Avoid your comfort zone: I only dance when drunk or alone. Can I face my fears and stay calm?

wooEveryone is programmed to dance, says Janet Manara. “The kids can’t walk, they can’t talk, but they play a song and they start to waver.” Growing up in Miami in a Cuban family, one of the first things she did when she danced salsa was to stand on her father’s feet.

You probably know Manra from her role as a professional dancer strictly Come Dancing, and presenting its companion show, it takes two. She’s the real deal, and she’ll teach me how to dance.

Somewhere inside me, I know what he means about being programmed. Music is important to me, and when it’s the right kind of music I feel the urge to get into it. But I haven’t gotten past the wavering stage. I’ve never felt completely comfortable – even at ease – on the dancefloor. The odds aren’t exactly in my favor: I’m a gangly, introverted, English, now 56-year-old bloke—it’s probably okay to throw the towel over it and accept my space as a withered wall.

But the issue is less about my body size or age, more about what’s going on inside my head. It’s about self-consciousness and self-confidence, too much and too little, respectively. I enjoy dancing, but I worry about how I look and what other people are thinking when I do it. That’s why I usually do this only when I’m drunk. or on his own. Often both, in fact.

And now, neither am I. It’s afternoon, we’re at a bright dance studio in Fulham, west London, and it’s scaring me. There are mirrors around the same wall – this will not help self-consciousness. It’s a constant reminder of how lonely I am. It’s not just me and Manra – Lucy from BBC Promotions is here, and David the Guardian photographer is also there with all of his belongings. “Forget he’s here,” Manra says. “Dancing isn’t about showing up, it’s about feeling a certain way, and as soon as you realize you’re not doing it for anyone other than yourself, you’ll dance well and enjoy it.” “

We start with a little warm-up: moving, loosening, head nodding, after which Manra says I have good self-awareness and get a celebratory double fist-bump. Now she’s going to teach me the basics of salsa. “Since salsa is the least technical, you don’t have to think much, as long as you can stick to the timing.” Then the target is not too high.

The moves I’m learning are less like the competition-standard Latin dance moves you see on Strictly, something you might see at a family party in Cuba. I am happy with it; Take me to the family party in Cuba. “It’s not a performance,” she says.

First without music, she shows me: step forward, back, close foot, step back, forward, close foot. Now raise the legs a little, oh no, like this. Next right and left, legs slightly bent, less stiff, less like a salsa-robot.

‘Dancing Isn’t About Showing’ … Sam Wollaston with Janet Manara. Photograph: David Levene / The Guardian

what about my arms? I never know what to do with my arms. “Imagine you’re playing the drums, hands out in front, elbows out, and your hands going in the opposite direction of your feet. And move the hips.” She moves her hips like a slalom skier. I stagger my , Like someone tripping drunk. Hips don’t lie. But I guess they can wait; Baby steps and all that.

Manarara then puts on some salsa music, louder, though not loud enough, to overcome my inhibitions. Now she’s in front of me: “Don’t look down, or you’ll step on my feet,” she says. Where to look then? I am not ready to make eye contact; I sat on his shoulder.

OK, well, it’s not that bad. But it is quite a specific routine that Manra has taught me, and I have been able to follow it. But I also want to be convinced, you know, just dancing, at a club (unlikely, these days, to be honest), at a wedding, possibly, Dad Dance to I’ll Survive, Staying Alive or Thriller .

“There’s no right or wrong, it’s about letting go. When a song comes on that you love, forget who’s around, it’s about you; just be Sam. What’s your favorite song.” ?” God, my favorite song, so many… “Your favorite style of music, then?” Er, I love reggae? She puts on Bob Marley’s Can You Be Loved and asks me to close my eyes and relax.

That – eyes closed – is a good one. I’m not in a bright studio with a famous dancer and a photographer from a national newspaper, I’m in a beach bar… Don’t let them change yes, hey! Or even rearrange! Oh no! And I’m starting to waver, in a good way – well, in my way, I don’t care whether it’s good or not, remember? I still don’t know what to do with my arms…

“please present!” Manara says. What in the air? I don’t think I do… well, maybe once, in Ibiza in 1987, but I’m not really the “hands in the air” kind of guy. So I move them around a little bit – but then I hear David walking away from my camera, and I remember where I am and why I’m here, and it ruins the moment.

Still, I get a double high five, and guess what: Manra says I have a natural inner rhythm! Ha! Obviously she tells everyone, but I’m taking it.

Anyway, back to salsa, and she wants to try one more thing. Remember the steps: forward, back, close foot, back, forward, close foot, then side, side. But now she holds my hand… and she’s making me self-conscious again. I should have mentioned the hand operation a couple of weeks ago, fresh scars this might sound a bit awkward and rough – that’s why she’s holding back in horror? She’s not holding back in horror, though – she’s walking around! Loosen your grip, she says. I see, we are being reduced like wet towels, to turn less.

She spins again, this time more successfully. I’m not going to lie, I’m a little pleased with myself, not that I had much to do with it. This leads to more congratulations and double high fives. “Owner of your length!” Manara tells me. what does this mean? “It’s not about being cocky or arrogant or thinking you’re the best when you walk into a room; it’s all about loving and embracing you. Make it your own!”

Got it: own my length. And I have to promise to go out and dance more often. “Because it really is medicine for the soul, and will help you with confidence in all aspects of your life.” Great, I think I’m fine then. From today no one puts Sam in the corner.

Janet Manara hosts Strictly Come Dancing live UK Arena Tour, 20 January-13 February.

Tickets Available Here strictlycomedensinglive.com