The ISTD Grand Finals, Blackpool, the pivotal point of our Dance year, the date that goes into the diary and is then focused on as we count down the weeks, the lessons, the exams, the regional competitions with chances to qualify. Suddenly it is just around the corner as last minute preparations are put in place with hotels, travel plans and the usual ‘I need new shoes, makeup, jewellery and tan…..oh and my dresses need more stones’ routine!
Given this was my 8th Blackpool, I’d say I was approaching the weekend with more excitement than nerves because despite what happens on the day of the competition, it is always a weekend spent with dance friends old and new, making memories. This starts on the Saturday night when we know we can let our hair down and have an evening dancing socially in the Empress Ballroom, enjoying the evening’s cabaret as well as whatever the year’s themed entertainment has in store for us. This year was a Disney theme which was a huge hit with so many people, both children and adults, dressing up for the parade as well as providing a perfect setting for a Prince Charming to propose!
The floor was then cleared so that we could enjoy a fabulous Latin show by Richard Lifshitz and Laura Robinson. Cleverly choreographed routines that had us giggling with their fun story telling as well as watching in awe, giving us plenty of inspiration for the events of the upcoming Sunday competition.
The Sunday morning seemed to arrive quickly! Getting up early and ensuring calm is maintained whilst trying to get hair up high and makeup looking bold, taking that huge deep breath before even attempting what could turn out to be a lengthy fight with the false eyelashes!
This is followed by the 10 minute brisk and breezy (ok, blooming freezing!) walk to the Winter Gardens. Only in Blackpool is it perfectly normal at 8am on a November Sunday morning to be walking through the streets, tanned and covered in as much makeup as possible and wearing crystals in your hair!
I arrived at the Ballroom feeling prepared, confident and ready to take on the competition. The lessons and classes in the lead up to Blackpool are all in aid of both physical and mental preparation, ready to step out onto the floor and dance my best in a bid to get the judges attention and have my number noted!
There is something about walking into the Empress Ballroom and seeing the initial rounds happening, the dresses, the number cards, hearing the music and knowing that shortly I will be dancing, that puts a smile on my face and butterflies in my stomach!
As the events pass, Sequence into Ballroom, into Latin and into couples, nerves and excitement build, heats are called and completed and then it’s time to wait for the recalls. Quarter-finals, semi-finals, finals, celebration, disappointment, the room crammed with a plethora of emotion with Dancers desperate to achieve or ‘just get one more round’. It’s a total rollercoaster of a day!
This year was the 18th year of the ISTD Grand Finals and the 7th year of it being held in the wonderful Winter Garden’s Empress Ballroom. The image of the grand high ceilings and sparkle of the chandeliers is a sight held in memory year after year. This year however, the ceiling to the ballroom was boarded over with a platform which was supported by scaffolding structures around the dancefloor. Following the incident at the Hammersmith Apollo in London where part of the ceiling collapsed during a show, it was decided by Blackpool Council to bring forward an already planned survey of the Empress Ballroom ceiling with a view to refurbish it. Whilst this gave us a different view of the floor we were about to dance on, what it didn’t take away was the thrill of being able to take the opportunity to dance on such an iconic floor. A floor where professional Champions, the best Dancers in the world, have danced and continue to dance each year.
I am sure I speak for all Dancers who attended this competition when I say a huge Thank You to Nicky Miles and his team for making this year’s event happen in the face of what looked like an impossible task. The hard work and no doubt additional high stress involved in such an event being threatened by ongoing work in the venue must have been immense but we Thank you!
I can’t believe it’s over for another year! Blackpool is always a crazy, long, tiring and emotional weekend but one that’s full of fun, laughs and dancing memories made with amazing people. This competition is ever-growing, so here’s to the next 18 years!
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**Also published on DanceRite**