Getting strictly into the swing of things

Watford Observer:

Now the BBC1 series Strictly Come Dancing is in full swing, reporter Alexander Barham decided to test her Latino moves by attending a Latin and ballroom dance class in St Albans.

FOR my first lesson in quick step, I joined a group of advanced, intermediate and amateur dancers at Aboyne Lodge School in Etna Road.

I can twist, turn and shake my hips on the dancefloor when partying with friends, but sophisticated, couple dancing was definitely a whole new experience for me.

I began the lesson tripping over my feet and stepping on other's toes, but with a little help from professional dance teacher Tom Pena and his assistant, Aliceson Pollard, I finally managed to grasp the steps by the end of the session.

The class, run by and123 dance company, attracts men and women of all ages and dancing ability each week.

Aliceson, who has been an assistant teacher for a year, said: "Nobody feels excluded - even if you come along and you have never danced before by the end of the night you will be able to get around the floor."

The Latin and ballroom club started in June this year and each week class members learn different techniques and dances including the rumba, tango, the jive, the cha cha and the samba.

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Next on the list to be introduced is the American swing.

The school was established by Peter Abott in 1994, after he discovered a love for Latino dancing, but in recent years he has developed a passion for ballroom.

And since the emergence of the television show Strictly Come Dancing, more people are sharing his love of this dance style.

A professional dance teacher of ten years' experience, Tom said: "Ever since Strictly Come Dancing there's been a surge of interest in ballroom and Latin dancing.

"When I moved to England five years ago I was expecting a lot of dance schools to teach Latin and ballroom, but there was nothing.

"There's definitely more couples, ladies and gents taking up ballroom dancing since the show began."

Fourteen-year-old Rachael Hinton, who is the youngest dancer at the class, enjoys different dance styles and attends tap, ballet and disco classes, but she decided to take up Latin and ballroom dancingafter watching the show.

"I love Strictly Come Dancing," she said.

"All the glitz and glamour made me want to do Latin and ballroom."

Her mother, Gill, who attends the classes with her daughter, added: "I think the show has bought ballroom back into the public eye - it has made people realise that it's not necessarily easy, but a lot of people can do it and you can have a lot of fun even if you are not good at it."

The class is a social gathering as well as a postive dancing experience.

On arrival I was handed a cup of tea and a slice of cake and I sat gossiping with other dance members as we waited for the class to kick start.

Aliceson said: "We try to make it a social event - even if you are not a good dancer or a confident dancer you can come a long and meet people here with a cup of tea and piece of cake."

Tom added: "You're learning how to dance in a social way and this produces a surge of positive hormones."

Not only is the class sociable and enjoyable, but dance school owner Peter says dancing is a good form of exercise.

Obesity is a growing concern in the UK and for people wanting to shift a few undesired pounds Peter suggests they take part in a dance class.

"Dancing is an aerobic exercise, you are burning off five to ten calories a minute," he said.

"As a dancer you are also learning something so it's stimulating the grey matter and you are producing an enormous amount of endorphins which obviously makes you feel much better."

Dance assistant Aliceson says that moving around the dancefloor keeps her trim and fit.

"I have never been a fan of the gym, it's boring and monotonous, but with dancing I actively look forward to going."

"It keeps my interest and I know I'll be learning different things each week - it's a much more interesting and enjoyable way of keeping fit."

For more information visit the website and123.co.uk

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