2001 - A Dance Odyssey

Chance 2 Dance held their inaugural competition in Blackpool in March.

Hundreds of people packed into The Empress Ballroom in Blackpool's Winter Gardens on Saturday 3 March to see Chance 2 Dance's first dance contest. Competitors came from Scotland to the South Coast to into the seven categories of jive and Lindy Hop. There was a multitude of DJs to keep the crowd entertained during breaks between heats, and two sets from King Pleasure and The Biscuit Boys to top it all off.

The choice of venue was inspired, a huge ballroom with plenty of room for competitors and onlookers. Food, drink and other amenities were available inside, while the wooden floor was ideal for social and contest dancing. 

The format of the day was heats to whittle the numbers down to something manageable, followed by semi-finals and the final. There were seven categories, including Jive, Lindy Hop, Aerials, Spotlight and Double Trouble. As the day wore on, it soon became apparent that the ambitious scale of the event was resulting in an acute case of late running. Scheduled to start at 1pm, by 3.30pm it was already running an hour behind!

Empress Hall Blackpool
Crowds gather in The Empress Ballroom
Freestyle session
Dancers take to the floor for a freestyle session

The judges for the event rotated depending on the category, and included Nigel Anderson, Nina Daines, Roger Chin, Simon Selmon, Taina Kortelainen, Franco, Sue Taylor, Ian Hartley. Inevitably there were some comments: how could Simon Selmon and Taina Kortelainen both judge and compete? (They didn't judge themselves!) How could one half of the Jump 'n' Jive performance troupe judge the other half in the Aerials? And so on.

Judging a dance competition is a difficult and thankless task. To find someone who is qualified to make an informed decision about the relative quality of dance competitors, yet does not know any of them personally would be well nigh impossible. But some degree of impartiality has to be seen by the audience. Hats off to the competitor who said he was getting a t-shirt made up saying "I was voted out by my teacher!"

The entrants in the Lindy Hop section were extremely disappointed to find out a few days before the event that the top prize money had been dropped from 500 to 150. Strangely, there entrance fee remained the same: a couple had to buy an admission ticket (17.50 each) plus pay 25 to enter. Thus, It was 60 a couple to take the floor.

Lindy Hop final
All action on the floor in the Lindy Hop final

While understanding the economics of the situation (only six couples entered), this will clearly create problems in the future. If potential entrants are to be attracted by the prize money (which must be the point in having it), yet run the risk of seeing it reduced if not enough enter, this may result in people holding off entering until the pot is guaranteed - which is dependant on people entering! A vicious circle, if ever there was one, which will do nothing to enhance the quality of competition. 

The Lindy Hop heats were two groups of three couples, and each heat consisted of two songs. Neither was a traditionally recognisable swing tune; the first being a few bpm above blues speed, and the second being a 'modern' version of T'Ain't What You Do. What was the thinking behind that? It seemed as if someone thought "We won't play 'em a swing tune - that's exactly what they'll be expecting us to do!" One couple gamely tried a back charleston during the slow tune, and it really didn't fit.

Simon Selmon and Taina Kortelainen, Graeme Puckett and Anne Peskett, and Anne Arneson and James Glader (from the US!) made it through to the final, where they had one tune to prove their worth. Some were expecting two tunes, but it was all decided after George Gee's rendition of Streamliner.

The Spotlight section offered couples the chance to show a routine with 20 percent modern jive, and then anything else. Some couples took the comedy routine, others showed some serious ballroom jive. Good to see the crowd shown some boogie woogie and Lindy Hop too, from two of the couples in the Lindy Hop competition.

The Double Trouble section was a big hit with the crowd. One person leading two others, although at times it was difficult to see who was playing which role! Some highly original moves were on show, and judging by the classes springing up, this is going to be an increasingly popular category in the future.

The Aerials competition saw some spectacular jumps and flings, with current UK Lindy Hop champions Andy Fleming and Rena Swanepoel emerging triumphant. Rob May and Karmel Gent also did well. They clearly enjoyed the competition atmosphere, as they when they entered the 1999 British Swing Dance Championships.

It was Rena's birthday as well, so a double celebration for her, marked by a huge birthday dance. After this was announced by Simon Selmon, four other birthdays came forward, and the jam got started.

The most popular categories were the intermediate and advanced jive. Several heats were needed to get the numbers down to the finalists. The music was contemporary, and eventually contestants were reduced to the finalists. Many had friends and family in to cheer them on, and this the best-supported category of the day.

Special mention must be made for one category that never was: The Team Event. Only one team entered, Sue Freeman's Cotton Club Dancers. And what a performance. Their show was a cabaret in itself, including jive, Lindy Hop, Charleston and Hip Hop. The opening routine with brooms was crying out for a Busby Berkeley overhead camera shot! Dan Baines featured heavily in the Hip Hop section, and Sue Freeman herself led the line magnificently. Let's hope there are other opportunities to see this highly entertaining interlude.

Cotton Club dancers
Sue Freeman's Cotton Club dancers

Sadly, another victim of the late running was the star turn for the day. Posters around Blackpool had billed King Pleasure and The Biscuit Boys as a thoroughly good reason to turn up for the evening part of the event - and who could argue? But their first set, billed as starting at 5pm, saw Mark and the boys cooling their heels in the wings until they took the stage until 6.30pm. 

Worse was to follow for the band. Their second appearance was scheduled for 10pm in the evening, but at that time they were nowhere to be seen. Eventually they made it on around midnight - for probably their shortest-ever set! They were off in fifteen minutes after a brief half-dozen songs. 

During the set, the up-tempo numbers left the floor more or less deserted, as the few Lindy Hoppers revelled in the chance to swing out and charleston, while the jivers stayed in their seats. The few numbers that got them up were greeted with almost total silence at the end, which may have contributed to the mood of the band and the premature end to the set. For those who prefer their music live to recorded, especially when it's as good as this, it was extremely disappointing. 

But that didn't detract from the overall enjoyable nature of the day. The evening ended with a variety of DJs spinning some CDs from their vantage point in the balcony. It was good to hear such a variety of musical styles, with the red beret of Nigel Anderson being responsible for some pop jiving tunes and also Oh Lori from the 9.20 Deluxe CD.  

Many thanks to Tony Murphy for supplying information regarding the results. The placings were:



Second Place Third Place

Take A Chance

Sharon Williams and Sharif Flaffer Miss A Gill and Ash Mezir Lynne Gant and James Rowe
Intermediate Jive Peter Meredith and Kate Stevenson Donna Forster and Marc Van-Roose Miss A Gill and Simon Housden
Advanced Jive Dan Slape and Andrea Sulston Janine Myers and Clayton Tubbs Karen Forster and Cameron Rich
Lindy Hop Simon Selmon and Taina Kortelainen Graeme Puckett and Anne Peskett James Glader and Christine Arneson
Double Trouble Rob May, Karmel Gent, Andrea Sulston Brendan Beswick, Lisa Renowden, Lynne Mayor No placing
Air Steps Andy Fleming and Rena Swanepoel Rob May and Karmel Gent No placing
Spotlight Mark Wilson and Jackie Dan Baines and Sue Freeman Graham Fox and Diane

Organisers Tony Murphy and Keith Davies, ably assisted by Angelina and Keith's wife Jamie, put on a marvellous show.  The amount of work involved in putting on something of this scale is colossal, and efforts such as this to put more interesting events into the annual calendar should be encouraged. Certainly, judging by the numbers that entered the jive sections, the dancers welcomed the opportunity to strut their stuff, and the whole event was well-supported throughout.

Tony Murphy closed the night by promising that Chance Two Dance would be back next year "with something bigger and better". So what better news could there be to close with than announcing that C2D has booked the Empress Ballroom for March 2 2002 - and for the first Saturday in March for the next four years after that!

You can find out more about C2D's activities on their web site at ChancetwoDance.

  2001 Andrew Winton.

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