Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Blackpool rocks

At 1 o'clock in the morning of Friday 27th May Blackpool was shaken by an earthquake of 1.5 on the Richter scale. It might have been a tremor at the prospect of our impending visit. Or it might just have been caused by the "fracking" explosions which are part of the filthy shale gas exploration process just inland. Anyway the company behind the tests, Cuadrilla, has suspended operations. And I'm happy to be able to report that the Tower is still standing, even if surrounded by security fences while they work on repairing the Ballroom roof (not as a result of recent tremors, as far as I know).

Because we've just spent an amazingly fun weekend in Blackpool. It will no doubt take more than one post to relate all we got up to, but I'll try not to bore the pants off you.

The prelude on Saturday was a five-hour drive up the M40/M5/M6 with snarled-up bank holiday traffic followed by a lovely evening and morning of recuperation with the nicest family in Manchester (imho, as they say). Restored and refreshed, we set out mid-morning for                        
                                                                           Blackpool. David Gore, Events' Manager at the Winter Gardens, who had been involved in linking with Classic FM for the competition which you may remember was what was taking us on this unlikely pilgrimage - see my previous post - had told us to phone him when we were close. So, as we paid our respect to the sorely lamented Blackpool Town Football Club, we rang, and in a few minutes he was showing us to a reserved space under the Winter Gardens complex. Then it was through locked doors, the business end of the building, up in to the posh parts. And soon we were in the ballroom itself. There in the front row was a seat reserved for Jane and a space for my wheelchair. A programme, coffees - and so we found ourselves watching the third round of the British Amateur "Rising Stars" Ballroom Competition.
Ballroom - Ben Taylor & Stefanie Bossen (England)

I suspect that the Blackpool Dance Festival is one of the prestige events of the ballroom dancing calendar, not least because of its longevity. This is its 86th year. Certainly the competitors came from all over the world, a lot from Europe and the Far East. The only continents unrepresented seemed to be South America and Antarctica. And there are multitudes. We were there for the final rounds of the Amateur "Rising Stars" Ballroom and Latin competitions - which seemed to me a pretty good day to be there: amateur - people who dance for the love of it; rising stars - the best of the up and coming youngsters. It didn't take us long to get into it. I have to say Jane was a better talent-spotter than me. By the semi-finals, I'd picked out a couple who ended 5th, but she'd chosen the eventual 2nd and 3rd. Of course there was NOTHING technical in our spotting. I'd like to think it was more than a matter of the prettiest gown! But I was interested that mere impression to some degree mirrored technical merit.

The teller collecting scores
For Strictly fans, I'm sorry to report that there was only one representative there, adjudicating, namely the dapper Darren Bennett. It was an added bonus that there was a live orchestra, the Empress, to accompany rounds 3 and onwards, and in between sessions a real live organist accompanying the open floor dancing, which included people limbering up for the Latin. The whole day is run with practised precision, so that the final presentations take place on the dot. I was amused by the sober suited senior officials who between each dance would go round the adjudicators collecting their score sheets while the next dance was already under way.

During the lunch break the sun was out; so a wander down to the sea seemed a good idea - until we hit the wind! So back to the WG, where a young Chinese dancer asked Jane if she'd take her photo and then offered to take ours. I was impressed by the trans-national camaraderie of the whole competition. In the morning there'd been an enthusiastic posse of Australian flag-wavers who fell silent when their couple were knocked out and in the afternoon a larger contingent of Chinese whose couple were eliminated for the final.

In the Latin Jane and I weren't outstanding talent spotters. I think one of my pairs ended in the 100s. Jane particularly favoured the modest dresses - which aren't characteristic of Latin dancing, although I must say that I don't think I saw many as revealing as Strictly often indulges in, but none as modest as Widdy. Our favourite pair (English, as it turned out, Danny Stowell and Kate Moore) reached the semi-final but that was all. However, I backed 3rd and 4th - but neither of us went for the 1st and 2nd, both from the USA. And so, after "Ladies and gentlemen, please stand for the Queen", we were on our way, but not before the general manager came across, having just presented the prizes, to see that we were OK, say goodbye and open the lift doors for us. I was impressed. We felt that, in the midst of an incredibly busy day, we had been shown unusual hospitality - or maybe it's normal Lancastrian hospitality. More tomorrow. Meanwhile thank you to the folk who who made us so welcome.
Danny Stowell & Kate Moore

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