Posted on: Wednesday 23rd March 2022

Why Is Blackpool Such A Special Place For Dancers?



The usual Strictly Come Dancing road trip from Elstree Studios to Blackpool had been cancelled for the last couple of years, due to the pandemic, but regular viewers of the popular Saturday night pro-celebrity dancing competition will know just how much the pro-dancers enthuse about the seaside town.


But now that the pandemic restrictions have been lifted, it’s time to get your dancing shoes on again! Strictly professional Johannes Radebe, who made it to the finals in 2021 with same-sex partner John Whaite, is due to bring his Freedom UK Tour to Blackpool’s Winter Gardens on 26 April, and we all hope that Strictly returns to the Tower ballroom later this year.


Johannes, from South Africa, has said he always had his sight set on the original UK version of Strictly, and that he paid close attention to the likes of UK Strictly veterans Anton Du Beke and Brendan Cole, while he was performing on the South African version of the hit show, to ‘see what it is we needed to do’ to land a spot on what he called the ‘mothership’ of the dance competition.


But it was watching Fellow South African, future colleague, and two-time Glitter Ball Trophy winner Oti Mabuse that made him even more determined to make it to the UK.


He told HuffPost: “That really gave this Black boy confidence to say, ‘maybe I also belong’.”


As for Oti, her family saw dance as a means to keep her and her two sisters, including Strictly judge Motsi, bust and away from the streets. She was inspired by her mother, also a dancer, who Oti claims could have been a West End Star, had she been born in the UK.


Oti’s first experience of Blackpool was as an 11-year-old, far away from her native Pretoria, when she got to compete at the Blackpool Tower Ballroom, which she described as ‘nothing I had ever seen in my life, and it was the best, best feeling’.


Oti won the coveted Strictly Glitter Ball Trophy first in 2019 with Emmerdale actor Kelvin Fletcher, and then again the following year with comedian Bill Bailey.


She has reportedly now quit the show after seven years, but it is far from the last we will see of the extraordinary dancer, as, like Johannes, be appearing at the Winter Gardens and Opera House Theatre with her ‘I Am Here’ show on 21 May.


Her show is described as a celebration of all the influences and inspirations that led her on a journey from Pretoria, South Africa to where she is now, including traditional jives and mambas, while also paying homage to the Kwaito music that came from Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa, during the 1990s, a mix of house music and traditional African sounds and music.


Hopefully, Strictly Come Dancing will be returning to The Blackpool Tower Ballroom this winter, but tickets can be very difficult to get hold of. However, the Strictly Come Dancing: The Professionals 2022 tour will have all the fan favourites from the last series gliding across the floor at the Winter Gardens on 25 and 26 May 2022.


But why is Blackpool such a hallowed place for dancers from all over the world?


The Blackpool Tower Ballroom is likely to be the most familiar ballroom dancing venue for Strictly fans and has become a Mecca for dancers, who all hope to grace the prestigious dancefloor during their careers.


The venue was also often home to the original Come Dancing series shown on and off on the BBC from 1949 to 1998 and proved to be an incredibly popular show that pitted professional dancers against each other and become known for its fabulous costumes.


Come Dancing was developed by Eric Morley, who also founded the Miss World competition, and first broadcasted in 1949 from regional ballrooms, and initially was more of an education programme and showcase until the format was changed in 1952 to include regional dance-offs that led to a national final.


The show had a roster of big names presenting the show, including Angela Rippon, Judith Chalmers, the much-loved and missed Terry Wogan and even Noel Edmunds!


But the Tower Ballroom is not the only world-class venue for dancers in the Lancashire town, as the Blackpool Dance Festival, ‘The Worlds First and Foremost Festival Of Dancing’, has been held in the Empress Ballroom at Blackpool’s Winter Gardens since 1920, with almost 3,000 couples from over 60 countries still taking part in the annual event.


The inaugural Blackpool Dance Festival was held over Easter 1920 in the Empress Ballroom in the Winter Gardens, but Modern Ballroom, also known as ‘English Style’ and Latin American dances were not yet accepted, and the Festival devoted itself to three competitions for three Sequence Dances in three tempos, namely, Waltz, Two-Step, and Foxtrot.


It wasn't until around the early 1930s that people began showing interest in Modern Ballroom, and the Festival expanded from its ‘Northern’ roots to incorporate the British Professional and Amateur Ballroom Championships, which involved 250 heats held throughout the country and about 40 District Finals.


The winners of these then had the honour to be able to dance in Blackpool in the Grand Final.


The Festival began attracting more and more visitors from overseas by the 1950s, and by the 1980s around 50 different countries were represented in the competition.


It wasn’t until 1961 that Latin American dances, such as Salsa, Rhumba, and Tango were introduced, which led to a British Latin American Tournament and was followed by a professional event in 1962.


The festival, these days held in May, covers Ballroom and Latin American styles and incorporates the British Open Championships.


There is also the Junior Dance Festival, the Blackpool Sequence Dance Festival, which incorporates the British Sequence Championships, and the British National Dance Festival.


The event that has had the biggest draw for dance fans continues to be the annual Professional Invitation Team Match, which began in 1968 and is still going strong, aside from 2020/21 due to the pandemic.


This event started with only two teams from Germany and Great Britain, who were required to perform ten dances. In more recent years, four teams have been invited and have included competitors from Germany, Italy, the USA, Japan, Australia, and Scandinavia.


However, you don't have to be a professional dancer to be able to show off your ballroom moves on the famous sprung wooden dance floor of The Blackpool Tower Ballroom.


Whether you want to enjoy afternoon tea and watch the mesmerising dancers take the floor while you watch from the sidelines, or dust off your sequins and take a whirl for yourself, the magical and gorgeous setting of the famous ballroom will fill you with wonder as the sounds of the Wurlitzer organ takes you on a fantastic journey of dance.


Why not book a ticket for your next trip to Blackpool and experience it for yourself. You can also watch live broadcasts from the venue on the first Wednesday of every month from 1 pm on the Blackpool Tower Facebook page.


No wonder it’s the place to be for dancers! Before you visit Blackpool, you better make sure you’ve packed your dancing shoes!

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