The boys are on the train to Scotland

Going to Scotland to dance is a bit of a trek, so I try to make sure I’m going to an event that’s a bit special.  Last year I’d had a wonderful time at the first ever Ceroc Perth Fresh Weekender run by Nicola di Folco.  I contacted Nicola to ask if she had a special event in the run up to Christmas, that might make for a great write up:

Hi Paul, I’m delighted you’re thinking of joining us at one of the Christmas parties.  The one I would recommend  would be the Prohibition Ball at the Albert Halls in Stirling on the 22nd December.

Nicola went on, with her usual enthusiasm, to tell me that the Ball was a two room event that went on until one in the morning.

We are also using the upstairs Chameleon Lounge – we’re calling it Tigz Speakeasy Lounge on the night.  Sheena will be on the decks and be playing sessions of Tango, Swing, Motown and will conclude with a two hour Chill-out playlist.

I booked the date in my diary immediately.  I was soon on the phone to my travelling photographer companion Tel:

How are you fixed for the Saturday before Christmas?

Tel had accompanied me to the Fresh Weekender and produced a fabulous photo album and video, of what was an outstanding event:

It sounds like it’s going to be a fabulous night.  Nicola’s on the decks in the main room, and Sheena’s doing a Motown session upstairs.

Tel knows I’d travel to a long way to dance to Motown.  He also knows that I’m slowly getting addicted to Chill-out music.  The chance to dance until late in to the night to some smooth tracks, on top of the guarantee of a cracking main room set from Nicola and a Motown fix to boot, would be a great Christmas present:

So, you are free Tel?

Thankfully Tel was as keen to photograph all the action as I was to be part of it, and we duly booked a train by way of Edinburgh.  It would be a six hundred mile round trip, but something told me it would be worth it.

One of the best events of my year

I’ve had some great nights of dancing this year, but this has to be one of the best.  It’s never easy to write in words why an event was so good, but fortunately I have Tel’s fabulous photo’s to help.  I’ve structured the review around ten of my favourite pictures from Tel’s album, and embedded some of Nicola and Sheena’s great music in the hope that it will give you an idea of just how special this night was.

The event was held in Stirling’s Albert Halls.  As our taxi turned the corner and this imposing Victorian concert hall came in to view, I got the first sense that this was going to be a special night.  The main room with its large stage and balcony made an equally splendid first impression, and it was already thronging with people finding their seats and catching up with friends.

People recreate the atmosphere of the roaring ’20s

The theme for the night was a roaring ’20s celebration of the end of Prohibition.  What struck me instantly was just how many people had come dressed in period costumes.  The featured image above gives you some idea of the lengths people went to.  As always the ladies turned on the style, but it was pleasing to see so many of the men getting in to character too.

Tel’s picture captures five very authentic characters and I have to say that the guy on the right is possibly the coolest dude I’ve set my eyes on all year.  Something tells me he got more than his fair share of dances with the ladies.

I’ve chosen this first photo because it captures not only the joy of dancing, but the lengths the ladies went to to get the look just right.  One lady told me that she had actually researched, not only the style of dress to wear, but how to apply her make up in the correct retro style.  Makes me feel embarrassed that I just threw on a pair of trousers and a shirt!

Nicola serves up a party playlist

So the scene was set – now we just needed some fabulous music.  Enter Nicola stage right.  I’m a great fan of Nicola’s music, but then so it seems is everyone I spoke to.  I’ve reviewed so much of Nicola’s music and it never fails to create an atmosphere out on the floor.  I first experienced her main room DJing credentials at the Fresh Weekender, and I was there to witness her outstanding debut in The Thunderball Room at The Southport Weekender in September.

What makes DJ’s earn their revered reputations is the exclusive floor fillers they find.  I can change by Brandon Flowers is one such track.  It’s one of those pieces of dance music that creeps up on you.  It’s slow to get going, then the bass line from Bronski Beat’s Small Town Boy kicks in.  The synthesised hook from the same track is then introduced, and then layer upon layer of instrumental is added to create a wall of sound that hits all the right buttons in my dance brain.

A fabulous dance needs connection with your partner

Nicola tells me she loves this track.  No wonder then, that her local dancers get to love it too.  I found myself dancing to this wonderful track with Amanda, who also takes a keen interest in dance music.  As the intensity of the track built up, it seemed Amanda was equally connected to the tracks energised rhythm.  Everything was in place for a fabulous dance.

So good was our shared connection with the music, that I eventually got to the point where I had to know what the track was.  I instinctively communicated with my partner:

This is fabulous.  I’ll have to ask Nicola what it is.

There would be no need. Amanda knew it and she instantly gave me the details:

It’s Brandon Flowers. I love it too, its one of my favourites.

I’ll have more to say about the connection we make with our partners later, but for now I just want to mention that this wasn’t the first time someone commented on Nicola’s fabulous music.  It seemed that everyone I spoke to had such positive things to say about Nicola’s playlists.  No wonder there was such a great connection between the stage and the dance floor that night.

Tel captures a glorious moment on the decks

Tel captured some wonderful images of Nicola as she did her stuff on the decks.  This is my favourite, and Tel rightly used it for the cover of his photo album.  It illustrates the joy of the night more than any other, because it catches a wonderful interplay between Nicola and her Stirling crew member Denise.  I asked Nicola what the story was behind the photo:

It was just before we demo-ed the line dance to ‘We both reached for the gun’, from the Chicago Musical soundtrack.  On Tel’s video you see myself, Denise and Colin doing some interchanging patterns on the stage.

I was letting Denise listen to the track in preparation.  We were both a bit excited at the thought of our upcoming performance, and when Tel pointed the camera our faces just lit up.

I’ve embedded Tel’s video below, and you get some great shots of Nicola, Denise and Colin doing their stuff on the stage.  Down on the floor everyone is following their moves. It’s another of those glorious moments that marked this night out as something quite special.

I’m in there somewhere

When I saw these next two pictures I couldn’t help think of two things.  The first was what a wonderful jigsaw pictures they would both make, and secondly the Where’s Wally cartoons where you have to find the guy in the stripy top.  Because so many people are in period fancy dress the individual dancers stand out more than if this picture was taken at a regular party night.  Tel took these two pictures from different ends of the balcony and I think just about everyone is featured in either one of them.

I’m sure that everyone who was present on this amazing night would have spent time trying to find themselves.  So can you see me mum?

I’m somewhere in the second picture.  I suspect many of the people I met, when Tel and I reviewed the Perth Fresh Weekender, will be able to spot me.  But of course most people in these pictures had no idea that myself and Tel had travelled up by train from Nottingham during the day to make a record in pictures, music and words about this very special night of fun and dancing.  For those that don’t know me the blogger is the one in the animal print shirt.

Smiles and laughter with friends

Tel’s pictures show just how large the The Albert Halls ballroom is.  Because of its size, Nicola and her team were able to fit in tables around the perimeter.  This enabled people to sit and have a break while catching up with friends.  The great appeal of Ceroc, with its Golden Rules that you can dance with anyone, and that no one should refuse a dance, makes for a relaxed social environment and Tel captures some wonderful images of people simply chillin’ out while they take a break from the dancing.

I love this picture. Not only does it show the thought that went in to the costumes, but it just shows the joy that was ever present in the room.

It was also an opportunity for myself and Tel to reacquaint ourselves with the people we had met on our previous three visits to Scotland, and to meet up with people that we’ve met at the Southport Weekenders.  I’m always impressed just how many make the long trip to Southport from Scotland, and I look forward to meeting many of them again in March.

It’s after all an opportunity to dance

While this event was a great opportunity to get glammed up and socialise what had brought us all together was our love of dancing, and a packed dance floor was testament to Nicola’s fabulous music and the desire for people to dance as much as they could.

This next photo from Tel’s album was taken from the balcony, and it shows the two dancers with a surprising amount of space.

I just love the way Tel captures the shapes of the two dancers, as they show a wonderful connection with each other.

Ceroc’s popularity is based on the fact that it is a pretty easy form of partner dancing, but for all its simplicity it still allows plenty of opportunities to keep developing your techniques and style.  Now I don’t ever want to fall in to the trap of comparing the level of dancing at different dance venues, but let me say that there were some wonderful dancers in the room.  We’ll hear about two of them later – I call them M&M.

Nicola plays a perfectly crafted playlist

It was never going to be difficult for Nicola to keep the dance floor busy.  I suspect that this event had been looked forward to for a long time, and that the anticipation had been growing in the run up to the night itself.  Once everyone was settled in to their seats there came a moment when they just had to get on to the dance floor.

Nicola was never going to take this eagerness to dance for granted, and as I listened carefully to her playlist I soon realised that Nicola was on top form and was reading the dance floor carefully.  The result was a playlist perfectly crafted with plenty of Ceroc Classics and a great selection of the latest floor fillers, mixed in with some of Nicola Exclusives, like the aforementioned Brandon Flowers track.

Nicola’s dancers show their support

One track soon caught my attention.  It’s a modern Deep House reworking of The Mamas and Papas ’60s classic California dreaming by Freischwimmer.  This is a fabulous modern dance track, but I pick it out for a reason, as it allows me to talk a little more about the rapport that Nicola has developed between her and her dancers.

I mentioned above that Nicola had made her Southport Thunderball Room debut in September.  I was so pleased for Nicola, but sadly she was given the graveyard shift early on the Sunday night.  When I entered the Thunderball room it was almost empty – this is a room that can hold 500 people comfortably.  The dance floor was equally deserted, and it must have felt very lonely up on stage.

A Southport memory links to Stirling’s big night

But Nicola played her set as if the room was packed.  I duly set about reviewing her music (see link below) in the same vein.  Suddenly I hear California dreaming.  With no one to dance with, I do my best Northern Soul dancing discreetly at the side of the floor.  The next track a couple ventured on to the dance floor.

Nicola took the photo below, and proudly posted it on Facebook, with a thanks to two of her Scottish followers, Amanda and Christie for being the first on the floor.  Let me tell you, that all the DJs appreciate the support they get from their local dancers, and I think that it’s wonderful that Nicola showed her own appreciation to these two dancers with her posting.

It was only when I was putting this review together that I realised that the Amanda, Nicola gave a shout out to, was the same lady I had the fabulous dance to the Brandon Flowers track in Stirling.

Nicola soon has a packed floor rockin’

The floor than started to fill up and I noticed several ladies that I knew from previous visits to Scotland, including the aforementioned duo M&M.  The Scottish dancers had come out to support Nicola in force – like I said Nicola has built a fabulous rapport with her dancers.  What followed was one of the best sessions of dancing of that particular Southport.  Dancing with fabulous Scottish dancers with all the space in the world to some cracking music from Nicola.

Fortunately Nicola was on for an hour and a half, and by the time she got towards the end of the set the floor was packed and Nicola made sure she rocked it.

Her penultimate track would give me one of the best dances of that particular Southport.  Nicola would play it again at Stirling, but more of that later.  In the meantime here is the modern reworking of California dreaming that triggered my Scottish inspired memory of Southport.

Some time for Tango lovers

At nine o’clock Sheena Assiph took to the decks in the upper Tigz Speakeasy Lounge and provided the music for any Tango lovers.   I took a break from the ever hotter dance floor in the main room, and cooled down a little as I watched people Tangoing to Sheena’s first set.  I’ve never got on with Tango, but I know some people adore it, and I was pleased that the two room format gave those people that wanted a chance to dance in this style.

Here’s Susan, who has only just started doing Tango:

I really enjoyed the Tango in The Speakeasy for the first hour too.  I’ve not done much Tango and really appreciated the help when my partner talked me through some of the moves.

I loved hearing that even though this was a full on party night, Susan still got a chance to get a session of Tango practice.  Our wonderful dance scene is full of people who help each other to keep on developing their dancing styles.

A Modern Tango track with a Twist

There is a very distinctive style of Tango music, but more and more venues are putting on so called Alternative Tango nights were the music is more contemporary.  Susan tells me that she loved the fact Sheena that kept the music very traditional.  One of Sheena’s tracks though, stood out for being a little more contemporary.  It had all the elements of a traditional Tango track but with a modern twist.

Postales by Federico Aubele still has that Latin flavour, but I remember thinking that it had a lovely chill-out vibe that I could dance too.  Sadly I needed the rest, so I would have to wait until the latter part of Sheena’s set for a chance to do some slower slotted style dancing that I have come to love over recent months.

Sheena’s in the spotlight

Sheena and Nicola often work together.  One of the highlights of The Fresh Weekender was the double act of Sheena and Nicola as they shared the main room DJing duties (see link below for my review).  I’d first come across Sheena at Southport where she spins the tracks for the much loved Swinger’s Hour.

In Sheena’s second hour in The Speakeasy, aka the upstairs Chameleon Lounge, she served up some of her favourites from her Swingers Hour set including Ruth Brown’s Lucky lips, but not until she had kicked off with some Motown classics.  I’ll have have a little more to say to about those fabulous tracks after I’ve commented on my next favourite photo from the night.

Sheena, like many of the ladies, wore a ’20s flapper style dress.  In this photo Tel converted the image to black and white except for Sheena’s luminous dress.  The result is a wonderful image of Sheena enjoying a dance to one of her own chill-out tracks.

I get my Motown Fix

The Motown tracks of the late ’60s and early ’70s are some of the most iconic tracks many of us will ever dance to.  Their boy-meets-girl, girl-falls-out-with-boy, and boy-pines-for-girl lyrics have touched many of us when we had our hearts broken for the first time.  When at sixteen I found my heart broken, I played The Isley Brothers’ This old heart of mine every night for six weeks.  Sadly it made no difference to my adolescent well being.

Surprisingly I still enjoy dancing to ‘This old heart of mine’, which is frankly a good thing, as it is one of the most popular Motown tracks at Ceroc events.

It seems that I’m not the only one who loves a Motown fix, because at the stroke of ten, as Sheena hit the play button on The Supremes Stoned Love, the Speakeasy came to life as dancers flooded in.

In amongst Sheena’s tracks is a Fab, Fab dance

Sheena pulled out a list of classic Motown tracks that included The Four Tops Reach out, Smokey Robinson and The Miracles’ Going to a go-go (first time I’ve heard that at a Ceroc event), The Isley’s Behind a painted smile (I also sang this one in an attempt to mend my broken heart) and Mary Well’s My guy (Motown’s first US No 1 hit).

Sheena slipped Billy Ocean’s Motown sounding ‘Red light spells danger’ in to the mix.  This is one fast paced hi-energy track, but I managed to keep up, and it gave me another fabulous dance.

Probably my best dance from Sheena’s Motown set was The Temptations’ Get ready.  I had hurriedly written Fab, Fab, Fab against it in my note book.  Now, I have a rule that I won’t usually mention the names of the people I have such great dances with, but let’s just say it was one of the Ms from The M&Ms.

Back in The Ballroom it’s Line Dance time

Nicola is of course one of Ceroc Scotland’s top teachers and it seems she has a passion for line dancing.  I suspect Nicola has used some of her regular classes to teach a few classic line dances.  One of the most popular is The Charleston Stroll and Nicola led from the stage as seemingly everyone packed the floor below and followed her instructions.

I captured this still from Tel’s video.  There is nothing like seeing a packed dance floor perfectly synchronised  as they all turn to face in a new direction.   Tel used All that jazz as the backing track for his video, but The Charleston Stroll was actually done to Putting on the Ritz, which I’ve embedded below.

Susan explains the joy of the line dances

Of course the real joy of a line dance is being there on the floor and dancing in unison with all your friends, but Susan mentioned one other thing I’d not really thought about:

I did love doing the Charleston line dance to ‘Puttin’ on the Ritz’.  I don’t know if it’s just me, but when I’m in fancy dress, I love that I get to dance to appropriate themed music.

Of course, The Charleston Stroll has it’s origins in the 1920s jazz era, and as I look at Tel’s video you could actually imagine you were back there.  The grandiose dance hall, the guys and girls in ’20s get up and a piece of music that defines the era.  No wonder that Susan said this:

I think the two ’20s themed line dances really made the night for me.

I suspect the line dances made the night for a lot of people, and on behalf of them, I’d like to thank Tel for capturing the sheer joy of it, so we can all relive this wonderful part of of our night out in Stirling.

The other themed dance that Susan refers to is the one that Nicola, Denise and Colin put on their great on-stage routine We both reached for the gun, from the Chicago Musical soundtrack.  Here though is Putting on the Ritz by Rufus Wainwright.

We are all having too much fun

As you click through Tel’s fabulous photo album you are struck time and time again by pictures of people having, quite frankly, too much fun.  I’ve chosen this picture for several reasons.  The first is the wonderful composition of the image with its perfectly balanced red and black theme.

The ladies are both wearing gorgeous period flapper dresses and matching accessories.  I just love that the guy is wearing a red hat and tie to match the ladies attire.  What strikes you about this photo is the fun all three of them are having.  Double Trouble is always going to raise a smile and never more so than in this picture.

Nicola gives everyone a shout out

One of the special moments was when Nicola gave a shout out to the Ceroc Scotland dance gangs.  From the stage Nicola asked:

Is there anyone from Glasgow?

A loud cheer came up from the floor.  More cheers as Edinburgh, Stirling and Perth got their shout out.

Anyone from Aberdeen?

The loudest cheer of the night rose from the dance floor:

The smallest group, but the loudest Cheer.  We love Aberdeen.  Now anyone from Dundee?  How about Nottingham?

Nottingham’s not in Scotland!  Suddenly I clicked.  This was a shout out for myself and Tel.  A lovely touch Nicola and thank you.  I did my best, on behalf of Tel, to cheer as loud as The Aberdeen Dance Gang.  Myself and Tel have always loved our visits to Scotland.  You are without doubt some of nicest people we have met on our travels.

Chillin’ out in The Speakeasy

After all the excitement of the main ballroom it was time for a little chillin’ out in the Speakeasy.  From eleven until the very end at one o’clock in the morning Sheena played a chilled set of tracks suitable for Blues, SILC, Smooth Jive and West Coast Swing.

Regular readers of my blog will know that I’ve been on something of a mission to dance to slower more contemporary music over the past six months.

Interestingly it was a SILC class run by Steve Thomas and Nardiya at The Fresh Weekender that kicked started my journey to dance in a smoother slotted style (see link to review below).  Sheena played some wonderful chill-out tracks that gave me a chance to see how far I’d progressed.

One of my favourites was the Blues classic Where the blues begin by Buddy Guy, but I’m going to feature a track that has become a real favourite on the chill-out circuit Nevermind by Dennis Lloyd.  Sheena pleasingly slipped it in to the middle of her set, and it gave myself and my partner, an opportunity to play with our musicality to it’s contemporary funky vibe.

We all have our favourite dancers

Everyone who was lucky enough to get a ticket for this spectacular night will have their own special memories.  Perhaps it was the Charleston Stroll line dance, a fix of Motown or simply getting ready beforehand and soaking up the anticipation.  For me the best memory involves 2 Ms, 3 Js and Denise.

Before I explain how these seemingly random things contributed to my lasting memory, I need to talk about an aspect of our dancing.

We all have our favourite dance partners.  We choose them for different reasons.  For many of us it’s simply because we feel comfortable dancing with them.  The ladies might have amongst their favourites the guys whose moves they are familiar with.  Others pick partners because they can have a laugh when it goes wrong, and we love partners who are happy to help us become better dancers.

Scotland should be very proud of M&M

There is one set of dancers that I love.  They are the main room dancers who can share a full-on dance to a hi-energy track.  When I go some where new I never know who will be able to dance in such a manner, but at Stirling I knew exactly who to ask when Nicola put on such a track.  There were two of them, they are both fabulous dancers and I had the pleasure of dancing with both of them during The Fresh Weekender and Nicola’s aforementioned set at Southport.

Now I have a rule that I don’t easily share the name any dancer, who partners me in what I might call the Best Dance of The Night.  So, in the interests of protocol I’ll just use their first name initial, which for both is M.  It’s why I call them M&M, and they are two of the best – Scotland should be very proud of them.

So that’s the 2 Ms explained.  Now I’ll explain the 3 Js, or rather a group called the 3 Jays who recorded one of the greatest hi-energy tracks from The ’90s Feeling it too.  Nicola knows that I love this track, simply because I wrote about it with great enthusiasm in my review of her Southport set.

Nicola and Denise save the day for me

As Nicola hit the play button she must have watched for my reaction.  It was instant.  Within seconds of recognising the thumping intro all the lights flashed on in my dance brain.  I needed only the best partner for this.  I needed one of the M&M dancers.  I spotted one.  Thankfully she was free.

High on the stage Nicola must have been worried.  You see, she knew something I didn’t.  Nicola plays this track regularly and she knew that M&M always danced this track together.  I fully understood, they both didn’t want to miss out on the best dance of the night.  I looked around.  In the time I’d lost looking for M&M, everyone had paired up.  I would miss out, but Nicola had other ideas.  She signalled to Denise:

Denise, can you dance with Paul please?

And Denise did, and some!  On the other side of the room M&M smashed it.  Myself and Denise smashed it too.  In fact the whole dance floor caught fire as Stirling rocked to this joyous club anthem.  It’s not easy to set the dance floor on fire, but Nicola had crafted her run up to Feeling it too with great skill as only the best DJs can.

Feel Nicola’s Stirling vibe for yourself

The gates of Dance Heaven burst open.  Myself and Denise went through first, followed by M&M and then half the people on the dance floor.  For me the highlight of any night of dancing is always going to be moments like this.

My thanks to Denise for giving me the dance of the night.  There you go I broke my rule.  Sometimes you just have to.  Now turn the volume to the max, hit the play button and feel the same vibe that Stirling felt on that memorable Saturday night.  I just love the way the track keeps building to a heart thumping climax, then clams down a little before building up all over again.

Tel’s video captures the joy of this special night

Tel’s video has been watched almost two thousand times on Facebook and YouTube combined.  Considering that there were only two hundred and fifty people at Stirling it suggests that the word has got out, as to how fabulous this night really was.  It also suggests that people have been watching it over and over.  And why not.  It is a great record of what was a special night.

The video shows the developing craft of Tel in editing his individual clips of action. What I love is the way he inserts little cameos in with the dancing action.  There are two moments that I love.  Remember the cool guy who appears in the featured image at the head of this review.  Stop the video at 1 minute 38 seconds and there he is.

I love the way people wave at the camera.  Tel will often slow these waves down.  Stop the video at 1:50 and you’ll see a great slow-mo where two ladies wave in unison at the camera.  But what’s the real highlight of this video, is the way that the people play up to the camera.  It reflects the great atmosphere that was created by Nicola and Sheena’s music.  Everyone was up for having a great time and they were happy for everyone to know about it.

Spread the word with Tel’s video

Which leads me to a very important point.  When you read this review about Stirling, you might be tempted to think that Ceroc Scotland and indeed the whole Ceroc community is in good health.  But we should not take it for granted.

For this wonderful dance scene to flourish, it needs the constant input of new people to sustain it.  Please show this video to all your non-dancing friends.  Show them what a fabulous time we all have, and remember to tell them how friendly we all are.

One last wonderful photo from Tel’s album

Tel’s  album has some wonderful images and many of the photos will find a use as featured images on peoples Facebook Pages.  Before I feature one last picture from his album I’d like to thank Tel on behalf of everyone for his work on the night itself and his careful selection.

Tel took almost a thousand snaps on the night, but carefully went through them all to select the best.

Here then is my last favourite photo.  It shows once again the sheer joy of the night as represented by the expressions on two of the revellers faces, as they danced in the upstairs Speakeasy.  You can’t set these type of pictures up.  They are are uniquely spontaneous.  The light effect was done at the point that Tel pressed the shutter.  How he did it is of course a trade secret.

Let’s do it all again in July

While Nicola and Sheena deserve the plaudits for creating the great vibe with their music, there was of course a whole team behind them, including Joanne and Iris who ran the desk.  I’d also like to thank Amanda and Susan for contributing their own thoughts about the night.  Oh, and thanks to the two Ms and Denise for my fabulous dances.

Which leaves me with one last thought. When can we do it all again?  The answer is Saturday 13 July, and myself and Tel already have it in our diaries.  While it’s some way off, I suspect Nicola will be putting the tickets on sale soon.  It will sell out for sure, so please keep your eye on the Ceroc Scotland Facebook Pages so you don’t miss out.

Related Articles

Tel’s Prohibition Ball Photo Album 

20 things we love about The Fresh Weekender

Nicola and Sheena’s Fresh DJ sets

Fresh Weekender SILC Classes

Fresh Weekender Chill-out Session

Nicola’s Southport Thunderball Room Debut