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Last Updated: Wednesday, 8 June, 2005, 18:39 GMT 19:39 UK
Couples twirl to tea dance record
By Laura Smith-Spark
BBC News

Strictly Come Dancing duo Anton Du Beke and Hazel Newberry
Strictly Come Dancing's experts showed the crowd how to move
Setting a world record can rarely have been so much fun.

Under blue skies and sunshine, hundreds of people of all ages, shapes and sizes grabbed the first partner to hand and jived across London's Trafalgar Square.

Five minutes later they had tripped their way into the Guinness Book of Records for the biggest ever open air tea dance, with 195 couples counted.

White-bearded men twirled pretty girls, while silver-haired ladies waltzed with fit young men. Children on a school trip and even a pair of Pearly Queens joined in the melee.

Participants and onlookers - many clutching a free cup of tea - all seemed to be having a thoroughly good time.

Fairtrade focus

Organisers Teadirect said the idea behind the event was "decency" - as shown in drinking a decent cuppa, paying a fair price to tea growers and the chivalry of a tea dance.

The fairtrade company hopes combining Britain's love of tea with its new enthusiasm for TV dance shows will raise awareness of global trade issues in the run-up to July's G8 summit.

Sheila and Terry Martin
Sheila and Terry Martin travelled to London to join in the fun

Showing everyone how it should be done, Strictly Come Dancing duo Hazel Newberry and Anton Du Beke whirled on to the dance floor.

And there seemed no shortage of people willing to try out a foxtrot themselves.

"It's nice to have a live band and nice to dance properly," said 73-year-old Terry Martin, who travelled from West Wickham with wife Sheila to take part.

"There's quite a good mix - quite a few youngsters. What's finer than getting a gorgeous young girl in your arms and sliding around the dance floor?"

Do the rumba

Londoners Bill Wiltshire and Helen Burrell, both 75 and together for the past 16 years, might never have met without their shared love of dancing.

Bill Wiltshire and Helen Burrell
He asked for a dance and we've been together ever since
Helen Burrell

"I had recently been widowed and I started taking up dancing at the Cafe de Paris," said Mrs Burrell.

"The first person I saw that I wanted to dance with was Bill. He finally asked me to dance to a rumba.

"I saw him a few weeks later unexpectedly - he asked for a dance and we've been together ever since."

And having two left feet or a phobia of public exposure seemed no excuse for being a wallflower at this event.

Faint-hearted men?

Well-practised men and women labelled "decent dancers" surveyed the dance floor, ready to pluck the hesitant or partnerless from the crowd and twirl them into a cha cha cha.

Twenty-six-year-old Billy Burke, a South African living in London, had taken a break from dancing for pop star Rachel Stevens to lend a hand.

'Decent dancer' wearing a sign
Experienced dancers were deployed to help novices learn the steps

"It's been really, really good - people love dancing and they don't get the chance to every day," he said.

And his advice to the more faint-hearted among his fellow men?

"Just do it and don't be embarrassed at all because everyone has to start somewhere.

"I used to be teased all the time at school but all of a sudden you realise that when you get older, you are the person who can dance with any girl you want."

Life skill

Spectator Simon Needler, 26, from London, may need lessons but not too much persuasion.

"It's something I want to be able to do as a good life skill but I haven't got a clue to be honest. I'll just have to get over that scared threshold."

The revitalising influence of television dance shows is plainest to see among the younger generation.

Crowd dancing in Trafalgar Square
People of all ages have been encouraged by TV dance shows

Edward Reynolds, 18, from Gravesend, had accompanied girlfriend Sarah Jane Turner to London on a trip to buy trousers for dancing.

"I watched Strictly Dance Fever at the weekend and I was quite impressed," he said.

"I'm just building up the courage and we will have a go eventually," she added.

Many of the older dancers are regulars at a host of tea dances held in town halls around London and at the Royal Opera House - co-sponsor of the Decent Dance in the Square.

Jackie Murphy, Pearly Queen of Hackney, points out fellow Pearly Queen Phyllis Broadbent as she waltzes by.

"Phyllis goes to all the tea dances in London. It's a good thing because it gets out the older people to meet friends, and lots of partnerships have been set up at tea dances.

"All these people today have come from different areas. It's great to see people just enjoying themselves."

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