Sport on TV: Ballroom blitz bombs when it cramps 10-year-old's social life

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The Independent Online

Mason is a star. He was poised to seize the world of ballroom dancing by its fake-tanned throat and do the rumba with its privates. Except that he's retired. At the age of 10. But he'll be back doing something good with his life.

Just in case you're wondering, by the way, why I'm writing about ballroom dancing again when the recently crowned Sex God Mark Ramprakash isn't involved, can I just point out that in 1997 the International Olympic Committee recognised it as a sport? And if ice skating and synchronised swimming, in which fortunes hang on the whims of the judges, can be old faithfuls of the five rings, I think the IOC has got a case.

It was in this spirit that I approached Strictly Baby Ballroom (Channel 4, Tuesday), which tracked three young girls, Ellie, Tabitha and Kelsey, as they hoofed their way round the circuit. Their biggest problem is boys. They can't get enough of them. Ballroom Billy Elliots are in short supply - I'm not flabbergasted, to be honest - and, knowing, they're a desirable commodity, the lads tend to play the field.

Dumped by her partner, Sam, at the beginning of the film, Tabitha and her only slightly driven mum spent the first half trying fruitlessly to poach someone else's. When that failed they put an ad in the paper, which was picked up by Richard and Judy, who held a talent contest. And Mason, whose hero is John Travolta - for "his planes, his cars, his home" - was the beaming winner.

An absolute beginner, he didn't get it at first. Told by the teacher that "Your job is to show her off. That is the job of the male dancer," he grimaced, "That's not fair." He only came round when told that he had to lead. "Oh, I'm the boss, right."

A 10-year-old with a stunning collection of aftershave, he rapidly acquired the moves and the presence of mind - "like screaming" is how he described the 1,000-volt smile required - to wink at the female judges. And partly thanks to his charisma and talent, and lessons at £100 a week paid for by Tabitha's mum, the couple reached the UK Nationals in Blackpool.

Mason psyched himself up. "I say to myself, 'I'm here to dance. I'm here to win.' I say that in my head over and over and over again. I sit in silence for five or 10 minutes."

Somewhat against the odds they reached the semis. And then it was over. Mason wanted his life back. "I used to have friends over in the summer," he said. "We used to go swimming in the park, but now I don't get chance. By the time I come it's 7 o'clock and I can't have friends over on school nights. I love dance, I absolutely love it, but after a while it does get on your nerves. It takes up your life."

Ballroom's loss, I think.