Books

Rediscovering my love of dancing changed my life... and inspired my book 

Dance is at the heart of Sally-Anne Lomas's novel, Love Like Your Heart’s on Fire

Illustration by Pierre Buttin capturing the movement of a group of dancers

Love Like Your Heart’s on Fire is out now (Story Machine, £12). Illustration: Pierre Buttin

I’m an enthusiastic though not very good dancer. In fact, I met my husband in a dance class. I was in my forties and single when, at a party, there was a demonstration of Lindy Hop followed by a taster class. I joined in and loved it.

In my youth, I was always dancing. Didn’t most of us spend our teenage years secretly throwing shapes in our bedrooms? When had dancing fallen out of my life?  Had I conformed to an unspoken rule that only the young are allowed to move their bodies in a certain way? Is adulthood the beginning of listening to sitting-down music, and keeping body movement to a minimum lest we be considered an ‘exhibitionist’? Somehow banned from imposing on our families the embarrassment of mum or dad dancing. But why? What’s the harm? Who doesn’t love a kitchen disco?

After that taster class, I signed up for Lindy Hop lessons, and from the moment I mastered the basic steps I went out dancing whenever and wherever I could. I’d come back from a night out dancing with my body tired but purring. I’d found a way of exercising that felt like fun rather than a hard slog. I found a friendly social scene where people of all ages mixed on the dance floor. I even found a husband.

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Since starting with Lindy Hop, I’ve tried lots of different kinds of dancing – ballet, contemporary, solo jazz, ballroom, salsa, northern soul and Zumba. Once I started looking there were loads of opportunities to explore dancing open to beginner adults. And it really doesn’t matter if I’m any good at it. I still get fit and have a laugh even if I can’t get my left foot to swivel, no matter how many times I try.

Introducing dancing back into my life has had a hugely positive effect on my wellbeing. I’m physically healthier and feel better about myself. I’ve met new people and learned new skills. I’ll never win any prizes, but I’m good enough to join in and enjoy myself. I really don’t care what I look like because I feel wonderful. Everyone has the right to dance, and I’m saddened by the number of people who feel too self-conscious to give it a go.

I’ve always believed in the power of creativity to heal and to provoke change. And I’ve found my body to be much wiser than my head. I wasn’t alone in having given up dancing, most people stop when they become an adult. But I think everyone, especially mature women, can benefit profoundly from the effects. I know women who in their everyday life carry an acute self-consciousness, but once a week go to a dance class and, for an hour or two, let go of their inhibitions and walk away feeling lighter and freer, with a new bounce to their step. 

I was in a cafe the other day and earwigged two women who looked to be in their sixties discussing their beginner ballet class with a Ukrainian refugee teacher. Their conversation was vivacious and full of laughter though I wouldn’t have marked out either of them as obvious ballerinas.

Dancing has been proven to have such a wide range of benefits to mental and physical health that rather than letting it drop out of our lives it should be actively encouraged for everyone. Some of the many benefits are improved heart and lung condition, improved muscular strength and aerobic fitness, stronger bones, reduced risk of osteoporosis, better coordination and flexibility, improved balance and spatial awareness, increased confidence, improved mental functioning, improved psychological wellbeing, greater self-esteem, and better social skills. It’s a no-brainer – turn up the radio, or click on that playlist, and bop yourself better. Who cares if the neighbours see you – invite them to join in.

My husband and I still go out dancing regularly, and we often have a Friday night disco in the kitchen while we’re cooking dinner, taking turns to DJ and jiving away the stresses of the week.

While I was writing my first novel Love Like Your Heart’s on Fire I worked with a choreographer (Sarah Lewis from Glasshouse Dance) to bring the dance scenes to life – dance is a huge part of the novel. I realised there was an exciting way of using movement and writing together and since then I’ve been developing a series of embodied writing workshops aimed at improving mental and physical wellbeing.

Expressive writing has also been shown to improve mental and physical health so bringing writing and dancing together is a double boost. I’m now working with my publisher to deliver embodied writing workshops to support stressed-out staff at NHS Trust hospitals. I’m on a mission to get everyone up dancing and make the world a happier, healthier place.

Love Like Your Heart's on Fire book cover

Love Like Your Heart’s on Fire by Sally-Anne Lomas is out now (Story Machine, £12). You can buy it from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income. To support our work buy a copy!

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