Ballroom dancing to be taught in schools

Charity-funded pilot found dancing improved children's social skills and fitness

It's Latin, Julius, but not as we knew it. Latin will make a comeback from today in all state schools, but it will be in the shape of dance lessons rather than the classics.

A report today gives the green light for offering ballroom and Latin dance lessons to all schools to improve fitness levels and reduce obesity. NHS research shows that ballroom dancing can burn up to 300 calories per hour.

The assessment of a pilot project in 29 schools says the scheme has helped "less sporty children become more engaged in physical education". Its authors, Dr Jeanne Keay, dean of education, and Dr Jon Spence, head of physical education at Roehampton University, add that other benefits include improved behaviour and previously shy pupils gaining in self-confidence.

The behaviour improved because of "the disciplined and structured nature of ballroom and Latin dance", their report states. "As a result of working with a partner, they [the pupils] have shown empathy and a mature approach to working together which ... had not been evident previously." One teacher said of the pilot: "These boys usually can't get out of school fast enough and now they're giving up their free time to do this." Another remarked: "Fitness has improved and they go a lot longer than if we had them running round a field."

One of the problems feared before the pilot was that too few boys would apply. But the report says: "After five weeks of lessons, one teacher spoke of noticing boys and girls in year three [aged seven and eight] having conversations as they danced with each other."

Just over 80 per cent of those who participated said they enjoyed the dance classes. Among those who did not, 14 per cent were boys and 5 per cent girls. The report will be launched today by Darren Bennett and Lilia Kopylova, performers from the BBC television contest, Strictly Come Dancing, (Ms Kopylova won the competition in 2005 as the partner to former cricketer Darren Gough).

The Essentially Dance project – as it is known – will be available to all schools. Mr Bennett said: "It has always been our dream that every young person should have the opportunity to learn ballroom and Latin American dancing and finally this is being realised."

The pilot was funded by the Aldridge Foundation which trained school staff to teach the cha-cha-cha, waltz, jive and quick-step in PE lessons. It was made available to 2,500 pupils aged between five and 17 in 29 schools.

Rod Aldridge, chairman of the charity, said: "As a young boy, I was an under-achiever academically but gained confidence by competing in both sport and dance. It is immensely rewarding to see how this dance scheme has ignited the passion of a new generation of children in a way that can also improve their fitness and social skills."