I need to do more Smooth Lessons

I’ve been dancing eight years now and I feel confident that I can dance to any regular Ceroc track, but slow it down a little and I struggle.  Back in February I made the first of my three yearly trips to the Ceroc Weekender at Southport.  In a packed Thunderball Room I danced my heart out to the main room sounds, but it was another story when I ventured in to the late night SILC Zone with its chilled-out music.

You see I just don’t feel comfortable dancing to slower music.  Faced with a slower tempo I have tended to simply slow down my regular Ceroc moves.  In this way I just about get away with dancing with people who I know from back home in Nottingham, but I would never dare dance with a stranger.  I would soon get found out.

We all benefit from classes and workshops

We all benefit from classes, even though our progress can be slow.  Progress was certainly slow for me, and I remember having to be virtually kicked out of my Beginners’ Refresher Classes to go up in to the Intermediate Class.  Those next level classes were at times torturous, and looking back I wish I had gone to The Beginners Workshop and then the Beginners/Improvers one too.

So if I struggle to dance to slower chill-out music I know what to do.  I have to do more lessons aimed at teaching a smoother slotted style of dancing.  I’ve certainly had plenty of opportunities.  Every Southport Weekender is packed with lessons that teach a smoother style of dancing, and there are weekend workshops all over the place.  No excuses then!

I don’t easily volunteer for smooth workshops

The trouble is I also struggle with the actual lessons.  For many of us workshops take us out of our comfort zone, and that in itself is a reason to avoid them sometimes.  I have another problem with them.  Most of the lessons are moves based, and I simply struggle to remember them.

It’s important that you get a chance to practice any new moves you’ve been taught at a workshop.  Sadly come the next freestyle, what moves I’ve actually remembered I find difficult to lead, as invariably the ladies I dance with weren’t at the same class.

So I rarely get a chance to add anything to my repertoire of moves, or make any advance with my technique.  So as I say, progress has been very slow.  Now this is all sounding a bit negative I know, but there is a reason for giving this background to my smooth workshop experiences.

An unexpected opportunity to take a Smooth Lesson

Last Sunday I actually got an unexpected opportunity to do a class run by Ceroc Beds & Bucks that I would probably have passed on.  My partner Jo was asked to demo for Ashley Davis at a ‘Role Reversal’ Class, being run along side a ‘Smooth Moves’ Workshop run by Joe Collins.

So while Jo did her lesson with Ashley I signed up for Joe’s  lesson.  These workshops are a regular monthly affair and are run prior to the Te Amo Tea Dances.  I’ve already published a review of Ashley’s Role Reversal class (see link below) and I’ll be working on a review of the Tea Dance freestyle next.

This is a regular monthly two class event

Te Amo is a regular monthly event held at Newton Longville near Milton Keynes.  It starts with a choice of two two-hourly classes and then goes in to a four and a half hour freestyle session.  I should add that you can just come for the freestyle.  I asked Rachel Pears, who runs Ceroc Beds & Bucks along with Marc Forster, how the programme of classes is decided upon:

We always have two lessons.  One in the main hall, that can accommodate up to fifty people, and a smaller one in the annex, where we limit the numbers to around twenty.  The lessons are usually run by Marc and Joe, but occasionally we’ll have guest teachers too.

The workshop subject matter varies, according to what people have been asking for.  ‘Dips and Leans’ is frequently requested, as are ‘Blues’ and ‘Tango’.  Ceroc Beds & Bucks also have lots of new starters who are looking for Beginner Workshops.
Joe’s workshop had attracted thirty seven people, evenly gender balanced, with just one lady over.

Some smooth music to get you in the mood

Before I start to describe the lesson here’s one of the tracks that was played in the follow up freestyle Tea Dance session.  It’s a well loved chill-out track that’s perfectly suited to the smooth slotted class that Joe delivered.  Here’s Mike Zito’s laid back version of Prince’s Little red corvette  to get you in the mood.

I’m soon put at ease

Before Joe started he asked people how long they had been dancing.  It seems that about half had been dancing less than a year, and so the other half more than a year.  Joe suggested that this meant there were a lot of experienced dancers.

Interestingly, I looked at it the other way round, and felt a lot more at ease, knowing that there were plenty of people who were perhaps as inexperienced as myself with smooth moves.  Either way my fellow participants proved to be very friendly and I remember quickly relaxing and not worrying too much about whether I would cope or not.

Joe pitched the moves perfectly

One of the reasons that I get a little anxious at these workshops is that the moves can sometimes be a little too challenging, and by the time I come to put all the moves together, I end up in a tangle of arms not knowing which way to turn.

Joe however pitched the level of moves perfectly, considering the aforementioned difference in the experience of the attendees.  All six moves were very do-able and Joe expertly broke them down in to small segments that made them easy to pick up.  Joe also gave himself plenty of time to explain the moves and there was no sense of rushing to get them completed in the time.

Three moves were completed in just under an hour, and then we were given a coffee break before attempting the next three moves.  The whole sequence of moves was completed within the two hour allotted time.  Then of course we had over four hours of freestyle to practice what we had been taught.

It was a programme that worked really well.  I think two hours is long enough for a lesson and linking it with the Tea Dance to follow was something I’d want to applaud.

It’s about the slotted style as well as the moves

One of the reasons I don’t feel confident to ask a stranger to dance when I’m in a chill-out room is that most people dance in a ‘Slotted’ style.  Now this is something I struggle with.

I know that all Ceroc moves are taught in a slotted way on the stage.  They have to be or the teacher and demo would fall off it!  But as I’ve learnt and mastered my moves, I’ve ended up dancing in what is called a ‘Rotational’ style.

It’s not a problem for main room dancing, and I would go as far to say, that it’s the way most people dance.  It’s when you want to dance to slower music that you realise that the ‘Rotational’ way does not work so well.

Ask experienced smooth lady dancers and most will tell you that they would prefer to dance in a Slotted fashion.  It’s why I struggle to dance with a stranger in a Chill-out zone – my rotational style just doesn’t work even when I slow the moves down.

Suddenly the slotted principal clicks

I’ve been really trying to get to grips with this slotted style.  I understand about the train tracks principle.  The middle one for the lady and the two outside ones for the men, with the idea that the men keep crossing from the two outside tracks, always leaving the middle one free for the lady to go up and down it.  But I still end up dancing in a Rotational way.

Joe explained how to do the first move, and suddenly the principal clicked.  Now I’ll keep this as simple as I can, because it explains what my problem has been.

I’ve been doing the moves wrong all these years

The first move involved a Sway.  Now I’ll tell you how I do a Sway – I bring the lady to my right hand side.  It’s the same for many of The Beginners’ moves – The High First, The Cradle and The Sling Shot.  Again I simply bring the lady to my right hand side.  That’s where I’ve been going wrong.  I’ll let Joe explain:

The move starts with a ‘Sway’.  Guys lead your lady forward on her slot.  Now you move to the left and the lady ends up at your right hand side.

That’s where I’ve been going wrong all these years.  I’ve been staying still, and bringing the lady diagonally across to my right hand side – I’ve taken the lady off the slot.  That explains why I end up dancing in a Rotational way.  What Joe pointed out, I’m sure many other teachers have pointed out before – it’s just that it clicked in Joe’s class.

I managed to have a chat with Joe later.  I talked about my realisation that I’d being doing it wrong all this time.  Here’s what Jo had to say.

It’s hard enough for Beginner’s learning their first moves, and I can understand how they fail to grasp the idea of the slot.  I do try to teach them the slotted principal from their first lesson, but it’s not easy to get it over particularly when new people might be a little stressed by all the instructions.

You can say that again.  I can still remember the stress of my first few months of lessons.

Just take away one thing

It would be great if we could turn up to a workshop and two hours later replicate everything the teacher has demonstrated with the same style and panache.  Sadly life’s not like that.  I always think if you can take away one thing then it’s been worth your time.  The one thing I’ll take away from Joe’s class is the point about moving to the side, so that the women is always on her slot.

Another thing that really came over, and it’s something that I’m sure other people will take away, was the way Joe executed all the moves in a very smooth way.  No tugging and pushing.  Not as easy as it looks sometimes, but something we should all try to aspire to.

I have my senior moment

While I look back at the lesson and feel quite good about what I took from it, I did have one wobbly moment that I’m sure other people will be able to relate to.  Joe patiently taught the class the first three moves.  As I said they were very do-able and I think I did them to a reasonable standard.

Joe then asked that we put all three moves together.  Memories of my Intermediate Classes came back.  I stuck my hand up:

Joe, I wonder if you could remind us all of the second move again please – very slowly.

Do other people forget the middle move?  Sometimes I’m really pleased with myself that I’ve mastered the third move, but then just can’t remember the moves that proceeded it.

Needless to say that Joe was very gracious and demonstrated the move as I had asked, and I completed the three move sequence with a pleasing level of satisfaction.

Videoing the moves is a great help

Now I mention my senior moment of forgetfulness for a reason.  It’s because of the one problem I’ve already alluded to about workshops – it is sometimes difficult to remember the moves and techniques you’ve been taught.

It’s for this reason that people are encouraged to take videos on their phones.  What really impressed – in fact it impressed so much that I would ask that other organisations consider adopting this policy – was that Joe explained that there was no need to film the moves, because everyone would be emailed a video detailing the six moves during the following week.

The professional quality video was a real bonus

The video duly arrived, and it was of such a professional quality that it was worth the class fee on its own.  In amongst Joe’s routine were a couple of moves that I felt I could include in my own developing smooth routine, but sadly they were soon forgotten.  Armed with the video I can now work on the moves at my leisure.

It’s not my policy to publish these videos – I think it’s only right that they are for the exclusive use of the people who’ve paid for the workshop.  Also I should add that the availability of the video is one big reason to check out these Ceroc Beds & Bucks Workshops – because you’ll certainly get your money’s worth.

So what did the ladies think of the session?

I couldn’t help think what the ladies got from the lesson.  They must view lessons differently from us men, as their perception comes from being a follower, rather than as a lead like myself.

It was with this in mind that, after the workshop was over, I sought out a couple of the ladies I recognised from the class, and chatted with them while they took a break from dancing in the Tea Dance freestyle session.

The first lady I spoke to was Philippa, who is a regular at the class nights at Kempston.  I asked her how see saw the value of the workshop:

As well as a chance to improve my dancing I see it as a social gathering.  Remember I know quite a lot of the people here, and it’s a pleasant way to spend a Sunday afternoon, particularly when the workshop is followed by a Tea Dance.

I then asked Philippa a question I’ve always wanted to ask.  Workshops like this are great for leaders because they teach us new moves, that hopefully we can include in our routines.  I’ve often wondered if such move based workshops have limited value for the ladies, because if a man never leads these moves, the ladies just never get a chance to do them again:

I can see why you might think that way, but the ladies don’t see it quite like that.  As followers we have to learn to read signals, rather than remember how a move goes.  Lessons like this give us an opportunity to practice reading a whole new bunch of signals.

Let’s take the style of dancing.  If a man wants to dance, as you say, in a rotational way, I soon realise that from his signals and the way he positions himself.  I can’t change his style, so as a follower, I’m just happy to dance in the same way.

But if he starts to dance in a slotted style, because of lessons like this, I can quickly recognise this and have a better idea of how to follow him.

I then spoke to Tina from Bedford, who’s been dancing for ten years, and learnt her moves at classes in Bedford and St Neots.  Tina also saw Te Amo as a social gathering, and thought she knew about a quarter of the people there.

Tina soon got on to the subject of dancing in a smoother way as Joe had demonstrated in his class:

Some of my friends wanted to dance in the smoother slotted style and moved on to do West Coast Swing.  Though I too wanted to learn to dance in this smoother style, I didn’t particularly want to stop coming to Ceroc venues.

I also didn’t want the added worry of West Coast Swing’s footwork, so the Ceroc slotted approach appealed to me.

Tina seemed to agreed with Phillipa’s point that for a follower, dancing is about learning to interpret the lead’s signals, more than it’s about learning moves.  I found what Tina said next quite fascinating:

When I’m asked to dance by someone new, I’m never sure how they want to dance.  So, I spend the first thirty seconds getting a flavour of their style and the level they are at.  This tells me how much I can play around with my own moves.

Funny that, I suppose I do the same in reverse.  I take a few moves to assess the level of my followers ability and then try to ensure that I dance to that level, so that my partner has an enjoyable experience.

My conversations with Phillipa and Tina were quite valuable if only that they taught me that we all see dancing from different perspectives.  Something else then that I got from this afternoon’s workshop.

I could see why this workshop was so well attended

I could see for myself why the Te Amo workshops are so well attended.  The whole concept of a class followed by an afternoon and evening  freestyle is an attractive one in itself, but a lot of credit also has to go to Joe’s experienced delivery of the lesson.

Mentioning Joe again reminds me that I should also give a mention to his very able demo Georgina, who I was also told is a member of the Ceroc Beds & Bucks Taxi Team.  I suspect Georgina didn’t have a lot of preparation time, but she showed a proficiency in her following of Joe’s signals, that must have been a great help to the ladies in the room.

There is a friendly vibe that owes much to Rachel’s team

Rachel and Marc have built a wonderful team of friendly people around them, and they were on top form on Sunday afternoon.  The ladies and gents on kitchen duty served up a great selection of food and drinks, that went down particularly well after the classes.  I’d also like to thank the venue manager Tracey.

Tracey gave me a lot of time explaining the background to the Te Amo Sunday workshop and freestyle sessions.  Her friendliness must be a great asset to this venue.  My thanks also to Phillipa and Tina for their helpful insight in to follower’s point of view.

Future programme of workshops

As Rachel says the programme of workshops and classes is put together in response to the requests from The Ceroc Beds & Bucks dancers themselves.  This means that there is always something of interest on.  Details for the next two dates are as follows:

Sunday 6 May – Modern Blues in the Main Hall with Marc & Rachel; Beginner/Improvers with Joe in the Annex.
Sunday 3 June – Learning Kizomba with Guest Teachers Rene & Ellen in the Main Hall; Intermediate Ceroc with Joe in the Annex.

Read my review of Ashley Davis Role Reversal Class at Te Amo