Ceroc Heaven give me my first dance fix

I’ve great admiration for all the dance organisers around the country who ran fixed-partner classes and workshops whenever they were allowed.  It kept the interest in dancing going and allowed people to meet up with friends in a dance environment again.  Sadly, these couldn’t allow freestyle dancing, where you could mix partners and dance with everyone, so it was great to go out at the first opportunity and once again ask different people onto the dance floor.

My regular local Monday night class is the Ceroc one at the Rolls Royce Pavillion in Derby.  Sadly it seems the venue itself does not feel comfortable allowing events until September – something that I think is preventing other venues from opening too – so I was pleased to see that Ceroc Heaven were reopening their very popular class night at The Grange in Ratcliffe on Trent, just a forty-minute drive from my home.

A new goal for my blog

I had decided that I would go out at the first opportunity, not just to get a proper dance fix, but to see whether there would be a general hesitancy for people to go back dancing.  Reading some of the comments on Facebook you’d think that places would be overflowing as people rushed back but I suspected that many people would be more hesitant, particularly in light of the recent worrying uplift in new infections.

The thought that venues might struggle to get attendance numbers back to pre-pandemic levels got me thinking about how I could best use my blog.  Perhaps getting out there myself and describing how I found venues might help paint a clear picture of what was happening and so help people decide whether they could return with confidence.

I should say from the start that I don’t want to enter into the discussion about whether venues should ask for proof of vaccination or not.

I simply want to be able to report how people are feeling about returning to dancing and how much fun they are having on the dance floor once again.  Hopefully, I’ll detect little anxiety about being in a crowded setting and this will encourage other people to return to their favourite class nights and freestyles.

This is the reason that I was so pleased to get the opportunity to go to a class night with Mark and Sue O’Reilly at Ceroc Heaven on so-called Freedom Day.  What I sensed bodes very well for the immediate future of our great dance scene, but more of that later.

A hot night was never going to help

In past summers, I’ve always noted that hot sticky evenings always affected attendance at dance venues.  Sitting outside the pub with an ice-cold lager always has its attractions.  It was never going to help that the Met Office gave out its first-ever Extreme Heat warning on the day that venues could officially reopen.

While the warning only officially extended into the West Midlands, I’m sure it should have included Nottingham and the East Midlands, as my car thermometer was showing 30 degrees as I set out.  So, armed with two changes of shirt, a large towel and a bottle of water I headed off to Ratcliffe on Trent near Nottingham.

I think the warning should have been extended to Nottingham!

Asking to see Covid Passports caused no delay

I’ve written about Grange Hall many times in my blog.  It hosts one of the most successful Ceroc class nights in the country and has been the location of some of the best freestyles I’ve featured in my reviews.  It was also the inspiration for Ellie and her friends’ first freestyle in my dance novel – more about that later.

I got there in plenty of time in case the need to show Covid Passports might slow things down.  Mark and Sue had done a good job publicising the fact they would be asking for the Passports but it caused little or no delay to the usual booking-in procedures and I was soon in the main hall chatting with other early arrivals.

Everyone was so relieved to be able to come out dancing and being able to meet up with their friends again. I should add here, that no one spoke to me of any fears about their safety.  It was more important to just start catching up with each other.  So keen were we to dance, that a few of us got on the floor before the lesson even started.

Everyone seemed happy to dance with everyone else

As teacher Kirsty ‘kj’ Haywood took to the stage to organise the lines of dancers, I got the first sense of a new normal.  All venues it seems will be offering a line of fixed couple dancers for those people who want to stay with their fixed partners.  About six pairs joined this line but I sensed that it was more to do with beginners wanting to avoid the extra pressure of partnering more experienced dancers than worries about their safety.

Davina, one of Ceroc Heaven’s regular Taxi Dancers, told me that just two couples were fixed in the Beginners’ Refresher Class and one was so an experienced lady could help her less-experienced partner.  What pleased me was that once the freestyle dancing sessions started, the majority of the people who had fixed in the first lesson were happy to dance with anybody who asked them.

After seeing several of the dancer questionnaires that have been doing the rounds, I was worried that we might lose the social element of our dancing where we dance with everyone and anyone.  Even though Kirsty was at pains to remind people that it was acceptable to politely refuse a dance on the basis of worries about coming into close contact with others, I can honestly say that I didn’t see anything that hinted at this.  Everybody it seemed was happy to dance with everyone else.

A wealth of new music to dance to

Before I go any further let’s have some music.  One of the things that people used to tell me that they enjoyed about my blog was that I featured the music we danced to.  It seemed that many people had no idea of the actual song titles and the artists who sang their favourite tracks.  For this reason, I would include links to YouTube videos so that people could become more familiar with the tracks they were dancing to.

I’ve always been impressed by how the DJs kept abreast of the latest chart hits and pick out the ones that are suited to our style of dancing.  I can’t help imagining that while we’ve been away a whole shed load of tracks have been released that would have found their way onto Ceroc and Modern Jive DJs playlists.

I can’t wait to see what gems the DJs have lined up for us.  Here’s one that Mark thinks is going to get a lot of plays.  After dancing to it last night and playing it through my headphones as I write this blog post I fully agree.  So here is Ed Sheeran with his latest offering Bad Habits – the first of many new tracks I’m looking forward to dancing to.

Wearing a mask – no problem

In the dancer surveys, I mentioned above, there were questions about wearing masks.  I have to admit that I had hoped that no one would want to wear a mask, as it seemed to go against the grain of social dancing but I was also pleased that Ceroc have assured people that they are free to wear a mask if they wish and that other dancers should respect this.

Halfway through the beginners’ lesson, a lady joined the lines wearing a mask.  As she moved up the line to be my partner I wondered how I would react.  As each new lady moves up to be your partner you instinctively greet them with a warm smile.  When you are a nervous beginner, these smiles are a reassuring feature of social dancing.

When it came to it, I found myself smiling in my usual way, and even though no smile could come back I executed the move as if with any of my other partners.  Later in the freestyle session, I would ask the lady for a dance and it was as enjoyable as any other.  I’m sure that the lady had as many dances as any of the others and it showed that as a dance community we will be kind to each other, though we may see things differently.

Dancing is like riding a bike

As the ladies progressed up the line, and I got to speak to them briefly, one topic was common to many of them.  Would they be able to remember all their dance moves?  Over the past year, I’ve danced with quite a few ladies and they have all been concerned that they would struggle to remember the moves.  It proved otherwise.  It seems that dancing is like riding a bike and I think the ladies on Monday all rediscovered their dance mojo very quickly.

As a man who has to lead I was pleased that I’ve been able to practice off and on over the past year.  Even so, I sensed that my moves were a lot more limited than I remember them and I was pleased that I slowly remembered many I hadn’t done for over a year.  I spoke to one guy who told me he was struggling to remember many of his moves and I think everyone was mindful that it will take a few trips to the dance floor for us all to get back to where we were.

Please excuse the plugs for my dance novel

As I greeted each new lady in the beginners’ lesson, I was reminded of Ellie, the character I created for my dance novel, Would you like to dance?  For those who may not be familiar with the novel, it tells the story of Ellie who finds a dance class as she strives to build a new life for herself.  She never saw herself as a dancer, unless under the influence of too much Prosecco, but soon finds the confidence to enter an amateur dance competition.  Her beginners class nights play an important role in the storyline.

Writing my novel is what kept me going through the difficult days of lockdown by reminding me how wonderful our dance scene was and that one day I would, like Ellie, enjoy the euphoria of dancing once again.  Now that it is published and I hear that dancers are downloading it and enjoying it, the past sixteen months don’t seem such a waste.  I hope you’ll allow me to use my blog articles and reviews to publicise a story that I feel will be a lasting tribute to this wonderful dance scene.

Can I also take this opportunity to thank the many dancers who have downloaded the story and a special thank you to those who have left reviews on the Amazon Kindle site and for all the 5 Star ratings?  If you’d like to read about how dancing helped change Ellie’s life, then simply click anywhere on the image below and it will take you straight to the Amazon page where you can purchase it.

More of Mark’s fabulous music

I’ve long been a fan of Mark O’Reilly’s playlists and have been pleased to review his music on many occasions including some top-rated Thunderball sessions at the Southport Weekenders.  As always Mark mixed it up with many of the Ceroc favourites but I was amazed at how much new music there was.

Like many DJs, Mark has been doing regular Zoom music sessions for the Ceroc Heaven faithful.  These have enabled Mark to try out some of the new music that was still being produced throughout the big closedown.

Here’s another one that Mark thinks is going to be big on the main room circuit.  It’s from Calvin Harris who has given us so many Ceroc favourites over the past few years.  Here he’s teamed up with vocalist Tom Grennan to make By your side a club-style track that reminds me just how energised dance music with its occasional thumping bass lines can lift the spirit like nothing else.

The beginners pick it up fast

One of the things I’ve long realised is that our dance scene needs a constant supply of beginners to sustain the numbers at freestyles and weekenders.  It worries me that we have had no new beginners for sixteen months now and I suspect this will have an impact on numbers.  What pleased me about Monday night was just how busy the beginner class was but this next story gives me hope that numbers will rebound quickly.

The second move of the night was The Shoulder Spring, one of the more challenging beginners moves.  As my partner approached me, I could see she was struggling with it.  It turned out that she had only done a few lessons before everything closed down and had presumedly forgotten most of it.  I duly lead her carefully through the move and she completed it with a smile on her face.

At the very end of the class, when all three moves were being put together, I got her again as my partner.  ‘So how did you get on?’  ‘Oh, I think I’ve got it now.’  And she had.  She completed all three moves twice through with a confident smoothness.

Kirsty is a fabulous teacher and mixes in some gentle humour to relax everyone.  Aided by her experienced demo Mark Shelton, she broke the moves down into easy bite-size pieces and I wasn’t surprised that all the beginners danced the routine confidently by the end of the lesson.  Hopefully, we will start to see more new recruits but it may take a while to get the numbers back to where they were.

DJ Mark watches on as Kirsty and Mark demo in the Intermediate lesson

Weight gain and a loss of fitness

I don’t think Mark and Sue were expecting the numbers to be like the old days but they must have been encouraged by the turn out particularly taking into account the heat.  What will have pleased them was seeing just how busy the dance floor was during the freestyle sessions and just how normal it all looked.

It certainly felt normal to me as there was no shortage of ladies to ask for a dance.  Like most classes, The Grange class has some experienced dancers and I was able to enjoy lots of fabulous dances, but one thing became apparent very early on – I’ve lost my dance fitness.  When I’ve danced with ladies at my house or at theirs we’ve taken it easy.  A couple of dances and then a sit-down, a couple more and then a chat.  Now I was going from one lady partner to another and I was soon struggling.

Perhaps the heat didn’t help but it did make me wonder how I’m going to cope with the four-hour freestyle that I’ve got tickets for on Saturday night.  Other people commented about their own lack of fitness and many people were happy to mention their lockdown weight gain.  I’ll admit to putting on a stone.  I can’t blame it all on not dancing – there was a lot of comfort eating over the past year – but I’m hoping that once I get back on the circuit I’ll manage to shed the weight I’ve put on.

Can I get fit for Southport?

It might help if I stop writing and danced around my lounge for a while.  So, an excuse to dance again to one of Mark’s fab tunes from Monday night.  I love the way that DJs find new remixes and new versions of classic dance tracks.  Toploader’s Dancing in the moonlight has long been a dance floor favourite but it was ready for a modern makeover.

Mark played a Tropical House version by Swedish duo Jubel featuring the distinctive vocals of Neimy.  What a wonderful refreshing version this is.  The gentle beat is so easy to connect with and it was the perfect track for the first freestyle session when everyone was getting their dancing feet sorted after a long layoff.

I also found a Tiesto remix of the Jubel version which has a more club-like vibe.  Oh, it is so good to be reviewing music again.  I can’t wait until I regain my fitness and I can lose myself in all this wonderful music again.  How many weeks is it until Southport?  OK, I’m on a mission.  I need to be still on that dance floor at three in the morning.

We danced until the very end

I’ve been to many class nights that fizzle out long before the end but it is never like that at a Grange class night.  Even with the reduced numbers, there were plenty of people who were determined to stay to the end.  We’ve been away too long and some of us can’t get too much of it.

Mark kept a great mix of tracks coming right up to the end.  Nothing too fast in light of the great heat but for his final two tracks he treated us to a couple of gorgeous slower ones.  The final one was Come on get higher by Matt Nathanson.  To my great delight, Kirsty asked me to dance to this classic chillout track.  Ceroc Heaven are very lucky to have Kirsty on their roster of teachers as she will dance with everyone.

She has this wonderful ability to make you look a better dancer than perhaps you are.  Let’s just say that she worked her magic but also made me realise how I need to get my chill-out dance mojo much better tuned in.

I get quite emotional

To spend an evening with like-minded people, united by our common love of social dancing, was the most uplifting experience at times but there was one moment that I’ll admit to being quite emotional.  After Mark had thanked us all for coming and announced that there would be just two more tracks, he hit the play button on the first of them.

As my brain recognised the opening strain of one of the most loved chill-out tracks of all time, I felt a surge of emotion that told its own story of the past sixteen months.  How did I ever get through this time without being in a crowded room with everyone feeling the joyous vibe of Breathe in by Daddy was a Milkman.  Memories flooded back of SILC sessions at Southport and my Tea Dance tour of Sunday afternoon chill-out venues.

I looked around for a partner and found a lady who was free.  I doubt she could have known the joy I felt inside that I could ask her to dance.  I suspect the lady in question had never immersed herself in an afternoon of smooth slotted expressive dancing that I have so missed but that didn’t stop us having the most wonderful dance.  You see it’s not about your dance moves or styling.  The joy of this kind of dancing is that we can simply ask a stranger to share three minutes on the dance floor, connect with each other and the beat and escape our worldly worries.

We all missed each other

For the many single people like myself, these past sixteen months have been very difficult as many of us had built our lives around the social side of dancing.  I asked my Dance Buddy Ian for his thoughts about the return to The Grange.

I have to say what a fabulous first night back at Ceroc Heaven’s Grange class night was.  It did not disappoint at all and it was great to be back dancing again with all my lovely lady dancers.  Long may it continue.

Lady’s we have missed you.  Hopefully, you missed us too.  From seeing all the smiling faces, I think everybody has missed everyone and let’s hope as Ian says it continues.

Dancing is waiting for you again

I know that some people will be anxious to start dancing again but know that when you do, the dancing will be as joyous as it ever was.  That was the one thing I’ll remember from this first night of dancing with Ceroc Heaven.  Let’s hope they never have reason to take it away from us again.

If you enjoy reading my dance blogs, I’m sure you’ll love reading my novel Would you like to dance?  It tells the story of how Ellie and her friends discover the joy that is partner dancing and find the confidence to enter an amateur dance competition.  The story is full of the excitement and passion that I feel dancing and I’m sure many people will recognise themselves in the ten characters that make up Ellie’s Newbie Dance Gang.

Why not visit the website I’ve designed to support the novel.  It is packed with background information on how I came to write Ellie’s story and reviews from the people who have already enjoyed it.  You also find whole sections dedicated to the joy that is Ceroc dancing including photo galleries and videos showing the fun we all have on the dance floor.  Simply click on the image below and you’ll be taken straight there.