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Strictly, but nicely

Everything about Strictly is good. Here is a programme featuring an element of reality - st

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Who could possibly not love dancing; or, even if such a fellow were too shy to do so himself, who could possibly not love watching someone else dance and imagine himself so nimble and free? I've a theory, based entirely on my own musings, that as a nation we don't kiss enough - I'm talking proper snogging - and neither do we dance enough. One very likely is because of the other.

This can in part explain why 12 million of us (last year's figures) watch Strictly Come Dancing (and that's not counting the videos of highlights posted on YouTube or the downloads from the BBC's iPlayer). It is a programme that appeals to anyone whose heart still beats within their chest.

Everything about Strictly is good. Here is a programme featuring an element of reality - stars not only playing themselves, but actually doing something. They work, they sweat, they get it wrong, they feel fear, sometimes pain. Some of them have been off our screens for a while and we may wince slightly as we see how age has treated them, but the bitchiness stays checked because Strictly makes you behave well and think nice thoughts. It is our link with a safer, better world. These days we have enough of doom and gloom, of thinking we will all end up homeless, jobless but living to be 109. We all need a comfort blanket, and the BBC provides this for us every Saturday night.

Bruce Forsyth, one of the two presenters, plays the crucial role. "Brucie" himself is safe; there is nothing scary about him. He has been on television for as long as TV has existed. And the judges are so nice! This past week the worst comment was of the "not a bad effort" variety (Craig to Jessie Wallace and her partner). Sometimes cruel, brutal honesty, à la Simon Cowell, is fun; but not all the time.

Now then, the costumes. Each one is specially stitched each week, but none of them makes me feel anxious, because they're all gently tacky: as if a super-loving Auntie Sheila (who wanted to dance but never quite managed it, so puts all of her love into the chiffon and sequins) had made them. One just thinks, "Ahhh!" The wonderful thing about proper, structured dance is that there is an etiquette. The female competitors' dresses may be frothy and whimsical but they are always this side of decent.

Dancing is primal and we ignore primal urges at our peril. But even really grown-up and, let it be said, sexy, people like Ralph Fiennes find dancing daunting. "I'm better now at getting up and dancing," he said once in an interview. "I got really mad with someone the other day when he said 'that's white-boy dancing', because it had taken me so long to get to that point. I think everyone should feel they can get up and sing and dance without being laughed at."

The lovely, freeing thing about ballroom dancing is that it has steps, so we don't feel we will be judged on our own free-form interpretation of the music. We feel that we could, if we wanted to, learn how to do it. And we could, and we should.

Annalisa Barbieri was in fashion PR for five years before going to the Observer to be fashion assistant. She has worked for the Evening Standard and the Times and was one of the fashion editors on the Independent on Sunday for five years, where she wrote the Dear Annie column. She was fishing correspondent of the Independent from 1997-2004.

This article appears in the 06 October 2008 issue of the New Statesman, Perils of power