Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Can't Dance, Won't Dance

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Can't Dance, Won't Dance

Article excerpt

Among the fragments of school history left in my brain is the phenomenon of St Vitus's Dance. At various times during the Middle Ages, groups of people succumbed to what is now called choreomania--the overwhelming desire to dance. By all accounts, the craze is best explained as a physiological response to hardship, bound up with the different religious and superstitious assumptions of days gone by. In other words, it could never happen again.

And yet it has. A visitor to earth studying television schedules would almost certainly conclude that dancing was the single most important human activity. There's Strictly Come Dancing and Dancing on Ice. Meanwhile, the BBC has made a show where members of the public compete to be Britain's best dancer, while on Sky 1 other members of the public compete to be, er, Britain's best dancer.

The nation is in the grip of the most widespread and inexplicable dancing mania in at least 400 years. For a confirmed non-dancer like myself, this is all very alarming. Don't get me wrong, it's not a case of snobbery towards reality TV: I'm as fond as anyone of a minor-celebrities-trying-to-become-actual-celebrities showdown. (I owed my own appearance on Mastermind to an unusually generous interpretation of the word "celebrity".) But the seriousness of it all is peculiar and alarming. The judges glower at the dancers as if they were a jury asked to weigh up a murder case. They deliver crushing verdicts: "You don't have any Latin flair at all"; "Your hands are all over the place. …

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