It’s time to come dancing again

Action from the 2011 Blackpool Dance Festival at the Empress Ballroom.'Chinese couple Zi Ming Wang and Shao Lei Wang compete in the Under 21 Latin championship. PIC BY ROB LOCK'28-5-2011

Action from the 2011 Blackpool Dance Festival at the Empress Ballroom.'Chinese couple Zi Ming Wang and Shao Lei Wang compete in the Under 21 Latin championship. PIC BY ROB LOCK'28-5-2011

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IT HAS been the calm before the storm for Sandra Wilson this week as she surveys the quiet, ornate beauty of the Empress Ballroom.

But that is all about to change today, as the 87th annual Ballroom and Latin British Championships spins into the resort in a riot of vibrant colour.

The nine-day event, which kicked off this morning, will see around 2,500 dancers from all over the world descend on Blackpool.

Blackpool, which has long been considered the Mecca of the dancing world, will be transformed as the streets fill with glamorous, deeply-tanned dancers shopping with sparkling jewels still in their hair.

But for festival organiser Sandra, it is a sight she has been waiting to see for 12 months.

She says: “This competition is one of the most important in the whole year. It’s very much like the Wimbledon of ballroom dancing.

“I love the buzz in the town when the dancers are here, all the shops are busy, and the restaurants are, too.

“People from 60 countries travel to compete. We even get dancers travelling from Australia to be here.

“It’s not just the competitors either – we get hundreds of people coming to watch or holding trade stands. It probably swells Blackpool’s population by 4,000.”

Both professional and amateur dancers will showcase their skills as part of the festival, as they battle it out for prizes in 12 events.

As well as ballroom and Latin, there is also a Team Match competition, which sees couples from different continents compete.

In fact, there are four major dance competitions held in Blackpool during the year.

Junior dancers flood into the resort at Easter in their thousands.

Autumn is a busy time which sees the Sequence Dance Championships in October, and the British Nationals in November.

This month’s competition is the biggest, however.

Sandra says: “Coming to Blackpool is such a massive part of the dancer’s calendar, all the stars you see on TV on shows like Strictly will no doubt have shaped their careers dancing here.

“People prepare incredibly hard all year round in the hope of winning prizes in Blackpool.

“It’s easy to forget what beautiful venues the Empress Ballroom and Tower Ballroom are when you live here, and maybe see them quite often.

“Many dancers will spend their time learning to dance in sports halls or arenas, so to dance in a historic ballroom is special.”

Shows Like Strictly Come Dancing have no doubt re-ignited the public’s love of all things ballroom.

In fact, the growth of the amateur dance scene is one of the biggest changes Sandra has seen since she took over the festival in 2005.

She says: “In 2004 the amateurs competition used to start on a Sunday, but now it starts on a Thursday because so many people want to compete.

“It could be shows like Strictly are encouraging more people to want to take up dance. It is good to see.”

In fact, many people don’t realise the festival has an exhibition and trade fair at the Winter Gardens, which is free to enter and browse.

You may be forgiven for wondering if Sandra likes to take advantage of the empty dance floor herself for a few spins, before the mayhem begins for another year.

But she says: “I’ve never danced in my life. I’d love to learn, but I’m so busy organising the festival.”

lisa.ettridge@ blackpoolgazette.co.uk