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Guide to the Major UK Competitions

By Justine Hollyer - Added 28th of February 2007
Major UK Dance Competitions - Blackpool

Introduction

There are several major dance competitions held each year in the UK. We are privileged to be able to witness the worlds greatest dancers at the three of the four most important events in the Dance Calendar: the British Open held in May- simply known as "Blackpool"; the UK open held in January in Bournemouth and the Elsa Wells International in October held in Brentwood with the finals in the Royal Albert Hall. Anyone can enter these open events since there are no pre entry requirements but it can be a scary experience. (The remaining "Grand Slam" event being the World championship which changes venue each year and each event is held separately with only the top 2 competitors from each country entering). There are two National championships for the UK competitors: the UK Closed, held in Bournemouth in July; and the Closed British, November held in Blackpool.

Although there are no entry requirements, the amateur events will have will have the best dancers in the country whilst the professional event usually attracts our best pros- we have no.s 1, 2, 5, 6 in the world for ballroom and no.2 in the world for latin, so the standard is also incredibly high.. For all other grades the biggest events are Stars of the Future (Stars) held in Brentwood and Champions of Tomorrow (CoT) held in Blackpool. All these events require you to pre-enter, often as early as 2 months in advance. Stars and CoT additionally require you to qualify in regional heats. If you go to watch any of these events, be aware that most people dress smartly and in the evening, black tie is often worn but this tends to be for the front row spectators who are usually former world champions and have earner their right to the best seats. Competitors often turn up in matching tracksuits but will change into smarter clothes if they get knocked out, or they arrive looking smart.

Graded Competitions

These competition are aimed at all grades from beginner to pre-champ. They are seen as "Finals" for those who have pre-qualified by entering prior competitions. These qualifying events are advertised as "Heats" in Dance News. If you place in the top 2 (latin or ballroom) of your event then you get offered an entry form, although these are passed down to the next in line if the top couples have already qualified. For Pre-champ it is the same except you have to qualify separately for Latin and Ballroom as they are separate events. You get "lives" in each discipline before you are required to move up a grade. You lose lives by winning the event 4 times in a trophy event - not a heat, or by winning the grade higher, both subject to there being at least 6 couples in the event. If you are placed out of a grade before Stars of CoT you are still entitled to enter at the grade at which you qualified. This contributes to the standard being artificially high. Many couples enter at the lowest grade they are eligible for in the hopes of getting a good placing. If you win a category in Champions of Tomorrow, this is also a cue to stop dancing at that level and move up to the next although it does not constitute a "life".

Champions of Tomorrow, January, Blackpool

Qualification for CoT happens via the Sunday circuit comps with heats held June-Nov, entries sometime in December. At CoT there is one event for under 35s and one for over 35s at each level. Beginners, Novice and Intermediate events involve a 2 dance (intermediate is always Foxtrot and Jive). It is lounge dress and you cannot change outfits or shoes between the 2 dances as there is no time. For Pre-champ you can wear competition dress and have time to change costume as the events are run separately and not everybody enters both disciplines. It is "free" to enter but expensive to get tickets to get into the comp which you will obviously need to be able to dance!!

Stars of the Future, June, Brentwood

Stars heats are run Dec-May in a similar manner to CoT For this event, the Ballroom and Latin are separate which means you won't get held back in your good discipline by your bad one. It's still lounge dress for Beginner, Novice and Intermediate but costumes are permitted in Pre-Champ There is usually an Amateur Chart-rated event run at this competition.

Spectating

Spectators at these events are usually friends and family, and other competitors. It is not a great spectacle for great dancing but it is humbling to see so many tiny kids look so good!

National Championships (Closed)

Closed in this sense means that the entries are closed to couples eligible to represent any of the home nations. There is no other entry qualification but the standard is high.

UK Closed, July, Bournemouth

This is held in Bournemouth at the Pavilion and for some reason doesn't not usually have as large a turnout as the Closed British. It's held shortly after Blackpool , a traditional time for holidays and partnership splits, which could partly explain the shortfall. There are Youth, 10-dance, amateur and professional events as well as other grades.

Closed British, Blackpool

This event has formation, youth, senior, over 50s, amateur and professional events. This is the event that most British couples will make an effort to enter. You get to dance on the huge Blackpool floor without the scary foreign competitors crashing into you.

Spectating

Unless you are fussed where you sit, you will probably be able to sit with a "roaming" ticket, but may have to move if you are occupying someone's space. There is usually a fairly big audience here with many dance devotees as well as former champions turning up to watch their progenies.

International Competitions

International competitions are very different in feel to National ones. The obvious ones being there are billions of very good foreign competitors. The British are a minority and it's a far more unfriendly and intimidating atmosphere. Amongst the foreign competitors there are some with atrocious floor craft and terrible manners. Don't be surprised to have a couple go the wrong way round the floor, be on the wrong side, barge into people etc and not acknowledge it let alone apologise. I still haven't figured out whether they are oblivious or just put there as decoys to clear a path for their better couples akin to linesmen in American football. You need to hone your own floor craft skills against these couples, that doesn't just mean avoiding them as they will barge into you anyway, it includes maintaining your posture whilst smiling serenely and not getting flustered when crashed into by a couple twice your size going the wrong way or flinging a limb in your face.

The other thing is be very careful about valuables, do not leave them lying around, better still don't take them, I've heard of too many things going missing. Another thing to be aware if is that changing rooms are mixed, even when they are marked male and female. The Japanese competitors have an ingenious solution to preserve their modesty which is like a personal wigwam to change under!! For the non exhibitionists, wear something loose so you can pull a dress on underneath. Latin competitors often come ready dressed under a baggy tracksuit, but this is not really an option for modern competitors with long dresses, especially if it's wet outside. Some dancers have little regard for their fellow competitors and leave fake tan and makeup smeared all over the place, something to be wary of! Other dancers bring changing mats, either to ensure they don't get someone else's tan on their costume or to claim a space which is at a premium in the early rounds.

UK Open

This first big competition in the Dance calendar, Held in the Bournemouth BIC. There is a lot of hanging about with around 12 heats in the open events with a long wait to find whether you have made the next round. Couples who reach the last 24 or 12 get a bye from rounds 1 and 2 respectively and get a lie in. There is a rising stars event for any couple who didn't make the top 24 in the previous year. This is still a high standard comp and most these couples will also enter the open events. It's also a good place to see new professional couples. As new professionals, the current World Amateur Standard Champions (Gozolli & Betti) will no doubt be winning the Professional Rising Stars! They will also be starting from Round 1 in their main event. Your competitors ticket will also give you an evening seat in the worst area. As the entry is £42 per couple per day, you may not want to pay extra to get a better seat for the evening! There is an exhibition area usually including the main shoe, couture and CD companies in the foyer and surrounding hotels.

British Open

This is a week long festival but the format has changed slightly for 2004. It will now include an amateur Rising Stars event for the first time to run over the first few days. Saturday is the first BIG day as it includes the famous International team match which England haven't lost for a long time. This is the traditional time to announce retirement from competition and I was privileged to witness an emotional announcement from the Hiltons. The events held include youth, open amateur, senior, professional, formation and showdance. Youth includes ages up to 21 and because of the numbers involved, youth competitors are no longer allowed to enter the open event However, they are to be allowed to enter the rising stars. The first round for professionals includes a huge number of Japanese competitors so you may be forgiven for thinking you have walked into the Japanese Open. The first 2 rounds in the open amateur events are called qualifiers. There are about 20 heats run in 2 sessions: 1-10 before lunch and 11-20 afterwards.

The numbers called back from the qualifiers are posted later on in the day in the foyer so you don't have to hang around waiting. The 2nd qualifying round is held the following day and the numbers also posted. Rounds 3 to Final are held later on the same day but with all the top 24 competitors from last year now included. There is a huge exhibition area A dancers paradise - any product even remotely related to dance will be there: CDs, videos, makeup, jewellery, shoes, dresses, fabrics, stones, hairpieces, tan etc etc. There are often special offers available and Supadance do a huge range of sale shoes. It is a good place for getting dresses, apart from the main couture houses having stands with new and pre-worn dresses, DSI also run a "Change of A-dress" where private sellers can leave their dresses to be sold. You can get some bargains here, but cash only.

I'm told if you can leave it to the end of the week you are more likely to get further discounts as the sellers would rather make a sell than have to cart the dress back, but you run the risk of losing the dress you really want. Entry is technically free for competitors but you have to purchase either seats or passes to be allowed in the ballroom. Seats are almost impossible to come by as someone almost has to die and day passes mean you are not allocated a seat. You can sit if there is a spare seat but be prepared to move if the seat holder comes along. If they are genuine seat holders they will have a ticket, otherwise some are just pushing their luck. The front 2 rows are reserved for the bigwigs and former world champions who are usually in evening wear, Bath 's coach, Paula Goodyear is usually round here as a former world champion herself.

You don't often get a good view from the seats unless you are very lucky, and if you are standing right behind you will get a better view, but if you move, you will lose your place as it gets very crowded. Practice sessions are run daily, quite early in the morning and they get very, very crowded. Don't expect to practise properly, just get a feel of the floor and used to all the couples in your face, on your toes, in your back etc etc. It's a good time to practise maintaining posture and composure when under fire, if you manage it here, you will be in good stead for your own event.

Elsa Wells International

The qualifying rounds for the main events are held in the Brentwood Centre. Also held in Brentwood are the Professional Rising Stars, youth, junior and senior events with Modern and Latin being run on different days. However, you are unable to enter both disciplines at Amateur or Pro level. If you are fortunate to make the last 31 couples, then you join last years semi finalists in the remaining rounds at the Albert Hall. Youth competitors may also enter the open Amateur.

Venues

All venues start with a B, apart from the Albert Hall, and only the top competitors need miss out a trip to Essex , the land of the Ford Escort, bad highlights, Victoria Beckham and my old school. Brentwood could be worse, at least it has a free car park unlike Blackpool & Bournemouth. The Brentwood Centre The floor is large, so dancers are prone to cut off the edges since their routines don't fit and whizz across the centre when you least expect it. Seating is banked so you get a reasonable view from most places.

Travel

It's relatively easy to find: M25 Jn 28, Follow signs to Brentwood Town Centre A1023, through town centre, Left at the double mini roundabout (Wilson's Corner) down Ongar Rd, keep going straight until the road forks at another mini roundabout (they keep sprouting up), take right fork down Doddinghurst Road. It's a mile or so down, on the right, just under a bridge. There is a big free car park. Brentwood Station is nowhere near (2-3 miles), take a cab. There are buses but not that frequent. It's in the middle of nowhere but has a cafe & vending areas. Entry tends to be expensive regardless of the comp. Seating is plentiful & banked. Mixed Changing despite signs to the contrary!

Blackpool Winter Gardens

Absolutely huge floor, but couples seem even more disorientated and don't always follow the line of dance 9 There is limited free parking a short walk away, check restrictions though! Otherwise an NCP car park is close. The Station is a short drive or long walk. There are long queues for cabs at the end of the evening! The seating is bad except for the first few rows. From the balcony, the view is often obscured, and even expensive seats don't guarantee a clear view and are hard to come by anyway. Most Blackpool visits involve at least 1 overnight stay. There are thousands of cheap B&Bs of varying standard. The better ones closer to the Winter Gardens are often booked years in advance for May. There are also self catering studios for those who don't want to sample the unexciting range of restaurants around but these range from OK to manky. The Bella Pasta opposite one entrance of the Winter gardens can be a veritable who's who in the world of Ballroom dancing, but it's uncool to ask for autographs! If you have never been, pop your head in the Tower ballroom as well. It's Victorian kitsch at its peak, complete with a huge Wurlitzer organ which disappears into the stage. There are many older couples social dancing and the stray competitor practising or trying out.

Bournemouth

There are two Venues are used here. The BIC comes complete with expensive NCP Multi Storey Car park attached which takes ages to get out of as everyone is leaving at the same time, or there are some other open air ones around which are similarly priced. There is little parking to be had on nearby roads. The floor is large, the changing mixed, with a big foyer full of dancers smoking their heads off. The Pavilion is just round the corner with a smaller dance floor, The seating is not banked but you get a better view as you are not so far away.

The Royal Albert Hall

If you get to these rounds at the International, well done! The floor is not overly large and is oval. The seats range from expensive and good, to requiring long range binoculars in the gods. There are boxes with seats in which are usually sold out. Nearest tube is South Kensington. There is limited free parking on surrounding roads after 6:30 on yellow lines and meters but check regulations very carefully as they vary, never park in residents bays! You can use the car park at Imperial College, although not cheap, it's convenient and only a short walk.

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Article written by Justine Hollyer - www.strictlyballroomlatin.org.uk.

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