Long path to the Podium (Part 1)

July 2, 2006

Steve Wong is one half of the current Ceroc UK Advanced championship. Although he and Donna are now recognised as the excellent dancers they are, few people realise the hard work that any top dancer has to put in.

Over the coming weeks On8 is proud to publish a serialisation of Steve’s very personal account of the path that has taken him to ‘Champion’ status.

Author: Steve Wong. Steve Wong has been involved on the MJ circuit for many years, previoulsy based on the London circuit during which time he won the Ceroc Intermediates. After years in the ‘wliderness’ of Liverpool, he and his partner, Donna, are now UK Ceroc Advanced Champions. Steve and Donna are regulars at Blitz Chester club.

Many modern jivers are interested in competing. Are you up for it? Well, hopefully this will help you make up your mind.

In summer 2004 I was looking for a dance partner. I had been out of London for over a year (was now living in Liverpool) and was concerned that I could not find the calibre of dance partner that I found in London. The sort that used to frequent the club that spawned what became known as Amir’s Jango (a fusion of Tango and Modern Jive) and from which I usually sought dance partners.

I was looking all over the place. I was even talking to someone from Nottingham but at that time I was not a great driver and didn’t fancy doing the long drive. My frustration was that I wanted to move on from the Ceroc Intermediate level champs which I had previously won.

Then, one night in May 2004, at Nantwich Ceroc, I had the fortune to meet an attractive young lady who had not been dancing very long (about a year) but had a natural athleticism and desire to learn. Some time later, one of my friends watched us compete together in a fun blues competition run by Gus and said that we looked good together. We thus started to practice together.

Having won two Ceroc competitions, I was a little choosy in who I would compete with. Nevertheless, I was influenced by the Chinese philosophy that a hard working beginner could become better than a seasoned pro (watch king fu films and you will see what I mean). I thought that if Donna had the desire, then we would be able to overcome her (then) relative lack of dance experience by intensive practice. As we watched videos together and learnt moves, I was amazed how quickly she picked things up. She even showed me her own choreography. We also shared a deep interest in music.

During those humble beginnings we were privileged to be asked by Gus to compete at his “Best of the North ” competition at Northwich for dancers with a competitive record and it was Donna’s first taste of a more serious competition. We practised for that for a few months and although we did not get through our round, we did get to a level of product that was reasonable. I have seen footage of that performance and I still enjoy watching it, even though Donna thinks it was poor.

We practised consistently at our local clubs and even hired time at a local sports centre. Donna then put us forward for Strictly Dance Fever. In front of the trainer Kevin, we managed to get through the first round at the Cardiff auditions. Kevin seemed quite please with what we were doing and gave some positive feedback.

We had to stay in Cardiff and unfortunately both of us had an awful night’s sleep because of noisy neighbours. We were both feeling really unwell but still had to go to the BBC’s day of dance workshops, This is where we started to really learn about dance.

There were so many really, really good dancers from different styles. They picked things up so quickly and were so athletic. It was a humbling experience and we both got knocked out. Many people in our small class got through including the brilliantly talented Gemma.

The problem with Dance Fever was that it wrecked our practising regime. For Dance Fever, we had spent a lot of time making up a routine and now Blackpool, our first major UK Comp, was upon us. I drove up on the morning and we tried to rest before going to the venue.

As it turned out, we did not get onto the floor until our competitive heat (hint, don’t drive long distances on the day of the comp and make sure you get on the floor to practice!) and promptly got knocked out!

Editor’s Note: So end part 1 of Steve’s story. Part 2 should be published in the next two weeks. See how they bounce back form the disappointments to date.


Does the current ‘Ceroc’ teaching model work?

March 24, 2006

Sometimes its good to challenge the status quo. Its not necessarily because there is something inherently wrong with it but in reviewing the ways things are done we can either affirm that what we do is the best way or can develop new approaches.

The ‘Ceroc’ model has been with the MJ scene for many years and has been shameslessly copied by nearly all of its rivals. We all see it, beginners class, freestyle, intermediate class, freestyle, teacher on a stage teaching to a proven formula, taxi dancers on hand to help beginners …… but is it the best way?

Author: Tribal (anonymous.) Tribal has taught at many classes and events for various modern jive providers around the UK. He also teaches regular weekly classes at a local dance college in the north (not following the ‘Ceroc’ model!) and has successfully competed at both regional and UK level.

Tell me what the average Ceroc night consists of?

Arrive by half past seven-ish, depending on work, traffic etc. Enter the venue, normally somewhere large with a good floor and a bar! Pay the venue manager your hard earned, typically about £7. Then go into the venue and meet up with old pals in this most familiar of environments. The class begins. Firstly though you require some form of regimentation. In this instance lines of men and women appear, almost like clockwork. Completely unprompted, ready for action.

Quick intro from the teacher followed by the Ceroc Essentials. A necessary warm up brought into being due to legal reasons of undertaking what could be strenuous exercise without a warm up! Into the main body of the class, 4 beginners moves in 45 minutes or less!

Some treat this like a challenge. Teachers I mean. And rush through it all as if their life depended on it. Missing out all the good juicy stuff, life connection, leverage, tension, compression, musicality, rapport…this list goes on.

But then again do you need to know all this, because Ceroc is more of a social dance isn’t it rather than a formalised dance style?

Taxi dancers are on hand to keep you on track. These are people who are particularly good at Ceroc who assist the teacher and take a review class later on. Like everything else though the ability of the much abused taxi dancer can be a matter for discussion. Unfortunately and in cases I have often found myself witnessing, the taxi dancer is normally just somebody ‘popular’ rather than somebody capable… But hey, like we’ve said already, Ceroc is a social dance isn’t it?

The class itself is well laid out in a clear understandable style, employing visual demonstrations followed by the theory and the practise. A lot to take in, in just 45 minutes don’t you think? Next comes the freestyle element of the evening, leading into the review class or the intermediate class depending on ability of the pupil.

All this goes towards making your night out at Ceroc as enjoyable as the company, the franchisee, the venue manager, the teacher, the taxi dancer and the dj can make it. You might have noticed the variables there. All these different people make up your night out dancing. And it is at this point that the model can sometimes fall down. A team is required to process the often large number of ‘punters’ through the door, and they all play an integral part to your evening.

As a provider of this information, I have many thoughts on the rights and wrongs of dance and its teachings. These are all personal opinion and have arisen from my own teaching experiences. One of my biggest stumbling blocks was that Ceroc was more and still is more of a social dance than a formal dance. Yes it’s a hobby for many and a way to meet new friends but when it costs £7 per person per lesson and the possible outcome of slapdash teaching is an injury to a patron…should it be classed as being ‘just something to do for an evening’?

Because of the this foggy area surrounding the formal/social dancer it is nigh on impossible to ensure that weekly classes and specialist weekend workshops are attended by those capable of completing them. Whether you like it or not, if you are the person who doesn’t ‘get-it’ you are the reason the class is going so slowly! Pretty harsh I know, but true. If we did have a more formal class environment, dare I say, some form of grading system or categorisation, then the classes could run more smoothly, they could be more challenging and you the punter could get more out of them. This is of course, speculation. Personal opinion laid down in words for you to think over.

As it stands at the moment, your average Ceroc class should be well taught, it should be clear and understandable, and it should last for 45 minutes at beginner level and 30 minutes at intermediate level. The taxi dancers should do everything the teacher can, with explanations to boot!

In the perfect world the Ceroc model works and it works well. It works well at getting new people through the door. It works well at turning you the punter from beginner into intermediate, whether you are one of the social mob or something a little more serious. If you want to do anything more however, you’ll probably find yourself going elsewhere…like salsa or ballroom. Why these ones? Well, because they have some formal recognition, they have set foot patterns, they have grading systems and they’re often recognised by a formal UK or world organisation. Ceroc doesn’t and isn’t. They provide the pupil with a confirmed understanding that what they are doing they are doing correctly and no further progress can be made until a certain standard has been achieved.

The Ceroc teaching model is a good one. It works well but it will only take the more serious dancer so far. After that dear reader you are on your own. As for the social dancers amongst the reading public, please continue to enjoy your Ceroc class…it will give you everything you want and nothing that you don’t!

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The Future of West Coast Swing in MJ

March 17, 2006

The inaugural topic for On8 was the question “What is the future for WCS”. Over the last year West Coast Swing (WCS) has received far a higher profile on the MJ scene. Once seen as the domain of the Line dancing community, nearly every top level MJ competitor has had WCS lessons to improve their style. Ceroc Australia are now promoting WCS as part of their syllabus.

So …. should it be increasingly incorporated within MJ, should it strive to maintain a separate identity, do we need more teachers, will standards drop, will a hybrid style emerge? The following authors, Chris and AAA have looked at this question from their own perspectives and each made a number of telling points.

Author: Chris Taylor. Chris is the leading (or possibly only) West Coast Swing (WCS) instructor in the North West. He is an accomplished line dancer and choreographer, with six years of Modern Jive (MJ). I rate him as the best technical MJ instructor in the North West. G.

Firstly the future of WCS is in my opinion guaranteed, as a major dance style in the US and a part of western couples ( through linedance ). In this country as a separate entirety it can only get stronger.

The core principals of WCS can and should be incorporated into MJ ( in varying amounts ) :-

Slotted dance style:- many of the moves in MJ are slotted or can be given the look of being slotted, learn to share the slot ( don’t jump to one side ) turning as a couple makes it look real smooth. This is also useful on crowded dance floors!! ( this is where the style originates, in busy dance halls dancers were allocated slots on the floor ).

Grounded dance style:- Apologies in advance to the bouncier jivers !! with the increasing use of latin, r&b and funk etc, the grounded ( feet not leaving the floor ) footwork of WCS and the gliding motion of WCS ( and latin — Phil and Yuko, need I say more ). This is achieved by never stopping, think counting one and er two and er three and er four and er rather than 1-2-3-4, also emphasising even numbers in WCS gives whats known as Kodak moments ( hitting poses ) gives a classy look but never actually stopping allows each move to breath into the next! add to this musicality ( which I freely admit to being pants at ) and you have a great way of adding grace and style to your MJ.

Now to the biggies:- Looking after your partner !! By far the most important. show her off to HER best advantage, whether in social or competitive dance it should be the lady thats being watched !! The man should be stylish and in the right place at the right time ( leading but not over powering ) its always nice to get told that the lady always knows where she should be even if she doesn’t know the move !! So look after the lady, I guarantee she’ll be back for more.Lead and Follow:- Books have been written by far better than I, but here goes:-

Connection:- To be able to lead and make the lady feel secure, finger tip connection just will not do !! True you don’t need thumbs but fingers of lady should mould into mans ( little finger behind palm knuckles, the others moulded to the mans ) so that not only can the man lead the lady forward but the heal of the hand can compress into the ladies knuckles to change her direction ( if you compress into just finger tips things crack and break ).

Compression and Elasticity:- These are the hardest to grasp for many !! To realise less is more and to lead from the spine ( not with the arms ). there should be the slightest tone in the muscles of the arms ( no joint tension ), just enough to feel change of direction of partner. It is not the mans job ,to quote WCS mentor of mine, ” to drag the ladies butt around the floor “.

To get technical for a moment:- A semi-circle in any direction to someone unfamiliar is not going to make them step back ( even if they are a dancer ) but if you incorporate a slight body compression into the lady after count 8 but before count 1 ( think 5-6-7-8 and er 1 ) where and er is the compression and 1 is the step back, then allow lady full range of motion by allowing your elbow to come away from your side, if you’ve maintained good posture the combined elasticity generated between the two bodies creates a recoil into the next move ( you don’t need to pull with your arms at all ).

Your job is to set the lady in motion, then cushion and redirect, ( think of your arms as bungee cords connecting your spines ) feeling gentle stretch across the back of the shoulders and lats ( the large muscles below the shoulder blades ) but no tension in your biceps or joints !! The ladies centre of gravity is 5cm ( 2 inches ) below her navel, move this centre while moving from your own and the rest will follow.

These are not just WCS fundamentals, they apply to all disciplines but if incorporated into MJ you will improve in leaps and bounds.

Need for more teachers:- Time constraints on class nights means that the format of a class only covers the basic shape of moves!! teachers however should be able to teach fundamentals of lead and follow on 1:1 basis or in workshops. MJ instructors would benefit from trying other dance disciplines to appreciate how basic ( and thats the appeal to the masses ) MJ is, not just WCS but salsa, tango, latin and ballroom, all of which incorporate MJ arm movements along with having to think about mans feet, opposing ladies feet and musical rhythm of whichever dance style.

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Author: AAA(anonymous). AAA is the self confessed WCS addict who has been actively involved in the WCS scene for the last year and a half and is still enjoying the learning and being a beginner again. At the same time she has been an instructor for over 2 years with a major MJ organsation in the South East .

So the million dollar question is posed “What is the future for WCS”. Of course rather than just posing the question I suppose some clarification of the context of the question is required. WCS as a dance style has been popular in the US for some years and similar to the rest of the partner dancing scene has seen changes and progression of the dance from influence to influence. The current popularity of dancing WCS to slower music can be seen as one such influence of the current and younger generation. Do we see WCS as ‘standing alone’ or should we aim to incorporate it into MJ?

There are several points of view to raise here, firstly I know it make come as a shock but there are some people who are horrified at the thought of MJ – yes I’m sorry to inform you but there are people out there who don’t or won’t, only WCS (or some other partner dancing) and when asked will recoil in horror at the thought, that maybe that is a slight exaggeration but you see where I’m going, and then there are those that are more than happy to try. On the opposing MJ side there are perhaps three schools of thought, those that love WCS and have embraced it (I’ll talk about them later rather than indulging myself now), those that like it and appreciate it and may even have tried it, and finally those that have no interest in WCS whatsoever. In my opinion (and only mine) that it is those in the middle category who will provide the impetus for change those who appreciate it but don’t or won’t for whatever reason take it any further than that basic appreciation. .

I’ve spoken to lots of people regarding WCS – being a self confessed WCS nut I have to try and convert everyone else to one of my favourite pastimes – the responses I’ve received are often varied, from the ‘oh yes I like it and we tried that but the footwork is just impossible/ I couldn’t get it etc’ to ‘I like the look of it but I’ve never tried it’ and through ‘oh I tried that at a weekender it was fun, but there are no classes near me’.

WCS seems to be attracting attention within the MJ community and most people seem to appreciate the dancing style. In some areas we are already seeing the influence of WCS on MJ, there have been numerous discussions previously regarding the ‘bouncy v smooth’ styles of MJ that seem to almost seem to be in opposition of each other, the smoothness of WCS I feel is creeping into mainstream MJ, there are those who will always just dismiss WCS as ‘just another fad’ but there is a core of people who are willing to make that extra effort. This change is not only limited to the style, we are already seeing changes in freestyles with the provision of separate rooms for different genres of music, rooms normally reserved solely for ‘Swing’ or and ‘Blues’ are now moving towards including WCS music and advertising a separate WCS room. With the operators of the venues actively making this change and encouraging the emerging WCS scene, support for the future of WCS can be clearly seen.

This support from operators also extends to the actual teaching of WCS, there has been an increase in the number of venues and classes currently running, with operators now promoting and advertising WCS classes and workshops. The same applies to weekender events, operators are seeking out WCS teachers from the US and bringing them over, which can only aid the sustainability of WCS for the future.

I’ve already mentioned the influence of WCS on MJ, and feel this is a positive one, however although the influence upon the style may add a new dimension to MJ, there will I feel remain the need for WCS to remain as separate entity. There will probably emerge a mix of the two styles, creating some form of hybrid. However this is not the first time an influence would have appeared within MJ, there have been influences from Hip-Hop, Ballroom and Tango-esque that have all been incorporated and together with music influences the MJ style from 20 years ago is very different to MJ today.

Many dancers – myself included – tend to be searching for something more, be it they have reached a level within their dancing and are now trying to find that elusive missing part that will move them up to the next, or they may be seeking a new challenge in whatever form, WCS offers this opportunity to them, however it also comes with the drawbacks. From being a competent dancer, you are now back in the realms of beginner-dom. WCS offers a challenge, a need to overcome basics and achieve a level of ability, which most of us thought we’d left behind. For me the strength that WCS offers MJ is the connection and the lead and follow, which is taught at all levels within WCS, for me personally this has had the most positive effect upon my MJ.

My view is that WCS will move from strength to strength, within the dance community there exists the support and demand for WCS to remain as a separate entity, although I welcome the influence of the WCS style upon MJ. Those of us who are self confessed WCS-holics are normally to be found travelling considerable distances to attend a WCS event, which shows there is the support within the dance community for WCS to remain a separate dance form.

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