For details of the Tea Dance image see the acknowledgement below

I return to the place my chilled dance journey started

It was almost four years ago that I last visited the Ceroc Groove Sunday session at The Lickey End Social Club in Bromsgrove, South West of Birmingham.  It was not one of my better nights on the dance floor.

It was nothing to do with the event itself – Ceroc Groove had long established Lickey End as a premier venue on the West Midlands chill-out dancing circuit.  No, it was due to my inability to dance to slower tempo music.  Before Lickey End was branded as a SILC venue, it was well known for its chilled and Blues dancing.  Styles of dancing, sadly I couldn’t do with any confidence.

I was so far out of my comfort zone

I remember feeling so far out of my comfort zone, that I knew there was no point returning, until I had managed to get a few lessons under my belt, and gained a lot more confidence in the slower forms of dancing.  Regular readers of my blog will know that last summer I decided to make another concerted attempt to get to grips with dancing to slower music.

My tour of Sunday Tea Dances is very much part of this latest attempt to learn how to dance to what I’m calling Chill-out music. I hope the stops along the way will mark the stages of my progress and also give comfort to those people who still struggle to master the slower formats of dancing.

This venue sometimes has a SILC lesson

In writing my two articles on Tea Dances (see links below), I had noticed that many venues provided a lesson in SILC, Blues or other forms of Smooth Jive as part of their Sunday programme.  So it was at Lickey End, with teacher Debbie Attwood providing a forty five minute SILC class before the main dancing started.

Hopefully I would get a bit more help with my technique and perhaps learn a few more moves.  Then there would be a chance to put it all in to practice. I ensured that myself and my travelling companion – photographer Tel – were there in plenty of time for Debbie’s lesson.

Not all the Sunday sessions here include a lesson, so please check before travelling, if a lesson is important to you.

No cakes, but two DJs and two SILC Teachers

Now, those of you following the Tea Dance Tour will know of my interest in the cakes, that are a feature of many of the Sunday venues.  Due to my need to control my waistline, I just tend to look at them, and not actually partake in their sugary delightfulness.  Now this was a cake-free evening, but this shouldn’t detract from what turned out to be a very worthwhile stop on the tour.

What made this evening so good was the music from two DJs.  Debbie kicked off the main dancing session, but she then handed over to Caroline Houlton for the final two hours. But what made this evening a real standout night was the class provided by two qualified SILC teachers.  Debbie’s demo was Ben Davies, who is also a certified SILC teacher.

Some Pink Champagne helps set the scene

Not the bubbly stuff, but a track from Debbie’s playlist that is proving to be very popular on the chill-out circuit.  Pink Champagne by Nick Lopez not only gives a flavour of the music that the SILC style of dancing was developed for, but more significantly, is an example of the type of track that I struggled with last time I came to Lickey End.

Debbie delivers a lesson that’s just what I need

Debbie Attwood is a very experienced teacher, and has long featured in the Ceroc Weekender teaching programmes.  I wondered how Debbie would approach this forty-five minute lesson.  Forty-five minutes is never going to be long enough to teach the basics of SILC to a beginner, but I suspected that most of the people in the lesson had some experience of the basic SILC techniques.

I’m probably like most people that attend these lessons.  What we want is a reminder of the basic techniques and perhaps a couple of moves to add to our repertoire.  That’s exactly what Debbie’s lesson gave us.  While the lesson had a high level of technical content, and the three-move sequence was something of a challenge, by the end I was satisfied that it was exactly what I needed.

Ben’s input was so useful

I’m always impressed when a lesson is delivered by two teachers.  It means that both the man and the women get tips from the respective teachers – something that I for one really appreciate.  Ben gave no end of useful tips to the men, particularly about our positioning to ensure we always left a clear slot for the ladies to move down.

Debbie and Ben dual teaching technique worked so well, that I’d just about mastered the three move sequence by the end of the forty five minutes.  I was able to keep practicing the moves during the freestyle dancing, and ever since I’ve been adding them in to my routine to add a little more variety to my routine.

Debbie also taught me one other important aspect of this dancing, but more of that later.

Debbie’s music is less of a challenge now

There is some gorgeous chill-out music that I’ve long wanted to dance properly too, and Debbie’s playlist had some wonderful examples like the aforementioned Pink Champagne.  As I listened and danced to more of Debbie’s playlist I realised just how much progress I’d made since my last visit.

Here’s another example of Debbie’s delicious music – Paul Weller’s Broken Stones I’ve picked it out because I know I would have struggled to dance to it’s soulful bluesy vibe, before I decided to get out of my comfort zone, and try to learn a smoother slotted style of dancing.

The lesson acts as an ice-breaker

When we dance locally we know the people we can ask to dance who we feel comfortable with.  With these dance friends we can try out new things, and not worry too much if it all goes wrong.  While the Modern Jive and Ceroc dance community is very friendly, I still have to take a deep breathe before I ask to dance with someone new.

This is what made the lesson so useful, as it acted as an ice-breaker.  Once the main dancing started I felt comfortable to ask the ladies I’d met in the lesson for my first dances. This in itself helped to boost my confidence.  I know there are people who can ask anyone to dance, but for most of us it’s a slow process to build up that level of confidence.

The room fills up nicely

This is not a large venue, but it’s just the right size to host a chill-out evening.  After the lesson ended the room filled up nicely and there were plenty of people to ask to dance.  So after dancing with some of the ladies I’d met in the lesson I asked some of the new arrivals to dance.

Now it’s not my policy to ever comment on individual dancers, other than the teachers, but I have to say that I got the impression that this venue attracts a large number of experienced dancers, who love the chill-out playlist on offer.  I noted that most people were dancing in The Slot and that there were also a few people dancing in a close-hold Blues style.

The dance floor was soon full of people enjoying the chill-out vibes

Another lesson learnt

As the main dancing started Debbie asked me to dance.  I’d had a few dances before hand and I was feeling relatively confident.  It’s always a challenge dancing with teachers, but I have to say that Debbie quickly made me feel at ease and I seemed to be doing OK.

Suddenly Debbie stopped the dance.  I was a little surprised, because I’d just performed the three-move sequence she and Ben had taught, with what I thought was a relatively smooth technique.  I awaited her comment, her words went something like this:

Paul, you aren’t making any eye contact with me.  It’s an important part of the connection between two dancers.  You have to watch me to see where I’m going.  Eye contact is very much part of the lead and follow.

Eye contact is an important part of social dancing, and Debbie was right to point out my lack of it.  For many people eye contact is a matter of confidence, but there are other factors at play, and it can take a while before we get the balance right.

I knew I’d be out of my comfort zone

The issue of eye contact is more easily overcome with people you dance with regularly.  Not so easy when you dance with a person for the first time.  Shyness is a common problem, and you can’t blame beginner men for concentrating on their lead, and the ladies for concentrating on interpreting the man’s signals.

Of course I’m not a beginner, though it’s felt like it sometimes at SILC classes, and I’ve taken Debbie’s comment that it’s essential for the man to know where his lady follower is on board.

I always knew that this Tea Dance Tour would take me out of my comfort zone, and the lessons would be the hardest part.  So it was at the beginning of my visit to Lickey End, but how I felt at the end of the night, I’ll tell you later.

Debbie and Caroline serve up non-stop Chill-out grooves

Of all my stops on the Tea Dance Tour so far, this one was the first to have a non-stop playlist of chill-out grooves.  That Caroline would carry on where Debbie left off, meant that I had plenty of time to see how much progress I’d made.

Before I move on to comment on Caroline’s music I want to feature one last track from Debbie’s own playlist. Double vision by Prince Royce featuring rapper Tyga is a wonderful piece of contemporary dance music.  I’m sure I’ve heard it before, but I’m equally sure I’ve stood the track out, knowing that it was beyond me.

On Sunday night, I gave it a go. It doesn’t really matter how I got on.  What’s important is that I felt confident enough to ask someone to join me on the dance floor and dance to its funky vibe.

DJ Caroline shows her chilled side

I’m a great fan of DJ Caroline Houlton.  I’ve had the pleasure of dancing to her music many times as she’s rocked the floor in The Thunderball Room at the Ceroc’s Southport Weekenders.  Her standout tracks include Bakermats Living and Edwin Starrs timeless disco classic Contact – all mentioned in my reviews along with reports of the dance floor being set on fire.

It was with great interest that I saw that Caroline would be providing the tracks for a chill-out session.  I couldn’t help wonder if she would show the same command of the decks when spinning smooth vibe tracks as when she’s spinning hi-energy ones?  The answer was a full-on YES!

Caroline takes me back to my West Coast Days

I loved Caroline’s pick of slower vibes and here’s a first taster – Affection by Ophelie Winter.  This delicious laid back track holds significant memories for me.  Some five years ago I decided to take up West Coast Swing.  There was no SILC then, and it seemed to be a way of learning to dance to slower tunes.

Sadly, progress was desperately slow and I finally gave up.  But along the way I got to dance (or kind of dance) to the wonderful chilled music I was so keen to dance to.  One of these tracks was Affection.  How wonderful was it to finally be able to dance to it.

This venue attracts experienced chill-out dancers

After dancing with some of the ladies from the lesson, I felt confident enough to ask some of the more experienced dancers on to the floor.  It wasn’t long before I realised that this venue attracts some very good lady dancers.

Some of these dancers made a real impression on me.  Let me try and explain why.  The idea of SILC, rather like West Coast Swing, is that the man lead simply creates a slot for the lady to move up and down, giving her opportunities to play with her own musicality.

I realised that these ladies were very expert at interpreting the music, and if I dare say it, they were making me feel that I was a lot better dancer than I thought I was.  One dance particularly stood out.  Not only did my partner play with her own movement, but at times she seemed to take control of the dance and made my movement feel so much more in sync with her own.  I had felt the same thing when I had danced with Debbie.

It wasn’t that either the lady in question or Debbie were leading – it was something more subtle than that.  It’s hard to explain, but here were two experienced ladies moving to the music in a way that perhaps I’d not experienced before.

This is a Top Venue

If the women were so good, then I can only assume that the experienced men were in the same league.  I’m sure that’s the case in all the top chill-out venues.  I watched some of the men dancing.  Of course watching isn’t everything – you have to be in the dance to really appreciate the quality of your partner – but these guys looked very proficient.

There is no doubt that over the years Debbie has built a top chill-out venue at Lickey End, and it prompted me to write these words in my note book:

There’s nothing like this back home

Reading this note a few weeks later, as I sat down to write this review, led me to think about the dancing in my local area.

Nottingham has a vibrant dance scene

Nottingham has a very vibrant Ceroc and Modern Jive scene.  It’s venues include two of the best in the East Midlands – Pirate Jive’s The Shed and Ceroc Heaven’s Grange Hall.  Not far away is one of the most iconic venues in the whole country – Ceroc Heaven’s Kelham Hall in Newark, that attracts dances from far and wide.

But what Nottingham doesn’t have is a Chill-out venue to match Ceroc Groove’s monthly Lickey End one.  Go to any of the three venues I’ve mentioned above, and you’ll hear some of the best main room sounds around, but sadly you’ll hear little contemporary chill-out music, and more telling none have second chill-out rooms.

Nottingham has also recently lost it’s last West Coast Swing teaching venue and a really good Blues class.  A core of West Coast and Blues dancers is a great help when you want to establish a Modern Jive chill-out venue.

It’s not easy to establish a Chill-out venue

There are, of course, some experienced smooth jive dancers in Nottingham and the surrounding area, but I suspect there aren’t enough of them to support a venue like Lickey End, or even second chill-out rooms at the regular freestyles.

I’m sure it took Debbie a long time to establish Lickey End, though she was no doubt helped by the fact that the venue also hosts a Wednesday night Ceroc class, but it must still have been a bit of a risk.  It can’t be easy to establish a Chill-out venue, and I can understand that no one in Nottingham wants to risk putting on such an event without a guarantee that it will be well attended.

Ceroc Groove have established a great venue on the chill-out circuit

More of Caroline’s fabulous music

I suspect that my Tea Dance Tour will point out some chill-out hot spots, but also by default, indicate those parts of the country like the East Midlands where such facilities are lacking.  But enough of such musings – let me get back to more of Caroline’s fabulous music.

This next track is a real Ceroc chill-out favourite.  As well as a beat perfect to SILC to, Solo dancing by Indiana has passages that offer opportunities for some real expressions of musicality.  Listen to the change of mood at 1 minute 47 seconds to see what I mean.

My ‘What was that track’ moment

In my book the mark of a good DJ is the depth of their own finds.  Caroline played so many tracks that I’d just never heard before and everyone was perfect to dance to in a chilled slotted fashion.  One track really stood out and after my dance was over I was on the stage asking Caroline, ‘What was that track’.

It turned out to be The Wolf by The Spencer Lee Band.  This track appears on the 50 Shades – Freed soundtrack, which shouldn’t distract from the fact that its a fabulous piece of dance music.

It’s as funky as hell with added attitude, and its what SILC and The Slot were made for.  I’ll be putting together a soundtrack to my Tea Dance Tour.  Something tells me that this track will make the cut.

What a difference five years makes

Sadly it’s taken a long time for me to return to Lickey End.  In that time I tried and gave up on West Coast Swing, and every time I went to the Southport Weekender I looked on enviously at the dancers in the SILC Zone.  After putting myself through a lot of SILC lessons, and a lot of stress to boot, I thought I was ready to give it another go.

It turned out to be the right decision, and I enjoyed a wonderful evening of dancing.  I don’t doubt that the other people there also enjoyed Debbie and Caroline’s music.  Here’s Gail a regular at Lickey End:

This is my favourite of Debbie’s venue.  I love the intimacy of the venue, and the fact the music is not fast and furious.

Gail told me how she loves the slotted style of dancing, and there’s no doubt that this is the style adopted by most of the dancers.  I’ll join Gail in recommending this venue to anyone who wants to gain more experience in dancing to chill-out tunes in the so called Slotted way.

Tel captures the joy of this Sunday dance venue

I was lucky to be accompanied on my visit to Lickey End by my good friend photographer Tel Jenkins.  My thanks to Tel for providing the photos for this review.  Tel’s full photo album of our visit to Ceroc Groove’s Lickey End SILC on Sunday event is available on my Modern Jive Dancer Facebook Page.

My thanks also to June Ward on the door who made myself and Tel feel very welcome.  In fact, myself and Tel would like to extend our thanks to all the ladies for our fabulous dances.

Next stop Southport

I hope you’ll join me as I put my slotted dancing style to the test at The Southport Weekender.  Southport perhaps doesn’t have the image of a traditional tea dance, but the Sunday afternoon sessions in the open air dancing to some top chill-out music fits the bill perfectly.

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

Related articles

Caroline Houlton’s Southport Thunderball Room set

For details of the Tea Dance image see the acknowledgement below

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.