On the road from Blackpool south to London, stuck in traffic on the M6, got me thinking about what an incredible experience the Open British Championships is, and how every time I go back, year after year, I never get bored. The Open British is, by far, my favorite competition of the year. There is something very special about Blackpool, something that no one, or no organization, can ever take away.
This year was extra special for us because it was the first time we danced Blackpool as professionals. Seven years ago, we debuted on the Blackpool scene as young amateurs. I was still Under 21, but because Simeon was such an old fart (a whole 21!), we couldn’t dance Under 21. For seven years, we travelled, trained hard, and slowly chipped away at the behemoth we had chosen to climb. But we knew, from the beginning, the amateur ranks were not for us. The style we wanted to dance, the style we wanted to develop, was not the style that traditionally gets the marks in the amateur field.
It was time. We knew it was time for the past few years. But we couldn’t ignore it anymore. It was time to turn professional. So last summer, after 2010’s Blackpool Dance Festival, we took the plunge and announced ourselves as professional representatives of Simeon’s home country, Bulgaria, last August. We haven’t looked back every since.
Our first year as professionals has been such a fast-paced, whirlwind year! Last September we danced the World Standard Professional Championships and placed 37th. October was a bittersweet month. We had a terrible result at the International Championships in England, then beat the couple who won the Professional Rising Star at the International just three days later! In December we represented Bulgaria at the World Classical Showdance Championships and finished 9th, a great result! Then at the UK Championships in January of this year, we placed 60th in the Open Professional Standard. And here we are at Blackpool! It’s amazing to think of everything we’ve done in less than a year.
This year was a little different for us. We came to Blackpool in the middle of a very difficult time, as we have just suffered a painful business separation from my parents. I won’t say it didn’t have an effect on our dancing. Normally we come to England a week before the competition, dance some warm-up comps and take a few lessons, before heading up to Blackpool to compete. But because of the circumstances, we were forced to cancel our lessons and comps before Blackpool, delaying our trip by a week. I think the greatest effect this had on our dancing was the fact that we rely heavily on our trips (whether to England or anywhere else) to propel our dancing forward. When we’re home, we’re teaching so hard that we don’t really have the opportunity to practice much. When we travel, it’s all about us, which is nice, because we’re allowed to be selfish so rarely. And cancelling the first week of our Blackpool trip meant cancelling a week of much needed focus and practice. So I will say, without fear of blame or retribution and without regret, that the actions taken by those who forced this separation hurt our dancing.
So it was an even greater testament to our abilities as dancers that we did relatively well.
We flew in to England on Wednesday (having left USA on Tuesday), slept one night in London, then hopped in the car and drove up to Blackpool on Thursday. We got in to Blackpool in the evening, with enough time to stop by the store, make dinner, tan, and get to bed at a reasonable time. The next morning I was up and tanning again, helped my friend who was dancing in the Senior Ballroom with her hair, then got myself ready. Friday was our first day of competition: the Professional Rising Star Latin.
This was a big deal for us. Since turning professional nine months ago, we danced one comp in September in Latin, then took a break to prepare for World Standard Championships, World Classical Showdance Championships, the International Championships (where you’re only allowed to dance one style), and the UK Championships. We had planned to dance Latin at the UK in January, but by the time we got back from the Dance Masters in Paris and our Showdance Championships in Leipzig, a trip we combined with training in London, we only had three weeks to prepare for the UK, and one of those was spent preparing for a New Year’s Eve show in Canada. Needless to say, by the time the UK rolled around, we did not feel comfortable dancing the Latin. To keep a long story short, this year’s Blackpool was the first time we had competed in Latin in nine full months. So when we made the top 96 of the Rising Star, we were ecstatic!
I know that our Latin has improved, and I know our coaches are happy with our progress. But we also felt rusty in our Latin. So we were pleasantly surprised when we made it to the 96.
A big part of our improvement, I’m sure, is the fact that back in February, when we started training our Latin for Blackpool, we decided since everything was shaky and out of practice anyway, we might as well take the time to reinvent some of the choreography in our dances. We trashed our Samba and started from scratch. We altered our Rumba and our Cha Cha, but kept our Paso (our best dance) and Jive (the one we didn’t need) the same for now. We don’t need Jive for Blackpool because they only play Jive for the semi-final and final, in order to save time.
I was also very happy because I finally got to wear my new Latin dress, which I had had made back in August when we turned pro but before I knew we were going to be taking nine months off. This Latin dress is seriously gorgeous, and I was just excited that I finally got to compete with it.
After we finished, having made for sure that we weren’t going to make the 48 (although I think we can make it next year; we weren’t too far off), we packed our little suitcases and met up with dearest coach Glen Brennan for dinner at a nearby bar/restaurant called the “West Coast Café”. The food was pretty good, but one thing really cracked me up: a section of their menu was called “Famous West Coast Burgers”. One of their burgers was called “The Alabaman”. The description was of a beef burger with cheese and bacon, drizzled with their “Famous West Coast Sauce”. I kept wondering to myself, do they realize that Alabama is nowhere near the West Coast? A Brit would get all bristly under the collar if an American accidentally assume Essex was near Wales, and probably make some joke about how naïve Americans are. But there is considerably more distance between Alabama and the West Coast than there is between Essex and Wales. Should we insert joke here?
Anyway, that’s all for now. I’ll be back soon with Part 2 of our Blackpool trip, including interesting insights into our Professional Rising Star Standard event!