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10: How I got into Dancing 

There’s no escaping it: in my youth, I had “nerd” running through the middle like “Blackpool” through a stick of rock.  My hobbies and interests (astronomy, weather, electronics) were girl-free zones.  When I went to university, I joined the student Ballroom Dancing Society (“BopSoc”) as an attempt to be more sociable, not being comfortable in the less formal typical student environments of bars and night clubs.

These were baby steps into dancing; the teaching was pretty basic but it was a laugh, and every now and then we descended upon the ballroom night at the local Palais de Dance (they still existed in those days) and felt like the bee’s knees.

I soon found myself on the BopSoc committee, and organising a team to enter the annual Inter-Varsity ballroom competitions (the first time ever for my university).  There was no Internet in those dark ages, so I looked up dance teachers in the local directory and went to knock on their door to see if I could interest them in coaching our team... only to (by accident) land on Bryan Allen & Ann Baker – now two of the biggest names in the ballroom dancing establishment.

I didn’t then (and still don’t) have the nerves for performing in competition, and never intended to be part of the team (just the manager), but in the second year we were short of a man... so I ended up having to partner for Quickstep (too stressful for me!).

As students, we were short of money and certainly couldn’t afford proper shoes or special clothes, and we were all absolute beginners – up against the likes of Liverpool, Imperial, and Oxford, all with long-standing traditions for a strong showing at the Inter-Varsity (and sponsorship!).  For us, it was just the taking part (and I believe we laid the foundation for the future – those who followed us actually hosted the competition a few years later).

When I left university and started a career in electronics, job offers took me away from home and uni, to South Wales.  Alone in a new place, I was faced with the same problem – so I went to find a local dancing group.  But young people of my era didn’t do ballroom dancing (university seems to have been an exception), and I found myself socialising with the generation that did.

From then until I was sent to Canada for a period with my work, I danced with a lovely (and presumably very tolerant) lady called Joan, but after I came back I stumbled upon ex-competitor Jean – with whom I could go to classes and lessons with everyone from Brenda & Dennis Howell to Philip Wylie, Jennifer Hillier, Gary Foster, Lynette Boyce... that was the start of a 26-year “journey” (as they would put it on Strictly – much derided, but can you think of a better word?) until Jean died.

It is Jean’s legacy, and the privilege of dancing with the partners I have had since, that makes me the dancer I am now... and the journey continues.

And I remain a dyed-in-the-wool nerd.  But now I am a nerd about ballroom dancing!