I gaze in wonder at the Ceroc Champs Entrants

Back in May I made my first visit to the Ceroc Champs at The Watford Colosseum.  These are open competitions that attract the very best dancers from around the country, and include many of the teachers I’d seen perform in the Cabaret at Southport Weekenders.  What struck me though was how many ordinary dancers there were, like myself, who entered the array of different competitions.

There must have been a dozen people I knew from Ceroc Heaven, my home franchise in Nottingham, and I found myself willing them on in all the different categories.  Impressively quite a few made the finals, but what impressed me the most, was that they all had the courage to take part in the first place.

One of the Ceroc X heats – The routine taught at Ceroc classes nationwide

I have to do this myself next year

The more I watched the dancers, from my class nights, pit themselves against some quite exceptional dancers, I realised that there was a story to be told, and that there was no better way to tell it, than to enter myself.  I duly announced in the article on my blog that I would enter at least one of the categories in 2019.

No sooner had I published my intentions on the blog I realised I’d perhaps been a little hasty.  OK, I’m a pretty confident dancer, but there’s a difference between enjoying a nights dancing on a crowded corner of the dance floor, where no one’s really watching, and having three hundred people watch your every move, and six professional judges writing down your scores.

No panic Paul, still six months to go

Still I had a whole year before I needed to start worrying about it – having said that there’s now only just over six months before The Champs come round again, but no panic just yet.  But then I do something a little rash.  I was writing a preview of September’s Southport Weekender when I noticed a new competition that was to replace the Teachers Showcase part of the Cabaret.

It seems from feedback that people were tired of the Cabaret Teachers Showcase and that there was also an appetite for a more serious dance competition to replace the informal one which was just a bit of fun.

So now there was to be a serious competition where people would register in advance and get a chance to win £500.

I was a little surprised at the £500 figure, as the prize for the previous fun competition, was a pretend bottle of champagne.  What I loved about the new format was that all the £2 registration fee would go to a charity of  the winners choice.

The Competition is trialled at The Camber Weekender

It seems that the competition was trialled at the previous Ceroc Weekender at Camber Sands.  Watching David Addis’ video of Camber it would seems that the competition attracted a lot of entrants and there was no reason why it would be any less popular at Southport.

The new Lucky Dip competition proved very popular at Camber.  Screenshot from video by David Addis

Start panicking Paul, just six days to go

Here’s the rash bit.  In the interest of the blog I decided I would enter the Southport competition myself, and write an article about the experience.  Suddenly I’m in panic mode.  As the blog post promising my inclusion in the competition was published, I had just six days to get my head round what I’d put myself in for.

As I sit at my computer writing this article I feel quite proud that I entered and survived (well I was never going to be thrown to the lions), but I think there is a story to tell here that many people will resonate with.  Along the way I’ll give some details of the competition itself, but I’ll focus on my own experience.

I should warn you that I might ham the description up a little, but I’ll also make some more serious points about our general dancing.  I’ll start with the matter of fact stuff.  The page from the Southport Passport to Dance booklet gives all the basic details.

This page from the Southport Splash programme gives details of the way the competition was run

I need a co-entrant – any volunteers

The idea of a Lucky Dip competition is that you end up dancing with a random person, but it will only work if the entrants are gender balanced.  So I had to register with a lady.  I asked my dance partner Jo.  Now Jo had actually entered the Ceroc Champs back in May, so she didn’t take much persuading.

But it’s worth remembering that entering a competition like this, is a little out of most people’s comfort zone.  You see, you have to remember that the competition is designed in such way that you won’t be dancing with the person you ask to partner up with initially.  It’s a joy dancing with Jo, and my reviews are littered with examples of our fabulous dances together, but she was the one person I was guaranteed not to dance with.

It’s the fact you have no idea who you’ll be dancing with that makes this competition so challenging – well at least for many people, and I can understand that it might have been difficult to find someone to register with you. Having said that, about a hundred couples took to the floor.

We dance with strangers all the time – don’t we?

The earlier panic I spoke of wasn’t about dancing in front of three hundred people, it was more to do with the fact I would be dancing with someone I might never have danced with before.  At weekenders we have the opportunity to dance with plenty of people we’ve never danced with before, so what’s the problem Paul?

There is no doubt that the appeal of a weekender like Southport is an opportunity to dance with new faces.  It’s a bit of a challenge, but most of us have developed strategies that take away some of the stress.  I think most of us will agree that the best dances occur when you feel comfortable with your partner.  It’s the reason why we spend most of the time dancing with people we know.

Strategies and protocols that help us

I think we all develop strategies and protocols to increase our odds of having enjoyable dances.  So what are the strategies and protocols, that help us dance with someone for the first time, at a weekender like Southport.  And what implications does this have for the Lucky Dip competition.

Choose the room you feel comfortable in

Dancing to the slower more chilled out music in the SILC Zone, is a much different experience to dancing full on, to the upbeat tracks in The Thunderball Room.  Dancing to Blues music, in the late night sessions in the Cyclone Room, is another very different experience.  But we can choose where we dance.

In fact there are people who dance exclusively in these rooms, preferring the music and the associated style of dancing.

I know people who will only ever dance to the chill-out music in The SILC Zone, and people who don’t leave their chalets until midnight and go straight to the Cyclone Room for a night of pure Blues music.

I’ve always felt my most comfortable in the main Thunderball Room, and I know that many people will not venture out of it, because they don’t feel at ease dancing to the slower music in the SILC Zone and Cyclone Room.  My worry about the competition was that I might end up being partnered with a SILC Zone Junkie.

Choose a track you feel comfortable with 

By choosing the room you dance in you have some idea of the music you’ll be dancing too, but even in a main room setting the pace of the tracks can differ.  Some tracks are more difficult to dance to than others.

When ever I’m at a main room freestyle I’ll always check the track before I ask someone new to dance.   Perhaps it’s a man thing, but I want to impress.  Dancing to a really fast or slow track can be an embarrassment waiting to happen.

As I started to worry about the upcoming competition, it occurred to me that the track might not be one I could easily dance to.  And guess what?  So it turned out, but more of that later.

Choose someone you feel comfortable with

Now I realise that the ladies are often asked more than they ask for a dance, and I will comment on this later, but for now I’ll concentrate on those of us, male and female, that do the asking.  The point is you are free to choose who you dance with.  When I was a lot less experienced than I am now I would choose very carefully.

I certainly won’t ask someone who I felt I would be out of my depth with, so I would always watch people before asking them for a dance.

I’d go further and look for what I called a friendly face – usually those people who weren’t taking it too seriously, but I would also let my intuition guide me and it rarely let me down.

So what of the ladies when they are asked to dance – do they feel comfortable?  I can only relate this to what I think when I’m asked to dance by someone new.  The fact that they have chosen to ask me to dance, always brings a smile to my face and puts me immediately at ease.

As I walked on to the dance floor with Jo there was a lot on my mind.  Photo courtesy of Tel Jenkins

Think about the age gap

There is another protocol that I stick to religiously.  I will not ask someone to dance who is a lot younger than myself.  As I get older there are obviously more people younger than myself every year, and so I have adopted this mantra.

I will not ask ladies who are young enough to be my daughter, on the basis that they didn’t come out to dance with their dad.

Many people disagree with me on this one, and they say, ‘It’s just a dance Paul’.  I’m sure it is, but it’s also about feeling comfortable with your partner – about both partners feeling comfortable, and this works for me.  Of course if I’m asked to dance by someone a lot younger I would never refuse a dance.

As I watched the people registering, I was soon made aware that the age group was predominantly a lot younger than myself.  The odds of dancing with someone as young or younger than my daughters just got greater.

Perhaps this competition wasn’t for me

Would anybody else have the same anxieties if they entered the Lucky Dip competition?  I suspect many would, but they had sensibly chosen to sit out and watch.  Perhaps this competition wasn’t for me, but it was too late now.  My number was pinned to my back, and we were being called on to the dance floor.

In any case I’d decided to write about the experience.  Hopefully that would make the stress of it all worthwhile.  As I took my place in one of the five rows of couples opposite Jo, I readied myself for the ‘meet your random partner’ process.  A member of the audience was asked to pick a number between one and ten.

Seven

The ladies were asked to move up the row seven places, and I got a partner a lot younger than my daughters.  We smiled at each other, and I was instantly reminded just how friendly this dance community is, but I still felt an urge to say something like ‘Don’t worry, I can dance better than your dad’, but I didn’t get the chance to say anything as the ladies were asked to move on again.

Ladies move again please.  Four places on.

I got lucky.  I recognised my new partner. While I hadn’t ever danced with her before, she was the daughter of one of the teachers at Ceroc Heaven on my home patch.  She, I’m sure recognised me, and I felt relieved that I wouldn’t need to say anything.

My worse nightmare as I recognise the track

My relief at getting a partner I knew soon evaporated, when I realised what track I would be dancing too.  In my dreams I would have danced to Edwin Starr’s ’80s floor filler H.A.P.P.Y. Radio.  It’s pace is perfect for the style of dancing I am most accustomed to.

If I had to dance to a contemporary track then Calvin Harris’ Promises featuring the vocals of Sam Smith would have suited me equally well, but the track that DJ John Gammon chose for my heat was not as generous.

Solo by Clean Bandit, featuring the vocals of Demi Lovato, is a great piece of contemporary music, and it’s easy to see why it’s continued Clean Bandit’s great run of hit dance tracks.

However it’s not the easiest of tracks to dance to, and I initially struggled to pick up the beat.  My dance brain quickly went in to overdrive.

I remembered I’d danced to the track on the Thames River boat cruise organised by Ceroc Evolution.  That wonderful afternoon I’d done most of my dancing on ‘The Slot’, and I quickly worked out that I would have to abandon any idea of dancing to the track in the more simpler ‘Rotational Style’ that I was very confident with.  I now had to dance in a style that I was somewhat less accustomed to.

I think we did OK

I knew that my partner could dance in the more modern slotted style, and sure enough she danced with a wonderful flair.  Once I’d  connected properly with the beat, and accepted the style of dancing, I began to enjoy myself.  My partner seemed to be enjoy it too.  Suddenly all the anxieties I’d experienced were gone and the experience was something to revel in.  We had fun and I think we did OK.

We didn’t make the next round, but so what.  Only two pairs from each heat of twenty made it through to the semi final, so there was no disgrace.

We had both enjoyed the experience, and we had danced with a great connection and a smile across our faces.  Surely that’s what’s important.

My friend Tel captured this picture as the dance ended.  You can see the relief on my face that I’d got through the ordeal.  Inside I felt a great feeling of joy, that came from knowing I’d stepped out of my comfort zone and enjoyed the trip.  Contrast this photo with the one above, that shows me sheepishly walking on to the dance floor with Jo.

You can see the relief and joy on my face. Photo courtesy of Tel Jenkins

I can now enjoy the other heats

I felt lucky that I’d been involved in the first heat, as I was now able to relax and watch all the other dancers compete in theirs.  Perhaps some of the other contestants had felt similar anxieties to my own, but if they did, it didn’t show.  Everyone it seemed was enjoying themselves, and the audience were fully engaged with the competition too.

After the five heats were completed, the numbers of ten successful male partners were read out.  These along with their respective female partners would now go in to a semi-final.  I must admit I did listen carefully to see if my number was called out, but I didn’t feel any real sense of disappointment that it wasn’t.

Decibel Dave has his moment in the spotlight once again

From the ten semi-finalist, four couples were selected for the final.  The heats and semi-final were judged by a cohort of Ceroc teachers, but the winner of the final was decided by the onlooking crowd.  After the final was complete it was time for Decibel Dave to take his place in the spotlight.

It’s Dave’s job, using a decibel reader – rather like a modern clap-o-meter – to gauge the applause for each of the four finalists.  It was close, but Dave’s equipment picked out a winner.

Here’s the successful couple receiving their sashes, champagne and prize money.  It was a joyous climax to a well received competition.  I have no doubt that the competition will receive positive feedback and become a permanent fixture on Saturday night’s programme.

Mike Ellard presents the prizes to the winning couple.  Photo courtesy of Tel Jenkins

So would you do it again Paul?

Simple answer – No.  Looking back I’d enjoyed the dancing part, but then I got lucky with my partner.  If I’m honest I personally struggled with the idea of possibly dancing with someone I didn’t know.  I feel proud that I took part, and dancing in front of a room full of people was not the ordeal I thought it might be.

The experience has been a good preparation for the Ceroc Champs next year, but then I’ll be dancing with someone I know, and someone I’ve practised with.  It’s the ‘Lucky Dip’ aspect I struggled with.  There is a Lucky Dip element to the Ceroc Champs too, but I’ll stay well away from it.

I’d like to finish this post by taking the opportunity to thank the young lady I danced with for being a fabulous partner. I’d also like to thank Tel Jenkins for taking the wonderful photos that I was able to use in this article.

Other Southport Splash articles

My Preview of this years September dance fest

The Spirit of Southport in 10 Tracks