Strictly ballroom and Blackpool for champion Sharon

Sharon Savoy
Sharon Savoy
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The Winter Gardens came alive this week with sparkling costumes, dazzling sequins, fake tan and more dance steps than a series of Strictly.

As, once again, the annual May dance festival took place.

And three-time world champion Sharon Savoy knows all about taking part in the famous ballroom dance contest – known in the dance world as just ‘Blackpool’.

As she says: “You can win the World Dance Championships, but until you have conquered Blackpool, you have not fully made your mark on ballroom dance history.”

And she would know.

She is a four-time Blackpool Exhibition Champion who has performed around the world, appeared in film and danced at the Sydney Olympics.

Now, Sharon has written and published her book Ballroom! Obsession and Passion Inside the World of Competitive Dance, detailing all the blood, sweat and tears which went into her victories here in Blackpool.

For competitive ballroom dancers the world over, reaching the pinnacle of their career is winning at the Empress Ballroom in The Winter Gardens, a dance-floor that, to quote Sharon, is “the sacrificial altar which devours and determines the future of every ballroom dancer’s dream.”

In her book, Sharon, who won Star Search in the US three times, takes the reader from her very first steps on the ballroom dance floor and we become witness to the unconditional dedication, hard work and resilience required to win.

Along the way, there are struggles with partners, difficult music choices to make, outfits to consider and nerves to contend with.

What’s more, dancing at this level is a highly-charged and often cut-throat affair that, in addition to displays of stunning artistry and breath-taking athleticism, is one of ruthless competitiveness and, as Sharon describes, brutal behind-the-scenes politics. Has an individual been bribed? Who has the best dress? Which couple is losing steam and which is trying too hard?

Sharon paints a picture of an environment where every rhinestone is noticed, every move is scrutinised.

It is a kill or be killed mentality – dance better or be eliminated world of survival and you can only climb the

ladder of success at the demise of your rivals. Sharon said: “Blackpool is really like the Wimbledon of dance.

“The venue itself is steeped in history, it has seen dancers and dancers on that floor over the years.

“With the ornate gold decoration, the ballroom is so beautiful. It really is a Mecca for ballroom dancers.

“Years ago, dancers used to come to England for lessons because they were interested in the developing ‘English Style’ of dancing. The marks system and judging was codified in Blackpool.

“England and Blackpool were part of the evolution of ballroom and Latin dance contests and Blackpool is still a symbol of that tradition.

“In the World Championships, there are only ever the top two couples from each country.

“In Blackpool, you could have 10 couples from Russia, 10 couples from Asia, 10 couples from the UK. So it really is the pinnacle, it’s the one everyone aims for.”

Sharon won her first World Exhibition title at Madison Square Garden, in 1984.

She ended her competitive ballroom exhibition career 20 years later, by winning the 2004 World Exhibition Dance Championships.

Sharon first started her love affair with dance with ballet.

She said: “It was almost instinctively as a child, I can remember putting on my own little dance shows.

“I would enlist the help of my younger brothers, too.

“I eventually started going to typical dance lessons at a dance school – ballet, tap and jazz. And I loved it.

“Then, in my teens, a Yugoslavian gentleman came to my home town.

“I was doing a summer course with him, he was teaching a ballet seminar for several weeks.

“He told my mother I should go train professionally with him.

“And my mother understood there was a big difference between professional training and taking lessons at the local dance school.

“He must have impressed her, as she allowed me to go, aged 16, with this 45-year-old man to North Carolina.

“I was very fortunate my mother was so supportive of me going away from home to train.

“And then I moved to his dance school in New York and that was it really.”

Among the highlights of Sharon’s dance career is of course, Blackpool.

With her then-husband and dance partner David, she was the first to receive a standing ovation in the history of the Blackpool exhibition event.

Sharon always loved doing lifts and aerial work and her performances with David would often take the audience’s breath away.

It was the love of dancing with a partner which drew her from ballet to ballroom.

“That is such a special moment.

“To know we were the first to get a standing ovation in the history of the event.

“And, of course, winning in Blackpool means I have such great and special memories of the place.”

And in true Blackpool style, one of Sharon’s memories of the resort is fish and chips!