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Animated Edition - Issues 1996 - 2001
How to be a Tequila Sheila or a red-headed stranger
Animated, Autumn 1996. Karen Hall goes globe trotting with Channel 4
With access and participation at the heart of current artistic policy making, Channel 4 scores top marks with an informative series on social dancing that is absolutely impossible to sit still through! 'Strictly Dancing' features, in six 30-minute programmes, a whole range of dancing styles - Ceroc, Tango, Raqs Sharqi, Sequence, Irish Set and Western Line Dancing - and travels the length and breadth of the country seeking out the people who live and breathe dance.

Often in dance, getting the horse to drink is the easy part and it is leading it to water that proves to be the challenge. Attending a dance class for the first time can be a nerve racking experience. Whilst the soundest advice on the matter may be 'nothing ventured - nothing gained' so just breathe in and take a plunge, 'Strictly Dancing' offers a more comfortable alternative. The series allows one to sample the latest dance crazes in the privacy of one's own home, guided through learning some of the basic steps and crucial dance etiquette. With these engaging lessons and persuasive strategies, one will soon out grow the confines of the living room or kitchen floor and then it's time to breathe out and make a splash!

The series portrays every day people whose appetite for dance is rarely satisfied by a once-a week class. Their progression from never having danced before to making guest appearances at festivals and winning competitions is proof of an incurable addiction - fuelled by renewed confidence that forming new friendships and the physicality of dance brings.

Dancing is about people and evidently all sorts of people across the socio economic map of the country are dancing. The real attraction is the ease and speed with which one can learn to dance regardless of age, shape or size, beliefs or attitudes. Watching couples glide across the floor in sequence dancing certainly dispels myths about ageing. Jogging, skipping and weight lifting - not to mention dancing five or six nights a week - are rarely perceived as part of the older generations' daily itinerary.

The series successfully conveys the truth that dance can empower and transform people's lives. In a Glaswegian town, a redundant miner teaches his grandchildren steps he has learnt from Western Line Dancing Both young and older generations share a recreation and a community, facing mass unemployment rekindles a sense of pride in their dance. A young mother trapped in the monotony of wheeling a pushchair for seven years relishes 'a chance to be childish, wild and free', whilst a taxi driver finds an escape from the stress and anxiety of driving his cab. For the people featured in the series, dance is a way out of a rut, a release valve and means of self expression - anyone can become a 'Tequila Sheila' or a 'Red headed Stranger!' For the Raqs Sharqi dancer whose spine was written off like an old car, dance became an incentive to get well. A journey to a foreign culture turned into a voyage of discovering herself. Apart from the more obvious health benefits, dance may also be a way of self healing, unlocking painful hidden memories and arriving at an acceptance of one's own body.

Having extolled the health-giving virtues of dance, a cautionary note is worth observing - dance is infectious. Channel 4's coverage of an epidemic sweeping the nation has only unleashed the germ on an unsuspecting public on TV's primetime! Who will be able to resist trying out a new dance class now? Community centres and dance workers all over the country need to be on alert!

Karen Hall is Dance Animateur for Rochester and Medway.

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Animated: Issues 1996 - 2001