Featured Image courtesy of Mike Smith

This is a stunning setting for a dance

We’d been dancing for about half an hour and we thought it timely to take a look around the ship.  We wandered up to the top deck by way of a few staircases.  The view that greeted us was quite stunning.  But then this was no ordinary venue.  This was The Cutty Sark, marooned in its dry dock by The River Thames at Greenwich.

As we caught the cool breeze off the river we tried to take in the amazing views.  Above us was the illuminated rigging of the ship itself.  To our left the sun was slowing slipping towards the horizon creating the most glorious sunset over London and it’s latest iconic building – The Shard.  In front of us thousands of light bulbs lit up the office tower blocks of  Canary Wharf.

Moored in the river was a large cruise ship.  As the sky darkened further it created a new illuminated focal point and added to the already atmospheric setting.  Seeing a beautiful sunset at anytime is an uplifting experience.  To see the sun set over London from our high vantage point on the upper deck of an iconic London tourist attraction was something else.

You can see the Shard as the sun sets over London.  Photo courtesy of Mike Smith

Tori, Mike and David capture the atmospheric setting

On board the ship were photographers Tori Hallett, Mike Smith and David Addis who all captured not only the atmosphere on the open deck, but of the freestyle itself.  I’ve used some of their wonderful images to bring this review to life, and have included links to their respective photo albums below, so you can see for yourself the story they tell of this amazing dance event.

Here’s one of my favourite pictures from David’s album.  It shows a group of dancers chillin’ out on the upper deck.  The hint of the late evening sun, as it descends towards the horizon, is enough to give this photograph a real atmospheric feel, that sets the tone for the very special evening that lay ahead.

A group of dancers relax illuminated by the final rays of the setting sun.  Photo courtesy of David Addis

In the cold of March we book for the Summer

It was back in early March that Ashley Davis, one of the teachers at Ceroc Heaven in Nottingham, mentioned a Ceroc Evolution freestyle at the Cutty Sark, that promised to be one of the dance events of the summer.  Ashley had been asked to share the DJing duties and had inside information that tickets were selling fast.

On Ashley’s recommendation I immediately booked four pairs of tickets for my Nottingham Dance Gang friends.  Good job I moved so fast as within a few days only single men tickets were left.  Strange to think that we booked up in the last throws of winter, long before anyone had any hint of the glorious summer that awaited us all.

The Dance Gang make a weekend of it

Time flies, particularly when you are enjoying yourself, and there was plenty of dancing to keep us busy in the spring and early summer.  Suddenly the Cutty Sark was just two weeks away.  We convened a meeting, and quickly decided to make a weekend of it.

I’ve often written on my blog about the wonderful social opportunities that Ceroc and Modern Jive offer us, and my so called Dance Gang friends have featured in many of my postings.  I know that in class nights and venues across the country many new friendships have been forged and that many people have their own version of a Dance Gang.

Like my own dance friends, they block book for weekenders like Camber and Southport and journey long distances together to iconic freestyles like Switch in Bristol or Daventry.  I know that many groups got together for the Ceroc Champs in May.  These friendship groups are a wonderful benefit of joining the Ceroc and Modern Jive community.

A Review in Two Parts

I always knew that any review of the Cutty Sark would consume a lot of words, and I had an added pressure on the word count, because I also wanted to add the perspective of my dance friends.  I particularly wanted to involve the ladies in a discussion about what it’s like to go to a venue where you don’t really know anyone.

Many ladies stay local because they know the men dancers, and they feel comfortable about asking them to dance.  They are assured of a reasonable number of dances.  I couldn’t help wonder how they would fare when they knew no one bar the other members of The Dance Gang.  I think you’ll find their feedback very interesting.

Anticipation and Feedback

With the word count in mind I’ve decided to write the review in two parts.  In Part 1 I’ll concentrate on the time up to 11:30 when DJs Steve Thomas and Ashley Davis treated everyone to a wonderful main room set of tracks.  This first review will also feature some of the build up and growing anticipation.

In Part 2 I’ll focus on the last ninety minutes where the music was slowed down to a more SILC Zone style vibe.  In this second review I’ll also be looking at all the wonderful feedback on Facebook and of course the conclusions from my lady dance friends from Nottingham.  But now, lets do some dancing.

A unique dance space

But first, I have to try and explain the dance space.  When I booked for the Cutty Sark I gave little thought to the part of the boat we would be dancing in.  I just assumed it would be on one of the wooden decks, though the upper deck seemed unlikely due to the three tall masts and all the rigging.

On the night I got a bit of a surprise.  The dance space was actually underneath the boat.  The Cutty Sark itself does not rest on the dry dock which is now it’s home, but is suspended some distance above the dock floor creating a quite unique space that is used for a variety of leisure and educational activities.

Add 300 dancers for a special atmosphere

Now you might think that dancing on the floor of a dry dock, underneath one of the largest sailing boats ever built might be a little strange, but it wasn’t.  It just gave this space a unique character that made a great first impression on all of us.  When you added the three hundred dancers and some fabulous music it created an atmosphere that was quite special.

Because of the length of the ship the dance floor easily accommodated all the dancers, and considering how many people were present there was plenty of room to dance in.  There was also plenty of room to sit.  There was seating available in the bar area but most people sat on the levels of terracing that had been built in to the sides of the dock.

We are actually dancing underneath the steel clad hull.  Photo courtesy of Mike Smith

Steve and Ashley mix up an outstanding playlist

The dance floor was actually made of stone slabs, but I have to say that it was as smooth as many wooden floors we are used to dancing on and was never an issue.  Of course great dancing takes more than an iconic venue and nice floor – more than ever it needs great music, and DJs Steve and Ashley served it up in buckets.

I really appreciated that Steve had asked Ashley to join him on the decks.  Two DJ’s ensure a real freshness to the music, particularly when both are well known for picking up on the latest floor fillers.  With the dancing extending to one in the morning this was a wise move.

‘Any idea what we play next Ashley?’  ‘Haven’t a clue Steve!’  Photo courtesy of Tori Hallett

We are very proud of our Ashley

I’ve danced to Steve’s music quite a few times this year, including main room and SILC Zone sets.  I’ve always been impressed that there has been very little duplication, though I must admit that Steve did play a track I’d danced to on the Ceroc Evolution Thames Boat Trip in June.  The thing is, that was the first time I’d heard this great piece of funk, and I’d loved it.  Hearing it again was alright by me.

I’ll feature this track in Part 2, but first a word about Ashley.  We are very proud of Ashley in Nottingham.  I’ve always thought it very important for DJs to keep finding new music, and Ashley has brought a long overdue freshness to the dance scene in Nottingham.  In amongst Ashley’s fresh contemporary tracks he’s also dug out some great ones that were gathering dust in the dance vaults.  I still remember Ash setting the floor on fire at The Grange with Dan Hartman’s Instant replay.

The anticipation starts to build

There was something about this freestyle that built a greater than normal sense of anticipation.  My friends certainly felt it.  Perhaps it was the fact that the Dance gang were making a weekend of it, but I know from comments on Facebook that the anticipation was building locally too.  What helped build the excitement was the way that Steve Thomas created a buzz around it by his postings on Facebook.

The event had been a sell out within days of the tickets going on sale.  Just seeing on Facebook that it had sold out so quickly created it’s own buzz.  Realising that I had secured tickets for my friends was another buzz.  As the day approached Steve was updating everyone on Facebook, and his postings added to the sense of occasion.  I couldn’t help smiling when I read this comment of Steve’s:

Tickets for The Ship are as rare as rocking horse poo.

This all helped to raise the anticipation levels amongst my friends.  It made us feel good that we did have a ticket to this sell-out event.  There is no doubt that Steve had marketed this event very skilfully, and every time I saw the poster for it blazed across my computer screen I couldn’t help calculate the number of sleeps left before we set off for London.

The Dance Gang are on their way

There is no doubt that my Dance Gang friends excitement was also down to the fact that we were making a weekend of it.  We travelled down to London on the Friday and had all day Saturday to soak up the touristy bits that Greenwich is famous for.  And there was the after party to look forward to, after the dancing, in one of our hotel bedrooms.

Myself and three of the ladies got to travel down on the train.  We’d reserved tickets and got ourselves seated around a table.  Off peak train travel can be quite a relaxing experience, and as we sipped our drinks we discussed the forthcoming dancing.

My friends admit to a little anxiety

Many people are happy to dance locally with the people they know.  Go to your local freestyle and you recognise most of the faces, but more importantly you are assured a lot of dances with partners you feel comfortable with.  It’s nice occasionally to visit new venues and meet new people, but it can come at a price.  Here’s the Dance gang’s viewpoint:

You are always straying slightly out of your comfort when you dance away from home.

Now I am a confident dancer, and while I still have to take a deep breathe before I ask someone new for a dance, I’m quite comfortable in a venue where I know few people.  It’s not the same for everyone, and particularly for the ladies.  Even though the ladies are encouraged to ask the men to dance, many will want to be asked on to the dance floor.

What about the age demographic?

Sadly many women can tell stories where they’ve sat out too much.  It’s understandable that they might worry about being asked on to the dance floor.  One thing that gave some comfort was the fact that Steve and his team seemed to have gone to great lengths to ensure the event was gender balanced.  That’s something the ladies always appreciate.

But there was one other worry too.  Would the people be a lot younger than ourselves.  When I and my friends went to our first Southport Weekenders, one of the thing that surprised us was how many young people there were.  We assumed that many of them came from London.

I reassured my friends that if the age profile was anything like that at my recent Ceroc Evolution River Boat Trip, then they had nothing to worry about.  Of course going in a group meant that we men could always ensure that our lady friends got their fair share of dancers, and this is one of the reasons that  many people join their own Dance Gangs.

Keep Calm and Drink Prosecco

Any worries about our forthcoming dance adventure was soon put aside as we ordered a bottle of Prosecco.  I might add that this was not on the train.  We are lucky in The East Midlands that all the trains to London arrive at St Pancras.  This is a wonderful destination in itself and you are spoilt for choice with the restaurants and cafes on offer.  We duly got ourselves a table at Carlucccios and ordered alcoholic drinks.

That evening two more members of the Dance Gang joined us and we spent a wonderful evening chillin’ out at The Sail Loft pub/restaurant overlooking Greenwich Reach.  More drinks and more laughter.  This was shaping up to be a great weekend even before the dancing started.

I’ve often used my blog to promote the benefits of throwing yourself in to the wonderful community that is the world of Ceroc and Modern Jive.  As we sipped our drinks overlooking the large cruise ship that was moored in The River Thames, bathed in the glow of another warm summer evening, I looked around the table at my friends.  Every single one of us had been brought together by dancing.  Tomorrow night two more friends would join us at the event itself.  Again our common love of dancing was the bond that had cemented our friendship.

The event has a glamorous tone

The event had been advertised as a black tie Summer Ball.  I for one was very grateful that, due to the ongoing heatwave, the dress code had been relaxed to ‘Dress to impress’.  In the past I have dressed up in a dinner jacket, but I get so hot dancing.  The jacket is soon off, and the bow tie doesn’t last much longer.  The long sleeved shirt and cuff links look smart, but I have to quickly change in to a short sleeve one.

I must admit that there were still a lot of guys in black tie and as always the ladies had made a real effort, and this gave  the event a glamorous feel, particularly when we strolled on the top deck.  Tori’s photo album (see link below) captured much of the glamour of the evening.  Here’s one of my favourites.  I can’t help wondering if this is a Dance Gang like my own.

This smart group enjoy a drink on deck before the dancing starts.  Photo courtesy of Tori Hallett

The dancing gets started for real

Most people took the opportunity that was provided up to 9:30, to go up to the upper decks and take in the view and catch the gentle breeze off the river.  Then it was time for some serious dancing to Steve and Ashley’s fabulous music.

In my reviews I would normally embedded lots of YouTube videos to give you a real flavour of the music on offer, but in this Part 1 I’ll keep the music descriptions quite brief as I want to pick up a couple of things about the dancing that will eat away at the word count.

Steve plays a new joyous tune

What I ask of DJs is that they keep finding new tracks for us to dance to.  I have no problem with them playing the Ceroc classics that so many people still love dancing to, but you can’t beat hearing new tracks.  Now the Ceroc Evolution faithful may have heard this track before, but it was the first time that I’d ever danced to the Lulleaux & George Whyman remix of Ulf Nilsson’s Little by Little.

This song has all the features of a great dance track – a thumping drum and bass backing, and Tropical House instrumental, but what makes it so joyous is the way that soaring string give the track an uplifting feel.  So good was this track of Steve’s that Ashley nicked it, and played it at the first opportunity – a Ceroc Heaven class in Nottingham.  Nice one Ashley.  But isn’t it good to spread such great music around?

We were all felt to feel welcome

What I must say before I go any further is that the ladies in The Dance Gang were soon invited on to the floor, and by the end of the night felt that they had danced as much as if they had been at a Ceroc Heaven freestyle back home.  It was the same for myself and the other three guys in the gang.  I’ll have more to say about my dance friends experiences on the dance floor when I round everything up in Part 2, but for the moment can I thank all the guys and ladies for being so friendly.

I know we weren’t the only people who had travelled some distance.  I met people who told me they had travelled from Lincoln, Wolverhampton and Brighton, and I know that the event attracted people from other distance parts of the country.  It’s a credit to the Ceroc Evolution faithful, that everyone I spoke to from outside the M25 had a fabulous time.

Everyone was made to feel welcome on the dance floor.  Photo courtesy of Tori Hallett

There was some wonderful dancing on show

I have to be careful in  my reviews not to compare the standard of dancing between venues, but let me just say that there was some wonderful dancing on show here.  Travelling round I get to see different styles of dancing too.  Anyone who’s been reading my Tea Dance Tour series of reviews will know that I’m currently trying to develop a more smooth slotted style of dancing.

It seems that Greenwich is a bit of a slotted dance hot spot.  I suspect that it has something to do with Steve being one of the local teachers, and interestingly about half the people were dancing in this slotted style.  I couldn’t help sit and watch some of this more contemporary style of dancing, and that is when I spotted Melissa and Andrew.

Melissa and Andrew seamlessly switch roles

The reason that this couple caught my eye was because Melissa was doing the leading and Andrew the following.  Now, I’ve seen many ladies lead other ladies, and they’ve sometimes done it as well as any male lead.  I’ve also seen men lead men, but surprisingly few woman leading men.

I should perhaps say that I didn’t know that this couple were called Melissa and Andrew until I got a chance to talk to Melissa later, but I digress.  The reason I couldn’t take my eyes off them was because of the skill Melissa showed as she guided Andrew up and down the slot, and the way Andrew followed her with a fluidity that was as good as any of the other followers in the room.

But there was more.  Andrew soon switched to take the lead and Melissa duly followed.  Again their dancing was of the highest order, but what really blew me away was that when Melissa took the lead back.  She did it in the blink of an eye with a deftness and that created a seamless change over.  How did she do that?  How did Andrew know the switch was coming?  And who taught her this amazing technique?

Radley Edwards.  He teaches at our class at Ceroc Cambridge.  He encourages us all to think differently about the lead and follow stereotype.  It’s something that specific to our class in Cambridge.

So how did you switch the lead so seamlessly?

There’s a knack to it Paul

There certainly is.  Here was one of the joys of visiting a new venue.  You get to see differently styles of dancing (I’ll talk more about The Slot in Part 2) and occasionally you get to the opportunity to watch something rather special as I had with Melissa and Andrew’s wonderful role reversal display.

Our Photographers capture the wonderful Dancing and . . .

Looking through Tori, Mike and David photo albums I was reminded of the wonderful dancing I’d seen out on the dance floor.  Not only had I seen more dancing on The Slot than I was used to, I’d also seen some wonderful expressive dancing to.

I’ve often thought that Ceroc and Modern Jive were a much easier entry in to dancing than Ballroom or Latin formats.  Having said that Ceroc and Modern Jive dancing has developed to be just as complex and artistic than the traditional forms of dancing, and in amongst the three photo albums (see links below), are imagery that suggests that our favoured dance style can easily hold its own against Ballroom and Latin.

One of many images that show the artistry of Ceroc.  Photo courtesy of Mike Smith

. . . The Joy on the Dance Floor

It’s very rare that you don’t see joyful faces on the dance floor, after all it’s the uplifting feeling it gives you that makes so many of us Dance Junkies.  So it was on Saturday night and Tori, Mike and David were on hand to capture some wonderful images of the joy people were experiencing out on the dance floor.

Here’s one of my favourites, but there are many more in the albums (see links below).

Just one example of the images capturing the joy on the dance floor.  Photo courtesy of Tori Hallett

We mustn’t forget the DJs

All this talk of artistic dancing and the joy it engenders reminds me that I need to feature one more example of the wonderful set that Steve and Ashley put together for everyone, before slowing it somewhat around 11:30 (I’ll review this later chill-out music in Part 2).

Here were all the current main room favourites like George Ezra’s Shotgun, Alice Merton’s No Roots, Jax Jones’ Breathe and my own current favourite One Kiss by Calvin Harris featuring the vocals of Dua Lipa.

Mixed in to this were Ceroc Classics.  Ashley treated us to Earth Wind & Fire’s September and Safri Duo’s Bongo Song, along with two of his own contemporary favourites Tyler Ward & Two Worlds acoustic version of Uptown Funk, and Dawin’s Bikini Body.

Steve dipped in to his Club Classics Album again and pulled out the dance anthem Another chance by Roger Sanchez – nice to hear that again Steve.  Another treat for me was the ’70s Disc Classic You make me feel (Mighty real) by Sylvester.

Ashley sets the floor on fire with an ’80s classic

There’s an art to setting the dance floor on fire, though it was never going to be too hard on Saturday night, as everyone was already a little high on the unique atmosphere created by the venue and its setting.  The trick is to slowly built the excitement out on the dance floor and then at the right moment play the track that ignites a sense of heightened joy amongst the dancers.

For me Ashley did that when he played Lionel Richie’s Dancing on the ceiling after he had built the vibe for a packed dance floor.  This track seems to have had a resurgence lately as Tony Riccardi used it to set the floor on fire at Southport in June, and I have memories of Ashley using it during a masterful performance behind the decks at a Ceroc Heaven’s Kelham Hall freestyle.

Once again Ashley pitched it just right, and here it is as a little reminder of the musical joy both Steve and Ashley served up on Saturday night.

A good time to bring the curtain down on Part 1

With the dance floor rockin’ to the sounds of Lionel Richie it is perhaps a good time to finish Part 1.  I’ll be back next week with Part 2.  Here I’ll be reviewing the more chilled music that Steve served up and more commentary on the dancing.  I’ll also be looking at the feedback that appeared on Facebook and let you know more of my dance gang friends own thoughts as we reflected on what had been a wonderful weekend.

I’ll leave you with one last image.  It’s from David Addis’ album and shows people gathering on the upper decks as the venue opens.  The masts and rigging of the Cutty Sark towering above the deck gives a sense of just how special this venue is.  I’ll give you more of a taste of it in Part 2.

The ships rigging gives a sense of how special this venue is.  Photo courtesy of David Addis

David Addis’ Photo Album

Mike Smith’s Photo Album

Tori Hallett Photo Album

Other Ceroc Evolution Reviews

The Cutty Sark Review Part 2

River Thames Dance Boat Cruise

Steve’s Birthday Class Night