Waltz the Weight Away

British politicians anxious to combat juvenile obesity should learn from China, and rediscover an old dance

Here’s a suggestion for the Schools Secretary Ed Balls, or indeed his shadow Michael Gove: follow the example of Chinese educationalists who, as part of a campaign to combat childhood obesity, have introduced waltzing lessons into the national curriculum. DVDs have been sent out to schools all over China demonstrating waltz steps; gym teachers have busily been learning how to teach the dance.

Waltzing, it’s true, is at present about as remote from the interests of most schoolchildren as singing madrigals or crochet knitting. But as the great American social commentator H.L. Mencken observed: “The waltz never quite goes out of fashion; it is always just around the corner; every now and then it returns with a bang… it is sneaking, insidious, disarming, lovely.” And, he might have added, very healthy exercise. Basic waltz steps are not difficult to learn, but there is endless room for improving and perfecting your style and technique. Most importantly, though, waltzing is so much more joyous and exhilarating, so much less boring, than PE lessons and the various “lifestyle activities” – aerobics, Pilates, stretching and toning – that children are encouraged to undergo. And of course the music is irresistible.

A recent study has shown that many children, the obese presumably among them, are put off exercise altogether by having to partake in competitive team sports. So for the non-sporty a new approach is badly needed. Waltzing could well be the answer. What’s more, it’s a skill which you can continue to practise and enjoy more or less for the rest of your life – and for far longer than most sports.

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