I am being spun around, and around, and around, and around by a lovely chap called Patrick.
“If you start to feel dizzy, just say,” he laughs. It’s a little late for that.
I’m at my first Ceroc class - a fusion style of dance incorporating elements of Salsa alongside Rock’n’Roll. Ceroc is nothing new, with classes running in the UK for more than 20 years, but its popularity has steadily grown with the 200 weekly classes across the UK now having an average attendance of 93 people.
The style has had a recent resurgence in my area and I’ve joined a beginners class in Letchworth, Hertfordshire, which local franchise owners Alma Neville and David Walker have been running for just six weeks. Needless to say I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing, but thankfully, Patrick is a dab hand at leading uncoordinated newbies.
Ceroc is less an exercise class and more an entire night out. The session begins at around 7:30pm and goes on until 10:45pm, although there’s no obligation to stay the entire time if, like me, you think that’s an outrageous schedule for a Monday night.
Upon arrival my friend Caroline and I are greeted by one of the branch’s “taxi dancers” - a volunteer and experienced member who provides extra help to beginners. Before we embarrass ourselves with a partner, we’re taught the correct way to stand and how to hold a partner’s hands (the woman places her hands in front of her hips like she’s about to steer a shopping trolley, while the man clasps her hands from underneath).
As the venue begins to fill up, we soon realise we’re among the youngest in the room. There are a handful of other millennials, but the main demographic of this class is over 50. I don’t mind - I’m here to learn a new dance style, not bag a hot date - but if you’re looking to meet younger dance enthusiasts, I’m told city venues tend to attract younger crowds. The local hall also has more of a “school disco vibe” than the photos on the Ceroc website would lead you to believe.
Looking around, I’m also glad I had the foresight to research the dress code in advance; I’d advise rocking up in casual weekend clothing (in my case, a jumpsuit and pumps), rather than leggings, trainers and a sports bra. Some women bring fancy shoes to change into, but nothing much higher than a kitten heel.
The first hour of the session is designed to teach beginners four core moves that’ll help them survive the evening. There’s no awkward picking of partners; the teacher Emma Impey instructs us to form pairs of lines across the room with men facing opposite women - a set up similar to a traditional Scottish Cèilidh. We practice each movement a couple of times with the person opposite before Emma instructs the women to move one place to the left. Essentially it’s like dancing speed dating and means no man is subjected to my clumsiness for more than a couple of minutes.
I’m pleasantly surprised to see a near-even mix of men and women among the 40-odd dancers, but a few of the more experienced ladies volunteer to take on the male lead roles to balance the numbers. The instructions for each movement are slow and easy to follow and I’ve soon got the general gist of the four moves - my favourite being the “octopus” which entails a series of three turns completed by the woman, then the man, then the woman, with entwined arms.
The tutorial is made all the easier by the kindness of the people I’m partnered with. Regular attendees enthusiastically offer encouragement and on the odd occasion when I turn the wrong way, they laugh along with me (rather than at me) and tell me not to worry. I can see why Ceroc is advertised as a great way to meet new people.
Although the slow pace of the tutorial is ideal for settling my nerves, with all the stopping and starting to switch partners, I can’t help but think I’m not doing much exercise. I don’t think my heart rate has increased once and 20 minutes in, I’m feeling impatient and eager for some speed. Thankfully, the freestyle section is just around the corner.
Ceroc freestyle is designed to be one big party, but think family wedding, rather than a club you’d go to with your mates. It’s your chance to dance with who you want to an uninterrupted soundtrack of current pop hits, show off the moves you’ve just mastered and learn a few new ones from more experienced dancers. Finding a partner isn’t awkward and most people end up dancing with whoever they’re standing near. It’s at this point I end up twirling around the dance floor with Patrick.
Being left to your own devices isn’t as scary as it sounds, especially as a woman (the men do all the leading) so as long as you’re happy to be pulled forwards, backwards and in many, many circles, you’ll be fine. The “taxi dancers” are also on hand to pair up with anyone without a partner or help any newbies (particularly males), who perhaps may be finding it more difficult.
I spend the entire freestyle period laughing. I look across the room to check Caroline is okay and she’s completely preoccupied with a huge smile on her face. We reconvene as the freestyle section ends in fits of giggles and join the other beginners at the back of the room.
At this point, the “taxi dancers” help newbies by giving top tips on techniques we may have missed in the first session. In the meantime, intermediate dancers learn another set of steps, taught by Emma.
Finally at 9:15 it’s time for another round of freestyle where everyone comes together to dance the night away. People dance as many moves as they can, sit down and chat, or grab a drink from the bar between dances.
At first I was surprised by the price of a class in Letchworth - £3 for membership, then £8 per session, almost London prices - but by the end of the night I realise you are getting a lot for your money in that time.
The class may not leave me dripping with sweat, but I’ve certainly done more exercise than if I’d spent the night on the sofa. The next day I’ve not got the aches and pains that come with a hardcore HIIT session either and I can say that despite some of my reservations, it was fun.