Every January, beginners’ Latin and Ballroom dance classes across the UK are filled with eager adults inspired by  Strictly and secretly thinking they probably have what it takes to become the next Louise Redknapp or Ore Oduba.

I know because HELLO, I was one of them a few years back, and since then I’ve been attending dance classes on and off in the glamorous surroundings of my local church hall.

The set up has changed a bit – originally I was young, free and single, and attending classes with my flatmate and fellow Strictly expert Rosie (I wanted to be Ola, she wanted to be Flavia).

More recently, I’ve started up again with my fiancee Sam, because let’s be honest, we’ve gotta fill that cringey first dance song somehow!!

I don’t have any pictures of us dancing (because criiiinge etc)

I’m now at an intermediate level, which means occasionally, I actually know what I’m doing! Here are a few of the things I’ve learnt about taking dance classes…

1. You’ve gotta learn the basics

YAWN, I know. But if you think you’ll be able to go to a few dance lessons and suddenly wow everyone with a fierce Paso Doble at your next social gathering, you, my friend, are misguided.

Obviously this is hard and boring to accept, but you’ve got to practice for a long time to become a skilled dancer. This can be frustrating if, like me, you’re the type of person who took up the guitar for about three weeks as a teenager and then became furious that you weren’t Kurt Cobain already.

The thing is you need to know the building blocks for each dance in order to create the full shebang. On Strictly, those contestants are just performing a set, choreographed routine; if you flung them on the dance floor with a brand new partner to free-style the quick step they probably wouldn’t have a clue.

In each dance there is a basic step, turning steps and ‘figures’ (the fancy bits to jazz your dance up). Learning these can be laborious and takes friggin’ ages, but by the end of it you should theoretically be able to dance with anyone and do the steps in any order (so you can be one of those awesome people who turns up at a random salsa bar and takes everyone’s breath away #LifeGoals).

2. You’ll probably suit one style more

I was shocked to discover that I’m better at Ballroom than Latin dancing – I’d always assumed I was more Shakira Shakira than Elizabeth from Pride and Prejudice.

However, it turns out the upright, elegant style of Ballroom is more my jam than the sexy hip-swivelling of Latin, and it’s true that for most people, one style will come more naturally.

That’s not to say you can’t get good at the other style, it just takes more practice (see above).

3. Glitter is not compulsary 

So, it’s your first night at your new dance class, and you decide to rock up in a gold sequin flapper dress a la Strictly winner Caroline Flack? (Mega fans, you know the one I mean).

You might be a tiny bit embarrassed when you get there because, in general, people tend to wear their normal clothes for dance lessons – soz to disappoint.

What is much more important as you progress is wearing the right shoes, because this really affects how you place your feet.

Trainers are not great for either men or women – you need something that will slide across the floor easily, so the grippy soles don’t really work.

For women, a small heel is best, which is  a pain when you’re massively tall like me, because when I dance with any man under 5 ft 10 he’s like “WOAH now”.

However, if you want to become a good dancer, you need the right footwear. And babes they aren’t glamorous – sample footwear style below (!!!) Jimmy Choo eat your heart out.

4. You’re going to have to let your barriers down

If you’re the type of person who feels mildly disturbed when anyone dare intrude your personal space then Ballroom and Latin dancing is going to test your barriers to the max.

At most dance schools, it’s common practice to swap partners every few minutes so that you can experience dancing with various people (it also means if you’re dancing with someone really crap you get the exchange them, which is always nice*).

This means you might find yourself in an embrace with a man or woman you’ve never met before, rubbing your leg up and down their’s (this is known as ‘decoration’ in a dance) and trying not to step on their feet.

It actually doesn’t feel as weird as it sounds in the context of a dance class, but you have been warned…

5. Chewing gum and deodorant are musts

I have lost count of the times I’ve had to dance with someone who either seems to have smoked about 40 fags directly before the class (vom) or hasn’t washed their clothes/underarms in about two weeks (double vom).

Seriously, if you are going to be in extremely close proximity with strangers, sort your bodily smells out!

6. It’s an amazing feeling when you finally ‘get’ a step

Yes, there’s a lot to learn and you might have to dance with a few smelly people, but the first time you manage to waltz round a room or perfect a full jive routine is as exciting as being Sandy from Grease and Patrick Swayze from Dirty Dancing all rolled into one.

If you’re thinking of trying dance lessons then seriously, go for it – it’s a brilliant way to bond with your partner, improve your coordination, meet new people and learn some sassy little moves!!

 

*NB I’m not talking about Sam.

carly-rowena-main-interview

You can’t be in the fitness blogging world and not know about Carly Rowena: the personal trainer has garnered a massive following online for her expertise and positive approach (and personally I like anyone who’s Instagram bio says ‘Forever trying to make food go to my boobs’).

I was lucky enough to interview Carly while she was working with Stand Up To Cancer earlier this year – here’s what she had to say…

How did you first get into fitness?

‘As a child I was always running around outdoors instead of watching TV, so it was no surprise that I joined the gym as soon as I could.

‘The big shock was that I fell in love with weights. I had previously always been a cardio bunny but weights changed my whole outlook and the shape of my body.’

What does you typical week in workouts look like now?

‘I try to never go two days without working out, but to be honest four days is usually the most I can into my schedule due to travel and work commitments.

‘At best, I like to have two HIIT sessions and 3 LISS sessions a week (this usually comprises of a walk or jog with my dog).

‘Weights-wise, I split my body in four groups: Legs and Butt, Chest and Biceps, Back and Triceps, Shoulders and Core.’

What are the most common gym mistakes people make? 

‘Far too often I see women spending all their time doing cardio and men only focusing on weights. Women end up with arthritis and men have heart attacks – there needs to be a balance.’

 How do we get abs like yours?!

‘One word: food. I know no-one wants to hear this, but abs don’t come from exercise unless you have extremely strong genetics.

‘Reducing stress levels, eating a balanced diet and having at least 6 to 8 hours sleep a night will get you much closer.

‘The best exercises to boost muscle in my opinion are hanging leg raises, planks and side plank dips.’

What’s the best way to get more out of your workouts?

‘If possible, get a trainer. You are never more aware of how much harder you can work than when someone else shows you.

‘If you’re not sweating or can’t feel your heartbeat quicken then you’re not pushing hard enough!’

Who is your biggest fitness inspiration?

‘My mum! She used to run marathons even though she was suffering with ME. She’s now my favourite client and loves to show her friends that she can do pull-ups at the age of 69!’

What’s the best way to motivate yourself when you don’t feel like exercising?

‘We ALL have days like that. I suffer from adrenal fatigue, and sometimes exercise is the last thing in the world I want to do.

‘But then I log in to my social channels and read the incredible comments or emails I receive from my followers and I can’t wait to get moving. They’re my inspiration!

Niomi and Carly Rowena put on a special Barry’s Bootcamp class to raise money for Stand Up To Cancer. Check out their YouTube channels to see how they got on.


Most of us are busy people, and that means exercise is often slotted in around work, socialising and various other appointments.

Much as I’d love to end each exercise session with a 10-minute meditation and kale smoothie, in reality I’m normally raking a brush through my hair while simultaneously trying to put my knickers on under a towel and not flash the entire gym changing room (a sign of my utter Britishness, because really, being naked in a female changing room is not ‘flashing’).

As someone who is almost constantly five minutes late in life, I’m always pushed for time in these changing room sessions, which means I’ve perfected the art of getting ready post-workout REALLY BLOODY QUICKLY.

Here are my top tips…

1. Be prepared

Pack your gym bag carefully so you know where everything is and you don’t spend valuable seconds digging around in its depths looking for contact lenses or emptying the entire thing out to find fresh socks.

I’ve found the best thing to do is have a little gym toiletries bag (including padlock and spare contacts, the banes of my life when it comes to forgetting things!) and bung this in whenever you’re going to the gym. Pack shampoo and conditioner at the top so you can quickly grab them when you’ve finished your fitness sesh and head for the shower.

2. Shower smart

The shower can be one of those places where you lose track of time as you start to ponder important questions like ‘Will Prince Harry and Meghan Markle actually get married?’ or ‘I wonder how many hours of TV the Gogglebox families watch per week?’ DON’T let this happen – use your shower time to stretch and wash in super quick time, and set the temperature to cool to help bring your body heat down a level.


3. Hair

If you’re washing your hair, towel dry it as much as you can in the cubicle to reduce blow-drying time (this is why it’s always necessary to have two towels, even if your stingy gym tries to give you one).

I find brushing my hair through straight away with a Tangle Teezer also helps as a lot of water flies off in the process.

You’re not going to have time to do a full fancy blow-dry, so focus on the roots above all else – a hairdresser previously told me that if you dry the roots and the uppermost layer of the hair smooth, then you’ll look presentable not matter what hell breaks loose underneath.

4. Sweat

As a severely sweaty person (mmm), one of the main problems I have post-workout is that I seem to stay red and sweaty for friggin’ AGES. Trying to apply makeup to a sweaty face is an ordeal I wish on no-one, so what can you do?

This is where the cool shot on the hairdryer is your best friend. I find that blasting my face with the cold air is a good way to dry up sweat and cool myself down (plus other people at the gym will think you look really intriguing, which is great). Honestly though, it does the job – if you’re not washing your hair, it’s also a good way to banish sweaty roots and has a lifting effect on locks.

Another tip for sweaty types is to put your clothes on as late as possible. I know this goes against everything us prudes stand for but really, if you stay in your undies for a while you will cool off more quickly.

5. Foundation

Even with the old cold hairdryer trick, I know that a liquid foundation will just slide right off my big hot face straight after a workout. If you’re like me then skip the moisturiser – it’s just another slidey substance to contend with – and go straight for a solid foundation, applied with a beauty sponge.


I have discovered the best one ever is this Max Factor Miracle Touch foundation – it doesn’t feel heavy on the skin but the coverage is really good, and it turns my post-gym face from terrifying red monster to normal human being in a matter of seconds.

6. Makeup

Keep it basic. I know this is bleedingly obvious but now is not the time to be trying out a three-tone eyeshadow combo with top and bottom eyeliner. Take it from one who has spent far too many minutes leaning over the mirror in Fitness First trying to create even liquid liner flicks and then becoming increasingly flustered (and sweaty) as they smudge everywhere.

My usual ‘quick’ makeup goes: foundation, concealer (only if really necessary), blusher, mascara, and lipstick. The last point is very important, I’ve found. You can go super minimal on the rest of your face but suddenly if you apply a lipstick (nude or bold) you look 100% more pulled together. And it takes about 3 seconds.


7. Avoid tight trousers

Your good work will be entirely undone if you end up lying on the bench for 10 minutes trying to wrestle on your skinny jeans. Leggings and a loose jumper is my ultimate post-gym speed outfit.

The Aviary restaurant London rooftop
I bloody love a rooftop bar and restaurant, so when I heard about the launch of The Aviary in Finsbury Square, I decided to go along and check out the view (and food, of course!)

The Aviary restaurant London rooftop
I went on a Sunday, which is always a weird time of the week to hang out in this part of the City –  I get a bit freaked out by the fact that even the Pret A Mangers are shut (say wuuut?!)

However, The Aviary, located on the 10th floor of the Montcalm Royal London House Hotel, has a nice welcoming, cosy feel, with glamorous gold and cream interiors, plush seats and a glistening bar at the centre of the restaurant.

The Aviary restaurant London rooftop
The terrace is also pretty special – although we were there on a freezing cold day, I can just imagine how glorious it would be sitting there enjoying cocktails with friends on a Summer’s evening.

As for the food, I was definitely impressed. The number of veggie options wasn’t vast but the food was delicious; I went for the Ricotta Gnocchi with squash, turnips, salsify and sprout leaves, which combined the most wonderful flavours with a satisfying stodginess (although, being greedy, I could’ve done with a bit more!)

The Aviary restaurant London rooftop vegetarian
Sam, my boyfriend(well fiance, but I can’t get used to saying that), went for the Sirloin Steak, which, according to the menu came from a ‘retired dairy cow’. Being a vegetarian this obviously made me a bit mournful for the poor cow who spent a life being milked only to end up on Sam’s dinner plate, but he assured me that the GINORMOUS steak was very good indeed.

The Aviary restaurant London rooftop
Oh and after nicking all his triple cooked chips I can confirm they were scrumptious as well.

The Aviary restaurant London rooftop
We ended our meal with dessert – sticky toffee pudding for me (perfectly good) and After Eight arctic roll for Sam. The latter is definitely worth a try, especially if like me you’ve always dismissed arctic roll as a bit crap; not so with this gorgeous pud, which I can foresee will be a bit of a signature dish for this place.

The Aviary restaurant London rooftop after eight arctic roll
The staff were very nice – hardly surprising given it was the restaurant’s first week open – and the atmosphere was  peaceful, which may also have something to do with the fact not many people know about this restaurant yet.

The Aviary restaurant London rooftop
I wouldn’t be surprised if it gets a whole lot busier on weekends going forward, particularly when they start offering roasts. If you’re looking for lunch or dinner with a view, then definitely swoop on in to The Aviary.

More info on The Aviary here.

December is meant to be all about buying presents rather than treating yourself – but surely you deserve a reward for stomping around Oxford Street, right? Here are my favourites for December, from gym wear to party outfits!

zara-coat

Coat, £69.99, Zara

river island black floral embroidered dress

Dress, £40, River Island

silver-loafers

Loafers, £59, Topshop

 

new-look-backpack

Backpack, £22.99, New Look

 

zara embroidered jumper

Jumper, £69.99, Zara (sold out online but I managed to pick one up in store!)

black-leather-trousers

Leather look trousers, £24.99, New Look

Sports bra, £12.99, H&M

mustard-cable-knit-jumper

Jumper, £36, Oasis

miss-selfridge-dress1

Dress, £99, Miss Selfridge

warehouse sky blue jumper

Jumper, £32, Warehouse

Shirt, £29.99, Zara

Jumpsuit, £75, Hush

Jumper,£12.49, New Look

Trainers, £75, Adidas at JD Sports

Jumper, £35, Oasis

Dress, £39.99, H&M

Faux fur scarf, £55, Hush

velvet body zara

Velvet bodysuit, £25.99, Zara

Leggings, £75, Sweaty Betty

Boots, £14.99, New Look