The History of Modern Jive
Michel Ange Lau was a key figure in the creation of Modern Jive back in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
In December 1996 Michel published the Original Le Roc Dance Manual. It contained his history of Le Roc. The full article is reproduced here with Michel's permission.
This article and the accompanying images are copyright Michel Ange Lau. All rights reserved. No part of this article or these images may be reprinted, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of Michel Ange Lau mlyk.
I was born in Mauritius, a beautiful island in the Indian Ocean, and arrived in England at the age of fourteen knowing little about England except what I had learned in my history lessons at school; learning about Sir Francis Drake, Queen Elizabeth 1, Queen Mary of Scots, Robin Hood, and Queen Victoria did not exactly prepare me for the challenge of learning about modern life in England. Although I had been taught in Mauritius how to write in English and speak in broken French, it was a far cry from the cockney accent which I had to master. You can imagine the brilliant time I had at school!
In 1977, a friend invited me to go to a disco with him at this little London club called the Centre Charles Peguy in Leicester Square which was a French Youth Centre. I was amazed to see people dancing in a way that I had never seen before, the guys were turning and spinning the girls to the sound of rock & roll music. The dance was fast and furious and they were breathless afterwards. They were having such fun and I thought (cor blimey, get a load of that) they were absolutely brilliant.
I was instantly hooked but felt a bit out of place as I had only ever "strutted my funky thing" to soul music. So every weekend for about six months I went there to watch, and to try to work out how they did it. I made friends with a girl called Liz Coulson, who had the patience to teach me the basic 5 or 6 movements of "Le Bop". At first, I was absolutely useless and a bit too shy to ask her again. But I did eventually pluck up courage (as she did!) and there was no stopping me. Thanks Liz.
During that first year the music started to change to disco and as we couldn't Le Bop to it we had to persuade the DJ to play some decent tracks. He was a keen "Le Bopper" so we didn't have to try too hard. The DJ was Francis Van Tongerlooy he was a great influence and he encouraged me to do my own thing as, by this time, I had begun to create, experiment, and adapt the dance to disco music in my own style.
In 1978, the manager of the Charles Peguy asked me if I would like to teach the younger members of the club to dance. I told him that I was not really a teacher but would bow to public demand and give it a go! Saturday afternoons were never quite the same again. The class started with a few people and steadily grew in popularity. The class was followed by a disco in the evening, which gave a perfect opportunity for practising.
Evolution or Revolution?! Le Bop was going through an evolutionary phase. I created movements which were easy to learn, and were versatile because they had between 3-7 beats per movement which abandoned the restrictive Le Bop counting of 4 beats per move. This meant that we could dance to almost any music which was played at a disco from Rock and Roll to disco. LE ROC (this Rock) was born. It was neither Rock & Roll nor Jive, Swing nor Le Bop, Rock Saute or Ballroom Jive. It looks like Jive but it is not the same.
In order to raise funds by encouraging a wider audience, the Centre decided to advertise at the French Embassy, the Consulate, the French Institute and other European Youth clubs in central London. At that stage it was advertised as Cours De Rock (Rock & Roll Class) because Rock and Roll was the foundation and would be instantly recognisable. Saturday Night Fever hit the big screen and proved a huge inspiration. John Travolta, thank you.
I established the basic footwork and continued to develop a larger repertoire of movements. As with anything new, it was a case of trial and error. My willing students were guinea-pigs and I learned as much from them as they did from me. Although I acquired a reputation for being very strict in the studio (yes - I haven't changed), the never ending stream of willing students never ceased to amaze me, and they thrived on a diet of strict discipline. I also became a DJ for the Centre around that time. Francis taught me not only the mechanical side of things - but how to appreciate what an audience wanted to dance to. Those two years were very creative for me and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Nothing pleases me more than to see dancers dancing well.
From September 1980, the students were progressing so well that I split the class into three sections: Beginners, Intermediate and Advanced. It was during that year that James Cronin (Founder of Ceroc Ltd.) enrolled as a student of the class.
In the summer of 1981 I left London to try my luck in France. It was impossible to find work and so by 1982 I returned to London.
I had missed London nightlife and my Saturday classes. While I was in Paris I saw Le Bop being danced to all types of music (apart from disco) - including (amazingly enough) Jazz. I tried to dance with the French Girls but had lost the knack of Le Bopping - I knew then that I was a confirmed Le Roccer! One of the clubs that I remember is Caveau de la Huchette , which still exists today. The Centre welcomed me back and the classes resumed. It was as popular as ever.
I was told that someone had been trying to contact me. Then one day at the Centre, James Cronin said that he had been looking for me for a while. He had a project in mind: he wanted me to transform a group of his friends (including himself) so that they could perform as a dance troupe at a ball being held at the Hammersmith Palais in September 1982; he wanted me to teach them Le Roc, choreograph a routine for them, and then teach them it. I produced "The Gold Bug" which was my first attempt at synchronised Le Roc. He said that as he couldn't find me, they had tried someone else - but as it didn't work out I was the only one in London who could help. I accepted the project and I have him to thank for introducing me to a member of his troupe Christine Keeble.
Christine spent hours after rehearsals helping me put names to movements which I had created - the Flingy Flung, the Gearstick, the Butterfly.and then we went on to create new moves together. She was a real smooth dancer and we got along very well. After the ball, he decided that my services were no longer required and I didn't like the way he was going. I was shocked but it did not put me off dancing. I carried on teaching students who were eager to learn from me and decided to concentrate on perfecting the Le Roc dance technique and work towards getting the dance recognised. Achieving perfection was my goal - not making money and it is still the same today.
In 1983 there was a further change for Le Roc: I took over the responsibility for the weekly running of Le Roc lessons and jive nights which were held in a studio at the Centre. In addition we held a monthly dance at the Notre Dame Hall, in Leicester Square. All of the profits were ploughed back into the Centre. Dominique Corrolleur (Trainer/ Choreographer of Jive Talk Dance Troupe), Roger Chin (Teacher/Choreographer and Founder of Cosmopolitan Dance), Michel Gay (Founder of Bristol LE ROC) started to attend my dance classes on Saturdays. None of them had done any dancing before - except for Roger Chin: he was introduced by Lorette Cherel, and had done some ballroom dancing. All of these people showed the dedication and discipline which it takes to become great dancers. They made me proud then and they still do. It spurred me on to develop the dance and its technique.
In April of that year I started to actively promote Le Roc and the first Le Roc Dance Troupe was born. In 1984 a fresh intake of pupils included Simon Selmon, John Reid and Sylvia Coleman. Simon later on became the founder of The London Swing Dance Society and became the UK Rock & Roll champion of 1988 and 1992 . He would be the first to admit that at the beginning he had two left feet (we actually had to tie his feet together with shoe laces) and no body rhythm. He is a perfect example of how hard work, dedication and patience reap rewards. In 1984 the Le Roc Dance Troupe was invited to perform for the French Ambassador at the 14th of July Bastille Day Celebration Ball. It was held at the Novotel in London. The troupe consisted of Christine Keeble, Dominique Corrolleur, Roger Chin, Simon Selmon, John Reid, Danny Evans, Iain Rodger, Gilbert Mondehard, Richard Binks, Diana Syrat, Carole Pottinger, Sylvia Coleman, Lorette Cherel, Angela Laine, Jan Petherick, Sabine Funel, Claude Faudot and Penny Nickells.
They must have liked it because in 1985 they asked for more. And more they got! By this stage the troupe had grown into a very large family and we were still growing. By 1985 two of my finest students demonstrated a real talent beyond "just" dancing. Dominique Corrolleur and Roger Chin knew how to use the music and the stage. They began to choreograph. I set them a hard task to choreograph one routine each in a show consisting of 5 numbers; Dominique created "007" and Roger "Femme Libérée".
The whole (and I mean whole) troupe trained twice a week. They understood my rule (no practice - no performance). We had a reputation to maintain. It was a hard (some would say ruthless) decision to make: should they dance or not? It had the effect of producing the most dedicated, and most talented, bunch of artists. It was very tough in those days - but they came through with high marks. I can still remember the pride, relief and joy on their faces (and mine) after each performance. They will never realise how proud they made me. This troupe consisted of Dominique, Simon, Roger, John, Danny, Ian, Richard, and new recruits Reza Hosseinpour, Victor Martinez, Steve Kenny, Keith Heatherley, Alison Whittrick, Phillida Kenny, Michelle Roth, Marion Ellerby, Natalie Baekeroot, Lorette, Carole, Angela, Diana, Claude, Jan, and my special guest Christine Keeble and I dance to Ballade pour Adeline by Richard Clayderman.
In those days it seemed that we just couldn't dance enough - which was fortunate for the Spastics Society. In 1985 we danced nonstop for 12 hours at the Trocadero Complex in Piccadilly, London to raise funds for them. Mike West very generously donated his discotheque located next to entrance of the Guinness Book of Records and the dance troupe of 30 donated their energy. We had no regrets because we managed to raise a large amount of money. It was a good excuse to carry on dancing. It was very encouraging to observe the public generosity. People threw money in a big wooden chest in front of the stage as we were dancing.
We soon established a very healthy tradition (in the '90s it's called "bonding"). After the Saturday class the students made their way to the pub and later on to a Chinese restaurant. Undeterred they wanted to do more dancing. That was one of the benefits of being in Leicester Square that we failed to fully appreciate at that time. Another, was the Cafe de Paris. This was the centre of the world for the older ballroom dancing generation. We were slightly out of place (40 years too young, and no blue rinse) but we were welcomed with open arms. I think that they were just delighted that we were not part of the dancing around the handbag set. The ballroom dancers didn't quite know what to make of us: we clearly weren't ballroom jivers, but then we weren't disco dancers. But we had the advantage over them, because we could dance to almost anything. Some enquired just where we had learned this new dance. Some just gave us funny looks. When I think of those days, it makes me smile. That year had an international flavour about it: we had danced for France and we had a new batch of students from all over the world as far as New Zealand.
I did not imagine that it would ever take on a political bent. But in 1986 Le Roc was recognised by that well known authority on dance - the Greater London Arts! Contrary to popular belief, Ken Livingstone did not partner Christine at any time! For me it was a turning point because it was the first time that Le Roc was recognised in its own right. The GLA funded and recognised budding artists and art forms. Although we never took up the offer, they offered sponsorship and publicity. I suppose that we might have featured in Floodlights. But Le Roc origins were humble and we kept it that way. We performed for Ken in 1986 at the Shaw Theatre, Euston. The Le Roc Dance troupe performed 3 new routines: The Can Can (in costumes of Waiters and Ladies of the Night), Stray Cat (in 1950's costumes) both choreographed by the highly imaginative Dominique Corrolleur. I got a look in with the third Routine "Reet Petite"; Christine Rhinbault and I worked for three months to perfect this routine which was a solo acrobatic routine. We performed it only once. The Troupe consisted of Dominique, Simon, John, Victor, Lorette, Carole, and new recruits Sylvia Vadja and Marianne Federicks. All of these dancers started off at the Saturday class. Historically it has always and still does produce the best dancers - those who were dedicated to technique.
The Jiving Lindy Hoppers and Le Roc have always enjoyed good relations. In 1987 Le Roc was invited to support the JLH at the London Soho Jazz Festival in 1987. By this time the members of the '84-'86 dance Troupe had gone their separate ways. Although the dance troupe had been disbanded we still see our old friends at Notre Dame Hall on the Le Roc monthly Fridays nights. What they may lack in polish they make up for in enthusiasm. Personally, I am reassured to see that I am not alone in joining the grey haired brigade. My new students always tell me that "you can tell a true Le Rocer by the way he puts it about on the dance floor". Although they may be rusty, they still have the technology.
So, it was 1987, and I had four guys and five girls. Having promised the JLH that Le Roc would support their act I had a bit of a headache. In short "Where the hell was I going to find two new male dancers at short notice?". There was no-one in the class who was going to be ready in time. Suddenly I remembered something that my mother said to me and it wasn't "Que Sera Sera". I had two baby brothers who needed to be kept out of trouble. I was the eldest son and I had family duties. I decided to introduce (that is the diplomatic way of putting it) Louis and Richard into the troupe with only four weeks of training to go before the performance. They had no idea about the dance. Although they had heard me talk about the dance, and heard about it from my parents, they had never seen me perform it. Luckily they were born with rhythm in their souls - Sega dancing is the traditional Mauritian dance which is in danger of suffering the same fate as the DODO (another famous Mauritian treasure). Their natural rhythm made them easy to train. And in time they made it through with flying colours and became hooked. Since that day they have never looked back.
After that performance I carried on training the troupe, holding classes and a monthly dance at Notre Dame Hall. But I had become weary. I had trained nonstop for 9 years. I was drained of all my energy and was on the point of completely giving up Le Roc altogether. Luckily I had a very nice group of students at my class who did not want me to quit. I continued to teach them and at the same time I started to train Louis to teach over the next few months. He had an abundance of enthusiasm, and it didn't take him too long to adapt to the situation. I couldn't believe my luck. He was so interested in the dance. He was quick to understand and adopt the techniques that I had been developing.
Louis became the solid backbone of Le Roc. He inherited my belief in the dance and its techniques. His dancing improved tremendously as time went by and he began to understand how versatile the dance was. He began to DJ. As he understood the dance better, so he understood the role of the DJ. I am proud to say that he is known now as an excellent teacher (recognised by the Guild of Professional Dance Teachers) and a fine DJ. He is now well known in the Le Roc dance circles for the style of music he plays at Notre Dame Hall, and Children Nationwide at Battersea Arts Centre on Monday nights. During the course of that year, he started to teach the beginners' classes at the Charles Peguy and by then he was a teacher and a DJ. He is still teaching today. Thank you Louis for your total commitment and support over these last trying years. I feel that without him, I would have given up. Well, I didn't quit but went to Mauritius for a while to recharge my batteries and returned with a vengeance.
So in November 1988, we held a Charity Dinner Ball at the Notre Dame Hall for 200 people which took nearly six months to organise and it was worth it. If by chance you come across anyone who was there that evening they will most probably tell you about it even now.
As the history is in the making, the next part will be in the next manual very soon.
Well, those words were written over 10 years ago, so don't go down to the Battersea Arts Centre on a Monday night looking for a class - they stopped a long time ago!
But over 400 other classes do still continue today, based on what Michel started back in the 1980s. Click on the map at the top of this page if you want to find one near you!
Sadly Michel never did publish a second manual or write any more of the history. But if you were there and would like to contribute to these pages please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org