I nearly missed out on this fabulous Tea Dance

A couple of weeks ago I did a Dance Road Trip based out of The Premier Inn in Swindon West.  It’s hardly Rock ‘n’ Roll but Swindon proved a good location.  On the Friday night I visited Thank Friday at Oxford, and on Saturday night I went to Switch in Bristol.

While at Switch I found myself chatting with Mary, who I’d danced with the previous night in Oxford.  I was telling Mary about my travels and mentioned that I was off to a Tea Dance in Hampshire the following day:

That’s some way Paul.  There’s a really good Tea Dance in Chippenham.  I’ve been before and it’s really popular.  You’ll enjoy it.

On Mary’s recommendation I looked it up on Google Maps and found to my pleasant surprise it was only twenty five minutes from my hotel.  So before I go any further, my thanks to Mary because this was possibly the best Sunday afternoon’s dancing I’d been to on my Tea Dance Tour, and to think I could have missed out.

Let me tell you about ‘The Shed’

Before I tell you anymore about this fabulous afternoon I want to tell you about a conversation I had with Ems at a freestyle back home in Nottingham.  Ems is a regular at Chippenham, but she occasionally finds her way to one of Nottingham’s premier locations – The Shed in Beeston.

On this particular night the dance floor, as is usually the case, was packed.  There was a great atmosphere out on the floor as the dancers sped around to one of DJ Ian’s rockin’ tracks.  In our conversation about the venues on her own patch Ems mentioned the contrasting style of dancing.

The dancing style varies across the country

At The Shed, as in all the venues in The East Midlands, the majority of the people dance in what is known as a rotational style and just about every track is upbeat.  Think the Thunderball Room at a Southport Weekender.  Here’s what Ems had to say:

It’s so different back home.  In Wiltshire most of us dance in a slotted way and there’s a lot more slower music.

Now I mention this because as I’ve travelled further afield to write reviews for my blog I’ve noticed that there are Slotted Dancing Hot Spots.  Before I go any further I should say that I have no problem with the rotational style of dancing.  It’s how most beginners first dance, and I’ve been happily dancing like this for many years.

But since I’ve started my Tea Dance Tour, it’s something I find myself thinking about more and more.

Why are there Slotted Dance Hot Spots, where the music is a little more chilled and the dancing a little slower and smoother.

When I entered the village hall at Kington Langley I soon spotted the very same Ems.  Of course, I was in Wiltshire.  I had walked in to a Slotted Hot Spot and there was little space on the dance floor.

Even at the start of the afternoon there was little space on the dance floor

This is a very well-loved venue

I stood and took it all in.  This had all the signs of a very successful and well-loved venue, but as always I wanted to try to understand why.  Venues like this take some establishing, and this doesn’t happen by accident.  It takes people with passion and vision.  I would meet many of them later, but first let me feature some music.  The music was in the hands of DJ Kevin Hyde.

It was only two weeks ago that I had enjoyed Kevin’s music when he played a chilled Blue Room set at the Warmwell Weekender.

The omens were good, and I soon sensed that this venue’s popularity owes much to the music.

I asked Kevin if he would like to chose three tracks, that he was happy to share, that gave a feel of his afternoon playlist.  I’ll take a closer look at Kevin’s three picks a little later, but for now I’ll feature a particular favourite of mine from Kevin’s selection.

Isaiah’s It’s Gotta Be You is a track I’ve heard a few times on my Tea Dance travels.   Released in 2017, this track has a real contemporary feel, and its gentle but forthright beat makes it a joy to dance to.  Hopefully it will give you an idea of the vibe that Kevin created out on the dance floor.

We like having plenty of people to dance with

Numbers aren’t everything.  As I’ve travelled around on my Tea Dance Tour I’ve been equally impressed by the friendliness of venues.  When I’m a long way from home I often find I don’t really know anyone, and it’s so much easier to enjoy your dancing when a venue is friendly and inclusive.  May I say that I was made to feel very welcome here.

The music also plays a big part, but a good attendance means that you have plenty of people to dance with.  I know lots of people who look at the number of potential dance partners when they first walk in.  Having plenty of people to dance with was never going to a be a problem on this particular Sunday afternoon, but it does beg the question – ‘How come the attendance is so good here?’

The Class Night Pipeline

Numbers at a venue are often determined by what I call the ‘Class Night Pipeline’.  Everyone at these successful venues has had to learn to dance somewhere.  Without beginners walking through the door of their first class night, this dance scene would soon wither.  More importantly the dance class has to retain these so called newbies long enough for them to get the dance bug.  Hopefully they will gain in confidence and make the leap to freestyles and tea dances.

There will have been people at Chippenham who have learnt to dance in others areas, as I’m sure people will travel some distance to this Sunday afternoon chill-out.  However a strong local class network is a vital ingredient to a thriving dance community.  A little on-line research soon pointed to the fact that Ceroc Live & Dance have an impressive list of class venues in this area, notably Bath, Bradford on Avon, Chippenham, Salisbury and Swindon.

Richard and Zoe show a committed enthusiasm for dancing

Ensuring just one class night is successful takes some dedication.  Five must require a lot of energy and commitment.  While chatting with Ceroc franchise owners Richard and Zoe Beauvoisin, I could recognise a passion and enthusiasm for dancing that is essential to sustain such a large class network.  I don’t doubt that they have built a team around them who share their enthusiasm and this ensures good attendances at all their venues and events.

One of the things that really convinced me of Richard’s commitment to his dancers was when he told me about his monthly video podcasts, that he posts on Facebook and on his YouTube Channel.

On these videos Richard updates people about any changes to class nights, forth coming events, answers questions from his dancers and also has a monthly theme – December is Dance Etiquette and Safety.  Interestingly he mentions the Chippenham Tea Dance which he explains is now branded The Chippenham Chilled Sunday.  He also gives a shout out to Dot and her cakes – more about those later!

The Slot rules OK

Can I say that Richard’s Podcasts are one of the most positive things I’ve come across during my travels, and his obvious enthusiasm goes someway to explaining the great turn out I saw for myself at Chippenham.  I’ll return to some other aspects of Richards podcast message a little later, but now I need to talk about the dancing style.

You’ll remember that I explained earlier, that back home in the East Midlands, most people dance in a rotational way.  I think that surprised some of the people I talked with.  I can understand why, because every single person was dancing in the slotted style.

So how would some of my dance friends from Nottingham cope with this tea dance?  Walking in to Chippenham and hearing Kevin’s chilled out playlist would have been something of a challenge for some of them.

There are different types of chill out music

Before I explain why, let me feature some more of Kevin’s music.  I often describe the music I hear on  my Tea Dance Tour as Chill-out tracks.  It’s perhaps a little simplistic.  I had asked Kevin if he could select three tracks that gave a flavour of his playlist.  Interestingly Kevin gave three tracks that showcased three different elements of chill-out music.  His first element he described as Funky, and the track he picked out was the Vjay & Sofia Zlatko remix of Duke Dumont and Esther Veen’s I Got You.

Now I was clubbing when James Brown invented modern funk music with tracks like Sex machine and Too funky in here.  These tracks had a much earthier sound than the more meoldic Motown and Sound of Philadelphia tracks that were dominating the dance floor at the times.  Suddenly we were connecting with a different almost hypnotic type of beat and our dancing changed accordingly.

Like all music, Funk has constantly changed to appeal to each new generations of dancers.  The Duke Dumont track has a similar raw hypnotic feel mixed in to a contemporary vibe.  The result is a track that you can lose yourself in.

I couldn’t dance to this track 12 months ago

Now I’ve featured this track at this time for a reason.  You see this is a track that in my opinion would half empty the dance floor in Nottingham – not so in Chippenham.  In my opinion the basic Ceroc moves that we are all brought up on just don’t work with this type of track, and the rotational style is equally unsuited to this type of beat.

The thing is, I love this contemporary slower and funkier music, but twelve months ago I was struggling to dance to it.  It was then that I realised that I had to try to learn a different way of dancing.

I would avidly watch the dancers in The SILC Zone at the Southport Weekenders and see if I could recognise the moves they were using.  I soon realised that I had to learn to dance in a smoother slotted manner.

I signed up for SILC lessons and slowly learnt which of my Ceroc moves could be adapted to suit the slot.  I learnt to open up the slot and allow my lady partners a little more time to express themselves.  Eight months ago I set off on my Tea Dance Tour knowing that I would hear more of the contemporary music I loved, but struggled to dance to.

At each new stop on my tour I’d learn another little move or technique, and slowly but surely I made some progress.

Richard’s dancers keep to their own slot

Watching the dancers at Chippenham all showing a proficiency in the smooth slotted style of dancing I couldn’t help think why they danced with such ease to Kevin’s contemporary music mix, yet in many parts of the country they would struggle with this mix of music.  I asked Richard why Chippenham was such a Slotted Hot Spot:

When I’m teaching I’m constantly reminding the people in the class to try and stay in the slot.

Interestingly in his podcast, when talking about safety, Richard asks that people stay on the slot to avoid banging in to each other.  He’ll be pleased to know that while I was dancing I veered off the slot.  As nicely as possible my lady partner pointed out that we had trespassed on to someone else’s slot.

In his podcast Richard also gives tips on how to stay on the slot.  The problem often comes with spins.  If the lady doesn’t spin a full 360 degrees than both dances go off at an angle. Richard gave some tips in the podcast to help the ladies complete their spins and so stay on the slot.

This emphasis on slotted dancing is not universal

I have to be careful what I say here, because I hold dance teachers in high regard, but I’m not sure that this emphasis on staying on the slot is general practice. Ouch, I said it!  But its not just about staying on the slot, its also about the moves that work the best on the slot, and that’s another area where there is different emphasis particularly in Intermediate level classes.

Time to change the subject I think.  Time for another of my favourites from Kevin’s list.  Some bridges need burning gets lots of spins in chill-out rooms.  Every time the vocal start up I think it’s Tina Turner, but it’s Keisa Brown who has an equally soulful voice.  I just love the laid back rhythm and it’s one of the songs that encouraged me to learn a smoother style of dancing.

This way of dancing gives the ladies a smoother dance

Every so often I would just stand and watch the people dancing.  It reminded me of the days when I would watch in awe the dancers in The SILC Zone at Southport.  One of the dancers I found myself watching turned out go be Zoe Beauvoisin.  As her male partners openned up the slot Zoe would move gracefully past them.

Every so often she would pause and play with the music before carrying on down the slot.

Once at the end of the slot she would sometimes take control and steal a few beats to express her own musicality.

This expression of musicality I would experience for myself.  Having watched other male leads I gave my partners a little extra time at the end of the slot.  It was a joy to see them confidently move their bodies as they played with the music.  This confidence I saw and experienced time and time again, and I suspect it reflects Zoe and Richard’s own enthusiasm for this style of dancing, and the opportunities it gives the ladies to express their own musicality.

Ems shares her love for smooth dancing

A little later I found myself in conversation with Ems about her own love of this style of smooth dancing.  We soon got on to the subject of Weekenders.  Here’s Ems take on it:

I love the Boudoir (AKA The SILC Zone) in both Southport and Breeze.  I love being free to express myself with a partner.

It’s great fun playing with the different rhythms, beats and styles of music.  I find it’s so addictive and ‘alive’ like nothing else.

Ems’ love for the chill-out zone is shared by a lot of people who go to these weekenders, and I know there are some people who never venture in to the main Thunderball Room with its more upbeat music and rotational style of dancing.

Another dancer I recognised at Chippenham from my dance travels was Troy.  I know that like Ems, Troy spends most of her weekenders in the chill-out areas.  I can’t help wondering if most of the dancers I saw at Chippenham prefer to stay out of the Thunderball Room like Ems and Troy.

As DJ Kevin selects his next track The Snowman shows his musicality

I make progress on my Tea Dance Tour

It took me a long time before I dared venture in to the SILC Zone at Southport.  It’s harder for the men of course because we have to lead, and I just didn’t have the skills to do that to chill-out music.  Once on my Tea Dance Tour I started to make progress and every so often I would have a dance that convinced me that my smooth jive technique was improving.

One such dance took place in the outside area of the Boudoir (AKA The SILC Zone) at Southport in September.  I mention it because it has a link to Chippenham.

With the previous track I’d bravely asked a lady to dance.  I’d made a good choice, as I soon got a sense that the lady was of similar experience to myself and I was able to relax.  I managed to keep it reasonably smooth and gave her opportunities to play with the music.  I think I did OK, and as the dance ended I couldn’t help smiling to myself.

I’m out of my comfort zone

As I went to walk off, I was asked to dance by a lady I knew was a lot more experienced than myself.  This would be a challenge.  Luckily the music was nice and relaxed and I’m sure I was helped by a dose of adrenaline kicking in.  The lady in question did what many good dancers do.  She made me feel I was a lot better than I thought I was, and as I gained in confidence I managed to find new ways of giving her opportunities to express her own musicality.

As the dance ended I had an even broader smile on my face.  And why not, shouldn’t we be proud that we have dared to step out of our comfort zone, and by doing so made a little progress.

I tell this story for two reasons.  The first is to make the case for us all dancing with more experienced dancers.  They remember that they were once on the same dance journey, and as people helped them so they want to help others.

The second point is that the efforts of passionate franchise holders like Zoe and Richard can be felt way beyond their own patch.  You see the lady I danced with, who gave me that little boost was one of the ladies I danced with at Chippenham.

These ladies are confident and very friendly

While I’m at it I should make a third point here.

The ladies I danced with at Chippenham were some of the most confident I’ve danced with on my Tea Dance Tour, but like the lady at Southport they were very friendly and put me at ease.

I was able to relax and enjoy my dancing, and I felt I made a little more progress.  My thanks then to all the ladies I danced with on that Sunday.  But now it is time to talk about another Chippenham lady.  Another lady with a passion that adds so much to The Chippenham Chilled Sunday experience.  I’m talking about the lady who Richard gave a shout out to in his December podcast.  Yes I’m talking about Dot and her cakes.

It wouldn’t be a Tea Dance with out delicious cake

Successful Tea Dances like Chippenham don’t happen by accident.  They involve the hard work and dedication of a whole team of people.  From the friendly people who greet us on the door, to the people who help pack all the equipment in to the van, after we’ve long gone home.  And then there are people like Dot, who bake delicious cakes for us to enjoy.  Not surprisingly I spotted this comment on Facebook the following day:

Little bit lost for words.  Stunning afternoon of beautiful music and dancers.  Four hours of creative musical melodies and bliss. Oh, and the cakes!  David

‘Oh and the cakes’, indeed!  Tea Dance are so called, because historically they took place at tea time.  It was only natural that as this genre of dance event evolved home made cakes would find their place along side the mellow music.  As I’ve travelled round the country on my Tea Dance Tour I’ve seen a lot of  home made cakes and I’ve decided to award a prize to the baker of the best.  Let’s just say that Dot is in the running for this prize for her outstanding contribution to The Chippenham Chilled Sunday experience.

I managed to photograph Dot’s delicious cakes before they all disappeared

Let’s not forget DJ Kevin’s contribution

David’s Facebook comment also included this appreciation of the afternoon:

Four hours of creative musical melodies.

Which brings me back to my own appreciation of the music.  Time and again I would ask people why this event was so well loved, and DJ Kevin Hyde’s music was given as one of the main reasons.  Those of us that are passionate about this dance scene are are more discerning about the music than most, and it’s no easy gig for the DJs to get the music mix just right.  I’ll join along with David and everyone else and applaud Kevin’s music.

Kevin played a lot of track that are chill-room favourites, like the Keisa Brown one above, but he mixed in many that I’d not heard before to give the afternoon’s musical score a freshness that I loved.

It was the reason why I asked Kevin for three of his own favourite tracks.  For his second choice he picked an example of modern R&B.  This musical genre has its roots in black American music of the ’40s and ’50s (Did you know that the term Rock ‘n’ Roll was coined to make R&B dance music more acceptable to a white audience).  Just like Funk, R&B has evolved over the decades and is established as one of the major strands of the music we dance to every week.

Kevin’s R&B choice is a track from 2010.  One in a million features the vocals of one of the giants of modern R&B dance music Ne-Yo.  This a perfect chill-out room track.  It has a mellow beat and gorgeous melody, but it’s as funky as hell.  As I play it through my headphones I just want to get up and dance to it and connect with it’s compelling vibe.  Sadly I’m on a train heading to my next dance destination and the lady opposite is buried in her book.  Never mind.

Our dance history influences us

Listening to this track it’s easy to imagine I’m back at Chippenham.  A vision of the dancing comes in to my head, and once again I’m wondering where the ladies gained the confidence to dance in this musicality infused style.  After one particularly wonderful dance I asked my partner, I now know as Fiona, where she had learned to dance so expressively:

I had lessons of course, but I’ve taught myself a lot of my styling.  I just use my imagination and try to be creative with my movement.

Fiona went on to tell me that she had done Ballet and Tap as a child.  This made me think.  Most of us have some dance history in our past that helps shape our style of dancing.  The only dance experience I have was to Disco Dance in the ’70s and ’80s, but every so often some will ask me if I was a Northern Soul dancer.  I just can’t hide it.

West Coast Swing is a big influence

At some point towards the end of the afternoon I found myself memorised by the dancing of a guy, I now know as Matthew.  As I watched his flowing movement I sensed there was an element of West Coast Swing in his dance style.  I asked Matthew if his own dance history had involved West Coast Swing:

Yes, I started Ceroc about five years ago, but for the past two years I’ve also been going to West Coast lessons.

One of the things that I’ve learnt on my Tea Dance Tour is that there is a link between Slotted Dance Hot Spots and a heritage of West Coast Swing.  This genre of dancing is based around the idea of dancing along a slot, and some see it as the precursor of the smooth jive styles.  Ceroc’s SILC is often described as West Coast Swing without the Triple Step.

I understand that there is a strong West Coast Swing heritage in this part of the country, and a cohort of Westies that support the local smooth jive venues.

I have sometimes bemoaned the lack of Chill-out Tea Dance in my East Midlands base.  There are small pop up venues but nothing of the scale of Chippenham.  Ceroc Heaven have started up a new monthly Sunday chill-out venue in Nottingham, but I can’t help think that the lack of any regular West Coast Swing lessons and a core of Westies will make it a little more difficult to establish.

A Lyrical gem from Kevin’s playlist

Time for another of Kevin’s musical picks.  This next track Kevin chose to represent the Smooth and Lyrical element of his playlist.  Lyrical is a word I hear a lot of now.  At the Southport weekender there is now a Lyrical slot in The SILC Zone.  My understanding is that this genre of music is designed to promote a slower form of expressive dancing – the kind I had experienced two days earlier at Thank Friday it’s Freestyle in Oxford.

Dusk Till Dawn by Emma Heesters is a beautiful piece of music.  Because of its very slow pace, in my previous life as a Rotational dancer, I would have struggled to see it as a dance rack.  I would certainly have had no idea how to dance to it, but its amazing what eight months on the road visiting chill-out venues has done for my dancing, and I think I did it justice.

I remember this track being played and the dance floor was packed with people enjoying the opportunity to express themselves to its rousing musical score.  It’s also a great example of just how varied DJ Kevin’s music was, and why it was received with so many plaudits.

One last wonderful dance

I’m going to finish by playing one more of Kevin’s track as it gives me an opportunity to talk about one particular dance towards the end of the afternoon.  You remember that one of the reasons I started out on my Tea Dance Tour was to learn to dance in a smoother slotted way.  By the time I entered the room at Chippenham I had progressed a long way from the first Tea Dance at Byfleet in the summer.

What I loved about Chippenham was that it’s strong slotted culture meant that I was really encouraged to keep trying new things.  Progress is always slow, but by the time I danced to the Great God Fine OK remix of Clothes off by Ria Mae I felt so much more confident and I had one of the best dances of the afternoon.

Monika shows what’s possible in less than 3 years

I should acknowledge the role my partner Monika played.  Dancing takes two, and our best dances are only as good as they are because of the the connection with our partner.  Clothes off  is a track with everything, and it has a delivery that offers all kinds of musicality and expression.  So good was Monika’s own part in the dance that I was surprised that her dance journey was limited to less than three years.  It had taken me nine to get to the same level.

Monika learnt to dance with Ceroc Live & Dance, and something tells me that her progress, in such a short time, is a glowing endorsement on the teaching facility that Richard and Zoe have created in Wiltshire.

Here then is the track that in many ways marks my progress in the smoother slotted style of dancing. Nice one Kevin.

Don’t just take my word for it

This was perhaps the best destination on my Tea Dance Tour so far, but don’t just take my word for it.  The following day I spotted several glowing comments on Facebook, including David’s that I’ve already mentioned.  Here are a couple of others:

Fab-u-lous.  Thank you Kevin Hyde for awesome tunes. . . an afternoon delight ❤️❤️  Sharon

Wow! That was a Christmas Wonderland of Tea Dancing this afternoon.  Thank you!  Music spot on Kevin as usual and Dot – well those mince pies were de-lish, mwah xxx  Troy

All that time ago Ems had told me about a place where slotted dancing was the norm.  Hearing about such  avenue all seemed so alien at the time.  I came upon this oasis of smooth dancing only because of a remark by Mary at Switch.  I was lucky to have found it.  Hopefully, if you love chill-out dancing you’ll plan a visit to this gem of a venue.  I guarantee you’ll love it.

The Best of the Tea Dance Tour Articles and Reviews

Tea Dances grow in popularity 

More Tea Dances than I had realised

The Tea Dance Tour rolls in to Northchurch

The Tea Dance Tour pulls in to Bromsgrove

The Tea Dance Tour stops off at Lingfield

The Tea Dance Tour takes to The Thames

The Tea Dance Tour sails in to Bristol – The Freestyle

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.