My SILC Journey prior to Fresh

Before I start my review of Steve’s SILC classes, I want to tell you a little about my own struggle with this new style of dancing.  I suspect that my attempts to grasp this smooth slotted style will resonate with many readers.  I also hope it will offer some comfort to any people who are still struggling with it.

I’m possibly guilty of over using the word ‘Journey’ in my posts, but it sums up for me all the highs and lows of trying to improve my dancing.  Most of us started out at the same place – in our first Ceroc class night, with our brains in a frazzled state as we tried to grasp those first three moves.

Everyone of us has made progress of sorts, but it didn’t happen by waving a magic wand.  It comes through attending a lot of classes and saying ‘sorry’ more times than you can remember.  We all suffered embarrassment and many of us guys have had our egos shot to pieces.  It was a journey all right.

I’m driven by the chilled music

You do sometimes wonder why we put ourselves through the pain of learning something new, but thankfully we all find our own motivation.  My motivation for sticking with Ceroc was because I just wanted to dance again.  The motivation behind my SILC journey was almost solely down to a desire to dance to chilled music.

I remember the first time I went to a Ceroc Southport Weekender, and going in to what was then known as the Blues Room.  I loved the chilled music I heard there, but I just wasn’t equipped to dance to it.

I tried just slowing my Ceroc Beginners moves down but they proved cumbersome to say the least.  The Octopus slowed down is no substitute for the smooth slotted style moves I saw that weekend.

I want to be able to dance with a stranger

Over the past year I’ve really tried to learn the moves and techniques that are needed to dance to chilled music in a slotted style.  I even attended a SILC in Six series of lessons.  I have made some progress, but I only have confidence to dance with people I know from back home – essentially the ones I did the six SILC lessons with.

At my last visit to Southport I went again to the Blues Room – now re branded as The SILC Zone.  Again I just watched, not having the courage to ask someone I didn’t know, to dance in the slotted smooth style.

I review Nicola’s Southport SILC Zone

Every Southport Weekender I review the music of one Thunderball Room DJ set and one from The SILC Zone.  In February I chose Nicola’s late night set to review (see link below).  Nicola’s started her set with a track that was just the kind of music that I have so wanted to dance to.

I was joined in the first part of Nicola’s set by Jo, my regular dance partner from back home in Nottingham.  We both instantly realised that this first track was our chance to show what progress we had made with our SILC/Slotted style of dancing.  We did well, and when we did go wrong we were easy on each other.

I find myself as an envious on-looker

Sadly, Jo soon left to go back to the Thunderball Room, as I stayed to complete my review of Nicola’s music.  This meant that my only chance to dance to more of Nicola’s wonderful chilled music was to ask someone I didn’t know.  Even though I’d been pleased with my dance with Jo, I still didn’t have the confidence to ask anyone else to dance.  I was once again an envious on-looker.

Here’s the delicious track that Nicola played to open her set, and the one that I managed a reasonable slotted SILC style dance with Jo.  It’s called Nobody and is by the French singer Niia.  It’s become quite a favourite on the smooth jive circuit, and hopefully it will create the right mood to read about Steve’s lesson.

Nicola was really pleased with the interest in SILC

When you watch an accomplished couple SILC-ing it really looks fabulous, but sadly I see little of it in the main room freestyles that I visit writing reviews for my blog.  I can’t help wondering if it has struggled to take off.  Nicola gave me a little background to SILC in Scotland.

I brought the first SILC workshop to Scotland soon after it’s release, and it was sold out weeks in advance.  Interest in SILC was very high when it first started, since then it’s numbers have fallen, so I was delighted at just how many people were at Steve’s classes.

If interest in SILC had waned a little since its introduction, you wouldn’t have guessed it from the turnout for Steve’s three classes.  Once again it showed the eagerness of the Fresh Weekenders to embrace large chunks of the workshop programme that Nicola had put together.

People love Steve’s Cheeky Chappy approach?

Before I start focusing on Steve’s lesson here’s another quote from Nicola.  We were discussing the pleasing numbers that turned out for the SILC classes:

. . . although I do think some people were at Steve’s class for his cheeky charm!

Nicola wasn’t the only one to comment on Steve’s cheeky chappy humour.  Here’s Susanne from Edinburgh:

The lessons were such good fun.  My favourites were Steve’s SILC classes.  A friend of mine, who knew I was going to Fresh, and had heard that Steve would be teaching, insisted I go to his classes.  I’m so pleased I did, because Steve is so funny and I never stopped smiling.

Learning something new can at times be a challenge.  SILC is not easy to get your head round, particularly when it’s your first lesson, so having a teacher, who can make it fun by having a bit of a laugh is a big advantage.  Steve certainly knows how to have a laugh with his cheeky patter, but never does it distract from his clear delivery.

The Steve and Nardiya Show

I know that this class was advertised as being taught by Steve Thomas, but I’m going to give Nardiya equal billing.  I’ve been to quite a few of Steve’s lessons over the years and Nardiya has always been his demo.

Nardiya says very little, though she does sometimes let out a rye smile at some of Steve’s jokes (remember she must have heard them more than a few times).

It matters little that Nardiya gives minimal ongoing commentary, because the elegance and smoothness of her movement in response to Steve’s signals is exactly what is needed, and it makes for a perfect teaching partnership.

As always Nardiya was on hand to demonstrate the smooth slotted style taught by Steve

SILC offers the ladies more opportunities for expression

I’m sure the way Nardiya gracefully moves up and down the slot, must be quite an inspiration for the ladies.  I’ve always felt that Ceroc was, at times, a man’s dance.  The man chooses the moves, and while it can still be a great dance for the ladies, they often get little opportunities to really express their own musicality.

Watching Steve guide Nardiya up and down the slot, I could see that the ladies have a lot more freedom to express themselves with SILC.  As a man I love the idea that here is a style of dancing that offers more opportunities for my lady partners to showcase their own dancing finesse.

Many people were SILC first-timers

At the beginning of the class Steve asked for a show of hands go see how many had done some SILC before.  Interestingly quite a few had, but a large part of the class was doing it for the first time.

I’m always pleased to see more experienced dancers in a beginners class.  The SILC techniques do take a bit of getting used to, and it was great to have people in the lines who could help out with what Steve and Nardiya were demonstrating at the front.

The Slot technique is so important

In my review of Jo Hart’s Blues Room Toolkit classes (see link below), that ran simultaneously with Steve’s SILC classes, I explained that Jo concentrated on technique rather than moves .  It’s the same for SILC, and I thought that Steve and Nardiya explained these techniques very well.

One of the most important concepts of SILC is that it is danced on The Slot, and the ladies are given the opportunity to move up and down this slot unimpeded so that they can showcase their own musicality.  However for some dancers the idea of The Slot is a bit of a mystery.

As I tour around the country for my blog, apart from the odd occasion – Bristol’s Switch being one – I see very little dancing in The Slot.  It’s certainly the case in my East Midlands base.  Instead we dance in what is often described as a Rotational way.

Steve properly explains The Slot

Steve explained this idea of The Slot with a Three Train Track analogy.  I have no idea whether Steve is the person who devised this way of explaining how dancing in The Slot works, but he certainly used it to great effect.  So much so that it gave me one of the missing pieces in my SILC jigsaw.  Let me try and explain.

There are three parallel train tracks.  The two outside ones are Tracks 1 & 3 and the middle one is Track 2.  Steve explained how Track 2 is for the almost exclusive use of the ladies and the men stick to the two outside tracks allowing the lady to move unhindered along their track.

As the men execute the moves they may cross over from Track 1 to Track 3, but only go in to Track 2 if they want to block the lady.  They might block the ladies progress down The Slot to create a pause, or give the lady a showcasing moment.

What’s important is that I got it

It doesn’t really matter if I haven’t explained that well enough.  Steve had three forty minute lessons to explain it – I had only three paragraphs.  What is important is that Steve, with Nardiya’s help, used this explanation to get over the possibilities The Slot offers SILC in a way, I for one, could really take on board.

I’ve often said that it’s impossible to go to a lesson or workshop and remember everything you’ve been taught.  You get your money’s worth if you can just take away a couple of things.  For me, that was Steve’s explaining of the three train tracks.  I’d been told about this before, but now it clicked.  I suspect that it clicked for a lot of other people too.

Remember progress is progress no matter how small.  That’s why becoming a better dancer is, if I may use an already over used word, something of a journey – at times a bloody long journey.  But you have to believe you’ll get there.

Let’s hear some more chilled music

Sorry, I was getting a bit deep there, so lets chill-out with some more music that works so well for SILC.  Here’s a track I had the pleasure of dancing to last week.  It came from DJ Kevin Hill’s playlist for Ceroc Surrey’s Byfleet Tea Dance.

It’s a wonderful contemporary Tropical House version of the Backstreet Boys I want it that way by Manuel Costa.  Thankfully there was room to lay out the three train tracks.  How I got on I’ll tell you later.

Another great way of explaining things

One of the reasons The Slot gives the ladies great opportunities to showcase their musicality is that the man can make the slot run the length of the dance floor if there is room.  One key technique is for the ladies to keep going down The Slot, until the man simply creates tension in his hand lead, and so brings them to a halt.

I hope the ladies won’t mind me saying that many of them stop too soon when trying SILC for the first time.  It’s understandable, as they are used to doing normal Ceroc moves with fixed footwork.  Steve dealt with this issue with the help of a large rubber band.

Again I don’t know who devised this way of explaining an important SILC technique, but Steve used it brilliantly, and also got one of the biggest laughs of the weekend out of it.  Before any of us caught sight of the metre long latex bands he asked the following question:

Does anyone have a latex allergy?

I’ll leave it to your imagination to explain why we all laughed, but Steve delivered the line to perfection with the cheeky chappy humour that Nicola had alluded to earlier.

I hadn’t realised that a latex allergy was a serious matter, and it turned out that there were a couple of people who put their hands up, so well done to Steve for asking the question, albeit with great humour.

Guys, let the ladies travel down the slot smoothly

With one end of the latex band wrapped round the man’s wrist and the other end wrapped round the ladies, Steve explained the idea that the ladies continue down The Slot until they felt the latex band tighten.

The band tightens relatively slowly and this emphasises the smoothness of the SILC style.  The men are asked to allow the ladies to settle at the end of The Slot, before starting on the next move.

Now the ladies were able to appreciate the idea that they keep going until the man wants them to stop.  Moreover Steve encouraged the men to allow the ladies that little extra time travelling down The Slot.  This acts to lengthen the moves and again adds to the smoothness.

Opposition is SILC speak for tension

Once the tension in the band brought the ladies to a halt, Steve now taught the technique that sends the signal to the lady to start back along the track.  In Ceroc we tend to pull the lady towards us to start the next move.  In SILC you send this message to your lady by releasing what is called opposition.

Rather than pull the latex band tighter, the men were asked to just release the tension in the band.  When the lady feels the band slacken she then starts to move back along The Slot.  Again this adds to the smoothness of the dance.

In Ceroc teachers talk about tension and compression.  In SILC this tension is called Opposition.  So at the end of The Slot you create opposition, and then after the lady has settled you release Opposition.

SILC’s language might be it’s own worse enemy

I mentioned earlier that SILC might have struggled to get established.  I wonder if one of its problems is it’s language.  The renaming of tension or compression as Opposition just makes SILC sound different to Ceroc when in fact they have  a lot in common.

Many of the moves have also been renamed.  The Caress of Ceroc is now The Veil.  Take the Ceroc Spin for instance.  This is a popular move that the men can lead and ladies can do all night long.  In SILC The Ceroc Spin is done in a more linear fashion, but it’s still a Ceroc Spin, but for SILC it’s called a Chainé Turn.

No wonder that some people think that they have to almost unlearn Ceroc to do SILC.  It seems there are lots of ways that Ceroc is similar to SILC.  Perhaps the similarities need to be re-emphasised

Three lessons from Beginners to Advanced

Steve did three lessons entitled Foundation, Progressive, and Developmental.  Now I might be a little unkind to the people who developed the SILC Dance Syllabus, when I ask why they couldn’t be just called Beginners, Intermediate and Advanced.  It all makes SILC sound more difficult than it really is.

I actually only did the first two lessons.  I always think it’s important not to overload yourself at weekenders, and I knew the advanced lesson would be beyond me.  Better to have grasped the concepts in the first two lessons.

Having said that there was still a good turn out for the Developmental class so credit to the Fresh Weekenderers – some of you guys had real staying power

Steve and Nardiya teach some beautiful flowing moves

In the two lessons that I attended Steve and Nardiya taught some beautiful flowing moves, and it’s to their credit that by the end of the lesson, the people executed them really well.

By the end of the second lesson I felt I could lead about six moves.  Now that might not sound a lot, given that Steve and Nardiya had taught a lot more, but mixed up it’s enough to get through a three minute dance.

And, isn’t it better to have grasped the basic technique and do a few a moves well, than feel disappointed that you couldn’t remember all the moves you were taught.

Steve and Nardiya start a flowing move with a shoulder roll

At last I can do a Whip properly

Two Southports ago I actually attended a Whips Master Class with Steve and Nardiya.  I think I remembered just one whip!  That’s not a reflection on Steve’s teaching.  The lesson was fab, but it just shows how slowly I learn and add new moves.

In Steve’s second lesson he taught a SILC whip that I thought I could already do.  There was just one thing missing and as I listened to Steve it suddenly clicked what it was.

It’s never easy to explain moves on paper, but hopefully it’s worth me trying, if only because it will give me an opportunity to mention those train tracks.

Your train track guide to The Whip

The lady is at the end of The Slot, on the middle Track 2.  She has turned to face you.  You are right hand to right hand.  You, the man, are on Track 1.

You release the opposition (tension, compression – what ever you want to call it) and the lady starts to move towards you down her Track 2.

As she comes towards you, you take your hand up around her back and rest it on her shoulder blade.  You then redirect her so she is facing the end of The Slot she started out from – that’s the Whip action.

As you redirect the lady, you cross over her middle train track, to your track 3 on the other side.  The lady can now progress down her own Track 2 to the end of The Slot.

It’s the Shoulder Blade Paul

Don’t worry if you can’t follow that.  The point I want to make is about the shoulder blade.  I’ve been doing that whip for a while, but my hand has been on the lower back.  It still worked, but not smoothly, and now I realise perhaps not comfortably for my lady partner.

Here’s the point.  Go to a weekender, do the lessons, and if you only come away with one or two things that you put in to practice then that’s OK.  For me one of the things I brought away from Fresh was the shoulder blade instruction from Steve.

Remember that your progress to be a better dancer is a ‘Journey’ – it doesn’t matter how how long it takes, just keep going to lessons and you will eventually get there.

Practice makes perfect

It’s one thing to learn something in a class, it’s another thing to remember it.  Practice is what helps reinforce what you have learnt, and in that way you have a chance of retaining it.

Ever since Fresh I’ve been doing that whip every time I get a chance to dance, but that leads me to a very important point.  Steve and Nardiya’s classes were fabulous, and their experience at teaching the SILC techniques showed in the relaxed fun way they were taught.

But here’s the point.  When will these people get another opportunity to have a SILC lesson.  When will they get a chance to dance to more chilled out music where they can practice their SILC techniques.  Where does a lady get to dance with a man who has also made a start on their own SILC Journey?

This is a problem not just in Scotland.  It’s one of the reasons that SILC has failed to get established back home in The East Midlands.

There might be a solution

I discussed this problem of follow up lessons with Susan, who was also at Fresh.  Susan is someone, like myself, who would love to be able to dance more confidently to chilled dance music:

I’ve been to one of Nicola’s SILC workshops, though it was a while ago.  Nicola usually runs her SILC workshops on a Sunday afternoon, but sadly my busy family life doesn’t allow me that time.

It would be wonderful if, surreptitiously, Nicola just incorporated more SILC techniques and moves into a standard Ceroc class.

Susan has hit on a possible solution to providing a follow up to weekenders like Fresh with their SILC workshops.  Here’s my spin on it.

Perhaps Intermediate Classes should be more standardised

Ceroc Beginners Classes are quite standardised.  I understand that each week the same three move routines are done at all venues.  However there is a marked difference in how Intermediate Level Classes are run.

As I travel round for my blog, I’ve seen some that have a sequence of moves perfectly suited to dancing in a slotted style, while other classes make no mention of the slot.  Interestingly the moves are taught in a linear fashion on the stage, but I rarely hear mention of Steve’s three-train-track analogy, or anything vaguely similar.`

I’m not suggesting that the individuality of intermediate classes are taken away from Ceroc franchisees, but might there be a middle ground.  The first thing I would suggest is that more attention is given to the smooth slotted style of dancing – then  going to a SILC class wouldn’t be such a culture shock to so many people.

I discussed this issue with Nicola, who is very keen to promote the flowing style characteristic of SILC:

I think SILC is wonderful for giving the ladies clear direction on where to put her feet, and applying it to all Ceroc moves makes for a fantastic, flowing dance experience.

With some moves I do over emphasise The Slot for them to work properly.  To be honest we all teach every move in a straight line, at all classes for as long as I remember.  In over 20 years I’ve never seen a move taught ‘rotationally’.

However I understand that in reality many people do end up dancing in a rotational way.  Something for you to address another day perhaps Paul.

Nicola’s right.  It is a subject for another day, and I keep promising myself to find time to write an article entitled ‘To Slot or Not!’

The proof of the pudding is in the eating

I started this post by admitting that prior to the Fresh weekender I didn’t have the confidence to ask a stranger to dance in a smooth slotted style.  So after attending Steve and Nardiya’s two SILC lessons did I feel I was any more prepared?

On the Sunday of the weekender the main hall was given over to chilled music.  So how did I get on?  I’ll let you know when I write my review of the Sunday Tea Dance.  I’ll also tell you about the dance I had to the Manuel Costa track I mentioned above.

Other Fresh Reviews

20 Things we love about Ceroc Perth’s Fresh Weekender

Nicola and Sheena’s Fresh Main Room DJ sets

Jo Hart’s Blues Room Toolkit Workshops

Other Related Articles

Nicola Di Folco’s Southport SILC Zone set