For details of the Tea Dance image see the acknowledgement below
My first ever Tea Dance
At the beginning of April I got an opportunity to go to my first ever Tea Dance. My partner Jo had been asked to demo for Ashley Davis at a Role Reversal class, that ran along side a Smooth Moves class run by Joe Collins (see review links below). Both classes ran prior to a four and a half hour freestyle run by Ceroc Beds & Bucks at Newton Longville near Milton Keynes.
The two lessons ran from one until three and the freestyle ran until seven thirty. The whole afternoon and early evening was branded as Te Amo. The classes were both top drawer and the freestyle was packed.
In fact so good was this Tea Dance, that I was moved to examine what seems to be a growing trend to offer freestyle dancing on a Sunday afternoon and evening.
So what is a Tea Dance?
I can’t help conjuring up images of elderly people doing some ballroom dancing in between cups of tea and a helping of Victoria sponge. I suspected I might be being a little unkind so I thought I’d better check with Wikipedia:
A tea dance, also called a thé dansant (French for ‘dancing tea’), was historically a dance held on a summer or autumn afternoon from 4 to 7 p.m. In the English countryside, a garden party sometimes preceded the dance.
As you might imagine Wikipedia has quite a lot to say about the tradition of tea dances, but I thought the next passage worthy of interest:
The usual refreshments in 1880 were tea and coffee, ices, champagne and claret, fruit, sandwiches, cake and biscuits. The types of dances performed during tea dances included waltzes, tango and by the late 1920s, The Charleston.
I couldn’t help but compare that description to the Te Amo Tea Dance. Firstly it took place not on some balmy summer or autumn afternoon, but on one of the wettest days of our recent troubled spring weather. Secondly I don’t remember there being any Champagne but there was certainly wine and a fabulous array of sandwiches and cakes.
A warm welcome with a wonderful spread
Not that the damp weather mattered, for once inside the welcome from Rachel and venue manager Tracey was as warm as all Ceroc Beds & Bucks events, and I’m not surprised it was packed – where else could you go on a damp and dreary afternoon and meet up with your friends and dance to some fabulous music.
Joking aside Rachel and Marc the holders of the Beds & Bucks Ceroc franchise have built quite a reputation for their afternoon soirees, and the spread of food was one of the best I’ve ever seen at a freestyle. Considering the price for the dance and refreshments was just £10 it represented great value for money, and it helped explain why the place was packed.
A lot more than I first thought
I’ve never really took note of Tea Dances before, but I suspect that they have been around for a time, but looking on The UK Jive Website it seems that there are a lot more than I had realised. I’ll return to the Te Amo event later, but first let me explore some of the other Sunday dance options on offer.
They are not all described as Tea Dances, some are simply advertised as Sunday Afternoon Freestyles. Looking through the listing on UK Jive for the next four weeks there are on average five Sunday dances of some description every week, spread evenly across the country.
Also check out two great Facebook Pages for upcoming events
I’ve long been a fan of The UK Jive Website, with its comprehensive listing of classes and freestyles (see link below), but there are also two Facebook Pages that I get notifications from that often give details of these Sunday Freestyles. Modern Jive – If you dance it, Join it and Cerocaholics are both very active pages used by dance organisations to promote their venues.
A Pick and Mix from around the Country
I thought I’d trawl through Facebook to see the type of events that have been listed. My selection is somewhat random, but also includes some organisations that have impressed me in the past.
Ceroc Groove, SILC on Sunday, Bromsgrove
I’d always thought that Sunday dances were chill-out music affairs. This was because my only previous Sunday dancing experience was many years ago, at what I remember as a Blues Room session at Lickey End, Bromsgrove south of Birmingham.
This regular monthly session is still run by Ceroc Groove, and I note it has now been re-branded as SILC on Sunday with an emphasis on expressive dancing. Quite a few organisations have adopted the SILC on Sunday branding, though I suspect that the dance styles will also include what many of us know as Smooth Jive and Modern Blues.
Regular readers of my blog will know of my struggle to get to grips with a slotted style of dancing, more suited to chill-out music. I continue to make progress and I’m determined to improve sufficiently to be able to handle such a chilled-out Sunday afternoon session.
I note from the listing on the UK Jive Website that the event is described as being for accomplished expressive dancers as well as those new to this chilled out style of dancing. Perhaps that’s the encouragement I need to give it a visit.
Ceroc Surrey, Byfleet Sunday Freestyle
If you like cake at your Tea Dance, then Byfleet has to be a serious contender. I’ve been to Thursday class nights here several times when visiting my daughter who lives close by. One feature of the night is a break for coffee and cake. Each week someone brings the most delicious home made cake. I suspect that Sundays are no different (see review link below).
Another reason for me picking out this venue is because of the music. Each time I’ve been to Byfleet I’ve been impressed with the music of regular DJs Kevin Hill & Michaela. I messaged Kevin to ask him what his and Michaela’s music policy was for the Byfleet Tea Dances:
We play a bit of everything, and it’s all mixed up. I’ll send you the playlist from the last one.
The playlist duly arrived. Now I don’t want to give away all Kevin’s hot tracks, but the playlist really was, as he said, something of everything. There were lots of Main Room favourites, and Ceroc Classics all mixed in with contemporary tracks with a bit of Soul and Disco from the ’60s and ’70s.
The playlist also had plenty of slow tracks mixed in too – love that Kevin found room for Tone Damli’s 40 Years – but this was a long way from the chilled and blues mix I remembered from my visit to Ceroc Groove’s Lickey End Blues afternoon. But who said that Tea Dances had to be chilled music only.
The more I looked in to the music on offer on Sundays the more I realised there was a lot of choice regarding the music out there. More than I’d first realised.
Devon Velvet, Longdown near Exeter
When I was at a recent Strictly Ceroc Switch freestyle in Bristol, I met some ladies who had travelled up from Plymouth in Devon. They told me that on the way home they were calling in at a Tea Dance near Exeter. Sadly the event was cancelled due to an unseasonal heavy fall of snow, but now writing this article I thought I check it out for myself.
This is a regular monthly venue, run by Hev Mate, that is advertised as a sumptuous afternoon of Modern Blues with a hint of Nuevo Tango and West Coast Swing. Now again that sounds just a bit out of my comfort zone, so I asked one of the ladies from Plymouth for her take on it. Here’s what Jenny had to say:
I have been dancing Modern Jive now for 11 years and love the faster tracks of music. When I was invited to attend Devon Velvet I was some what mortified at the idea of dancing to a lot slower tempo than I was used to, and on a Sunday afternoon too – not a chance!!
I finally bowed down to the pressure and went along with some friends. Being an experienced dancer I was worried that I would look and feel stupid dancing out of my comfort zone.
Jenny makes an interesting point. Many of us feel a little anxious about dancing to slower paced music, particularly when there’s a solid three hours of it. I couldn’t help wonder how Jenny got on:
How wrong was I? The afternoon had a very friendly atmosphere. It started with an introductory lesson to Blues dancing followed by four hours of freestyle. The dancers themselves were of all levels, and the more experienced ones were happy to help out where needed, particularly if there were any Blues novices.
Going regularly has helped improve my dancing to slower chilled out and Blues music, and I would recommend that anyone, no matter at what level gives it a try. I’m sure that once tried, you will almost certainly go back as a regular.
Oh, and did I mention that there’s cakes, tea and coffee provided by the club and some dancers brought extra cake too. A perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
That’s quite an endorsement from Jenny and interesting that cake is mentioned again! I asked Nick Stephens who DJs at Devon velvet for some more details about the event and the music:
It is predominantly a Blues event but we get Smooth Jivers, Westies and Tango dancers too. Jenny is right that we cater for beginners by offering a thirty minutes introduction to Blues class, which makes this event definitely suitable for inexperienced dancers.
Also the tempo starts off faster then gradually decreases to pretty Bluesy towards the end. As the freestyle is four hours in duration, it means that people who might struggle with Blues, can leave before the end having still had a good session of dancing.
Nick also explained that, just like the successful Te Amo Tea Dances, they sometimes run a workshop before the freestyle itself.
Around four times a year we have Sara White down teaching a 3 hour Smooth Jive and Blues workshop. This works really well with the Freestyle immediately afterwards, and has contributed along with the introduction to Blues classes, towards Devon Velvet growing in to a nice little dance community.
The Te Amo Freestyle Format
I was interested to hear Nick’s explanation of the way the music at Devon Velvet gradually slows down towards the end. The music format at Te Amo is very similar. After the Smooth Moves Workshop I got to chat with teacher Joe Collins about the music format for the Te Amo freestyle sessions.
We split the DJing duties between the three of us. I usually start it off with Main Room tracks, then Marc takes over with tracks suited to SILC and then Rachel ends the night with Bluesy tracks.
There was no doubt that Joe’s own DJ session had a main room feel, and there was a familiar mix of current tracks, classic favourites with a bit of Latin, Disco and Motown mixed in.
I’ll talk a little more about the music from Te Amo later, but for now I’ve picked out a track played half way through the evening that sums up the feel of the Sunday playlist. It’s a track that has a cool vibe, but with a strong rhythm you can still Modern Jive to. Real Love from The Drizabone Soul Family is a real favourite of everybody’s.
Electric Jive, Frozen at Long Bennington and Stamford
The first ever freestyle review I posted on my blog was an Electric Jive’s event in Stamford (see link to review below). This is a wonderful independent organisation run by Sally Picker and Steve Lampert. Electric Jive run a Tea Dance on the first Sunday of the month at either their Long Bennington or Stamford venues, which they call Frozen.
I wondered if the Tea Dance was branded as Frozen because it consisted of chill-out music exclusively. I asked Sally what the music format was:
Frozens are just fabulous!! They’re chilled Sunday afternoons of dancing. The music is extremely varied – a fantastic mixture of Funky, Soul, Latin, Motown and Blues. It’s a real chance to extend and challenge our dancing, while still having plenty of tracks we all know.
Sally’s description of the music probably reflects the music mix of most Tea Dances. But apart from the music, the more I look in to these Tea Dances, the more I realise how important cake is.
Here’s Sally posting a picture of the results of her baking on Facebook. I love Ab Fab’s comment with the #officialtaster hashtag. Modern Jive is something more than just dancing – it’s also an opportunity to socialise with like minded people, and these Tea Dances seem to all have socialising at their heart, along with a nice cup of tea and cake of course.
Jive Temptation, in Oxfordshire and Wiltshire
Here’s an organisation I came across on Facebook who really go for Tea Dances. Jive Temptation run by Mark Bees and Sarah Clark hold Tea Dances most Sundays in one of their venues at Benson, Harwell and Wallingford all in Oxfordshire and Marlborough in Wiltshire.
I got in touch with Sarah who gave me a little more background to her and Mark’s association with Tea Dances:
When Mark and I started Jive Temptation 8 years ago, we taught modern jive three times a week, and ran a tea dance once a month. Back then nobody was doing Sunday afternoon Tea Dances, but we soon discovered that these were very popular with our dancers.
We therefore changed the focus of our business to concentrate on the Tea Dances and to run them more frequently.
As dancers ourselves we knew what we liked and didn’t like at dance venues, and so we wanted to be different. Mark and I wanted to offer something personal and delivered with attention to detail and thought.
For example we wanted tea served in proper cups and saucers and china plates for the cakes. Table clothes on the tables, and fresh flowers along with bunting to decorate the various halls are our trademarks if you like.
All the cakes are homemade by myself and we cut the sandwiches on site so they are fresh.
It’s really interesting to hear Sarah talk about what must have been the beginnings of Tea Dances in a Modern Jive setting. I love the reference to china plates for the cakes. It’s pleasing to hear about the lengths they both go to create a lovely atmosphere for their Sunday afternoon get togethers.
After seeing the different approaches to Sunday afternoon music of the organisations above, I was interested to see how Matt and Sarah approached the playlist for their Tea Dances:
We all like something different when it comes to music, and it’s impossible to please everyone all the time. We believe the key is to play a variety of music, so at least most of the people are happy most of the time.
Putting the playlists together is one of the aspects which we enjoy the most. There is a mix of classics and new releases, and tracks from a range of decades.
The tempo is more smooth and relaxed for a Sunday afternoon event, and we try to ensure the feel is different from our Friday night freestyles. We get great feedback about our music, so we assume we are doing something right.
This sounds like a playlist that I would enjoy dancing to. I was also pleased to see a reference to Tango on the Facebook Page for their Harwell venue, which is a two room Tea Dance:
All the great modern jive music you love for a Sunday afternoon in one room and in the other room a lovely mix of tango.
It seems that Tango, mentioned in the 19th Century Tea Dances above, still has a place in the modern version. The Te Amo playlist certainly encouraged a few Tango dancers on to the floor when I was there.
Ceroc Glasgow, Ferry on The Clyde
It seems that Tea Dances also give people an opportunity to find interesting locations for their Sunday afternoon sessions. Ceroc Glasgow occasionally run freestyles at The Ferry, a riverside entertainment venue built on the floating body of an old ferry, moored on the Clyde in the centre of Glasgow.
Dancing takes place from one until four, and then there’s an option to have a proper lunch on board. Again it sounds a wonderful way to socialise with people you might only ever just dance with.
I’ve often described Modern Jive and Ceroc as a wonderful dance community, and it seems that Sunday dance get-togethers are one of the things that hold it together.
Rachel starts to slow it down at Te Amo
The dance floor at Te Amo was packed from the word go as Joe played his main room set. After five Rachel took over, and I got a chance to talk to chat with her while she took her turn on DJing duties. I asked Rachel whether she would be slowing the pace a little:
Around now we do tend to slow it down a little, but I’m always mindful of the people in the room. I know the music people like, and at the moment looking at the dancers on the floor I won’t slow it down too much, but I’ll start to put some chill-out tracks in to the mix.
That really impressed me. Dancing to chill-out slower music isn’t always easy, particularly for new dancers. I knew that there were quite a few dancers present who had been dancing less than a year. Mixing in a just few chill-out tracks at this stage seemed a way of keeping most people happy.
Here then is a lovely chill-out track that Rachel mixed in at this stage. It’s Dizzy by Katlyn Swanson, a track perfect for West Coast Swing or a SILC style slotted dance.
The tempo eventually slows right down
I wasn’t able to stay until the end, so I messaged Rachel to ask if she eventually slowed it right down. She kindly sent me this reply:
Yes, I did start to bring the tempo down for the last part of Te Amo – the last hour is known to be more chilled out & blues. Though we did have fewer Blues and West Coast dancers than usual, so I had to be careful!
So, I basically started with some ‘soft sounding’ main room tracks, and some acoustic versions of well-known tracks. Then I put in some slower Latin numbers.
Since they are Latin, the rhythms often make them sound more up-tempo than they really are – that gave me the space to put in some Blues & Soul. Some of the slower ones had to be really well known, so as not to put people off, such as Midnight Train to Georgia by Gladys Knight
It was great of Rachel to give me an insight in to how she watches the floor and carefully picks her tracks. I’ve always felt that there was an art to the craft of being a DJ, and this shows just how important it is that they carefully prepare for these Tea Dances when they include Chill-out music.
Here’s one of Rachel’s bluesy tracks from the final part of her Te Amo playlist – Jonny Lang’s soulful Breakin’ me.
Where did the name Te Amo come from?
I was interested why Rachel and Marc had called their Tea Dances Te Amo. I suspected it had something to do with the part chill-out nature of the afternoon and evening. Tracey, the venue manager was happy to fill me in:
In some languages Te Amo means love. That’s why we have the inflatable hearts on the stage.
I’d wondered why they were there, and suddenly it made a lot of sense. This session of Sunday dancing had a lovely feel, with a very friendly and sociable atmosphere in the room. Te Amo – yes, I get it.
More Sunday Dancing on UK Jive
I added the six Sunday dances to my review of Te Amo, as a way of giving a flavour to this seemingly very popular side to the Modern Jive lifestyle. Below I’ve listed 13 more locations that were advertised on The UK Jive Website or Facebook over the next four weeks.
This list suggests that the geographical spread is quite comprehensive, but there are still a few areas that aren’t covered, and I can’t help wondering if other organisations might want to consider filling in these gaps. Here are the organisations that run regular Sunday afternoon dances.
- Adrenalin Jive, Eastbourne
- Ceroc Kent, Aylesford
- Ceroc Nights, Basildon
- Ceroc Plus, Alton
- Credit Crunch Jive, Wolverhampton
- CurlyWurly Events, Bradford
- Dance Card Events, Wetherby
- Funky Lush, Burnham
- In Motion Dance, Weston-Super-Mare
- NewBerko JiveHub, Berkhampsted
- The Jive Junction, Yarm
- Verve Dance, Hatfield
- ViBe Dance Nights, Dartford and Sidcup
Ceroc Beds and Bucks also run another Tea Dance venue they call Sunday Afternoon Delight at Northchurch, near Berkamsted. From the advert this appears to have a more main room vibe. However it has one thing in common with Te Amo and with most of the other Tea Dances – Cake!
That’s the summer sorted then!
I’ve decided to try to get to all six of the venues I’ve featured over the summer. There is no doubt that Sunday dancing, whether it’s called a Tea Dance or SILC on Sunday, is a significant part of this wonderful dance scene, and I think it deserves a little more attention on my part. I’ll keep you posted.
The Tea Dance Tour Reviews
Get the Tea Dance Jigsaw
The image at the top of this posting is by artist Jason Juta, and was used for a 1000 piece Falcon de luxe Jigsaw entitled Tea Dance. The jigsaw is available on line. Here’s a link to one of the many sites that sell this popular jigsaw.