Dance, dance, wherever you may be . . .

Britons are dancing like they've never danced before

I have never been in love like this before. It's a passionate, exhilarating, challenging affair. It has transformed me. Previously buried parts of myself have surfaced. I've had to surrender, give up control, let go of my inhibitions and self-consciousness, which, for a repressed, uptight Scot, has not been easy.

But it's been worth it. I've never been happier. I know that this relationship isn't going to end in tears and, although it's been only nine months, I can say with near certainty that this one is until death (or perhaps immobility in my later years) do us part.

We may be bombarded with depressing news about the recession, housing crisis, credit crunch. Yet step inside any community hall in Britain and, judging by the sea of smiling faces you're likely to meet, you would think that times had never been so good. Everyone, it seems, is dancing.

Perhaps this is in response to all the bad news. Historically, in times such as the Depression, the Second World War and the Seventies oil crisis, people headed to the dance floor. But, on top of the economy, the success of the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing, which returns to our screens on 20 September and was one of the most widely watched shows on TV last year, has undoubtedly been a large factor in the recent renaissance.

My own love affair with ballroom and Latin American dance began, bizarrely, a few years after my parents became smitten. They started going to classes three times a week and talked about it with contagious enthusiasm. The idea of my father - a lovely man but one not inclined to let himself go or express too much emotion (think of a Scottish John Cleese) - strutting his stuff on the dance floor was something I had to see with my own eyes. I went along with a friend to one of their monthly balls, expecting a good giggle.

I was dumbfounded. All these couples, aged between early twenties and late seventies, all shapes and sizes, including my own mum and dad, gliding across a dance floor in a large burgh hall on the outskirts of Glasgow, looking elegant and totally lost in the moment, in the music, the dance, their partner. I've never seen so many couples looking deliriously happy. It was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen.

One of the dancers asked me to join him for a waltz. I told him I couldn't dance. He insisted everyone could dance. I said, "Not me." But he wouldn't take no for an answer and I reluctantly allowed him to lead me as I stumbled self-consciously round the dance floor. I stood on his toes. He stood on mine. I bumped into other dancers, nearly tripping myself up and causing a collision. But it felt good, and at the end of it I decided I was going to learn to dance.

Now, nine months later, I feel an uncharacteristic pride when I tell people I can do the waltz, quickstep, cha-cha, tango, samba, salsa, jive and rumba. The realisation that I don't have two left feet after all has rendered me obsessed. When I'm not at my dance class I find myself doing the steps under my desk. Or - and I know this will sound crazy to non-dancers - practising them in my head.

I have become, to my complete surprise, someone who lives to dance. As soon as I step into my special sparkly suede-soled dancing shoes nothing matters but the moment.

It has been said that dancing the tango is like being in love for three minutes. But it is not only the sexy, flirtatious Argentinian dance that has this effect. Perhaps because I am still a beginner, to me every dance is intoxicating. So, if all the talk of recession is getting you down, go dancing. It's cheap, healthy and sociable, and it will make you feel like a child again - free from cares and worries. At least until tomorrow.

Lorna Martin's "Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" is published in paperback by John Murray on 18 September (£6.99)

This article first appeared in the 01 September 2008 issue of the New Statesman, The truth about GM food

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David Cameron's speech: a hymn to liberalism from a liberated PM

The Prime Minister spoke with the confidence of a man who finally has a full mandate for his approach. 

At every one of his previous nine Conservative conference speeches, David Cameron has had to confront the doubters. Those Tories who rejected his modernisation of the party from the start. Those who judged it to have failed when he fell short of a majority in 2010. Those, including many in his own party, who doubted that he could improve on this performance in 2015. Today, rather than confronting the doubters, he was able to greet the grateful. As the first majority Conservative prime minister for 18 years, he rightly savoured his moment. "Why did all the pollsters and pundits get it so wrong?" he asked. "Because, fundamentally, they didn't understand the people who make up our country. The vast majority of people aren't obsessives, arguing at the extremes of the debate. Let me put it as simply as I can: Britain and Twitter are not the same thing." Labour should pin that line to its profile. 

With a full mandate for his approach, Cameron went on to deliver his most unashamedly liberal speech to date. Early on in his address, he spoke with pride of how "social justice, equality for gay people, tackling climate change, and helping the world's poorest" were now "at the centre of the Conservative Party's mission". A lengthy section on diversity, lamenting how "people with white-sounding names are nearly twice as likely to get call backs for jobs than people with ethnic-sounding names", was greeted with a standing ovation. Proof, if needed, of how Cameron has changed his party beyond recognition. The former special adviser to Michael Howard, who avowed that "prison works", told his audience that prison too often did not. "The system is still not working ... We have got to get away from the sterile lock-em-up or let-em-out debate, and get smart about this." From now on, he declared, the system, would "treat their [prisoners'] problems, educate them, put them to work." 

There were, of course, oversights and lacuna. Cameron reaffirmed his commitment to a budget surplus but glossed over the unprecedented, and many believe undeliverable, that will be required to achieve it (and which may fail to do so). He hailed the new "national living wage" with no mention of the tax credit cuts that will leave the same "strivers" worse off. His "affordable" starter homes will be unaffordable for average-earning families in 58 per cent of local areas. But it is a mark of Cameron's political abilities that it was easy to forget much of this as he spoke. Like George Osborne, he deftly appropriated the language of the left ("social justice", "opportunity", "diversity", "equality") to describe the policies of the right. Cameron is on a mission to claim ownership of almost every concept associated with Labour. The opposition should not sleep easily as he does so. 

There was little mention of Labour in the speech, and no mention of Jeremy Corbyn by name. But when the attack came, it was ruthlessly delivered. "Thousands of words have been delivered about the new Labour leader. But you only really need to know one thing: he thinks the death of Osama bin Laden was a 'tragedy'". The description of Corbyn as the "new Labour leader" shows the Tories' ambition to permanently contaminate the party, rather than merely the man.

There are plenty of potential landmines ahead for Cameron. The comically lukewarm applause for his defence of EU membership was a reminder of how divided his party is on this issue. But today, he spoke as a man liberated. Liberated by winning a majority. Liberated by not having to fight an election again. Like a second-term US president, he was able to speak of how he was entering "the second half of my time in this job". Tributes to Osborne (the "Iron Chancellor) and Boris Johnson (greeted with a remarkable standing ovation) alluded to the contest to come. But whoever succeeds him can be confident of assuming a party in good health - and more at ease with the modern world than many ever thought possible. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.