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.  I’ve already done my top classes (see link below) so now here are 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.

One thing I do judge is the numbers attending an event.  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, giving them a great atmosphere.  As I list each of the five venues I hope to throw some more light on to what makes a great Freestyle.

An extra venue worthy of note

I must have been to almost fifty freestyles this past year, and it was never going to be easy to cut the list down to just five.  Indeed it proved, but there is one venue that I want to mention that didn’t make the list – The Ceroc Evolution Cutty Sark Ball back in August.

In many ways this was a candidate for the Top Spot.  It was a quite unique venue that was a complete sell out.

Walking on the deck of this historic boat as the sun went down over the River Thames skyline was some experience.

I decided to exclude it from my list because it’s not a regular monthly venue, but I would like to recognise Steve Thomas’ vision regarding this event.  The cost must have been staggering, but he had the courage to put the venue on and the marketing skills to sell the necessary number of tickets.

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.

5: Ceroc Addiction: Perton Civic Centre, Wolverhampton

A great first impression

This freestyle was a contender from the minute myself and Tel presented ourselves at the front desk.  We were greeted by franchise owner Maja and shown round the whole venue.  It seems that Maja shows all new faces around.  There was something else that struck me very early on.

I have never danced in this part of the West Midlands and knew only one face on the dance floor.  When I recognise so few faces, I’m always a little anxious before I ask the first lady to dance.  Any anxiety had no time to take hold, as both myself and Tel were asked to dance several times, before we had chance to do any asking ourselves.

There was one more aspect that made a lasting impression – the proficiency of my dance partners.  I had the most fabulous dances, that helped make this a truly standout night.

This is a large venue with a very good turn out

This is a large venue, and it needs plenty of people on the dance floor to give it an atmosphere. What impressed was that the floor filled up quickly and it remained busy right up to the end.  The music wasn’t bad either.

What I loved was that Maja shared the DJing duties with Ellie.  You can’t beat having two DJs taking turns behind the decks.  It makes for a great music mix, and so it was.

The venue also has a small second room with a chill-out vibe.  This year has seen me make great strides in dancing to slower smoother more contemporary tunes.  I loved the opportunity to try out my new slotted dance moves, and I think I did OK.

Tel captures the joy on the dance floor

I was lucky to have my good friend Tel along, and Maja had given him permission to take photographs and video during the evening.  It was when I looked at these pictures that I was reminded of the joy out on the dance floor and of the great time we both had.

I was lucky enough to get a dance with Maja herself.  The dance was quite something and it went someway to explain the passion that Maja has for this and I suspect her other freestyle venues.  I can’t wait to get an opportunity to visit one of her other large scale venues.

Read my full review of Ceroc Addiction’s Perton Freestyle

4: Strictly Ceroc: Switch, Greenway Centre, Bristol

A Freestyle Format that was new to me

As I travelled more widely, this last year, I became aware that there are many different formats to Freestyles and this was a classic case.  In fact so well loved is this freestyle format, that people travel a serious distance to it.  I came across people who had travelled two hours to be there.  They came as far afield as Kent, Devon, South Wales and from both The East and West Midlands, as well as London of course.

This is a six hour freestyle, where the music switches – and hence the Switch branding – at midnight from main room to chill-out music.  But there’s more to the music mix than that.  For the first four hours the music is very contemporary – nothing much older than ten years.  Add to that the two hours of modern chill-out music and this venue is a big attraction for what I’m going to call the younger dancer.

You’re only as old as the music you dance to

When I started writing my blog I was an advocate for more Motown and Soul music to be played at freestyles.  Sure I loved the current chart and club hits, but I enjoyed dancing to the music from my school and student days.  Over the last year though I have come to love more of the contemporary music and that’s why I loved my visit to Switch.

Just about every track that DJ John Baker played was no older than ten years.  No wonder then that the age of the dancers was a lot younger than the freestyles I usually frequented.

But why not.  The reason I’ve picked this freestyle as one of my Top 5 is because it offers a choice to younger dancers.

If this wonderful dance scene is to thrive it needs new younger entrants and these people want to hear their own music.  I’ve no problem with that, and anyway it satisfies my thought that you are only as old as the music you dance to.  The younger dancers also meant that more people were dancing in the more modern slotted style.  In fact it was quite a shock to see so many people dancing in this way. particularly after the music switched to a more chilled vibe after midnight.

A Smooth Dance Class and the best chill-out music

Another reason that I marked this down as a stand out venue, was the provision at 8:30 of a thirty minute Smooth Dance Class run by Caine Langford.  For someone who is trying to learn to dance to slower, funkier contemporary music this was a godsend.  But you should also remember that I was a long way from home and knew no one there.  The lesson then was a great ice-breaker.

At midnight DJ John provided a wonderful mix of contemporary slower and smoother music, that I found myself loving.  Regular readers of my blog will know that I’m working really hard to learn how to dance to this chill-out music, but back in March I was only at the beginning of my new dance journey.   Now I’m much better, and I can’t wait to revisit this citadel of modern music.

Read my full review of Strictly Ceroc’s Switch Freestyle

3: LeRoc Surrey: Tylney Hall, Leatherhead

This was No 1 last year

This venue topped my Best Freestyle List last year and I did wonder if it was fair to include it in The Top 5 again.  But Tylney Hall is such a wonderful venue that it would have been an injustice not to give this particular night the recognition it deserves.  There was one other reason why I had to put it at No 3 – DJ Colin Shaul’s playlist.

Last year Colin’s LeRoc venue had achieved its number one status on the back of there being two Guest DJs.

Having three DJs sharing the duties behind the decks had served up an outstanding mix of music.

This time Colin was on his own, yet he delivered a playlist that was so exciting and varied that it was also a contender for inclusion in my Top 5 DJ Playlists.  Colin is an ex club DJ and his knowledge of dance music impresses me every time I visit, and my note book is always packed with references to great tracks and their accompanying fabulous dances.

This is a second home to me

This venue is a bit of a second home, as my best friend Neil and one of my daughters lives close by.  I’ve never been to a LeRoc Surrey freestyle at Tylney Hall that wasn’t busy.  In his promotional material Colin states that the venue attracts over two hundred dancers, and this gives the venue a great atmosphere.  So it was again on the Saturday I visited

The main room is a fair size with plenty of chairs around the perimeter, but what helps is the large seating area adjacent to the dance floor, where people can relax between dances and chat with friends – every seat was taken in this area.

On the night I visited the event went on until one in the morning, and even in the last hour the dance floor was busy enough to maintain a vibrant atmosphere until the very end.

. . . and then there is Colin’s music

So what makes this venue so popular?  Lots of things – the venue itself, with its superb floor and facilities for a start.  The people themselves – their friendliness and dancing ability.  And then there is the great sound system.  Colin rigs up four speakers in every corner to fill this large room with pulsating sound.

If DJ John Bakers music at Switch has a contemporary flavour then Colin’s playlist in contrast visits every decade from the ’60s onwards.  Colin will still play plenty of contemporary tracks, but its the variety that is so appealing.  No wonder the dancers love it, and there is always a wonderful vibe out on the dance floor.

Read my full review of LeRoc Surrey’s Tylney Hall Freestyle

2: LeRoc Scotland: Burgh Halls, Glasgow

I receive an invitation to come to Scotland

Last year all my Top 5 Freestyles were in England.  It wasn’t long before Jill left this comment on Facebook.

You haven’t been to Scotland yet Paul. You have that treat to come.

Wanting to widen the appeal of my blog I replied to Jill, asking her where she might recommend.  It wasn’t long before I got a reply

Come to the LeRoc Scotland Christmas Party Night with the Deke McGee Band.  You’ll find it on Facebook Paul

I checked out the LeRoc Scotland Facebook Page, and after reading a few comments about previous freestyles, I soon got the idea that this was set up to be a great night of dancing and more than worthy of a review.  I duly put the date in my diary.

Live music made this cracking night

The Deke McGee Band are essentially a Rock ‘n’ Roll Band and they gave this night an atmosphere that will last long in my memory.  Of course some Rock ‘n’ Roll music can be a little too fast, but for most of their two thirty minute sets Deke and his boys slowed it down so it was just right.

If I was to list my ten best dances of the whole year, then two of my dances to this live music would make the list, and one would come out top.

There is something about live music that connects on a higher plane than even the best of recorded music.  Having said that the Deke McGee Band are something special themselves.  I can’t tell you how much I loved them.

DJ Billy Cullen creates a party atmosphere

This was my first of three trips to Scotland and, as with the other two, the welcome was especially warm.  As myself and Tel walked in to the hall we could feel the party atmosphere.  From very early on I sensed we were in for a fabulous night.  All it needed was some great dances – and the night didn’t disappoint.

Deke’s Band did their bit, but it was left to DJ Billy Cullen to serve up a wonderful mix of music, that kept the dance floor in party mode all night long.  Billy is one of the DJs for the Warmwell Weekender in Dorset in November, which The Nottingham Dance Gang have tickets for, and I’m so looking forward to getting another fix of Billy’s fabulous music.

Read my full review of LeRoc Scotland’s Party Night in Glasgow

1: Yorkshire Freestyle Nights: The Engine Shed, Wetherby

Paul you have to go to The Engine Shed

Last year I picked Yorkshire Freestyle Nights’ Tadcaster venue, run by DJ Kerry Bayley, as one of my Top 5 Freestyles.  It was while I was there that I received this recommendation.

Kerry’s music is just the best.  It’s always a great night at Tadcaster, but you should go to The Engine Shed at Wetherby.  It’s got to be my favourite place.

It seemed when ever I travelled in the North East of England I would be asked whether I had ever been to the Engine Shed.  It seems that this venue is one of the best loved in the North of England, and having visited back last November I have to agree.  It is a worthy venue to be voted my Top Pick of 2017/18.

An Intimate and friendly venue

The Engine Shed is a converted Victorian Goods Shed.  It’s conversion in to a dance venue was done with great skill and it has an intimate and friendly vibe you can’t help but experience as soon as you walk in.  Above the dance floor is a large galleried area that not only provides more dance space but adds to the homely feel of the venue.

On the night I visited it was very busy, and I’m told that it’s like that every month.

Last year I chose Kelham Hall, near Newark, as one of my top freestyle venues and suggested that you make a pilgrimage there.  I would say the same about The Engine Shed, and when ever you go I’m sure you’ll find it just as busy and friendly.

One of The Top DJs behind the decks

Of course great dancing needs great music, and one of the undoubted appeals of The Engine Shed is DJ Kerry Bayley’s music.  I’ve enthused about Kerry’s wonderful music before and it really is top drawer.  Like Colin Shaul at Tylney Hall Kerry pulls her music from all decades and genres, and she knows how to work the dance floor.

What really impresses me is the freshness of her playlists.  I’ve danced to her music four times since starting my blog and every playlist has been as fresh as the last one, with so little duplication.

I went to The Engine Shed knowing that I would hear some great fresh music and so it proved.  Next week I list my Top Ten Tracks of the year – Kerry’s music will be in there.

The Jewel in The Crown

I often describe this wonderful dance scene as a community.  There is no doubt that Kerry and Chiqui have helped to create a wonderful community in Yorkshire with their venues and guest DJ appearances.  The Engine Shed at Wetherby is one of the jewels in this community.  Please go and experience the love everyone has for it yourself.

Read my full review of The Engine Shed Freestyle

Next Saturday I’ll publish a list of My Top 10 Tracks

Read my Top 5 Classes for 2017/18