Matthew Bell: Why can't Le Freak be chic in Blighty?

Don't wait til you're 70 to get into the groove

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One of the few rewards of getting older is the realisation that you care less what other people think.

It dawned on me the other day when I walked into a nightclub with some friends and, instead of spending the first half-hour headbutting a corridor through a forest of armpits to reach the bar, to be sneered at by an impossibly good-looking waiter, who would have performed the tedious ritual of shick-shacking and pirouetting for 20 minutes to make two gin and tonics that leave no change from a £20 note, my friends and I marched onto the middle of the dance floor and, to misquote Lady Gaga, just danced.

We didn't know anyone so it did not matter how ridiculous we looked. None of us was looking for a date, so didn't have to impress. The club had looked like a fashion shoot until then, a self-conscious crowd of carefully-struck poses. Minutes later the whole room lit up. It wasn't so much a Mexican wave as a Cuban one, the gyrating spreading from hip to hip. Three hours passed and we all came out happier, fitter and only £2 poorer (for the coat man).

So news of a study which has revealed that the older men get, the better they dance, only confirms what I have begun to see among my peers. "Dance confidence" increases steadily with age, according to research conducted among 14,000 men and women, meaning that by the time you hit 70 you're ready to take on Justin Timberlake. I've seen it in my father, who far from embarrassing me at weddings with spangly "dad dancing", makes me jealous by effortlessly spinning a procession of thrilled women around the parquet.

The joy of being liberated from self-consciousness is one that only those who have experienced it can know about. You can't persuade a teenager that it doesn't matter what other people think. But you can make dancing less of a freak activity.

The philosopher Roger Scruton once wrote that the two activities instinctive to all humans are hunting and dancing. As I've never ridden to hounds I can't comment on the hunting, but he's right about dancing. Throwing yourself about to a beat is not something to be ashamed of, it's a fundamental part of most cultures.

I remember going to my first French wedding and being amazed to see members of every generation dancing perfectly choreographed moves completely unaided by drink. In England we do the YMCA.

The problem in this country is that nobody teaches us how to dance, and we're too self-conscious to learn. One of my happiest memories is the term I spent taking salsa classes at a girls' school. Being shut up at the boys' school down the road, I won't elaborate on my motives. But the main by-pleasure of that scheme came from being forced to take a partner and dance, instead of slinking about the sidelines.

Of course there will be a few who, no matter how old they get or how hard they try, will struggle to achieve grace or beauty when on the dance floor. John Sergeant and Ann Widdecombe spring to mind. But the lesson of Strictly Come Dancing is that having a go is no longer shameful, and that, like anything else, dancing is a discipline that can be learned.

Michael Gove is bravely introducing a return to prescriptive teaching methods. As someone who has always preferred having facts drilled into my head, rather than wafted around me like a cloud of scent, I'm delighted. But if only he would add dance classes to the national curriculum. A weekly bout of Scottish reels or square eights would both get children moving about and boost their self-confidence.

They would also learn a valuable life lesson much earlier than I, hurtling towards 30, ever did: that you don't need a rip-off gin and tonic to have a good time.

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