PART 1: FINDING A PARTNER

My first ever entry into a Ceroc Champs

At the end of July 2019, I entered the Ceroc South West Champs.  It was my first time as an entrant into a proper competition.  I’d entered a few weekender competitions on impulse before – at the Warmwell Weekender I’d been asked to enter the Dance with a Stranger competition as there was a shortage of men – but I’d done nothing as structured and, dare I say, as serious as a Ceroc Champs.

One of the reasons for entering was to write about my experience as a first-timer, in the hope that it would encourage others.  The only trouble was that I needed a partner who either lived in the South West or who would be prepared to travel there.  But I also wanted someone who, like myself, had never entered a formal competition before.  I also wanted to enter the Vets category, so my partner needed to be over fifty.  Sadly I knew no-one who fitted the bill.

This article tells the story of how I found a partner and what happened when we stepped on to the dance floor as our number was called out.  It goes without saying that we were a little nervous, but we were proud that we’d dared to put our names down for our three categories.  As you read about our adventure you’ll meet some of the other competitors and spectators, who were there to support their friends.  I hope you’ll find their stories as interesting as ours.


I dance with Gaynor in The Warmwell Dance with a Stranger competition.   Photo courtesy of Tel Jenkins

I make a promise to enter myself

I can trace my South West Champs adventure back to May of last year when I travelled to The Colesseum in Watford for the London Ceroc Champs.  I’d gone along to support some of my dance friends from the Nottingham based Ceroc Heaven class nights.  I would live blog from the event  and also write a two-part review of the day where, amongst other things, I praised the courage of my dance friends from The East Midlands.

All of them were successful in getting through to the next round of their categories and some even made it to their category final.  Most were first-timers, and I remember thinking that if they could find the courage to enter then surely I, with my years of experience, had no excuse.  I finished my review by promising to enter the following year.

Sadly when the London Champs came around again I had other plans but there are a series of these competitions around the country.  As well as the South West Champs held in Exeter, there are the North West Champs in Manchester and further competitions are held in South Wales and Scotland.  Having missed out on the London Champs I settled on the Exeter one – after all, I sensed that my credibility as a blogger rested on me keeping my promise to enter during 2019.

I decide on The SW Champs held in July

Even regular competitors have nerves

I now had to find a partner to share my dance adventure.  Most of the people who enter these competitions do it with people they regularly dance with.  They know how each other dances and this makes for fluid movement on the dance floor.  Entering with someone you know also gives you plenty of opportunities to practice and devise eye-catching routines that you can execute with perfection.

Many of the dancers at the Exeter event were regulars at several of the different Ceroc Champs.  Some seemingly enter every one and I saw many familiar faces from my day at The London Champs and when I attended the Modern Jive World Championships at Blackpool in March.  One of the medal winners from Blackpool was Kevin.  He was also competing at Exeter.  I asked him how long he’d been entering these competitions:

I’ve been competing for about five years now and sometimes do four comps in a year.

So, do you get nervous?

Not so much now, but I used to.  Certainly, when I first started I felt very nervous and so did my partner, but I think most people will tell you that they slowly overcome the nerves the more comps they enter.

I met up with Kevin a little later in the afternoon, when he had reached a couple of the finals.  He admitted to a few more nerves:

The finals are a little more nerve-wracking.  You can’t help wanting to do well and you are always wondering what the judges are looking for.

I wished him well, and thought back to the nerves I felt as I walked on to the dance floor with the number 59 pinned to my back for my first heat that morning.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  I still need to tell you how I found a partner, with the worry that I would be asking a first-timer to step out of their comfort zone.  It would be a big ask.

I could only hope that the fun element would overcome any nerves my partner and I had.  Photo courtesy of Kate or Pam

My search starts for a partner

I initially thought about asking one of the dancers I’d become friendly with, in my new base at Milton Keynes, but it would involve a lot of travelling and the expense of two nights away in a hotel.  I thought it best to ask someone fairly local to the Exeter venue.  So in April, a good three months before the event, I found a space in my diary to visit a Ceroc Devon freestyle at the same venue – The Corn Exchange in Exeter.

I got lucky.  Almost immediately I spotted a lady who I had danced with many times at the Ceroc Southport Weekender.  She is a fabulous dancer and dances with the same kind of energy as myself.  After a wonderful flowing dance, I asked her if she would consider being my partner.  I was quick to add certain caveats:

They’ll be no pressure to win anything.  I just want to have fun and write about the experience.  We always dance nicely together and hopefully, we’ll enjoy ourselves.

The lady seemed reassured that we would be entering the competition without any expectations, and was happy to join me in my adventure.  There was just one worry:

That day is my birthday.  There is a chance my family will ask me to spend it with them.  I’ll have to confirm later.

That’s fine, just let me know.  I’ve still plenty of time to find someone else if you can’t make it.

We had several more wonderful dances that night.  I felt confident that we would not embarrass ourselves in the Champs.  With fingers crossed that the clash of dates wouldn’t be a problem, I now threw myself into the dancing at the Corn Exchange freestyle.  This is a major venue in the South West and the place was as always packed.

My search for a partner starts at the Exeter freestyle in April

I enjoy a fun dance with one of the crew

I’ve danced with Ceroc Devon before and they are a very friendly crowd and I had more wonderful dances.  Now I’m not one to chat during a dance but I’m often asked where I usually dance.  Being a fresh face at Exeter I was asked several times that night.  My answer about touring the country writing reviews of this wonderful scene somehow led to a particular comical conversation with one of my dance partners.

The lady in question was a lovely dancer and I resolved to have another dance with her later.   Towards the end of the night, I went looking for her and found her tidying up the tables. I duly asked her for a second dance:

I’m part of the crew.  I should really be helping pack everything away, but why not.

I’ve written many times about the wonderful people who help set up venues and give up some of their dance time to tidy up the room when the rest of us are still enjoying our dancing.  Like all organisations, Ceroc Devon is blessed to have a dedicated team that help out at their venues and I know how seriously they all take their duties.  I duly thanked the lady for accepting my offer to dance:

Just one dance then.

Dancing is fun, or so it should be.  My first dance with this lady had been just that and the second was equally joyous.  Inbetween our flowing movement we continued our conversation and my partner told me about her involvement in the restoration of an outdoor swimming pool.  The dance ended with me wanting to know a little more, but I kept my promise not to keep her from her duties and concluded the dance with the usual niceties:

Thank you, that was fun again.  I’m Paul.

I’m Jan, thank you.

With Jan back on team duties, I went to enjoy the last twenty minutes of DJ Ivan Burton’s music.  Like many venues, Ceroc Devon uses the last part of their freestyles to slow the pace down and play more chilled tracks.  I couldn’t help but notice how confidently everybody danced to the more relaxed music and how many people were dancing in a slotted style.

It suddenly dawned on me that I might be expected to dance in this more contemporary style when I entered the Champs.  I’d been trying to dance in a more modern style for some time, but I still had some way to go.  I was sure I could improve some more in the three months before my debut on the competition dance floor.  One thing I knew was that the lady who had offered to be my partner was an experienced dancer.  I felt confident that she would be able to dance in whatever style was necessary and follow whatever move I led.  We’d be fine.  Fingers crossed she could make it.

I’m looking for a partner again

Sadly she couldn’t.  As she half expected, her family wanted to spend time with her on her birthday.  I understood, of course, but I was disappointed.  This lady was a lovely dancer and I was sure we would have given a credible performance.  I now started to think again about who I could ask to partner me in the South West Champs.  It wasn’t long before I thought about Jan and the two fun-filled dances we’d enjoyed at Exeter.

Could you enter with someone you’d only ever had two dances with?  But during those two dances, Jan had shown that she shared my love of dancing and seemed very comfortable with my style of dancing.  I thought back to my experience of the Dance with a Stranger comp at the Warmwell Weekender.  I’d been paired with Gaynor a lady I’d never danced with before, but we smashed our first dance together and we got into the final.  In any case, it wasn’t about getting to the final – it was about the experience.  I’d ask Jan to partner me.

I duly found Jan on Facebook and sent her a message.  I imagined her opening it:

Hi Jan, I wonder if you would consider entering the South West Champs . . .

I made sure that very early on I mentioned that I had no desire to be competitive and that it was more about me entering so I could write the story of what it’s like to enter a real dance competition:

. . . so please be assured that we’ll be entering with little or no expectations.

I pressed SEND and waited for a reply. For the next couple of days I was constantly checking my in-box.  Eventually a reply came back.

I’d love to enter with you, Paul.

Later that week I would speak to Jan on the phone.  While she admitted to some nerves and wondered what she had signed up for, she had a positive outlook.  We agreed that we would be entering for nothing more than to enjoy the experience and have little expectations of progressing through the rounds.   We would enter for the fun of it – nothing more, nothing less.

Myself and Jan agree to dance for the fun of it

Something to look forward to

I explained that there was a freestyle on the proceeding Friday night where we could get used to dancing with each other.  We discussed the different categories we could enter and settled on three – Veterans, Intermediate and Intermediate Chill-out.  Before we finished our call Jan explained a little more about the open-air swimming pool that she is involved with:

My family and I have been involved with the Kingsteignton Pool since 1972, when the community came up with the idea of building a 25 metre out-door heated swimming pool.  It took seven years to raise the money.

It was a well-loved local amenity, but like so many out-door pools, it proved too expensive to keep open and it’s future was in doubt.

Jan went on to tell me that a trust was set up by the local council to restore it to its former glory and keep it open. The pool is now a registered Charity, run by a small committee of which Jan is the Chair.  Jan proudly told me that she was crowned Miss Kingsteignton Swimming Pool Carnival Queen in 1974 and the pool’s been a big part of her life ever since.

I mention Jan’s involvement with the swimming pool for a reason, but more of that later.  After we finished our call I had this thought.  When we dance with people for the first time we have little idea about them.  You can dance with people for years and still not know anything about their real lives, but sometimes one dance can give you clues about a person’s attitude towards life.  In those two dances, I sensed that Jan had a great energy for life and I was sure she would love the challenge of the Champs.  Hearing about the pool had gone some way to confirming that.  I looked forward to the end of July with an added sense of excitement.

Something for everyone

I mentioned above the categories that myself and Jan selected, but like all the Ceroc Champs, there is a comprehensive list that offers opportunities for people of all levels.  At one end of the scale is the Open category designed to attract the very best dancers including professional teachers.  At the other end is the Ceroc X category restricted to amateurs only.  In this category, people dance the Ceroc X moves taught during intermediate lessons at Ceroc class nights across the country.

Two other categories are of particular interest.  The first is Lucky Dip, where you are randomly partnered on the morning of the competition.  This means you could be a relative beginner and find yourself dancing with a top professional.  The other is Top Cats.  Here you dance with a series of different random partners but are judged as an individual.

A third category caught my eye and one that will bring a smile later.  It’s the Role Reversal category, where the ladies lead the men.  This was a great mix of categories with something for everyone.

The full list of categories you could choose from.

PART 2: CEROC DEVON

A vibrant Ceroc franchise

The South West Champs are hosted by Ceroc Devon, the West of England franchise run by Kate and Ivan Burton.  This is a vibrant dance group, and I’m forever dipping into their Facebook Page to see what they are up to.  Like all successful franchises, they have a dedicated team around them, helping to set up and run their class nights and freestyles.  My dance partner for the Champs, Jan, is one of their Exeter class night taxis.

To put on an event like The South West Champs must take a lot of additional work.  It must be a great help to Kate and Ivan that they have such a great team around them.  Just looking through their Facebook page you get an idea of how Kate and Ivan create a great buzz around their events.  The group constantly has great fun with fancy dress and they recently organised an impressive Flash Mob in Exeter, where they flawlessly performed the latest Nu-Line Dance to Country girl (Shake it for me).

Kate and Ivan are always looking for ways to thank their team and Jan told me how she helped organise a Pool Party for the Ceroc Devon crew at the out-door swimming pool she helps run.  I spotted this posting on Facebook.  It says so much about the way Kate and Ivan have created a great vibe in their franchise and how much they appreciate the support their team gives them.

The Ceroc Devon crew pose for a group photo at the Kingsteignton Pool.

Ceroc Devon show a commitment to SILC

Another thing that you notice when you scroll down the Ceroc Devon Facebook page is their commitment to SILC, the smooth slotted dancing style developed by Ceroc.  That there is a comprehensive programme of SILC lessons goes some way to explaining why many of the dancers at the Exeter freestyle danced so confidently to the slower tracks.  You can trace Kate and Ivan’s involvement in the South West Champs to this commitment to teaching the more contemporary dance techniques of SILC.

Adding the smooth flowing techniques of SILC to your regular Ceroc dancing will make you a better dancer.  As well as offering SILC Classes and Workshops, Kate and Ivan always make sure that they find time to play plenty of slower contemporary tracks at their events.  This gives their dancers plenty of opportunities to practice their smooth dancing styles.

Kate spots a gap in the Champs diary

As I watched the dancers in the final hour of the Corn Exchange freestyle I could see a sizeable cohort of dancers who have embraced the more modern style of dancing.  It is from the ranks of these dancers that many competition entrants come.  This wasn’t lost on Kate.  She had this to say when I asked her about her involvement in the South West Champs:

We noticed a large group of competition dancers emerging in the South West and thought that there might be enough support for a Ceroc Champs in Exeter.

I thought if we could host a local Ceroc Champs it would show our support for this ever-increasing group of dancers.

Hopefully, this local group would form the core of any competition entrants but Kate was also confident that there was a gap in the Champs Calendar that might attract people from further afield.  So, in 2017 they took the plunge and The South West Champs was born.  As hoped the event was very well supported -entrants came from all areas of Southern England with a noticeable representation from London – and proved a great success.

Katie Downing and Jochen Grunleitner.  Two of the many Ceroc Devon dancers competing in the SW Champs of 2018.  Photo courtesy of Kate or Pam

Another example of passionate commitment

While Kate and Ivan run Ceroc Devon jointly, the South West Champs became Kate’s baby and she tells me that she did most of the organisation herself.

Hearing about all the preparations for the event, I soon realised just what a passion Kate has for Ceroc and her dancers.

I’ve said it many times before that this wonderful dance community only works because of the dedication and commitment from people like Kate and as we’ll hear later an equally committed team of helpers who ensured the day went very smoothly.

Talk of matching costumes

In the run-up to the event I spoke with Jan a few times on the phone and we both admitted to feeling the occasional pang of nerves.  In one of our calls Jan mentioned some of the discussions the team were having about the preparations:

On Friday night we’ve got to set up a changing room.  Apparently, lots of the competitors bring different costumes to change in to, and they need somewhere to change.

I think that this was the first time that Jan realised just how serious some of the competitors take their performances at these events.  At The World Championships in Blackpool, I’d seen for myself the matching costumes that many of the competitors wore.  I reminded Jan of our pledge to enter just for the experience and to have some fun:

Don’t worry Jan I have no desire to wear anything sparkly.

Jan would later tell me that on impulse she went out and bought an outfit for her Champs debut:

 I hung it up on the wardrobe door and the more I looked at it the more I just didn’t want to wear it.  I then decided to wear what I would normally wear to a summer freestyle – a flowery dress.

Jan had realised that wearing a costume outfit wasn’t who she was and that’s the point.  It was our first time and it was important that we both felt comfortable.  On the day I wore one of my favourite dance shirts.  I must admit that our outfits clashed, but we were never in the competition to do anything more than have fun.

Clashing outfits, but we have lots of fun on the day

The People’s Choice comp awaits us

During our last call before the big day I mentioned to Jan that there was actually a competition we could enter on the proceeding night’s freestyle:

I’ve just noticed that there is a competition we can enter on the Friday night.  During the freestyle, they are having a heat of The People’s Choice competition.

The People’s Choice competitions are held at all regional Ceroc Champs and Ceroc Weekenders.  They are open to anyone, but the teachers and professionals tend not to take part.  Four random judges are picked from the audience and they each choose their favourite dance couple.  The four couples then enter a final and the winner is decided by the pairing who gets the loudest cheer from the audience.  The winners then get an entry into the main London Ceroc Champs in May next year.

I’d entered a heat of this competition back in February when I attended the Ceroc Swish Weekender at the Potters Resort on the Norfolk coast.  I danced it with Michelle one of my dance friends from Nottingham.  Needless to say, we didn’t make the final – no disgrace when only four couples are picked from over forty but we had a blast and I was sure that entering with Jan would help dispell any nerves that we might both be feeling.

We finished our call by agreeing a time that we would meet up at the freestyle and reminding ourselves that we would be dancing just for the fun of it.  Little did I know that Jan had actually become a little more competitive since I’d first invited her to be my partner, but more of that later.

At last, we get to dance again

The big day arrived, or rather the freestyle the night before.  At the agreed time we met on the dance floor and had our third ever dance and our first for three months.  It went really well.  Jan followed me as fluently as she had done back in April.  I think I always knew she would.  If I felt any anxiety at what I had asked Jan to do it subsided significantly.  We would not embarrass ourselves.  That I was certain of.

We danced an additional four or five times that night and ironed out a couple of my favourite moves.  I love doing the Penguin, so we practised the move a few times.  It went well and I couldn’t help but congratulate Jan how well she followed me:

 Wow, you danced that beautifully.  Your timing and balance were spot on.  Hopefully, we’ll catch the eye of the judges as we spin around.

Most people who regularly enter competitions develop eye-catching routines, that catch the judges eye.  Many of these routines include spectacular drops.  Sadly, drops are something I never do.  Hopefully, the odd supersonic Penguin would get the judges attention instead.

Peter Nichol and his partner Alice Rutter impress the judges with a well-rehearsed drop.  Photo courtesy of Kate or Pam

We can’t help but want to do well

Relaxed that we had the necessary connection to dance in a fluent style we entered The People’s Choice competition.  There were some serious dancers on the floor.  Many of the competitors for the main event on Saturday were, like myself and Jan, using the Friday night freestyle as a practice session.  As I looked around I saw a few matching costumes.  This would be a good prep for us.

There were a lot more couples than when I entered at Potters and once again it was no disgrace not to make the final.

However, I have to admit that we danced so well that I felt a little disappointed not to get picked for the final.  I mentioned this to Jan.  She agreed with me.  She felt a little disappointed too.  We had learnt a lesson about competitions.  The human spirit has not evolved to be mediocre.  It’s our natural instinct to want to do well at everything – and it’s the same when you enter a dance competition.  We had entered for the fun of it, but I couldn’t help think that we might get a little more serious.

We dance to a must-play track

Sadly there are no photos of myself and Jan dancing in the People’s Choice competition so I’ve embedded the track we danced to instead.  I was pleased that Ivan picked a track that we both knew and one that had an easy to connect with beat.  Piece of my heart is one of this year’s must-play tracks.  It was made by Italian production trio Meduza featuring the British production trio Goodboys.  That so many people were involved in creating this track just shows how much effort goes into the production of the wonderful music we dance to.

The song has an interesting spoken part.  While recording, Josh from Goodboys spoke through the talk box to explain how the chorus should be sung.  His words ‘What? sorry, just quickly.  What if it’s . . .’ were accidentally recorded but were kept in the final mix and help make the track particularly memorable.

Safety pins are the key to great organisation

The Friday night freestyle was new for 2019.  Because many of the Saturday competitors were present it allowed Kate and her team to give out the envelopes, which contained the programme and the number that would be pinned to the lead’s back.  Kate asked that I give a mention to Angie from the Tuesday class night team who spent most of the night giving out the envelopes and generally looking after people.  Like I said Kate and Ivan couldn’t do it without their fabulous team.

I eagerly opened my envelope.  I had been given the number 59.  Inside the envelope were four dinky gold safety pins to attach it to my back.  I couldn’t but help smile warmly at the vision of Kate counting out these safety pins into every envelope.  It’s taking care of the little details that are essential to making such large scale events run smoothly.

My number 59 with the safety pins still in place – note the odd silver one, explained below

I meet up with many dance friends

As well as giving me an opportunity to practise with Jan, the freestyle was also a night of regular dancing.  Ivan was on the decks and he served up a wonderful mix of music.  It wasn’t long before I was enjoying my dancing.  I knew quite a few people from my dance travels and some of them had come to Exeter like myself for the Champs.  It wasn’t long before I recognised a lady but embarrassingly couldn’t remember where we’d danced:

We danced in Chippenham.  I’m Fiona, you quoted me in your review of the Tea Dance.

Now I remembered.  We had a lovely smooth dance at Chippenham and Fiona showed wonderful musicality as she flowed smoothly up and down the slot.  In my review I asked her where she had learnt 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.

I rightly guessed Fiona was at Exeter to dance the following day in the Champs.  Like myself, she was entering a Champs for the first time.  Remembering how well she danced, I was surprised that she was feeling the same nerves, if not more, than myself and Jan:

To be honest, I’m terrified.   My partner is a lot more serious than I am.  I suppose I don’t want to let him down.

I wished Fiona well and took some comfort from her own expression of nerves.  Her desire not to let her partner down was something that was told to me a few times.  It’s the reason that I assured Jan from the very beginning that I had no expectations than to just experience the thrill of participating.

A wonderful night of dancing

Of course, being so far away from home I also got to dance with many ladies for the first time.  I love the thrill of dancing with people I’ve not danced with before and I’ll make a mental note of the partners I have particularly good dances with.  If later on in the evening I hear a favourite track, I’ll often look for one of the ladies I’ve had a fab dance with earlier.

I had some fabulous dances – the standard of dancing in Devon is as good as anywhere I’ve been on my travels – and many of my partners stood out for the connection they made with myself and the music.  One such lady, I now know as Gaynor, made an impression on me early in the evening and I would seek her out later for another fabulous dance.  I mention Gaynor for a reason, as we’ll see as the day of competition unfolds on Saturday.

So what are the judges looking for?

As in my previous visit to Exeter, DJ Ivan mixed in some slower tracks towards the end of the night.  Once again I saw how confidently everyone danced to these smoother contemporary tunes in a modern slotted style.  I couldn’t help wondered if mine and Jan’s lack of experience at dancing in this style of dancing would be our undoing in the competition itself.  I thought back to my conversation with Kevin.  He’d made the point that he was never quite sure what the judges were looking for.

As I was researching for this piece, I came across a post that Kate had put on the Ceroc Devon Facebook page for her dances.  It appears that she asked some of the judges to explain what they were looking for.  I’ve picked out four bits of advice:

Although this is a competition, be true to yourself – you’ll dance your best when you are natural, connected and not forcing it.

I want you to show me the music in your dancing.  Imagine I can’t hear the music, so I’m relying on you to show if it’s a party track or a sombre track.

I want to see dancers who are truly listening to the music.  Flashy moves might catch my eye but they are pointless if you’ve missed the musicality, or if you’re off the beat.

Grab the judges attention with either musicality, wow moves, connection or all three if you can.

All the advice that Kate’s posted was helpful, but if I had read it before I stepped on to the Champs floor I doubt It would have made much difference.  You see, all I could think about doing was dancing in my normal style.  Improving my connection and musicality wasn’t something I could do instantly.  It takes time to develop these skills.  Perhaps in the time between now and my next entry into a Champs I could work on those two aspects and other bits of advice from Kate’s post.

But there was one bit of advice that I wish I had read before-hand.  It would have made me feel a lot more confident.  It was the bit in the first piece of advice about being true to yourself.  The one thing that Jan and I were determined to be was ourselves.  More than anything we wanted to dance as we normally did – for fun and for the joy that dancing brings.

Judge Heather Lawson would later get in touch to give me her perspective.  Her comments are really interesting, so I’ve included them in a Postscript at the end of the article

Judge Heather Lawson marks the dancers. You can’t help wonder what the judges are looking for.  Photo courtesy of Kate or Pam

PART 3: COMPETING

A great day out for spectators too

I was one of the first through the door on Saturday morning, joining the people who still had to register and pick up their envelopes with their numbers and safety pins.   Because many people had registered the night before there was little queuing and the competitors were soon unpacking their costumes in the dressing room that Jan and her team had organised.

The first thing I noticed was that some tiered seating had been pulled out at the opposite end to the stage and people were already taking their seats there.  This was  a great place to watch the action and support your friends.  I soon spotted Andrea a lady I’d dance with several times on my travels.  Andrea had travelled over from Essex.  I assumed she had come to compete.

No, I never compete.  I just come to watch the dancing and support my friends.

I was reminded of my own trip to the London Champs at Watford last year.  I’d gone along to support my dance friends from Nottingham.  It’s worth saying that there is also plenty of opportunities for spectators to dance.  Every hour there was a break from the competition categories to give Kate and the judges a bit of a break but also to facilitate a freestyle session for people to practise or simply just dance.  Even before the competitions started there was a freestyle session to allow people to practice.  As Jan had yet to arrive I asked Andrea to dance.

Andrea is a lovely expressive dancer but I was wrong to assume that all good dancers have a desire to compete.  I chatted with plenty of people who were there, just like Andrea, to watch the dancing, soak up the atmosphere, support their friends and have a little boogie in between.   It’s worth saying at this juncture, that there are always some exceptional dancers at the five regional Champs, so it’s worth coming along to be inspired and possibly open up some new avenues for your own dance journey.

First-timers are an inspiration too

Jan soon joined me at the top of the tiered seating.  I was quick to ask how she was feeling:

I know I said we’d just dance for the fun of it, but it would be nice to get through the first round at least.  Perhaps even make a final.

I mentioned above about the human spirit.  The desire to push ourselves and do well is innate in many of us.  It certainly was in Jan.  She went on to explain that as one of the Exeter taxi team she felt a duty to do well:

I’ve always felt that one of my jobs as a taxi was to help inspire people to want to keep improving their dancing.  Perhaps my entry into the Champs could provide some inspiration to them.

Jan also felt that she was representing all those local people who never saw themselves as championship dancers.  When we were talking about why she had accepted my offer to enter as my partner she told me this:

If I could show my fellow dancers that I can do it, they could too.  That’s one of the reasons I decided to give it a go.

As I said above. There are some inspirational dancers at these competitions.  I include Jan and the other first-timers like Fiona in that group.

Myself and Jan (2nd row from the top) discuss last minute tactics as the competitions get under way below us.  Photo courtesy of Kate or Pam

I live blog on my Facebook Page

Occasionally I’ll live blog from venues using my Facebook page.  My posts are a lot briefer than my articles and they give me instant reactions. Jan would also make Facebook posts about the way her first-ever day of competing unfolded.  Here’s my first post of the day.

My posts throughout the day were followed by more people than I could have imagined and this first post received over 50 comments of support.  Jan too received support from her Facebook friends.  I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all the people for the support they showed with these comments. It meant a lot to myself and Jan as we walked on to the floor for our Veterans heat.

I think this show of support was a reflection of the fact that Jan and I were doing this for the first time.  Many of the comments simply encouraged us to do no more than enjoy ourselves.  It made us more determined to do just that.

An iconic photo captures the spirit of The Champs

As the day unfolded Kate Burton and Pam Sangster would take a series of photos that captured the spirit of The Champs.  I’ve used many of their photographs in this article.  As I wasn’t sure who took the specific photos I credited them with the phrase Photo courtesy of Kate or Pam.

One of them took a photo which I think is one of the most iconic of the day.  It shows that moment when someone is having their number pinned to their back.  Jan would use the four safety pins to fix our number 59 to back of my shirt.  As I sat still while Jan nimbly did her task I sensed that this was now for real.

The safety pins come into their own. Photo courtesy of Kate or Pam

Corrine gets a late entry into the Vets

Our first visit to the dance floor was our heat for the Vets.  This is a category reserved for the Over 50s.  That will be a lot of old people dancing then, easy-peasy then.  No, that will be a dance floor full of very experienced dancers.  Getting through to the next round would be no shoo-in.  We would be up against some of the best amateur dancers in the whole competition.

As myself and Jan walked down the steps to take our place on the floor something very last minute was taking place at the edge.  Let me explain.  Most people had registered their names long before the day of the competition, but Kate and Ivan had put up a board where people who hadn’t got a partner could put their names down in the hope that someone might come forward.

Corrine had a partner for a couple of the categories but not for The Vets, so had put her name down on the board hoping to get a partner.  I’ll let Corrine take up the story:

Sadly I didn’t have any takers, which was a pity because I would have loved to have entered.  As people were coming on to the floor I spotted Mark standing at the edge of the dance floor.  I quickly asked him if he would partner me.  He said yes and Ivan agreed to let us compete.

Corrine is another inspiration.  Though Corrine is a long-standing Ballroom and Latin dancer she didn’t start Ceroc until last October, so this was her first-ever Champs too.  As her story unfolds it’s worth remembering that she had never danced with Mark before.   But first, let’s see how mine and Jan story unfolds.

We dance with joy on our faces

This is it – The Veterans.  Our first competition dance.  I knew Jan would be fine.  Our dances last night had gone well and we’d had another chance to practise in the freestyle session at the start of the day.  We’d dance for the fun of it and if seeing two dancers expressing their joy of dancing was one of the judge’s criteria, we’d walk it.  There were only two heats for the Veterans category so if we got through this round we’d be in the final.

As we came off the floor I knew we had given it everything.  Jan had followed my lead fluently and she had added a few checky bits of musicality.  I was confident.

In the foyer, there was a board where the numbers of the contestants who had got through to the next round were displayed.   We both went to look together.  My eyes soon fell on the list of number.  I scanned down the list.  There was number 59.  We were through to the final.  I turned to Jan and we high-fived each other.

We dance with joy on our faces in our Veteran’s heat

We made the final!  Oops, maybe not!

I immediately made another Facebook posting.  I included the photo above of us dancing in our heat:

We got through to the Vets final!  Here we are in our heat.  Jan danced with great enthusiasm and we smiled all the way through. So let’s see how we do in the final.

Facebook lit up. The reaction came flooding in with more comments offering congratulations for our success.  My euphoria, however, was short-lived.  We weren’t in the final after all.  While there had been just two heats there would still be two further heats before the final. Each semi would have fewer dancers enabling the judges to pick out the worthy finalists.

I quickly amended my Facebook posting:

We got through to the Vets SEMI-final!

Still, the reaction came in.  By the end of the day, that post got over one hundred and fifty likes and comments.  It seemed that people had resonated with the challenge we had set ourselves and wanted to show their support.  Later we would get through to the next round of the Intermediates but sadly we didn’t progress in the Intermediate chill-out.  I always thought that mine and Jan’s lack of time dancing together to slower contemporary music would find us out.  Still two out of three wasn’t bad.  We had done ourselves and our followers proud.

We are afterall human

We would now have a break before our heats in the afternoon.  We went for lunch in Cathedral Green, a wonderful open space in the centre of Exeter in front of the iconic cathedral.  As we sat eating a light meal I asked Jan how she was feeling:

I’m so surprised we got through Paul.  I must admit that I didn’t think we would progress through to the next rounds.  So I brought a change of clothes so that I could go shopping in the afternoon.

I understood Jan’s lack of belief in us getting through to the next rounds.  These championships are serious stuff.  They are judged by some highly regarded people who are looking for excellence.  While the human spirit is forever positive it also prepares for that moment when our aspirations fall short.  That Jan brought a denim skirt to change in to, so she could go shopping, was all part of the internal processes that we all go through to protect ourselves from the fallout from any disappointment.

There is a wonderful uptempo Killers track that we have all danced to.  It’s called Human and it has this immortal line in the lyrics:

Are we human or are we dancers?

I’ve always felt proud that I am a dancer.  The dancing fraternity is a wonderful group to belong to.  To improve our dancing gives a real purpose to our lives and it can lift our spirits more than possibly any other pastime.  But we are still human, and we feel disappointment.  No wonder we protect ourselves against it.

Pitting yourself against the competition is all part of the human spirit.   Photo courtesy of Kate or Pam

I dance with Gaynor again

During the dinner break, there was a chance to enjoy a prolonged freestyle session.  I found myself once again having some wonderful dancers.  After one such fabulous dance, I asked the lady where we had danced together before.

Remember we danced last night.

I’m hopeless at remembering names but thankfully it quickly came back to me:

Of course, Gaynor.  Am I right you’re not competing.

Yes.  I’m here to support my friends from Ceroc Devon and dance in the freestyle sessions.

I explained to Gaynor that I was writing an article about my involvement in the Champs and wondered if I could chat with her later to get the perspective of a non-competitor.

Of course, but I’ll tell you now that I’m gutted that I didn’t enter.  You all look like you’re having such great fun.  I know Jan well and she looks like she’s having a fabulous time.

We agreed to have a chat later, and hopefully another wonderful dance.  I went to find Jan and get ready for our Round 2 Heats.

Look out, here come the Surrey Llamacorns

Dancing is of course a great social activity.  Many of us have made long-lasting friendships at our local dance classes or when we’ve danced with each other at freestyles and weekenders.  The South West Champs was a great way to meet and catch up with friends.  As I was going through Kate and Pam’s photos I came across the picture below.  I instantly recognised that there must be a story behind it, and so there is.

I recognised several people from the picture.  The lady in blue is Corrine, the one who made the late entry into the Vets.  To her right is Tim Stevens one of the judges for the South West Champs.  I also recognised Kevin Hill at the back of the line-up.  I know Kevin from DJing for the Ceroc Surrey’s Byfleet classes – a venue I have written about in glowing terms several times now.  I messaged Kevin by way of starting to find out what the story behind the picture was:

I know Tim from his days teaching Street Dance in Surrey and winning many titles and medals at Ceroc Champs.  Quite a few of the Llamacorns know Tim from the same time so it was a chance to catch up.

It seems the Llamacorns are a group of Surrey dancers from the time when Tim was a teacher in that area before he moved to South Wales and became a Welsh Dragon.  I asked Kevin why the group was called the Llamacorns.

We were originally the Surrey Unicorns.  However, we found out there was another group called the Unicorns so we were joking around one day and came up with the magical Llamacorn.

This seems to be quite a vibrant dance group as five of the people in the picture are wearing Llamacorn branded sweat shirts and T-shirts.  Kevin suggested I get in touch with Lynn Toynton who would be able to give me a little more information about the group.  Here’s Lynn explaining the purpose of the Llamacorns:

For us, competitions are a super fun day where we get to dance, laugh, make new friends, strut our stuff and have bags of fun doing so. We founded the Llamacorns so that we could support each other through competitions and encourage our friends to join in.

When you step out of your comfort zone, as people like myself and Jan were doing, you can not beat having support.  My Facebook friends had been so supportive and it was great to hear Lynn talking about encouraging others to take part in competitions and then ensuring that they are supported.  Lynn said more about the support that the Llamacorns provide for their group:

Whether you are an experienced dancer or complete beginner, we’re keen to make sure everyone enjoys the day and can experience the unique buzz of a comp, a buzz you won’t find elsewhere!

The support that the Llamacorns give each other seems to reap rewards as we’ll see when I get to the results part of the review.

The Surrey Llamacorns and mascot Dave get together for a catch up.  Lynn is second from the left.  Photo courtesy of Kate or Pam

Time for our semis and a safety pin repair

It was now time for our second round heats.  But first, we needed to do some repairs.  In the excitement of our last heat Jan had managed to rip a safety pin from my number.  It now dangled forlornly on my back.  I set off to the main desk still managed by Angie.

Do you by any chance have any spare safety pins, please?

Angie duly pointed me in the direction of a pile of silve ones.  Like I said above, it’s the little things that make a day go smoothly and Kate it seems had thought of everything.

So here we go.  First up, The Veterans.  Before the music started I looked around the dance floor.  I recognised many experienced dancers from my travels.  This would be some test.  I turned to Jan.  I was tempted to give the kind of motivational speech that my hero Brian Clough would give his Nottingham Forest team as a prelude to beating yet another opponent.  However, I kept it short:

Let’s just dance the way we did in the first round and enjoy the experience again.

We did just that, but sadly it wasn’t enough.  It wasn’t enough in the Intermediate heat either. We both bravely went to look at the results board and the number 59 was absent from the lists of those that had made the two finals in our categories.    We had gone as far as we could.  I was soon on Facebook to let our followers know that our adventure had come to an end.  Here are some of the words from the post I wrote:

The adventure is over.  Myself and Jan fail to progress beyound the semis.  However we are proud to that we have given it our best shot, and it was the greatest fun.

My post would receive almost a hundred different reactions including some wonderful supportive comments.  Every one of those comments meant a lot to myself and Jan.

PART 4: REFLECTIONS

Some very supportive messages

One comment, in particular, gave us both a great lift and is one of the most important of the whole day.   It came from Tim Sant-Turner, Ceroc’s Head of Dance. Tim has done a great job rebranding Ceroc and moving it forward.  The video that shows beginners what they can expect on their first night is a great example of how Tim has upped Ceroc’s marketing game.  Tim’s involvement in the development of the SILC dancing syllabus, with its emphasis on the techniques of smooth slotted dancing, has also given Ceroc a way of stopping the drift away to other dance genres like West Coast Swing.

Tim is an inspirational character and his comment that the Semis is an AWESOME achievement is the one that I hope will inspire first-timers like myself and Jan to give the Champs a try.   There were two more comments that stood out (see post below).  The first was Emma’s agreement with Tim’s comment.  Thank you, Emma.  Your comment meant a lot.

The second was a comment from Amanda.  I’d met Amanda when I’d danced at the Flava Tea Dance in South Wales in the summer.  Amanda is a wonderful contemporary dancer and I’ve since enjoyed some fabulous smooth slotted dances with her.  She too was a competitor in these Champs.  I think Amanda was right to point out that my final posting talking about ‘failing to progress’ was worded the wrong way round.  Amanda makes the point, like Tim and Ema, that we reached two semi’s and that this was an amazing achievement.

My thanks to all the people who gave myself and Jan the support and congratulations.  I hope it will make other people take the step that we did, knowing that the Ceroc dance community recognises that just entering into the Champs for the first time is an achievement in itself.

Just some of the many messages of support myself and Jan received on Facebook.

Gaynor creates a lasting memory

But there is one other person that I must thank and that is the aforementioned Gaynor.  Before myself and Jan walked on the dance floor for our semi’s we asked one of Jan’s friends to photograph us on my iPhone.  The photo that I used in PART 1 to introduce Jan is one of these photos.  They provided us with some wonderful memories and thank you for this.  However, what we hadn’t realised was that Gaynor had also videoed both our semi-final dances.

You’ll remember that Gaynor was here to support her friends from Ceroc Devon and she videoed many of their performances on her smartphone.  This was a priceless gift and on behalf of everyone whose entry in the Champs was recorded by Gaynor, I’d like to propose a big thank you to her on behalf of us all.

I’ve put a link to some of Gaynor’s videos, including the two of myself and Jan.  Gaynor posted them on Facebook so that they could be shared by everyone.  The posting below contains videos of the Ceroc Devon dancers.  I’ll be referring to one of these videos later as I reflect on the style of dancing that I think works best in the Champs.

I was later also sent videos of our semi-finals taken by Andrea from the tiered seating.  Andrea you’ll remember was there to support her friends and I suspect that she took many videos that afternoon.  My thanks to Andrea for creating another great souvenir of the Champs for myself and Jan.

A set of Gaynor’s videos posted to Facebook

So why didn’t we progress?

It’s never easy watching yourself dance, but I’ve watched the videos of myself dancing several times now to work out why we failed to progress.  I think I’ve worked it out.  Jan and I dance very smoothly.  She follows my lead flawlessly and no one would doubt that we are being ourselves and lovin’ every minute of it.  Thinking back to Kate’s post about what the judges are looking for, I think I realise how I need to improve for next time.

I remember last year talking to a lady about what made a good dance.  She had this to say:

I would prefer a guy to do a few moves if it meant they were lead smoothly.  I don’t appreciate when a guy tries to do complicated moves and I can’t follow.

The lesson from that is to keep the dance simple and concentrate on keeping it smooth.  Good advise for any male lead, and you will be popular at any freestyle.  But that is not what competitions are about.  You need to mix up your moves and there has to be some eye-catching stuff.  I suspect that the judges want to see you take a few risks.  I’ve watched several of Gaynor’s videos of the other dancers (see link below) and I can see that their moves are a lot more exciting than mine.  In the video, I’ve featured, the dancers stay on the slot even though the track is fast.  I would have been all over the place!

Ceroc is developing way beyond the Beginner’s moves

But what stands out, when I compare myself to the dancers who progressed further, is something so obvious.  It’s this.  I am a rotational dancer at heart and when I’m under pressure I revert to that.  If you look at the videos that Gaynor did of our Veterans semi you’ll see exactly what I mean.  I mentioned above how Tim Sant-Turner has modernised Ceroc.  Part of that modernisation is to encourage a more contemporary style of dancing that is some way removed from the twelve Beginners moves we all start with.

I’ve described it many times as a smooth slotted style of dancing and it reigns supreme at these championships.

As myself and Jan sat watching some of the heats she commented that it didn’t look like Ceroc.  I think it’s fair to say that it’s not the Ceroc we first get introduced to.  You don’t see The Octopus or The Short Neck Break too often, and The Yo-Yo, an intermediate move favoured by so many traditional dancers, rarely gets a look in.  I love The Octopus and The Yo-Yo and that’s my shortcoming.  I’ve not moved on in the style and moves that I do.  Nothing to be ashamed of – I’m proud that I can give my lady partner a smooth uncomplicated dance but I’m never going to get to a competition final unless I move with the times.

I think the judges are looking for a more contemporary style

Younger dancers are influencing us all

For Ceroc to sustain itself, it must attract younger dancers, but young people will want to stamp their own mark on the dance style.  Ceroc is succeeding in attracting younger dances and encouraging them to experiment with the style.  Their influence could be seen if you sat back and watched the dancing at the South West Champs.

On the day I was disappointed not to have made the Veterans final, so I made sure I watched the dancers in the final to see if they could give me any tips.  I soon realised that even amongst the over 50s the influence of younger dancers was there to be seen, as the couples danced in a more contemporary style than the traditional rotational one I had been brought up on.

Corrine and Mark make an impression on me

As I watched the dancers my attention was drawn to one lady and her partner.  I recognised the lady as one I’d enjoyed a particularly wonderful slotted dance with earlier. I found myself instinctively supporting her.  The lady I now know as Corrine.  The lady who had only entered at the last minute with a partner she had never danced with before.  He was himself an exceptional contemporary dancer and Corrine followed him beautifully and showed a fluency of movement equal to any of the other dancers in the final.  I found myself willing them to win.

Later I would catch up with Corrine and she would explain how she had found her partner Mark at the last minute.  She also told me the background to her Ceroc dancing that I mentioned early.  As we concluded our little chat I said this:

You and Mark were fabulous.  You must stand a good chance of winning.

There was another couple that like Mark and Corrine who had only teamed up at the last minute.  I’ll tell their story in a short while, but first I want to comment on the music that was the soundtrack to the competitions categories themselves.

A section of the South West Champs music soundtrack

Kate surpasses herself

The music for the competition categories and the freestyles between really impressed me.  There was a wonderful mix of current favourites and contemporary chilled classics.  There were a few older tracks thrown in and these impressed too – loved hearing Danny Gatton’s Funky Mama.  I knew that this article would need to reference the music so I found myself climbing the steps to the stage so I could chat with the DJ.

The man behind the decks was one Dan Huxham.  It didn’t take me long to tell him how fantastic I thought the music had been all day:

I’m lovin’ your music, Dan.  It’s got a very modern feel and the mix you’ve put together is perfect for the competition categories.

I think that DJs don’t get the recognition they deserve, so I kind of expected Dan to be enthusiastic to hear my comments.  He was very modest.  Understandably when I heard his reply:

Thanks Paul, but I can’t take any credit.  You see Kate put the playlist together.  I just push the play button.

I thought back to Kate and the way she had told me that The Champs was her baby.  I’d already been amazed at hearing about all the effort she had put into the organisation – those safety pins are legendary.  And now I was hearing about the hours she had spent putting together tracks suited to each of the different categories.  This was some incredible effort.  Kate, you are one amazing person.  No wonder you have built such a vibrant Ceroc franchise.

Kate puts the Champs playlist on Spotify

I’ve not had time to feature much of the music but it’s a shame not to give it some kind of mention, so I was pleased to hear that Kate has put the competition part of the day’s music into a Spotify playlist.  I’ve put a link at the bottom so you can listen to the wonderful mix of tracks that Kate lined up for the people to dance to in their competition heats.

I’ll feature just one track from the day.  I’ve picked it out because of its freshness.  I love that DJs keep finding great new tracks for us to dance to.  It’s a track that was only released in July of this year.  It’s one I’ve danced to several times already and something tells me we’ll be dancing to it for some time yet.  Here then is Castles by Freya Ridding with its modern upbeat tempo.

Ceroc X creates a level playing field

This article is designed to encourage people to give the Champs a go.  I can understand that all the talk of dancing in a contemporary fashion might put some people off.  Hopefully, it won’t because there is one category that is specially designed to encourage first-timers, and that is Ceroc X.  Before the London Champs in May everyone who attends a Ceroc class night gets the opportunity to learn this year’s eight-move Ceroc X routine.

That everyone who enters this category has to complete the same set of moves creates a level playing field that is perfect for first-timers and new dancers.  Which leads nicely to a story about Peter and his dance partner Lorna.   It’s a story I hope will offer more inspiration to inexperienced dancers because it involves someone who only started dancing in September 2018 – just eleven months ago.

It seems that the Ceroc HQ team do everything they can to encourage inexperienced dancers and first-timers to enter Ceroc X.

Each year a video is posted on YouTube featuring Tim Sant-Turner and Steph Oram demonstrating the routine.  Interestingly it has been viewed nearly twelve thousand times, showing the nationwide interest there is in this competition category.  To help reduce any nerves the video includes the three tracks that the contestants will be asked to dance to.  A second video is posted where Tim walks through all the moves slowly.  These videos are a great help to dancers of all levels and they have certainly helped in getting new dancers on to the Champs dance floor (see links below).

Tim Sant-Turner and Steph Oram demonstrate the Cerox X moves on YouTube

Peter feels the pressure

Peter has only been dancing since September.  I first met Peter at a freestyle in Buckingham in the spring and it was soon clear to me that he had become a Ceroc junkie from the word go – he was throwing himself into freestyles after only a few weeks.  Peter told me how he had entered the Ceroc X category at the London Champs and reached the semi-final.  Proof if it was needed that this is the category for new dancers.

I spotted Peter at Exeter where he was entering Ceroc X again, but this time with a different partner.  He explained:

I’d enjoyed my experience at The Champs in Watford, but entering at Exeter had never entered my head.  Then I got a call from Lorna.  Her partner Eddie had to pull out at the last minute and Lorna asked me if I’d step in.

Though Lorna herself had only been dancing a few months more than Peter she and Eddie had got through to the final at Watford.  No pressure then!  Peter was a little anxious that he might let his partner down if he didn’t make the final this time.

The thing is we only had one chance to practice before today at a class night in Hatfield.

Peter’s story had similarities with my own.  I wished him luck and said I’d catch up with him later to see how he got on.  I stood and watched Peter and Lorna in their heat.  I recognised the moves from when I’d learnt them at my Ceroc Beds & Bucks class and they added some of their own styling to the moves – something that the judges want to see.  Something told me that he wouldn’t let Lorna down.

Hopefully any one can compete and have fun like this couple

I get to chat with Gaynor

As the finals got underway I found Gaynor to have our promised chat.  I was first of all interested to know what it had been like being one of the spectators rather than taking part in the competitions:

It’s been a wonderful day and I’ve been so impressed how organised it’s been.  I’ve enjoyed supporting the Ceroc Devon dancers and I loved that I could video some of them.

I was quick to thank Gaynor for the video she did of myself and Jan dancing in our semi-finals.  They will be a wonderful souvenir for us.  Gaynor continued:

When I hear music I just want to dance, so it’s been quite hard to just sit and watch sometimes.

Knowing what a wonderful dancer Gaynor was, I asked her why she hadn’t entered herself:

To be honest, I’m gutted I didn’t, but it’s not that easy to find a partner.

We discussed some of the issues of finding a partner.  I was reminded of something that Jan had said to me.

 I always assumed that most of the people who entered competitions were in relationships and that this meant they had plenty of opportunities to practice together.  It also gave them a sleek and intimate style to their dancing.

It’s true that many of the competition dancers are married or partners and that does give them some advantages, but it’s worth remembering Corrine’s story.  I had her down to win the Vets with someone she had never danced with before.   There is another aspect of asking someone to partner you.  Remember what Fiona had said about letting her partner down.  It was the same for Peter not wanting to let Lorna down by not reaching the final.  Not wanting to let your partner down can hold a lot of people back.

How about the World Champs?

I don’t doubt that someone will want to partner Gaynor in a competition.  She is, like Jan, a wonderful dancer.   However, I understand the reticent that people might have of asking someone to be their competition partner.  I, of course, had to take a deep breathe when I sent my request to Jan, and I hope that our story will encourage others to ask, perhaps, the most unlikely person to be their competition partner.

Do what I did and promise that you are only entering for nothing more than to have fun.  No expectations.  Just do it for the experience and you never know you might enjoy it and want to do it again.

Having loved every minute of my South West Champs experience I’d love to do it all again and I know exactly where I want to compete next.  In March I went to the Modern Jive World Champs at The Tower Ballroom in Blackpool.  Though I didn’t compete, it was an uplifting experience dancing on the same floor as the Strictly Come Dancing contestants.   I couldn’t help but be playful with Gaynor:

So how do you fancy partnering me at the World Champs in Blackpool next year?

Whether it is Gaynor or not, it would be nice to enter the World Champs with someone who has never been to Blackpool before.  But if I’m to write another story it has to be different from this one.  Perhaps I should take it a lot more seriously and not leave finding a partner to the last minute so we get a chance to practice regularly together.  First I need to change my style and I’ll need a partner, who is happy to learn with me, how to dance in the more contemporary style that I think is necessary to progress further.  We’ll need to develop some eye-catching moves too.  Then there might be a different story to write.

The World Champs at The Blackpool Tower Ballroom

Peter and Lorna make the final

As I was chatting with Gaynor the Ceroc X final got underway, and there in the middle of the floor was Peter and Lorna.  He’d not let her down.  But he’d done more than that.  He’d done something for himself, for after just eleven months of dancing he’d made a final.   I also noticed an all-female pairing on the dance floor.  I now know that this was Lynn and Natalie two of the Surrey Llamacorns.  More of their performance later.

You’ll remember that to take away any anxiety and hopefully to encourage first-timers, Ceroc X contestants knew the tracks they would be dancing to.  Not so in the final.  Kate had two quite contrasting tracks lined up.  The first, Rewrite the stars by James Arthur and Anne-Marie was one that everyone would be familiar with but the second would be a little more of a challenge.  Lie to me by Mikolas Josef is a track with a real contemporary beat but one that I would have struggled a little with.  Well, it was the final.

PART 5: WINNERS

Well done The MC and The Judges

Before I go any further I need to give a plug to Ivan Burton.  This was a long day.  There were fourteen different categories and some of them involved five or six heats.  The day needed to run to a strict timetable and Ivan, as MC for the day, ensured that the programme ran like clockwork.  Ivan had to ensure that all the competitors were in place on the dance floor on time – not an easy task when so many people were involved, but he kept cool and never once lost his upbeat enthusiasm so the whole day had a lovely relaxed feel.

The judges too must also have had a gruelling day.  There were ten in the panel (see the full list in Appendix 2) and they seemed to take it in turns with about four judging each heat.  However, it still couldn’t have been an easy task when they had to ensure that every contestant was marked fairly.

Let’s not forget The Secret Team

But there was one other group of people, who none of us were really aware of, but who did some of the most important jobs of the day.  These included The Runners – Anna, Claire, Mark and Jacki, who ensured the judges’ scores got to the computer team and also gave their attention to anything that needed sorting.  Then there was The Computer Room team of Sam and Tery who beavered away, seemingly in secret, logging all the scores and calculating which people would progress through to the next round and later collate the scores that would determine the eventual winners.

Kate also asked me to give a mention to the Exeter team of Jan, Kelly, Naomi, and Dan who helped set up the Friday night freestyle and the Saturday event itself.  As I’ve said so many times, this wonderful dance world would not work without the likes of these people giving up their dance time for the bigger cause.  Well done and thank you to all of you.

Ivan the MC watches from the stage as the competitors do their stuff below.

Worthy winners with a wonderful connection

At about nine-thirty, Ivan and Kate started to announce the winners (see link below for the full list).  I was keen to see how certain people did.  The top of that list was Corrine and Mark, the couple who I was sure would  win the Veterans.  Ivan, as efficient as ever, read out the top three in each category.  Surely they’d make the Top Three:

In third place . . .

Nope

In second place . . .

Nope.  Got to be number one then.  I held my breath

The winners of the Veterans . . . Corrine and Mark.

As with every announcement of the winners, screams and hollering erupted in the crowd.  It felt good to see them climb the stage to take their cup and sashes.    They were worthy winners.  They had danced beautifully together, Corrine fluently following Mark’s lead, and all with a contemporary flair.  That they had never danced before that first heat was a sign of just how well they connected with each other.  Connection – one of the things the judges were looking for.

Corine and Mark proudly show off their Veterens trophies

The Llamacorns support each other to more success

Of course, Corrine was one of The Surrey Llamacorns – the group that goes along to Champs all over the country to support each other.  Corrine’s success wasn’t the only one the group had.  Lynn and Natalie would go on to win the Ceroc X final.  Lynn would also go on to win the Lucky Dip, where she had been randomly paired with another Peter.

Other Llamacorns successes were a third place for Natalie and Colin and fourth place for Lynn and Simon in the Intermediates, a third-place for Jo and Taz in the Intermediate Chill-out and Lynn, Natalie and Corrine were all finalists in Top Cats.   Eddie and Clare were also finalists in the Veterans.

I found this posting on Facebook.  It shows the group proudly showing off their trophies, sashes and medals.  The loveliest of these pictures is the one of Dave the Mascot proudly showing off the winers sashes.  Looking at this posting you can’t help but smile.  As I said above, this wonderful dance scene creates many lasting friendships.  The Surrey Llamacorns are an example of just how wonderful the social side of this dance community  is.

Don’t you just love Dave the Mascot

Facebookers show their appreciation

The Llamacorns weren’t the only ones proudly showing off their achievements.  Facebook was awash with posts about people’s successes.  Just as I found an excuse to display my number 59 in this article, so others proudly displayed their numbers in their postings.  There is something rather special about these numbers.  They are a great reminder of what you achieved, even if you did no more than dance in one heat.  For me and Jan the number 59 says:

Well done you two.  You stepped out of your comfort zone and smashed it.

I can remember the moment Jan pinned the number to my back.  There was no turning back.  This was for real.  Go do it Number 59!

I’ve picked out the Facebook posting below for several reasons.  Firstly it’s from Kevin who I spoke to about the nerves he felt when he first started competing.  Well done Kevin.  Two medals.  Something for me to aspire to.

But I pick out his posting primarily because Kevin takes the time to thank Kate, Ivan and their team for putting on a great event.  Facebook was full of praise for the Ceroc Devon Crew.  It was an awesome event that only worked because of a great team effort.  Here’s what Zoe Beauvoisin, one of the judges had to say in her post.

Wow – what an event! Kate and Ivan.  You created such a fun and welcoming atmosphere where everyone can be the very best they can be.

You’ll also see that Kevin thanks his dance partners.  This was another common thread in these Facebook postings.  Here’s Ceroc Devon dancer Katie, whose photograph competing in the 2018 Champs I featured above:

So, a semi-final, 3 finals and we came third in one of the categories!!  We’ll take that!  Such a fun day, everyone had been so supportive.  Massive thank you to both my awesome dance partners Jochen and Pete, you were both amazing today 🤗

This event is after all made up of lots of individual stories.  I’ve taken time to tell you mine and Jan’s, but everyone, Kevin, Katie, The Llamacorns, Peter and Lorna – they all had their own fantastic stories and Facebook was the place where these stories were told.

Kevin’s post proudly shows his Number 110

Now the Grand Masters final

The final competition is the Grand Masters final.  Here all the winners battle it out to be voted Grand Master.  As they all gathered for once last competitive dance I realised that there were some of the best Ceroc dancers in the country on the dance floor.  This wasn’t lost on Llamacorn Lynn:

Corrine and I got to take place in the Grand Masters final which was amazing.  This was really exciting as we got to dance opposite the cream of the crop in the dancing world!!

I’ve used the phrase Inspirational Dancers few a times in this article and there is no doubt that every one of us can find something to inspire us by watching the top dancers at these competitions, and so it was in the Grand Masters final.  Quite rightly the track that Kate selected for this final showdown was challenging.

I feel like I’m drowning by Two Feet was released in 2018 and it has all the elements of a contemporary dance track.  It has a chill-out vibe that would also be at home in a Blues room.  It has lots of changes of pace and mood.  Add in some well-defined breaks and an occasional bluesy guitar riff and you have all the components to encourage expressive dancing.

One of the best expressive couples out on the floor were Deej Moors and his partner Heidi Ayling and not surprisingly they were voted Grand Masters of The South West Champs.  In the photo below Kate and Ivan proudly pose with Deej and Heidi.  Also in the picture are Matt Blain and partner Steph Oram, who featured in the Ceroc X teaching video.  Matt won the ProAm with partner Sarah Sanchez and the Chill-out Open with Steph.

Good to see Kate take centre stage as the Champs come to a close

It’s the women who wear the trousers

Before I finish I want to share with you another of Kate and Pam’s photographs.  It shows Neil and his partner Tania posing at the end of their Role Reversal category final.   This is of course where the lady takes the lead and the man follows.  When you’ve been used to either leading or following it’s not easy to switch roles.  I know that many ladies regularly take the lead, and I will sometimes see men following other men, but I’ve struggled whenever I’ve tried it, so hats off to Neil for giving it a go.

What I love about this picture is that Neil and his partner Tania go one step further and dress appropriately.  It brought a smile to my face as I watched, and seeing this photo brought an even bigger smile.  Fancy dress forms a big part of this dance scene and I know that the Ceroc Devon crowd are always rummaging around the dressing up box, so I was not too surprised to see two of them have some fun with a bit of cross-dressing.  A wonderful photo that captures the true spirit of The South West Champs.  Well done to Neil and Tania for making us all smile.

Neil and Tanyia create a great memory of a wonderful day

Some last words from Jan

I want to finish this article with a tribute to my partner Jan Collins.  When she received my message she soon realised that I wasn’t only asking her to be my partner.  I was also asking permission to tell her story as a first-timer.  This is how Jan put it to me in one of her messages.

I was to be Paul’s guinea pig in this experiment

I think that’s a really sweet thing to say.  Jan tells me that she loved being part of this experiment, and she would hope that our story will encourage other people to  enter one of The Ceroc Champs.  If you do, you’ll have a great time and take home some wonderful memories.  I’ll let Jan have the last words:

It was time for our first dance and I wasn’t freaked out by it at all.  Judges, what judges…  When you are in the zone you don’t even notice them and as the music starts the adrenaline kicks in and you just want to dance.

My sincerest thanks to Jan.  You were very brave to accept my request and you were awesome.  I couldn’t have wished for a better partner.  Oh, and one last thought.  Thinking back to 1974, and a shy young man who seemed incapable of ever asking a girl to dance.  The thought that he would later dance with Miss Kingsteignton Swimming Pool Carnival Queen 1974 would have brought a massive smile to his face.

Acknowledgements and Thanks

First a big thank you to my good friend Jenny Tapscott, who invited me to my first Ceroc Devon freestyle at the Marldon Village Hall near Torquay.  It was this night that I realised what a fun loving bunch the Ceroc Devon dancers were and why I would choose their South West Champs to make my debut.

My great thanks to Kate Burton who has spent the last three weeks answering all my questions about the background to the Champs and reading through the article to check I’d got everything correct.

Last, but not least, my thanks to all the people who gave up some of their dance time to talk to me both at the Friday night freestyle and on the day of the competition itself.  Your comments and stories helped me to get a much broader picture of this wonderful day of competition.

Appendix 1: Related Links

South West Champs: The Full Results Table

Paul & Jan Veterans Heat 2

Paul & Jan Intermediates Heat 2

Video of Ceroc Devon dancers  As mentioned in Part 4

South West Champs Category Playlist

The Ceroc X demonstration  It includes the three tracks danced to

The Ceroc X routine Walk-thru  Tim takes you slowly through the moves

South West Champs Website  See details of the 2020 competition

Appendix 2: The Judges

Jen Eddy
Kate Skipper
Richard Beauvoisin
Zoe Beauvoisin
Todd Dowty
Jamie Eddy
Heather Lawson
Tim Stevens
Lily Barker
David Barker

Bio-pics of all the judges 

Postscript by Judge Heather Lawson

After reading the article Heather posted a comment on the Ceroc Devon Facebook page to say how much she’d enjoyed reading it.   She then went on to give a perspective from the judges’ point of view that I think you will find interesting:

After judging for five years it’s really nice to be reminded of the competitor’s mindset, and I wish I had the chance to chat to anyone feeling nervous that day and offer reassurance.  They are certainly not alone.  Even in my competing days, I never lost the nerves.  Advancing into the Open categories only made it worse!  But I was determined nonetheless.

I’m glad some of my judge’s advice resonated. 😊 When it comes to what judges are looking for, it’s going to differ slightly for all of us, although musicality and connection are always popular traits. 

For me personally, there’s something really important in remaining natural and true to yourself.  Unlike other dance styles, like ballroom, the beauty of a Ceroc competition is that it’s versatile enough that you can truly put your own dance style and personality across, and be as unique as you like!  From your dance moves, styling to your outfit – you want to feel like yourself.  Confidence goes a long way in competitions. 

But I agree with what others have already said, reaching the semi-finals is an incredible achievement, even more so if you are new to the competition scene!  But I agree with what others have already said, reaching the semi-finals is an incredible achievement, even more so if you are new to the competition scene!  Hopefully, you’ll be able to attend the Welsh Champs on September 28-29.  It’s their 10 Year Anniversary and they’ve introduced a new Novice category.

The Welsh Champs 28 September

I will be attending the Welsh Champ but only as a spectator.  It fits nicely in with my plans that weekend.  On Friday I’m travelling back to Exeter for the Ceroc Devon freestyle to catch up with friends I made during the South West Champs.  I’ll enjoy just watching on Saturday but it will give me a chance to visit the Flava Tea Dance on the Sunday.  I visited here in the spring and had the most wonderful afternoon dancing to some gorgeous chill-out music (see link below).  My thanks to Heather for flagging this date up for me.

Read my review of the Flava Tea Dance