Let’s not forget the people who ensure the vitality of this dance scene

Please never take this wonderful dance scene for granted.  Behind its success and vitality lie the endeavours and passion of a lot of people.  The teachers who somehow get us through those first few lessons without quitting.  The DJs who play the fabulous music that compels us to get on to the dance floor.

Let’s not forget too, the Crew and Taxi’s who give us so much support in those early days.  And while I’m at it, let me give a shout out to the hundreds of people who every week greet us at the door and take our money.

Now I mention all this because, as I travel around the country reviewing venues, I’ve meet a lot of people whose passion is the life blood of our wonderful dance community.  Last Sunday I met four more such people, as my Tea Dance Tour called in at the FunkyLush freestyle in Slough in Berkshire.

Two guys and two ladies on a mission

I was greeted very warmly on the door by sisters Kati and Andrea, and they very kindly spent time with me chatting about their dance history and ideas for eco-friendly dance venues.  I’ll leave details of our chat until later, because first I want to focus on the two guys I met – Toby Cross (AKA Toby wan Kenobe)  and Dayle Blencowe (AKA The Doc).

These two fun lovin’ guys are DJs with a passion for dance music, and they have developed a chill-out playlist that offers a fabulous mix of funky and smooth tracks, that is worthy of some consideration.  For the moment I’ll just say that I loved it, but there’s something I want to mention first – branding.

Love the FunkyLush Branding

When I ran my own business, I was responsible for the marketing, and I soon learnt the value of good branding.  As I did a little background research on FunkyLush, I came across some wonderful visual imagery, that I’m going to award the ‘Dance Branding of The Year’ gong – unless someone else comes up with something that makes me smile as much, and more importantly makes me engage with more.

So clever are the images that Toby and Dayle have created to promote their brand of dance music, that I’ll unashamedly feature a couple in the review.  Here’s the first featuring from left to right: Dayle, Toby, Dayle again, Toby again, then just for good measure Dayle once more and finally Toby again.  Just love the two guys in their chill-out sunglasses pose.

Toby and Dayle must have had a lot of fun creating this fabulous brand imagery

Of course you can’t dance to a brand

It was this visual branding that got my attention, and had me decide to put FunkyLush on my list of Sunday Tea Dances to visit.  But having got my attention, and set me off on another leg of the tour, I needed to see this joyous vibe transferred to the dance floor.  I needed to check out the music.  Was it as good as these images had very subtlety signalled to my dance brain?

There is a lot of competition for our dancing pound, and in fact Berkshire is a bit of a Sunday Tea Dance hot spot, so it’s even more important to get the offer right.

The music is very much a part of it, and as I’ve travelled round the Sunday venues I’ve seen many different approaches to the DJs playlists.

Two of the best venues on my tour so far have been Ceroc Beds & Bucks Northchurch Afternoon Delight and Strictly Ceroc’s Bristol SILC Sunday.  Interestingly the playlists were very different.  DJ Marc Forster’s playlist at Northchurch was essentially main room, until it chilled out for the last hour, while Caine Langford’s Bristol playlist was SILC flavoured throughout, with some of the mellowest tracks I’ve heard on the tour.

Where did the boys pitch their music?

I love that my blog gives me opportunities to review DJs music, but I’ve long realised that trying to describe a playlist is no easy task.  Just reproducing a track list would be a little lazy and certainly not fair to the DJs themselves.  I’ve taken to featuring some of the DJs tracks for you to listen to, but there’s a limit to how many I can sensibly embed, so it’s very difficult to give a real sense of the music vibe.

Toby and Dayle’s playlist was probably positioned mid way between Marc Forster’s and Caine Langford’s, but it had it’s own special tracks that kept me interested on the dance floor all afternoon.  It’s a playlist that does differentiate these guys from their competition, and I just hope I can do it justice, so that you will be enthused enough to go and dance to it.

The FunkyLush Website is a great place to start

Many dance organisations rely solely on their Facebook pages for marketing, but a good website is still worth investing in, and Toby and Dayle have developed a site that I found engaging and gave me a much bigger picture of their musical offering (see link below).

It was on the FunkyLush website that I discovered the fun loving imagery I mentioned above, and there is also an interesting bio-pic giving details of the FunkyLush backstory.  What really impressed was the opportunity to dip in to a sample playlist that gives a real flavour of the musical delights that are in store for you at one of their gigs.

It was on the website that I found this quote amongst an interesting history of the FunkyLush heritage:

FunkyLush is a ‘rollicking-around-the-world in a funky time machine’ musical adventure. We are passionate about music and creating truly inspirational dance experiences.

Our musical genres are many and varied ranging across R&B/Soul, Blues, Slower House, Funk, Smooth-groves, Alternative, Latin and Nu-Tango.

That’s quite an eclectic selection, and I found myself ticking them off during the afternoon.  The guys will be pleased to know I ticked them all off except for one.  I wasn’t really sure what Alternative really meant, but hopefully I got it after I listened to the tracks again, as I wrote this review.

Lets start with Slower House

Here is not the place to do a history of the evolution of House Music from its roots in Chicago back in the early ’80s, but lets just say that a lot of the chill-out music we dance to is often referred to as Tropical House – I think that’s the same as Slower House – and the playlist was sprinkled with some gorgeous examples.

So to get us in to the laid back groove that Toby and Dayle created on Sunday afternoon, I’ll start by featuring Hook N Sling’s If you’re hearing this, featuring the vocals of Parson James & Betty Who.

Not only does the track have a gorgeous chill-out vibe, but it also has a beat that’s so easy to connect with.  What I loved was the way a heavy bass line kept kicking in, to take the track to a higher level worthy of a wonderful dance.  

Let’s talk Smooth Dancing

Before I lose myself in Toby and Dayle’s fabulous music I need to talk dancing.  Followers of my Tea Dance Tour will know that I’ve been on a journey (sorry for the pun) to learn how to dance to smoother slower tracks.  This has essentially meant that I’ve had to learn to dance in a modern more slotted style.

When I started out, I had done a few SILC lessons, but my repertoire of moves was so limited that I had little confidence that I could get through a three minute track without a lot of potential boring repetition.

At the some of the venues I’ve visited, there has been the provision of smooth dance classes which have helped immensely, but its been the music that has really pushed me to improve.

You see you can’t dance to slower tracks like If you’re hearing this in what I’ll call a rotational style – the way I was so used to dancing in my home territory of The East Midlands.  The thing is, that if I hadn’t worked hard at learning to dance in a Smooth Slotted style, I would have spent a lot of time sitting out on Sunday afternoon.

This music needs a different style of dancing

Here’s another selection from Sunday, Coming up a 2018 track by SG Lewis.  It a perfect example of a FunkyLush track – just listen to the funky bass intro.  I was born to dance to bass lines like this, and I’ve disco danced to tracks like this all my dance life, but partner dancing needs a different approach.  And remember guys your partner wants opportunities to play with the beat too.

The slotted style is so suited to this type of funk infused track.  That in the end is why I had to learn to dance in this more contemporary style.  I was fed up with not being able to join in when DJs played these gorgeous chill-out tracks.

The guys are as cool as the music

Dancing to tracks like Coming up makes me feel kind of cool.  I love telling my daughters about the contemporary tracks I dance to.  Of course daughters are never going to believe their dad’s are cool on the dance floor – they’ve seen too much Dad Dancing, but hey I can fantasise can’t I.  Fantasy is a surely a significant element of the human spirit.

Now I mention this because these two guys do their fair share of fantasising.  Here’s one of the images from their website – Blues Brothers indeed!  But then how many of us have dressed up to go to a Blues Brothers Tribute Night.  ‘Hey Toby, where did you get that hat?’  Now play another cool track and I’ll get my sunglasses out.

I meet Kati and Andrea on the door

I often think that the people who greet us on the door are some of the most important people in our dance world.  They are the ones who hopefully make us feel welcome, and that’s particularly important to me when, as on Sunday, I can know no one at a venue.   The people who ran the door were sisters Kati and Andrea.  Not only did they make me feel very welcome, they chatted with me about their own dance journey.

We soon got on to the subject of the Slotted dancing style.  I asked them where they had picked up this style.  Kati explained:

We both went to West Coast Swing lesson run by Kevin and Heather Flynn in Hatfield.  We really enjoyed the classes and loved the smoothness of West Coast.

The mentioning of West Coast Swing is interesting.  In the above image you can see that Toby describes FunkyLush as a fusion of styles including West Coast Swing.  This dance style, which developed on The West Coast of America, was based around the idea of moving up and down a slot in a smooth manner.

The West Coast Swing effect

West Coast Swing has had a major impact on Modern Jive dancing.  Its smoother style became one of the favoured progressions from Modern Jive and Ceroc.  The attraction of Modern Jive is that it is easy to pick up, but for some people it can soon lose its appeal, and they look to move on to more challenging formats.

Dayle also DJs for Thames Valley Ceroc at their Twyford class night and has noticed this drift to other dance formats:

Ceroc has been really great to me, and I’m a great advocate for its classes and freestyles, but over the years I’ve seen it lose many people to West Coast Swing, Tango, Blues and other dance styles.

FunkyLush is our way of putting something back in to the dance community that has served us well, and we hope we can provide a place for these people to come back together and socialise and hopefully enjoy a fun afternoon.

That’s a great example of the endeavours and passion I spoke about in my opening paragraph, and the more I listened to the music, the more I understood Dayle and Toby’s mission.

West Coast Swing has had a positive impact

There’s no doubt that West Coast has attracted people away from Modern Jive venues, and it’s one of the reasons that Ceroc developed the SILC syllabus, with its emphasis on the slot, to try and stop the drift away.

But West Coast has had a positive impact on Modern Jive and Ceroc, as it offers chill-out venues like FunkyLush a large cohort of dancers who can dance to slower funkier rhythms – Kati and Andrea being two such people.

On my tour of Tea Dances I’ve become aware that certain parts of the country are Slotted dancing hot spots.  It seems that they are all in areas where West Coast Swing is well established.  I’ve bemoaned many times the lack of chill-out venues in the East Midlands.  One of the reasons is that there are no regular West Coast Swing classes available, to generate dancers to populate any chill-out freestyles that start up.

The playlist had a West Coast input

The FunkyLush playlist certainly shows the influence of West Coast Swing, and many of the tracks were suited to this style of dancing.  I’ve picked out a track that I’m sure would suit any West Coast junkie.

Devil take my soul by Son of Dave is a perfect track to West Coast to.  Now West Coast isn’t easy – I tried it for three months and gave it up as a bad job!  However, my simplified slotted dance style which, I describe as West Coast Swing without the Triple Step, works just as well and the Son of Dave track gave me one of my favourite dances of the afternoon.

I’ve featured Devil take my Soul for another reason. It ticks lots of those boxes that Toby mentioned in the description of a FunkyLush playlist.  It’s as funky as hell and it’s harmonica driven pulse gives it a real bluesy feel.  Just wondering if it ticks the Alternative button too?

Everyone’s dancing smoothly

It wasn’t long before I asked Kati and Andrea on to the dance floor and they showed their West Coast pedigree with some wonderful flowing movement up and down The Slot.  That after all is what contemporary dancing is about – the man giving the ladies a lovely smooth dance.  Embarrassingly I look back and think how this style of dancing was once so alien to me.

In the rotational style of dancing, practised by most people, the man has a tendency to push and pull, albeit smoothly, the lady in to position.  There is a lot of stirring – where the man encourages the ladies through their spins, turns and returns.

It’s no wonder that when I speak to ladies about this smoother style of dancing they all prefer it.  Sadly in normal main room settings they find few men who will dance in this way.

But it wasn’t the case here at Burnham Park.  In between dances I found myself watching some of the other men dance.  They just about all danced, all the time in a slotted style and the result was an afternoon of gentle smooth dancing for the ladies.

Here’s another of the guy’s tracks, that provided the backdrop to this chilled-out dancing.   All the tracks I’ve featured so far, and indeed most of the playlist was fresh to my dance ears, but I knew this next track.

DJon Maya Mai from Synapson, featuring the vocals of Victor Deme, has established itself as a chilled classic that I’ve danced to a few times now.  There is only one way to dance to it – slowly and smoothly.

I love it when ladies sabotage

Not knowing anyone, I was particularly pleased that Kati and Andrea made me feel so at home, but I have to say that all the ladies I asked to dance made me feel instantly comfortable as we started to dance.  All of them were proficient at dancing in the slot and I was able to practice my smooth moves and techniques knowing that if I went wrong it would be no big deal.

In one of these dances my lady partner kept sabotaging me.  Now I know men who hate being sabotaged, but I love it.  I see it as a sign of the lady essentially enjoying herself, and it makes me look a better dancer than I really am.

During the dance I would open up the slot, so that the lady could pass me with say five steps in five beats.  Several times, as my partner passed me she would take hold of my arm and take two or three extra beats to play with the music.  Love it!  I asked her about her obvious love of sabotaging.  Her answer was very interesting:

I decided to learn how to lead myself.  As I joined in with the men I could see that it was pretty hard for them.

I quickly understand that, because the men were concentrating so much on their leading and thinking what to do next, that the inexperienced ones weren’t able to think too much about their lady partner’s experience.

I couldn’t help but think about what my partner had said about the lessons.

Let the ladies play with the music

It’s not necessarily the the men’s fault.  So many of the regular lessons seem aimed at giving us more and more complicated moves.  I do wonder if there should be more time given, to show the men how to give their partners a little time to play with the music.  My partner went on to explain her love of sabotaging:

I realised that if I as a follower wanted time to play with the music, I would need to to sabotage and take a little control.

My Tea Dance Tour has been about learning to dance in a smoother slotted style.  Here was another lesson I’d learnt – the ladies want to play, and it’s my job to give them more opportunities than perhaps I might have done previously.

I spent the rest of the afternoon trying out techniques that would give my partners the space to play with the music.  Now time for some more music.

The music in Oh Oh Guy by Sebastian, is just asking to be played with by both partners.  It has a funky beat that hits places in your dance brain that ignites ideas of musicality.  It has changes and breaks in the rhythm that invite more play time, and a funky drum riff that you just have to lose yourself in.  Better give your partner space and time then Paul.

What about Nu-Tango

The five tracks I’ve featured I hope have given a flavour of the FunkyLush eclectic playlist, but there is one omission – a Nu-Tango example.  There were quite a few Latin and Tango tracks in the playlist and it was good to see some lovely Tango dancing.  I have to say I’ve tried Tango and can’t quite see the appeal, but I know some people love it.

FunkyLush is attracting dancers who enjoy this Latin style of dancing, and I found myself watching one couple do, what I think is the more contemporary Argentine Tango to Asi Se Baila el Tango by Veronica Verdier.  This track does have quite a contemporary feel, no doubt carefully picked out by Toby and Dayle.

I try to slot-ify the Yo-yo

When I think how I danced to the music on Sunday afternoon, I can actually look back and see that I’ve made quite a bit of progress in my slotted style of dancing.  I still have  some way to go.  I’ve been helped by attending some of the classes and workshops that often accompany Sunday Tea Dances.

A workshop that I learnt a lot from was a SILC one run by Caine Langford in Bristol.  Caine gave me one great nugget of information that has speeded up my progress.  I’d always struggled with SILC.  I just couldn’t ever remember enough moves to get through a whole dance, but Caine explained that SILC was more about techniques than moves:

You already have hundreds of moves.  You just need to learn how to do them in a SILC style smoother way.

So I’m now thinking of all those traditional Ceroc and Modern Jive moves I know and seeing if I can smooth them out.  One of my favourite, and much used, moves is The Yo-yo.  I love that it gives the ladies the chance to do a sweeping Ronde at the end of it.  Trouble is, I can only make it work in a rotational way rather than a linear way.  On Sunday I had the perfect opportunity to see if I could include it in my slotted routine.

As I mentioned above all my lady partners made me feel at ease, and I felt this was a great opportunity to try a few things out, like the Yo-yo transition.  It took a while, but I think I cracked it.  I suspect that my lady partners had no idea that I was practising on them, but every time we go dancing I think we should spend a little time to improve a move or a technique.  I have a saying that has guided me throughout this tour of chill-out events:

Progress is progress, no matter how small.  If I can put all the small bits of progress together I’ll eventually get there

The track I sorted The Yo-yo out, was one that put a big tick in the Blues music box.  Dayle had played Ain’t nobody home by B.B. King amongst his Blues tracks, but I preferred The itch by Keb’ Mo’, with its wonderful guitar solo.  Not only does this track tick the Blues box it ticks a whole lot more – a true FunkyLush tune.

Eco-friendly ambitions

Most of the visits on my Tea Dance Tour have been a little more relaxed than Friday and Saturday night freestyles and I’ve had more of an opportunity to chat with people.  I mention above how I chatted with Kati and Andrea about their own dance journey.  Later on I had another chat with them and they told me about their eco-ambitions for FunkyLush.  Here’s Andrea this time:

We always like to do our bit for the environment, and so we want to make FunkyLush events as eco-friendly as possible.

As you can see we have a nice choice of cakes and drinks, and so we’ve made sure that all the disposables, like plates, napkins etc are all bio-degradable.

We even encourage people to bring their own mugs to minimise the use of plastic ones.  But even these are all properly cleaned and re-used.

I have a great respect for people who are passionate about a cause, and the two sisters made quite an impression on me.  I sadly rarely think about such matters but I’m happy to give them a plug for what is without doubt a worthy cause.  Kati went on to show me something else that made me smile:

We always have the FunkyLush fluffy pens on the deck.  It’s our little contribution to the image of FunkyLush.

I thought back to the two guys and their roles as The Blues Brothers, in trying to create a fun loving brand for FunkyLush.  It all fitted, and I duly took a photo of the pens.

Let’s do The Funky Chicken or should that be The FunkyLush Chicken

Back at base I sent the photograph to Tel, my friend who does all the photos and visuals for the blog:

Tel.  I had a wonderful time in Slough, and wondered if you could do something with this picture of some fluffy pens?

Indeed he did and its a first for the blog – dancing pens.  So Dayle do you have The Funky Chicken by Rufus Thomas?  My thanks to Tel as always for his creativity.

Dayle brings back a wonderful memory

Most of us who love dancing, love dance music too.  Some of us have a real passion for it.  Toby and Dayle couldn’t put that playlist together without a real passion, that has probably been with them ever since they first stepped on to a dance floor.  I recognise that passion because I have it too.  Dance music got me in its grip as a young man and it has never let go.

Back in the mid ’70s dance music was dominated by The Sound of Philadelphia.

Out of the Sigma Sound studios in Philadelphia came amongst others Love train by the O Jays, Disco inferno by The Trammps, TSOP by MFSB and Ain’t no stopping us now by McFadden and Whitehead.

In amongst a mountain of spirit lifting hit songs was one, that unlike the aforementioned Modern Jive classics, has disappeared back in to the dance music vaults – seemingly for ever.

That track is I’ll always love my mama by The Intruders.  It was characterised by a catchy electric piano riff that had found a resting place in my own music vault, deep in my dance brain.  On Sunday Dayle played a contemporary track as uplifting as any Philadelphia hit and there in the back ground I heard that same piano riff.

It brought wonderful dance memories back and proved yet again that there is something rather special about dance music, and it is worth the passion we give to it.  I’ll finish by featuring the track from Sunday that triggered my dance memory, the Jean Tonique Edit of Get involved by Rahael Sadiq & Q Tips.  You’ll hear the electric piano riff kick in at eleven seconds.  Nice one guys.  Thank you.

This was an impressive playlist

The music on Sunday afternoon was top draw.  It was perfect for a chill-out session, involving smooth slotted style dancing, and if you wanted, some Tango and Latin dancing.  I was very impressed.  What impressed more was that I knew hardly any of the tracks, even though I spend my life reviewing DJ’s playlists.

As I closed my note book there were still three or four tracks that I’d love to talk about – ones that give you more of the flavour of what FunkyLush is about, but the word count is against me.

Toby and Dayle must spend hours searching for this music, and the result is a wonderful mix that is a joy to dance to.  It’s also a playlist that differentiates FunkyLush from its competitors, and I can only recommend it very highly.  So guys take a bow.

While Toby and Dayle put the playlist together it was left to Dayle to spin the tracks

POSTSCRIPT:  Dayle got in touch to say that FunkyLush are on Spotify, where they have posted a variety of playlists to enjoy.  Search for ‘funkylush’ and/or ‘blencowe’.

Related Links

Visit The FunkLush Website

The Tea Dance Tour Articles and Reviews

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

The Tea Dance Tour takes to The Thames

The Tea Dance Tour sails in to Bristol – The Workshop

The Tea Dance Tour sails in to Bristol – The Freestyle

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.