At the end of 2020 (that not-so-wonderful year that we were all quite frankly, glad to see the back of), a creative, ambitious and downright sparkling project was launched by non-other than Blackpool’s own Dancing on Ice Star Dan Whiston.
Showtown, Blackpool’s museum of fun and entertainment, LeftCoast and hip-hop theatre and dance company House of Wingz joined forces with Dan and Get Dancing was born. Recently, Get Dancing has exploded across social media in a bid to crowdsource dance moves from the public to create a brand-new viral dance routine for a 21st Century Blackpool.
I caught up a little earlier in the week with Samantha and Aishley Bell-Docherty from the Blackpool based hip hop theatre company House of Wingz. Sam and Aish have been appointed as the Creative Leads for Get Dancing and I chatted to them to see how the project was developing.
Aish finds that one of the best things about Get Dancing so far has been seeing people having so much fun while they create and record their moves. Everyone who has taken part has really enjoyed themselves, there are so many smiles and so many laughs shining through in the video submissions. She says “During such a difficult time in all of our lives, we are so glad that this project has provided everyone with an activity to really have fun with.”
As part of the project, Get Dancing has commissioned a brand new, original composition; The Blackpool Way. This contemporary piece of music has been created by the multi-talented producer Callum Harvie, who drew on inspiration from historical sheet music stored in Blackpool’s archives.
“As a proud local, I’ve always been amazed by the sheer amount of showbiz talent launched in Blackpool.
Blackpool has such an incredible dance background and growing up here meant that performing is in my blood! I can’t wait to get involved with Get Dancing as it’s really a chance to show the world why Blackpool is a town to write home about!”
Sam says “It’s been fascinating to see such a vast variety and difference in the styles of dance that people are creating in response to this new, contemporary piece of music that still has such a typical ‘Blackpool’ sound.” In the next phase of the project, they will be talking to many of the people who sent in their moves to find out what they thought of the music. “We can’t wait to hear their stories and find out how it made them feel when they were listening and dancing to it.”
With a project that is so specifically focused on Blackpool, you might think that it would only catch the attention of locals. But Get Dancing has already proven that it has the potential to go global with submissions flooding in from budding dancers across the pond in Australia, Nigeria, Colombia and California to name but a few.
So it looks like Get Dancing is truly spreading its wings. Aish ponders this amazing reach: “To receive so many international submissions is a testament to just how many people across the world have a connection to and love for Blackpool. It’s incredible to see people actively choosing to get involved and support the town which clearly means so much to them.”
And just as Aish said those words, I couldn’t help but feel exactly the same. It’s never been a secret that I am deeply passionate about my hometown. I am always so proud when projects like this one pop up to remind the world just how fantastic the resort is, was and continues to be. I think that Get Dancing is a brilliant example of a project that is for everyone, no matter who they are or where they are, and it most certainly champions Blackpool’s excellence across the decades, as well as today.
I asked Sam and Aish what was coming next in the development of the project following the first submissions of crowdsourced moves. Although the initial deadline for video submissions was going to be this Sunday (31st January 2020), they are still going to accept videos throughout February whilst they start using them to inspire the brand-new choreography for The Blackpool Way. Once the choreography has been created, they will release a video across social media for the world to learn and perform! Sam says “Inviting people to learn a dance routine that’s already been created is a much simpler ask, so we’re expecting an even more exciting response in phase two!”.
“We have had an astounding response from world-famous professional dancers and social media influencers who are just as excited about Get Dancing as our local community members.
Once the final choreography has been recorded, expect to see it everywhere from Instagram to Facebook and of course on TikTok.
Aishley Bell – Docherty
Get Dancing will culminate in a huge, live performance in October 2021 and is truly a 21st Century celebration of Blackpool’s beautiful love-letter to dance. After a huge resurgence in popularity with shows like Strictly Come Dancing, I can’t wait to see how this project propels the resorts unique relationship with the art form to a brand-new audience, inspiring new dancers both young and old, all across the world.
But now, to beat the lockdown blues, I thought it would be fun to take a look back over that rich history to find out how Blackpool became ‘The Spiritual home of Ballroom’ with a lustrous legacy in dance that’s both envied and unrivalled worldwide.
It fascinates me to think about the evolution of dance across the globe and the centuries. I often think about how dance was used to pass on stories between generations in times before language was even created. I think about how deeply dance has been and continues to be integrated into society and major events within communities. I think about how dance has been used to impart cultural morals, tell stories, unite people, deal with and release difficult, repressed emotions, perform healing rituals and unite communities. And of course, I think about how much dance entertains us all to this very day.
We can travel back in time to many, many years BC to find out when the first dance was ever invented, or rather, choreographed. Archaeological evidence for early dance includes 9,000-year-old paintings in India at the Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka, and Egyptian tomb paintings depicting dancing figures, dated c. 3300 BC. (WOW!)
But in the case of Ballroom Dancing, with which our beloved Blackpool is of course most famous, we need to punch ‘1863’ into the destination time display in the DeLorean to begin our journey through dance today.
1863, The First Pier in Blackpool
North Pier, originally known as ‘The Blackpool Pier’ was the original of the three piers here in Blackpool. Designed by Eugenius Birch, it was opened in 1863 and targeted at visitors who were wealthy with the offer of a chance to ‘promenade’ by the sea.
However, with ‘The Blackpool Pier’ being aimed at the ‘well to do’, this meant that visiting came with an entrance fee of 2d. This hefty price tag (for the time) would price out the working classes and keep them well away from the top-drawer attraction.
In its opening year the pier attracted an astounding 20,000 visitors to observe its beauty and enjoy its open-air orchestral concerts and respectable comedians. This is a whopping, great figure for the time when compared to the much smaller figure of 4000 residents.
But, Blackpool was becoming known for its entrepreneurs and it wasn’t long before a second, rival pier would be constructed.
1868, The People’s Pier
Hot off of the heels of the success of ‘The Blackpool Pier’ (North Pier), ‘The Blackpool South Jetty Company’ was formed just one year later in 1864 to create a competing visitor attraction.
This time Lieutenant-Colonel John Isaac Mawson was commissioned to design the new ‘Central Pier’.
As the first pier had quickly become famous for much more gentle, reserved and relaxed enjoyments, Robert Bickerstaffe, the first manager of Central Pier set out to ensure that the offer for this new pier would be all about fun and that its dancing facilities were utilised to the maximum.
Initially, Central Pier was very controversial and not particularly popular, but by the time open-air dancing was introduced and advertised publicly, it appealed to the working classes who flocked to the attraction in enormous numbers. Central Pier quickly became known as ‘The People’s Pier and its popularity ignited the flame that would light the way to ensure that Blackpool flourished in to a bustling, highly-popular and famous seaside town.
The Importance of Music
Following the abolition of slavery in America in 1865, Black communities were celebrating their long-fought-for liberation through music and dance. Ragtime later emerged in the 1890’s and quickly established itself as the first African American musical style to take an impact on mainstream, popular musical culture. Ragtime soared across the world and offered dancers never-before-heard lively and joyous syncopated rhythms that inspired free and exciting new dance steps and inevitably began to change the world of dance.
The thrilling new rhythms of Ragtime quickly caught the attention of younger Britons who wanted to rebel against some of the stricter music and dance styles of the past. Soon enough, Blackpool was beginning to build a reputation for the creation of new and novelty dances.
Check out this fantastic video about the amazing story and work of Scott Joplin, arguably America’s First Pop Star and the King of Ragtime.
*Please note the content warning for this video – there are references to Minstrel and Blackface performance.
The Rise of the Ballrooms
As public dancing grew evermore popular and Blackpool’s entrepreneurs kept their fingers on the pulse of the most popular activities that would attract visitors in their thousands to the resort, soon came the call for the building of beautiful ballrooms.
First came The Tower Pavilion in 1894, the iconic landmarks first dance space which was much smaller than its successor, The Tower Ballroom, which opened in 1899 and was designed by the world-famous Frank Matcham.
Check out this short tour of the Tower Ballroom led by the stars of Strictly Come Dancing in 2018.
Read Part 2 of this piece, which takes a closer look at ballroom dancing, explores dances of the 1920s and brings us up to date with Blackpool Dance Festival.
Ballroom Dance History source: Research from Showtown, museum of fun and entertainment. 100 Years of Ballroom Dance
Header photo: Northern Soul charity dance by Jill Reidy
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