R unners make a particular sound. A book of birdsong would describe it as a "thwew, thwew". And across the country flocks of great-crested thwewers are currently pounding the pavements, at all times of day and night, and in all weathers.
It is four weeks to go until the London Marathon, and the training is getting serious. Today, families all over the country will run the Sport Relief Mile, less earnestly. Next stop, the Great Daffodil Run (27 April) – and there are dozens more jogs and sprints to come. But what if you are not built to go 26 miles – or even one? Is the person resistant to traditional sports and athletics condemned to a life of lethargy?
School PE conjures uncomfortable memories for many women, in particular, and fails to ignite the passions of today's schoolgirls. Yet they are regularly promised more, by ministers, of the very thing than turns them off fitness. They put their pumps on grudgingly, if at all, and do not see the point.
Most games and sports are forms of hunting or warfare, however gentrified, and squaring up to rivals has, in the minds of young women, little connection with their obsession with body image. They will fret from an alarmingly early age about their shape and size, but are more likely to see skipping food at midday as a route to the body beautiful than donning the goal-shooter's bib straight afterwards. And this is not because girls are lazier than boys – they are tireless when motivated – they are just not that bothered about winning.
But the unappealing nature of so many sports, to girls, is not their only obstacle. Ed Balls, the Secretary of State for Schools, has encouraged schools to adopt PE clothing that appeals to girls, such as jogging bottoms. Girls, who are maturing at an earlier age, are often ill at ease in their fast-changing bodies and find some games activities unpleasant. This is not the time to be straddling benches or taking a direct hit on the chest from a netball. No wonder the Women's Sport and Fitness Foundation last week found that schoolgirls get more physical activity during their lunchbreak than during PE lessons. Most simply don't enjoy the latter.
What girls do love is dancing. They do it on dance pads, in the kitchen, in front of bathroom mirrors. They do it in the playground – with others, not against them. Play the music and they become not a striker for Man U but a Sugababe. Most can dance instinctively, as boys can kick a ball; they have rhythm, line, and pelvises designed to turn out.
The other day I saw an eight-year-old pole-dancing on the Tube. While most looked on disturbed by this junior display of precocious sexuality, I believe she was artlessly perfecting her bump and grind for the creative pleasure it gave her, and not for the benefit of others.
As little children, it is customary to flit like butterflies in the school hall and prowl like cats, reacting to music. But then, it seems, children become too old for such antics. From now on it is ballet (paid for, out of school time), or nothing. In other cultures, dance is at the heart of social rituals; and it is not always about sex.
Dance is inclusive: the chorus line and the traditional corps de ballet trade on a simple aesthetic phenomenon – 30 people doing the same movements can be magically more impressive than a solo. A classful of little Beyoncés needs every pair of hips and feet – not just those of the sporty girls.
Dancing burns as many calories an hour as basketball and requires no special equipment. You can do it until you drop. It expands the mind and tightens the tush. And the clothes are nice. We should get our girls dancing for exercise. Then we can start on the boys.Reuse content