Steve’s always looking for new venues

Since bringing his franchise under the Ceroc Evolution banner Steve Thomas and his team have been constantly looking for new and exciting venues for their freestyles.  The boldest is the end of the year O2 freestyle, that goes on until five in the morning, and the one I’m really looking forward to is the black tie Summer Ball on The Cutty Sark in August, which my Dance Gang friends are making the trip down from Nottingham.

An invitation to join a river cruise

A few weeks back I was sat typing away on my computer, when an invite popped up from Nardiya to join the Ceroc Evolution faithful on a Thames party river boat for a bit of Sunday dancing.  That seemed a perfect port of call for my Tea Dance Tour, so last Sunday I found myself on a train down to St Pancras and then a quick underground transfer to Greenwich North Pier next to The O2.

The place to be on a hot sunny afternoon

All the hot weather during June and early July has taken some getting used to, so here was a wonderful way to catch a breeze, escape the scorching sun, and enjoy some dancing at the same time.   There was one other wonderful aspect to this trip.  It would take in all the famous Thames side sights of London.

The party boat has a capacity for two hundred and fifty, but Steve sensibly limited the numbers to one hundred and fifty.  There was never going to be enough room on the dance floor if all the people wanted to dance at the same time, but that was never the case, as people spread themselves over the boat to indulge in the other pleasures of this trip.

People sat on the upper balcony deck eating their picnics and hanging out with friends.  Many people found their way outside to enjoy the river breeze and take in the sights.  I think Steve pitched the number just right, and there was always enough room to enjoy dancing to his wonderful music.

Mike captures the spirit of this wonderful afternoon

Photographer Mike Smith was on board to capture the joyous spirit of the afternoon, and he kindly gave me permission to use some of his pictures in this review.  I’ve put a link to the full set of Mike’s photos at the bottom of the page.  I’ve also included a couple of my own pictures and hopefully, together with Mike’s they’ll give you a real flavour of this wonderful event.

People are soon dancing

The boat left Greenwich North Pier at midday, and it wasn’t long before the dancers took to the open air dance floor.  Around the perimeter where areas shaded by the upper deck, and these proved nice and cool and provided a perfect space to do some slotted dancing.

You can see the shaded area under the upper deck perfect for slotted dancing.  Pic courtesy of Mike Smith

DJ Steve gets his playlist just right

When I embarked on my Tea Dance Tour I suspected I would hear a lot of chilled out music.  Surprisingly it’s not always been the case.  For many of the venues its been a 50/50 split of main room and more gentler paced tracks, and so it was on this boat trip.

I suppose it’s understandable really, as most of us feel at our most comfortable when the music is what we are used to hearing at our regular class nights and freestyles.  I also suspect that Steve knew most of the dancers on the boat very well, and was very familiar with the type of music mix they would enjoy.

Steve show’s his funky side . . .

Steve served up a wonderful mix of modern main room favourites (still lovin’ Calvin Harris’ One Kiss), the odd classic track (always appreciate Edwin Starr’s Contact, Steve) and a fair sprinkling of chilled songs ideal for the more contemporary slotted style of dancing.  There was nothing I’d call Blues, but there was a lot of mid tempo funky tracks of the type I remember from Steve’s fabulous SILC Zone set at Southport.

Here’s an example.  Solo by Clean Bandit, featuring the vocals of Demi Lovato, is a great piece of contemporary music – it was only released in the spring – and it’s funky feel was a joy to dance to.

. . . and then his funny side

Having been to a few of Steve’s classes over the past few months, I’m getting used to his cheeky chappy sense of humour, so I couldn’t help but smile when the third track in turned out to be the ’70s disco classic Rock the boat by The Hues Corporation.

Steve couldn’t also resist giving a nod to the extreme weather with Touch and Go’s So hot, Jamiroquai’s Canned Heat, and as if that wasn’t enough, he served up the calypso bundle of fun from Arrow entitled – yes you guessed it, Hot, hot, hot.  I wonder how many other references to the warm weather or boats I missed, but I did spot another that I’ll mention later.

Tall ships, smooth sailing and a funky gem

As the boat headed out towards the Thames Barrier, we got a glimpse of some of the Tall Ships taking part in the Greenwich Tall Ships Festival.  The passage was surprisingly smooth and when you were dancing you’d never know you were on a boat – the only clue was the refreshing breeze off the water.

Having said that the boat would occasionally catch a bow wave of a passing larger boat and I remember losing my balance a couple of times, but it did no more than raise a smile between myself and my dance partner.

Here’s another of Steve’s tracks.  It’s another great piece of contemporary music – again its from this year – and once again it has a wondrous funk infused vibe, but that’s not why I’ve picked it out.  Take a listen.  You’ll instantly feel the spirit of Prince in the guitar lick, that gives the track a funk factor of the highest order, but there is a serious point to me featuring it.

I visit some Chill-out Hot Spots

Make me feel by Janelle Monae is a wonderful piece of dance music, and the dancers on the boat loved it, but here’s my point.  If this track had been played in Nottingham it would have thinned the floor out some what.  The same could be said about the first track I featured – Clean Bandit’s Solo.

In many parts of the country, The East Midlands included, this type of contemporary slower funky music has a limited appeal on the main room dance floor.  When I set out on my Tea Dance Tour of Sunday events I suspected I might come across some chill-out hot spots, where considerably more slower contemporary music would be played, and so it has proved.

Indeed, by the time the boat had turned round and was heading towards Tower Bridge, I realised that Greenwich was one of these chill-out hot spots.  In between the faster main room tracks, Steve was mixing in lots of these slightly slower paced tracks that I rarely get to dance to back home.  I’ll return to this subject later, as it’s time for some sight seeing.

You can’t beat going under Tower Bridge

I can understand that people who live so close to London might take some of the tourist attractions for granted, but I doubt anyone ever becomes blasé about cruising under Tower Bridge.  As the boat approached this most iconic of London’s sights, people gathered on the bow of the boat to catch the breeze and take in the view.

The view also included two more recent additions to the London skyline – The Shard and The Walkie Talkie building.  To the left was Butlers Wharf and to the right the entrance to St Katherine’s Dock, and on either side of the river were moored the most luxurious of yachts.  It all looked so much more engaging from a boat.

People gathered at the front of the boat to enjoy the approach to Tower Bridge

Dancing in the smoother slotted way

Here on the boat the dancing was mainly of the smoother slotted style.  Now I’m bracing myself for the wroth of the people in my home town, Nottingham, but there the majority of people dance in a more traditional rotational style.

Hey, the dance scene in The East Midlands is as vibrant as anywhere else, but you won’t hear as much of the funkier slower music I was hearing on this boat, as many people who dance in the traditional rotational style would struggle with it (Och, I’m in trouble now!).

Here’s another another standout track from Steve’s playlist, and it’s more evidence of the difference between the dancing back home and the chill-out hot spots.

Calvin Harris’ Feels with vocals by Pharrell Williams, Katy Perry and Big Sean is another wonderful track, but it’s slower funky sound would never be a floor filler back home, even though it was one hell of a hit.  The reason is simple – you need to dance in a smoother slotted style, the style that led to the development of The SILC dance syllabus.

What a wonderful way to spend a Sunday afternoon

We’ll leave my musings about dance styles alone for a while – time to remember the fun everyone was having on board.  As I was cruising up the river I used my Modern Jive Facebook Page to live blog about the afternoon.  No sooner had I posted the first picture of the dancing on the boat I received this comment from Nikki:

What a wonderful way to spend a Sunday

It was, and I’m sure every one on board would have agreed.  Mike captured this feeling with his wonderful album of photos.  Here’s one of my favourites.  A number of people assembled at the front of the boat for a group photo.  This was the scene just before the official photo was taken.

The smiles on everyone’s faces says it all.  This was indeed a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon, and I hope that Nikki and many more people get to experience it for themselves.

Mike’s wonderful picture captures the sense of fun on board

This wonderful dance scene needs to stay young at heart

Let me continue my musings about the contemporary music and dance style.  The Ceroc dance community is very vibrant – just ask the thousands of people who last month turned up at the Southport and Camber Sands Weekenders.  But let’s not take it for granted.

To be sustainable this dance scene needs a constant supply of new music.  Sure DJ’s will always find time in their playlists for the timeless classics, but this dance scene needs to connect with the contemporary styles of music if it is to attract new people.

Now I am no spring chicken, but I have a phrase that I’m very mindful of when I review DJ playlists – You are only as old as the music you dance to.  It’s important that this dance scene stays young at heart and that means embracing all the latest music trends, and if that means changing the way we dance to some of the slower funkier tracks then so be it.

Why the Chill-out Hot Spots?

So why are some areas Chill-out music hot spots.  There is no doubt a correlation with the age spread of the dancers, but to be fair the demographic on Ceroc Evolution’s boat trip was not much different to back home.  I’ll dare to say that it has a lot to do with the teachers.

The dancing I was watching on this boat wasn’t necessarily SILC, but you could see how people who had attended SILC classes had brought some of the techniques in to their dancing.  You could also see how SILC was born out of the dancing that was on show here.

Here was a fusion of SILC, West Coast and Smooth Jive.  It doesn’t matter what you call it. What matters is the recognition that this slotted style is the way forward if you want to be able to dance to the funky slower tracks that Steve served up between the main room sounds in his playlist.

A funky classic track from 1979

Of course people having been dancing to funky music ever since James Brown popularised the genre in the early ’70s.  One of my highlights at the recent Southport Weekender was dancing to Brown’s Sex Machine when Steve took his turn on the decks in The SILC Zone.

Steve is a bit of Soul Boy really, and he showed it by playing one of the greatest funk tracks of all time.  It features an iconic guitar lick and bass line that any one who loves modern dance music knows.

They were created by two of the greatest dance music legends of all time – Niles Rodgers and Bernard Edward, and spawned the hip hop movement being one of the most sampled tunes in dance music history.  Think Rapper’s Delight by The Sugar Hill Gang for a start.

Even though Chic’s Good times does get some plays at main room freestyles, it’s slower beat is not necessarily that easy to connect with, especially if you are an inexperienced dancer.  Not on Sunday afternoon – it filled the floor, and I got lucky.  I danced it with some one who knew how to connect with its hypnotic beat, and I couldn’t help highlighting it in my notebook against five stars and two words – ‘Great Dance’.

Not everyone teaches the slotted smooth style

The Ceroc franchises are all blessed with fabulous teachers, but not all of them focus on the slotted style of dancing.  Some franchises have really embraced the SILC style.  At a previous stop on my Tea Dance Tour I dropped in on Ceroc Groove’s well loved ‘SILC on Sunday’ freestyle at Bromsgrove near Birmingham, and enjoyed a short SILC lesson prior to the main event.

Something tells me that SILC and the smoother style of dancing is a big feature of The Ceroc Evolution timetable.  Steve is of course one of the Ceroc teachers who was asked to help roll out the SILC syllabus, and I’ve had the pleasure of watching him on the teaching stage at Southport and other locations, aided by Nardiya or Tamara.

Ceroc London is another slotted Hot Spot

It’s also worth remembering that the neighbouring Ceroc London franchise has Tim Sant as one of it’s teachers.  It was Tim, as Head of Dance at Ceroc, who led the team that devised the SILC Syllabus.  You begin to understand why this part of Central London is something of a slotted Hot Spot.

Interestingly the dancers of Ceroc London were holding their own Sunday afternoon dance session at The Bridge – the venue inside St Thomas Hospital, that the boat passed as it approached Westminster Pier.  On cue the dancers at The Bridge came outside to wave at the boat.  Nice touch guys.

It’s also about the music

It’s not just about the teaching of course.  Remember the teaching has to go hand in hand with the music, and I suspect that the inclusion of so many SILC friendly tracks in his playlists also encourages Steve’s local dancers to practice and aspire to this more contemporary style of dancing.

So let’s hear another SILC friendly track from Steve’s sunday playlist.  Goodthang by Karl Frierson could have been produced in the Stax record studios in Memphis, the home of Otis Redding and Sam and Dave, as it has all the soulful and funky ingredients we associate with this historic birth place of modern dance music.  Great find Steve.

It’s about the fun too

I’ll take a break from sharing my thoughts about teaching, to focus again on the fun everyone was having on board.  Mike Smith captured some great images on the dance floor, but he also captured the spirit of this wonderful afternoon with images from other locations on the boat.

Here’s one of my favourites.  The three people are standing against the rail of the upper deck balcony that ringed the lower dance floor.  Here they find their own way to express the joy that Steve’s music generated as the boat cruises along the river

The image of this joyous threesome courtesy of Mike Smith

My own dance journey takes to the road

So, one year ago I was a rotational dancer.  I’d tried and failed at West Coast Swing and I’d done a few taster classes of SILC, but quite honestly I was getting nowhere.  I would go to Southport and look on enviously at the dancers in The SILC Zone.

I decided I had to try to embrace this more modern slotted style of dancing, and my Tea Dance Tour is the story of my progress.  One of the reasons for telling the story of my hoped-for progress, is because I realise that there are many people out there on the dance floor, who like me, wondered what this Slotted style of dancing was all about.

Progress has been made

I do seem to have made some progress with my smoother dance style, and because I’ve heard more chill-out music on my Tea Dance Tour, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to practice.  I’ve slowly worked out what moves work best with this style of dancing, and even though my repertoire is still limited, I now feel a lot more comfortable to ask someone on to the floor when a slower funkier track comes on.

My Thanks to Ashley and Nardiya

On this boat were two people who have been particularly helpful in my ambition to learn how to dance in the smoother slotted style.  I mentioned above that I used my Modern Jive Dancer Facebook page to give its followers an idea of the great time everyone was having.  Here’s one of the later postings.

In amongst the wonderful dancers were two of my teachers

Ashley kick starts my slotted dance journey

Last summer Ashley Davis of Ceroc Heaven ran a SILC in Six dance course.  By the end of the course of the lessons I’d only grasped about five of the twenty or so moves Ashley had taught, but I’d got to grips with the idea of the slot and how to guide my lady partner smoothly up and down it.

Five moves were enough to get me started, but Ashley had done more than that.  His lessons had also introduced me to lots of great contemporary music.  It was my ambition to be able to dance to this more chilled-out music, that was the driver to my slotted dance journey.

Nardiya makes it easy for you

Back in March my Tea Dance Tour called in to Scotland for the first ever Ceroc Perth Fresh Weekender.  Steve and Nardiya were part of a first class teaching team, and put on their three SILC level classes.  I made some more progress in their lessons, and it was a real step forward when I got to dance with Nardiya herself.

As an inexperienced dancer it’s great to have the opportunity to dance with someone like Nardiya.  Not only is she a very graceful dancer, but she makes it very easy for you, and you can’t help getting a confidence boost at the conclusion of the dance.

It was the same on Sunday.  After another dance on the boat, Nardiya again gave me another boost when she commented on the progress I’d made since Perth.

Good teachers make you believe in yourself

Progress is progress, no matter how small, and it is a sign of a good teacher that they can make you believe you’re are getting better.  Thank you Nardiya for your encouragement, and thanks to Ashley too, for getting me started.

As I watched Nardiya and Ashley dance together I realised I still had a long way to go.  In the past I might have looked on a little despondently, but this time I felt inspired.  I should say that there were quite a few dancers on the boat, who were equally inspirational.

I loved Steve’s upbeat picks

Because I’ve wanted to discuss issues around the smoother style of dancing, the tracks I’ve featured from Steve’s playlist so far, have been of the slower funkier variety, but as I said at the beginning, his playlist was fifty percent main room tracks.

Steve played lots of my upbeat favourites including Starlight from The Superman Lovers,  This Girl from Kungs, and Ella Eyra’s 2015 fabulous reworking of the Emotions Best of my love.  I also loved Dum Dum by Kideko, but I’m going to feature a track that might not be so well known.

Steve plays a monster of a club track

I love it when DJs serve up something that I’ve never heard before, but I find myself instantly connecting with.  Steve always sends me home happy, and it’s been hard deciding which new-to-me track to feature.  My first choice was Say it again from Jestofunk, a raw piece of hypnotic funk that I’m hoping Steve will play at the Cutty Sark gig next month, but I’ve chosen a thumping 2011 clubland track instead.

Seamus Haji’s Big Love remix of Booty Luv’s Boogie 2nite is one hell of a club anthem, and I love the way the drum and bass is faded out and then kicks in with such ferocity.  Another one for the Cutty Sark please Steve.

Time for the official photograph

As the boat docked Steve announced that Ceroc Evolution would be doing it all again at the end of September.  I suspect it will become a regular event, especially in the summer months.  Mike took one last photo of the dance crowd.  It was nice to think that I, along with these people, were in it at the beginning.

I doubt there was anyone who didn’t enjoy their afternoon on the river day.  We were blessed by the most beautiful weather, but even on future trips if there are a few clouds I doubt it will dampen spirits.  The combination of dancing and seeing the London sights while chilling out with friends is a winning combination.

I’m in there somewhere.  I always manage to get hidden by someone’s hands.  Picture courtesy of Mike Smith

It’s about the dancing

It had been a great day, but we shouldn’t forget that more than anything the boat trip was about the dancing, and the people we enjoyed dancing with.  When I got on board I realised that there were only two faces I recognised amongst the ladies, one being Nardiya of course.

It’s often the case when I’m a long way from home, but the people on the boat proved to be very friendly, so I’d like to thank all the ladies for all the fabulous dances, and hopefully when I did the ‘slotted’ thing it went OK for them too.  It goes without saying that I look forward to meeting everyone again on The Cutty Sark.

I don’t usually mention names of the people I dance with, but can I give a shout out to Sue from Gant’s Hill, and friends Sheila and Barbara.  Not only did I enjoy lovely dances with these three, but they also spent time chatting with me about the dancing scene in this part of London, and gave me some interesting material for future articles.

Take me to The River again

I mentioned earlier that I had smiled every time Steve played a track that referenced the river or the sweltering weather.  After playing one of his full-on tracks Steve rightly slowed it down with another ‘river’ track – Take me to the river by the English duo Kaleida.

Not that Steve needed an excuse to play this delicious  track, as it’s now established as a Ceroc chill-out favourite, and its gentle contemporary feel was a perfect choice.  As the boat docked Steve gave it another spin – Take me to the river again!  And that is, of course, what is going to happen.

I’ll conclude my review featuring this wonderful track, and I look forward to dancing to it again on The Cutty Sark.

Related Posts

Mike Smith’s Full Album of The River

Steve and Nardiya’s SILC class at The Perth Weekender

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

The Tea Dance Tour pulls in to Southport

The Tea Dance Tour stops off at Lingfield

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.