My 2016/17 Modern Jive Highlights
It’s a year since I started my modern jive blog, and in that time I’ve danced on average three times a week. I must have visited over fifty different Modern Jive venues and written reviews on most of them. That’s a lot of dancing and a lot of writing.
With this in mind I thought readers might be interested in hearing about my highlights of the past year, and so I’ve decided to publish a Top 5 Picks in four categories – Best Classes, Best Freestyles, Best Music Track and Best DJ playlist. In this second part I list my Top 5 Freestyles.
Freestyles are like the dances of our youth
For those of us who get the Modern Jive dancing bug at our class nights, it’s not long before we think about going to freestyles. I actually took almost a year before I ventured to one, but I know some people make the leap in just a few weeks.
If class nights are the heartbeat of this wonderful dance scene then freestyles are what make the heart pump much faster. They are for many of us as exciting as the dances of our youth, but a whole less stressful thanks to the rule that no one should refuse the offer of a dance.
What makes a great freestyle?
For me it’s a great venue and having a lot of wonderful dances. The great dances rely on two things – lots of fabulous music and some lovely people to dance with. A great DJ playlist is not a given. It’s no easy task to keep dancers with different musical tastes happy for a full four hours, so I look for a variety of musical genres mixed in with the latest top tunes and classic tracks.
Freestyles are full of lovely people
Having lovely people to dance with is usually something you don’t need to worry about. Modern jive venues are very friendly places, and the rule that no one should refuse a dance is part of the reason why. Dancing is a joyous thing and most people just want to have a good time. While all the venues in my Top 5 were very friendly, I don’t really remember any places I visited during the past year being anything other than welcoming.
Numbers are important
One thing I do judge is the numbers attending. A half empty dance floor has little atmosphere and it’s nice to have plenty of different people to dance with. All of the venues in my Top 5 were busy, without the dance floors being unpleasantly crowded.
There was one venue that I wanted to include in my list as it is extremely popular, and the music is particularly good. However the dance floor is a little too busy at times, and subsequently there isn’t enough space to enjoy your dancing safely. I’ll be addressing this issue a little further in one of my selections.
Read the full reviews
This listing only gives a brief description of the five venues I’ve chosen, and doesn’t give any details of the DJ playlists. To read the full review, including YouTube videos of the standout tracks, please follow the links provided.
No 5 Ceroc Heaven: Kelham Hall, Newark
There are some truly iconic places to dance at and Kelham Hall, near Newark in Nottinghamshire, is one of them. I would implore everyone to make a pilgrimage to this historic venue. During the year I danced many times at Kelham but I’ve picked out the pre-Christmas freestyle as the best of them.
In the run up to Christmas everyone is in party mood. I’m sure that at freestyles all over the country, the atmosphere is noticeably heightened during the festive period, and it was no different at Kelham.
The room at Kelham is very large and it needs a great many people to give it an atmosphere. Freestyles there are always well attended, but this particular night there were close on two hundred people in attendance, and everyone was up for having a great time.
That night the music was provided by DJ Mark O’Reilly, and a packed dance floor was testament to just how good Mark’s music choice was. Mark’s playlist was full of the variety I look for, and it included one of my top tracks from the past year (I’ll be publishing my Top 5 Track List later in this series).
There were just the right number of current tracks, mixed in with the classics we love. Mark also slowed the pace every now and again, and towards the end included tracks ideal for the smoother styles of dancing like Blues and SILC.
However, a great night out is not only about the dancing. That night was also about two hundred people enjoying the company of their friends, having a laugh, forgetting their worldly worries and just partying – it was in the week before Christmas after all, and as always Tel Jenkins captured the joy of the occasion with his wonderful photography.
No 4 Yorkshire Freestyle Nights: Riley-Smith Hall, Tadcaster
Riley-Smith Hall in Tadcaster, Yorkshire is another iconic venue like Kelham Hall, and I felt it’s fabulous atmosphere as soon as I walked in. This is another large venue that needs good numbers to feel right, but after spending a wonderful night there I suspect it’s always very busy.
One of the reasons I chose Tadcaster to visit is because it’s run by DJ Kerry B. A few months earlier I’d danced at Parklands in Doncaster and loved the music Kerry had provided there. After reading my review of Parklands, a lady got in touch to say that if I loved Kerry’s music I should get myself to Riley-Smith Hall – and so I did.
This venue is well off my patch and when I walked in I sensed I knew no one. Though I did recognise a couple of ladies I’d met previously at Southport, I was understandably interested to see how friendly it was. I needn’t have worried for I was made to feel very welcome and had lots of fabulous dances.
This is a stunning venue. Riley-Smith Hall is a beautiful building situated in the historic centre of Tadcaster. It was commissioned by Mr William Riley-Smith, a Director of John Smiths Brewery, as a memorial to the local men who lost their lives in The Great War. Its Romanesque interior is a fitting tribute to their gallantry.
Kerry B has made quite a reputation for herself in this part of Northern England and you soon realise why. Her musicical offerings are everything they should be – a great mix of musical genres, and then some! Kerry played plenty of the current tracks you’d expect, but gave herself enough time to stamp her own mark on the proceedings.
Kerry treated us to classics from every corner of the great Dance Music Vaults, and then to some of her own exclusive finds. Kerry is not alone in finding great exclusive tracks, but it was the way she mixed them in to her playlist, and the reaction of the people out on the dance floor that made me take note. Here was a dance floor that was busy from very early on and it just never let up. It seemed that everybody wanted to dance to every single track. I know I did.
No 3: Ceroc Heaven: Grange Hall, Radcliffe on Trent
I make no apologies for including two Ceroc Heaven freestyles in my list. Grange Hall is one of the most popular freestyle venues in the East Midlands, but I chose to include it in my Top 5 List for one very important reason – the consideration for the safety of the dancers.
I mentioned above that numbers are important. A busy dance floor adds to the atmosphere, and it means there are plenty of people to dance with – that’s always a plus for both the men and the ladies.
However, popular venues can get so busy that the dance floor becomes too overcrowded, and dare I say it – potentially unsafe. We have all accidentally bumped in to people while dancing, but it is when we inadvertently end up standing on other dances feet that injuries can occur.
Kali, Marc and Sue who run Ceroc Heaven were very mindful that their Grange Hall freestyles were so popular, that the high numbers were becoming a problem out on the dance floor. They then took the brave decision to reduce the numbers significantly and go all ticket.
Now the dance floor is a very enjoyable place to dance again. Going all ticket has obviously reduced the revenue on the night, so I was even more impressed that they didn’t increase the ticket price.
This is a wonderful modern venue, and while it doesn’t have the character of a Kelham or Riley-Smith Hall, it is a fabulous place to dance, and whenever you choose to go you are guaranteed a great time.
The review I’ve included below is one I did of DJ Ashley Davis’ debut as a Ceroc Heaven DJ. Ashley is a rising star of Ceroc and made his debut as a SILC Zone DJ at the recent Southport Weekender. That night Ashley’s playlist was showered with great fresh dance tunes.
Ceroc Heaven have worked really hard lately to teach the SILC dance style and when Ashley is on the decks, you can expect great chilled tracks towards the end of the evening that allow you to try out your SILC and other smooth moves.
If you do decide to make a trip to Grange Hall, please remember to buy a ticket in advance. Details are on their website and Kali’s mobile is included in the Ceroc Heaven page on The UK Jive website.
No 2 Ceroc Cambs: The Priory Centre, St Neots
The Priory Centre is a venue in a gorgeous location, being situated on the banks of the River Great Ouse in the picturesque Cambridgeshire town of St Neots. The dance hall itself is modern and very large, and when I got there was empty!
So how does an empty dance floor end up being the second best freestyle on my list? Well it fills up by 9 o’clock, goes on until 12:30 and was an extremely friendly venue.
Oh, and one other reason – a DJ playlist that featured some of my favourite dance tracks of the year, including the one that made No 1. (I can’t wait to start working on that list). The DJ that night was Sue Astle, who had been a dancer long before she got behind the decks. I love it when DJs have a dance pedigree – it means that every track has passed the ‘will it make for a good dance’ test.
Sue played lots of the tracks that we all love, but it was her own individual finds that got me excited – very excited. By the time I visited St Neots, I had been reviewing music on my blog for well over six months. I was becoming more and more familiar with the music that DJs played, but I would still have what I call ‘What was that track’ moments, when I’d be climbing on to the stage to ask the DJ for the details.
What was impressive about Sue’s playlist was that I was having these ‘What was that track’ moments throughout the night. Please don’t skip clicking on the link below – I’d hate you to miss some of Sue’s great musical picks.
I mentioned earlier that this was an extremely friendly venue. The friendliness of a venue is very important to me when I’m a long way from my local East Midlands patch, and see no familiar faces on the dance floor. Of course I can only get a sense of how friendly a venue is by my own experiences of asking ladies to dance, and how many times I’m asked on to the dance floor myself.
In the full review below I recall one such request to dance. I won’t attempt to condense what I wrote in to a few words, but please take the time to read it. I think it goes some way to explaining why this venue is so friendly.
St Neots is a small market town in a thinly populated area of South East England. There were on the way to two hundred people at this venue, so I suspect that it has built an enviable reputation, and draws dancers from a long distance away. I’ve no doubt that this venue is worth the longest of journeys, and if Sue’s on the decks you’ll be treated to the very best modern jive dance music.
No 1 LeRoc Surrey: Tylney Hall, Leatherhead
The Big Saturday Night Dances at Tylney Hall in Leatherhead have a great reputation and average around two hundred dancers in attendance. That in itself says a lot about this venue’s standing in this part of Surrey. Tylney Hall is actually a second home to me, as my best mate Neil and one of my daughters live close by, so I’m a frequent visitor and I’ll always recognise some faces on the dance floor.
This venue is actually inside a large modern leisure complex, but it has a well sized and beautiful sprung dance floor. Another pleasing feature is an integrated seating area almost the size of the dance floor where people can chill out and chat with friends.
The night I attended had a Black and Red theme to tie in with Valentines Night (hence the Love Hearts in the promo picture above). The main reason I’ve chosen this particular night is because of the music. I love DJ Colin Shaul’s playlists, but this night the music was extra special for a reason that I want to highlight – two Guest DJs.
If there is one thing I ask of DJs is that they don’t play the same old, same old. I doubt Colin ever does, but for this Saturday night he shared the duties behind the decks with Cliff and Amanda, who run their own classes and freestyles at Bordon in Hampshire.
Cliff and Amanda’s slots were packed with lots of new-to-me music, and it wasn’t long before Amanda had me on the stage asking ‘What was that track? With three DJs on duty the variety of music was the best I’ve ever experienced at a regular freestyle. I was reminded of how well Rob Ambridge and Hayley Epps combined duties behind the decks at Daventry back in June.
I don’t doubt that everybody else appreciated the variety of the music on offer, because the floor was busy from very early on and remained so till way beyond midnight. I know having Guest DJs can add to the cost of the event for the organisers, but done occasionally I’m sure it pays dividends and helps to build the reputation of venues – it’s certainly works well for LeRoc Surrey.
One of the reasons I love Colin’s own playlists is his inclusion of Rock ‘n’ Roll tracks. I’ve written in the past that Rock ‘n’ Roll music can at times be too fast for Modern Jive, but Colin seems to find ones that are perfectly paced. Add in Colin’s use of upbeat bluesy tracks with other rockin’ delights, and he creates a truly uplifting vibe on the dance floor.
As you’ll see from the review below, Colin’s playlist includes many tracks that are favourites amongst the DJs at independent venues. I know that Ceroc events have to differentiate themselves from their independent rivals, and their music mix is one way of doing this, but I’d love to see some of these great tracks cross over to their DJ playlists.
Congratulations to Colin and Evelyn, who run LeRoc Surrey, on topping my list. Two hundred dancers every month can’t be wrong – this is a truly wonderful freestyle event.
I look forward to some more wonderful freestyles
My new year starts in September and I’ve already enjoyed some wonderful dancing this month. I’m hoping to visit a whole list of new venues in the coming year. I intend spending more time in parts of the country that I’ve yet to dance in, and I’m sure my Top 5 List next year will include some new venues to offer as recommendations.
My Top 5 Dance Tracks
Next I’ll be starting work on my Top 5 list of tracks I’ve loved dancing to over the past twelve months. There are hundreds to chose from but I think I can pick out five that really stood out for me.