Let’s go dancing into history

Cheek to Cheek: An Intimate History of Dance. Pictured: Lucy Worsley and Len Goodman
Cheek to Cheek: An Intimate History of Dance. Pictured: Lucy Worsley and Len Goodman

As pre-nuptial agreements go, TV historian Lucy Worsley’s was rather unusual.

“When I got married three years ago, my husband [architect Mark Hines], who’s a very wise man, made me sign a contract saying I would never be on Strictly Come Dancing,” the writer and presenter reveals.

“Partly because they always run off with their professional dance partner, and partly because he thought it would be really bad for me - I love sequins and showing off a bit too much already...”

Worsley, 40, has found a pre-nup loophole, however, in the form of new BBC Four series Dancing Cheek To Cheek: An Intimate History Of Dance, which she co-hosts with Strictly’s head judge Len Goodman.

In the three-part show (which has been dubbed ‘History Come Dancing’), the pair investigate how popular dances from the 17th century to just before the Second World War offer a window into British society, politics, and romance, and reveal the surprising origins of modern moves such as twerking and moonwalking.

They also perform a dance at the end of each episode in an historic location, starting with the notoriously tricky minuet. The pair dressed in full 18th century costume, with Worsley donning a posture-enforcing dress and Goodman in heels and a wig, for their performance in a packed Georgian ballroom.

“I got a taste of my own medicine and thank heavens they didn’t have the [Strictly] paddles, because I would probably have only got a four,” confesses London-born Goodman, today sporting a sharply cut suit and a tan worthy of a Strictly contestant.

“It was the most difficult dance I’ve ever learnt in my whole life. It was so alien to everything we do in ballroom and Latin American. I was supposed to be there leading Lucy around the floor, but I think on that dance, Lucy had learnt it better than me. It was jolly good fun though - and I enjoyed the dressing up.”

“Although you did look like a pirate in that wig...” Berkshire-born Worsley adds.

On paper, the pair don’t have much in common - as Goodman notes, “we’re a bit like chalk and cheese: Lucy’s been to Oxford and is an historian, I’m just a dance teacher who left school when I was 15, and was always around the back having a fag anyway.”

But with Worsley’s historical expertise and Goodman’s decades of dance teaching, they make an impressive TV double act.

“I’ll tell you three reasons why it was good to work with Len,” explains Worsley, as enthusiastic in the flesh as she is on screen.

“Firstly, he’s good at dancing. Secondly, he gave me a lift in his silver Jaguar - but the downside of that was he made me listen to the golf. Thirdly, he would sometimes call me his ‘old sausage’.”

Sports cars and sausages aside, what really unites the pair is a shared passion for the past.

Worsley’s credentials are well-known from her BBC documentaries (on everything from the Georgians to the Royal wardrobes) and she’s also the chief curator at Historic Royal Palaces.

When it comes to dressing up and role-playing to bring history alive, she has “no dignity”.

“I don’t mind what I have to do; I see myself as the thin end of the wedge. If somebody watches just a little bit of a history programme, maybe they’ll read a history book, maybe they’ll do an evening class, maybe they’ll do an Open University degree, maybe they’ll become a museum curator. This happens - people have written to me and told me.”

Goodman, meanwhile, has delved into the past by investigating his family on BBC’s Who Do You Think You Are? in 2011, and ITV Victorian prison documentary Secrets From The Clink earlier this year.

“I like nostalgia, I like how things were more than how things are. And I dread what’s going to happen in the future, but I won’t be around for that,” the 70-year-old explains.

“I jumped at [Dancing Cheek To Cheek], I really did. I never knew the sort of history - okay, from about 1925 I know a bit about what happened with dance, but as for what happened before that, I didn’t have a clue.”

Goodman’s own dancing career happened by chance. A former welder, he took up ballroom classes as a young man after injuring his foot playing football.

“A chum of mine used to go ballroom dancing. Once he told me there were about 30 girls and four boys, I said, ‘That’ll do me’ and off I went, hobbling along,” he recalls.

“Thank heavens it was pre-sequin. I had enough mickey taken out of me by my chums, if I had suddenly turned up with a load of sequins...”

He turned professional, raked in the awards, and set up his own dance school in Kent.

“You never know what’s around the corner. It was the same at 60 years old, being a dance teacher all my life and about to retire, then Strictly Come Dancing came along.”

Goodman, who has also appeared as a judge on US show Dancing With The Stars, wants to stay on Strictly “until they sack me”.

He adds: “If halfway through a routine, I’m dosed off and dribbling, then that would be the time to leave. But I enjoy doing it, it’s lovely.”

In the meantime, he and Worsley would also like to do a second series of Dancing Cheek To Cheek.

“We stop with the Charleston [on series one], so we could jive, we could swing, we could twerk... I’d like to do the dance from Dirty Dancing,” says Worsley.

“Yes! I’ll lift you up as the finale!” Goodman exclaims. “Wouldn’t that be fantastic?”

Dancing Cheek To Cheek begins on BBC Four on Monday, November 17 at 9pm.