For details of the Tea Dance image see the acknowledgement below

Is Southport’s SILC Zone a Tea Dance? Surely not!

The stops on the Tea Dance Tour have one thing in common.  They all take place on a Sunday, and there is 24 hours of Sunday dancing in the SILC Zone.  Another feature of the Tea Dance Tour venues is the provision of chill-out music and  and that’s why I had to include The SILC Zone at Ceroc’s Southport Weekender.

Add to that the occasional association of Tea Dances with lessons in Smooth Jive, SILC and Blues, and Southports full programme of lessons, gives The SILC Zone another justification for its inclusion in the tour.

If that wasn’t enough ask the people who chose to dance exclusively in the so-called Boudoir areas for the entire weekend.  For them the whole three days in the SILC Zone has the feel of a laid back Tea Dance.

Dancing under the stars

But Southport has something extra, that few other chill-out venues can match – outside dancing.  And that dancing like everything else in the SILC Zone goes on throughout the night and that means if the weather is dry you can dance to your favourite music under the stars.

This weekend saw the start of The UK’s summer heatwave and the best place to be in the early hours was outside on the veranda.  I took this shot at two in morning on Sunday night.  DJ John Baker was on the decks and the outside area is still busy with people dancing to his smooth vibes.

Even at two in the morning the SILC Zone is very busy – inside and out

I make more progress with my dancing

Those readers, who are following my progress round the Sunday venues dotted across, England, Scotland and Wales, will know that I’m using this series of reviews to also mark the stages in the development of my smoother slotted style of dancing.

Southport marked another stage of that progress, but it also made brought home one important element of this style of dancing that I think is worthy of a little discussion – but more of that later.

A roster of DJs serve up some wonderful music

Those people, who spend just a fraction of their time in The SILC Zone, are treated to some wonderful chill-out music.  Those that spend almost all their time there must over-dose on it.  There is over fifty hours of chill-out music on offer and unbelievably there is little duplication.

The DJs who get their chance behind the decks, have spent many hours putting their one hour playlists together.  The competition amongst DJs to put together a standout set of tracks means that the dancers are served up a large number of exclusive finds.  Very few of these tracks disappoint, and that’s why the SILC Zone has an army of passionate supporters.

A late night track gives a flavour of the music

There were eleven DJs on the roster, plus the open deck ‘Sack The DJ’ slots.  That’s a lot of DJ’s playing a lot of music.  If I only mention a few of these DJs it’s only because I didn’t have my note-book with me at all times, and of course I spent a lot of time in The adjacent Thunderball Room.

I’m sure that many people had their own favourite DJ sets, and aficionados of smooth music would be able to make a more comprehensive list of standout tracks than I ever could, but I hope they’ll agree that this first track gives a flavour of the essence of what the SILC Zone is all about.

Silk & Lace Rico Greene was played by DJ John Baker during the late night set I mentioned above.  The SILC Zone and the veranda outside were still busy, as the warmth of a very hot day finally chilled under a clear moonlit sky.  I made an instant connection to the track’s gentle contemporary funky vibe on the dance floor, and I keep dipping in to it as I write this review.

The SILC Zone had been a scary place

I remember coming to my first ever Southport and watching in awe at the dancers in The Boudoir.  On show was a type of dancing I’d never really seen before.  Here were people dancing in what I know now as The Slot – straight up and down the floor.  This was long before the SILC technique had been created, but I suspect that what I was watching was a mix of West Coast Swing and Smooth Jive

After the SILC dance style was developed, and started to gain some traction, the areas of The Boudior and Queen Vic were re-branded as The SILC Zone.  Before that they had affectionately been known as The Blues Room.  This made it even more scary, as the idea of close hold Blues was out of my comfort zone and then some!

Thankfully Mark Forster and Rachel Pears have now created a well loved Blues Lounge in The Cyclone Room so the SILC Zone is devoid of much of the slower Blues music.  You will still see people dancing in close hold, but the Boudoir areas are definitely less scary – at least for myself.

I’m determined to dance in The SILC Zone

Each time I came to Southport I would dare to spend a little more time in The SILC Zone – I’d ask ladies I knew from back home in Nottingham to dance, least it all went a little wrong, but I would try to avoid being asked to dance by someone I didn’t know.  When I was, I would quickly admit that I wasn’t very good at it.

People of course were very kind, but I knew that I had to make a proper effort to learn techniques and moves that would give me a little more confidence.  This June’s Southport marked the end of a year where I have really tried to get to grips with this slower style of dancing.

Followers of my Tea Dance Tour reviews will know that I’m using this series of reviews to mark my progress in the slower slotted style of slower dancing.  So would I make more progress and be able to dance more freely in the SILC Zone?  Well, let’s see.

I venture in to the SILC Zone on Friday night

I’ve been helped by the fact that I have been able to attend lots of SILC lessons with my dance partner Jo.  Not only have we been able to learn techniques and moves together, but we have been able to practice them at classes and freestyles over the last year.

On arrival at Southport, Jo and her friends showed a preference for Tim Sant’s Ice-breaker Class.  This gave me an opportunity to see how I got on by myself in The SILC Zone.

It was just past nine o’clock at night when I arrived, and the outside veranda was packed with dancers enjoying DJ Steve Thomas’ chilled and funky tracks.  The whole of the Southport weekend was blessed very sunny weather, and Friday was a beautiful warm evening.

Everyone is enjoying DJ Steve’s fabulous chill-out playlist

Keep Calm and Carry on

Looking at the picture of people enjoying their first evening of dancing, I do worry sometimes if I’m the only one a little anxious about joining in.  Is this nervousness something in my own head and not necessarily shared by other people?  And all this stuff about dancing in the slot – just dance Paul, and don’t take yourself so seriously.  It’s Southport, it’s a lovely evening – just enjoy it!

As I looked on I sensed that people were doing just that – enjoying themselves, but that still didn’t make it any easier.  We are all different.  Some people are confident enough to dance anywhere, with anybody, to any kind of music.  Whether they are any good doesn’t come in to it.  They just want to dance, and if they go wrong – so what.  They just smile, keep calm and carry on.

For the majority of us, confidence in our dancing skills is an issue.  It’s the reason people flock to Southport for the programme of lessons that give them an opportunity to improve and grow as dancers.  It’s the reason why the Ice-breaker class, in the adjacent Thunderball Room, attracts the biggest numbers of the weekend – most of us need to be eased in to this amazing dance event.

It isn’t just me

After the February Southport dance weekender, I interviewed a number of first timers about their experiences over the weekend (see link below).  All of them showed a hesitation when it came to dancing in the SILC Zone.

Here’s Ali’s take on watching the dancers in The Boudoir areas:

I did venture into the Boudoir to check out The SILC Zone.  I found myself watching some fabulous dancers – the youngsters were amazing to watch.  I got so involved watching some couples that I nearly ended up clapping them.

I’ve not really done much Chill-out or SILC dancing, so I didn’t pluck up the courage to ask anyone to dance in The SILC Zone.

Phil was also in awe of the dancing he saw:

What made the first night a little overwhelming was seeing the standard of dancing.  On Friday night I watched the dancers in the SILC Zone for about an hour before I ventured on to the dance floor.

It’s not surprising that first-timers might find the SILC Zone a little intimidating, but my conversations with some of the more experienced dancers – men and women – also reveals that not everybody is confidence to just throw themselves in to the chill-out dancing.

I take time to watch the dancing

I was never going to walk straight on to the dance floor and ask someone to dance, instead I stood at the side watching the dancing.  As I stood against the railings of the veranda, I was interested to see just how many people were dancing in The Slot.  Certainly a lot more than I was used to back home, which suggested a proficiency in this style of dancing.

I also listened to Steve’s music.  It was chilled and funky, and mostly contemporary – the kind of music that my main room dancing style was hopelessly unsuitable for.  I realised I couldn’t watch forever, so I took a deep breathe and asked a lady also standing at the side to dance.

Here’s the track I danced to – a great piece of modern funk, the kind of music that I have always wanted to be able to dance to.  It’s the Voxup remix of The Brand New Heavies Apparently Nothing.

I get to practice my new moves

I think I did OK.  What I will say with confidence was that the dance had a lot more variety of moves than when I first started out on this tour.

I’ve slowly built up a repertoire of moves suited to the slotted style, and I was pleased to add in a couple of new moves I’d been taught the previous week, in a lesson prior to a ‘SILC on Sunday’ freestyle at Lickey End near Birmingham run by Debbie Attwood (see link below).  Southport was an opportunity to practice these moves while they were still fresh in my memory.

That’s one of the problems many of us men have sometimes.  We go to lessons and learn to lead a new series of moves, but then forget them, before we have a chance to get them properly lodged in to our muscle memory.  That’s one of the great things about Southport – you can go to a lesson and then have plenty of time to practice afterwards.

How does it work for the ladies?

This journey to improve my dancing is being reported from a very male perspective.  What of the ladies who want to learn to dance in this slotted style? I asked my dance partner Jo for some insight in to how she had developed her smoother slotted style.

Remember Paul, for me its about learning to read the signals, and Southport is a great place to do this.  I make sure I go to all the SILC lessons every time I come to Southport.

Even though I’ve been to the same three lessons three times now, I always find that I pick something up that will help me follow a little more fluently.

The three levels of SILC – Foundation, Progressive and Developmental – are taught at every Southport, and I’m sure that, like Jo, many people are slowly picking up the fundamental ideas that help to have a smoother slotted style of dance.  Jo points to one other benefit of these lessons:

They also act as an ice-breaker.  As you progress up and down the lines you get a feel for the people that you feel comfortable with and who you would enjoy a dance with in the SILC Zone later.

Jo’s comment, about meeting new people you are comfortable with, is a reminder that the slower dancing does sometimes take you out of your comfort zone.  For those of us that are less confident, knowing the people you are dancing with, even if it’s just the fact you met them in the lessons is a great way of building your confidence.

You can’t beat dancing with the teachers

One of the things that Jo loves about Southport is that she sometimes gets to dance with the teachers, and one dance stood out in June:

This time I got a chance to dance with Caine Langford.

Caine, along with his partner Danni, is one of Southport’s team of teachers.  Their lessons nearly always have a slotted theme, and I’ve found them a great help in my own journey to dance to slower music (see links below).  It is one of the wonderful things about Southport, that the teachers make themselves available for the freestyle dance sessions.

I got to dance with Caine in the main Thunderball Room.  The track was actually one of the slower ones and perfect for a smoother more relaxed dance.

Caine is a very generous and considerate lead, and he seems to effortlessly adapt to the ability level of his partner.  The combination of the music and the dance was truly lovely, but more than that, it made me feel good that I had followed the lead of such an experienced and beautiful dancer in this smooth slotted style.

Jo tells me that this time she also had the pleasure of dancing with teachers Steve Thomas and Dale St Rose, and once again she tells me that she was able to enjoy the clarity of their lead and their musicality.

Here’s the track that Jo danced with Caine.  Jackie Wilson’s The sweetest feeling, a late ’60s disco hit, is a timeless piece of dance music, with a rhythm perfectly suited to the smoother slotted style of dancing.

It’s about the ladies enjoyment too, Paul

Jo’s comments about her dance with Caine is a reminder of one of the pillars of dance floor etiquette – that the man should give his lady partner the dance she wants, and not the dance he wants.  As men, our main priority should be to think about the ladies enjoyment of the dance.

I realise that, as I’ve been chronicling my progress on the Tea Dance Tour, I’ve been focusing on my own achievements.  I’ve mentioned the lessons I’ve attended, the new moves and techniques I’ve picked up, and talked about my growing confidence and improving abilities.

It’s time to talk about the lady’s enjoyment for a change.

A real test of my growing confidence

On Saturday afternoon I attended Caine and Danni’s slotted classes featuring Switches (see link below).  This gave me more moves to add to my repertoire and that afternoon I was dancing with a little more confidence outside The SILC Zone.

I was asked to dance by a lady a lot younger than myself.  It’s the younger dancers who are helping to drive the change to a smoother slotted style of dancing.  It’s understandable, if only because a lot of the popular contemporary music is more suited to this style of dancing.

I assumed, rightly or wrongly, that this young lady would want to dance in a modern style – The Slot it was then!  This would be a real test of my growing confidence.

Perhaps people are not as confident as they seem

The dance went really well, but it’s the short conversation we had after the dance that is of interest.  As the dance ended the lady politely thanked me:

Thank you, I really enjoyed that.

It’s always nice to be thanked – it’s after all the way we build our confidence, but this was a very timely comment.  I couldn’t help responding with a more lengthy appreciation of her own slotted dancing.

You danced very nicely too.  That dance was a bit of a challenge for me – the dancing in the slot thing, I’m not too experienced at it.  You saying you enjoyed it was a real boost to my confidence.

Being a better dancer isn’t just about learning new techniques and moves.  It’s as important to be able to dance in a way that allows your partner to enjoy the dance as much as you.  The young lady’s mentioning that she had enjoyed the dance really brought this home, but it was her next comment that I found particularly interesting:

You lead it really well.  You see the thing is, I’m not that experienced in that style of dancing either – I’m not that confident with it.

Standing at the edge of the veranda outside the Queen Vic, you can’t help imagine that all the dancers are experienced and confident.  It’s a common held belief that the dancers in The SILC Zone are better dancers – but is it necessarily the case?

The young lady’s comment suggests that many of us are stepping out of our comfort zone when it comes to dancing to slower chilled music.

Are all the dancers who pack the SILC Zone as confident as they look?

So how do we give the ladies a good smooth dance?

The young lady’s mentioning of her enjoyment, also highlighted the need for us men to really think how we can help the ladies enjoy dancing to these chilled out tracks.   There is no doubt that the clue is in the word smooth.

One of the key techniques of SILC is to remove the need to pull the lady towards you, as you do with the basic Ceroc moves.  The key technique is to release opposition, which sends a signal to the lady to start moving down the slot again.  It’s not easy to unlearn the need to pull (gently remember – no tugging) the lady towards you.

If you can get that technique cracked, it’s a real step forward to giving your lady partner a smooth dance.  Let’s just say I’m working on it.

There are other things I’d like to discuss regarding the men giving the ladies an enjoyable dance, but before I do it’s about time we heard some more of the wonderful chilled music.

A balance between Contemporary and older music

There is no doubt that the majority of the music heard in the SILC Zone is very contemporary.  The vast majority of the DJs playlists are made up of tracks from the past three years, but room is still found for the tracks that people love from earlier days.

One slot that is dedicated to some of these older tracks is a SILC GOLD late night session.  There are two of them.  The first of these on Saturday night was DJ-ed by Debbie Attwood.  Debbie explained to me the essence of SILC GOLD:

Over the years there been some fabulous chill-out tracks, but because there is so much great new music which needs an airing, these older tracks tend to get ‘put to bed’.  SILC GOLD is an opportunity to bring them all back to life.

I called in on Debbie’s set and was instantly reminded of some wonderful chilled tracks from the past.  One reminded me of my sadly unsuccessful attempt at learning West Coast Swing some years ago.  It’s Mike Vito’s wonderful laid back version of Prince’s Little red corvette.

This is a timeless piece of chill-out music, but I’ve chosen to feature a 2008 track from New Kids on The Block Click, click, click.  Again this is a wonderful piece of chill-out music that deserves a place in any SILC GOLD playlist.

Give the lady opportunities to express themselves

I don’t want this review to turn in to a smooth dance manual – I’m hardly the person to give qualified advice, but I do want to touch on one other aspect that is worthy of consideration.

On the Sunday I enjoyed a lovely dance with a lady, I’d previously danced with at another stop on my Tea Dance Tour.  What struck me about elements of the dance was that the lady took a little bit of control, so as to give herself opportunities to express her own musicality.

After the dance was over I took the opportunity to talk with her, about dancing to slow music from the ladies point of view.  In the course of our conversation the lady came up with a comment that perhaps sums up what many ladies think about dancing to chill-out music:

I always say I would much rather dance with someone who has basic moves, but good musicality and allows the lady a little freedom to express herself.

I’m very good at expressing my own musicality to the music, but whether I’m so good at giving the ladies the opportunities to express their own musicality, I’m not so sure.  Food for thought, Paul.

One last piece of music

I’ll return to this topic of musicality as I continue my Tea Dance Tour, but for now let me just finish off with one last track of chilled out music.  Come on get higher by Matt Nathanson from 2009 is chosen by Jo.  She’s not sure who the DJ was, but she tells me it’s a memory of a lovely dance in the SILC Zone.

I’m sure that everyone has their favourite musical memories of The SILC Zone.  For three days this was chill-out heaven, and a notable stop on the Tea Dance Tour.

Next stop Lingfield

I hope you’ll join me as my Tea Dance rolls in to Lingfield in East Sussex.  This is a very special stop, as I join members of the Modern Jive community as they raise money for a very worthy cause.

Other Southport June 2018 Posts

The Spirit of Southport in 10 Top Tracks

Caine and Danni’s Switches class

Caine and Danni’s Simply Slotted class

Southport from a First-timers perspective

The Tea Dance Tour Articles

Tea Dances grow in popularity

More Tea Dances than I had realised

The Tea Dance Tour starts at Byfleet

The Tea Dance Tour rolls in to Northchurch

The Tea Dance Tour steams in to Perth

The Tea Dance Tour pulls in to Bromsgrove

Get the Tea Dance Jigsaw

The image at the top of this posting is by artist Jason Juta, and was used for a 1000 piece Falcon de luxe Jigsaw entitled Tea Dance. The jigsaw is available on line. Here’s a link to one of the many sites that sell this popular jigsaw.