Look At Life: Ballroom Dancing

8th September 2017

It takes two… Why ‘Strictly Dancing’ techniques are not just for celebrities…

By Claire Moulds

I’ve been a huge fan of Strictly Come Dancing ever since it launched and have been dying to take to the dancefloor myself for a number of years. It’s fair to say, though, that my husband has never shared my enthusiasm, pointedly plugging his headphones and loading up Netflix on his iPad when it’s on. And yet his ability to identify a great routine, comment on a poor top line or messy footwork always gave me hope that he might one day in the distant future come around to the idea of giving it a whirl.

Imagine my surprise, therefore, when last Christmas morning I opened a voucher for beginners’ ballroom dancing lessons… for both of us.

Fast forward nine months and we’ve already got a basic quickstep, rumba, tango, rock ‘n’ roll, waltz, and more, under our belts, and are about to start on the samba. Thursday night has gone from ‘the weekend can’t come soon enough’ to my favourite evening, as I get to spend an hour twirling around our local hall along with 12 other couples. 

I now understand exactly why the celebrities on Strictly are so desperate to stay each week: learning to dance is utterly addictive. Tackling something new each lesson means you’re never bored and are always kept on your toes – pun intended! – while nothing compares to the thrill of mastering a routine and the sheer joy of being able to dance it, all the way from the start of a song to the very end, without tripping up, losing your count or forgetting a step. 

Its mood-boosting ability is second to none – from the pleasure of seeing yourself progress to the simple fact of it being an incredibly fun way to spend an hour. It’s the perfect antidote to the stress of work and my anxiety disorder that means I’m always ‘on edge’. Unlike the rest of the week when I can be found doing two or three things at once (while simultaneously thinking about the next two or three things on my list), dance forces me to be entirely in the moment. Concentration is key; it’s all too easy for your mind to wander and for your footwork to suffer or your hold to collapse. No wonder the judges on Strictly so often pick contestants up on losing their focus as a number progresses.

A new study by researchers at the University of Illinois found that when a group of healthy men and women aged 60 to 79 were assigned to different activities – walking briskly, gentle stretching and balance training, or dance lessons, for a set number of hours each week – after six months almost all performed better on thinking and memory tests… but brain scans showed that the dancing group had also increased the size of a brain structure crucial for memory and processing.

As for my husband, he’s taken to it like a duck to water and, while he’ll still argue ‘I only go for you’, his insistence on giving me ‘pointers’ throughout the lesson and his peacocking when he gets something right makes me think it’s not just me loving our new ‘date night’. 

Certainly, there’s a lot to be said for couples learning to dance if they want to improve their relationship. From having to work closely together to get the steps right to trusting him to take the lead and allowing myself be led (a challenge for one who likes to be in charge!), dancing really helps us connect. We might be in a room full of people but it’s all about the two of us and how we respond to one another’s movements. My husband can tell from my ‘hold’ alone just how tense I am about things generally, and can feel me relax as the session continues. There’s also something to be said for being taken out of one’s comfort zone and having to overcome the challenge together. 

Several of the other couples are using the classes as preparation for their ‘first dance’ and listening to them as they circle the floor I can already see how it’s teaching them to navigate bumps in the road and to work as a team. Although I had to laugh when one groom-to-be was heard to say loudly ‘well, if you think you can do a better job, why don’t you lead!’  

I’ve been surprised too by how much energy is required to get through a session, and it’s amazing how quickly I start to work up a sweat and feel out of breath. I’m also extremely conscious of each session’s impact on my posture, given that I sit slumped in front of a computer all day. It was quite a shock to the system when I realised ‘this is how my spine should be’.  

Having finally begun my ballroom journey at 39, I now can’t imagine a week without it. Maybe 12 months down the line, it’ll be me wondering if it’s a 7 from Bruno… or a 3 from Craig.

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