Alexei Sayle’s Marxist demolition of Strictly Come Dancing.WHAT IS WHITE AND SHOOTS ACROSS THE FLOOR? COME DANCING.


Unselfconscious beauty and energy … Northern Soul dancers.

My hatred of ballroom dancing is in direct proportion to my love of pretty much all other forms of the art. In the 70s a good friend of mine from Southport Art College had been one of the Kings of Northern Soul at Wigan Casino. When he moved to London I would occasionally accompany him to all-dayers at the 100 Club on Oxford Street. My uncoordinated flailings on the dance floor were the least lovely aspect of these events but nobody seemed to mind, and I was always happy to be there simply because I always found myself so moved by the unselfconscious beauty and energy of the other dancers. There was something about the choreography and the avowedly working-class nature of the whole thing that always made me want to smile. (Wigan council found Northern Soul so challenging that they demolished the Wigan Casino and replaced it literally with nothing.) Similarly, if I am at a fiesta in some dusty town square in southern Spain when the band plays a sevillana and the entire pueblo (young and old, sleek teenagers and arthritic abuelas, schoolteachers and peasants) joins in with the steps of this ancient folk dance I am suffused with an overpowering love of all humanity – but if I accidentally see ballroom dancing I want to vomit.

Everything is wrong with ballroom dancing: the clothes, the music, even the expressions on the dancers’ faces, plus, of course, the dancing itself. The reason for this is simple: you get points for it. Ballroom dancing is an aesthetic pursuit, an art form, that has been turned into a competition the result of which is that everything is done to attract the attention of the judges. The competitors must try to fit within a set of rules and so a tawdry, flashy, kitsch aesthetic takes over. Imagine if actors got points for doing Shakespeare what kind of overblown, hammy performances you would get. Now ballroom dancing is not alone in promoting this repulsiveness: close relatives are figure skating and the disturbing Olympic event of rhythmic gymnastics (can anybody explain why it is only little girls in tight costumes who perform this “sport”?). All of this would not matter except a huge number of people are getting their perception of what dance is from watching Strictly, and this is disturbing.

If you see a couple performing a proper Argentine tango, you are watching a dance created in the brothels of Buenos Aires that reeks of melancholy and sex and is accompanied by complex music that has grown alongside the dance and is inseparable from it. Then you watch the ballroom version, all gurning faces and robotic, angular, hideous movement, which on the show is generally accompanied by awful music that has absolutely nothing to do with the dance; you are seeing a great popular art reduced to a terrible travesty. An Argentinian friend of mine said: “When I see ballroom dancing what I always think of is impotence.” And he is right, a dance between men and women is always to some degree about sex but there is nothing more sterile and uncarnal than ballroom.

Now, obviously, dance is not revolutionary in itself; art cannot directly affect politics, and, in fact, politics doesn’t seem able to directly affect politics. The audience from Giselle at London’s Royal Opera House are not going to storm into the streets and seize the telephone exchange no matter how elegant and authentic the performance, but what the celebrities who appear on Strictly are doing is taking part in the ongoing cultural war on critical thinking. Just as in as in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four where “War is Peace”, “Freedom is Slavery” and “Ignorance is Strength” so in Strictly ugliness is beauty, prancing is dancing and Judy Murray is Ginger Rogers. The end result is that when people are confronted by the truth they cannot see it because they have been so confused by lies. But watch out for my one man show Hot Tango, Cool Salsa coming soon to an arts centre near you.

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