Struck by the jitterbug: Fancy an evening with a difference? If you like dancing, but hate night-clubs, then Le Roc is the place for you. Lyndsay Russell gets down in south London
Saturday 09 April 1994
In a normal night-club, she may not even have given him a second glance. But here, Monday night in the town hall in Wandsworth, this man had a reputation. He was dynamite on the dance floor. The John Travolta of jive - the king of Le Roc.
If you love dancing but loathe the singles night-club scene, this place is nirvana. Le Roc? For those still living under one, it's a chic French mix of lindyhop, jitterbug, jive and rock and roll.
Realising how much the dance cult appealed to the disco-jaded thirtysomethings in the city, Francesca MacArthur, director of the Children Nationwide charity, has been running six-week dance courses for the last year. 'Initially open to friends of friends, with invites only by word of mouth, we've managed to attract a very select crowd.'
Certainly, the hours are perfect for the professional. Unlike most night-clubs, it starts at 7.45pm, and is finished by 10.30pm, leaving you rose-petal fresh for work.
So far, about 200 newcomers and regulars sign up for the course every couple of months, happily handing over pounds 30 to cover the six classes. Unlike pay-on-the-day dance studios, the commitment immediately creates the feeling of joining a club.
The only prerequisite is that you enjoy a twirl around the floor, with the added bonus that should you be unattached, it's a surefire way of meeting new folk in the 25-45 age bracket. 'Please stress we're not a singles club,' says Francesca. 'We've built up a fantastic clientele and they'd be mortified if people thought that.'
A singles haunt it is not. The environment is totally unthreatening for both sexes. But with so many members on their own, everyone knows there are excellent possibilities for romance.
It was time to find out. 'Take the hand of the person opposite you,' trilled Christine Keeble, a dance instructor. The hour-long beginners' class had just hoofed off to the bar, where they intended to kill an hour before the freestyle dancing at the end of the evening.
In their place stood lines of intermediate and advanced dancers, eyes focused on the stage as Christine demonstrated the 'Pretzel'. 'This manoeuvre takes the shape of one, as the man puts one hand behind his back, and you slip under the uplifted arm.'
Easy. I gave a self-assured smile to the nervous young man facing me, but somehow, my arms and legs ended in a bow around my neck. 'Try again,' encouraged Christine with compassion, 'then lead into the Swizzlestick, and follow that with the Hatchback.' Alas, I followed it with the Hunchback.
'Now continue by giving a firm Backhander . . . .' Fine. If this guy twists my arm one more time I'll be delighted to oblige. 'Now change partners - men move six girls down,' urged Christine. Looking down the line of men, quick mental arithmetic showed I was about to get the gentleman with the polo shirt and sleek blond hair. Could be worse. A lot worse. Our eyes locked, and he held out his palm. Suddenly, all amorous thoughts disappeared - the dreaded Sweaty Paw Syndrome.
'Now, let's try that routine again,' said Christine sweetly, 'adding a move called the Seducer. It's like the tango. Twist, turn, then boys, push out one knee. Girls, bend backwards. Lower . . . .'
Picking myself up off the floor, I slipped out for a quick breather. There, I stumbled across drama teacher Nick French and make-up artist Murray Ross-Eskell. An attractive couple, who like so many others had met through Le Roc. Nick enthused: 'The beauty of it is, you can dance with up to 15 girls a night. The only time you're refused is if the person is too tired.'
Murray agreed. 'There's absolutely no fear in asking a man either. All the girls do. Best thing is to suss out how good they are in the lesson part of the evening. Having danced with them once, it's easy to go over and invite them on the floor.'
As the man has to lead in Le Roc, is it harder for them to learn? 'I guess they do use their brain a bit more,' teased Murray, 'whereas ours just get mushed in the dizziness.' This happy twosome now dance their bobby-socks off three times a week on the general Le Roc circuit.
Male chatter at the bar went along the lines of: 'I find I can do a really good flick-twirl when I position my hand so,' and 'Have you tried the whirlygig? That sweepthrough is marvellous.' It could have been a golfer's convention.
Suddenly, a microphone announcement from the other room signalled the end of the lesson. 'So far, we've raised pounds 25,000 via Le Roc, and from 13 April, we'll be starting Latin American salsa classes,' said Francesca. 'Don't worry, it's not that really raunchy, sexy stuff . . . .' The audience sighed and booed. 'I didn't realise you wanted that,' she muttered, confused. With that, the freestyle section of the evening started, and there was a rush for the floor.
Unexpectedly, I was dragged into the melee by Roger, whose speciality is shocking Le Roc virgins. His control was so unbelievably strong, I was helplessly twirled upside- down and bounced off his hip as naturally as a chorus girl in Grease. It was breathtaking fun.
Afterwards, Christine, Queen of the Prom, came over to check for limb breakages. 'People are desperate to get back to partnership dancing. The twist blew us apart and we ended up with the lonely disco. You know, tribal dances round handbags. But typically, the French refused to let go of their ladies, and they evolved good old rock and roll into tight, stylish moves to suit a smaller club floor. Hence Le Roc.'
By now, the wooden floor was writhing with couples elegantly swirling in intricate knots. Sixties, Seventies and Eighties music - it seems you can dance Le Roc to anything, anywhere. 'It's really easy to learn,' encouraged Christine, 'and even if you're slow, nobody minds helping a beginner, just ask them.'
At that very moment, a stunningly attractive man walked past. 'I think I'd better go and dance,' I told Christine. Very worried about falling behind the rest of the class, I asked him if he could possibly show me the Seducer.
Children Nationwide Le Roc. Next course: Monday 11 April 7.45pm- 10.30pm Battersea Town Hall. For information & details of nationwide classes, telephone 071-928 2425.
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