here’s Jo again:

You could tell that the men were up for it, but Ash encouraged them to really go for some top Wiggle-age by playing You Can Leave Your Hat On from the hit movie The Full Monty by Tom Jones.

Then Ash, taught the men a sabotage move.  This allowed them to take control back from the ladies, and have another opportunity to show off more of their Wiggle-age.  It was such a laugh.

It was around this part of the lesson that Rachel apparently came in to the room.  Rachel’s words say it all:

I just had to see for myself what all the laughter was about!

I think Ashley was right to let the men experience what it must be like for our lady partners, when we offer them the chance to wiggle in front of us.  So guys, hit the play button and lets see you wiggle.  Ladies, no laughing please!

Reversing the roles was a challenge for both Ashley and Jo

We should perhaps give extra credit to both Ashley and demo Jo, because they both had to reverse their roles too.

Ashley was having to give instructions while being the follower, where he would normally be the lead.  He had to constantly remember to give the correct instructions to the men that he’d normally give to the ladies, and vice versa.

Jo too had to adapt.  Here’s Jo’s take on her experience:

Demo-ing with Ash is a pleasure.  Even when we are demonstrating a tricky Intermediate level move, my job is simply to follow his very clear lead.

On Sunday I felt a little more pressured because I had to do the leading.  While I initially felt the same stress as the ladies in the lesson, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, as it seemed everyone else did.

More than just simply enjoying the class, I also gained a lot when it comes to thinking about ‘lead and follow’.

Being a demo can be a challenge at times, even when you are being led by an experienced teacher like Ashley.  But as Jo said, on Sunday the roles were reversed and she had to do the leading.  Here’s Ashley again:

Jo arrived just forty-five minutes before the lesson started.  We did manage to go through the routine a few times, but it was all a bit last minute.

Jo did really well, and played an important role in making this a fun class to teach.  So, I’d like to thank her for stepping up to the plate at such short notice.

Having spoken to Rachel I know that she would also like to extend her thanks to Jo and of course to Ashley for filling in at such short notice.

I put myself through Joe’s Smooth Workshop

While my partner Jo was helping out Ashley in the Role Reversal class, I put myself through Joe’s Smooth Workshop.  Now, I was pleased to get a chance to do Joe’s class, and I’ll let you know how I got on in my next review.