And here’s the other photo. Just because.
As I was saying, Blackpool does not host pro-am competitions. Or didn’t. Til this year. Ever since I started going to watch the professionals (and these are truly the top professionals in the world) compete, I have wanted to dance on the floor of the Empress Ballroom at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool (if I slip and call it the Winter Palace, please forgive!) The ballroom is huge. It’s ornate. Victorian. Gilded. Red plush chairs. Crystal chandeliers. Three tiers of seating. Fancy bars. Awesome dance floor. Stained glass. The works. But Blackpool does not host pro-am competitions.
Until this year. A group of dance teachers in England got together and decided “why not”. The event received very little publicity in the States (unfortunately) but did have a Facebook site, which I followed religiously. Eventually, they published their classifications, and we decided to go. This was one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to dance in the dust of the Caesars, if you will permit the mixed metaphor.
And we had a blast. It was everything I hoped it would be (including the weather in January on the Irish Sea – cold, wet, rainy) and the floor was incredible. To top it off, Jari and I won my division!
Blackpool is a working-class beach resort on the Irish Sea just south of Liverpool, in northern England. In the summer, if you’re lucky, it’s warm enough to swim at the beach (the breakers are enormous), and there is a rather jolly amusement park with a Ferris wheel. And there is the famous Blackpool Tower and illumination show. To get there, we’ve always flown to Manchester and either driven or taken the train from there. British trains are a wonder.
Why go to Blackpool? Because every year over the last week in May and early June, the finest professional and amateur dancers in the world gather at Blackpool for an open-to-the-world competition. To win Blackpool is to reign at the very top of your profession if you are a ballroom dancer. The World Championships (which move location every year) only invite 2 couples from each country to compete. Blackpool throws its doors open and the open professional ballroom division alone can host 350 couples (that’s in one class). They come out of the woodwork to dance at Blackpool.
The way it works: They divide the 350 couples into heats of 20. You dance your dance, and the judges choose 10 of the 20 to move on to the next round. This continues to the round of 48, when the procedure changes. As you can see, luck of the draw plays a part. One professional I know made the first two cuts and was feeling rather cocky about his and his partner’s continuing on. What you need to know is that a couple that made the semi finals the year before gets a bye for the first round of competition the next year. A couple that made the final the year before gets byes for the first two rounds. Then it’s luck of the draw into which heats these couples (the ones with byes) are placed. And with my friend, the next round found six finalists or semi-finalists from the year before in their heat of 20. (Remember, they’re only taking 10 from each set of 20 for the next round).
Making a quarter-final, semi-final or final at Blackpool is like being decorated by the Emperor if you are a professional or amateur dancer. The atmosphere alone is electric even for those of us just spectating.
There is only one disappointment for the rest of us. Blackpool does not include pro-am competitions. The USA is one of the few countries in the world that actually runs large numbers of pro-am competitions, acknowledging the fact that in our vast country it is sometimes very difficult to find an amateur partner with whom to compete; not to mention the fact that so few men in this country actually dance. Most women who compete in the USA dance with a professional partner, most often their instructor. (To be continued).
It occurred to me with yesterday’s post that those of you who do not compete in dancesport might be confused about my reference to “C silver scholarship” and other statements. Dance competitions are broken down into three types: professional, amateur, and pro/am, alternately referred to as pro-pro, am-am, and pro-am. That should be self-explanatory. I am going to discuss pro/am exclusively.
Categories are further divided by age: the standard breakdown is A1 – 18-35 (juniors have their own classifications); A2 – 35=50; B1 – 51-60; B2 – 61-70; and so on, depending on location (Florida sometimes fields E and F categories!). This means that those of us who are mature adults do not have to compete against the 19-year-old ex-gymnasts and ex-ballerinas. This is a good thing.
The next subdivision is by level: bronze, silver and gold. These are proficiency standards, with steps regulated (just like dressage). The idea is that someone who is just starting out in bronze (intro or starter novice) doesn’t have to dance against someone who is dancing gold or above (third level or prelim/intermediate in eventing).
Scholarships are kind of three-day or all-around. You do all your dances one right after another, and the competition is for cash prizes (most of the time – some competitions give vouchers for the next year’s event). Scholarships are divided bronze, silver and open (gold and above), and have slightly different age divisions: A is 18-35 or 18-45; B is either 35-50 or 46 and above (depending on the competition) and C (if there is one) is 51 and up.
Over the past few years, the trend at Ohio has been interesting. In the bronze and silver scholarships, the C division has run into multiple elimination rounds, with 40-plus couples competing. The B divisions of bronze and silver have run between 20 and 30 couples. The A divisions barely field a final (eight or fewer). Interesting demographics, and kind of scary for the future of the sport.
Let me know if you want further breakdowns! And by the way, all these divisions can sometimes be split by gender.
It’s a bit late – the Ohio Star Ball runs in November every year. Ohio is the largest dance competition in the country, usually running well over 15,000 entries. The average dancesport competition runs 6,000 and thinks it’s doing well.
The C silver scholarship alone boasted 48 couples and a total of five rounds of dancing. What was really impressive was when the judges called all 48 couples onto the floor for comparison. What a zoo.
I didn’t do the scholarship, but we did respectably. In fact, it’s the best I’ve ever danced at Ohio.
I made brownies. I made a guardian for the brownies. This is Barney.
His tentacles are poured and cast sugar. The brownies are gone ….
This is Mont Osorno, billed as Chile’s answer to Mt. Fujiyama. One spectacular volcano. Active volcano.
One of Puerto Montt’s beautiful lakes. The base of the volcano is to the right of the photo. It is 75 degrees! What a change.
And this is at the snow line of the volcano, a little while later. By the time we left, there was six inches of snow on the ground.
The next couple of days, we spent at sea. Waves were running about 20 feet for a while. If you’ve seen the film Master and Commander, think back to the scene where they are rounding Cape Horn in a bit of a blow. That’s what we were encountering. In summer. Fortunately, our ship was considerably larger than HMS Surprise, and it was built specifically to handle this part of the world.
Weather was cold, wet and raining, so I didn’t do much touring in Punta Arenas and Puerto Chacabuco. I had originally signed up for a kayaking tour in the Straits of Magellan, but thought better of it. I’ve been in a kayak once in my life – in 1971. Water temperature was 35 degrees. Air temperature was 35 degrees. Sea in the Straits (which is sheltered) was running 5-6 foot waves. I decided that this might not be the smartest thing that I ever tried.
This did, however, provide some serendipitous incidentals. The young couple of professional Argentine Tango dancers who were doing the nightly stage show decided that they’d like to earn some pocket money between performances, and gave private lessons. It was a whole new game of dancing and real fun – especially working in heels with the ship continuing to lurch from one side to the other. But fun!
This is literally the lighthouse at the end of the world.
It is guarded by
sea lions in huge numbers. They make a lot of noise and try to beg from the tourists.
Please note that it’s mid-summer in Ushuaia and that the temperature read 25 degrees, with an Antarctic wind. Water temperature was 35. I’m wearing thermal underwear, a turtleneck and a Guernsey sweater under a fleece-lined waterproof.
Antarctica is 500 miles straight ahead. We have reached the end of the world!
This is Cape Horn. We are sailing in the Drake Passage and following in the footsteps (if one can use that term at sea) of Magellan and Drake and Shackleton.
Sun shone until almost 11pm, and overnight it was still light enough to read on deck – if you were so inclined, as the temperature was a balmy 25 degrees (F).
And this is your approach into Ushuaia harbor. Ushuaia boasts that it is the southernmost city in the world. It is also fascinating. And the air is incredible. It’s like breathing champagne, crisp and clean and bubbly.