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Spotlight on Ceroc
Ceroc is short for "C'est le Roc" and is the name given to the tight, chic style of jive that the French do so well.
Ceroc started as a club formed by a group of friends who gave both the dance and their club one and the same name. Now a limited company, Ceroc is trademarked and only franchisees are entitled to use this term.
Ceroc is the largest 'jive' organisation in the UK with an estimated 345,000 plus people passing through its doors each year. It is probably the largest such organisation in the world (please email us if you know a bigger club).
Founder James Cronin
Ceroc was founded by James Cronin (grandson of the famous novelist A.J. Cronin). James, had a French grandmother and, at Normandy chateaux and parties, he encountered the French style of jive. James presided over the rock'n'roll club at Exeter University and, after graduating, took his jive skills to London. With his brother and some friends, he organised the first Ceroc gathering in 1980.
A Sloane Ranger's heaven
Ceroc first met in the 'chandeliered' splendour of Porchester Hall at the top of Queensway, Bayswater, London. All James' friends were 'Sloanies', the group of aristocratic young hot shots who were much featured in the press thanks to their leading light, the young Lady Diana Spencer. The Sloane Rangers Handbook and Sloane Rangers Diary featured Ceroc as a chic thing to do, declaring:
"French rock'n'roll. Stamina needed. Trendy and good fun". *
(a couple photographed at the Ceroc Ball actually featured on the Sloane Rangers Diary front cover).
In Ceroc's early days there were no formal dance classes. A group of taxi dancers (the girls in full, taffeta skirts and the boys wearing white jeans and shirts) were on hand to help beginners. Dancers helped themselves to the free buckets of lemonade and squash. The excellent disco played up-to-the-minute sounds -mostly hard rock and disco (James was a professional DJ with Gibson Chance, a party band and DJ service).
Ceroc Cabaret team takes London by storm
James and his friends formed a cabaret team with these main goals: to spread the gospel of Ceroc (in order to revive the lost art of partner dancing); to become 'rich and famous' and to have loads of fun. The cabaret team consisted of James Cronin & Yum Yum Norman; Paul Aves & Jane Elton (who later married James); Mark Derrington Bailey & Christine Keeble, Richard & Katie Orr.
The group was choreographed briefly by Kathy Burke (who worked with Arlene Philips on the red hot dance troupe 'Hot Gossip'). Then, throughout the spring and summer of 1982, the Ceroc troupe worked with Michel Ange Lau, a fiery Mauritian whom many identify as the grandfather of LeRoc French Jive. James and Yum Yum had attended Michel's rock'n'roll classes at the Centre Charles Peguy in Leicester Square and were thrilled when he agreed to choreograph the team.
The troupe's dancers wanted to perform synchronised displays so the moves were all given memorable names to help identify them. The first recording of Ceroc/LeRoc moves appears on the description for the "Gold Bug" routine, performed at the 1982 Ceroc Ball at the Hammersmith Palais.
Ceroc and LeRoc develop 'hand in hand'
This is where the history of Ceroc and LeRoc become intertwined. The Ceroc Ball had been a charity event and the dance troupe's coffers were not so full that they could employ a choreographer indefinitely. After the Ball, one of the troupes own dancers, Janie Elton took on the role of choreographer. She produced some highly creative new numbers and the cabaret team continued performing in nightclubs across London.
Michel Ange Lau returned to teaching at the Centre Charles Peguy. He plucked Christine Keeble out of the Ceroc cabaret team to become his dance partner and together they set up the LeRoc club, supported by a committee of twenty people. But Christine continued to perform for Ceroc and there was a continuous cross fertilisation of ideas. Roger Chin, who also performed for both cabaret teams, set up Cosmopolitan Jive (a mecca for club partner dancing including latin styles). Another was Sylvia Coleman, who was in the Le Roc cabaret team and trained under Michel but later joined forces with James Cronin to form Ceroc Enterprises Ltd.
Creatures from Mars
When the Ceroc and LeRoc cabaret teams first started performing in nightclubs across London the Saturday night crowds looked on as though watching creatures from Mars. Disco goers did the 'tribal hand bag dance' (ladies placed their handbags on the dance floor and shuffled, rhythmically around them with their girlfriends until the 'fellas' had downed enough beers to venture onto the floor). There was no remembrance of jive (or if there was, it was what their dad's had done in the 50's). Everywhere they went the Ceroc and LeRoc cabaret teams would electrify their audiences with a new excitement for partner dancing. Ceroc did not look like 50's jive - for a start it was being danced to disco so its character was entirely different. The sounds were Punk, New Romantic, Hard Rock, Disco, Motown, Rhythm'n Blues and Soul.
The Gold Bug - a ground breaking performance
These are some of the tracks used in the cabaret team's performance at the 1982 Ceroc Ball.
Synchronised Display - Alan Parson's 'The Gold Bug'
Freestyle sequences - Beatles 'Eight Days a Week'; Rod Stewart 'Young Turks'; Martha & the Muffins 'Echo Beach'; Steve Miller Band 'Abracadabra'; Cockney Rebel 'Make Me Smile'.
The idea of dancing 'jive' to tracks like these caused a sensation. Harpers and Queen gave the Ceroc Ball a double page spread, coined the phrase 'Cerocabillies' and described the dance as: "Ceroc - the imported Breton dance craze"
Cosmopolitan Magazine pronounced: "Ceroc - C'est le Roc C'est Chic".
Ceroc's liberated footwork and more complex figures
When the French learned jitterbug from GI's of the American liberating army, they were given no formal dance tuition and learned by imitation. The six beat and eight beat footwork patterns and swing outs were lost and footwork consisted of a simple stepping in and out. The French style was more upright, very tight and featured the characteristic 'gear-stick' action (the elbow of the man's holding arm tight to his chest). Moves or figures crossed over bars of music and intricate new ways of turning the girl developed. This style was well suited to the sounds of the eighties and nineties.
Ceroc's Popularity - a snowball effect
The Ceroc nights at Porchester Hall soon became so popular that new, more regular venues were needed. The club membership snowballed but through the eighties the dance extended little beyond London. This was largely because Ceroc had a closed-door policy to dance teachers.
One club that did set up independently was Michel Gay's in Bristol. When Ceroc became a franchise operation Michel Gay changed the name of his club from Ceroc to LeRoc to stay independent.
Ceroc becomes a franchise
In 1991 Ceroc Enterprises Ltd was formed and a franchise operation set up; the first ones opening in Oxford and Norwich. The Oxford franchise, under the management of Rob Austin, broke away to form its own group called, Le Jive. Through the nineties the two organisations raced to set up franchise clubs across the UK.
Ceroc had over ten years head start and expanded rapidly. But Rob Austin, with his flamboyant, larger than life personality (and presumably much hard work) drove a speedy expansion too, especially in the Midlands of England.
However, dance does not lend itself quite so easily to franchising as hamburgers (Unless it involves an iconic name like Fred Astaire or Arthur Murray), largely because the greatest asset of any dance club is the personality and teaching skill of its teacher/organiser(s) and this is achieved locally. So a dance franchise needs to offer other 'values' to its franchisees, like teacher training and national and local marketing.
Dance teachers tend to be, by nature, confident and independent, and so are often entrepreneurial in spirit too. In the late nineties both Ceroc and Le Jive suffered the break away of various franchisees in favour of independence. Since then Ceroc has recovered its franchise prominence, while that of Le Jive has declined. However, the impact made by Le Jive’s rapid expansion should not be underestimated. The franchise race between Ceroc and Le Jive created a solid modern jive infrastructure throughout the country and was a key factor in spreading the popularity of the dance.
Meanwhile, for Rob Austin, it may have been the winning of a prestigious UK Lindy Hop Championship that inspired him, with partner Claire, to concentrate his efforts on the retro dance scene. They now specialise in Hollywood Swing and 40’s styles and their business ventures now concentrate on this sector.
The late Cynthia Farleigh was the other first Ceroc franchisee. She made a great contribution to the dance and is missed by both pupils and colleagues alike. A zoology graduate and food research scientist, Cynthia initially did Ceroc as a part time business for enjoyment. As the business grew it took over from her full time employment so that by 1997 she won an award as finalist at the Anglia Franchisee of the Year Awards. In an interview by 'The Franchise Magazine', Cynthia admitted that both she and Ceroc's management had to climb through a learning curve to develop and streamline their franchise operations. What both franchisor, James Cronin and franchisee, Cynthia Farleigh seemed to have in common was a passionate dedication to the dance itself. This, and the commitment of other franchisees, carried the organisation forward. Franchise Magazine identified other qualities that help account for Cynthia's success. These included her people skills and ability to manage and motivate a large team of support teachers; skill in juggling the many facets of running a business (including financial controls and paperwork) plus a flexible approach to her long term career.
Ceroc - A success story
The reasons for Ceroc's success are various:
The roots of Ceroc are in Lindyhop/ Jitterbug/ Jive a dance which has prevailed through various re-incarnations as music tastes have changed.
The vision of its founder: James Cronin had the single-minded goal of re-instating the popularity of partner dancing.
The right formula: Ceroc evenings suit the lifestyles of average people. Youngsters can stay up all night and frequent discos that do not open until eleven pm but people with serious day jobs want to dance early and leave early. Ceroc has, therefore, created its own, large dance market.
Professionalism: Ceroc was selective in its choice of teachers, venues and music and set high standards. The 'right formula' is applied consistently across the organisation.
Janie Cronin (wife of James) was Ceroc's 'style guru' who set the trends. Whatever Janie wore on the stage one week was copied by her clientele the next.
An effective business partnership
All business partnerships have their own unique dynamic for creativity (Gilbert & Sullivan's combined talents produced operettas. Steve Wozniak & Steve Jobs combined talents to create Apple computers). James Cronin, the visionary, combined his skills effectively with his business partner, Sylvia Coleman (a lawyer in the music industry). Together they created a huge dance empire.
Ceroc goes Salsa
Ceroc is not a fad dance or a dance craze. It has grown steadily in popularity over 20 years. Its roots are, after all in the Lindyhop / Jitterbug, which have stood the test of time. The 1990's have seen a huge rise in the popularity of Salsa so the Ceroc Company has re-positioned its marketing, presenting Ceroc as a "jive-salsa fusion". If, and when, the Salsa craze dies down, Ceroc may re-adjust its marketing to suit the trends. Just as the past has shown, swing dance / Ceroc / LeRoc or Jive will prevail but for a dance to remain relevant it must be suitable for the music that people want to hear. Ceroc is well placed to last well into the 21st century because it is so flexible musically.
Ceroc goes to Australia and comes back again!
In 1991, after performing on the orginal How To Jive video (and armed with a copy hot off the press) Nicky Haslam emigrated from the UK to Australia where she set up Ceroc Sydney in partnership with Mark Harding. A thriving dance scene emerged and the Sydney style had its own distinctive look - more 'dirty dancing' in character with exciting new dips and drops. The Australian Ceroc trademark was registered by Nicky and Mark and is not linked to the UK franchise. The partnership between Nicky and Mark later divided into two separate companies. Nicky's is Ceroc Modern Jive www.ceroc.com.au. Mark's is Ceroc Australia www.cerocaustralia.com.
Brisbane's modern jive scene is dominated by Mick French's Le Step. Christine Keeble spotted Mick's great potential when he wandered into her club in London and very soon became an assistant teacher. Christine invited him to help her present 'LeRoc' at Congress for the United Kingdom Alliance of Dance teachers (this was the first time that a professional dance teachers association adopted 'Le Roc' as a new style of dance in its own right). Mick French returned to Brisbane where Le Step is making great strides.
Ceroc has once again boomeranged back from Australia. One of Nicky's protogées, Simon Borland, arrived in London bringing with him the flair and energy of Sydney-style Ceroc to form Jive Nation. For this venture he joined forces with Seamus Waldron and London jive royalty, Roger Chin. Jive Nation has a growing number of 'Nightclub Jive' venues and is reputed the 'coolest jive joint in the capital'.
Ceroc in the 21st Century
Ceroc has passed its 25th anniversay - and its ownership has changed hands from the James Cronin / Sylvia Coleman partnership to a new owner, Mike Ellard. Franchises have increased in number and dance competitions have produced champions. So is a dance that adapted jive to disco music still relevant to the music of today? The answer is 'yes' because it is so flexible. The classic base moves now have hundreds of variations and you can pick and choose whatever works best for you for the music being played.