LeRoc (Modern Jive) and footwork vs no footwork May 2017
Please note - a lot of what is discussed here is applicable not just to LeRoc, but to all the dances we teach.
Le Roc is a revolutionary dance. Introduced to the UK from France in the late seventies, LeRoc has made headway in popularising partner dancing once again, which was previously decaying (or dying a death!)
There are three main reasons for the success of this dance craze:
1. LeRoc is designed around modern Pop music (most music you would encounter at a party for instance).
2. The way in which the dance is taught is conducive to a great social life - participants are encouraged to change partners frequently during the class which is great for making new friends, and there is usually practice time with a club atmosphere ie. disco lighting, amplified music etc.
3. The dance is easy to learn!
There are a few different variants of this Modern Jive, but they are all compatible. The style taught at Strictly Dancing is based on that which was introduced in the UK by Michel Ange Lau, and taught by him and his brother Loui. From a dance purists point of view, this version of Modern Jive (they called it LeRoc) had a lot in common with the traditional way partner dance was taught ie. from the feet up. First they would split the leaders and followers up, and the footwork was taught separately, then the couples would get together and practice the application of the move. Initially, I adopted a similar method of teaching, but encountered a few problems with it. I will try to explain them here:
1. LeRoc footwork is ‘harder to get your head around’ than Latin, or traditional Jive styles. The reason for this is that these dances have an initial footwork pattern and timing based around 4, 6 or 8 beats of music, and then that pattern is repeated over and over for all the basic moves (although the direction of travel is varied depending on the move). Le Roc footwork does not have this repeat pattern, and every move seems different, until the footwork principles are understood. So for a while, this can be confusing and quite difficult especially when it comes to learning to spin on one foot!
2. With reference to point 2 previously mentioned, the main attraction of Modern Jive (and dance classes in general) seems to be more the social life (people like to come and have a good laugh!) and the benefits of it being a physical activity, rather than for just the love of dance. A strict and technical way of teaching, is not really conducive to large class numbers; Not everyone enjoys learning footwork, or is capable of it! The people who stick with this method of being taught, generally are those who appreciate the purity of the dance, or who come from other dance backgrounds.
From my point of view, I enjoyed learning this way, but I also needed a social life! I eventually started going to another organisation, where the class numbers at times would reach up to a couple of hundred. However, there was very little emphasis if any, on footwork, and seemed to lack good lead and follow technique. So although I had great fun and made lots of friends, my dancing suffered. When I started to teach, I watched a video of myself dancing and was horrified! So I broke down (the dance!) and re-synthesised the LeRoc I had learned based on the original footwork, but with some modifications (definite improvements I think) inspired by my Latin experience, and some of that which I had learned from Roger Chin (who is still on the dance circuit in England).
3. Generally, it is quite a scary experience joining a dance class. No one likes being put in a situation where they are made to look or feel clumsy and awkward. Putting people in a line and expecting them to perform a footwork pattern gives them nowhere to hide, especially when they are being scrutinized by the teacher and the people in front of them. So from past experience, it’s a great way to lose students!
Now on a positive note, here are some reasons why showing footwork in the above manner, definitely has its place amongst good dance teaching techniques:
1. It gets the students attention when stressing an important point.
2. Some moves don’t work unless the footwork and direction of turn are understood fairly well. It is much easier to see what your are supposed to be doing with your feet, and which way you are supposed to be turning, when everything else is stripped away (arm movements, partner etc) and you are facing the same way as the teacher.
3. Some students want to know what they are supposed to be doing with their feet!
It is now worth suggesting some pros and cons with regard to smaller classes vs larger classes
1. There are now people who are now involved in partner dance who would never have otherwise considered such an activity. Also if a large number of people are involved in something, it is more attractive and can be perceived as a ‘cool’ thing to do.
2. Learning to dance this in way ‘breaks the ice’ with regard to partner dance, Through this window, people can be inspired to experiment with other more traditional styles of partner dance. However, it can be a hard pill to swallow having to learn footwork for the first time when up to then, it all seemed so easy being able to put a few moves together without having to worry about all the difficult stuff (footwork and technique is emphasised to a much greater degree in all other partner dance types, than certain modern jive styles)
3. The sort of social atmosphere in a large dance class is an alternative to perhaps a more familiar type of night out, but tends to promote better etiquette then that encountered when trying to meet new people in a pub or a night club.
1. The larger the class, the less the quality of dance tuition and technique, and the more the cultivation of bad dancing habits. Quite often the teachers are on a stage and sometimes it is very difficult to see all of what is being shown (especially with regard to footwork)
2. Some people tend to concentrate on the teachers more than their current partner (partners are rotated generally); Woman for instance can end up not waiting for the man’s lead, and just following the teacher on the stage best they can. I think this detracts from the sociality, and the acquisition of good lead and follow skills.
1. The smaller the class, the better (and at times, more individual) the dance tuition.
2. Easier to get to know people in a closer knit environment.
1. You can’t hide so easily if you are the shy or un-sociable type or if you don’t like the personal contact with regard to dance tuition.
2. Sometimes a smaller class may not have as much buzz or ‘atmosphere’ as a larger class.
This brings us to why we teach Le Roc (and other dances) the way we do at Strictly Dancing.
Firstly though, I must mention my credentials here, since primarily we are discussing LeRoc at the moment. Le Roc was the first partner dance I learned, and I credit the following to the good teachers I have had (those who have given emphasis to good technique and footwork): LeRoc, as presented by the LeRoc French Jive Federation (of which I am a founder member and examiner) was accepted by the UKA (United Kingdom Association of Dance Teachers) during which myself, and the other founder members, were awarded full membership and affiliation after a gruelling exam. Also in 1998, I won the UK Masters Modern Jive Championships with my then dance partner, Anna Nayler.
Anyway, here is the dilemma – How do we keep our class numbers healthy, while maintaining a good quality of dance (ie. while teaching footwork and good technique)?
It’s a compromise. Although there is always a business aspect to running a dance class (it can be hard work at times!), my motivation is not purely to make money. I try to aim at a balance between keeping enough people to create a good fun and social atmosphere, but at the same time maintaining a good quality of dance (cramming too many people into a class detracts from this).
Over my years of teaching, I have found that a person does not have to be able to dance with perfect technique, to have fun participating. However, we wouldn’t be doing our job properly if those who are capable of attaining a high level of dance technique, are not given the input to develop their potential.
So we adopt a teaching method where the footwork and dance technique is usually referred to, but more often in passing, than insisted upon (unless the technique is necessary for the safe application of the move). Those who then are not that bothered about it, can take less on board, but those who want to, can adopt more of it. But the information is always there for the taking, and even those who are cynical about technique, or who just can’t rise to it, by osmosis, become better dancers then they would have otherwise. Also, when we do find the occasional necessity to split the men and the lady’s up and show some footwork, we create an atmosphere that suggests ‘this is more for a laugh and no one will be frowned upon if they don’t get it’ and hence, most students aren’t made to feel awkward during the process (hopefully!).
However, there is one thing we always insist upon, and that is safety. Some aspects of safety are of course just common sense (consideration of your partner and those around you), but some are with respect to dance technique. The physiological aspects of a dance move will have been thought out by the teacher over and above that which the student might be aware of, so of course it is important that the student accept guidance in this regard. A lot of things can affect the safety of a dance move eg. timing, balance etc. Also it can be unsafe to teach a move that is too complex; For instance teaching an intermediate move to a Beginner, could end up with one or both parties injured. So please always trust the teacher to assess your level of competency.
Two more things I would like to discuss here, one is footwork (what all the fuss is about!) and two, what is meant by dance technique.
Firstly, you have to move your feet in order to change your body position (while staying in balance). Some dance teachers suggest that you should just ‘do what comes naturally’. The problem is, what tends to come naturally to most of us is walking. So without being taught any footwork, most people just end up walking (sometimes stomping!) around on every beat of music! At Strictly Dancing, we teach the most economical way of moving your feet, while still putting you in the right place at the right time. For instance, in the First Move (that’s the name of a move. It’s not always danced first) there are 14 beats of music. We teach you to take 10 steps (instead of 14!). That gives you the space and opportunity to do other foot movements or embellishments if you wish (consider moving into a fully furnished, decorated and even cluttered house, as opposed to one with just the bare essentials. You would have no room to add your own stamp or design). Also during those 14 beats of music for example, the Ladies basic footwork includes a ronde movement of the leg, and a complete spin on each foot. After all we are meant to be dancing, not just walking around admiring the view!
Technique is not style (style is an individual thing, although good technique gives rise to good style); It is more to do with body mechanics. Good technique enables you to do the following:
1. Have good balance while dancing (people who have good balance tend to look good when they dance)
2. Move as a pair easily and quickly in different directions
4. Lead and follow well
5. Dance to the beat and interpret the music well
6. Inspire people to want to dance with you!
So that concludes this introduction to Le Roc, and hopefully gives you a good insight as to how we teach dancing in general. After learning Le Roc, or any dance where there is an emphasis on good footwork and technique, any other dance is quite straightforward to learn, since they are all based on similar principles. Also you will find a lot of the footwork is the same for many dances. So if you learn it one dance, you already know it when it comes to learning another dance style.
Although I always try to stress the values of safety, technique and footwork, I respect first and foremost, people come to have fun. So with that in mind, Happy Dancing!
Check the workshop link on our home page for the latest information on Le Roc workshops. Please contact Roi for planned future workshops.