STRICTLY Come Dancing has a lot to answer for and in West Devon the extremely popular TV show has caused a craze in ballroom and Latin American dances.

In village and community halls across the area the Samba, Cha-Cha-Cha, Jive, tango and Paso Doble are seen as supporting mental health, reducing isolation and boosting community spirit.

A key person in this rejuvenation of mass community dance is Polish dance teacher Tom Ziemski who has been recognised with an award from the village where he lives, for introducing his classes in the village hall which have proved to help cement village community spirit and raise money for the hall

Tom started his new part time venture Dartmoor Dance School after he was approached by a community worker Sandra Dodd, area Methodist lay worker, because of the wider benefits of mass dance participation which prompted him to start up more classes.

It is only by lucky chance that Tom ever got involved in dance — his real interest as a typical boy, was football. The roots of his life-long interest in dance started when he was asked as little boy to be the partner of a girl at a dance session in Poland where he grew up and he stuck with dance at the expense of football from then on.

From his home overlooking Milton Combe, Tom explained: “I was asked by this girl who was the same age as me, about seven, to be her partner to go to a dance session. The rule was that you had to have a partner in order to take part. I wasn’t interested in dancing, I liked football like any youngster and really didn’t want to. However, I was persuaded to after her first choice boy turned her down. So, my interest in dance began, by being a second choice partner. I even remember her name, she was Kasia. Luckily I really got hooked. The style of ballroom and Latin American appealed to me as a football lover because it has structure and rules and rhythm. Because of this I could see my progression and I improved fast. So, Kasia did me a favour by me being her second choice. Young lads all need affirmation that they are doing well when growing up. So, football’s loss was dancing’s gain. We went to three dance sessions a week which was very intense and there was no room for football. Dancing and only school homework was my life.”

Tom was very academic at school (up to age 15 in Poland) and became a primary school teacher for ten years in his hometown of Gryfino in NW Poland. His dance career really took off and he reached national and international level. His international experience involved a Baltic area countries competition in which Poland did not do particularly well, but, that was not unexpected said Tom, however, it was good experience. He also ran a dance school in Poland and many of his proteges were good enough to compete in national competitions.

In the same way as football lost out on Tom’s dedication and dance skills, so Poland did when he emigrated to the UK in 2004 where he worked in pre-packed lettuce production in Cambridge, first as a shift worker then as a supervisor: “I was happy as a supervisor and got well paid compared to being a teacher in Poland which is notoriously badly paid and that is why I came to this country I got the job initially because, to put it simply, I could count and I could speak English.”

He then moved to London, to ‘seek his fortune in the big city’, but ‘put the ‘big smoke’ behind him and moved to Devon to live a quieter life. His full time job is as a data protection officer for Equinox.

He now teaches dance in Okehampton, Tavistock, Princetown and Milton Combe: “I’m constantly impressed by the hard work people put into perfecting their moves and trying to constantly improve. It’s not a competition and I tell them it’s a journey, but married couples in particular are very competitive. However, they have been at work all day and then put in yet more time for dance and finish late. It’s very rewarding to see how much they get out of it. It’s an escape from their everyday life and single people are equally welcome.

“I blame Strictly Come Dancing. I think people see themselves in the roles you seen on ‘Strictly’. Also, I notice how much more knowledgeable people are about talking about what they think I’m looking for in their dancing, which is all from what the TV judges say. All the talk at the classes is about the programme and the routines. To be honest it’s good for my classes and certainly helps people understand dancing more and to take it seriously. But on the other hand I am very firm, that my classes are for fun. I show them the routines and then dance with someone at my classes to show the others how it should be done properly. I also like people to interpret as far as they can so they can be expressive.”

Videos are made of dance sessions to go online, so students can learn what they look like performing and also for people who cannot attend, so they do not miss out too much. Next year Tom is holding a special event which combines a holiday in Cyprus with dance and will include non-dancing family and friends. More details at and [email protected]