Danny the Dancer is an unsung hero of the Manchester club scene; he’s been an inspiration on club dance-floors for decades, although he doesn’t go clubbing much these days. He’s 50 – but his age isn’t the problem – it’s the music being played by Manchester DJs which no longer inspires him.
Born and bred in Salford, Danny got into dancing through Manchester clubs. He went to the Funk Room at Pips in the late 70s, where Mike Shaft was playing Chaka Khan, Earth Wind & Fire and Lonnie Liston Smith – and Cloisters, near Peter Square – until he discovered Rafters, on the other side of Oxford Road in St James’ Building (where Jillys/Musicbox was until 2010.)
Rafters held weekly jazz-funk nights for ‘serious’ dancers, DJ’d by John Grant and Colin Curtis, where Danny started dancing alongside brothers Ricky and Danny Patricks. Paul Cummings, Barry Wilks, Mark Swaby and Salts, who later formed The Jazz Defektors, were also part of this scene. Here they are discussing jazz-dance sub-culture with ‘Mick & Dean’ of City Life Magazine, Summer 1984:
“P.C. cites 1976 as the year when jazz-dancing… style began to emerge from the dancefloor of the Highland Room at the Blackpool Mecca, where the bone-crushing rhythms of Northern Soul had been replaced by the lighter, more complicated disco beat then coming out of New York and Philidelphia. Hence, the ‘Mecca Shuffle’, although at the time no Jazz was being played.
It was Colin Curtis (formerly D.J. at the Mecca) and John Grant who introduced Jazz-breaks into the North West scene, …
(Salts said:) ‘…the reason why people started to dance to jazz was so that the best of the bunch could parade their new moves…’
…today its crucial outlet is …at Berlin on a Tuesday night, with …Colin Curtis at the controls.” City Life Magazine Issue 15 (Aug/Sep 1984)
So when the Rafters nights stopped around 1982, the die-hard jazz-dance fans moved on to the recently opened Berlin club, behind Kendals (House of Fraser).
Issue 2 of City Life, from January 1984, included a round-up of 1983’s best club-nights, with the various DJs’ top tunes of the year. Tuesday nights at Berlin are described as the best new ‘specialist’ night of 1983, and the top records from the night are listed:
Simultaneous with the jazz-dance scene in Manchester, was the electro-funk scene championed by DJ Greg Wilson, based at the brand new Legend club on Princess Street (now 5th Avenue). Danny was also a regular there, fascinated by the break dancing. He experimented with the moves, but ditched many of them, finding them over-technical for his improvisational dance style.
City Life’s round-up of 1983 started:
“Undoubtedly the most influential sounds and style in clubland during ’83 were electro-funk and rockabilly… Greg Wilson’s faith in New York’s mind-hammering electro-beat was confirmed with both growing crowds and colour supplement coverage.”
It’s not hard to spot the roots of Chicago House Music (1986) in this track from the list, circa 1983:
Visual – The Music Got Me (1983)
Before the drug-inspired, rave-dancing style took over en masse, jazz-dancers danced to house music using lots of old jazz/street-dancing and lindy-hop/charleston-inspired steps borrowed from the 1920s… a kind of street tap dancing. This is how Foot Patrol came to be dancing to T-COY’s Carino in the video:
T-COY – Carino (1987)
Around 1987-88, Danny was a highly visible Hacienda regular, and this is how he and Trafford were approached to do the video for A Guy Called Gerald’s Voodoo Ray. The video was shot in the club but sadly Danny didn’t meet the man himself.
A Guy Called Gerald – Voodoo Ray (1988)
Voodoo Ray is a great track but most of the acid house in 1988 was stripped-back, bare and mechanical, sending most of the dancers into a trance-state through repetition. Those of us who weren’t on drugs found the experience novel at first, and then dull. In 1989, deep frustration led to small, DIY club-nights springing up around the city, focussed on quality music (never mind the decor.) CarWash was one of these, and Danny came down to the Man Alive every Thursday.
Other clubbing options included the big glitzy, town clubs like Dischoteque Royale and Piccadilly 21, which played chart music to a mainstream crowd… and this was where Danny landed up most weekends, dancing on ‘The Hit Man And Her’.
No, he wasn’t the guy in the wig… that was Clive from Chorley. Clive was the only regular dancer on the payroll… everyone else did it for ‘TV exposure’, i.e. for free. Jason Orange was another regular dancer on the show at the time.
So Danny Henry was a barometer of the changing phases of club dancing culture – underground jazz-funk in the late 70s, jazz-dance and electro-funk in the early 80s, house music in the mid-late 80s and then The Hit Man And Her in the early 90s!
On one occasion, Danny jumped off the stage to teach the crowd some moves; Pete Waterman was so impressed that he took Danny to one side and said:
“That was great! I really liked that. Now I want you to do it every week!”
He didn’t offer to pay him though.
During the 1990s, Danny spent more time performing and teaching. He toured with Inner Sense Percussion, and started working with Tony Watt’s Manchester School Of Samba. Batucada is performed by large groups of drummers and percussion musicians, who often march in procession, carnival-style. It’s challenging to choreograph for a group because the pieces of music vary in length and arrangement with each performance.
When Manchester School of Samba was invited to enter ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ in 2007, Danny came face-to-face with Simon Cowell at the Palace Theatre and there was a personality clash – Danny stood on his head while Simon was talking and Simon was duly undermined, to the delight of the audience. Needless-to-say, the footage was never broadcast.
Danny still teaches and performs with Manchester School Of Samba and teaches capoeira at The Dancehouse on Oxford Road. Capoeira is a Brazilian art form combining dance and martial arts.
He also teaches dance in schools and can be booked through BangDrum. Some of his choreography for school children was televised in front of a 10,000 strong crowd at Birmingham NEC several years ago for Songs Of Praise.
He is currently dancing and drumming with Gambian Kora player Jali and other African musicians who busk regularly in Piccadilly Gardens. They have been performing all week at the Manchester International Festival. The Shrieking Violet interviewed them in 2010 for a piece about Manchester buskers.
I asked Danny if he was worried about growing old.
“No, not as long as I can still express myself… it doesn’t have to be through dance… but my age isn’t a problem yet.”