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 and Freestyles (see links below) so now here are my Top 10 Dance Tracks.

Music is very personal to us

We all have our own personal tastes in music and it’s the same when it comes to the tracks we love dancing to.  This Top 10 Listing is not a popularity chart.  If it was it would be probably be topped by either Calvin Harris’ One kiss or Dua Lipa’s New Rules, two tracks I heard just about every time I went dancing in the past year.

No, this is my own personal list picked from the thousands of tracks I’ve danced to in the past year.  I’ve danced to some great music as I’ve travelled around, and it was no easy task trimming the list to ten.  I was helped by going back through the reviews I’d written over the past year and reminding myself of the standout tracks.

What makes a great dance track?

For me a great dance track is synonymous with a great dance.  The music is the biggest element to a great dance but we shouldn’t forget the other crucial elements.  There’s the connection I make with the beat, the instrumentation, the melody, and of course my partner.  Modern Jive is a partner dance and it’s nothing unless the person you are dancing with also enjoys the three minutes out on the floor.

I can’t remember all the people I danced these ten tracks with, but I would have sensed that they shared some of my own enthusiasm for the music we were dancing to.

There’s one other important connection.  Music often has a significant meaning to us.  Certain songs bookmark the passage through our lives, and having the opportunity to dance to them can be a truly uplifting experience.

A great tracks are part of a great night of dancing

The dance tracks in my Top 10 List have one thing in common – they were all played during great nights of dancing.  If there is little atmosphere out on the dance floor, it’s doubtful if any of these tracks will sound as good as I’ve deemed them to be.  They need to be part of a playlist that has created a feel good vibe out on the dance floor or they will fall flat.

One of the most important factors, in determining a dance track’s impact, is where the song falls in the DJ’s playlist.  If you played these tracks at the beginning of the night they would fall flat.  They need an atmosphere out on the dance floor.

My No 1 track is not for a class night, it is a track for a freestyle with a party feel.  When the floor is packed and the DJ knows that one more track will set the dance floor on fire – only then does such a track take you to Dance Heaven.

No 10: Just a gigolo/I ain’t got nobody – Louis Prima, DJ Franck Pauly

Louis Prima’s pairing of Just a gigolo and I ain’t got nobody has long proved it’s worth as a Modern Jive floor filler.  Not only does this track have a rockin’ rhythm, but its ’50s Swing credentials add an element of variety in to any playlist.  DJ Franck Pauly pulled this track out towards the end of a Ceroc Glasgow Party Night when he had the dance floor and me warmed up very nicely.

I got lucky, and got to dance to the track with one of the best dancers out on the floor that night.  By the time the track reached the instrumental section with its uplifting Sax and trombone solos, myself and my partner were already lost in its bouncy beat.  We now criss-crossed the dance floor at high speed, and my heart beat raced ever upward.

When you exercise your body so energetically your brain releases hormones that ignite a feeling of well being.  The joy on my face suggested I might have come close to over dosing on them.  But, isn’t that the buzz we all want to experience at some point in a night of dancing.

No 9: Nobody – Niia, DJs Nicola Di Folco & John Baker

This track bookmarks the progress I’ve made in my journey to learn how to dance to chill-out music.   When the year started at The Southport Weekender I could only stand and watch again as people danced in the more modern smooth slotted style that I still struggled with.

By the time I came to February’s Southport Dance Fest, I’d worked hard with my regular dance partner Jo to get to grips with The SILC style of dancing.  It was during this weekender that I picked out Nicola Di Folco’s SILC Zone set as one to review.  Here’s what I wrote in my posting:

Nicola’s first track opens with one hell of a funky beat and I’m instantly lovin’ it.  It’s wanting to be able to dance to music like this that kept me going to lessons, and if I needed any more motivation to keep going, this was it.

It’s easy to see why Nicola started with Nobody by Niia, for its a wonderful piece of contemporary chilled music, perfect to SILC to.

Myself and Jo were soon on the floor.  We found a bit of space at the back of the room and did our own simplified version of SILC.  It was a joy to be able to lose ourselves in the track’s cool vibe.

Six weeks later I was at Strictly Ceroc’s Switch Freestyle in Bristol and got another chance to dance to it.  As the name suggests DJ John Baker switched the music to a more slower and mellower vibe at midnight.  His second track in was Niia’s Nobody, and feeling a lot more confident about my ability to dance to its funky chilled beat, I had a wonderful dance.

I still had along way to go, with my smoother style of dancing to match.  It will be some time before I can match the dancers in Southport’s SILC Zone or at Bristol’s Switch but this delicious contemporary track had bookmarked my progress.

No 8:  Start it up – Robben Ford, DJ Kerry Bayley

Every so often I’m driven to rush over to the DJ and ask. ‘What was that track’?  Such an event happened at The Yorkshire Freestyle Nights Engine Shed freestyle in Wetherby.  I voted this well loved Freestyle my best of 2017/148 (see link below), on the back of a immensely varied playlist from DJ Kerry Bayley.

Kerry’s playlists pull from every genre of dance music and this is a great example.  Start it up is a modern fusion of Rock and Blues and it has all the guts of both of these music genres.  The result is a track that is so easy to connect with and is bursting with expressive dance opportunities.

You feel the beat as soon as the bass kicks in.  Accompanied by a simple guitar lick and Hammond Organ, you soon connect with the tracks hypnotic vibe, but it’s when Ford cuts loose with a his guitar solo that you realise that this track has the potential to take you to Musicality Heaven.

More than anything this track shows just how deep the dance music vaults are, and that there are hidden gems that the best DJs will keep serving up for our dancing pleasure.

No 7:  Real love Jazzy Mix – Drizabone, DJ Amanda Saunders

When I published my first volume of Classic Ceroc and Modern Jive tracks I included Drizabone ‘s Real Love (see link below).  It’s a real favourite that seems to have accompanied me throughout my Modern Jive dance journey.  Last year I voted a LeRoc freestyle at Leatherhead as my No 1.  That night three DJs had shared the duties behind the decks.

One of those DJs was Amanda Saunders, who played this jazzy remix of Real Love.  There are so many versions of this ’90s track on YouTube, but sadly I couldn’t track it down when I wrote my review.  Then in the summer I was dancing at a wonderful Tea Dance, at Heron’s Bonsai in East Sussex, when I recognised the sax heavy version of this track that had so impressed at Leatherhead.

Amanda was once again on the decks.  I enjoyed every moment of my dance to this gorgeous instrumental version, but as soon as it ended I was asking Amanda for the details.  The original version of Real love is a cross-over track that works in both main and chill-out rooms, but because this remix is mainly devoid of the vocal layer it’s perfect for a lazy Sunday Tea Dance.  A chance to lose yourself in the extended sax solos.

No 6: Matchbox – Johnny Lang, DJs John Baker and Tim Sant

I was at Strictly Ceroc’s Coventry Freestyle in March, loving DJ John Bakers main room music selection, when he suddenly slipped in this rockin’ monster.  In a night of great dances this stood out head and shoulders.

Much of the original ’50s Rock ‘n’ Roll music is just to fast for Modern Jive, but there are some modern rock tracks that have all the ingredients of a 1950s rocker, but are at a perfect speed for us all to dance to.  Matchbox has the same bouncy feel of any ’50s Rock ‘n’ Roll classic and then some.  What makes this track stand out is Lang’s thrilling guitar solo, over a bouncing bass line.  The gates of Dance Heaven were soon beckoning.

But this track was to open the Gates of Dance Heaven a few month later on an even bigger stage, when Tim Sant served it up during his Thunderball set at Southport’s June Weekender.  The Thunderball Room’s thumping sound system amplified the bouncing bass line in to every corner of the room, and when Lang’s guitar let rip the dance floor caught fire in a flash.  A truly great dance floor memory.

No 5:  Dancing on the ceiling – Lionel Ritchie, DJ Tony Riccardi

I’m a great admirer of DJ Tony Riccardi’s Thunderball Room sets, and his ability to pick just the right track at just the right time, and so set the floor on fire.  He did it again back in February with a track that brought back so many dance floor memories from the ’80s.

In all the nine years I’ve been Modern Jiving, I can’t remember ever dancing to Dancing on the ceiling, which probably explains why lights started flashing in my dance brain as Tony hit the play button.  The fact I was hearing it in the Thunderball Room was a thrill in itself, but once I’d got over my surprise, it quickly dawned on me what a great dance track this is.

The speed is not too fast, but it has an energy that soon takes hold.  It wasn’t long before I found myself absorbed by its joyous message and my dancing followed suit.  I was lucky to be dancing with my regular dance partner Jo and we both looked at each other, knowing that this was a special moment to be on a packed Thunderball Room dance floor.

Are you up for this Jo?

Yes Paul, lets smash it.

It seems that ever since that night I’ve heard Dancing on the ceiling on a regular basis and it never disappoints.  Perhaps DJs had been playing it more than I realised – perhaps I just didn’t notice.  May be I had to hear it in The Thunderball Room,  just at the point where a DJ knew it would set the floor on fire.

Well that’s just what Tony did that night, and as the joy from three hundred other dances fed the flames, Jo and I threw ourselves in to our dance and well and truly smashed it!

No 4:  Sharp dressed man – Z Z Top, DJ Ashley Davis

Here’s another track that set the floor on fire.  This time DJ Ashley Davis was on the decks at Ceroc Heaven’s iconic Kelham Hall Freestyle near Newark.  This freestyle just missed out being included in my Top 5 as Ashley had rigged up the sound system and set the dials to create a Thunderball Room vibe.

Ashley would set a packed dance floor on fire several times that night, but he did it for the first time with this rocker from the ’80s.  This track takes no prisoners.  It hits you on beat one.  Because it hits so hard so soon, it needs a build up during the previous tracks, to get you ready for guitar driven stomping beat.

This is exactly what Ashley did.  I could feel the energy levels building around me, as he worked the floor with a run of carefully selected tracks.  It must be great for a DJ to feel the vibe building out on the floor and Ashley must have loved the moment he hit the play button, on this energy infused rocker.

No 3: Pride and Joy – Stevie Ray Vaughan, DJ Keith Leigh-Jones

Here’s another track that gave me one of my best dances of the year.  I was at a Ceroc Surrey freestyle at The H.G. Wells Centre in Woking.  One of the problems of being off my home patch is that I don’t really know the dancers.  While I know that no one will refuse a dance, I can never be sure if the lady I invite on to the dance floor is up for a the same kind of full-on dance that I have in mind.

When DJ Keith Leigh-Jones hit the play button on this rocking track I knew that I had I had to ‘Smash it’.  When my dance brain makes this judgement I know I have little time to find a partner.  Often the best dancers are invited on to the dance floor first, but I got lucky.

Earlier in the evening I’d danced with a lady, who had shown an equal enthusiasm to my own, during another energised track.  I looked around and she was free.

As we walked on to the dance floor nothing was said, but as soon as we hit the first beat I knew the dance would propel this track in to my Top 10 List.

Just like Johnny Lang’s Matchbox this is a track with a pedigree that can be traced back to ’50s Rock ‘n’ Roll.  The track has the classic 12 Bar so loved of rockers of all ages.  What gives this track it’s pulsating energy is Vaughan’s guitar playing that owes much to the Heavy Metal guitar heroes of the ’70s and ’80s.

Pride and joy has a perfect beat for Modern Jive, but like Ashley’s Z Z Top track it needs to be placed perfectly in to the mix, and Keith picked his moment perfectly.  If you like your dancing full-on, I’m sure you’ll love this track when you hit the play button.

No 2:  On the loose – Niall Horan, DJs Mark O’Reilly and Sheena Assiph

Every now and again I hear an intro that demands my attention.  So it was when DJ Mark O’Reilly played this track at a Ceroc Heaven Class Night in West Bridgford, Nottingham.  It was a combination of a very distinctive guitar lick and a very dance-able beat that lit up the buttons in my dance brain.

Like any great dance track once it grabs you, it just doesn’t let go.  The beat is perfect for a mid-tempo dance and it just never lets up.  Add in some wonderful instrumentation and you have a lovely contemporary dance track.  Mark would go on to play this track at his Ceroc Heaven freestyle gigs and it became a great favourite of everyone’s.

What elevated this track to my list was that it would later feature in one of the best nights of dancing of my past year.

In March I was lucky to get a ticket for the first ever Ceroc Perth Fresh Weekender in Scotland.  This kicked off with a freestyle with a host of DJ sharing the duties behind the decks.  The first slot was taken by Sheena Assiph, and by the time she handed over to Nicola Di Folco she had created the most wonderful vibe out on the dance floor.

Sheena concluded her set with On the loose, and its joyous feel seemed to capture the warm friendly vibe out on the floor perfectly.  When my mate Tel asked me for a track to accompany his video of the dancing at Fresh I suggested the Niall Horan track.  It worked perfectly and I’ll always associate this song with what turned out to be the most wonderful weekender.

I’ve embedded Tel’s video, so you can enjoy the track and get a flavour of what was a great weekend of dancing.

No 1:  I haven’t stopped dancing yet – Gonzalez, DJ Tony Riccardi

When I picked my Top 10 Dance Tracks of 2016/17 Tony Riccardi shared top spot with Sue Astle for his playing of DIMMI’s club anthem Dizzy.   Tony’s done it again, but this time with a track from the ’70s during his Thunderball Room set in June.  I actually included this track in my Spirit of Southport Volume 1 (see link below), and these next words are actually taken from that article;

When you are next debating the meaning of life with your friends, consider this:

Human life evolved beyond the need to be constantly searching for the next meal, and so gave us the opportunity to occasionally not take ourselves too seriously, and have some fun.

If that fun meant dancing to one of the cheesiest disco records ever, then our human evolution was worth it.

Sunday day time had been very hot, and even by midnight it hadn’t cooled down much.  This presented DJ Tony Riccardi with a problem.  Should he play his normal set and raise the temperature out on the dance floor, or perhaps give the dancers a bit of a break and keep the vibe just below MAX on the dial.

It’s gone past midnight and The Thunderball Room still hasn’t cooled down

Tony holds off setting the floor on fire

It seemed as if Tony decided to resist the urge to set the floor on fire, and kept the temperatures on the dance floor in the safe zone.  Because of the intense heat, I got the feeling that Tony was holding back, and it seemed he decided to release the pent up energy on the dance floor only at the very end of his set.

He chose the perfect track for it, and as I and everyone else, recognised the bongo drum and whistle intro, you could feel a wave of joy sweep across the room.

I have experience some truly special moments on the dance floor this year, but I don’t think I experienced the sense of euphoria that Tony created when he hit the play button on his deck that night, and the opening strain of Gonzalez’s disco classic was instantly recognised by a packed dance floor.

As I said in my intro tracks like I haven’t stopped dancing yet will fall flat unless the moment is right.

The skill of a great DJ is knowing when the moment is right.  This was one such moment.

There are a few videos of this track on YouTube, but I’ve chosen one where the bongos and whistles kick in from the beginning.  It’s also has a video that shows the band having as much fun as we all had out on the floor that very warm night.

A more chilled Bonus Track

When I look back over my selection, I realise that it’s very heavy on older classic tracks, and it’s not lost on me that three rock influenced tracks made the list too.  This is a surprise, because this year has seen the release of some great new tracks, particularly those suited to the chill-out second rooms.

I suppose my list represents my own music preferences as a main room dancer.   However, as I got more in to my Tea Dance Tour, I found myself increasingly enjoying more chill-out music.  I’m sure next year more of these more relaxed tracks will make my list.  In the meantime I have chosen to feature a slower track that just missed out being included.

It’s a track that found favour in chill-out rooms a couple of years ago, but I’ve notice it increasingly being used in a main room setting when DJs just want to cool it down a little.  The track’s the epitome of what a chill-out track should be and it’s a real favourite of mine.

Next Saturday I’ll publish my Top 5 DJ Playlists

Related Articles

My Top 5 Classes 2017/18

My Top 5 Freestyles 2017/18

Spirit of Southport in 10 Tracks Vol 1

Ceroc & Modern Jive Classics Vol 1