Emma Barnett on politics, daily gripes and finding solace in music

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Emma Barnett, who presents Newsnight on BBC Two and The Emma Barnett Show on BBC Radio 5, on why we were born to dance.

First it started with a little chubby toe tap. Then it spread to his whole foot, beautifully elevated in the air. And then, finally, it found its way to his shoulders. Off they rolled. Doing things he didn’t even know were possible. It was all down to the beat. What am I talking about? The unequivocally most joyful moment of my whole year: witnessing my 22-month-old son dance properly for the first time.

Or, to be more accurate, the first time I watched, open-mouthed with glee, music infuse his whole body. Observing a little person’s first musical shuffle while they keep a poker face, unsure of what on God’s Earth is happening but safe in the knowledge it feels damn good, takes some beating.

It’s been a funny old year. We’ve had two prime ministers, one snap election, two versions of the same Brexit deal and one proroguing of parliament – which was swiftly unprorogued. And that’s just politics. I’ve not even mentioned the rest of the country; us and all of our daily gripes – serious and trivial. But, as ever, music has got me through.

At work I have a weird ritual before I go on air, whether that’s radio or TV: I listen to Faithless. Any tune; any album. I’m not fussy. I rely heavily on a diet of Maxi Jazz’s dulcet tones and Sister Bliss’s blazing beats to get me into the interviewing zone, to write scripts at pace. And, when those headphones go on, I’m transported to a different place. But I have felt for a very long time that the thing I don’t do enough of is dance – none of us do.

As my dear friend Emma Zangs says, we retire far too early from the dance floor. Emma is a trained dancer and choreographer so you may expect someone with her background to espouse such a view. But in her compelling TEDx talk, ‘We Are All Dancers’, she makes a flawless argument: we are actually born to dance. Our first moves are in the womb; those instinctive somersaults and high kicks, all performed to the first beat we know: our mother’s heartbeat. Then once we’re on our feet – as I’ve seen in my household with my shoulder-rolling son – we move again with abandon and dance as if no one is watching, new sounds enveloping our being.

But then something happens, most likely in our early teens, and we hang up our dancing shoes, shamed into and fearful of looking bad. Of course, many of us will make a triumphant return to the dance floor in our late teens and early 20s, aided, no doubt, by serious quantities of alcohol. I know I did. And my gosh it was glorious (I think).

But I loathe what shame can do. Or the fear of it. I wrote a book this year trying to debunk period shame and change the narrative around menstruation, from one of quiet doom to one of honesty and, at times, hilarity. That fear of looking stupid has stopped too many of us, myself included, in life, and on the dance floor.

Emma now works as a movement coach helping non-dancers – usually business leaders – find their rhythm again. Not in a bid to join the ranks of Strictly (see what I did there, Claud – always good to please your editor), but to help them when delivering important presentations and speeches. Because becoming a mover/dancer again helps with posture, stage presence and, of course, confidence.

I know there are some logistical issues. Many public places don’t offer the chance to dance. And if you don’t fancy a club or a Zumba class, it’s easy to understand why the only time in the year you may end up shimmying is at a wedding or the office Christmas party. Again, probably both alcohol induced. But it’s not enough. In fact, it’s downright tragic that as we stop going to clubs or going out on the pull – or indeed both – that we leave dancing to the young, the pissed and the professionals. They don’t own dancing. We all do. It’s our birthright.

So the point is: moving makes us all far happier. Go on, try it right now. Wherever you are. Just start flailing your arms around. Even without music. You will feel instantly better.

As I look forward to 2020, I solemnly promise to move more, with or without booze or even a beat. Of course, once our boy reaches a certain age, his shame of a dancing mum will reach terrifying levels. But I shan’t care. Until then, I’m holding onto his hand and following his fearless lead onto the kitchen dance floor. The question is, are you with us? Remember, it all starts with a little toe tap…

CLAUDIA SAYS: Emma is the most extraordinary broadcaster, a fantastic interviewer. I listen and watch with awe and couldn’t have imagined the election without her.

Emma Barnett presents Newsnight on BBC Two and The Emma Barnett Show, 10am-1pm, on BBC Radio 5 Live. Her book, Period. It’s About Bloody Time (£12.99, HQ) is out now. Keep her up to date with your dancing antics @emmabarnett

Main image: Supplied by PR

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