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Our Club takes a turn around the floor

PUBLISHED: 16:41 04 February 2014 | UPDATED: 16:41 04 February 2014

Lait school of Dance

Lait school of Dance

Archant

Jilly Hurley gets in step with the Lait School of Dancing in Ipswich

Strictly Come Dancing has inspired a great resurgence in ballroom dancing around Britain. But the programme would not be half so popular if it were only about glamorous costumes and wonderful dancers.

The great thrill of the show is that it is about less than wonderful dancers. It is about the way that – before our very eyes, as if by magic – dance-floor ducklings may transform into ballroom swans.

I am comforted, and also excited, by this thought as I pull up to St Matthews Hall in Ipswich, home to the Lait School of Ballroom Dancing. Established in 1974 by Tom and Pat Lait, the club is a family affair. The couple’s two children, Bruce and Annette, are former British National Youth Latin Champions, and now teach at the school along with their parents.

I arrive on a cold Wednesday evening, but I am greeted warmly by the teachers and a very diverse group of other would-be ballroom swans, each with their own reason for coming – younger and older couples, the recently engaged, students, office workers and senior citizens.

I put myself, literally, into the expert hands of Lloyd Bedford, and I listen for the instructions of experienced teacher Jenny Worne, who has 27 years in the business. We begin with the waltz. After taking the men and the woman through the steps separately, the inviting melody of Moon River fills the room. Jenny counts out – one two three, one two three . . .

Self-conscious at first, I am too clenched to keep to the rhythm. But as I begin to feel rather than hear the music, something clicks. We move on to the cha-cha, which has a split fourth beat – and so begins on the second rather than the first beat of the music. Energetic and sensual, the cha-cha is certainly challenging. But after a few minutes I notice that the other couples are becoming more confident. And even I, feel a real sense of achievement when the steps begin to take shape.

Next up is the quickstep – more complicated and faster too! Good humoured laughter follows everyone around the room, as we all attempt to manage the increased speed and intricacy. The less I think about my feet and where I am meant to put them, the easier it is – until I falter, and have to start again.

On my drive home, worn-out but elated, it occurs to me how much about ballroom dancing seems paradoxical. Effortlessness on the dance floor is only achieved through effort. But effortlessness on the dance floor also requires that the dancer doesn’t work too hard. In practice or in performance, over-thinking the steps risks making them mechanical – and may even mean that the dancer actually loses the rhythm of the music entirely.

My taster of the ballroom experience has made me even more admiring of professional dancers. But it has also given me heart to know that you don’t actually have to be a fully-fledged swan to feel joy on the dance-floor. Even diffident ducklings can have a ball.

For more information about the Lait School of Ballroom Dancing please visit www.laitdanceclub.co.ik

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