Another year of dancing and writing

I’ve had another wonderful year touring the country gathering material for my reviews and articles about this wonderful dance scene.  Every week I’m at a Class Night, and every weekend a Freestyle or Tea Dance, or sometimes both.  I’ve attended weekend Workshops and thrown myself in to four massive Weekenders.

That’s a lot of dancing and a lot of writing.  As September is the anniversary of starting my blog, I thought I’d look back through the reviews and select my top ones for the year in five different categories.

While my reach is somewhat limited, and very subjective, I’d like to think that my lists reflect the vitality of our beloved dance community.

My year kicked off with The Ceroc Southport Weekender in September 2017 and finished at the end of August 2018 with a Tea Dance in Bristol.  Over the next five weeks I’ll be publishing lists of my Top 5 Freestyles, Top 10 Dance Tracks, Top 5 DJ Playlists and Top 10 Dance Photographs, but I’ll launch my yearly review with my Top 5 Dance Classes.

The Top 5  Classes

The sustainability of this wonderful dance scene relies on new people joining the ranks.  This means that Class Nights are vitally important, and so I’ve made it my aim to visit a fair number.  It’s also important that the more experienced of us have the facilities and teaching to improve our own dancing skills, and so in this list I’ve also considered Workshops and Weekender classes.

A shout out for all the teachers

While I have selected some exceptional teachers and crew, I hope that this listing is a reminder of the contribution that all the teachers make to the vitality of this wonderful dance community.  I know that without their dedication I, and many of my dance friends, would never have got to a level where we could start to enjoy ourselves on the dance floor.

No 5:  Ceroc Perth Fresh Weekender: Blues Toolkit Class

Teacher Jo Hart put’s me right about Blues Dancing

I never really got Blues dancing.  I suppose it was the close hold thing that put me off, but back in March I noted that Jo Hart was running four Blues Toolkit Classes at the Ceroc Perth Fresh Weekender.  For the sack of my credibility as a dance reviewer, if nothing else, I thought I should at least give it a go, and I duly turned up for the first of Jo’s Blues Room Toolkit classes.

I’m sure that Jo knew that many of us might be a little anxious about what the lesson might entail, but she chose to defuse any anxiety with comedy.

Very early on, Jo suddenly pulled her demo Melvin in to a vice like hold, reminiscent of the last dance at the school disco.  ‘This’, Jo declared, ‘Is not Blues,’ and every one burst into laughter.  You could feel any anxiety dissipate immediately.

Jo then demonstrated a Blues hold with connection, yet with a comfortable gap between you and your partner.  Now, properly relaxed, I was in a position where I could fully engage with Jo’s teaching.

I begin to feel confident with the Blues techniques

I’ve selected Jo’s class as one of the best of the last year because of two things that impressed.  Firstly Jo had broken the Blues technique down in to a series of bite size pieces that were easily accessible to beginners like myself.

Secondly Jo delivered the techniques with a humour that came from great interplay with her demo Melvin.

In my review I described them as a comedy double act, and I don’t think there was anyone from the lesson who didn’t enjoy this class.

More importantly I began to feel confident with the Blues moves that Jo was taking us through.  So I think did everyone, and if proof were needed, Jo’s following three classes had the biggest take up of any from a comprehensive weekend programme.

Read my full review of Jo’s first two Blues Room Toolkit Classes

No 4: Ceroc Heaven: Tagging Fun Class at Christmas

Was this the best Christmas Fun Class ever?

The run up to the party season offers so many opportunities for extra fun on the dance floor, and pre-Christmas Class Nights are a great example.  Like many organisations Ceroc Heaven run fancy dress themed Class Nights in the week before Christmas, and I wrote in my review that this might have been the best one I’d ever participated in.  The theme for the night was The Twelve Days of Christmas.

As always The Ceroc Heaven faithful showed great creativity representing the eleven Pipers piping . . . eight Maids a milking . . . and a Partridge in a Pear Tree etc.

My favourites were the ‘Nine Ladies Dancing’ and a ‘French Hen’.

What was great that photographer Tel Jenkins was on hand to capture the fun everyone had, and my review includes a link to his photo album that shows the wonderful costumes including that wondrous French Hen.

I never knew that tagging was so much fun

But what made this night extra special was the fun class that replaced the usual Intermediate one. The idea was to teach us all the art of tagging, where traditionally two male leads dance alternatively with one lady follower.

I’ve stood many times at Southport watching this done for real, and I remember standing memorised while Hayley Epps danced with five guys – and the switches were done seamlessly at great speed.

We  were never going to be anywhere near that proficient, but that wasn’t the point of the class.  The point was to have a laugh, and everyone entered in to the spirit of it.  We all had a smile on our faces for the entire time.

The Piper, The Milk Maid and Gertrude the cow

Of course non of the fun out on the floor would have been possible without the instruction from the stage.  This was done by one of the Eleven Pipers Piping, and one of the Eight Maids A-milking and her cow, who was actually a bull!

The idea was that The Milk Maid would dance alternatively with the Piper and the Cow/Bull.  We were all put in teams of three and were allocated one of these three roles.  I was a Piper Piping.

The interplay of the Piper, Milk Maid and Cow led to more comedy than I have ever witnessed coming from a class stage.  That sense of fun was transferred to the dance floor and laughter was in constant supply.

Read my full review of Ceroc Heaven’s Fun Class Night

No 3: Strictly Ceroc Bristol: SILC Sunday Workshop

I set out to learn to dance in a slotted style

Regular readers of my blog will know that I embarked on what I’ve called my Tea Dance Tour, to recognise the growing popularity of these Sunday afternoon venues.  A little bit of on-line research suggested that I’d get plenty of opportunities to dance to the slower contemporary music that many of them favoured.

Herein lay a problem, because I wasn’t particularly proficient in the style of dancing, that was best suited to this slower and funkier music.

Thankfully I’d spotted that some of these Sunday Tea Dances were proceeded by lessons in Smooth Jive, SILC and Blues, and so as I started out on my tour, I set myself the initial goal of learning to dance in the so called Slot.

It was for this reason that one Sunday I set off to Bristol for a SILC Sunday, Workshop and Tea Dance run by Caine Langford and Danni Moore for Strictly Ceroc in Bristol.  SILC is of course the Slotted dance style that Ceroc developed to enable people to dance to slower contemporary music.

Their teaching style is enhanced by both being mic-ed up

Caine and Danni are exceptional teachers, and I recognised their combined talent, by selecting one of their weekender lessons for this category last year.  What really impressed me that particular lesson was that they were both mic-ed up, and so were able to efficiently explain the footwork for both the male lead and the lady follower.

Caine would take the lead, but Danni was able to chip in and give tips to the ladies, that I’m sure were very much appreciated.

They adopted this double delivery style just as effectively when I joined in their SILC Workshop in the summer.  SILC is quite technical, but Caine and Danni were able to give clear instructions and tips to both the men and the ladies, that made it much easier for any inexperienced SILC dancers to understand.

Caine triggers a Light Bulb Moment

Another reason that I chose to include this duo this time, was because Caine made a remark that was to have a profound effect on my progress.  I’d struggled with SILC because I saw it as a quite separate style to my normal Ceroc way of dancing.   Caine explained that the techniques that he and Danni were teaching could help smooth out the Ceroc moves we already knew:

This workshop isn’t necessarily about moves, it’s more to do with the technique.

After all, you have hundreds of moves already.  I just want to show you how to execute them in a much smoother way.

Hearing these words brought about a Light Bulb moment, that has enabled me to accelerate my smooth slotted style of dancing.

Read my full review of Caine & Danni’s SILC Workshop

No 2: Ceroc Surrey: Byfleet Class Night

This dance classes creates a very 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.  Modern Jive 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 team at Ceroc Surrey’s Byfleet Class Night have every box ticked when it comes to creating a welcoming and friendly environment.  It has the lot:

A dance teacher in Jacqui Barrett with a vibrant personality, that generates both the enthusiasm and fun essential for people to learn quickly.

Two Taxi Dancers in David and Louise, who delivered the best Beginners Refresher Class I’ve witnessed on my travels, and not forgetting . . .

a break for tea and cakes that underpins a homeliness that packs this hall out every week.

This break for hot drinks and home made cake puts me in mind of the Sunday Tea Dances I’ve enjoyed this year.

Intermediates in The Beginners and Great Music

The Byfleet class has a few other things too, notably a lot of Intermediate Level dancers in the beginners lines.  The presence of experienced dances is a god send to beginners in the lines, as these dancers are able to reinforce the instructions from the stage.

This class also has two exceptional DJs.  The DJing duties are shared by Kevin and Michaela.  I’ve been to this class a few times over the years and these two impress me with their playlists every time.   I suspect it’s one of the reasons that the dance floor was busy right up to the last track.  A great sign of a well patronised class night.

Read my full review of Ceroc Surrey’s Byfleet Class night

No 1: Ceroc Southport Weekender: Get Ready for Swingers Hour

We love Southport’s Swinger’s Hour

Anyone who’s been to the Southport Weekender will know that two of the most popular sessions are the Swingers Hour ones on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.  Not only is the music exciting, it’s a chance for the ladies to get dressed up in beautiful swirly ’50s style dresses.

There is a problem though.  Full throttle Swing and Rock ‘n’ Roll music is just a bit too fast for Modern Jive.  So what’s to be done?  The answer is put a call out for Lyndsey Bennett.  Lyndsey is one of the great characters of Southports teaching team, and she has come up with a way of dancing to fast paced Rock ‘n’ Roll music that’s easily taught in a one hour lesson before hand.

This is one of the most popular classes of the weekend

Lyndsey’s Get ready for Swinger’s Hour is one of the most popular classes of the weekend, and the picture below shows a packed Thunderball Room with a lot of energy being exerted on the dance floor.

Teaching so many people a brand new style of dancing, in such a short space of time is some achievement, and it’s the reason that I’ve picked Lyndsey’s class as the my best of the year.

Teaching The proper Rock ‘n’ Roll technique would take all weekend

I took it upon myself to find some Rock ‘n’ Roll classes and learn a way of dancing that would work with the faster paced tracks so typical of Swingers Hour.  Now I consider myself to be a fairly accomplished Modern Jive dancer but it took me weeks to get the hang of Rock ‘n’ Roll.  At Southport Lyndsey only has an hour!

What Lyndsey has done is simply adopt some of the Ceroc moves we are very familiar with.

Her trick is to take the ‘Step Back’ that ends every Ceroc move, and do away with it.

This makes the moves that little bit shorter and allows you to complete the move in time with the music, but it’s also important to get The Bounce.  Rock ‘n’ Roll music has a real bouncy feel, and getting this motion correct is essential if you’re going to get to grips with this style of dancing.  Again Lyndsey teaches this technique so efficiently.

Tel captures all the fun of this class

I was very happy that Lyndsey gave my good friend and photographer Tel Jenkins permission to take photographs during the class and to video the people as they completed the routine at the end.

This video is one of my favourites from the whole of last year and watching it again I realised just how much progress everyone made in that sixty minute lesson.  Another reason to recognise Lyndsey’s talent.

Swingers Hour is one of the great traditions of Southport and Lyndsey’s Get Ready for Swingers Hour class is a big part of that tradition.  The class takes place before the Saturday Swingers Hour session and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to improve their dancing to the fabulous Swing and Rock ‘n’ Roll music that follows.

Read my full review of Lyndsey Bennet’s Swingers Lesson

Next Saturday I’ll publish a list of My Top 5 Freestyles