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).