The English Style: Seagulls, Surf, And Three Step — Visit To An Atlantic Ballroom.
Text: Kerstin Lange Photography: Helmut Römhild
Everybody is laughing and I'm laughing as well. I'm sitting in a comfy chair watching TV.
And the guy getting the whip from judge Arlene Phillips is John Sergeant, political journalist.
John Sergeant is not laughing.
He's trying to pretend that wearing a tailcoat and dancing the waltz with a professional dancer apparently 30 years his junior is what he does every day.
6:30 pm. A major portion of Britain's BBC viewers is now glued to the TV: It's ‘Strictly’ time.
‘Strictly Come Dancing’ is one of BBC's top productions.
Over 12 million were watching the finals in 2007.
For this year an even larger audience is predicted.
Celebrity bashing is ‘Strictly's’ trademark and without mercy the judges comment on whatever goes wrong during the 1 1/2 minutes of Ballroom and Latin.
‘Strictly’ meanwhile is the model for many similar shows all over the world. In a way it represents British dancing in the English speaking world.
But is this the famous English Style? Is this what really happens on British dance floors? I'm determined to find out more.
Bob and Brenda, Elaine and Ray, Linda and Barry, Kerstin, George and Val.
Monday evening, 6:30 pm.
I'm on my way to St. Columb Minor Church Hall and with the massive 15th century church tower as a landmark
its almost impossible to get lost.
What I'm doing right now is something like a Tango Chase in the narrow passage at the end of Church Street.
My ‘dancing partner’ is a guy driving a Toyota pickup with two or three surfboards rattling on the bed. He is trying to negotiate the small road and at the same time trying to avoid my car.
We are doing fine, a straight ‘2’ before any panel of judges.
We are waving at each other, I'm aiming the car at a signpost saying ‘Car Park’ — and we have arrived.
Every Monday St. Columb Minor Church Hall
turns into a ballroom — one of the smallest I ever saw, even the car park is larger.
But it is the most romantic of all the ballrooms I know.
There is the church from the 15th century,
the windows of the hall overlooking the ancient graveyard.
And seagulls circling overhead in the fading daylight - reminding us that within walking distance
there is the Atlantic Ocean...
As the clock in the church tower strikes again I'm growing more and more nervous.
I can't help remembering yesterday's Strictly episode during which Gary Rhodes was kicked out.
Would I like to have my footwork categorized as “flat as a pancake”?
Perhaps they have a Craig Revel Horwood equivalent here at St. Columb Minor Church Hall who will tell me: “There are a few problems that you must overcome, one being a hunched back... ”
I'm no longer convinced
that it was good idea to gatecrash a dancing lesson just to find out what's happening
on a British dancefloor.
I mean, after all, this is Britain, The Place, the Sacred Soil of European Dancing.
And in a couple of minutes I'll be meeting my panel of judges — 10 passionate and experienced dancers.
Which verdict will they pass on me? “Teutonic”? Are my palms wet?
The trainers, George and Val,
are the first to arrive and not surprised to meet us. Earlier on we were visiting Maisie Tyler who owns the dancing school. She
gave them a call to expect people from Germany joining the course.
“One couple is on holiday, one is not able to come tonight due to an operation,” Val explains while they haul the usual equipment into the Church Hall: CDs, shoes, waterbottles.
We follow into the hall. Yes, it's small compared to where we train at home. But there is this really beautiful floor made of light wood, radiating the message of dancefloors all over world: ‘Step on me!’
The others arrive. Bob and Brenda, Elaine and Ray, Linda and Barry are quite surprised to find newcomers determined to join them.
“From Germany? You'd like to dance here?”
The Farmer's Arms in St. Columb Minor, just around the corner of Church Hall, inviting thirsty dancers to replenish body fluid.
St. Columb Minor,
like the neighbouring village of Porth, today is an integral part of the town of Newquay.
Newquay, one of Europe's leading seaside resorts, dominates without doubt the area — nevertheless St. Columb Minor always managed to retain its individuality which reflects the ancient origin of the village in Northwest Cornwall.
are usually located in larger and important towns like Truro, St. Austell and Newquay.
To reach the communities in the more remote and rural areas of Cornwall the schools also offer dancing courses in the smaller villages if the necessary facilities are available.
Val is turning on the music and here we go — the Waltz, please.
I'm sure that everybody is examining our steps but I have other things to worry about.
The floor is small and we have to adjust to the new proportions almost banging into the wall.
“It's difficult to practice the steps for ballrooms,” Brenda says. “You have to split the figures and start again at a corner to complete a long side.”
The Waltz seems to be alright and we manage the Tango and Quickstep as well.
Now the lesson begins.
“Slow Fox: Feather, Open Telemark, Three Step, left and right turns. Do you remember?”
Frankly, no, I don't. At home we are just trying to put together something like a choreography and now this. Most of the figures are completely new to us.
Val gets hold of my husband and is already putting him through the paces.
George takes my hand. “Come on I'll lead you through it.” George took up dancing in the swinging sixties then stopped dancing, years ago. “You'd be surprised how much knowledge resurfaces now that I'm at it again.”
I'm giving George a hard time,
stepping on his feet and misplacing my steps.
But George is so very patient that I'm really impressed. He is extremely light on his feet. And, suddenly, I'm feeling better.
Everbody else is watching, of course.
“It's fascinating to see somebody finally getting the hang of something new,” Brenda tells me.
I simply don't feel I got the hang of it really.
But it doesn't matter.
What does matter is the fact we are treated like friends. Everybody is easy going, everything happens in a relaxed atmosphere.
At the end of the lesson
we pay our fee, four £ for the two of us — one of the best investments I ever made:
two hours of fun in the company of lovely people.
We say good bye and walk out into a wet evening.
Shortly afterwards the car park is empty and the church hall dark again.
Dancing is still very popular in Britain.
Nevertheless they have the same problems here as in Germany — we simply had to look
around in St. Columb Minor Church Hall this evening: not one single young couple present.
“Young people are no longer interested in ballroom dancing. If at all they come for lessons in Latin. Some schools offer Free Style, Hiphop, Breakdance. Maybe it is different in bigger cities or in London but here on the coast it is surfing and having fun on the beach,” Maisie Tyler told us earlier.
When she started teaching in Newquay there was a ball every night at the ‘Blue Lagoon Ballroom’. That was in the fifties. Newquay still is a famous seaside resort but today people come because of the surfing conditions and for the water sports competitions.
To the west we see the sky illuminated by the lights of Newquay, the ‘Surfer's Paradise’.
It is very quiet now and for a moment we try to listen carefully, just to find out if we can hear it even here: The Atlantic surf breaking on the shore of Northwest Cornwall...
©: Ballroom Website, 2008