ISTD Grand finals – 2016


By Emma Davies

A few weeks back, I was joking with my dancing companions that I had discovered a new dance called ‘The Blackpool Flap’ formed from nervous energy and spinning about, last minute painting of nails, stoning of dresses and repetitive ‘topping up’ of fake tan, a grand finale of an epic journey North bound laden down with sparkly dresses, hair pins and false eyelashes! All this ‘flapping’ for the Big grand finals competition in Blackpool, all this for the love of dance. And I guess that’s the point, isn’t it? We all do it because we love to dance and we want our chance to step onto the floor in the magnificent Blackpool ballrooms year after year, we have done for 17 years to be exact.

This was my 4th year attending the ISTD Grand finals weekend at Blackpool and I was lucky enough to have some good friends of mine make the long journey to come and support me for the weekend. Many years ago, when they were both little girls, they too used to compete in ballroom dancing, spending their weekends swathed in chiffon and diamantes. They were as excited as the rest of us if not more so.

The whole weekend is an experience for me, not just the Sunday competition day. A trip to Blackpool is not complete without a visit to the Blackpool tower ballroom so my dance partner and I indulged ourselves in the traditional afternoon tea and a gentle waltz around the floor. I felt strangely emotional sipping my tea and watching dozens of couples, young and old, whirling and spinning in each other arms, it was like stepping back in time. How fantastic it must have been in those early competitions at the tower. I hoped that a little of that old-school Blackpool tower ballroom magic might just rub off on my shoes.

Soon Saturday evening was upon us, we all sat huddled together chatting, reminiscing, drinking in the opulent atmosphere of the stunning Empress ballroom, watching the pop and fizz and sparkle of the fireworks display and being swept away by the story unfolding in front of us as the amazing professional couples wowed us with their every step and turn.

What an inspiration to watch such clean and elegant execution and technique of the classic Ballroom by Andrey Sirbu & Alexandra Hixson and the raw energy and feisty passion of the Latin by Ryan Mcshane & Ksenia Zsikhotska. Every performance as captivating as the next, the music calling us, inviting us to join with them in that moment.

It was clear to me that magic was at work again…. the magic made our feet itch and before I could reach down for my own dance shoes, my friends were out there on the floor blowing the cobwebs off their childhood memories putting the rest of us to shame! The steps flooding back to them, the music carrying them away to a place all but forgotten. The perfect Saturday night preparation, full of little surprises, smiles on everyone’s faces and no doubt, heads full of sequins and trophies.

The morning of the competition arrives and after an early start for the obligatory two hours of hair and makeup, we approach the Winter Gardens once more. That same ballroom somehow transformed from the night before, brimming with colourful dresses and bright lights, buzzing with nervous chatter and determined competitors getting organised and focused for the day ahead.

I remember the first time I ever stepped onto that dancefloor 4 years ago, it intimidated and scared me to the point I was actually shaking, but this year it was like meeting an old friend that I hadn’t seen for a while, exciting yet comfortable and familiar and I loved every single second of it. Skipping and bounding my way through the quickstep hoping desperately for the judges to notice

me so I could dance again. I would have been overjoyed with a trophy but sadly this time it was not to be. For every year the competition gets tougher and tougher, the standard of dance more impressive. As my dance teachers often reminds us, you can only be in control of your own performance on the day not anyone else’s. Semifinals and quarter finals reached in Ballroom, I gathered myself and my nerves up ready to change gear (and dresses) for an evening of latin.

An impromptu photo shoot with my fellow dance pals posing and pouting in our new ‘lucky’ dresses helped us boost our dwindling energy and fine tune our sassy latin personas. The couple’s latin was probably my favourite category in the end, full of cheekiness and giggling and lots of flirtatious adrenaline fuelled fun. My dress shimmered and sparkled under the lights like a mermaid’s tail, another quarter finals and semifinals reached but again no trophies for my efforts

As the day began to draw to a close, I reflected how very lucky I was to be part of such a supportive and encouraging dance school, how we all cheer for one another and offer compliments or commiserations and that my life would be a lot less sparkly without them and our shared passion for dancing.

I would like to think that Peggy Spencer would be pleased to know that her legacy and belief in ‘dancing for all’ lives on, with the help of a little Blackpool magic.