Where have all the dancing men gone?
That’s the mystery in Hartlepool where women from a dance school are cutting a rug on their way to national titles.
But they’re having to do it with borrowed partners from other parts of the UK.
Dance studio owner Carol Hammond thinks there’s still a culture of North East males being too shy to come forward.
So to show the men of the town how it is done, Hartlepool Mail journalist CHRIS CORDNER – a complete novice – put his best foot forward.
And for a man with two left feet, he didn’t do too badly. Fresh from the salsa and foxtrot, here is his report.
“We’ll make a national dancer out of you,” said Carol Hammond as she closed my first ever session on the dance floor at her Dalton Street studio.
It was a bold statement, but, after one hour of tuition, Carol had proved a point.
I was brilliant. I was the next Fred Astaire ... well, actually I wasn’t, but I had avoided complete embarrassment.
I had learned how to do two dances, improved my posture, and, towards the end, even began to stop shaking with nerves.
“I guarantee,” she told me 60 minutes earlier, “that anyone who joins my beginners class will have learned to dance a social foxtrot after an hour.”
I had – and surprisingly, I loved it.
It was a workout, a new skill learned and the beginnings of possibly a whole new pastime for me.
In all the years she has been a teacher, Carol has never failed to live up to the promise of getting people to learn at least one dance in an hour.
And that leaves one burning question: Why is Hartlepool not getting its fair share of men progressing to compete in ballroom dance to a national level?
Carol said: “It’s a Northern culture. Some men out there have danced in the past and they say ‘I wish I had kept it up.’
But as they have grown older, dance has played less of a part in their lives. And while dance is more in the spotlight, thanks to the huge success of Strictly, men worry that they can’t do the moves.
The message to the men of Hartlepool is ... there’s no need to panic. You won’t be expected to throw your partner over your shoulder. You will get to learn all the basics correctly.
Carol added: “It’s the under-21 category particularly that I have partner issues with.”
Her dancers often reach national finals in classical and modern sequence dance, but Carol said: “When we do, we have to get partners from Manchester and Leeds.
“If you go to Manchester, there are so many males they even have their own competition. They have a surplus and that is why we can borrow them.”
And even though Carol held her own Hartlepool charity dance challenge event for young dancers earlier this year, only two of the boys in that competition have progressed to becoming regulars.
“Not all dads allow their boys to dance,” said Carol. “Some watch their children give it their all, but then it’s over.”
So now it was my turn. I’m no Anton du Bek or Kevin Clifton, but I manned up and faced my dancing demons.
Firstly, Carol corrected my posture and turned me from a slouch to a tall-standing, arms stretched figure who remotely resembled someone who could actually put the right foot forward.
And that’s what I did. Right and left in the right order.
As the hour passed, I first learned the foxtrot (forward left foot, forward right foot, side) and a fast salsa (left forward, right forward, left back, right back, sway and turn).
I learned the correct way to hold the lady, how not to worry about stepping on toes and how to maintain the arm height.
Of course, it was all down to the expertise of Carol, who has been teaching for 34 years and had her own school for 25.
But there’s talent out there. It’s just a case of finding and fine tuning it.
Carol holds courses for beginners on Sundays. To find out more, visit her Facebook page HERE.
As for me, I’ll be back on the dance floor some time soon.