Freelance writer, artist and editor based in Crouch End, London
Published November 19th 2012
Salsa with Richard
I've never been much of a dancer. I'm not completely hopeless - like one of those people you see in clubs who look like they're allergic to music - but it certainly doesn't come naturally to me. So when I first started at a new job and a couple of my colleagues invited me along to a salsa lesson, my initial reaction was "this will be mortifying". Nevertheless, in the spirit of new beginnings I decided to give it a go.
The atmosphere - helped by the teacher at Salsagold, who I can only describe as relentlessly happy - was instantly welcoming. Over the next few weeks salsa became a part of me – I would look forward to it with the same excitement I might feel for seeing a good friend. Apart from being an intense, provocative and absorbing dance, I love the knowledge that I could walk into a salsa bar anywhere in the world, and be able to communicate with strangers in a unique way – akin to speaking a different language.
Almost a year on and my addiction hasn't ceased. It just ticks all the boxes as a hobby – it's fun, sociable, active - as a friend said - "wholesome" and best of all, it happens in a bar.
Teacher Fleur Estelle made belly dancing look natural, delicate and effortless as she lead the - clearly very popular - class of beginners. The class is held in the mildly shabby yet incredibly charming Dance Attic, just a short walk from Fulham Broadway station.
Unfortunately I, having arrived a little late and joined the back of the class therefore having no view of the mirror, was clueless as to whether the arm waving and hip swaying I was doing looked much like hers (unlikely). But she offered a packed and inspiring crash course, passing on a wide repertoire of moves in just an hour. She skilfully demonstrated among other things how to shimmy (isolating and shaking either the shoulders or hips), frame one hip or the face using the arms, sway the hips in a figure-of-eight movement, and - most importantly it seemed - smile (difficult when you're concentrating).
The routines developed quickly, progressing into impressive and exciting dances. It was an excellent workout to energising and colourful music in a non-pressured environment, and Fleur's infectious confidence and femininity meant that I'd happily return.
Quick Step in Kentish Town
Expressions Studios in Kentish Town is a dance charity that provides lessons taught by internationally competitive dancers, and this was certainly apparent in our ballroom dancing lesson, taught by Michael and Martina Burton .
I was impressed by their ability to pick up on seemingly insignificant aspects of my dancing and provide simple tuition which completely transformed the way the dance felt. Their focus was on getting the basics right without rushing to learn more steps than necessary, and as a result I felt the simple quickstep routine become smoother throughout the class.
There were a few downsides: the first 20 minutes of the lesson dragged (probably more due to my scepticism than anything else), one person I danced with got irrationally annoyed when I looked at my feet (it was my FIRST lesson!) and the small size of the room meant that there were fairly frequent collisions with other couples/the walls/inconsiderately positioned pillars. But the teaching was excellent and the atmosphere relaxed. Although ballroom probably isn't for me (I'm way too clumsy), there was no doubt that this would be the place to go if it were.
There were many things I might have expected from a Samba lesson, but I have to say that doing sit-ups certainly wasn't one of them! Aneta's Brazilian Samba class was more like an aerobics class with a Samba twist. So different was the class from my expectations that to begin with I was convinced we must have joined the wrong lesson.
The class was held in a luxurious health & beauty spa in Angel, the entranceway overlooked the near-empty turquoise pool and the mirrors in the changing rooms were more like dressing tables. As a result the whole experience – side-stepping, gyrating and galloping on-the-spot aside – was quite relaxing. It probably would have been more so if I hadn't looked over my shoulder through the window at one point to see a smug-looking security guard grinning happily through the window.
So although I didn't come away with much knowledge of Samba as a dance, I had a great workout, and came away feeling both invigorated and exhausted. I'd go again. But I'd probably request that they close the blinds.
Street dance at Pineapple Studios
The difficult thing about street dance is that you either have it or you don't. I can't be sure what I mean by "it" exactly, but sadly, I don't. "It" is the difference between the dance looking controlled yet casual, complex yet understated, refined yet changeable and, well, just a bit silly. You can know the routine inside out, but without "it", you are more likely to look like an agitated monkey than a practised dancer.
The teaching at Pineapple Studios was of a high quality, the location (Covent Garden) was convenient, the studio modern. The routine was explained well, step-by-step, with a great deal of repetition. And I thought I had it, I really did. Until the class was split into two groups and one half watched while the other followed the routine. Without the teacher leading. At that point I spontaneously forgot everything I had spent the last hour learning and flailed around roughly to the beat, hoping that nobody would notice.
Not to say that I'm not sure "it" couldn't be learnt with practice (a lot of practice). But when the teenagers surrounding me slid and clapped and bounced and stamped perfectly in synch every time, I decided it was probably best to leave it to them.
Swing in High Street Ken
Wandering along High Street Kensington on a blustery Tuesday evening, disappointed that a confused traffic warden had not been able to direct me towards the "Archangel", I was just beginning to wonder whether I had had completely bypassed the bar and should double back on myself when a gust of wind brought a sign sliding along the concrete towards me, "Swing Patrol". It was a sign! (Literally).
Within a few seconds of the live demo the teachers James and Laura gave us of 20s, Charleston, 6-beat swing, I could tell it was going to be a fantastic hour. They took us through the routine of corridor kicks, steps and slides at a perfect pace – quick enough that I didn't feel bored, but with enough repetition that I never felt lost. Swing is a laid-back, free and expressive dance, with few rules. I was surprised to discover that one of the other students had been learning swing for some time, considering he had spent a little longer than I might have hoped finding the correct way to put his hand on my hip. But the bouncy, bluesy rhythms and warm encouragement and enthusiasm from the teachers left me feeling positively elated.