Nicola Hill turns up the dial on the soundtrack of middle-age with lessons in sexy dancing from a childhood heroine.
When I grow up I want to be a dancer. I have been saying it since I was six and nothing has changed even as I push into what is sometimes called my ‘second act’.
Indeed, it is something I tell my daughters regularly, especially when I try to persuade them to watch my latest dance routine. Mostly they laugh and say they have much more interesting things to do than to watch their mum gyrate to the latest Ed Sheeran hit. Yet, if they stayed around long enough to cast an eye over my living room performances, they would be surprised.
Things have taken a turn for the better down in tranquil Teddington. I have turned up the dial: a lot. Middle-aged mum dancing has gone, banished by show-stopping steps and sexy, come hither looks that could even steal a few votes at Strictly Coming Dancing.
I am now a member of an elite dance troupe led by Pauline Peters from Legs & Co., the successful dance troupe which appeared weekly on Top of The Pops from 1976 to 1981. For one hour, twice a week, I join Pauline's Dance Motivation classes at my local health club and I am transformed into a sensuous, slinky siren - in my mind at least.
Like most teenagers, my friends and I used to try and copy the routines of Legs & Co. on TOTP. Our audiences were our mums who would watch bemused as we attempted to emulate the high-octane style of our heroines. How I wished I could spend just an hour with any one of those glamour girls.
So much has happened since then. A career as a journalist, TV presenter and writer, a lifelong love of yoga and of course my two daughters. I am older but intend to live that second act with some gusto. Which is why for one hour twice a week I am finally getting the tuition I need from exactly the person I admired as a teenager. Pauline, the self-styled Oriental member of the troupe, is my very own teacher. I have joined Pauline's Dance Motivation classes at my local health club and – even if rather late in the day - I am transformed from a fifty-something mum to sensuous, slinky siren. I feel empowered on almost every level.
If I had been told then that forty years after first watching Legs & Co., this iconic dancer would be putting me through my paces, I would have been struck speechless. Born in Burma but brought up in the East End, Pauline started dancing at Arlene Phillips's classes in The Pineapple studio, London. She auditioned for the dance group after performing in Europe and on the cruise liners. Then, for five years she and her five co dancers would learn a new dance routine on a Monday, ready for the show's filming on a Wednesday. If the song started sliding down the pop charts they would have to quickly master another routine for an alternative top ten hit.
Luckily for me Pauline gives us more time to learn our dances; we have a new routine every month with each class building on the steps taught at the previous practice. Inevitably, I've forgotten half of what she teaches which is why it take us weeks to master a dance she would learn in a day, although Pauline admits she was always the slowest to remember a routine when she was a professional dancer, which is heartening for her new team.
Our Legs & Co. company is more advanced in years than the original line up; Paula is the eldest. She knows mastering new steps helps keep her brain as well as her body active. Julie always picks up the combinations quicker than the rest of us, and Elizabeth makes sure we keep our energy levels up by baking chocolate brownies to eat with coffee after the class. Then there’s Jill, Isabel, Trish, Cathy, Candy, Claire, many more than the six dancers in the original group but we think it is a case of the more the merrier. None of us is in the first flush of youth by any means we say experience is what counts.
We dance to hits from all decades. Pauline choreographs every routine, taking into account the speed with which we can dance, the inevitable knee, hip, back and shoulder injuries and our dwindling ability to remember complicated dance combinations.
But despite this she has whipped us into shape with a variety of dances ranging from Bollywood to Charleston, Salsa and Burlesque. Her patience, encouragement and perseverance ensure we perform dance routines that have more than a passing resemblance to the ones she performed on TOTP only without the gyrating around a pole, obviously. When Pauline says we are going to do a 'kick ball change' followed by a 'pony' and then a 'step tap', I know exactly what she means, and my feet and body now move in the right way at the right time, albeit less elegantly and with much less hip swing than our teacher. I confidently pepper my conversation with these terms when boasting about my prowess to my daughters. I still sense some disinterest but also a glimmer of pride.
The original Legs & Co. wore sexy outfits, high heels and had props such as hats and canes, they swung themselves around street lamps. Our Dance studio at the Lensbury Health Club, by the Thames, has spinning bikes in one corner and a punch bag in another, props to avoid rather than embrace. However, we imagine we are holding a top hat or a cane as we attempt our spins in jogging bottoms, T-shirts and trainers.
Pauline left Legs & Co. to pursue an acting career, appearing in Tenko, and then trained as a fitness and dance instructor which has been her career for the past 33 years. She's happily married to Michael Davies whom she met on a ‘Celebrity It's a Knockout’ programme 38 years ago. She has two daughters and a gorgeous grandson. She also teaches pilates, aquarobics, aerotone, stretch and relax but it is the Dance Motivation class that remains her favourite, especially with her own troupe of Legs & Co.
We don't concentrate on how many calories or inches we have lost but we can see our bodies slowly becoming firmer, our tummies flatter and our bums are all a little less droopy. Good posture, the great asset in middle age, is our real reward.
However, it is our laughter at the beginning of the month and the pleasure when we master the whole routine four weeks later that gives Pauline the most satisfaction and professional pride. I and my fellow members of today's Legs & Co. feel those same emotions at the end of each month as we confidently display our shimmies, body ripples, hip bumps and head rolls, definitely the best type of exercise.
Age cannot wither us…not just yet anyway.
This article first appeared in the Telegraph
How to live well
Health, wealth and happiness on our stretch of the Thames
Joining Legs & Co. at 50
©RiverTribe Magazine 2017