Time to do it for real

Prior to this SILC Freestyle, Caine Langford and Danielle Moore had run a two hour SILC Workshop (see link to review below).  Caine and Danni are fabulous teachers and I learned a lot about the SILC technique that was long overdue.  Now in the freestyle that followed I and my dance partner Jo, had a chance to put what we had learnt in to practice, but this was going to be some test, particularly for myself.

For the first time on my Tea Dance Tour, I had four hours of pure SILC time to get through.  No last hour of smoother tunes like at Ceroc Beds & Bucks Te Amo, or Afternoon Delight.  Not the few slower tracks as at Ceroc Surey’s Byfleet Tea Dance, so no chance to get my confidence up with some upbeat dancing.

This was going to be like Ceroc Groove’s Lickey End SILC on Sunday – every track would be chill-out, but unlike Lickey End there was no going home early.  This was an afternoon freestyle and even allowing for the three hour drive home there was no reason why I couldn’t stay right up to the end.

It’s not just about you Paul

This meant there was no hiding place, but here’s the thing –  even after the progress I’ve made on my Tea Dance Tour, I still felt that I was way out of my comfort zone.  But hey, this review is not just about me and my battle with my chill-out dance floor confidence.  This review has another more important purpose, and that is to try to work out what has made this such a popular chill-out venue.

And it certainly is popular.  So much so that the dance floor couldn’t safely hold the numbers who wanted to dance here.  Because of this the Strictly Ceroc team decided to invest in a temporary dance floor so the higher mezzanine floor could also be brought in to use.  So while Caine and Danni set the venue up, crew member James Johnson duly pieced the floor together upstairs.

The lower dance floor soon proved too small for the numbers attending

Caine shows his chill-out DJing credentials

So why has this venue proved so popular?  One reason is without doubt the music.  As well as delivering the lesson with Danni, Caine also doubled up as the DJ.  I’d always seen Caine as a teacher and not as a DJ.  That view would change as I saw the depth of his knowledge with regard to contemporary chill-out dance music.

Of course being a teacher means that Caine can road test every single track, and that probably explains why the dance floor remained packed from the first track all the way through to the very last one.

I featured three of Caine’s wonderful tracks in my workshop review and here’s another to help you feel the vibe that Caine created.  Josephine RITUAL is the most delicious four minutes of chill-out music.  Though its pace is very relaxed it, has a strong beat that is so easily to connect with.

This venue draws from a very large catchment

There were about forty people for the workshop who I suspect all stayed on for the freestyle.  That number more than doubled not long after the freestyle got in to its stride.  The numbers were impressive, but what made both myself and Jo take note was the faces we now recognised taking to the dance floor.

One of the first faces Jo recognised was Deej Moors.  Jo recognised him as one of the medallists at the recent Ceroc Champs.  Of course Deej is also a well known teacher on the chill-out dance circuit.  Deej wasn’t the only medal winner and teacher that we spotted.

I mention in my review of the workshop how impressed I was to see star performer Andrea Twamley join us in the lines, and she was now joined by other faces, myself and Jo recognised from the Teachers Showcase at the Southport Weekender Cabarets.

I’ll mention the benefits of having these highly acclaimed dancers, like Deej and Andrea in attendance later, but I just want to make the point that these weren’t all local dancers.  Along with many of the people, who now packed the dance floor, they had come from all points from across the south of the country.

It soon became apparent that people had travelled from London, The West Midlands, the Home Counties, South Wales and from cities like Exeter and Plymouth in Devon.  This freestyle was obviously some draw.  I was becoming increasingly interested to know why?

An opportunity to chill-out for four hours

While I was a little uncomfortable at the thought of dancing for four hours to music that was still a little bit of a challenge to me, this was without doubt one of the reasons that people had travelled so far.

It wasn’t long before I recognised Steph Oram in amongst the action.  Steph is the person who demo-ed with Tim Sant-Turner for the official SILC Videos.  I asked Steph what had brought her over from London:

It’s worth the journey, when you have the chance to dance SILC for fours hours.  It means you can pace yourself – there’s no need to dance to every track.

Oh, and Caine is such a great DJ.

Even with my limited knowledge of chill-out music, it was obvious that the music was perfectly suited to SILC and the smoother slotted style of dancing.  It was pleasing to have Steph confirm my view that Caine’s music was part of the draw.

That’s a cue for another of Caine’s great tracks.  It don’t matter a 2009 track from Donovan Frankenreiter whose bluesy guitar work gives this track a real funky vibe.

Charles offers more confirmation about the great music

Charles is a regular at the Bristol SILC Sunday Tea Dances and travels down from Walsall in The West Midlands.  Charles has become a bit of a chill-out devotee over the past two years.  At freestyles and weekenders, where there is an option, he spends most of his time in the chill-out or SILC rooms.   I asked Charles what drew him to Bristol:

I seeks out venues that play new music and a good mix of slower tunes.  I travel around quite a lot, but in my opinion this venue offers the best four hours of dancing of any month.

That’s some endorsement, and the music gets another big tick, but there was more to this venue than just Caine’s fabulous music and one was the dancers themselves.

Terry and Lynda make us feel very welcome

I said it many times that, when you travel around to new venues, you can find that you know no one.  That can be a little bit of a worry when you come to ask for the first few dances.  Now I’m a confident asker, but that’s when I’m in a main room setting.  I’m not so confident when I’m a bit unsure about the style of dancing, as I was last Sunday.

It was very much the same for my dance partner Jo who hadn’t danced with anyone in the room before, apart from Caine.   Thank goodness then for two features of this afternoon.  The first was the welcome we received from Terry and Lynda Hills.

Terry and Lynda have been part of the Bristol Ceroc scene for many years.  Danni tells me that they both Taxi at the Wednesday Class, and Lynda also demo’s for Caine on alternative weeks.

As well as being made to feel very welcome, and having a chance to chat about the local dance scene, it meant that we both had someone to ask for the first and another later dance.  That was something both myself and Jo really appreciated and I’m sure that any new faces would be equally looked after.  So our thanks to both Terry and Lynda.

The workshop was a great ice-breaker

The second thing was that the workshop acted as an excellent ice-breaker.  I struck up conversations with a couple of ladies who I would later feel confident to ask on to the dance floor.  Jo also felt that the lesson gave her a chance to get to know some of the guys and this proved to be a benefit when it came to asking someone for a dance.

If you are a first-timer at Bristol I would recommend signing up for the earlier workshop.  For all my confidence, I think I would have struggled to ask for dances, if I’d not had a chance to break the ice in the lesson.  Having said that, this was a friendly venue, but if you like me are not over confident when dancing to slower music, the lesson is a great way to ease yourself in to the freestyle.

The experience dancers help at all levels

Having a lot of very experienced dancers at a freestyle is always going to prove an attraction.  Those people who are accomplished dancers will always appreciate having the opportunity to dance with the very best.  We all improve our dancing by partnering people who are better than ourselves, and its no different for the very best dancers.

But of course the people who benefit the most from dancing with experienced people are those of us who are still a little unsure.  It was great to see Caine going round and dancing with people of all levels.

Jo has had the pleasure of dancing with Caine at the Southport Weekenders and every time had felt that she had benefited from the experience.

On Sunday Jo had the chance to dance with Caine twice.  The first time was quite early on, and she told me on the drive home that she had felt a little stiff, and was a little disappointed with her performance.  It happens like that sometimes.

Caine asked Jo again, when she had got in to the flow of things, and she tells me that she was much more satisfied with her performance.  None of us get it right first time, and Jo really appreciated that she got a second chance to dance with Caine.

Dancers pack the Mezzanine with its temporary dance floor

I danced better than I thought I could

That both Caine and Danni are on hand to dance with everyone is another big tick for this venue, but it’s the presence of other teachers and star performers that gives this venue its top rating.  I mentioned earlier that the first teacher that Jo recognised was Deej Moors.  Like Caine, Deej also asked Jo to dance.  I asked her how the dance went:

Deej made me dance better than I thought I could.  The dance was quite intense and his lead was very generous.  It was so easy to follow.

Like myself Jo has had only a few opportunities to dance in the more smoother slotted style of dancing back home.  Her visit to Bristol was so beneficial in many ways, including the dances she enjoyed with the many experienced dancers in attendance.  I’ll return to one more of these experienced dancers later, but now I want to tell you about a conversation I had on Sunday afternoon

The Tea Dance Tour throws up some heart warming stories

I always saw my Tea Dance Tour as a more relaxed affair than my visits to main room only freestyles.  One of my aims was to find the time to talk to people about their own smooth dance journey, and as I’ve done this, every so often I’ve heard some heart warming stories.

I mentioned earlier that the workshop was a great ice-breaker and made it a little easier for me to ask ladies I didn’t know to dance.  One of these ladies was Helen.  After a dance I asked if I could chat with her about her own experience of chill-out music.  It wasn’t long before I heard another dance related story, which Helen has given me permission to tell.

A challenge gives Helen a welcome distraction

Over the last few years Helen has had to deal with some major health issues, and as a result has had to endure five major operations.  She points to the dance community as one of the things that gave her the necessary strength to win her battles:

If it wasn’t for my dancing I think I would have crumbled.  I love the dancing, but the people in the dance world are lovely too – they are genuinely nice.

During this difficult time Helen decided to take up the challenge of learning to dance to more chilled-out music:

I love challenges, and learning to dance to slower music was an uplifting distraction.  Though I’ve been doing main room Ceroc and LeRoc for about five years, I hadn’t really done any slower dancing classes, until I started coming to Caine’s and Danni’s SILC classes.

I’m still very much a beginner, but I’m not afraid to ask for a dance, and the more experienced dances are very patient with me.  At times dancing to the slower music puts me on a high.

Helen has now become a regular at the combined workshop and freestyle, and it says a lot about this class that Helen feels really comfortable to ask people to dance even though she sees herself as a beginner.  Having enjoyed a couple of lovely dances with Helen, I would say that she has actually progressed beyond the beginners stage.

We need to be able to spot the breaks

Time to listen to more of Caine’s music.  I’ve included this next track for a very good reason.   Tilted by Christine and The Queens was one of the few tracks that I’ve actually danced to before.  Now, on the one hand that impresses me, because I love hearing fresh music, but there is a down side to only ever dancing to new music.

One of the joys of dancing to slower paced music, is that you can respond to the breaks and changes in mood or pace with displays of musicality.

While all songs have a musical structure that lets help you anticipate the breaks, you can’t help being familiar with a track so that it becomes a lot easier to see the changes coming.

I’ve danced to Tilted many times, and so I had some chance to know when the changes were coming, and so respond accordingly.  I suspect that even though Caine’s playlist was very new to my ears, many of the tracks will be local favourites, that he brings out on a regular basic.

In this way, his local dancers will get to know the tracks, and recognise just when the breaks and changes are coming – giving them opportunities to indulge their musicality.

Star dancers continue to inspire

One of the dancers I recognised was Matt Blain.  Matt is a quite exceptional dancer and along with his dance partner Victoria Pollard is now a regular teachers at weekenders.  I’ve never been to one of Matt’s classes, but I have watched in awe at his dancing several times.

I watched Matt again on Sunday and he was as inspirational as ever.  I actually found myself watching Matt’s dance partner.  One of Matt’s skills is to give his partner plenty of time to express their own musicality.

I have learnt that SILC and the other forms of smooth slotted dancing make for a whole different experience for the lady, in contrast to the standard Ceroc dancing.

It seems with dance styles like SILC the lady has a much smoother dance experience.  Another thing is the time, that experienced dancers give their partners, to play expressively with the music.

What I’ll take away from watching Matt is the joy on his partners face, as she expressed herself as she moved up and down the slot.  This was another example of the benefits of having so many star dancers at this freestyle.  There were so many chances to just watch and learn, and occasionally be inspired.

The Cakes are another star attraction

Now I’m getting a little closer to understanding why this venue is so popular, and the cakes are undoubtedly another reason.  When I wrote my first article about Tea Dances (see link below) Caine got in touch to tell me about this very venue, and asked if I would pay him and Danni a visit.  As part of the request Caine also sent a photo of the cakes.

I can’t help wonder if Caine knew of my sweet tooth, but the thing is that Tea Dances, or Sunday afternoon dancing, do have an association with tea and cakes.  So much so that I’ve decided to give a prize for the best cakes.  I’ve enjoyed some lovely cakes on my travels, and while I still have another dozen places to visit on my tour, I have to say that Caine’s baking is in pole position at this moment.

‘Hear, hear’, I hear all the Bristol dancers saying.

I constantly fight to resist such calorie laden delights, but I did have a piece of the Lime and Ginger Drizzle Cake and it was delicious.  What was so impressive was the array of different cakes including Gluten Free and Vegan.  Seems that Caine has set the bar very high, but there is still a long way to go on the tour.

Seems Caine isn’t just a master on the dance floor.  He’s mastered baking too

To Slot or Not

I now had a very good idea why this venue was so popular – the wonderfully taught workshop before hand, Caine’s well loved chill-out music, the presence of so many experienced dancers like Andrea, Deej, Steph and Matt, and of course Caine’s cakes, but there was one more factor that I had to fully understand.  That was why just about everyone was dancing in a slotted style.

Whether they were doing pure SILC or smooth jive, or perhaps a combination of the two, they were just about all doing it on the so-called Slot.

On Sunday the dance floor was very busy and there was just no room for anyone dancing in the so-called Rotational way – you would have just ended up barging in to people.

So my final question is this.  Why is Bristol such a Slotted dancing hot spot?  You see it’s not necessarily the case everywhere else.  If you go to a freestyle in the East Midlands virtually no one would be dancing on the slot, and sadly there would be little contemporary slower paced music, like the RITUAL track I featured at the beginning of this review, to encourage people to change their style of dancing.

Now many people are happy to dance in the rotational way to more upbeat music, and that’s fine by me – until I started out on my Tea Dance Tour that was me too.  What interests me though is why there is such a regional difference.

I wondered if the local dancers could throw some light on this?

Troy was one of the ladies I chatted with in the lines of the workshop and so felt comfortable to ask for a dance in the freestyle session.  I asked Troy about her own smooth dance journey and her experience of dancing in the slot.  This is what she had to say:

I started my Ceroc dance journey about five years ago at The Greenway Centre, in Bristol.  The teacher was Carl Adams, and in both the Beginners and Intermediate lessons Carl would emphasis the slotted way of doing the moves.

I remember it coming over as a very smooth way of dancing.

Troy went on to tell me a little more about Carl’s classes.

On the last Wednesday of the month Carl would also teach a Blues Class.  The moves and techniques were a lot slower and closer.

Of course Blues is a very different style to SILC, but it has several things in common.  The first is the music.  Slower and funkier music is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I can imagine that having exposure to such more chill-out music will encourage people to learn new techniques to dance to it.

The other thing that Blues dancing teaches you, is to listen to the music and to identify the breaks and changes of pace in the track.  Another requisite of SILC.

Caine and Danni follow in Carl’s footsteps

When Caine and Danni took over the Greenway Class they continued in the same vein.  Here’s Troy again:

When Caine and Danni took over the class they continued to teach in the same smooth and slotted style, and on the last Wednesday every month Caine teaches a ‘Smooth’ class now known as ‘Smooth Wednesdays’.

Troy has hit the nail on the head.  It is the teaching of the smooth slotted style in Intermediate classes that is the difference here.  Now I know all Ceroc teachers are going to tell me that they teach all the moves – Beginners and Intermediate – on the slot, but I’m going to dare to suggest that the same emphasis is not always put on the whole routine being done in a smooth slotted style.

The transition to SILC is a lot easier

In response to a previous review where I had also mentioned the difference in dance styles a lady, who dances in another Slotted Hot Spot got in touch to say this:

In our lessons we were taught to always try to stay on the slot, so when I was introduced to SILC it was so much easier to make the transition.

I raise this point simply because this freestyle really brought it home how different the dancing was here, and if you like the idea of smooth slotted dancing then this is one venue that is worth putting on your list.

Carl had a significant influence

I mentioned earlier the warm welcome myself and Jo received from crew members Terry and Lynda.  I’ve been having some interesting conversations with Terry about his own smooth dance journey over the past week.  Like Troy, Terry and Lynda were introduced to the smoother style of dancing by Carl Adams.  Here’s Terry’s take on Carl’s legacy:

Carl Adams is a master of the smoother slotted style of modern jive.  I guess we were always destined to prefer this style of dancing through Carl’s influence on us.

Class nights always had a value added element, with Carl adding smooth techniques into each lesson which was probably a little more than the standard teaching or syllabus asked for.

Listening to Troy and Terry, Carl’s teaching and enthusiasm for the smoother styles of dancing has played a significant role in the development on the smoother style of dancing in Bristol.  They also recognise that Caine and Danni are more than capable of continuing his legacy.

Terry also gives credit to DJ John Baker

Terry mentioned one other important reason why Bristol is a hot spot for chill-out music?

We also have our franchise owner and DJ John Baker to thank for that.  John plays a lot of chill-out music and serves up a great mix of contemporary tracks.

My favourite freestyle is ‘Switch’ culminating in the last two hours after midnight, where John caters for the people who love Blues, Latin, R&B, and Funk.

John’s music is perfect for people who love the smooth styles of dancing including SILC, but also Blues, Tango and West Coast Swing.  Johns reputation, for creating  chilled contemporary vibe, attracts people from London, Southampton, Wales, and from along the M5, and M6 corridors.

It’s obvious that there are a lot of factors in play here, and Caine and Danni’s SILC Sunday is another reason why Bristol is such a SILC and Smooth dancing stronghold.

This freestyle can only get bigger

Terry tells me that Caine and Danni started SILC Sunday about a year ago.  Its growth has been impressive and I could see that it was important that they brought the mezzanine floor in to use with the temporary dance floor.

Something tells me that as more people get to know about how wonderful SILC Sunday is, it will outgrow the present venue – a nice problem to have.

Two packed dance floors suggest SILC Sunday may soon outgrow this venue

One last word from Michael

Always on the look out for people, who would be happy to contribute to my review, it was suggested I chat with Michael Edwards.  Michael is better, and more affectionately known, as ‘Eddie the Eagle’.  Eddie was also present for the earlier workshop.  I first asked Eddie about his dancing history:

I actually started Ceroc twenty years ago, but I took a break from it to get married and bring up a family.  I started back about four years ago.

I asked Eddie about his smooth dance journey:

I started about a year ago

So, how have you found it?

It’s not easy.  At times I’ve found it quite difficult

You and me too Eddie.

Nice to know I have something in common with an Olympian.

Hopefully others will follow in our footsteps

For many of us dancing to chill-out music is a bit of a leap of faith.  This weekend many dancers will go to the Ceroc Southport Weekender for the first time.  They will watch in awe at the dancers in The SILC Zone.  Many will decide that they are not experienced enough to join in, and some might even say it’s not for them.

Hopefully they will enjoy the music, and leave with a determination to give it a go back home.  Let’s hope they find some lessons to go to.  I’ll leave you with one more of Caine’s delicious tracks – The other by Lauv.  Hopefully it will inspire any non smooth dancers to follow in the footsteps of Helen, Terry, Lynda, Troy, Eddie and myself.