Of ballroom and Blackpool

THE ballroom in Blackpool Tower is breathtaking. Especially the first time you walk on to it.

I guess it is a combination of factors: the sheer expansiveness of the floor set in durbar hall-like surroundings, leading up to a glorious podium (appropriated for the evening and most of the next day by a wise-cracking gentleman in formal wear); the elegant, slightly-arching galleries on both sides (packed with video-graphing parents excited like schoolchildren) reaching some three-quarters to the high, chandeliered ceiling; and, more than anything else, the realisation this is the ‘best’ ballroom in the world (at least that’s what most performers tell the audience between dances, while their partners hastily jump into yet another magnificent gown).

But like with all things, the effect begins to wear off. This year it didn’t look that grand. Don’t get me wrong; it still is magnificent. But it didn’t send me into the gape-mouthed, parch-throated, oh-my-god-what-the-hell-am-I-doing-here state like before.


M
ore than anything else, what makes the long drive to Blackpool for the ISTD Grand Finals worth is the cabaret the evening before. You get to see one of the top couples in the world dance.
My personal favourites are last year’s performers, the World Professional Latin No 3, if I remember right, European, though for the life of me I can’t recall their names. They were big, physically, and appeared even bigger when they danced. They made the floor look small.

In contrast, this year’s Italian couple Domenico Soale and Gioia Cerasoli are diminutive, though that didn’t stop them from dominating the floor. I guess they didn’t make the World Professional Ballroom finals on their first try, or claim the World Amateur Ballroom Championships for three or four years running, by being coy.

Their best offer, for me, was the Tango. Suddenly ‘clarity of steps’, ‘sharpness’, ‘use your head’, etc – stuff all trainers yell at you all the time — began to make sense. Also, an earlier comment from the Pale English Woman, a former British Open Professional Ballroom champion: “Dancing is not about moving alone, it is about stopping too.”

I do have a complaint against Soale and Cerasoli, though. They cheated; they didn’t do the Viennese Waltz. Next time I see them, I will ask for my money back.
Announcement in the midst of the ‘solos’ competition:

“Instructors, some of you are dancing your students off-time. Could you keep on time, please?”
Speaking of instructors, I have a bone to pick with a few.

You are the professionals, right? The ones who lead, the ones who have better floor-craft than us struggling men competitors? So how about ensuring you don’t cut across with your pretty girl and ‘blank out’ some poor devil? How about ensuring you don’t run on to the floor at the last minute into someone’s preparatory step?

Leave the panicking to people like me. We are good at it.


E
ver heard of the ‘organ man’ of Blackpool? He is the one the organisers send in when they want to clear the floor.

He normally makes his appearance just before the cabaret. At that point, the floor is crowded like a carnival ground. So the organ man pops in, calmly turns his back to the audience (his backside isn’t particularly pretty, so wonder why he does that), and begins to play – and, hey presto, the floor clears.

It worked wonderfully well this year too.


S
triptease is something you don’t quite expect to see in the middle of a ballroom. But it does happen every year in Blackpool, believe me.

Blame it on the sequence dance competition. The way it works is, you have two Standard dances, something wonderfully elegant but funnily-named such as Glenroy Foxtrot or Tango El Cid or Bournemouth Three-Step, plus a Latin: Jubilee Jive or Paso Espano or Samba Simon (okay, I made up one or two of those names).

Since they go immediately into the Latin, the women dance with their Latin gear under their Standard gowns. And as soon as the first two dances finish, they hurriedly step out of their gowns, kick them to one side, and run back to the formation, baring fake-tanned legs and more.

Personally I am a fan of good legs. But the inelegance of this particular revelation is a matter of serious concern. I mean, one minute they are simply magnificent, prancing around wonderously proud, so charming in their stiff, old-fashioned grace; the next they are stripping and kicking their clothes around! Ouch.
Of legs etc, another comment, this one by a male competitor to a friend, when she revealed herself in a Latin dress that would have given the Basic Instinct people something to think of:

“Go away! I need to go on the floor shortly – and I am wearing a very tight costume.”

The friend looked pleased. She went on to win the Rumba.


I
can’t wait to turn 35. I think I would love it in the Over-35 category.

It is bloody unfair that everyone between 16 and 35 are pitted against each other. That’s teenagers competing against people who — if a wee bit precocious in a certain department — are old enough to be their parents! Honestly, I think we need another category: the 16-26.

On second thoughts, I can cope with the teenagers. What I can’t is the sheer number of times I have to cope with them before I get somewhere.

Whereas in the Over-35 you normally have a straight semi (thank god when you get older, you prefer the fireplace and a warm blanket) and a final, the Under-35 end up with more rounds.

So you dance, and you wait. For the recall. You dance again, and wait. And again. Till the finals –- or the time they don’t call your number.

I guess competing is not about dancing alone. It’s about consistency, and nerves. Can you get it right all the time? How well do you cope with the agony of waiting? And how well do you keep it all under control on the floor?
Now for the last word, on a topic that might interest all Blackpool visitors.

Check out the Westdean Hotel, 59 Dean Street, FY4 1JB (00 44 1253 342904). The rooms are cosy and clean and cheap (£20 for single, with breakfast), it’s only £5-something by taxi to the Tower, and, better still, you don’t have to put up with the snotty attitude that some places on the promenade specialise in.

Give it a go, folks. The people here are real nice.

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