Sporting Life: Can you learn to ballroom dance in seven weeks?

In the wake of Strictly Come Dancing, Alexandra Fraser convinced her partner to join her on a seven-week ballroom dancing course in London to discover how hard it really is to pick up what is fast becoming a dying art.

‘I’m actually really looking forward to this evening.’

Glancing down at my phone from the Grade II-listed Georgian on my screen brings not a small amount of surprise. After all, what sane adult man is excited at the prospect of spending an hour every Monday evening standing in a church hall learning the Quickstep?

The circumstances of this text message come as a result of a terrible truth which revealed itself to me upon reaching the merry age at which friends and relatives begin to pair off in the name of matrimony: we, as a nation, have forgotten how to dance.

Elegant crystals hanging above wedding reception

Sure, at weddings we jump up and down to Mr Brightside with the exuberance of 10-week-old puppies who have just spotted their dinner. But the distinct lack of grace, style and decorum at the last such occasion I attended made it clear that this could not truly be called dancing.

A few months before this text arrived a friend had mentioned a dance school in central London which held ballroom classes for adults. Pleased to discover I was not alone in my search for Salsa, I eagerly booked a place on Vera The Diva’s seven-week New Beginners Ballroom & Latin course for myself and for my partner – after all, it takes two to tango.

‘”We need to stop nattering and concentrate” he told me severely’

After preparing my arguments carefully in my head – ‘It’s such a shame that no one dances any more… It’ll be a great bonding experience… We can dance off all the Christmas chocolate… I’ll leave you if you say no” – I finally broached the subject of dance classes and was met with an instant, if extremely anticlimactic, ‘Yes, I’d love to. Sounds amazing. When do we start?’

Vera The Diva’s beginners’ courses run every Monday and Thursday in their Clapham school, Tuesdays in the Covent Garden school and are as flexible as a busy Londoner could hope for. After inevitably missing our first session on the 7th – I wont say who’s fault it was, but it wasn’t mine – we turned up on time, wearing thin soled shoes, jeans and T-shirts.

Unfortunately Henry’s neon leg-warmers were in the wash.

Dance text

An extremely helpful response to the question ‘Do you have anything to contribute to the article?’

If you’re nervous at the prospect of dancing in front of ten or so strangers, don’t be. It was immediately clear that everyone else was in the exact same boat as us, even with a whole hour’s more dance experience than we had. Edurne Goldaracena (the wonderful lady whose brainchild we had stumbled into, founder and co-director of Vera the Diva) greeted the class warmly and thus, we began.

‘I started to believe that the moment we came together we would be spinning around the room to Edurne’s jazzy soundtrack with the inherent grace of Strictly’s professional dancers. No such luck.’

Our warm-up was a sassy salsa routine that was fun and easy to learn. My personal favourite moment was the call to ‘switch partners’ and the distinct panic shown on every male (and some female) face in the room. Abandoning my Fred to another Ginger, I learned my first crucial lesson in dance: it’s important to change partners once in a while to clear up the issue of who’s fault it actually is that someone’s foot was enthusiastically stamped on. This time, it was my fault.

strictly come dancing tour

The lesson-proper kicked off with the Waltz, a fine foray into the dancing world if there ever was one. Standing on the opposite side of the room from Henry, pacing out the female steps in an imaginary hold, was delightfully simple – the steps were carefully explained and expanded on at a pace that had the entire class moving as one. I started to believe that the moment we came together we would be spinning around the room to Edurne’s jazzy soundtrack with the inherent grace of Strictly’s professional dancers.

No such luck. His hold was ill-held at best and my footwork was, in a word, dire. Another call to switch partners came but the brief loss of circulation in my right hand kept me exactly where I was. ‘We need to stop nattering and concentrate,’ he told me severely. I began to worry what kind of waltzing monster I had created.

‘When the clock struck nine we were moving around the room without injury and rather glad that our missed lesson would be made up three days later’

A few more minutes of careful counting and his leading had much improved, my frame was better and I only trod on his foot a gentle thrice. A mild disagreement of whether we were in time to the music almost split us up for good, but on the whole when the clock struck nine we were moving around the room without injury, and rather glad that our missed lesson would be made up three days later, bringing us back to boogieing that much sooner.

With the Waltz down and the Cha Cha Cha, Salsa, Rumba, Argentine Tango, Jive and Social Foxtrot before us, Strictly better watch out.

Vera the Diva’s beginner classes are £82 per person for seven weeks and are open to both couples and individuals – details at www.verathediva.com. Alexandra and Henry will be checking in again in a few weeks’ time, so long as Henry doesn’t lose his nerve.