The place was the Empire, Leicester Square and the time was 1999.. the first Ceroc championships. Like the vast majority of the 1000 or so dancers there, it was all very new. Coming from the relative backwater of Ceroc Stoke, I had no idea what the competition scene was like … and to be truthful very few there did …. Outside a small elite, competition in MJ was very new, to some an anathema (in those days the Ceroc Teacher contacts still had a clause banning them from taking part on competitions).
I was still feeling quite chuffed. My partner and I has competed in the intermediates and had got through the first round … much to our amazement. We had now secured a great position on the balcony to watch the event that had really caught our attention, the Spotlight a couple dancing a pre-choreographed routine to their chosen track. What all my friends were waiting for was Steve and his partner Lucy. We had seen a preview of their routine at Ceroc Stafford the previous week. A nice and simple routine based around Saturday Night Never … Steve in the compulsory John Travolta White and black suit, his partner in a lovely halter neck dress that splayed out in fine style every time she spun. They were ok intermediates … nothing special … but at that time that’s about as good as it got in our region. We had no reason to believe that everyone else was not at the same standard.
So … as we waited for Steve and Lucy, apparently on as the second couple, a totally unknown couple (coached by now legendary Sue Freeman) walked into the arena …. Dan and Lisa. They looked very strange. Cyber/punk outfits …. The guy had real odd hair, heavily tattooed … definitely not your typical middle class Ceroc type. And instead of starting form the regulation upright position facing each other they started from the floor! My concerns at this stage were nothing compared to my disbelief when the music started …. Like a raw remix from the Matrix … harsh, loud and totally undanceable.
Except for Dan and Lisa. In the next 4 minutes I had everything I ‘knew’ about MJ dance blown away. It was hard, aggressive, different ……beautiful!…. An amazing fusion of street, hi-hop dance with MJ and Lindy moves. we saw the best EVER execution of ‘travelling washing machine move’ (don’t try this at home!) …. At the end of it I knew I’d witnesses something very special;. The crowd went berserk …. a truly deafening response and I shouted approval along with everyone around me … we knew we’d seen history made. It was truly an awesome cabaret, in my humble opinion, in all the years of competition since no-one has come even close to matching it.
Then the cheering stuck in my throat as the next couple walked out …. Steve and Lucy. They were now standing in the loneliest place on the planet …. With clear dance floor surrounding them they were looking out on all sides at a thousand plus dancers, knowing full well that their routine was massively inferior to the display that had just been seen. And from the way Steve stood trying to get his composure everyone in the audience knew it aswell. I felt sick in the pit of my stomach … I knew what was going to happen … Steve was not the most confident of characters. They would struggle through the opening bars of the sequence, make a few mistakes then just loose it … or he was going to do what I know I would have done, let the nerves get to him and just flee the floor before the grotesque humiliation began. The seconds of silence that passed before the music to start weighed heavily in the air.
And then the routine started. The Night Fever music started Steve looked up, and something happened I never expected to happen … he smiled. He shuffled into the simplistic routine, threw in a few hip shimmies and did what he came to do ….. and the crowd loved it. By the time he threw in a very basic first move drop he got rapturous applause as if he’d just executed a double doughnut aerial! At the end of the routine they left the floor to a thunderous round of applause that nearly matched that for Dan and Lisa. People knew what Steve and Lucy had achieved, realised just how much guts it took form them to go through with the routine, and they thanked them for it … a truly wonderful response.
The memory of that performance still brings tears to my eyes. I suppose it was an epiphany, a realisation what the Modern Jive world should be all about. Rapturous praise both for those who can create living art on the dance floor AND for those who have gone out, done their best and enjoyed it. Despite all the politics and disappointments since that wonderful day, these memories keep me going, keep my faith and I still remember Steve’s glowing grin as he left the arena …. Steve and Lucy will never known that feeling of being ‘the best’ dancers but I bet no amount of gold medals could match the applause and support they received that afternoon in Hammersmith.
Dan and Lisa’s routine can be seen on the Ceroc Championships Compilation DVD available form Ceroc™..