Modern Jive in the UK

What is Modern Jive and Where Did it Come From?
Author Andy McGregor

At one time there was no "Modern Jive". First of all, some people started doing a partner dance to pop music. Then they started to teach the dance and it became more and more popular - until it was the most popular social dance in the UK! But it still wasn't called "Modern Jive". It was called many names and different dance teachers and dance schools tried to claim the dance by giving it a unique name. This added to the confusion. Even more confusingly, those dance schools often taught a different version of the dance with different footwork and different names for the moves.

Eventually most dance organisations settled on calling the dance "Modern Jive".  This reduced the confusion, but the differences in the dances were still there. We now had many different variations, all called the same name!

I'm writing this from the point of view of  the version of Modern Jive we teach at Rocsters. The reason I've put together these notes is that some people attend our classes and are confused by the differences between the dance we teach and the same named dance they have learned elsewhere.

1. The Evolution of Modern Jive

The first thing to consider is that Modern Jive evolved as a social dance to suit changes in the music. Modern Jive is considered a "living dance" because it continues to change and evolve as music and musical tastes change.

The original "jive" came about during the '50s and early '60s era of Rock 'n' Roll. The music was faster and the version of jive done socially at that time took this into account: Rock Around the Clock is 181 beats a minute!

The ballroom jive, with it's kicks and flicks, developed from this dance and is done to fast tracks. The dance organizations produced a syllabus and exams in ballroom jive. This means that everyone knows exactly what you're talking about when you say "Ballroom Jive". You can't say the same about Modern Jive - more on this later.

During the '60s popular music slowed down. For example, Mary Wells' 1964 hit "My Guy" is 127 beats a minute - much too slow for Rock 'n' Roll jive. This trend continued during the '70s with the advent of disco. The music slowed down even more with classic disco hits like KC & The Sunshine Band's "Boogie Shoes" at 116 beats a minute and the Bee Gee's Night Fever from the classic disco movie "Saturday Night Fever" is 109 beats a minute. Social dancing was very much an individual dance. Nobody jived with a partner any more!
If we wanted to dance with a partner we needed a new partner dance which fitted the slower music in the charts and played in dance clubs. This came along in the 1980s as Modern Jive. However, because the dance started in clubs around the country it developed with regional differences and even differences between dance teachers. Many people were unsure about the footwork or the timing. Many people who didn't really understand dance started teaching what they called "Modern Jive or LeRoc" and got around this by the simple, but confusingly inaccurate statement, "there is no footwork"!

2. The Current Modern Jive Scene 
What's going on at other classes

Modern Jive as taught at many classes is fairly difficult to define. There seems to be no specific footwork timing and there seem to be many variants of the dance - often taught at the same class by different teachers! To confuse us all, all the variants are interchangeably called many names, including Modern Jive, LeRoc, French Jive, etc. N.B. This difference may mean that you find the dance taught at Rocsters is different from what you may have learned elsewhere.

Modern Jive as taught at Rocsters - This is a walking footwork dance that is mostly danced by experienced Modern Jivers, including National Champions. It's a dance that falls between Cha Cha Cha and Rumba in terms of footwork timing, although moves, with the timing changed, are drawn from many dances including Salsa and Tango. The basic in this version is mostly characterised by each partner changing weight on every beat:: not necessarily stepping as there is often an in-place weight transfer to a stationary foot. As you progress in the dance you will be introduced to simple variants to this footwork - you will be taught how to lead and how to follow these variations. However, the simple footwork in the basic means that the dance is easy to learn in the early stages and people will be dancing by the end of their first lesson.

Here is a clip of people dancing this version at a dance holiday;

Traditional LeRoc - This version is more common in the West Country, is more like the original Rock 'n' Roll dance and is characterised by less formal footwork with the lady randomly doing skips, taps, triples and kicks as takes her fancy rather than the simple step footwork we teach at Rocsters. Although it looks good when done well, this is a much more difficult dance to learn and is much less popular than the dance we teach at Rocsters - however, some teachers still teach this footwork and call the dance "Modern Jive". Because of the complexity of the footwork in traditional LeRoc it takes many lessons before you feel able to dance with confidence. Here's a clip of a popular teaching video demonstrating this version of LeRoc.

Bad Teaching - I find it really sad to say there's an element of bad teaching in Modern Jive. We assume that someone who advertises and runs dance classes is qualified to teach - a bit like we assume a plumber who advertises in the local paper is trained and registered. However, some people set up Modern Jive classes having simply attended some other classes. They have no background in dance and they have no training or qualifications and have not been judged by their peers in competitions or in any other way! Some of these people simply make up a dance and teach it, calling it "Modern Jive" or some other similar sounding name. Some of these dance teachers with no dance background have a natural dance talent - they are good dancers, but their lack of a dance background means they may not know what makes them good or know how to communicate that to their students in a useful way. The way to identify these teachers is to ask them what qualifies them to teach - if they can't show you teaching qualifications or evidence of competition success there is a very good chance that their lessons are the dancing equivalent of leaky pipes from that untrained plumber!!!

What to Do? The first thing you need to do is work out which version of Modern Jive you've been taught. There's so much difference between the main two versions it turns a simple social dance into a wrestling match if the two are mixed - at best it feels like one of the wheels on the trolley isn't pointing the same way as the rest! If you attend our classes, please try to do the version of Modern Jive that we teach. Please do not try to teach the other version to your partner - it's best to regard the two as different dances, similar to the difference between Cha Cha Cha and Rumba - both nice dances, but impossible to enjoy if one partner thinks they're leading the Cha Cha Cha and the other thinks they're following a Rumba!

Of course, if your teacher is simply teaching badly or teaching a dance they're invented and called Modern Jive you need to ask around and find a better teacher, don't despair, there's plenty of good ones!

Final Note - At Rocsters we run a teacher's training course from time to time and have done so since 2005. This is mostly to train our own teachers. However, we also allow other dancers to attend this training. Although most people attending this course have become good dance teachers, some others failed to complete the course or to reach a satisfactory level. Please do not assume that attendance of our course or any part of it means that someone has SUCCESSFULLY completed the course. Please contact if you would like to know if your teacher has successfully completed our course.

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