The evolution of Modern Jive – A dancers perspective

July 2, 2006

Author: Gadget is a dancer at the Ceroc Scotland Clubs. Though not a ‘Guru’, he has been an outspoken contributor to the Ceroc Forum for several years. He has been taught at many classes and events provided by Ceroc from many different teachers over many years. He has not competed, has little interest in competing and is a product almost solely of the ‘Ceroc’ teaching model.

Within the past few years, more and more people have been commenting that the over-all ‘level’ of dancing within Modern Jive (MJ) is getting better. I have to agree; the beginner dancer’s progression seems to be a lot quicker and the levels reached seem to be a lot higher than a few years ago.

But why? And what does this spell out for the future?

For a start, it’s really hard to pinpoint exactly what “getting better” relates to:

  • Is it that the leads are more confident and clearer? The followers are less anticipatory and more responsive?
  • Is it that the teaching is improving? What is being taught is changing? The music being played is more challenging?
  • Is it that more people are listening to music and being able to convey more musicality on the dance floor?
  • Is it that more people are going to other dance styles and bringing back influences into MJ?
  • Is it that more people are staying within the MJ framework to ‘develop’ rather than moving to other dance forms?
  • …Or it could just be that as I grow within my own dancing, I see things I didn’t before.

I think that most of the perceived improvement is down to the dancers and teachers having a growing understanding of the “fundamentals” involved – whether this is acquired from other styles, formal training or simply trial and error.

All the “fundamentals” can be found to different degrees in ballroom, flamenco, hip-hop, jazz, tango, salsa, ballet, and just about any other dance form you care to mention. These are things that can help any form of dance and can be taken from any form of dance, then applied to MJ. For example…

 

Weight transfer: Supporting your weight on one foot at a time while you are moving rather than ‘falling’ from one foot to the other. This allows placing the other foot before moving weight onto it. Adopting this concept into MJ increases a dancer’s control over their movement and allows more control over the timing of their movement. Since weight tends to be fully committed before moving, it can also lead to crisper entry and exit from turns/spins.

 

Balance, Control and Frame: Ties in with the above, but relates to being more aware of your own body – how each movement affects both you and your partner. Balance and awareness get better with practice and are specially helpful in spins. If you are aware of the cascading effects of a movement, you can be clearer in leading, more responsive in following and more subtle in your connection.

 

Timing: When to start a lead, when to divert or intercept a movement with minimal disruption to the flow. There is a small delay between action and reaction that can be inserted into your dancing to give the follower enough time to react.

 

Connection: Communicating through out the dance; both listening to your partners movements and conveying your intentions. The less ‘noise’ in this connection, the better understanding you will have of how your partner is dancing. The more responsive you are to the connection, the more subtle it can be.

 

Musical interpretation: Listening to the music; getting away from a repetitive stomp in time with the beat and actually framing moves to match the music. More than recognising and marking breaks/changes in the music in your dancing; but listening to the phrases, patterns, instruments,…

 

Awareness: Knowing where you are in relation to your partner, where you both are in relation to the floor and where other dancers are in relation to yourselves. Predicting how other dancers will move and using the space that is formed and vacated by other dancers around you. The dance is much more pleasant when you are not being jostled, bumped or trod on.

Pick any style of dance and strip out what makes it unique and defines it as that dance. What you are left with are core principles that dance can teach you: The fundamentals above.

For example an Argentinean Tango step: push the foot out; tilt the foot to lead with the toes; barely scuffing the floor; draw the foot in a constant line to it’s destination; knee and thighs brushing; place toes then foot; transfer weight so hip is over foot; take back foot to meet front with same principles. When put together with Tango timing of each movement, it becomes Tango. Strip out the timing, the tilt of the foot and the knee-brushing that predominantly define it as Tango, and everything else could be transplanted into MJ (or other dance forms). These same things are taught in specialist MJ workshops: precision in placing feet, smooth movement and weight transfer. Each element involved will help towards making your dancing more controlled.

MJ has very little to strip away – it starts from the core and lets you define your own unique form on top of it. The only real evolution of MJ in the last few years has been it’s awakening.

Classes teach moves and movements. But that is not their goal. Through these moves, they teach the fundamentals. Once a dancer can understand the core that the moves are based around, they can begin to step outside of “moves” and start dancing.

Where does this leave MJ to develop? I think that the evolution will be towards breaking down even more barriers between the fundamentals of dancing and the beginner’s teaching.

Beyond that, for the more advanced dancer, I can see more focus being given to control and timing. The focus in the past has been towards leading, following and the connection – now, these skills are being / will be enhanced by greater, more defined control and used as tools to explore how better to use timing.

I don’t see the dance evolving much, but I can see more and more dancers stamping their own unique branding onto MJ. What they will do is expand the vocabulary of MJ while trying to discover if there actually are any boundaries to this exciting and amorphous dance form.

“Vive la evolution”


Response – Does the Ceroc Model Work?

May 1, 2006

This is a readers letter. This is not purported to be an ‘expert’ view on a topic, but rather an opportuntity for a reader to counter the view of one of our ‘Gurus’. Brave man! 🙂

Author: Gadget is a dancer at the Ceroc Scotland Clubs. Though not a ‘Guru’, he has been an outspoken contributor to the Ceroc Forum for several years. He has been taught at many classes and events provided by Ceroc from many different teachers over many years. He has not competed, has little interest in competing and is a product almost solely of the ‘Ceroc’ teaching model.

In Tribal’s previous article, he posed some questions and gave a quite good description of what goes on in a regular Ceroc night. But the conclusion that simply because there is little taught on a regular class night about connection, frame, musicality does not automatically mean that there is nothing to learn on a regular class night about these things.

Some people time turning up specifically to miss classes; solely because the dancing environment allows them to practice, dance and have fun. This is part of the Ceroc model. Some people turn up for the beginner’s class and leave as soon as it’s over. This is part of the Ceroc model. Some people turn up before the DJ and have to be kicked out. This is part of the Ceroc model.

The whole thing can be dipped into and pulled out of at any point in the night without disrupting the night it’s self. People can immerse themselves or simply dip a toe in. The model allows people choice and flexibility in how people learn, at what rate they learn, at what times they can attend, it is all things to all people.

One minority that Tribal highlights are not being catered for on a standard night are those that want to focus on specific techniques and style. But is this better learned while stuck in a mass of people watching the top half of a dot on stage, or be in a closer environment where the numbers are smaller and more focus can be given? Is there a better place to practice and advance your own technique than during a class where you already know what is being taught?

A harsh statement within Tribal’s article says “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!” conveniently laying the blame for slow teaching at our feet rather than the teachers: If what is being said is above people’s heads, then is the fault with the person speaking, or the person listening?

What does “going slowly” actually mean? That the teacher has to explain some fundamentals of what they are teaching? If a class is advertised that the pupils must meet a certain criteria, then why should the teachers dip below that? If it is advertised that pupils must know X,Y and Z, then the fault would lie at the pupil’s feet. However, if some ambiguous terminology like “suitable for advanced intermediate dancers” is used, how are we meant to know what that means?

Tribal’s closing statement is “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.” This is true up to a point. If you take “The Ceroc Teaching model” to mean from the time you step into the venue to the time you leave it. But what it fails to take into account are all the satellite things that go on outside of this (like workshops & events) and the general willingness/eagerness of students to help and learn from each other.

The Ceroc teaching model does not teach you how to dance Modern Jive; it can’t. No teaching model can. What it does is give you the building blocks and foundations, then shows you how you could put them together. It gives you guidelines not rules. After you learn these dear reader, you are on your own. You have to find the classes; you have to turn up; you have to learn.

While the Ceroc model may not teach every technical nuance of movement, timing and style from the stage on a class night, it does gives you every opportunity learn these through specialist workshops and individual coaching.

The whole crux of Tribal’s article seemed to stem from the fact that Ceroc is more of a social dance it rather than a formalised dance style. Which is true. But this fact has no relevance to the quality of teaching available, or the technical aspects that can be contained within it, or the musicality that can be expressed, or the connection, or anything else. The Ceroc Model of teaching allows me, the punter, to learn as much or as little as I want to (or am able to). It allows me to dance as much or as little as I want to. It allows me to socialise and enjoy myself. The model is as flexible and forgiving as the dance it teaches us.

Does it work? Yes. Is it the best way? Don’t know. I can find very little to improve upon, but it’s not a fixed model it evolves and changes. It may not be the best way yet. But it is trying to be. It will give you everything you want and nothing that you dont!