Strictly not ballroom


Ballroom dancing has a long and rich tradition in Bohemia that has flowered here for decades: during Czechoslovakia's first republic, between the wars, even under communism, it never lost in intensity and social importance. My grandmother, who will turn 96 this year, attended lessons when she was just sixteen - as did both of my parents, and most of their colleagues and friends when they were teens. Ballroom dancing in Bohemia even today remains a fairly strong tradition and in many circles it is still pretty unthinkable not to know how to dance.

On the other hand, it's true that teenagers have begun signing up for lessons less, especially boys who probably have better things to do like build skateboard ramps or snowboard, or jam with their neo-punk bands. But, they'll regret it one day, if they don't learn. Put simply, what is more perfect than taking a love interest to a ballroom dance and dancing the night away: there is nothing more romantic.

Not that I took my own advice when I was a teenager: but at least I have an excuse: back when I was growing up I lived in a country where basketball courts were the only wood floors we ever saw, and incidentally I wasn't that great at basketball either. I was never really going to learn, was I? At my own high school I don't think most of us even knew how to walk in formal dress let alone dance. Forgive my sarcasm, but I'm bitter. Now, it's too late.

You don't think so? You'd recommend I take lessons? Good advice. But, I did! I did.

In all fairness, about ten years too late. I'd stiffened up by then, you have to start early! Ok, that's an excuse but it's the only one I have: though I like dancing I've never really been comfortable in the ballroom. I learned when I came to the Czech Republic that I was a total loss on the parquet floor, regardless of whether it was jive, slow fox, or god forbid the Charleston, which I loved... but which must have looked something awful. Thank god there were no video cell phones then... no evidence other then squashed toes and bruised shins but never mine. Today? Must be a horror!

Incidentally, if you step on someone's toes repeatedly in the course of a single evening, pray that they really like you! If they grit their teeth and flash their eyes with hatred it isn't a good sign. Find yourself in that situation - consider proudly slinking away. Generally just consider it "over". If you ask someone for their number after a performance like that you're only going to get a single "digit".

Oh well. I guess each of us is good at something, and I'm just lousy at ballroom dancing. Statistically-speaking someone out there has to be the worst there is and there's a chance it might not be me. But, then again I was recently reminded that almost everyone else is better, when Czech Television aired a licensed programme called "Star Dance" showing a number of the country's most well-known faces: actors, an anchorwoman, a comedian, learning how to dance over endless weeks of training with professional partners. Some of them lost a zillion kilos and gained a lot of poise and elegance and what really came through was their determination. I was impressed. I can honestly tell you they looked great. It was almost inspirational enough for me to give it one more shot. Now if only I can find a way of fitting back into that ten-year-old suit.