I couldn’t resist the promise of delicious cakes

When I wrote my original article about the growing popularity of Tea Dances I include some details about six such Sunday afternoon venues.  After it was published several people got in touch to tell me about their own Tea Dances.  This prompted me to write a second article including another six venues.  It wasn’t long before I made plans to visit as many of them as I could.

One of the people to get in touch was Caine Langford, to tell me about a SILC Sunday Tea Dance run by Strictly Ceroc in Bristol.  Caine also sent me photos of the cakes that he himself baked for the event.  The cakes looked delicious, and when I heard that Caine had been a professional chef I found myself putting his Tea Dance at the top of my list (sadly cakes are one of my weaknesses).

I’m off on my Tea Dance Tour again

One night I was tapping away at my computer when a notification came up that Danielle Moore, Caine’s partner, had posted on Strictly Ceroc Bristol’s Facebook Page.  I clicked through to see what she had written:

Two weeks today and we get to eat cake and dance ??  Workshop spaces still available

Two bells rang in my head.  The first a memory about their Tea Dance and secondly one in the part of my brain that is dedicated to satisfying my sweet tooth.  I immediately looked if there was any interesting dancing locally.  Nothing.  After a three week lull My Tea Dance Tour had it’s next destination.

This combined workshop and freestyle was well worth the trip

What Danni was reminding everyone about, was a regular monthly SILC Sunday Workshop and Freestyle.  The programme promised a two hour workshop SILC workshop followed by a four hour SILC Freestyle.  Six hours of dancing  – well worth the three hour trip from Nottingham.  I was quick to ask my dance partner Jo if she was up for it.

Jo like myself has been on a mission to learn to dance in the more modern slotted style and this seemed the perfect opportunity for us both.  It was soon in the diary.  I was particularly pleased that Jo was coming as she would be able to give me a followers perspective.  If there’s one thing I’ve learnt since starting my reviews of classes is that it is a very different experience for the male leads and female followers.

In this first review I’ll be concentrating on the workshop.  I’ll aim to publish a separate review of the freestyle next week.

Bristol is a slotted hot-spot

Dancing in a smoother slotted style is not something that is universal.  As I travel around the country writing my reviews I notice varying degrees of it.  In the main room venues that I visit I see very little evidence of it.  So much so that when I went to Strictly Ceroc’s Switch freestyle in March I was surprised to see that almost half of the people were dancing on the slot.

That compares to just a handful at the freestyles I visit in my home patch of The East Midlands.  Of course this style is more prevalent in second room settings, but there are few such venues in my home area.  It’s one of the reasons that people like me are so shocked when we first see the dancers in The Boudoir, at The Southport Weekenders, dancing in this modern smoother style.

There is a North-South divide

From my own experiences, on the first leg of my Tea Dance Tour, it seems that there is a marked North-South Divide with a hot spots in London and on the evidence of Switch – Bristol.  There are many reasons why this is the case, and one that I’ve come to realise is the presence of teachers who want to encourage this smoother style of dancing.

There is another reason – the music.  There is a whole genre of contemporary music that is a lot slower and funkier than much of the music that is associated with mainstream Ceroc.  The thing is, that the moves that we learn in the beginners class just do not work with more chill out music – even if you slow them down.

Before we go any further, please listen to some of this more contemporary music.  Here’s Bright lights a 2016 track from HAEVN, from Caine’s playlist in the follow up freestyle session.  I think it needs a whole difference approach to the way we are taught to dance in the standard Ceroc classes.  See what you think.

What is needed is a sustained programme of lessons

Last night I was at a busy Ceroc Heaven freestyle in Nottingham.  To his credit DJ Mark O’Reilly is trying to introduce more modern chill-out music in to the last hour of his freestyles.  The problem is that if people don’t feel confident to dance to these more chill-out tracks they will just sit out.

I asked a lady to dance who I consider to be a confident dancer, but faced with one of Mark’s slower tracks she was obviously uncomfortable.  With my help and patience the lady did OK.

There is no doubt that if DJs play more contemporary music some people will struggle through and learn a few moves that work, but what is needed is a sustained programme of classes and workshops to bring about a bit of a revolution.  That revolution has taken place at Bristol.

Troy and Julian’s experience is not uncommon

I’ll be talking about Caine and Dani’s programme of lessons shortly, but before I do I want to tell you about the experience of Bristol dancers Troy and husband Julian, who I met at SILC Sunday.

After the lesson I spoke with Troy.  She explained how, some five years ago, she and Julian went to Switch.

They thoroughly enjoyed the main room sounds up to midnight, but when DJ John Baker switched the music to more contemporary chill-out tracks, they just didn’t know how to dance to them, and they decided to leave.

Their experience is not uncommon.  When I went to Switch (see link to review below) I could see why it is a well loved venue, but I left early too.  I’d gone with my best mate Neil, who found himself sitting out just about every track after midnight.  It was only fair to leave together.

Sadly not everywhere has smooth dance lessons

I can’t help wondering how many other accomplished Ceroc dancers find themselves in the same position as Troy, Julian and my friend Neil.  We all do our best when a DJ throws in the odd chill-out track at a main room freestyle.  We can of course sit it out, but when you are faced with a succession of these tracks – that’s when you might want to go home early.

Troy and Julian threw themselves in to lessons that would help them dance to the slower contemporary tracks.  It wasn’t long before they had made sufficient progress with their smoother slotted style of dancing, and they could now enjoy dancing to the slower grooves that John Baker played at Switch after midnight.

Troy and Julian were fortunate.  There are quite a few lessons in smooth dancing you can go to in Bristol – it’s not the same everywhere.  This is a pity because there is so much wonderful contemporary chill-out music out there, that I and many people want to be able to dance to.

I’m a great fan of Caine and Danni’s teaching style

I’m a great fan of Caine and Danni.  I started my own slotted dance journey in June 2017, when I attended their Simply Slotted class at Southport, and I still use the moves they taught that day in my routine.  I added other moves when I did their Switches class this June (see links below).

What I love about their lessons is that they are both mic’d up.  Caine will do the main teaching, but Danni is always on hand to give the ladies details about their footwork.  That they can both give tips and advice seems to work really well, and I remember both the men and the ladies picking the moves up quickly as a result.

So it was on Sunday too.  Caine and Danni had quite a full programme for the workshop and they manged to get through it very efficiently, without running in to the freestyle time.

This workshop is ideal for first-timers

Before the lesson started Caine asked if there were any people new to SILC.  Out of the thirty eight people, I counted about four who showed their hand.  That meant that the vast majority had some SILC experience, and indeed later Caine confirmed to me that many of the people were regulars at these monthly workshops.

What impressed me was, that even though there were lots of regulars in the class, and some quite experienced SILC dancers, Caine was at pains to start from the very beginning and teach what he called the three fundamentals principals of SILC (more of which later).

I’d like to think that people, wanting to take the first steps in learning the  SILC style, would make a pilgrimage to these workshops, and they should be reassured that the structure of the classes has them very much in mind.

Some music to get us in to the chill-out groove

Before I get in to the detail of the workshop, lets hear some more contemporary music and get in to the chill-out grove.  Don’t stay by X Ambassadors was one of the tracks that Caine used in the lesson.   Released at the beginning of this year it’s as funky as hell, and has so many musical ingredients that make it a great chill-out dance track.

My first light-bulb moment

The workshop itself was split in two.  The first hour was at Foundation Level (that’s SILC speak for Beginners) and the second hour at Progressive (Intermediate).  There was a small break in between, but I might add not a cake break – that came later!

Caine started off the lesson by explaining that the class wasn’t really about learning moves but more importantly about teaching the SILC technique by understanding the three SILC fundamentals.  In his introduction he said the following, or words to this effect:

This workshop isn’t necessarily about moves, it’s more to do with the technique.  After all, you have hundreds of moves already.  I just want to show you how to execute them in a much smoother way.

Now I was careful to say these weren’t Caine’s exact words, but in there was a phrase that caused a massive light-bulb moment in my dance brain, that was worth every mile of the six hour round trip:

After all, you have hundreds of moves already.

I’ve been to a lot of SILC classes and workshops, but I’ve still struggled when a DJ put on a chill-out track at a freestyle.  You see I couldn’t ever remember the moves.

We know the moves, we just need the technique

Last summer I attended a SILC in Six course of workshops run by Ashley Davis from Ceroc Heaven in my home town.  Ashley is a fabulous teacher, and I made a lot of progress.  In the course of the lessons Ashley must have taught us twenty moves, but by the time I got an opportunity to try them out at a freestyle I could only remembered about five.

Five moves can be a little repetitive and it hardly gives you confidence to ask some one on to the floor but Caine’s comment had me thinking.  All I had to do was apply the three fundamentals to all the moves I already knew.  I’d better get writing about these fundamentals then!

All hail the Travelling Return

It’s never the intention of my reviews to try to replicate the lessons.  I’m more concerned to give an overall view and to highlight some of the moments that made an impression on me.  Many of the people following my Tea Dance Tour have encountered the same problems as myself in trying to master the smoother slotted style, so this next section is for them.

We all know the Travelling Return.  It’s just that I’d never seen it as a SILC move until Caine made his ‘You already have hundreds of moves’ statement.  So here is the Travelling Return SILC style.  Hopefully it will explain some of the SILC fundamentals and Caine and Danni’s wonderful explanation of them.

Take a Ceroc move and make it smoother

In Ceroc to start the Travelling Return the men pull (hopefully gently) the ladies towards them.  Here’s the first difference.  In SILC you invite the lady to start moving towards you by simply lowering or raising your hand.  So raise you hand, and this will signal to the lady to start moving forward.

In Ceroc the men at times over-lead the ladies.  One sign of this is when we stir our partners in a spin or return.  This is a no-no in SILC.  So back to our Travelling Return.  The lady is now on her way, and she knows how to do a Travelling Return, so release her hand and let her complete the move on her own.  Then simply catch her hand again as she turns to face you.

Here’s how to make it smooth

Now here’s the bit that makes this good old Ceroc move morph in to something much smoother.  As you catch the ladies hand don’t be in a hurry to stop her.  Let her complete her journey down the slot, and bring her to a stop as smoothly as possible.

There’s actually quite a lot to this SILC style Travelling Return and this is where Danni’s input was so beneficial to the ladies.  Danni now explained the ladies footwork.  In Ceroc we are told not to worry too much about footwork, but in SILC the ladies footwork is essential to getting a smooth feel to the dance.

Danni explained that the lady starts off any slotted move with her weight back on her right foot.  Every SILC move has an odd number of steps so that the lady will always end up back on her right foot.   Let’s go back to our Travelling Return.  As the man slows the lady down, Danni pointed out the importance of allowing the lady to settle on her right foot before you invite her to come back down the slot again.

Another light-bulb moment

I’m lucky that I’ve been able to practice my slotted dance moves with my dance partner Jo, who accompanied me on this trip.  Jo has often said that I sometime don’t allow her to settle at the end of the slot.  Danni fixed this.

Danni explained that some men watch the ladies feet and wait until they see that they have their weight back on her right foot.  This was another light-bulb moment, and guess what.  I’ve been watching the ladies foot work ever since.

Jo is, needless to say, very grateful for Danni’s little tip for the men.  It makes for a much smoother end to the slotted move, and this is certainly enhancing Jo’s enjoyment of our dances together, especially as I’m getting better at letting her settle.

So how was it for the ladies?

I won’t attempt to explain any more of the moves and techniques that Caine and Danni taught, but just to say that the hour was packed with great tips and helpful advice.  I’m tempted to say right now just how good these two are, but before I give my final verdict I wondered what my dance partner Jo made of it all.

There’s no doubt that the ladies experiences in lessons are very different to the man’s.  The ladies are sometimes at a disadvantage as they rely so much on the men getting the techniques right.  Not only do the men need to get the move correct they have to signal it correctly too, if the ladies are to have an oppportunity to practice their own movement.

I asked Jo how she had got on:

The workshop was extremely enjoyable.  Everyone was very friendly, and it served as a great ice-breaker for the freestyle.

The majority of the chaps in the lines were well practised in the SILC style of dance.  Added to that, Caine’s very precise directions meant that I had the pleasure of very clear and considerate leads.

Jo then told me, what really stood out for her, was the discussion about ladies footwork.

Because both Caine and Danni were mic’d up, it meant that the dance partners got insight in to each other’s perspectives and roles in the dance.  This was particularly useful when they both talked about the footwork.

I’ll do my best to explain, and if I get it wrong, it just shows how hard it is for me to take it all in in sometimes.  Here goes:  The man opens up The Slot and invites the lady to progress down it.  The lady now takes control of her footwork.  First she’ll decide how many steps to do – always an odd number so she ends up with her weight on her back foot.

More opportunities for ladies’ musicality

Caine then pointed out that the ladies can determine the pace of their movement down the slot, by varying the length of their stride or step.  The ladies are now in control of their own movement.  They can decide on the distance they wish to travel and how fast or slow their progress is.

And here’s another important point that Caine made:

Guys, if the lady goes that little bit further down the slot then you need to follow her

Now I get it.  Now I see why the ladies love SILC.  Every time they are invited down the slot, it gives them so much more opportunity to play with their own musicality.  Later in the freestyle session, I would see woman taking their opportunities, and showing some lovely movement and musicality as they progressed down the slot.  No wonder they love it.

Sometimes our dance brains turn to mush

I was really beginning to understand elements of SILC that had passed me by.  But why was this?  I’m sure that the teachers at the other classes and workshops, I’d attended in the past, had mentioned all these things.  So why hadn’t it sunk in before?

I think when many of us first tried SILC it was all a bit of a muddle.  It was presented as a completely new way of dancing and quite honestly it was just too much.  I remember many times that by the end of a lesson my brain would just turn to mush.  We’d be asked to put all the moves together and my mind would just go blank.

It’s something we’ve all experienced.  I think it’s taken me the best part of a year to sort out the idea of dancing in The Slot in my head.  Combine that with me starting out on my Tea Dance Tour, and I think my head was in the right place to get the best out of this workshop.

Time to chill with another track

All that writing about sorting things out in my head has put me in need of a break.  Time for some chill-out music then.  Here’s another of Caine’s delicious smooth tracks from the workshop.

Drive slow by Carly Page is a beautiful piece of music, but one I wouldn’t have had a clue how to dance to a year and a half ago.  Caine played it at the end of the first Foundation level class as we put all the moves together.  Hey, I think I did OK!

Caine and Danni have a lot of experienced support

Before I give my verdict on the workshop, I want to follow up on one more thing from Jo’s comments.  Jo mentioned that there were a lot of experienced dancers in the lessons, and that this meant she had plenty of opportunities to practice the techniques for herself.

I’ve always felt that it was important for Intermediate level dancers to attend Ceroc Beginners’ classes.  Their experience is a great help to newcomers, and so it was with this SILC lesson.

I would like to mention one particular person, that joined in both the Foundation and Progressive classes, and that was Andrea Twamley.  I’ve seen Andrea dance many times in The Cabaret at Southport and I’ve watched in awe at her dancing skills.

It was great that she gave her time to support Caine and Danni, and be on hand if required to offer any help.  It seems that Caine and Danni have a lot of support for what they are doing in Bristol with SILC – something that became even more apparent in the later freestyle session.

Bristol is a great place to start your SILC Journey

Having listened to Jo’s feedback, and added it to my own, I’m going to say that this was the best explanation and illustration of the SILC fundamentals I’ve ever experienced in a class or workshop.  So good was this first Foundation Level hour that I would recommend any one wanting to start their own SILC journey to make the trip to Bristol.

Please don’t just turn up though, as it’s very popular.  Contact Danni through Facebook and book a place.  If possible go as a gender balanced couple.  One of the things I found really useful was talking with Jo, on the journey home, about the techniques and moves we’d been taught, and we’ve since been able to practice some of them together at our local dance venues.

There was more, but . . .

I hope the more experienced dancers will excuse me for not writing about the second Progressive Level class, but the word count is against me, and I still want to discuss one more aspect that came out of my visit to Bristol.  I suspect I’ll be making a second trip to Caine and Danni’s workshop and I promise I’ll review the more advanced class then.

The point I want to make was sparked by a discussion I had with Caine about the so called SILC Syllabus.  I’d always thought, wrongly it now appears, that when you took to the floor you had to do SILC moves throughout the whole three minute tracks.

I’d always felt held back by the fact that I knew so few SILC moves and that my lady partner would get bored by the constant repetition.

My SILC dance journey has been about learning enough moves to get through a three minute track with out too much repetition.  I’m still a long way off, but since starting on my Tea Dance tour I’ve discovered a half way house.

There is no problem of mixing in the SILC moves with other smooth slotted ones.  I mentioned above that I’d participated in two of Caine and Danni’s class at Southport.  Both involved moves that were designed to work in the slotted style, but in their teaching no mention was made of SILC.

I have now mixed in some of these moves with the SILC moves I’ve picked up along the way.  I’ve added in a few basic Ceroc moves that work at a slower pace on The Slot, and I now have a more varied smooth routine.   I can get through three minutes without too much repetition.  That’s a result!

I wonder if other men mix it up too

I suspect that many men do this, with the aim of slowly introducing more SILC moves in their routine, hoping that one day they can dance to a whole track in a SILC style.  I was interested to know how Julian had developed his slotted dance style.

You’ll remember that Julian and his wife Troy left Switch early because they just couldn’t dance to the slower chill-out tracks.  I messaged Troy and she gave me a little more detail about their own Smooth dance journey

Their first port of call was to Carl Adam’s Smooth classes.  Carl was their Ceroc teacher but also ran extra smooth classes too.  It seems that Carl’s lessons gave them both the confidence to start to dance to more chill-out tracks.  Here’s what Troy had to tell me:

Julian does indeed mix up SILC and different Smooth Styles that we have learnt along the way. Our SILC is very much in the early stages, but we hope to be learning so much more in the future.

This mixing in different styles is the way forward, and remember as Caine says ‘You have lots of moves already.’  The trick is to do your best to adapt them in to a smoother slotted routine.

Charles tells me about his SILC Journey

I’ll end my review with one last thought about my own SILC journey.  It’s been slow.  One of the reasons is that I am a slow learner.  Every time I go to a lesson or workshop I always take something away, but the problem is I’ve just not been to enough lessons.

I’ve recently been having some interesting conversations with Charles a dancer from Walsall.  Charles is a great lover of SILC and the smoother forms of dancing, and actually travelled down from The West Midlands to the four hour freestyle that followed the workshop.  I was interested to hear about his own SILC dance journey.

Charles has really thrown himself in to it, and has speeded up the learning process by taking every opportunity he could to have a lesson.

It seems that Charles dances even more than myself.  He does as many Weekenders as possible and always gets along to the SILC classes.

Charles learnt to dance at Ceroc Grooves Walsall class.  This franchise is run by Debbie Attwood, who is another excellent SILC teacher, and Charles tells me he’s always asking her for help and advice.  I met Debbie when my Tea Dance Tour visited Ceroc Groove’s Lickey End SILC on Sunday freestyle, and just like Charles I picked up some helpful tips.  It must be a great to have so much access to a teacher like Debbie.

Is this why Bristol is a SILC Hot Spot?

Listening to Charles it’s obvious that going to classes on a regular basis is always going to speed up the learning process.  Sadly, as I said before, in some areas of the country there are few classes available.  It’s a different story in Bristol however.

There is no doubt that Caine and Danni are fully committed to SILC and the Slotted style of dancing, and these regular workshops are probably why Bristol is a SILC and Slotted Hot Spot.  But there’s another reason why Bristol is a centre for the more contemporary style of dancing, and why the Switch freestyle is so popular.  Caine and Danni also run a weekly SILC class.  Here’s Danni:

Our Thursday Ceroc class wasn’t doing that well, so we decided to re-invent it as SILC Thursday.  We run a one hour Progressive level class followed by an hour and a half SILC freestyle.

When you add the weekly SILC Thursdays and SILC Sunday Workshops together, and don’t forget the thirty minute Smooth Class that Caine runs before Switch, then you soon realise that this is quite an offering, and quite an undertaking too.

It would be quite unfair to expect other Ceroc franchises to match such a programme of lessons.  However, it does goes a long way to explaining how Caine and Danni have established SILC and the Slotted style of dancing in this part of the country.

What about the cake Paul?

Paul you haven’t mentioned Caine’s cakes yet.  The cakes were on show as soon as we arrived, but we weren’t invited to sample them until the freestyle session.  Now don’t worry.  I will be commenting on them in my second Bristol posting about the freestyle session itself, which I hope to publish next week.

Related Articles

Strictly Ceroc Bristol Switch Freestyle

Caine & Danni’s Simply Slotted Southport Class

Caine & Danni’s Switches Southport Class

The Tea Dance Tour Articles

Tea Dances grow in popularity

More Tea Dances than I had realised

The Tea Dance Tour starts at Byfleet

The Tea Dance Tour rolls in to Northchurch

The Tea Dance Tour steams in to Perth

The Tea Dance Tour pulls in to Bromsgrove

The Tea Dance Tour pulls in to Southport

The Tea Dance Tour stops off at Lingfield

The Tea Dance Tour takes o The Thames

Get the Tea Dance Jigsaw

The image at the top of this posting is by artist Jason Juta, and was used for a 1000 piece Falcon de luxe Jigsaw entitled Tea Dance. The jigsaw is available on line. Here’s a link to one of the many sites that sell this popular jigsaw.