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Strictly Come Dancing comes ... to school

Pupils to be taught ballroom dancing as Government turns to TV show to beat childhood obesity

Ballroom dancing is set to become the latest craze in classrooms across Britain, as part of an effort to harness the success of the television show Strictly Come Dancing to combat childhood obesity.

In the scheme to be launched tomorrow, schoolchildren in both primary and secondary schools will take part in Strictly Come Dancing-style sessions in school hours. The scheme, which will be piloted in 26 schools across the country, aims at improving youngsters’ health and self-esteem as they learn a range of dance styles.

If it proves successful, it will be offered to all schools nationwide from this summer, and slotted into the national curriculum as part of the PE syllabus. Two teachers at each participating school will themselves be given lessons in ballroom dancing techniques so they can lead the sessions.

The youngsters will then be put through their paces as they attempt the cha-cha-cha, waltz, jive, salsa and quick step – and other styles of ballroom and Latin dancing.

It will be launched by two of the professional dancers who have partnered celebrities on the BBC show, Darren Bennett and Lilia Kopylova.

Darren partnered the actress Jill Halfpenny when she won the competition in 2004, and Lilia danced with the rugby player Matt Dawson – who lost to cricketer Mark Ramprakash in the finals of the 2006 television series. Darren, who first learnt to dance when he was just six years old, said: “Not everyone who learns ballroom dancing is going to take it up as a profession and win trophies, but that’s not the point.

“It’s about having fun, getting fit and mixing socially with your peers.” The scheme is being launched by the Aldridge Foundation – an educational foundation which is planning sponsorship of two of the Government’s flagship academies – and City Limits Education.

The chairman of the Aldridge Foundation, Rod Aldridge, said the scheme was “about inspiring the nation’s young people to get off their feet to enjoy the physical exercise and confidence you can gain from ballroom dancing.

“Ballroom dancing used to be seen as something old-fashioned and inaccessible – but by making it part of the national curriculum we can break down those barriers and give young people from all backgrounds the chance to benefit.” Mr Aldridge, who founded the Capita Group outsourcing business in 1984, and set up the foundation to concentrate on charitable activities after quitting as the group’s chairman in 2006, spoke of how learning to dance had changed his life.

“I was not particularly good at school. I didn’t do very well,” he said.

“I was good at sport, though, and my father and mother introduced me to dance. My confidence and self-esteem were massively high as a result of being able to do it.

“Dance wasn’t something a young lad should be doing in those days because it was considered a bit out of character. I did it through a dance school that my mother introduced me to.

“Hopefully, those days have changed, now that Strictly Come Dancing has become so popular. I danced competitively until my early twenties and then – sadly – gave it up,” he said.

However, as a special surprise for his 60th birthday party, he invited Darren and Lilia – and trained with Lilia so he could stun guests by putting on a dance show. “It was from there that this started,” Mr Aldridge said.

The introduction of the scheme in primary and secondary schools follows an exhortation from the Health Secretary Alan Johnson for adults to consider taking dance classes as a means to improve their health and fitness and crack down on obesity.

The scheme, called “Essentially Dance”, also mirrors a project pioneered in New York public schools, which was featured in the film Take The Lead starring Antonio Banderas.

Academic experts who evaluated that project found that engaging young people in the discipline of ballroom dance gave students who struggled academically an outlet of expression that boosted their self-esteem, confidence and improved classroom behaviour.

The UK project will be evaluated by researchers at Roehampton University. Some of the schools involved in the pilot scheme have already been putting pupils through their paces in preparation for tomorrow’s launch.