I don’t know how it began, exactly. Maybe it was the sequins, or the ball gowns, or the dashing men in tails. Or possibly it was something to do with Bruce Forsyth’s kindly twinkle. But one thing’s for sure: once my daughter caught a glimpse of Strictly Come Dancing, there was no going back.
For a girl of her age and size (four years old and about three feet tall), she wields a disproportionate influence on our household. Through sheer force of personality, she ensured that (i) we switched on Strictly every Saturday evening, (ii) she was allowed to stay up for most of it, and (iii) I would waltz her around the room on demand.
At first, I was dismissive. The whole thing reminded me of awful song-and-dance numbers from 1970s TV variety shows. I tolerated it for my daughter’s sake, and tried to read the paper.
But gradually, I began to peep over the crossword. Soon I could tell the difference between the good dancers and the bad. I became an expert in spotting the “woodeners”: usually men who could not loosen up enough to move with any grace.
A couple of weeks in, and I was holding forth to anyone who would listen (usually just my daughter) about so-and-so’s hold in the waltz, your man’s frame in the quickstep and whatshername’s footwork in the pasodoble.
After a while, the ritual of Strictly on a Saturday night seemed to compensate for the complete lack of a social life that comes with being the parent of a young child.
It was comforting to settle down each week and watch Brucie. There was a sense of things coming full circle: I had watched Bruce Forsyth presenting The Generation Game as a kid myself about a century ago, and now my little girl was getting accustomed to his awful puns, knowing looks and single entendre jokes.
I also found myself riveted by the judges, with their various quirks and weaknesses. Len was the kindly one; Craig was the acerbic one; Bruno was the passionate one, and Arlene, well Arlene was the old one, I suppose. That’s why they got rid of her and replaced her with the rather WAG-ish Alesha Dixon and then the lovely Darcy Bussell.
“You know,” said my wife the other evening as Claudia and Tess clasped hands at the end of another instalment of Strictly and told us all to “Keep Dancing!”, “we should take dancing lessons.”
I know it’s only one of those things that women say – like “it’s only a game” when Leinster are beaten – but there was a note in her voice I have come to know, and respect.
There was a part of me that was tempted too. There are things I reckon a grown-up man should know how to do: shoot a grouse, mix a martini, ride a horse – and dance a military two-step.
When we mentioned to our neighbours that we were going to Everna’s Ballroom Dancing Classes, they almost had to be helped from the room. They laughed uncontrollably and clutched each other for support. What next, they asked, Saga holidays?
Undaunted, we arrived at the hall. The women, we noticed, had made an effort. The men were trim and wiry. I watched them all suspiciously and noticed what I can only describe as litheness.
The beginners were asked to raise their hands. More experienced dancers were asked to partner up with the newbies. After a few waltz steps, we changed partners again. In the course of the evening, I was put through the hands of at least 10 ladies.
They were kind and indulgent as I stepped on their peep-toe sandals. They guided me round the floor as one would a puppy. The man should lead, said Everna, but the women, said Everna, can control the man using the grip on his upper arm.
One woman gripped me firmly and moved me back, forth and sideways using the merest pressure on my shoulders. She was decisive and competent and totally in control. This, I thought, is the woman who should be in charge of NAMA.
The hour-long class flew by. It was great fun, and we will be back this week, when I shall be following the advice of one of the men: wear shoes with a heel. Apparently they make it look like you’re floating.