Why not – learn to dance?

Karen Hardy has long dazzled us with her big smiles and vibrant dance performances in BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing. Having left the programme to launch a deluxe ballroom dance studio with her husband Conrad Murray, she explains why ballroom dancing has become so popular.


‘Why is ballroom dancing so addictive?’ says Karen. ‘It has to be the hidden romance and memories that are linked with all of these great dances – from seeing Fred Astaire whisking Ginger Rogers off her feet back in the early 1920s to Jennifer Lopez getting Richard Gere completely addicted to dance in the movie Shall We Dance. Ballroom dancing is something that everyone can fall in love with.

‘Learning to dance, whether you are an absolute beginner or an up and coming world champion, has many benefits. Everything from health improvement to confidence building or simply as a means to take your mind away from the stresses and strains of daily life.’

Here, Karen and Conrad give their round-up of five dances that every new dancer needs to get grips with:

The jive was originally the UK’s version of the American jitterbug and East Coast Swing during the Second World War. US soldiers brought these dances to Europe around 1940, where they swiftly found a following among the young. Think James Dean and Marlon Brando – anywhere there was a radio, you had youngsters jiving and gyrating. Words such as ‘swing’, ‘be-bop’, ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ and ‘jitterbug’ sum up one clear picture – a high-energy, pulsating, action-packed and fun-filled dance that is still enjoyed to this day. It’s a dance that separates the men from the boys, as you will need a whole heap of energy.

With its up-tempo Latin music style, the origins of this dance are still argued about to this day – who truly invented it the Cubans or Puerto Ricans? Salsa is similar to mambo in that both have a pattern of six steps danced over eight counts of music. The dances share many of the same moves.

In salsa turns have become an important feature, so the overall look and feel is quite different from the mambo. Generally, mambo moves forward and backward, whereas salsa has more of a side-to-side movement. Whether at a wedding or the local salsa bar it is one of the most popular dances of the 21st century. Many people who have gone for a night of fun at a local salsa bar now find themselves regularly attending. This in turn has led to many young couples sourcing a dance studio in their area to improve their dancing.

With its beautiful, slow ballads the waltz’s origins (as with so many dance) are in folk dance. It is thought to have been born in the 17th century in the suburbs of Austria and Bavaria. By the 18th century the waltz had grown in popularity and it spread quickly throughout Europe. States and churches were up in arms – it was seen as a vulgar and immoral form of dance, as it was the first time that a man holding
a lady so close had been seen at society dances. The waltz remains one of the 
best known of all social dances, which is testament to its lasting appeal. The popular image of a man and woman, arm in arm, circling the dance floor with eyes only for each other, still represents the epitome of romance and sophistication. With a minimal amount of tuition, even if you have two left feet you’ll soon be moving around the dance floor.

The tango is said to have originated in 19th-century Buenos Aires in Argentina, where entertainment in the form of music and dance was a means of distracting people from poverty and depression. Many different cultures had migrated to the 
region – from as far away as Europe and Africa – and each added its own cultural elements to the dance. African beats, Latin and Indian rhythms and the popular music of the pampas (flatlands) in Argentina 
fused together to form a new music dubbed tango. It was a dance of the prostitute and pimp, creating movements of emotional expression and suggestive gyration. Over time this dance became less graphic, yet remains in this dance today. Tango holds a very unique character, which sets it apart from all of the other dances. Staccato actions, dramatic gestures and quick snaps of the head from one position to another give it great appeal, and many potential dancers wish to learn the steps.

This is an exciting, syncopated Latin dance which originated in the 1950s. The cha cha cha gets its name and character from its distinct, repetitive foot rhythm. Born
in Cuba, and said to have been named from the sound of Cuban slippers as 
they scratched along the dance floor, this became the biggest Latin craze to follow in the footsteps of the mambo. With a faster rhythm than the mambo, the cha cha cha’s mix of rolling hips left little room for physical contact, and it fed into the evolving demand for solo dancing. Solo or in partnership, the short steps, strong hip actions, tight mini skirts and cheeky sassy feel, attract both young and more mature dancers who are looking for a good time out. Even today, people are seen marking out the steps of the cha cha cha in the hippest and trendiest clubs to anything from a Perez Prado authentic groove to songs from Led Zeppelin, Jennifer Lopez and Lady Gaga

Having flown the flag for Great Britain for more than a decade and winning many international titles, Karen Hardy is now one of the most sort after international coaches and adjudicators around the world, as well as being coach and choreographer to many a celebrity. Her husband, Conrad, is also an acclaimed former champion of ballroom dancing. The couple now run Karen Hardy Studios, offering dance lessons and choreography at their waterfront studios in Chelsea, London.

For more details on luxury bespoke dance packages available at Karen Hardy studios see www.karenhardystudios.com

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