Looking for romance? Then become a lord of the dance
As on Strictly, the 'horizontal tango' is all the rage, writes Deirdre Reynolds
Strictly Come Dancing? The hit BBC show will soon have to be renamed Strictly Romancing, if backstage tongue-wagging is to be believed.
Another series, another burgeoning romance for the TV programme, which pairs celebrities with professional dance partners in a ballroom dance-off -- after EastEnders starlet Kara Tointon admitted her "Russian hunk" has left her in a spin.
The soap stunner (27) has worked herself into a lather over dance partner Artem Chigvintsev, swooning: "He's gorgeous in every way and his accent is pretty nice -- he has a lovely voice to go with it.
"On the first show, he did this glide over to me and it left me a bit flustered, I must admit. I did think I was the luckiest contestant to get Artem.
"It's early days yet," she added, fuelling speculation that they're more than just friends, "but we are getting on very well."
Smitten kitten Kara wouldn't be the first Strictly contestant to reportedly get jiggy with her dance partner in more ways than one.
Past contestants singer Alesha Dixon, Hollyoaks' Ricky Whittle, newsreader Natasha Kaplinsky, EastEnders' Matt Di Angelo and boxer Joe Calzaghe have all been at the heart of Strictly romance rumours after appearing on the libidinous series.
It's not called the 'horizontal tango' for nothing, tells another of this year's contestants Pamela Stephenson -- who says her steamy stint on the show has spiced up her sex life with hubby Billy Connolly.
Sex therapist Pamela (60) wowed the judges with her racy rumba with 32-year-old partner James Jordan -- but she says it's her beardy hubby who's reaping the rewards.
"My sex life has improved," boasts the glam gran, "even after 30 years of marriage. I have got a bit friskier in the bedroom.
"My husband is so happy I'm losing weight," she adds, "so instead of being jealous of James, he's his best friend as James is making me the babe Billy wants me to be!"
"Sex is just like dancing in terms of how it makes you feel," agrees former Strictly judge Arlene Phillips. "It's great exercise and good for the mind."
With all those gyrating hips, little wonder then that Irish singletons are flocking back to the ballroom.
Like their grandparents and parents before them, footloose guys and girls here are going back to dance halls looking for love -- but today's Ballroom of Romance is a bit more bump'n'grind than jigs'n'reels.
From frisky foxtrots to sexy salsa, Dirty Dancing-style dating is fast overtaking bars, speed dating and the internet on the Irish singles scene. And these days, if a couple tells you they swing -- it's not quite what you might have in mind.
"Dance classes are a great place to meet someone," says Joshua N Amaechi of Afrimania.com, who teaches salsa and hip hop classes throughout Dublin. "Lots of people have hooked up at my classes!
"People aren't drinking," he explains, "but because they're dancing and having fun, they loosen up. You usually see the same people every week, so you really get to know them. And of course, you're in close proximity to your dance partner -- which helps!
"It's a lot more sociable than being down at the pub.
"People think it's all women," adds the instructor, "but you'd be surprised how many single guys come along."
So what of the accusation that Irish men are about as well choreographed as a bag of cats?
"Now that's not fair!" laughs Joshua. "Irish men get a lot of stick for not being able to dance, but some of the guys in my classes are really good."
Just like Patrick Swayze's lothario Johnny Castle, research has shown that men who strut their stuff have better body symmetry, making them more sexually attractive.
Dubliner Melanie Doran (26), who met her boyfriend Julien Flierenbaum at a salsa class at the National Dance Academy in Dublin, agrees.
"I suppose you could say I was attracted by his moves," jokes Melanie.
"I started going to salsa five years ago with aunty and her friends for a bit of fun and exercise. But I was surprised to see loads of men there.
'Julien joined the class about two years ago and as the weeks went by we got to know each other. Eventually, he asked me out for a drink after class and we've been together since.
"I'd definitely recommend it to single girls or girls who have just broken up with their boyfriend like I had," she adds.
"A lot of these guys are Latino and the dancing is sexy without being sleazy. There's a sense of closeness and enjoying the other person's company; but unlike a night club, there's no pressure."
Dance classes get the heart pumping in other ways too, says Donna Giffen of Zumba.ie -- the US Latin dance sensation.
The red-hot fitness regime coined by Colombian Beto Perez has helped melt the inches of 7.5 million enthusiasts across the globe.
"People have so much fun at our zumba parties that they forget they are exercising," says Donna. "We follow the basic principles of cardio training, but with the passion of Latin rhythms that offers a feel good factor the gym doesn't.
"The class targets problem areas like the legs, core and arms, as well as improving your flexibility, self-esteem and mood. People generally leave feeling fitter, more confident and sexy."
Whether for fitness or a fling, tripping the light has never been more popular here thanks to the sex appeal of shows like Strictly Come Dancing, Dancing on Ice and Dancing With the Stars, says the zumba education specialist.
"Shows like Strictly have definitely helped our numbers," adds Donna. "We all have a Dancing Queen in us. Irish men, in particular, are looking for something other than the traditional male team sport -- and, let's face it, it's a bonus if a man's got moves!"