The Tea Dance Tour ends but chill-out dancing doesn’t

I’ve now brought my Tea Dance Tour to an end, but that doesn’t mean that I’ve stopped going to Sunday afternoon chill-out venues.  I brought the tour to an end so that I can write a review of the whole adventure and select my favourite venues and music – that’s a project I hope to start after I’ve finished this review.

When I started my Tea Dance Tour I was still at a stage where I was struggling to find the moves to best dance to the slower tracks that characterise many of these Sunday venues.  One year on and I feel a lot more comfortable about dancing to slower music.  In fact, I love dancing to this more chill-out music so much that I’m in need of a regular fix of it.  But something else has happened over this past year.

I’ve come to love the contemporary tracks that chill-out DJs fill their playlists with.

It was the wonderful music, with its contemporary vibe that made this afternoon at Flava such a joy to be at.  Little wonder because the music was provided by one of the best DJs on the chill-out circuit Neil Strugnell.  In many ways, I was pleased that I arrived in Newport after my Tea Dance Tour had ended because now I was equipped to dance to Neil’s delicious mix of contemporary chill-out tracks.  I’ll talk about Neil’s music later, but first I want to talk about the beautiful dance hall that Flava is held in.

After completing my Tea Dance Tour I’m a bit of a chill-out junkie

A building with an interesting history

Flava is held in a building with an interesting story.  As I travel around visiting different venues I get to dance in buildings that are a reminder of an area’s often forgotten past.  The Lysaght Institute is one of them.  Newport is a city that has had its industrial heritage almost completely wiped off the map.  One of its major industries was steel making and on this site was one of Newport’s biggest employers – The Orb Steel Works.  Nothing remains of it except the Lysaght Institute which was partly funded by the workers themselves as a place for the factory’s social gatherings.

This iconic building was also marked for demolition, but a campaign was launched that finally saw it saved.  Eventually, it was restored to its former glory and remains a reminder of Newport’s proud industrial heritage.  The large first-floor hall is a lovely space to dance in and the floor itself is a joy to dance on.  How great it is that Ceroc South Wales get to hold proper dances here, as a reminder of one of the buildings original functions.

This beautiful building is a reminder of Newport’s industrial past

What is the Flava flavour?

Every chill-out event I’ve been to has its own unique flavour of music.  Flava is no different.  It’s what makes travelling round to these different venues worth the many miles I put on the clock.  I suspect that the musical offering at Flava is a three-way collaboration between Lyndsey Bennet and her partner Andy Hill and DJ Neil.  This is how Lyndsey and Andy describe the music at Flava:

Quite simply it’s beautiful music and pure dance indulgence.  Expect a mix of Soul, Funk, R’n’B, Chill-Out, SILC and Blues.

And that is exactly what Neil served up.  I’ll try to give you an idea of the vibe that Neil created out on the floor by featuring six of my favourite tracks from the afternoon.  Here’s the first.  The Kayvian remix of Zedd’s The middle featuring the vocals of Marem Morris and Grey has contemporary stamped all over it and it has that modern R’n’B funked-up beat that I hear so often on my Sunday travels.  I just love it when the bass drops at 0:57.

After 5 Years Flava is an established venue

Flava is now well established on the Sunday chill-out circuit, having been running for five years.  Neil has been the regular DJ for the last two years, so the people know what they are getting when it comes to the music.  That consistency I’m sure is one of the reasons that Flava is so well loved, and why the floor was very busy.   But there is another factor that makes Flava a must-dance-at venue and that is the level of dancing.

Dancing to slower music is not easy.  Just slowing down your regular Ceroc moves doesn’t necessarily work.

It needs a whole different approach.  The first thing is that slow dancing works better in a slotted manner, and secondly, you need some different type of moves.  I’ve often written that this type of dancing is something of a fusion of styles, notably SILC, West Coast Swing and Blues.  Because it’s a fusion we all develop our own individual way of doing it.  Whatever we call it, or whatever it looks like, most of the people in this room were accomplished dancers of this slower contemporary music.

This wonderful dance floor was busy from the beginning

My first fabulous dance

The high standard of dancing was brought home to me almost as soon as I had my dance shoes on.  Before I could even think about asking someone to dance, I was invited on to the floor.  The dance I had was one of the best of the afternoon.  It wasn’t down to me, but my partner.  The lady was a fabulous dancer, and I soon realised that all I had to do was offer her the chance to play with the music and she would do the rest.

I don’t remember the track we danced to but please listen to this next track from Neil’s playlist.  Done for me by Charlie Puth, featuring additional vocals from Kehlani, is a wonderful example of what contemporary music is all about.  As I listen to it now I can picture the way our dance progressed.  Have a listen then I’ll try to explain why it gave me a fabulous dance.  Spot the changes in mood and the way the pace goes up and down.  Listen for the breaks which invite you to freeze the action for a split second.

What makes a wonderful chill-out dance?

Here are the notes I wrote in my notebook immediately the dance was over:

Expressive – Fast – Slow – STOP – Expressive

It’s interesting that I used the word expressive twice.  Expressive dancing is another step beyond smooth jive dancing and it’s why from the very beginning I got a sense that I was in for a wonderful afternoon.  I’ll try to explain why I think the dancing here is so good at this venue a little later, but first I want to explain the notes I made.

Give your lady partner some freedom

So first Expressive.  Not easy to explain, but here goes.  This is when you really listen to the music and expressive how it makes you feel through your movement.  What I’ve learnt to do, at certain times in such a track, is to give my partner the freedom and space to take over a little, so they can play with the music.  As men, we are so used to leading, that it’s taken me some time to learn how to give my partner this freedom.  What was impressive was that my partner knew how to take her opportunity and own the floor.  

Next Fast-Slow.  It’s another technique I’ve learnt over the past year.   What I do is dance a move quite quickly – I’m staying on the beat but doubling it.  Then I slow the move down by halving the beat, and then I just STOP!  This is the chance for my lady to play.  It’s a bit dramatic but it seems to work, but only to chill-out tracks like the one above, and only when I sense my partner can respond.

It’s playtime at the end of The Slot

As I said, the lady was an experienced dancer, and she wasn’t the only one.  I soon had another fabulous dance.  Afterward, I spoke to my partner about her love of chill-out dancing:

I love dancing to this slower funkier music.  It gives me a chance to play with it, but . . .

What she went on to say I found quite interesting:

But, only when the man gives me the opportunity.

As I had worked my way around the country on my Tea Dance Tour I first learnt to dance in a slotted fashion.  It was only then that I started to think about giving my lady partner time to play.  My journey was made up of lots of lessons. I remember one class at Southport.  I didn’t do it, but I sat watching during the later part of it.  It was conducted by Ashley Davis, the young teacher who had set me off on my slotted dance journey back home in Nottingham.  Ashley’s class was called Playtime.

I can see him now giving his demo Jo opportunity after opportunity to play with the music.  One of the places to play was at the end of the slot.  Ashley demonstrated how to stop the move at the end of the slot and just wait.  There’s no need to bring the lady forward straightaway.  As he said in the lesson that day:

Ladies don’t feel you have to spring back along the slot.  Just stay put and play.

It actually takes some experience and a lot of confidence to play with the music in this way, which is a nice way to lead into my next conversation.  But first, time for more of Neil’s fabulous music.

Neil plays a chill-out favourite

Like all top DJs Neil obviously spends a lot of time digging around the dance music vaults to find some exclusive tracks, but he also played many tracks that are popular on the chill-out circuit.  Getaway car by Daryl Hall & John Oates is from 2003 and it seems that everyone is playing it at the moment.  The song was actually first recorded in 1999 by American Country singer Susan Ashton as an album track.

It’s not hard to see why the Hall and Oates version has taken off, as it has a simple laid back beat that is just perfect for chill-out dancing.  That the track doesn’t have the sometimes complex production, of some contemporary tracks, makes it stand out from the crowd and it’s also a track that less experienced dancers can dance to.  Something that is important as we’ll see.

Not everyone is so comfortable with slow music

When I’m doing a full review, like this one, I like to ask some of the people I dance with about their view of the venue and the music.  I danced with one lady and got a sense that she was not too experienced with dancing to slower music.  I sat down and chatted with her and her husband.  What she told me first made me smile:

We haven’t been dancing Ceroc that long, and we didn’t realise that the music at Flava was a little different to the normal freestyles we go to.

So how are you getting on with the slower music?

It isn’t easy is it, but we are giving it a go.

It isn’t easy dancing to slower music, particularly when you are just starting off on your dance journey, and it’s important that chill-out DJs mix in a few tracks with a well-defined beat, like Getaway Car, for any less experienced dancers who might be in the room.

What I loved about the couple I spoke to was that they were doing their best, and that they told me that they were still having a nice time.  This venue struck me as being very friendly and it’s a mark of that friendliness that this couple didn’t feel uncomfortable with their dance partners.  Friendly venues are not a given, but my offers to dance were always received warmly and I felt very comfortable even though I recognised only a few faces.

The provision of lots of seating around the perimeter makes for a relaxed social atmosphere

This is a very friendly venue

As I listened to this couple tell me about their thoughts on the venue, I was reminded of something that happened a few weeks ago.  I was at a Sara White Blues event near Bristol and Lyndsey just happened to be there too.  It was then that I told her I would be at Flava in a few weeks time.  She had this to say about her dancers:

It would be lovely to see you Paul and you’ll find the Welsh dancers are very friendly.

And so it proved, and it was one of the reasons that I had such a lovely afternoon even though I was a long way from home.

Why is this a slotted Hot Spot?

As I toured the country on my Tea Dance tour I began to notice what I call Slotted Hot Spots, where a significant number of the dancers were dancing in a linear fashion rather than in the traditional rotational way.  As I thought about the dances I was enjoying at Flava, I realised that most were being danced on the slot.   It seems that I needed to add Newport to my list of Slotted Hot Spots.

But why is this more modern form of dancing common at venues like Flava, when across the country traditional rotational dancing holds sway?  This weekend I will be at the Ceroc Southport Weekender.  The main Thunderball Room will be packed with up to four hundred people dancing their hearts out.  Almost every single one of them will be dancing in a rotational way to upbeat music.  Rotational rules OK.

How do venues like Fava get established?

So how have venues like Flava managed to establish themselves as places where the dancing style is predominately smooth and slotted.  I’ve thought long and hard about this and after dancing at a variety of venues across the country here are some of my thoughts and observations.

Here’s another of Neil’s lovely chilled-out tracks.  Drive slow by Carly Paige is everything you expect from a contemporary chill-out track, but play it at a venue where the dancing is predominately rotational and it will clear the floor.  Establishing venues like Flava is not easy.  Indeed on my tour, I’ve seen venues struggling to get viable numbers for chill-out freestyles.  So how did Lyndsey do it?

Smooth Slotted classes have to run alongside a chill-out venue

I can only assume that Lyndsey has used her dance classes to teach this more linear style of dancing.  By way of doing a little research I scrolled down the Ceroc South Wales Facebook Page.  I found some evidence of SILC classes, though not a lot.  I did however come across this promo for what I assume is an Intermediate routine at the Cardiff Class night.

There bold and clear were the words SLOW and SLOTTED followed by SMOOTH and CHILLED.  It’s not the same everywhere.  Many intermediate classes may include the odd move that will work well within a slotted routine but the words SLOW, SLOTTED, SMOOTH and CHILLED are rarely emphasised so markedly.  Intermediate classes often seem more concerned to teach complicated moves with challenging armography.

Look, teachers know their class, they are free to teach the intermediate class as they wish, but if these words are not emphasised it’s little wonder that some venues remain wedded to the traditional style of dancing.  I suspect that these words are stressed a lot in the Ceroc South Wales Classes, and that’s why there is a core of dancers who can dance to deliciously relaxed tracks like Drive slow.

Many class nights don’t put the same emphasis on SLOW, SLOTTED, SMOOTH and CHILLED

People will travel for fabulous music

There are areas of the country where Sunday chill-out venues haven’t got established, and that’s why a lot of dancers who need their fix of smooth dancing will travel some way to venues like Flava.  I was told that many people come across the Severn Bridge from the Bristol area and from further into the South West of the country, and I recognised people myself from as far away as the West Midlands.  People have even made the trip from London.  Like I said, people will travel for a fix of chill-out music.

The more I listened and danced to Neil’s mix of mainly contemporary music the more I realised that it was something worth travelling for.  Which is a good lead into this next track.  Vampire by Nitemayor is a track I’ve heard a few times on my Tea Dance tour and I love it.  It’s got a funk -laden reggae style beat, but what I adore is the sax solo that kicks in after the chorus.

Sharon jumps in at the deep end

The numbers at Flava are helped by the fact that there are four class nights at Cardiff, Chepstow, Newport and Swansea providing a pipeline of potential new dancers.  I got to talk to Sharon who has only been dancing Ceroc for three months.  It seems she’s really got the dance bug and sometimes will do two lessons a week.  Bearing in mind what I’ve said about the difficulty of dancing to slower music I asked Sharon how she was finding Flava.

It’s not easy, but I love this music so much that I just decided I had to be brave and jump in at the deep end.

I wish I could tell you I was that brave but sadly I can’t.  I can remember going to my first Southport and watching in awe as the people danced to slower music.  It would be seven years before I seriously set about learning to dance slower music.  Like Sharon I loved the music, but I found it very difficult to dance to it.  I would ask ladies who I knew, but I was never able to ask a stranger to dance to slow music.

A mark of the friendliness of this venue

Perhaps it’s harder for a man as we have to lead.  Maybe it is easier for the ladies as they just have to follow, but I know ladies who after five or six years still lack the confidence to step into a chill-out room.  That’s what makes Sharon’s visit to Flava so remarkable, but then she said that the dancers were all very friendly and did their bit to help.  I asked her how she had got on:

OK I think, I’ve definitely improved as the afternoon has gone on.  Everyone has been very patient with me.

I danced with Sharon towards the end of the afternoon and she did very well.  Her male leads being patient is a mark of the friendliness of this venue and points to why it has been able to build its numbers up so successfully.   I’m sure that Neil’s music over the past two years has also helped massively, but sadly it is to be no more.

Neil is moving on

This, in fact, was Neil’s final session at Flava before he migrates to New Zealand.  The music is now in the hands of Jen Eddy, Heather Lawson and Lyndsey herself.  They have some act to follow, but something tells me that they are going to do just great.

Here’s another of Neil’s delicious tracks, Melt by Jones.  Finding perfect chill-out tracks like this, with their dreamy vocals and strong bass lines will take time and dedication.  There is no doubt that Neil has set the bar very high, but I suspect that these three ladies will be competing with each other, to ensure that the Flava musical offer remains as strong as under Neil’s jurisdiction.

One last dance with all the ladies

Because this was Neil’s last gig, a great fuss was made of him towards the end of the afternoon.  Lyndsey made a lovely speech thanking him for his contribution to the success of Flava and wishing him all the best with his new adventure in New Zealand.  He was then asked to dance with all the ladies in the room and he duly set about dancing to one of his own chill-out tracks.

From dancing to his music on this one afternoon, I feel there is no doubt that Neil has a great knowledge of contemporary dance music.  I’ve loved listening to many of his tracks again, as I’ve worked through this review, and enjoyed selecting six tracks that I think give a real flavour of his musical offering.  I just hope that he gets a chance to continue plying his trade.  I know that Ceroc is danced over in New Zealand.  Hopefully, a new audience will get to dance to his wonderful music.

As people watch on, Lyndsey videos Neil’s last dances

It’s many peoples favourite place to dance

As I spoke to people on my visit to Flava, I soon got a sense that there is a lot of love for this venue, and I could fill my review with many of the positive comments I was told.  However, I will just mention the feedback from a lady I met in Spain recently.  Last week I was on the Costa Blanca as the guest of Maxine Goodie and her Paso a Paso dance club.  While there I met many people who are keen dances in the UK and go to Maxine’s club for a Ceroc and Modern Jive fix.

One of these ladies was Anne, who has a home in South Wales as well as the one in Spain.  Anne is a very experienced smooth dancer and I enjoyed several slotted dances with her while I was the guest of Maxine.  When I learnt where Anne lived in the UK, I explained that my next writing project was cco-incidentally a review of Flava and I asked if she had ever been there:

Oh Flava, yes I know it.  In fact, it’s my favourite place to dance when I’m back in Wales

I suspect that it’s many people favourite place to dance, and I’m going to say that after just one visit it’s one of my favourite places for a session of wonderful chill-out dancing too.  But now I need to move on to The Wobble, or rather the Wobble Line Dance.

OK, let’s wobble baby!

What I love about this wonderful dance scene are the traditions that take hold.  This weekend I’ll be at the Ceroc Southport Weekender, where like at many weekenders there is a great tradition of fancy dress.  Another great tradition of Southport is Swingers Hour where people dress up in ’40s and ’50s fancy dress and many of the ladies wear the most beautiful swirly Rock ‘n’ Roll dresses.  I’ll have a little more to say later about Swingers Hour and Lyndsey’s own involvement in this great weekender tradition.

At Flava, I saw another dance tradition that brought the biggest smile to my face.  At the end of every tea dance, everyone gets on the floor and does the Wobble Line Dance.  I can only assume that Lyndsey has taught this at her classes because just about everyone joined in and it was done with great precision, a lot of smiling and plenty of wobbling.

Lyndsey leads everyone in The Wobble Line Dance.

A wedding favourite

Wobble is one of the most popular line dances of recent times and one that is a great deal of fun.  It was choreographed for the 2008 single Wobble Baby by Rapper  V.I.C.  It sees to be particularly popular at weddings.  It was done at my own nephew’s wedding.  There are many videos of various groups doing the line dance on TouTube, and not surprisingly I’ve chosen one that features a wedding.

The wedding guests perhaps don’t do it with the same discipline as Lyndsey and her posse but they are certaimly having as much fun.  I’m hopeless at line dances and I have tried the Wobble before.  I was all over the place, so I excused myself and took a series of photos  – one of which I’ve used above.

Events like Flava don’t just happen

Flava is a wonderful Sunday afternoon dance venue.  In fact, it’s a pity that I’ve brought my Tea Dance Tour to an end because it would have been in contention for the top spot.  Neil’s music was just fabulous and perfectly pitched for a relaxed Sunday session.  Flava was friendly too, in fact very friendly.  I was made to feel very welcome from the moment I walked into this wonderful dance space.

Venues like this don’t just happen.  I’ve already touched on how the smooth slotted teaching and Neil’s contemporary music have together created the foundations for Flava’s success.  But there is something even more special underpinning this venue’s standing.  I’ve written many times that the sustainability of this wonderful dance scene is built on the dedication and hard work of a group of people who are passionate about dancing.

A fabulous teacher with infectious enthusiasm

These people come from the ranks of franchise owners, teachers, venue managers and the all-important Taxi dancers.  They include the people who help pack away all the equipment at the end of the night and of course the many people who bake the delicious cakes.  Flava, indeed the whole of Ceroc South Wales,  has two such people – Lyndsey and her partner Andy Hill.

Lyndsey is a fabulous teacher.  I first experienced her passion for dancing when I joined the lines of her Get Ready for Swingers Hour class at Southport.  This is a very popular class and you can’t help but feel the infectious enthusiasm coming off the stage as Lyndsey and her Demo Ben teach the basics of Rock ‘n’ Roll.  It wasn’t long before I felt compelled to write about this class and so good was it that I voted it the Best Dance Class of that year (see links below).

Lyndsey and Ben teach one of the most popular Southport classes

It’s all about the team

The success of any dance organisation needs one other factor in place, and that is a team of people who share the same enthusiasm and values.  I commented that this venue was very friendly.  Spend just a little time with Lyndsey and Andy and you can see where that friendliness comes from, but it requires that all the people around Lyndsey and Andy buy into the same ethos.  That’s what Lyndsey has done and there is a great sense of belonging amongst the South Wales dancers, affectionately known as The Dragons.

I saw this team spirit for myself at last year’s Ceroc Champs at the Colosseum in Watford.  Lyndsey’s Dragons entered into the Group dance category.  The show The Dragons put was quite simply awesome – it must have taken hours and hours of rehearsal – and it’s not surprising that it stormed to first place.  Later that day Lyndsey posted this picture on Facebook.  You can’t help but feel the sesnse of pride that comes from belonging to this group of dancers.

The Dragons celebrate their Ceroc Champs win last year

A shout out for the Flava Crew

So let’s give a shout out to the team who have helped Lyndsey and Andy make such a success of Flava.  First, there’s Helen who works on the door.  I’ve often said that the people who greet us are so important.  It’s something that’s particularly important to me, as I usually know nobody at the new venues I visit, and so I’m always comforted by a big warm smile on the door.  Then’s there’s Stephanie, whose job it is to keep the coffee and tea table tidy and well stocked.

We now come to some really important people – the bakers.  If there is one thing that makes a Tea Dance, it’s cake.

Lyndsey tells me she has quite a team who provide cakes, but asked that I give a special mention to Sue for her amazing Welsh Cakes, to Hannah for her spread of Vegan sweet treats and to Ellen, who bakes the most amazing selection of cakes.  Apparently, Lyndsey’s favourite is Ellen’s Key Lime Pie.  I’m sure there are others too, so a big thank you from Lyndsey and Andy for everyone’s help in making Flava the success it is.

A shout out for the Amanda’s and Sue

I want to finish by mentioning three of the ladies I danced with on my visit to Flava  I had so many wonderful dancers that day and it’s hard to remember all the names, but I first want to give a personal shout out to the two Amandas.  Like so many of the dancers at Flava, these two ladies were experienced smooth slotted dancers.  Not only did I enjoy some fabulous dancers with both of them, but they epitomised the friendliness of this venue as they both spent time chatting with me about their love of Flava.

I would like to finish by mentioning Sue and her message that was posted on the Ceroc South Wales group Facebook page.  After visiting venues where I’ve had a good time, I like to post a positive comment on the organisation’s Facebook page.  Several of the people I met posted comments underneath, including the two Amandas.  I hope Sue won’t mind if I reproduce her own comment:

I had a lovely dance with you Paul.  Told my friends to make sure they had a dance with you that afternoon.

That Sue told her friends to ask me to dance is a sign of the friendliness of this venue, and I really appreciated that I was asked to dance so many times.  When Lyndsey assured me of a warm welcome, she knew that her dancers shared her own social values.  Sue and her friends were proof of how the Ceroc South Wales dancers have bought into the friendly vibe that Lyndsey wants for her venues.  No wonder I had such a great time.

Related Links

More Tea Dances than I had realised:   This gives a mention of Flava before I set off on my Tea Dance Tour

Get Ready for Swingers Hour:  My review of Lyndsey and Ben’s well loved Southport class

My Top Picks of the Year 2017/18: Part 1 Classes:  Lyndsey and Ben’s Southport class makes No 1