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Paula Burdess was front and centre as the action unfolded on the Tower Ballroom’s sprung dance floor this weekend. She gives us the inside story of what its like to be one of the lucky few who get to attend.

No matchday traffic nor high-speed winds were ever going to get in the way of my enjoyment of Strictly’s Blackpool heat. The Tower Ballroom is the spiritual home of ballroom dancing. Pros are made here and novices dream of taking to her sprung floor. The Strictly Blackpool weekend is one of the busiest weekends for the resort with the tickets being highly sought after. This year alone 13 million viewers applied for 400 tickets, and I was one of the lucky ones. So, I donned the sparkliest outfit I could find and called for a cab to the Tower.

On arrival, after a bag check, the audience is directed to the Tower’s swanky Fifth Floor bar, where we can check in our coats and buy a drink or two. Every chair and table are quickly occupied by the audience and there is a buzz of excitement and conversation centring on our hopes for our respective favourite couples. Here, it’s hard not to ‘fangirl’ as a handful of the Strictly Stars waft through the bar to greet their guests, and it’s equally hard not to get over excited star spotting and weighing up which of them could be dancing in next year’s series. After a couple of hours, we are called to take our seats in the ballroom and directed to the (very narrow) seats where we will sit in shoulder to shoulder for the next six to seven hours of filming. I instantly regretted the last drink I had knowing that it would be hours before we would be given a comfort break, but it’s a small sacrifice to make to be able to watch these epic performances in close quarters and at no charge to boot.

Once you are greeted by the eye-popping opulence of the Tower Ballroom you understand why the venue is ‘the place where the magic happens’ with gilt relief statues, murals and enormous crystal chandeliers and glitterballs contrasted by the warmth of the oak sprung floor. When all’s said and done, Strictly is a slick titan of a production – employing around 300 or so of the best of the best professionals in their field, whether in production, makeup, hair and costume, sets with visual and special effects, sound and lighting and of course choreography and dance. They work synergistically with the loudest audience they can find to produce entertainment that will fill the time and delight viewers the world over. I was prepared to be dazzled and was absolutely delighted. Alan, the warm- up guy, invited us to make as much noise as we could when the couples did amazing moves, and to be prepared to give the couples standing ovations or feel free to cheer or jeer in response to the judges comments. I cheered until I’d lost my voice and clapped until my hands were sore.

Paula Burdess glitters behind Claudia Winkleman

I was lucky enough to be sitting front and centre, in close proximity to dancers, presenters and with judges as my neighbours but I’m not sure if there is any such thing as sitting in the best seat in the house when you’re watching the performances in this environment – owing to the positioning of sets, props, cameras and lighting rigs. But when you add a team of dancers and super-duper sets to every performance you get a high energy production providing a feast for the eyes whichever way you look at it.

Strictly provides the ultimate experience of total escapism into a world of chivalry and romance, fun and frivolity, love and loss. I get so engrossed in the dances that I am swept along with every step, aided by the bounce of the dancefloor, the rustle of chiffon, the sparkle of gems and jewels and the rush of wind as the dancers spin and twirl in front of me. Watching Strictly is like watching a beautiful dream unfolding before your eyes, and as you’re whisked away by each couple’s storytelling, the music of Dave Arch’s singers and orchestra complements it so perfectly.

Strictly attracts such massive audiences that they can book the biggest artists to perform and some of the artists we have been treated to in season 21 include Florence Welch, Jorja Smith, Beverley Knight, Bastille and Zara Larsson. It was a bonus to enjoy Madness performing their new single for the results show, backed by a sharp contemporary pro-dance.

A little-known fact is that the BBC record the loudest applause filming in Blackpool than in any other episode of the series and they must have done this year too, as we never stopped whooping, whistling, stomping and finger snapping our approval for all the couples from beginning to end. Through it all I was struck by the phenomenal speed at which the scenic teams install, dismantle and re-set the staging and even Claudia commented on this later in the programme. The vast dancefloor is cleaned completely between takes and only dancers and crew may walk onto or across it until the filming stops. I was in awe of how efficient the scenic team is and found it incredible to see how the simplest fabric or strip lighting can be enhanced and embellished and take on a whole new character under the cameras. The same goes for the creativity of the costume team. The look may be preppy, chintzy, vampish, or grungy but seeing the costumes so close, you can see in the details thousands and maybe even millions of hand glued or stitched gems and crystals. They flare and glow under the arc lights and pesky malfunctions are mended with supersonic timing.

It’s a good thing that we love a panto here in Blackpool, and true to form we did our best to drown Craig out.

This week’s competition began with Bobby and Diane’s Jive which set Craig off on his weekly journey of critical dissatisfaction. Followed by Layton’s Couple’s Choice dance, with its risky, heart-stopping acrobatic stunts, and Ellie’s Charleston that wowed the crowd with tricky lifts and footwork – whether Craig would find anything to criticise was anybody’s guess, but criticise he did to the obvious dismay of the audience. It’s a good thing that we love a panto here in Blackpool, and true to form we did our best to drown him out as we booed and jeered the villain of the piece to our hearts’ content. We were soothed by the romance we felt in American Smooth and yet still no 10 from Craig. Angela’s incredible full-circle return, this time as competitor, to the Tower Ballroom with a simmering and precise Argentinian Tango was mesmerising and the evening finished with Nigel and Katya’s Quick Step, in which they made a couple of stumbles and bad faults so were pleased to be saved from this week’s dance off.

The audience was surprised to instead be watching Bobby and Diane, and Angela and Kai compete to stay in the competition. Both couples raised their game, but the spoils went to Bobby and Diane. Angela and Kai’s parting words provided us with one of the most emotional departures of the series, I was gulping back my tears but, in the end, I couldn’t stop them from flowing. It was the most beautiful, poignant, and dignified exit of all and I was so glad to have watched all of it live.

The whole Strictly experience was just wonderful and whether you were disappointed this year or not, I encourage you to keep applying to the draw. The BBC pull out all the stops for the Blackpool show and next year you might just be one of the lucky few.

For Strictly Come Dancing Live Tour dates click here.

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