Our dance scene is changing

Slowly but surely our dance scene is changing.  When LeRoc (Modern Jive), and then Ceroc, were created in the 1990s the music people danced to was faster than it is today.  The origins of both styles of dancing were influenced by the swing dances that were brought over to Europe by the Americans in WW2.  Anyone who has experienced Swingers Hour at the Ceroc Southport Weekenders will know just how fast swing music can be.  While I wasn’t there back in the ’90s, when LeRoc and Ceroc were emerging I understand the music wasn’t quite as frantic as the music of Swingers Hour but it certainly had a pace to it.

At the upcoming Ceroc Southport Weekender, dancers will have the opportunity to dance in three separate areas devoted to different styles of music.  In the main Thunderball Room, they will be offered a mix of music they will recognise from the regular main room freestyles they are used to.  This music will bear the closest resemblance to the music LeRoc and Ceroc were first danced to.  In the Boudoir, AKA the SILC Zone, the music will be a mix of more relaxed chill-out vibes, while in the Cyclone Room the late-night offerings will be even slower music suited to close-hold Blues dancing.  There was none of this slower dance music when LeRoc and Ceroc first emerged.

Music in the Thunderball Room best resembles the original LeRoc & Ceroc tempos

The moves are changing too

Even in the Thunderball Room, where the music at times can be fully energised, the tempo is still slightly slower than the original tempo that LeRoc and Ceroc were developed for.  Many main room DJs are also playing more chill-out music in their playlists and many places devote the last twenty minutes to slower tracks – some now even devote the last hour to chill-out vibes.  It seems the future of our dance scene will involve more of these slower tracks.  With this move towards slower beats per minute (bpm), the style of dancing is changing too.  Some of the original LeRoc and Ceroc moves don’t work with the slower music.

A great example of this is the Arm Jive, a staple move of the original Modern Jivers.  It’s a move I still bring out when I’m dancing to faster music but it’s disappeared from my usual repertoire of moves.  Interestingly, when Tim Sant revised the Ceroc Beginners moves about five years ago, this move was deleted from the beginners’ routines.  Faced with more relaxed music you can of course just slow down the original LeRoc and Ceroc moves but this doesn’t always work.  It’s one of the reasons that Ceroc developed the SILC style of dancing.

A new start after lockdown

This change in the music and style of dancing was brought home to me when I visited a Vibe freestyle in Barnstaple, North Devon back in January.  In pre-lockdown times this venue hosted what could be described as traditional Modern Jive freestyles based around the music associated with the beginnings of LeRoc.  After dancing reopened, faced with uncertainty about the numbers who would return to dancing, the people who ran Barnstaple Jive decided to call it a day.  This was a shame because the venue had a strong loyal following.

Thankfully the venue was taken on by Phil Payne and Stacey Sharman, who had for many years competed together in Modern Jive and Blues competitions, with a view to holding weekly classes and monthly freestyles.  On my visit, I got to chat with Stacey who outlined her vision for the venue.  As I listened to the way Stacey and Phil want to modernise the music and dance style at the Barnstaple venue, I realised that I was hearing what I had been thinking for some time – that to survive this dance scene has to attract younger dancers and that means changing the music offer and the style of dancing.

Stacy and Phil have competed together for some time

Change has to come gradually

Stacey was very mindful of the dancers who had supported the Barnstaple venue over many years and who loved the pre-lockdown mix of music and style of dancing and knew that it would be a bad move to change things overnight.  A two-pronged approach would be adopted.  First Stacey and Phil would slowly mix in more modern styles into their programme of classes.

Stacey and Phil video all their Beginner and Intermediate routines and post them on Tik Tok and Facebook.  They also ensure that the name of each move pops up on the screen at the right time (see image below) – something that’s got to help everyone.  Looking through some of these videos on their Facebook page I can see that most of the routines include many of the original LeRoc moves and styling, but every so often they do a routine that is very smooth and uses more modern styling and moves.

The second approach was to slowly change the music to a more contemporary mix.  I couldn’t help noticing that the music they use to accompany their class routines had a very contemporary feel.  This change to a more contemporary music mix was also evident at the freestyle I attended, as we’ll see as I feature some of the tracks Stacey played.

Stacey and Phil video all their Beginner and Intermediate routines

A chill-out track shows Stacey’s ambitions

To give you an idea of how much Stacey wants to bring more contemporary music into her lessons and freestyles here’s a delicious track that she used as the background to one of her smooth slotted intermediate routines.  It’s a track that I’ve not heard before but I’d just love the chance to dance to it.  Spin with you by Emma Sameth, Jeremy Zucker, and Wolfe from 2019 is something you’d expect to hear in a late-night session in the SILC Zone at Southport.

It has everything you’d expect from a modern piece of chill-out music with an electronic pulse that creates the most relaxed vibe.  This gorgeous beat is so easy to connect with and is certain to send you into that sweet zone that the best chill-out music invites you into.  Of course, Stacey is only wanting to introduce a few tracks like this into her playlist but listening to Spin with you, you realise just how ambitious Stacey’s being with her aims for Vibe.

Hopefully, there is still a place for rockin’ floor fillers

The best main room DJs provide a mix of music that includes all the current floor fillers and picks from other genres of music but they are also aware of their dancer’s own favourites.  Stacey is very mindful of the tracks that were big favourites before she and Phil took over and why not.  There are some fabulous dance tracks that the more traditional Modern Jive DJs play and Stacey picked out one that I love and it provided me with a fabulous hi-energy dance.

Rocket 88 by Nappy Brown & Kip Anderson is a track that I’ve heard a few times on my travels and I imagine its Rock ‘n’ Roll-inspired pace is very much the kind of tempo that LeRoc and Ceroc were originally danced to.  Rocket 88 reminds me of another rockin’ Modern Jive track Club Savoy by Rockin’ Louie & The Mamma Jammers.  While I know that the music has to keep developing it would be a shame to lose these floor rockers.

Stacey shifts gear to a more contemporary mix

By the middle of the night, DJ Stacey had shifted gear and the music mix was a lot more like the mainstream playlists I dance to every weekend.  Here now were all the current hits mixed in with Stacey’s own favourites, Bad habits from Ed Sheeran, Sweet talker from Years & Years & Galantis, By your side the Calvin Harris collaboration with Tom Grennan.

Stacey found space for everyone’s favourite Cold heart from Elton John & Dua Lipa.  I’m still not tiring of this track, probably because it has the perfect beat for a Modern Jive dance.  Interestingly this track’s more gentle beat is significantly slower than the music that was danced to back in the day.

Stacey also found room for the T Rex oldie Get it on.  You can’t beat a reminder of when you were at the school disco and I’m sure it brought a smile to a lot of people’s faces.  The track I’m going to feature is one I seem to hear everywhere I go at the moment, My heart goes (la di da) by Becky Hill & Topic.  This track has a thumping beat and all the modern production features that keep it driving along.

I was impressed with the enthusiasm and passion

For a small town in a far corner of Devon, Barnstaple has a thriving dance scene.  Some freestyles in much larger cities would be pleased to get such a turnout.  It is also worth noting that Barnstaple has a West Coast Swing class, something that is still sadly missing in my East Midlands base.

I have always thought that the reason for the success of some venues over others is down to the enthusiasm and passion the people who run them have for social dancing.  Things are still not back to normal in many venues but I’m sure that the energy Stacey and Phil are putting into Vibe will see them make a great success of their venture.

I’ve already mentioned the lengths they go to with their teaching videos.  What also impressed me was how on the night both Stacey and Phil made sure they danced with as many people as possible.  There is no doubt that one of the ways we become better is to dance with better dancers and what better than to have two fabulous dancers like Stacey and Phil on hand with tips and encouragement.  I’ll tell you about my own dance with Stacey later, but it’s time for some more music.

I always appreciate new-to-me music

As the night progresses I noticed there was lots of new-to-me music.   You can’t beat recognising the opening to a track and realising it’s a favourite and making sure you get a good partner to dance to it.  It’s why DJs serve up our favourites but there’s a balance to be struck.  It’s important we don’t just dance to the same old same old tracks.  That’s why I love hearing new stuff but again there’s a skill to deciding which new music to introduce.  The trick is to make sure the beat is easy to connect with so that the dancers can enjoy a dance the first time of hearing it.

Stacey served up lots of new-to-me tracks and I found them all so danceable.  There was a fabulous Ben E & Falki remix of Aloe Blacc’s I need a dollar with a pulsing bassline that you couldn’t but help to connect with.  Here’s another of these fresh tracks, Midnight (The hanging tree) by HOSH & 1979 from 2020.  It also has a driving electronic pulse that gives the track its energy.  This pulse is so easy to connect with and halfway through the song a crescendo builds to the point where the bass drops (well in this case the pulse) and you feel a surge of energy.

A fabulous dance playing with the music

Whenever I dance with someone for the first time I do a couple of simple moves.  It’s amazing how with just a few moves you can gauge the level of your partner.  Then you can start to think about giving your partner the dance they will enjoy.  I can also judge something else – whether they will dance rotationally or on the slot.  It depends on what kind of venue it is.  At chill-out tea dances most people seem equipped to dance on the slot but at most main room freestyle rotational dancing holds sway.  I never try to force rotational dancers into a slotted style as remember, I feel my role is to give my partner the dance they want.

So it’s always a pleasant surprise when you quickly get the vibe that your partner wants to dance on an extended slot.  Those dancers that are used to dancing in this way usually also want to have some opportunities to play with the music.  I was asked to dance and within a few moves, I knew that my partner wanted to dance in the more modern slotted style.  I also quickly realised that she wanted to play with the music and show off her musicality – the perfect partner and sure enough, I had one of the best dances of the night.  I had been asked to dance by Stacey herself, though I didn’t know it at the time.

That fabulous dance broke the ice so that later I chatted with Stacey about her ambitions for Vibe.  I’m sure that she would love all her dancers to dance in the same modern style as she loves but that is a big ask.  However, there is nothing wrong with having that goal, and at least those people who want to develop a more modern style and give themselves the tools to enjoy dancing to slower and bluesier music will get all the help they need.  I am convinced that being able to dance to slower contemporary music will attract and retain younger dancers – something that is essential for this dance scene to flourish.

Stacey mixes in chill-out delights

As the night came to its end, I realised that Stacey was mixing in more and more chill-out delights.  There were chill-out favourites from Leo Stannard & Frances with Gravity and Parson James with Only you.  Considering Stacey and Phil’s success on the Blues competition circuit it was obvious that she would end the night with tracks suited to Blues and Expressive dancing.

I’ll finish my review of Stacey’s music by featuring one of these chill-out tracks, Our song by The Fat Rat & Cecilia Gault.  Released at the back of 2021 it has a wonderful chilled-blues vibe.  I just adored dancing to this track but the point I want to make is that it is so far removed from the music that was played at this venue pre-lockdown.  I just hope that the dancers who loved the more traditional Modern Jive music will stay with Stacey and Phil.  Something tells me they will as Stacey will ensure they still have plenty of their old favourites to dance to.  The future though is dancing to more contemporary music with new ways of dancing.  It’s a future that will attract a lot more younger dancers and I think we all know that it’s the only way this dance scene will flourish in the future.

Stacey and Phil thank their Superstars

I mentioned above Stacey and Phil’s enthusiasm for their venue.  This shows itself in one other way – their use of Facebook.  They have developed a vibrant Vibe page where they post all their lesson videos.  I spotted this posting on the day after the freestyle and it already had plenty of comments with people agreeing what a fabulous night it was.  Oh, and see if you can spot me in the picture.

As I now regularly visit Devon, I’ll be calling again at Barnstaple, or Barny as the locals call it.  Something tells me it will be another fabulous night with lots of great music, lots of new-to-me tracks and even more people dancing on the slot.  Something to look forward to.  My thanks to Stacey for sharing her vision with me – it really is the future.

Enjoy another dance fix with my novel

If you enjoy reading my dance blogs, I’m sure you’ll love reading my novel, Would you like to dance?.  It tells the story of how Ellie and her friends discover the joy that is partner dancing and finds the confidence to enter an amateur dance competition.  The story is full of the excitement and passion that I feel dancing and I’m sure many people will recognise themselves in the ten characters that make up Ellie’s Newbie Dance Gang.

Why not visit the website I’ve designed to support the novel.  It is packed with background information on how I came to write Ellie’s story and reviews from the people who have already enjoyed it.  You’ll also find whole sections dedicated to the joy that is Modern Jive dancing including photo galleries and videos showing the fun we all have on the dance floor.  Simply click on the image below and you’ll be taken straight there or click this link and go straight to the Amazon book store where you can download it.