WHY do you all want to know about sex?'' the dancer shouted as she turned and ran toward the stage, her skirt and sequins flying. Perhaps because everything can somehow be reduced to sex or death and seeing as ballroom dancing has never been hot on the latter, then it must be sex. Ballrooms are back on the hippest agenda since the success of the film Strictly Ballroom. Its hilarious and touching tale of backstage shenanigans, cut-throat competition and torrid passion had audiences swooning. Why? Sex, of course. Paul Mercurio's bulging biceps, pert pecs and oh, so hunky dancing sent viewers into a frenzy. Almost single-handedly he has pushed ballroom back under the spotlight. Noel Coward, the quintessential English humourist, described dancing as the ''vertical expression of horizontal desire''. How many of you met your partner at a dance or disco, or sealed the fragile seeds of love across a crowded dance floor? The stereotyped image of ballroom is thousands upon thousands of glittering sequins, flesh-coloured body stockings and thick war paint fixing the face into a permanent smile. Not to mention gleaming white teeth, bottle tans and those ridiculous one-piece costumes for men. As I discovered at the World Professional Ballroom and Latin American Dance event at the Cultural Centre, the old cliche is simplistic and old-fashioned. The costumes might be spangled, and the make-up heavy, but there is also a lot of hard work, dedication and artistry. Seeing them swirl, whirl and twirl up close, it is a fabulous spectacle. But where's the sex? Glenn Wright and Heather Gladding performed the tango, a dance described by the normally unexcitable Urban Council as being ''of raw passion''. Not just passion, but raw, unadulterated, torrid Latin passion. Did they think there is a relationship betweendancing and sex? ''Yes and no,'' Glenn said. ''You see all this dancing going on, but to us it's a job. OK, I may go out and dance with someone in a club to pick her up, but dancing doesn't turn me on sexually. It's a good way to meet someone and a fabulous way for a courtship, but I think it's foreplay rather than the actual thing.'' Latin dances, like the tango, always appeared to come with a category III certificate. In Strictly Ballroom, it is the paso doble that seals the romance of Scott and Fran. Merely mentioning the names - rhumba, cha-cha, tango, salsa - conjure up images of hot, sweaty writhing bodies. A quick thrust of the hips, a slide of the torso, a deep passionate stare into your partner's eyes murmuring ''I love you'' and you're at the cigarette and ''how was it for you?'' moment. But Glenn put the record straight. ''Some of the Latin dances are part of courting, but not all. I mean the paso doble - no matador wants to court a bull. The tango is meant to be, but it's been cleaned up. ''I'd say only one dance, the rhumba, is overtly sexual. There's another quote from Noel Coward: 'The only thing you don't move in the rhumba is your bowels'.'' So if we are not talking graphic sex are we in the soft-focus world of romance? ''I think one reason why Latin [dance] has done so well recently is partly because of the safe sex programme. It allows you the closeness, without sex,'' Glenn said. ''There's that whole thing of taking someone to the cinema and it's almost the end of the film before you put your arm round the back of the seat, whereas you take hold of their hand straight away when dancing.'' And, in Latin, their groin. Watching Glenn and Heather dance the tango, there's an awful lot of sticking your leg between your partner's in a spirit of competitive exploration. In some cases, dancing and romance meet. ''It's gone back and forth like a tennis match - dance and sex,'' Sharon Savoy said. At last, a flicker of carnal forces at work, though it's clear the dancing comes first. ''It's that brilliant combination of both [partners] loving this art form and being able to share that desire,'' she said. These people love to dance, but don't dance to love. Any hot moves you may see are the product of graft not passion. ''We do get involved in our dancing,'' Alison Lamb said. ''If I want to touch Martin [her husband and partner], I've got to touch him. It can't be a pretend caress, but as for sexual thoughts, I wouldn't say I get them all the time.'' ''Do you get excited when you dance with me?'' she asked Martin. ''I'm married to you now. I can't be excited anymore,'' he replied, laughing. Three out of the five international couples performing at the Cultural Centre were married. Those that spin together, live together. ''It's easier because you're in one another's pockets 24 hours a day,'' Martin said. David Savoy said: ''I think finding a sexual partner's much easier than finding a dance one.'' Presumably because you don't have to talk to the former, nor practise, nor do it in front of 2,000 people. Perhaps the sex isn't to do with the ballroom dancers, it's in the minds and fantasies of the audiences and social dancers. I turned to doyen of dance teachers, Paul Bishop, to see if there's a secret torrid underworld in Hong Kong's dance studios: ''HAHAHAHA! I've been in the business a long time and I've never been propositioned. Mind you, I'm still waiting.''