Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

Ballroom Blitz

Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

Ballroom Blitz

Article excerpt

Byline: By Jamie Diffley

Lead with your left, and two and side and two and right and two and spin her round. Spin HER round."

Another attempt at an otherwise simple waltz manoeuvre ends in failure. And a size nine footprint on the delicate foot of one of my two dance partners. Of course I only need one at a time but I think the Newcastle Dance Centre provided an extra in case of injury. A wise move.

Ballroom dancing has been around a long time, "ballroom" denoting a room where balls may be held, i.e. a formal dance.

These were important social events in the days before TV and radio and all the other modern distractions which keep us rooted to the sofa.

It was only fitting, then, that for my private lesson at the Grainger Park Road school that I made the effort.

A quick visit to the Newcastle branch of bridal and men's wear shop Pronuptia, in Grainger Street, saw me swap my work suit for something much more appropriate, namely a flowing black jacket with tails covering a white shirt and bow tie, matching pants and shoes so shiny they dazzled. All finished off with a top hat and a cane.

A veritable Fred Astaire. Actually, I was more like Fred Dibnah the way I demolished the carefully laid-out instructions of dance teacher Michael Conway.

Michael is one of three principals at the Newcastle Dance Centre, alongside wife Mavis Whiteside and daughter Hayley Conway.

The centre has 25 teachers who look after the hundreds of students who file through the doors of the dance studios every day except Sunday.

Among those were a young Ant and Dec when they were better known as PJ and Duncan. The pair were hoping for lessons to back up their pop career and Hayley taught them to "rhumble". The centre even provided backing dancers when the lads appeared on Top Of The Pops.

Classes and individual tuition are open to everyone of any age and any skill level at the centre. There's ballet, tap, stage, disco, Latin American, classic sequence and cheer leading.

But I was there for the ballroom dancing. In the 50s ballroom dancing was a massive hit in the North East when many a dance school sprang up.

The Old Assembly Rooms, The Oxford and The Mayfair were three venues in Newcastle where fleet-footed couples could dance the foxtrot or the waltz.

There were regular competitions and big firms even used to hold annual dinner dances. But the ballrooms started closing and interest waned outside the professional circles. Now it seems to be waltzing its way back into our lives.

BBC's Strictly Come Dancing proved a surprise hit earlier this year when it teamed up celebrities with a professional dancer. Later this month it is back on our screens with Bruce Forsyth back at the helm alongside Tess Daly and series one winner Natasha Kaplinsky.

Former Byker Grove starlet and EastEnder Jill Halfpenny is among those trying to beat off eviction by the public by twirling her way to the top. …

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