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