A student's perspective


Dance the Night Away!
It was the powder-puff dresses that started it. I remember as a child watching TV, rapt, as regimental rows of dancers (always from Penge) strutted and twirled with their stiffly starched partners resembling rows of anorexic penguins. Ballroom dancing had the look of something that would be easy; and you wear a pretty frock – what self respecting 7 year old could ask for more!

But ballroom lessons didn't exist where I lived, so I went to ballet for a few months. Short, chubby and pigeon toed, I realised Covent Garden wasn't waiting, and the novelty soon wore off. In my early teens, I dated a boy who ballroom danced, but in the late 60's it was considered very 'uncool" and the dancing (and the relationship!) was very short lived.

So when I saw a poster for ballroom dancing classes at the Memorial Hall 2 years ago, I had to think again. I'm (much!) older now, and realise the careful choreography of Strictly Come Dancing doesn't bear much resemblance to social ballroom dancing. But a wintertime interest, and something both myself and my husband (still on the mend from a broken pelvis after a skiing accident) could do together – seemed worth a try. So we found ourselves at the first class, with some apprehension, after seeing more established members twirling around the room.

Fortunately Sue, the teacher, and her trusty co-instructor Colin, are very quick to absorb newcomers comfortably into the group; and after some individual tuition we were back-side-close; forward-side-closing around the room (Wow ! We were Waltzing…..). Not bad, I thought, a dance in a week. Oh dear, how wrong could I be. Not only did I somehow have my brain scrubbed before the next week (what do you do after the back-side bit again….) but over the weeks we found there was turning to do as well, and spin turns, and all sorts of other twirly-whirlies that had technical sounding names; and an equal propensity to just disappear from the brain immediately after leaving the hall. And that was just one dance.

Worry not. Not only are Sue and Colin very, very patient (even after the 10th week of repeating a move I've forgotten again), but Sue carefully adds in, little by little, another move, another dance – and you find you can not only Waltz, but also Quickstep, Social Foxtrot, Cha cha cha, Rumba, Jive, Tango and Samba: all very different, and all with loads more to learn. There is much laughter and just a little banter, and luckily taking yourself too seriously is just not an option.

Over the years, more new people have come, and the instructors deftly absorb all levels, splitting into groups when necessary, and soon the newcomers too are twirling round the room.

The advantages? New friends, something that definitely keeps the brain going (though I still can't work out just where that memory of just-learned steps goes overnight), and an interest that works for any level of fitness. You can come with or without a partner. You don't need special clothes or shoes to start with. Just come along and try it – we promise to make you most welcome.

I still don't have the powder-puff dress, but who wants to dance with an underfed penguin anyway!