Essentially Dance was first formed by Rod Aldridge and Darren Bennett, who were both keen to give every child in the country the chance to learn ballroom and Latin American dance, by taking the activity into schools. The Essentially Dance programme, which came from this initial idea, was formed by a partnership of social entrepreneur, Sir Rod Aldridge OBE, Chair of The Aldridge Foundation, alongside dance professionals Darren and Lilia, Dale Bennett, CEO of City Limits Dancentre in Sheffield, Lorraine Drolet, a championship winning amateur dancer, and physical education expert Sue Cooper, who acted as National Co-ordinator for Essentially Dance.
Essentially Dance developed into a resource that was made available to schools, which trained teachers to teach students in ballroom and Latin American dance. Featuring Darren Bennett and Lilia Kopylova (best known for their roles on the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing), the National Curriculum based resource took teachers and young people through the Cha Cha Cha, Waltz, Jive and Quickstep. The programme was piloted by The Aldridge Foundation in 29 primary and secondary schools in five areas around the country in 2009 – Darwen near Blackburn, Salford, Rotherham, Bromley in south London and East Brighton, to evaluate the social benefits of dance for children.
Essentially Dance was devised to encourage young people to engage in a new form of physical activity, improving health and fitness, contributing to the battle against child obesity. The appeal of this type of dance had increased across the population following the success of Strictly Come Dancing, and provided an opportunity for cross-gender and inter-generational engagement. It was the first training package for school staff to teach ballroom and Latin American dances to school students.
All schools in the pilot areas of Darwen and Falmer also took part in an evaluation by Roehampton University published in June 2009, funded by the Foundation. The study looked at the physical and mental benefits of the scheme.
Following the successful pilot, Essentially Dance was developed as a business model and sold into schools, reaching 100,000 young people. Sir Rod Aldridge's share of the profit from the programme was returned to support the charitable work of The Aldridge Foundation.