EVERY week in Forest Hall and Cramlington, you’ll find like-minded people of all ages spinning each other round the dancefloor to tunes as diverse as Jackie Wilson, Lady Gaga, Christina Aguilera, Michael Buble and even Led Zeppelin whilst raising money for charity too.
They’re all part of Dancing for Charity, which has raised over £50,000 for various charities in the last four years. It’s a relaxed and friendly atmosphere where beginners can learn to jive in just six weeks.
The not-for-profit group was set up in 2008 by retired special needs teacher Lorna Moore and banker Sue Rowley, who is also a dance teacher. It now has over 200 members. “There was never anywhere to go on a Friday night,” says Lorna, 53, from Cullercoats, North Tyneside, who’s married to engineer John, 55, and has two grown-up sons.
“Staying in on a Friday or Saturday night is just horrifying to me but when you get to a certain age the idea of going to Tynemouth for a drink ceases to have any appeal. Initially we thought just our friends would come and we’d have about 25 people but now we’re getting about 130 people in Forest Hall on a Friday night.”
The evenings begin at 8pm with a beginners’ lesson, led by several experienced dancers, where three or four new moves are taught. This is followed by freestyle all night until 11pm. For the uninitiated, Modern Jive is a partner dance where the man leads but it’s quite different to ballroom.
Says Lorna: “With ballroom you learn a whole dance, but with modern jive you learn individual moves. The man decides which order to put the moves in, and we call that freestyle.
“Even if they just know 10 moves, they can get on a floor, repeat those moves and no one would know they’ve only just learned to dance. It’s a bit like learning the recorder. If you can play Three Blind Mice, people think you can play. Even people who have been dancing for 20 years will help the beginners. There’s a great camaraderie and there’s no hierarchy.”
Lorna believes Jive Dancing is great for fitness. “It can be as energetic as you want it to be,” she says. And although the venues are licensed, most people drink water.
“Dancing and drink don’t really mix, especially for the women, as you spin a lot and can fall over,” she adds. It has major mental health benefits too.
“One member has depression and dancing is one thing that’s getting him out of the house,” explains Lorna.
“If my husband and I have had a row, we might drive to dancing virtually not speaking. But you walk on the dance floor and the seratonin just kicks in. My husband’s grinning like a Cheshire cat and you just completely forget. Everyone’s smiling and chatting constantly.
“People do quite isolated fitness things like going to the gym or running. But people forget that music and dancing got people through the war. Those days are gone but dancing is still important to your mental health.”
There’s also a social etiquette to the evenings.
“Women and men ask each other to dance,” says Lorna.
“It’s expected. In fact, it would be impolite to refuse a dance so consequently if a woman plucks up the courage to ask a guy to dance, she can be relatively sure he’ll say ‘yes’.
“It’s not a singles club but around 60% come on their own. They’ll sit with a group they know and it makes no difference if they’re single or not.”
One couple who met through jive dancing are courier Geoff and hairdresser Miriam Pearson of Seghill who married last year. “At one time I used to go jive dancing five times a week. It can be very infectious,” says Geoff, 54, has been jiving for 12 years.
“I knew I’d got it when Jackie Wilson’s Reet Petite came on and I was dancing without having to think too consciously about it. From then on it went from strength to strength.”
“One of the greatest things is you can go anywhere in the country that does a jive class and ask a complete stranger to dance. Also, a lot of people start jive and then get the confidence to do other forms of dance like lindy and salsa.”
Some couples use the classes to learn a few steps for a special occasion. Football referee Ian Burt, 47, and his wife Julie, 43, from Seghill, Northumberland, wanted to learn a first dance at their wedding. At first they couldn’t pick it up and weren’t going to carry on, but their view soon changed.
Ian says: “Everyone was so friendly and at the end of the day it’s exercise and a great social night. Everything, apart from paying for the building in which it’s hosted, goes to charity.”
The couple, who also love cycling to keep fit, got married on June 15 and their dance went down a storm.
Modern jive virgins are welcome too. Project manager Laura Taylor, 50, from Ulgham, Northumberland, had never really danced before but is now hooked. She says: “It’s just great fun. The people are fantastic. You can have a really lousy day and it cheers you up.
“Every time I have had my blood pressure taken I am told I have the blood pressure of a 21-year-old. I put that down to dancing. It’s been a massive part of my life since discovering it. As a single female it’s a non- threatening environment and I would recommend it to anyone.”
Account assistant Carla Lakey, 33, from Morpeth, regularly exercises and has found the class a great aerobic workout since she started eight months ago.
“Everyone is friendly and dances with each other,” she says. “It’s something I always look forward to.”
While many dancers are in their forties and fifties, there are younger members, though no under 18s are allowed due to the social club rules. Coach driver Johnny Cox, 22, is one of the youngest members. He joined two-and-a-half years ago after friends told him what fun it was.
“It’s a very good, friendly atmosphere and a good way of keeping fit,” he said. “It’s that type of dancing, where everyone mixes in and dances with everyone else, whatever their age.”
Lorna and Sue would love to hear from anyone interested in an 18-30s class.
Raising funds for charities
ENTRY to dances is only £3 and all the money goes to charities, most of them local and dear to members’ hearts. Over the last four years the group has raised funds for Marie Curie Cancer Care, North Tyneside General Hospital Oncology department and the British Heart Foundation.
This year they gave £10,000 to the Charlie Bear for Cancer Care Fund, £5,000 to the Dales School in Blyth to set up rebound therapy for children with special needs, £1,000 to Cardiac Risk in the Young and £1,500 for The Ollie Crawshaw Fund to help buy a wheelchair for a local three-year-old who has spinal muscular atrophy.
Where to go...
DANCING for Charity has dances at Forest Hall Club every Wednesday and Friday and Cramlington Village Social Club every Thursday. Entry is £3.
The Wednesday and Thursday sessions offer an introduction to modern jive and include a beginners’ class from 8pm to 8.40pm then freestyle and individual coaching till 10.30pm. The Friday night dance in Forest Hall starts with an intermediate class at 8pm followed by freestyle dancing till 11pm.
A special dance on September 22 at Forest Hall Social Club features R&B combo The Amazing Revolutionaires. Tickets £7 on the door. See email@example.com