Blackpool Museum Volunteer, Pat Hayes, attended the Blackpool International Dance Festival at the Winter Gardens in May. Join her on a descriptive tour of the glitz and glamour.
Welcome to the annual Blackpool International Dance Festival which first arrived in town in 1920. Join me as I stroll through the magnificent Winter Gardens and absorb the sights and sounds; hustle and bustle of this truly spectacular international event.
As I pass under the beautiful rotunda dome, which is part of the original building of 1878, I can feel the excitement start to build. I hear a young woman gasp “Wow! What a buzz!”
Now, into the magnificent Floral Hall, with its curved glass roof in the style of the Crystal Palace, awash with colour and sparkle. Stalls of dresses, shoes and accessories fill the Hall and The Galleon Bar on the right, continuing around The Horseshoe and Pavilion and spilling over into the Victoria Street entrance, the Durham Room and the Victoria Bar (now re-named The Gillow Bar).
Elegant Ballroom Dresses
The first dress that catches my eye is an elegant modern ballroom dress in midnight blue lace. It has an ankle-length flowing skirt to facilitate the long graceful glides and movement of the waltz and foxtrot as well as the more flamboyant and staccato kicks, flicks and chassés of the quickstep. All of the dresses are designed, not only aesthetically to create a stunning impact visually, but also practically to provide the dancer with the correct support and freedom of movement that the different styles of dance require.
As I saunter through the Hall the assault on all the senses is breath taking. Clouds of chiffon and tulle in a rainbow of vibrant mouth-watering colours – candy pink, lipstick red, hot orange, sunshine yellow, chocolate brown, emerald green, deep purple, alongside the more delicate pastel shades of petal peach, powder blue, misty lilac and blush pink. Not forgetting the dramatic blacks, still favoured by many dancers. The textures and sheens of the materials almost invite people to touch and immerse themselves in the soft velvets, slippery smooth satins and sensuous silks. All trimmed with a varied array of beads, crystals, diamante, sequins, fringing, feathers, fur and frills. Hemlines that are long, short, straight, narrow, asymmetrical, handkerchief, edged with ribbon, braid or lace, inset with godets.
Men’s Evening Suits
I am now admiring some elegant and sophisticated men’s evening suits, in blacks and dove greys. Long tailcoats, short waistcoats, dazzling white or jet black shirts, bow ties, plain ties. Some of the materials are matt, others have a sheen. All designed to complement and showcase the ladies’ sumptuous gowns.
The Galleon Bar is transformed into a Latin American Carnival – decorated with eight-foot high tubes of crystal bead fringing. The entrance is draped with pale pink soft velvet curtains, enticing us in. Striking colour combinations of brown and black; turquoise and purple; peach, red and black; candy pink and lime green; a short purple dress with an orange tulle fishtail at the back; and a very-nearly dress of red and gold with diamante bra top from which hangs a short skirt of hot red, orange and yellow fringing.
Back in the Hall I mingle with dancers from all around the world – China, Japan, Eastern Europe, Italy, the Americas, Australia, and Scandinavia.
Dance Shoes to Die For
There are many stalls with a staggering array of dance shoes – too many to choose from. Latin American strappy high heeled shoes and ballroom lower heeled court shoes in gold, silver, red, bronze leather, satin and suede. Not to be outshone, the men’s shoes are equally striking – plain and patent black leather; two-tone black and white; three-tone black, red and white.
Constant streams of competitors, with their colourful wheeled suitcases, flow through the Floral Hall and gather outside the entrance to the Empress Ballroom. Anxious smiles, nervous clock-watching – waiting for their heats to be called. A Polish couple in matching red track suits rush past, running late.
Music to my ears – a stall selling CDs, not only of strict tempo dance music but also “Teach yourself” guides for the whole gamut of dances, from the Argentine Tango to the Zapateado – “a Latin American dance with rhythmic tapping of the feet”. A group of toe-tapping, prospective customers wear headphones and listen to the CDs before they buy.
Stalls of second-hand (one careful owner) costumes at greatly discounted rates. The red and silver sequinned number that I’m drooling over is modestly priced at £1350. Some of the gowns cost even more than that, but have labels attached to inform me that the previous owners were European dance champions.
Hair Piled High into Chignons
Moving around the Horseshoe (originally known as the Ambulatory) I admire the ladies’ elaborate hairstyles – short asymmetrical bobs, hair piled high into chignons, very long pony tails (with the aid of hair extensions), all dressed with diamante or sequin-embellished hair decorations.
Dotted amongst the crowds are security guards armed with walkie-talkies and wearing not-so-glamorous black trousers and shirts.
Accessories galore – dazzling jewellery of every style, size and hue; jewel encrusted cufflinks for the men; dance tights; braces; socks; gel cushion insoles for hard-worked feet; false eyelashes also trimmed with diamante; not to mention the enormous array of hair gel and hairsprays – with or without glitter and, of course, the must-have spray tan.
In the Pavilion Theatre the ceiling is covered with swathes of white floaty material. Although it looks very romantic, there is a more practical reason for it. The roof is currently being repaired and refurbished in preparation for the new Blackpool Museum which will be housed in The Winter Gardens and, hopefully, will open in 2018.
This area is also filled with stalls and with people queuing for the tills.
A young woman is trying on one of the heavily beaded ballroom dresses and checking her reflection in a long cheval mirror. Peeping out beneath the beautiful flowing hem are the bottoms of a pair of blue jogging pants and matching trainers. Trés chic.
At one of the stalls an industrious tailor is busily assembling a black jacket and giving his client advice on “best fit”. A polite notice on the wall of an adjacent changing room advises me: “Do not bring refreshments into this room”.
Down the steps into the Victoria Street entrance area, spotlights pick out the displays of shimmering materials and spangles. In the corner I spot an elegant Japanese gentleman coming out of a changing room to check his reflection in the mirror. The black trousers fit him perfectly apart from the fact that they are at least eight inches too long and drag along the floor. A visit to our friendly tailor will surely rectify that.
And now it’s time for me, reluctantly, to make my way back to the Floral Hall and take a final glance at the vibrant scene in this “Most Magnificent Palace of Amusement in the World”.
See you next year.