A Must-dance-at venue for Expressies

Suddenly my dance life is full of Expressive dancing and here in the East Midlands, we now have a new venue that is going to become a Must-dance-at-venue for Expressies (that’s my new name for people who like Expressive dancing – a bit like West Coast Swing dancers are called Westies).  The venue is the same one in Nuneaton, where iDance also run their very popular monthly main room freestyles.

EOS – it stands for Expressive, Original & Smooth – is a new format launched at the end of last year.  The attendance has slowly been growing and when I attended in January the numbers had grown impressively.  While the numbers were not as high as the regular main room freestyles, the dance floor was sufficiently busy to create a wonderful atmosphere in what is a large room.  I’m sure the numbers will grow to match the main room freestyle but I appreciated the extra space I had on the night I visited.

A busy floor but still room to express yourself

Ian is a regular Guest DJ at TFIF

The event was DJed by iDance founder Ian Selby.  I’ve long been impressed with Ian’s music (see link below) and the fact he always finds room for some chill-out tracks in his main room freestyles, but I had no idea that he was an experienced Expressive music DJ.  The previous month I was at the mega Expressive event Thank Friday it’s Freestyle (TFIF).  It was the ten year anniversary and Coralie Green, who runs TFIF, introduced all the DJs that had played their part in building it into the well-loved event it has become.

I was surprised to see that Ian was one of the DJs who had done guest appearances over the years at TFIF.   At the end of the night, I got to chat with Ian and he told me about his involvement with TFIF and how he had developed his own playlist of tracks suited to Expressive Dancing.  He then invited me to the January EOS.  It is worth stating that EOS is not just about Expressive music.  Ian mixes it up with some wonderful Chill-out tracks and Blues music to create what I think is a very appealing musical offering.

O is for Original

The ‘O’ in EOS stands for original.  One of the reasons I’ve loved my visits to Ian’s iDance events is the new-to-me music I get to dance to.  But for all his originality and exclusive tracks, Ian knows that people always want to hear some music that they are familiar with and he found plenty of space for current mid-tempo and chill-out favourites like The Tones and I’s Dance monkey and seemingly everyone’s favourite chill-out track of the moment Breathe in by Daddy was a Milkman.

But I want to use this review to feature the music that I think defines the essence of EOS.

I’ll start with a mid-tempo track that is a great example of the original sounds you’ll hear at EOS.  Come back (Light Therapy) by Josh Rouse is one of those tracks that slowly builds to something quite wonderful as layer upon layer of instrumentation is piled on top each other.  It starts with little more than a drum and bass backing, but slowly the instrumentation builds.  First a funky guitar riff, then a keyboard joins in.  By the time the brass section kicks in I was hooked.  All manner of instrumentation is then mixed in including some bluesy guitar work.  The result is a track that you can lose yourself in.

S is for Smooth

Ian mixed in what I’m going to call the pretty chill-out tracks like Breathe in, but some very popular smooth ones are a little darker.  It is these earthier smooth tracks that Expressive DJs mix into their sets.  One great example is Lewis Capaldi’s Someone You Loved which Ian gave a spin to.  It’s wonderful for a smooth slotted dance, but it’s darker tones also invite you to explore a more expressive interpretation of its emotive vibe.

I’m going to feature another smooth track, from Ian’s playlist, that often finds it’s way into the chill-out room.  Gary Jules’ 2003 version of Tears for Fears Mad world has, like Someone You Loved, a darker feel.  Its slow rhythm has also made it a favourite on the Modern Blues circuit and it’s a great track to try out some more expressive musicality.

E is for Expressive

Before I select what I’ll call an Expressive track, I think I had better try to explain what is meant by Expressive dancing.  The first thing to say is that it is very individual and there are no sets rules.  To some it’s about finding your inner Kate Bush – think of her dancing to Wuthering Heights as she laments ‘Heathcliff it’s me, it’s Cathy’, but some take a less dramatic approach.

I like to explain Expressive dancing as follows: In most dancing, we connect with the beat.  Expressive music is often very slow and doesn’t have a beat you can necessarily connect to.  So I like to think that Expressive dancing is where you dance to the way the music makes you feel.  Take this next track from Ian’s playlist.  The beat is barely detected, but the instrumentation may create an emotional response.  It is this emotional response that offers a  framework for a more expressive dance.

Sorry if that was a little deep.  Time to listen to Salvation by Gabrielle Aplin.  Hopefully, as the song builds to its climax you will get a sense of what I was talking about.  In the video, there are a few dance moves that would work well in an expressive dance.  Oh, and feel free to find your inner Kate Bush.

Why the lack of East Midland chill-out venues?

In my reviews and articles, I’ve often bemoaned the lack of a major chill-out venue in The East Midlands.  I love the intimate Frozen Tea Dance run by Electric Jive and slowly, slowly, Ceroc Heaven’s Sawley on Sunday SILC event is building a following.  However, there is nothing like the mega chill-out events like Ceroc Evoke’s Moments at Cambourne or Ceroc Live and Dance’s Swindon Chill-out event.  Here in the East Midlands we don’t have well-loved Modern Blues events like Devon Velvet or Rhapsody at Minstead.

I’ve tried to work out why this is.  The East Midlands has a vibrant freestyle scene.  Pirate Jive’s The Shed, Ceroc Heaven’s The Grange and Ceroc’s Burton Town Hall are so well-loved that people travel a long way to them, but none are known for playing much chill-out music.  I’ve wondered if the reason was that the dancers who come to these venues don’t feel comfortable dancing to slower tracks and the DJs get a sense of this and keep the music upbeat.

Should DJs encourage us to step out of our Comfort Zone?

I can understand this – it guarantees everyone a great night of dancing – but it doesn’t encourage people to step out of their comfort zone and try to enjoy dancing to slower music.  I know that some East Midland venues have tried playing slower tracks towards the end of the night, but none have been brave enough to follow the example of Ceroc Devon’s Exeter Corn Exchange freestyles where the music switches bang on eleven for a full hour of chill-out music.  Some people do call it a night at that point but the floor remains very busy and you see just how well the local dancers have adapted to the slower vibes.

When Ian DJs iDance’s regular main room freestyles at Nuneaton he does mix in a lot of chill-out tracks towards the end of the night and the floor stays busy right up to the very last track.  What’s interesting is that many of the people enjoying these slower tracks are the same people who sometimes frequent the other major East Midlands freestyles.  So why do they seem happy to dance to more chill-out in Nuneaton and not in Nottingham?

At a regular Nuneaton freestyle the floor stays busy to the very end

People will find a way to dance to slower music

So how would The East Midlands dancers receive EOS?  The answer is with great enthusiasm.  What’s more, as I looked around the room there was no end of  dancers I recognised from my visits to main room freestyles in Derby, Nottingham, Burton on Trent and Leicester.  So it seems that Ian has tapped into a pent-up demand for more chilled and expressive dancing in this area.

I suspect that Ian has been slipping more and more chilled and expressive tracks into his regular freestyles, and while watching the floor has seen that the people have been challenging themselves to find a way of dancing to these slower vibes.  Let’s be honest here. When you are brought up on a diet of up-tempo tracks it’s not easy to dance to slower music.

Ian also tells me that he has introduced some slower dancing techniques into his iDance classes at Wythall and Nuneaton.  I do wonder why more classes don’t use their Intermediate classes to teach moves and techniques that work with slower music, instead of seemingly concentrating on complicated moves that few men go on to include in their freestyle routines.  We all want an enjoyable dance – tangling your partner’s arms up is no fun sometimes.  It’s also worth remembering that moves suited to chill out dancing can be a lot easier to pick up than you might think.

Time to find your inner James Brown

Time for some more of Ian’s wonderful music.  In fact, it’s time for some funk.  Ever since James Brown led the funk revolution in the ’70s (think Get up (l Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine) dance DJs have always found space for funked-up vibes.  The best of these are a little too slow for main room freestyles but chill-out DJs love them and Ian served up a modern R&B track with a thumping beat straight from Funk Central.

Charlie Wilson’s Infectious featuring Snoop Dogg is a track you’ll probably recognise, as main room DJs do slip it in occasionally, but it was born to funk up the chill-out zone.  This is a track that invites you to find your inner James Brown (your inner Kate Bush can wait a while).  James Brown was one of the first dancers to expressive his musicality so openly.  No wonder Michael Jackson paid homage to Brown’s dancing.  I know that displaying your inner James Brown takes some confidence, but that didn’t stop the dancers at EOS connecting with the funked-up vibes, like Infectious, that Ian played.

The challenge of Expressive dancing

It was never too long before Ian was back in expressive mode and this is a great example.  Bad man by Estery featuring Austin Jenckes is a great example of the kind of track that encourages a more expressive style of dancing.  What this track has mixed in with its thumping beat, are breaks.  Moments of silence which mark the change of mood.  If you and your partner hit these breaks at the same time it can create a wondrous feeling and shows just how good your connection is.

Connection is everything in a dance.  Connection to the music and  your dance partner.  It’s one of the challenges of dancing to expressive music, and it’s particularly challenging when it’s the first time you have danced with someone to this kind of music.  But isn’t that the spirit of being human – the desire to challenge yourself.  To step out of your comfort zone and see what the possibilities are.  So listen to the breaks in Bad man and image your self rising to the challenge of matching your musicality to its dark undercurrent.

Expressive or Challenging

I mentioned earlier how Coralie Green of TFIF thanked Ian for his contribution to this Expressive mega event.  The man who developed TFIF, with Coralie, is Morris Rodham.   At the tenth anniversary TFIF in January Morris took the mike to explain the musical philosophy behind TFIF:

Some people call the music we play as Expressive, but I prefer to call it Challenging

Morris has a point.  It is challenging and I remember struggling at my first TFIF back in 2018. But I think that Expressive is the word that most people use to explain this style of music and dancing.  That Ian devised the EOS brand where E stood for Expressive confirms this.

DJ Ian selects a dramatic piece

I want to finish this review with two last expressive tracks.  I asked Ian if he would select one of the tracks from his EOS playlist as being a good example of Expressive music.  He kindly gave me the details of this dramatic track.  It’s Gloria Regali produced by Tommee Profitt with vocals from Fleurie.   Here Proffit describes the background to the track:

In 2018, me and Fleurie got asked to make a song for a Game of Thrones trailer; so we wrote the song “Gloria Regali”.  Well, they didn’t end up using our song, but we had so much fun making it, that it inspired us to make an entire 10 song album in that genre.  

I suspect that Expressive DJs have found plenty of material in that album.  I’m not going to try to explain what makes this track such a challenge – just listen to it.  If you get lucky and find a partner that can make the same connection with its emotive instrumentation then you will have the most joyous dance experience. But as Morris Rodham says it will be a challenge.

A joyous dance to a lighter track

Having a joyous dance depends so much on getting a partner who can share the connection you make with the music.  At EOS I was impressed with the number of lady partners I danced with who rose to the challenge of giving themselves up to the music.  This, in turn, encouraged me to do the same and to find ways of giving them the time and space to express their musicality with their own individual styling.

We can’t expect to connect with everyone in such a way when we go dancing.  Thankfully, we all occasionally meet up with dancers who we feel particularly comfortable with and so have the chance to develop great connections.  I mentioned that his venue attracts people from all over The East Midlands, but there were also many dancers who had made the trip from further afield – such is the growing reputation of EOS.

In amongst those dancers was one lady, who I have enjoyed some wonderful smooth slotted chill-out dances.  I couldn’t help wonder if we would make the crossover to a more expressive dance vibe.   At the very end, as Ian put the lights up so his team could pack up, he played this delicious expressive track – Tango Para mi Padre y Marialuna by Ashram.  Not all expressive music is dark and sombre like Gloria Regali or Mad world, and this track has a lightness that encourages a smooth and free-flowing dance.  My thanks then to my partner, for what was a beautiful dance and the perfect way to bring to a close a night of wonderful dancing.

It seems everyone loved it

I couldn’t help wonder how the other dancers had responded to this wonderful mix of chill-out and expressive music.  The next day I made a well deserved congratulatory posting on the iDance Facebook Page.  I was surprised how many people added their comments to my post.  Here are a few:

Fabulous night.  Sonia

This was a divine night, perfect chill-out music and lovely dances all night.  I feel fabulous, thank you to everyone for making this one of my favourite events.  Helen

Very enjoyable evening of great music and fab dances.  Thank you Ian and Jennie.  Janette

A truly fabulous night. Well done Ian and Jennie for putting together such a delicious night.  Emily

It was awesome.  I truly learnt so much. . . The music was delicious and all my partners were very encouraging, it was fantastic.  Deb

Of all those comments, the one I loved the most was the last one from Deb when she refers to her partners being very encouraging and the fact she learnt so much.  I thought Ian was very brave to launch this smooth and expressive venue as The East Midlands is not known for its chill-out dancers, but it seems like Deb, people like a challenge and they are willing to learn.  That Deb’s partners were encouraging shows that we are all capable of teaching each other.  Perhaps we don’t need lessons, just a venue with great music like EOS – don’t worry we’ll rise to the challenge.

I have to mention one other comment.  It was written by Elaine.  She had read my glowing Facebook posting and had decided she didn’t want to miss out:

Sounds fab.  I’ll try to make the next one

After reading all these comments I suspect that word will get around about EOS.  It is an event worthy of a pilgrimage if you love the idea of dancing to a wonderful mix of chill-out and expressive music.

Related links

My review of a regular Nuneaton Freestyle

My review of my first visit to TFIF