Blackpool Grand Finals 2010
5 April 2011
4 reports from the highlight of the ISTD Dancesport year
11 years of ISTD Blackpool Grand Finals
In the grip of one of the coldest winters in recent times, you could be forgiven for thinking that most sane folk would wrap up warm and avoid having to venture far afield. Not so for the dedicated dancers who braved all manner of treacherous road journeys to make the annual pilgrimage to The Tower Ballroom in Blackpool so they could take their place in the ISTD National Grand Finals for Ballroom, Latin and Sequence dancing, held over the weekend of 27th and 28th November.
Throughout the year, competitors have fought hard in regional heats to win the right to dance in this prestigious event, organised by the ISTD, and held in the impressive surroundings of one of the dance world’s most famous venues. Anticipation is great, hopes are high – who would let the snow and ice come between the dancer and their dream?
Having attended every year since this event was established in 1999, one might expect the excitement to fade a little as the years go by, but this could not be further from the truth. Every year I am astounded by the fresh energy of all the dancers and the tireless devotion of the teachers who return to the floor, round after round, showcasing their students to the very best of their abilities as they dance throughout a total of 26 hours of competition spread across two days.
This year standards were higher than ever, noticeably starting with the youngest competitors in the Under 6 and Under 8 classes, who showed everyone that good technique and performance shine through early on. There will certainly be some faces and feet to watch with great interest in the not too distant future.
In its 11th year, 2010’s event was the biggest yet, with a total of 4,300 competitors taking part during the two days, enabling both adults and children to compete. Six new schools had entered for the first time, bringing the total number of schools represented to 50. There was a real international feel this year, as dancers and spectators had travelled across the globe to be involved. Visitors from Malta joined the audience and there was great excitement as we welcomed our first international school this year, which had travelled from Barbados to take part, and looked as if they certainly thought it was worth the trip. It was especially heart-warming to see these new competitors cheered and clapped as they were presented on the floor, and dancers from other schools were eager to help out with the loan of spare shoes and costumes as required.
Not even the sub-zero temperatures outside could dampen the mood in the ballroom; it was plain to see that dancers, teachers, spectators and even the adjudicators (occasionally caught dancing round the edges!) were enjoying themselves amidst the buzzing atmosphere.
Huge thanks are due to the organisers who kept the whole event running smoothly, with prompt time keeping and excellent communication with the competitors to let them know when each round or presentation was taking place. It is a wonderful conclusion to the dancing year for ISTD schools to enjoy this fabulous occasion, and tribute must go to everyone involved in making it happen, from the administrators and organisers, to the dance teachers, the dancers and their supporters.
There is no doubt about it, after 12 months of anticipation and preparation, this year’s 11th Grand Finals proved every bit as ‘grand’ as promised. Roll on year 12!
From a spectator’s view
It was that time of year again and on Saturday 27th and Sunday 28th November 2010, thousands of dancers travelled to compete in the impressive Tower Ballroom at the 11th ISTD Grand Finals two day festival, sponsored by DanceSport International. For the first year, we were able to welcome dancers not only from all parts of the UK but from a school in Barbados along with some spectators from Malta turning this annual event into a prestigious international weekend. Dancers from Barbados had a shock when they arrived to the cold, wet weather that greeted them in Blackpool, a slight change from the 33°C they had all been enjoying in the previous few weeks!
From the enthusiastic competitors queuing at 8am to the superb musicality, presentation and incredibly high standards throughout the competitions, it is not surprising that there were record numbers of tickets sold, highlighting the increasing popularity and success of this festival. I think this shows the incredible hard work and commitment from the teachers, the pupils and of course, the parents, without whom all this would not be possible.
From 8.30am Saturday morning until 8pm in the evening, the ballroom was filled with Juvenile and Junior dancers delivering performances to exceptional standards providing the panels of adjudicators with the hard task of selecting their winners. The events offer opportunities to dancers of all ages and abilities, from those excitable Under 6s to the more experienced Junior Gold Star and Awards dancers. As the day progressed through Ballroom into Latin events there was the continuous buzz and excitement around the room with dancers touching up their hair and make-up whilst warming up and having the final quick run-through of their routines.
From a spectator’s view, the floor was filled with beautifully designed and created dresses. Throughout the Juvenile and Junior sections, it was lovely to see such expressive performances with dancers of all grades bringing their own personalities to the floor; whilst at higher grades we were able to enjoy the varied and innovative choreography being performed with individual interpretations and flair.
Another exciting new venture was the introduction of photos2u.net – a company specialising in digital photography. Rather than having your parents try to take a picture of you dancing and the result more often than not being a picture of your back, these professional photographers walked all around the ballroom taking thousands of beautiful pictures of both competitors and spectators. Furthermore they were able to directly upload these photos almost instantly to the five Apple Mac computers they had available in the foyer for you to glance through at your leisure. The photos are also all available for viewing or purchasing online at www.photos2u.net.
Finishing early, having completed the first 12 hours of competitions, there was just an hour or so before The Grand Dance and Cabaret, which as usual delivered an evening of enjoyment, socialising and dancing. The floor was packed with children and adults dancing to the fabulous music of Paul Fielding and the Tower Wurlitzer. The highlight of the evening was the Cabaret by Warren and Kristi Boyce, current British National Champions, who wowed the audience with their inspirational Ballroom performances. A standing ovation showed the audience’s enjoyment and with the first day drawing to a close, children and adults drifted off for a few hours sleep before the start of day two.
Day two and right on schedule the Juvenile Sequence dancers took to the floor at 8.30am. Already the room was filled with the buzz and enthusiasm of dancers ready to perform their Classical, Modern and Latin Sequence dances. Once again the Sequence Faculty saw record numbers of competitors. Dancers showed high levels of technical accuracy, elegance and grace within the Classical and Modern dances accompanied by the expressive and rhythmical movement throughout the Latin Sequences. Speaking to one of our adjudicators Mr Alan Grassby, he was impressed to see such technical accuracy from competitors in the Sequence events, which along with the high level of ‘qualified’ dancers provided him with quite a hard task.
The day continued and running already slightly ahead of schedule, the adult medallists bought their energy and determination to the floor providing yet more superb performances throughout the various rhythms. The weekend came to a close a great 45 minutes ahead of schedule. Thanks must be given to Mr Nicky Miles and Mr Richard Hunt for the hours spent organising and running this fabulous event.
I am sure you are already looking forward to the 2011 ISTD Grand Finals, which promises to offer an exceptional weekend of dancing in our new venue, The Winter Gardens on the 5th and 6th November.
An eagerly anticipated first visit
At the crack of an extremely cold and icy dawn on Saturday 27th November 2010, when all normally sane people were still tucked up warmly in bed, we found ourselves taking a very bracing and brisk walk along Blackpool promenade. Why?
We were making our first visit to the ISTD Ballroom & Latin Grand Finals being held at The Tower Ballroom. We took our places in the queue of eager parents, children, teachers and spectators who were gathering at the entrance to The Tower. Despite the cold, everyone was in good humour and spirits were very high with everyone eagerly anticipating the two full days of intense competition that lay ahead.
The doors opened earlier than advertised due to the unprecedented number of entries. Once inside the magnificent Tower Ballroom, the competitions commenced on the dot of 8.30am with the Junior and Juvenile Ballroom non-qualifier events. These events are a brilliant concept, allowing pupils who have qualified in only one genre or perhaps have siblings dancing in the qualifier events, to take part too, making this festival ideal for families. All the non-qualifier events were of an extremely high standard, whetting the appetite for the qualifier events which were to follow. This exciting day progressed through the Junior and Juvenile Ballroom qualifier and couples events and then, with rhythms and costumes changed, the whole process was repeated for the Latin.
Sunday was devoted to the Sequence events, adult Ballroom and Latin, solos, non- qualifiers and couples events and again the atmosphere in the ballroom was highly charged all day. The standard of dancing was superb from both competitors and their hard-working teachers. It was great to see so many of our young professionals dancing syllabus figures so accurately and with such good floor craft, whilst displaying such empathy with their pupils. The adjudicators must have had some very difficult decisions to make throughout the weekend.
We were extremely impressed by the efficient running of the whole event and enormous credit must go to Nicky Miles, Richard Hunt and their hard-working team. With a record number of 4,300 entries, 50 participating schools and a record number of tickets sold, this was a mammoth undertaking and yet it was all made to look so easy. Despite the huge entries, both days finished well ahead of time, not one second was wasted (our compliments here to the wonderful DJ Paul Fielding – great job and great music). It was clear that all those involved were working very effectively as a team with everyone playing their part efficiently. Well done to all concerned.
It was lovely to witness the respect that was shown to the event in general, with everyone who had played a part being brought onto the floor on Sunday and thanked warmly for their efforts – a lovely touch. It was very noticeable that the level of respect which is engendered by the organising committee filters down to each and every teacher, parent and competitor participating, encouraging a strong spirit of sportsmanship, with rules being strictly implemented and adhered to with a firm but fair ‘no nonsense’ approach. Top marks on this, most important, aspect.
The weekend was filled with firsts. Quite apart from there being six new schools taking part, the event has now become truly international with a contingent of competitors from Barbados taking part for the first time this year. Also present were a party from Malta who were observing with a view to taking part next year. In its 11th year, the ISTD Grand Finals has most definitely fully established its position as the most prestigious event for medallist competitors in the world.
Many congratulations. We returned home exhausted but exhilarated and motivated by our super and very successful weekend – our school is looking forward to 2011 already. If you haven’t already been – don’t hesitate – see you there!
Paul and Elaine Hills – Spotlight Danceworld, Westcliff-on-Sea
Another successful first visit
The landmark of the Blackpool Tower was visible from our hotel as we ventured out into the crisp, cold, November morning. For many schools the annual pilgrimage to the ISTD Blackpool Grand Finals is a regular event, however, for our school, being ‘Blackpool virgins’ so to speak, and very new to the competition world, we were a little apprehensive and unsure of what to expect. We need not have worried however, Nicky and the team of ISTD examiners and organisers on the competition committee were most helpful and welcoming and we soon felt like we belonged and deserved to be there.
We followed the crowds of obvious dancing folk, carrying suit carriers along the roads of Blackpool and joined the swiftly moving queue outside The Tower, snaking up the formidable staircase to the ballroom itself. The schedule seemed ambitious and we wondered if the military-like running order in the programme could possibly be adhered to, but we need not have doubted as events kicked off at exactly 8.30am with the children’s non-qualifier Ballroom events. The day was soon running so efficiently in fact, that by lunch we were 15 minutes ahead of time, no mean feat with a sell-out crowd and over 200 competitors on Saturday alone. This year, the 11th year the ISTD have run the competition at Blackpool, there were no fewer than 50 schools in attendance which was an all-time record I am told. There were even contingents from Barbados and Malta who had flown over specially, showing that ISTD Dancesport is truly a global affair.
The venue has such prestige and history that the children far from being daunted by their surroundings, were inspired to dance their absolute best, following in the footsteps of the great and the good of the Ballroom world, not to mention the Strictly stars the preceding week. It was so refreshing and inspiring to see the wonderful standard of work produced by the children trained in the ISTD method. So many hours of training and attention to detail of preparation were visible and the pure enjoyment of dancing was also strongly evident. Each school was cheering its members on and appreciating the fabulous dancing from whichever quarter it came.
Although it has to be said that sometimes the children were a lot better at handling the pressure than their parents were! The tension built as recall after recall was announced, progressing to the semi-finals and culminating in each final. How the panels of adjudicators were able to decide on winners and keep going for over 11 hours I will never know.
After the Ballroom qualifiers and couples events in the morning, proceedings moved on to the Latin sections with yet more immaculate dancing and costumes. Some teachers barely sat down all day, partnering their pupils section after section; we all must have danced many, many different routines. In the end we as a school placed 1st and 4th in two of the Junior events, a result we could not have dared to hope for our first year, and we came away thrilled.
No sooner had the last Latin event been presented at 8pm, then the organisers were preparing for The Grand Dance in the evening. There was just time for us all to pop back and grab something to eat before returning to the Dance. Perhaps before the actual day we had expected some of our children and parents to be too tired to return for the Dance. How wrong we were; their enthusiasm to attend meant that even after dancing a 12 hour shift, they were keen to get back onto the dance floor to the tunes of the Wurlitzer, just to unwind from the day and socialise with friends. We were also treated to a fantastic Cabaret by the reigning British National Ballroom Champions, Warren and Kristi Boyce. All the children there hurried to sit in front of the stage for the best view and sat spellbound by their idols for a full half an hour. The Cabaret was a truly inspiring performance of sensitivity and artistry, and Warren and Kristi fully deserved their rapturous ovation and applause.
It was so wonderful to see the delight on the faces of everyone taking part throughout the day, both competitors and supporters. It has whetted our appetite for more and I urge any school, which has been tempted to try medallist competitions, to give them a try. After all this is why we all do this job and maybe why we became dancers and teachers in the first place. Many congratulations to all the organisers for a job well done, and see you again next year, at the Winter Gardens – we can’t wait!