I was a young male ballroom dancer and these are my scars

Paul Mercurio (Scott) and Tara Morice (Fran) demonstrate their surprising dance floor chemistry.

Paul Mercurio (Scott) and Tara Morice (Fran) demonstrate their surprising dance floor chemistry.

Stalled behind a Sydney city taxi, I was confronted by an advertisement on the cab’s boot. In a lyrical font, the advertisement announced the debut season of Strictly Ballroom the musical.  

But I knew there was no way I would be contacting Ticketmaster. It’s not that I object to musical theatre, it’s that I don’t trust myself, given what happened 22-years ago.

I was nine and at my most impressionable when Paul Mecurio sashayed onto the big screen as Scott Hastings in Strictly Ballroom. Scott wore diamante. He had bravado. He danced non-Federation steps at the Pan-Pacific championships.  

A scene from Strictly Ballroom. Electrifying!

A scene from Strictly Ballroom. Electrifying!

Entranced by Scott and partner Fran’s unlikely dance floor chemistry, I saw the movie for a second, third and eventually eleventh time. With every viewing of Baz Lurhmann’s propaganda, I became convinced that Latin American dancing was something that I needed to get into, and in a big way.

With the dream of one day competing in the Pan Pacific Grand Prix, I badgered my parents into signing me up at the local dance school, Stepz Dance Studio. I donned the studio’s pacific blue and electric pink training track-suit, and began ballroom dance lessons.


Unlike every other hobby I tried as a kid and gave up because I wasn’t immediately successful, this was different. I had a disposition for dance, and things would never be the same.

The judge who oversaw my first Latin American dancing exam, gave me straight one hundreds for my medley of the cha cha cha, samba and jive. He scrawled across the examination form, “This young man has star quality,” and “James’ hip action is advanced well beyond his nine-years”.

My parents knew they were supposed to be supportive, but after reading the judge’s comments, they were wary of the sort of person ballroom dancing attracted. They were also unconvinced that any good can come from spending so much time in jazz slippers.

In their defence this was 1992; it was a time before ‘So you think you can Dance Australia’. Mum and Dad couldn’t have imagined the boundless opportunities that reality television would one day present.

But, despite my parents’ misgivings, my meteoric rise through the ranks of the juvenile dancing divisions continued. I was placed at my first national championships as a 12-year old; I was on top of the world, well, Australasia.

That is until my school friends found out that I was a ballroom dancer. Given I went to an all boys school, I’m not sure why I chose the topic, “Ballroom Dancing: Why it’s better than footy”, for my entry into the Year Seven speech competition.

This was the mid-nineties; that was also a time before Glee had made it OK for weird kids at high school. So in the interests of self-preservation, I stopped dancing. But not before I had given all the kids in the choir a major reprieve.  

But as adulthood arrived, I came to realise that Strictly Ballroom had left an indelible mark.

To this day, when I hear Cyndi Lauper’s Time After Time piped into an elevator, I begin to sway, sensually, regardless of the presence of others. When I’m running and listening to my ipod, I fall into a trance, reliving cha cha cha glory.

At social occasions, when there’s a rhythmic beat and a supply of chardonnay, I edge towards the dance floor, whether that’s the space between someone’s coffee table and the couch at a house party, or a the wider expanses of a community hall at a wedding. 

When I’m on that floor, I’m home. I find it impossible to suppress those years of amateur dance training, or reign in my trademark hip action. All I hear is the music.  Instinctively I begin to do astonishing things.

I feel the eyes on me watching and I know exactly what they’re thinking: “Isn’t that guy taking things a little seriously? Who does he think he is, Paul Mecurio?”

That is why I don’t trust myself to see Lurhmann’s musical. I can’t bear any further encouragement.