It used to be strictly for the grandparents, but 2020 has seen several venues in Hastings and St Leonards start hosting Ballroom and Latin classes. What is behind the revival and exactly who is doing it? Susan de Muth investigates.
Strictly Come Dancing, born fifteen years ago, was the love child of Come Dancing – which started in the 1950s – and the popular 1992 film ‘Strictly Ballroom’.
The show’s success took the television industry by surprise, with year on year audience growth, and a succession of imitators.
Even more surprising, perhaps, is the plethora of Strictly-inspired Ballroom and Latin dance classes which have sprung up across the nation, with media reports of queues round the block. Everyone, it seems, longs to sparkle.
I remember being obliged to attend Ballroom classes as a child. It was a succession of embarrassments: an inability to remember the steps, being asked to dance, not being asked to dance…
Despite the bad memories, I decided to go to a class run by Ballroom Glamour in Bexhill to see what all the fuss is about.
From the minute I opened the door, I could see – and hear – that this was fun. Couples (of various combinations of age and gender) were circling the floor, doing a waltz with apparent ease. There was concentration and focus, yes, but also an obvious readiness to laugh when things didn’t quite go to plan – such as when two couples collided in a corner.
“You’ve got to have a sense of humour,” says Ballroom Glamour teacher, Alex Wingate. “It’s much more fun when you can laugh at your own mistakes.”
Ballroom Glamour teacher, Alex Wingate
Alex is the doyenne of the East Sussex Ballroom and Latin scene. Born in Holland, she started competing professionally at twelve and was the national champion in ten dances while still in her teens.
Alex has seen a big change in clientele since she first started Ballroom Glamour in 2005, “Due to the popularity of ‘Strictly’ we have seen a revival and the age group is much more varied. I teach quite a few children’s classes, and in our adult classes – which used to be mainly over-60s – a lot of younger people want to give it a go as well which makes for a lovely mixture of groups. We have always had ladies who wanted to dance together and recently we get more questions from men wanting to dance together and whether we accommodate that? Of course we do!
“Another difference is in the level of persistence – people tend to stick with it longer once they know that they are acquiring a skill and having fun at the same time.”
Alex’s teaching style is pleasant and patient. I find that if I am relaxed about it, the steps seem to flow more easily and I am not desperately trying to remember which foot to move next!
“Everyone can learn to dance. I have not come across anyone yet who couldn’t get it,” Alex asserts. “Most of the time, it is more a mind block than anything else. It is important to find a way of explaining that is suitable for a particular person, whether it is demonstrating, or showing and guiding them.”
The classes are not just about gaining proficiency: “Dancing is great for the mind and the body,” Alex explains. “It is one of the best forms of exercise, and – because it improves co-ordination, concentration and memory – it can help certain aspects of conditions like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.”
After the class is over, I talk to some of the students as they get ready to brave the cold night air. Jenny has been dancing for a year now and has come on her own this evening: “My partner’s not keen,” she says. “But there’s always someone here to practise with… you don’t feel weird if you come alone. It’s a really inclusive activity and a nice way to connect with people and have fun.”
For Fran and Jo, a couple in their 30s, the cherry on the cake is the Summer Ball. “We are really looking forward to dressing up and showing off the steps we’ve learned in class,” Fran laughs. “Alex reckons we need the Waltz, Cha Cha Cha, Rhythm foxtrot, Quickstep…”
“…And Rumba,” says Alex, putting on her coat. “Don’t forget the Rumba… and then you will be ready to party!!”
• Alex will be teaching Ballroom & Latin dancing for total beginners every Sunday from March 8th at A Wave of Dreams, 48 Kings Road, St Leonards-on-Sea. Children’s class 3-3.45pm; Adults Ballroom 4-5pm; Latin 5-6pm; LGBTQ+ Ballroom & Latin 6-7pm. For more details and to book: www.awaveofdreams.com
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