Strictly 2018 Series 16 – Week 9 Blackpool

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There are some places that you visit that rekindle nightmares.

It might be its history or yours.

Take the Colosseum, El Djem or any other bowl of death. You can still smell the blood, see the scratches on the walls and walk the echoic corridors that led to eternity.

At school it might have been the Deputy Head’s office or a corner of the playground dominated by the College of Bullies.

There is a church on the Isle of Wight that generates dread in BS6. And a road in WF11.

Equally, there are also some places that resonate joy and delirium.

Try Lords, Twickenham, St Bons (that’s for the Bristol locals only), the Hippodrome, a chalet at Brean, Wembley or Horton Cricket Ground.

Only one building I have entered has taken my breath away.

The Papal Basilica of St Peter in the Vatican.

And it wasn’t a religious thing, or another rugby game, though there may have been a conversion or two.

The ground was broken in 1506 and 120 years later the opening purple ribbon was cut after a lengthy build by the DIY SOS team; of course the colour matched the SOS team’s polo shirts and began its long association with the Papacy. The squad of architects during the process included Donato Bramante, Antonio da Sangallo, Carlo Maderno and Michelangelo, the latter who lived to the remarkable age of 88. Maybe it was the Mediterranean diet?

To enter the giant courtyard and to see the façade you have to pass through airport style security. Once dunn it’s a slow walk towards heaven, through the narthex, warmth and awe gently cushioning you, caressing your soul via the Clementine Chapel, the overwhelming altar of St Gregory, marble underfoot, the eyes of ninety-one Popes supporting your Crusade, Michelangelo’s ‘Pieta’ not a world away. History grabs you, so too the enormity, the extravagance, the depth, and the undoubted weight of the building’s spirit.

The Tower Ballroom holds similar reverence in the Dance World. Of course, the comparison is your own. First opened in 1899 the iconic venue, along with the Empress Ballroom at the Winter Gardens, they have been the magnetic force in the dance world for six generations, hosting dances of all disciplines from the British Sequence Dance Championships, to the World Modern Jive Champs, to Northern Soul, Hip Hop UK Street Dance, Formation comps, Disco Kid contests and International Dance Festivals for the young and for the old. You may remember Peter West or Sir Terry doing a TV show from Blackpool? When fake tan was still in its first trimester? And if you just want to dance without a number on your back why not try a tea dance, a social gathering full of style, elegance and respect at either venue. The world would be a better place if every town had a ballroom.

The Tower Ballroom is a big space that makes you feel at home, a welcoming amphitheatre. The shimmering chandeliers take a week to clean and you can’t help thinking of Del Boy. The balconies are gilded, no Waldorf and Statler in sight. The dreamy frescos, not quite The Sistine, watch over the sprung floor, 37 x 37m, mahogany, oak and walnut.

Glorian Estefan, the Cuban Floridian, rocked the opening, the male dancers in black slacks and white blazers, like waiters from the Love Boat. The ‘Cheery Bunnnch’, don’t you just love the Northern accent, exchanged the dull paddles for dubble figures, after one notably nearly stumbled on his chaine turn entrance. Must have been a lose Australian lace.

The Luton Lip was first upp offering as good an opening dance as you will ever see. It was supposed to be Salsa but don’t let that confuse you. A mere illusion, a red herring, for Salsa was back in the drawer for another day. In fact it has never been out. Instead Stacey was thrown from man to man, a flange of support stars helping. She completed a Catherine Wheel too, a reverse rigid somersault, all along with the occasional clumpy transition. It looked like an adventurous version of Saturday Night Special from the seventies, a Eurovision feel of fun and games, a flying giant stick of rock someone’s inspirational idea of an entrée. I suppose it could have been a donkey. Maybe at Easter . . . you know what they have for lunch, don’t you? Half an hour like everyone else.

By contrast Lauren had a Nightmare on Steadman Street three weeks too late for Halloween as she was hung out to dry, her Argentine Tango, danced with the inexperienced Akbar James who looked like a sea bass flipping itself over at the beach. A poor track, ‘River’, a huge space, two exposed novices, the eyes of a nation, this was a clean exit, a farewell, back to training for the day job for Lauren. It was like the first hour of a blind date when you know after ten seconds that she’s not the one and there is no chance to do a runner. Best grin and bear it. They both knew that the dance off beckoned . . . only for the GBP to offer an arm for the drowning cupple. They sailed through.

Many images flashed through my mind when Swanny began his Theatre Jazz, a Cupple’s Choice, a mixture of Charleston, the Lambeth Walk and twenties’ cinema. Tommy Steele got into the picture, so too Joe Brown and Dick Van Dyke, Bedknobs and Broomsticks and Peter Kay. And what about Alan Bradley? RIP old lad.

Set on a tram, Swanny rejoiced in this discipline, sporting a snooker player’s waistcoat along with a bowler hat. You couldn’t make that up. A bowler hat! They could’ve gone for a beret, a flat cap, a top hat or a Minnie Coldwell tea cosy. But no, a bowler hat! For the bowler! Brilliant! The routine itself was neatly delivered (32) giving Graeme his best score yet; it will set up our hero for a career in panto. Yet, it was unchallenging. His bowling spell here is coming to an end soon. Nearly time to take his sweater. How many dance offs can the GBP stomach?

Blackpool has seen many a fine Paso, no more so than 2015 when Anita Rani and Glebby Glebby Glebby Savchenko danced to ‘Malaguena’. They wore reds, blacks, they arched, there was Flamenco, appels, or, flamingos and apples, as was reported over Sunday brunch. It was spectacular.

Because that’s what this venue does to you and the beneficiary three years on was Faye, two more marks of perfection to her growing tally. There were more reds, blacks, a tinge of gold too, drums, giant flames, the circus meets Boudicca at the sacrificial altar. To match Stacey Faye performed a forward rigid somersault delivered with feisty professionalism.

During the VTs Kate was filmed dipping into the Irish Sea for a swim. On Sunday morning her clothes were still there, smartly folded, in a neat pile, Reggie Perrin does Strictly, because Kate’s journey is now over, an American Smooth Fox Trot not enough to get her back to Elstree. One can only imagine that she is still swimming.

Arriving to the dance floor in a hot air balloon made by Cameron’s of Bedminster you would be forgiven for thinking of Phileas Fogg and Passe Partout in Around the World in 80 Days . . . because that’s how long it took the routine to kick in. Gentle is an understatement. If you were being unkind you might say paceless, or deflated. Of course it was elegant and genteel but as others raised their ante it wasn’t enough and it’s back to the pit face for Kate on Monday. From the Ballroom to News Room.

For weeks Charlie tried his best to beat her to it, three dance offs on CV’s CV, but there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel. I recently heard a story about a pep talk at a school when the Maths teacher gave some sanguine advice to a GCSE student. ‘If you’ve got a second gear, I suggest you get into it.’ The same can be said of Charlie. Has he made his move? No Death By Samba for Charlie.

Collecting a cupple of tens in a super-high 38 maybe there were one or two sympathy points? This is not an uncharitable comment more a comparison to Danny Mac’s perfect Samba two years ago. This wasn’t as good, not nearly, but Charlie went well with great timing and presence, looking at home with the accompanying troop. He did forget to tuck his shirt into his underpants though. Smoke and mirrors to keep the eyes off the feet.

The world of roofing has changed inextricably in the last thirty years. Gone are the days of the bodger and the cowboy, the use of black painted cardboard to replace broken slates, molten bitumen pots spitting out skin scarring bullets and scaffold-less pitches spilling the unexpected in a Newtonian fashion. Instead the revolution has been towards Health and Safety, design and technology, high specifications and technical excellence. Joe would still be a good roofer should he choose to return to such heights.

His application of technique is exceptional and that is a transferable skill across many fields especially useful in the Ballroom where methods, procedure and structure rule the world. The juddgies thought so too offering him his first tens of the series, three in total, in a Quick Step when Joe was dressed like Carl ‘Alfalfa’ Switzer from the Little Rascals. Or an extra from Bugsy Malone. Next week Joe and Reddo will be dancing wearing a giant bar code outfit. I’m told they are an item.

Linda with a G becomes Glinda.

One or two of you may know of the character from Wicked and her party piece ‘Popular’? Glinda is the girl who is good at everything, the homecoming queen, the belle of the ball, the lucky girl who dates the football captain. In Wicked her task is to improve the less gifted Elphaba.

Glinda is Ashley to a T. When someone gets an eight she bags a nine. When someone else scoops a ten she sneaks two. After 38s and 39s, of course she was the first dancer to hit 40, always an occasion in the autumn, shaking her tail feather in a Jive set in a chip shop, a strange venue given the lack of success rosettes on the walls of Blackpool’s chippies. True that, the records and archives show recent winners from Cheltenham, Aberdeenshire, Shetland, Plymouth, Whitby and York. Not Blackpool.

By the look of her Ashley hasn’t even seen a chip let alone eaten one. Had she this high octane offering would have burnt off any unwanted carbs, the highlight being a circle of chaine turns to right around her partner that thankfully only took a few days to learn. Ashley took this dance as a new project, she has proper poise, she flirts and flounces, she hangs with the right cohorts and is very good at sports.

In terms of balance Danny Mac scored the first 40, I was there, did I ever mention that, and didn’t go on to win. Faye’s Jive last week was sharper. And we all know that when the crunch comes the most popular dancer will win.

What do you say Glinda?

Dave Schofield

Bristol

November 23rd 2018.