The third class visit on my London road trip

It’s been a busy few days.  You see last week I was down in London visiting my daughters, so I’d taken the opportunity to do a bit of a road trip and visit three class nights – so that’s three reviews to write.

Now, I love writing, but more importantly I love promoting the wonderful world of Ceroc and Modern Jive, and each of the three classes has given me something different and very positive to write and about.  Here goes then with review number three – The Ceroc Surrey class in Byfleet, with another positive tale to tell

Dance classes must create a friendly vibe

If dance classes are to survive and prosper they need to be more than just a place where you learn a few dance moves.  They will not flourish unless they also meet the need for people to have a good social night out.  Ceroc is of course a partner dance, and it’s essential that classes create a friendly vibe so that everybody is happy to dance with everyone else.  Get that right and people will come for the social side as well as the dancing.

The best classes have a sense of belonging

You can always tell when a dance class is successful, because there is a feeling that everyone belongs to it.  This is something I sensed within minutes of walking in to Byfleet Village Hall.  I arrived just after the lesson had started, so I was straight in to the lines of the Beginners Class, and it didn’t take long to see why this class had such a wonderful feel.

The beginners lines were full of experienced dancers

What I look for at class nights is how well beginners are looked after.  A throughput of beginners is essential to maintain the viability of this wonderful dance scene.  If beginners don’t stay long enough to get the Ceroc Bug, there’ll be no new faces at freestyles, and the numbers will soon decline.

I joined the beginners lines just as the second move was being taught and already the hall was packed.  It was pretty obvious that a lot of the people in the class were actually intermediate level dancers.  The presence of experienced dances is a god send to these beginners classes, as these dancers are able to reinforce the instructions from the stage.

Ceroc insists on a high standard of teaching

As I go around Ceroc class venues I see some wonderful teaching, which is not surprising because Ceroc insists that the teachers are trained to a very high level.  I’m sure that if I conducted a poll of people at a freestyle everyone would remember their first Ceroc teacher.

I learnt to dance at the Ceroc class in Derby, where Tracy was the teacher.  Tracy was one of the best, and as well as teaching the moves she had a laugh with us.  She had a lovely bubbly personality, and at times was quite mad.  That’s mad in the nicest possible way of course and I, along with hundreds of those she taught, remember her very fondly.

Bubbly teachers make for great class nights

Byfleet has it’s own bubbly personality on stage, and I think she could easily match Tracy for madness.  Jacqui Barrett is some character and is a major reason why this venue is a wonderful place to learn to dance.  Her delivery of the technical side of the lesson is spot on, but her bubbly personality adds that little bit extra which must help relax the beginners.

It’s hard for me to remember the stress of being a beginner, but I see it on the faces of most first timers, particularly the men who have to do the leading.  It’s when you don’t remember which way to turn, and wonder if you’ll ever get The Short Neck Break that you need your spirit lifting.

KEEP CALM AND HAVE SOME CAKE

Good teachers put beginners at ease, and Jacqui does it with her own quirky style – you see Jacqui is subliminally sending the following message:

Now it’s OK to get it wrong.  In fact its more fun if you go wrong – at least we can have a bit of a giggle.  You see dancing is meant to be fun.  It’s not Strictly Come Dancing, no one is marking you.  There’s no Craig Revel Horwood looking to give you a two!

You’ve come out to have a good time, and that’s more important than getting the moves right first time. Nobody gets the Short Neck Break first time, and nobody cares that much.  The moves will come with practice, but in the meantime don’t take it too seriously, just enjoy yourself and at ten o’clock have some cake.

That is a great philosophy. The Short Neck Break will come in time and so too will The Octopus.  I took me weeks to master The Octopus, but I got there.

I get to help out in the Beginners Refresher class

I’ll talk more about the cake later, but first I want to talk about the Beginners Refresher class.  There were six ladies and just one man in this class, causing a gender imbalance that would effect the teaching.  I was impressed then, that Taxi David had the foresight to ask for some male volunteers to even up the numbers.

I love helping out in the refresher classes, because it gives me an opportunity to see just how well the beginners are catered for, so I eagerly volunteered myself.  At this stage in the night I hadn’t identified myself so David, and his fellow Taxi Louise, had no idea that there was a Mystery Shopper in their mists.

Taxis David and Louise perfectly complimented Jacqui’s effervescent style

The Beginners Refresher lesson are the business end of a class night.  It’s where the beginners get the individual attention they need.  David led the lesson with the help of Louise, who he regularly called upon to demonstrate the finer points of the moves.

David and Louise proved to be an excellent team, and ran a very disciplined and effective lesson that perfectly complicated Jacqui’s initial delivery of the moves.  David had his own warm and supportive approach to his teaching, and with Louise’s help, ensured everyone could do the moves quite fluently by the end of the thirty minutes.

Time for cake and a chat

After introducing myself to David and Louise, and complimenting them on their lesson, I returned to the main hall to catch the end of the intermediate class.  More people must have arrived after the initial beginners class, because the room was packed with three rows of people.

After a couple of dancers in the freestyle session I went of to find Jacqui.  I found her in an annex room cutting up a delicious looking home-made cake.  It appears that cake is a regular tradition at Byfleet, but it has to be home-made.  It turns out that if you bake a cake you get free entry on the night. It seems there are a lot of enthusiastic bakers in Byfleet and so there is a rota.

So how have you made this class so successful?

I introduced myself to Jacqui and chatted with her about the venue.  The class is obviously very successful and I asked Jacqui what she put it down to:

I started about three years ago, and it wasn’t anything like as busy. I couldn’t help but have a lot of fun on stage and it seemed to work.  I’m a great believer that dancing is all about having fun, being a little crazy if you want, and of course making friends.

I also have a very good team around me, but its the dancers who make the night.  We have an amazing crowd here at Byfleet and they make everyone feel welcome.

Behind every successful venue is a fantastic team

I could see for myself that the dancers at Byfleet help make this a successful venue.  You sense that everyone has ownership of the night, and that makes it a wonderful social occasion.

There is no doubt though, that this success is built on the foundations laid down by Jacqui and her team. I’ve already given a mention to David and Louise, but I should also give a shout out to Tea, the lady on the desk, and Jacqui’s demo Brian. I understand that this was Brian’s first time and he seemed to be having as much fun as Jacqui on the stage.  There were also two other key members of Jacqui’s team that equally impressed.

Let’s not forget two excellent DJs

Of course these nights are primarily about dancing, and for that you need some good music and this is where this class night gets extra ticks.  The DJ-ing roles were shared between Kevin and Michaela and their music was excellent.  So good in fact, that I was prompted to ask Michaela if they ever got to DJ at freestyles. She told me that they were starting to get some gigs, and I have a feeling that these two will build quite a reputation in the area.

Getting the mix right for a class night

What impressed me about Kevin and Michaela’s music was that it catered for beginners as well as more experienced dancers.  It’s important that the music, especially in the first part of the evening, is suited to beginners.  The beat needs to be a simply 4/4 without the changes of rhythm that can throw inexperienced dancers.  Kevin and Michaela got this just right.

I asked Michaela if she would give me the titles of three of her standout track of the night.  Michaela happily obliged (though she insisted on giving me four) and her list shows just how well she catered for all the dancers in the room.

Justin Tops the list

Michaela’s first pick was Justin Timberlake’s Can’t stop the feeling. This track has been a Ceroc favourite for some time and you can see why.  The beat is perfect and it’s an easy track for beginners to get to grips with. The second was a real favourite of mine.

Regular readers of my blog will know that I am a bit of a Motown Junkie.  In 2010 Craig David made an album of Motown covers, and his fabulous version of Stevie Wonder’s Signed, sealed, delivered is another great 4/4 track that is perfect for a class night.

Michaela slows it down with one of the best

Michaela’s third pick was the track she finished the night off with.  It’s good that DJs slow the pace down, but they need to remember that it’s a class night, and tracks that are too slow can be a bit scary for inexperienced dancers.  Lady Soul by The Temptations was another perfect pick in my book, as it’s still possible to dance beginners moves to its gentler rhythm.

This track has become a real Ceroc Classic, and I love it so much, that I’ve written a whole article about it. See the link below.

There was a good mix of contemporary sounds

What impressed me about Kevin and Michaela’s playlist was the inclusion of some contemporary tracks that catered for the more experienced dancers.  Here’s the fourth track from Michaela’s list, Fresh eyes by Andy Grammer.  It’s a track that’s gives a lot of opportunity for experienced dancers to express their musicality, and its gentler tempo is also suited to the modern SILC dance moves.

The dance floor was lovin’ the music

I was lovin’ the music.  It pulled from so many genres – the catchy latin inspired rocker Cega, Sordomuda from Shakira, the rap infused Whip it from LunchMoney Lewis (what a great name that is), a great remix of Earth Wind & Fire’s September and a modern reworking of the Motown classic Can’t help myself (Sugar pie honey bunch) by Jessica Maulboy.  So good was it that I danced to just about every track, and forgot to have any cake!

Of course it’s important for me to try to gauge what other people thought of it, so let me say this. The class ended at ten to eleven, and as Michaela span Lady Soul there must have still been over forty people on the dance floor. To cap it all as the track ended a round of applause broke out in appreciation of the music.

Driving up the M1 Motorway to Edwin Starr

The following day I was on my way back up the motorway to my home town of Nottingham, thinking what a great time I’d had visiting the classes in London.  To relieve the boredom I put on a favourite dance playlist.  Suddenly I’m singing along to Edwin Starr’s H.A.P.P.Y. Radio. My mind flashes back to Byfleet. I’d ask Michaela if she would play Edwin Starr’s ’80s disco classic for me and she had duly obliged.

I now remembered the fabulous dance I had to it, and just how good the dancing had been throughout the night.  Which reminds me to thank all the ladies who accepted my offer of a dance. I remembered all the other great things too – the friendliness, the great music, the impressive Beginners’ Refresher class and of course the frivolity on the stage delivered by Jacqui.

Hopefully I’ll get to a Woking Freestyle

As one of my daughters lives in Shepperton, I get down to this part of Surrey quite often.  Jacqui was also keen to tell me how fabulous the Ceroc Surrey Woking freestyles are, and I hope to visit there before Christmas.

Lady Soul by The Temptations: Read my appreciation of this delicious dance track