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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Cops, Housewives, Dancing Fools

MANILA -- Some of the toughest cops in Manila are pounding a different kind of beat these days. It's strictly ballroom when the men and women of the Philippine capital's Western Police District gather to unwind after a day chasing crooks or shooting it out with robbers.

The cha-cha and tango provide a perfect antidote to stress, as well as a workout that leaves everyone sweaty but smiling.

"This ballroom dancing is not only an exercise but a form of releasing tension and a venue where they can learn art and culture," said police chief Colonel Avelino Razon, who came up with the idea of introducing the 3,000-strong officers in his district to the foxtrot, rumba and swing.

Policemen used to resort to cards and booze when they got off duty, leaving them not just broke and drunk but tired and unfit as well, Razon said.

"That was my big problem -- how to get them hooked in something that would make them sweat so that they could have their regular work-out," he added.

The quick-stepping cops are just the tip of the ballroom iceberg. In recent years, this dance form has gone from strength to strength in the Philippines and packs thousands into clubs night after night.

It is having a profound impact on other sectors of Filipino society besides the police. Middle-aged women who used to stay home while their husbands went out carousing have also come into their own.

Spaghetti-strapped, stiletto-heeled middle-aged women now throng nightspots that once catered to teenagers.

"You can see all the big smiles and the glow and you can see them enjoy it," said Maribel Dario, manager of one of Manila's lively ballroom dancing spots.

"This seems to be a ladies' turf, ladies call the shots," said actress Vangie Labalan, 50, who goes ballroom dancing with Ramil Marfe, her 28-year old personal dance instructor.

A major attraction for the women is the presence of instructors like Marfe. Some stick to the rules and just boogie the night away. But others take a few twists and turns and end up getting tangled in messy romantic relationships.

Stories of jealous husbands and sons beating up dance instructors are common.

"I know of many cases when the sons have barged in to give the d.i. [dance instructor] a piece of their mind because they think their mother is spending money on him," said journalist Julie Yap-Daza, author of "Etiquette for Mistresses" and a keen observer of Manila's rich and famous.

While most dance instructors admit they enjoy the gifts and pampering given by their ageing clients, many of them know when it's time to draw the line and say "no."

"I refused to accept because I did not know what I would have to do in return," said Marfe of the time he was offered a brand new car and a condomium unit in the posh Makati area.

But some clients like Labalan see nothing wrong with the attention they pay dance instructors.

"I'd like to please him so what's wrong with that ... if I had the money I would buy him a Rolex. I think when you love somebody, express it. If material things will please him, why not?" said Labalan, who swears she is happily married and that her relationship with Marfe is purely platonic.

But romantic or not, relationships between dance instructors and Filipino women signify a radical change in a society where keeping mistresses is common, philandering husbands are accepted, and housewives are expected to accept their lot and stay meekly at home.

"When you are lonely and you sit down and drool over your misery, what's going to happen to you? You have to survive, life should go on and if the ballroom is a venue of happiness, why not go there?" smiled Labalan.

There are some rough, tough cops who agree.

"This is really good ... probably the best exercise I've ever had," said 113-kilogram officer Angel Ang, sweatily stepping out to the tune of "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" after hours spent patrolling Manila's tourist belt.

"This is a good chance for us to socialize and mingle with other people," officer Chit Santos, 42, said during a break from Bill Haley's "Rock Around the Clock."