On a Box Now Checked

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Some people call it a bucket list – others prefer to say wish list, dream destination, or whatever. On 23 August 2015 I posted about a place that was on both mine and my wife’s list. After monitoring the website at various points before our journey, on Wednesday, the 9th of August 2017, we checked the box.

About a month earlier at the golf club where I work, I met an English couple who were new members. I told him about our upcoming trip, including our plans for this location – to which he replied, Why? Once I mentioned the reason, his inquisitive frowning face changed to a smile.

We planned the day in advance. We knew when the ship docked in Liverpool, the location and distance to the train station, the train schedule, return times, and the essential information about our destination. We were on a mission for our time of dancing on one of the most famous ballroom floors in the world – the Blackpool Tower Ballroom in Blackpool, England.

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Blackpool is on England’s west coast, about a 90-minute train ride to the north from Liverpool. It’s a seaside resort that is very popular with commoners. Madame Tussauds, water parks, a carnival atmosphere, and more aren’t on my favorite things list, but the famed ballroom was our attraction.

Given the floor, the historic significance, and the ornate surrounding – absolutely Bucket List for us. Our ticket included a 90-minute tea with sandwiches, fruit, and tarts.

Image from Blackpool Tower website

Architectural elegance and charm from a time that has past define the Tower Ballroom (which dates back to 1894).

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Surrounding the large floor were the organists on a stage at one end; tables to sit at the opposite end; and settings for tea along one side.

Dancing to an organist (instead of recorded music) was a new experience. Two organists shared the duties, so music was continuous. One organ, the mighty Wurlitzer, makes a grand entrance being lifted to the stage from below … then lowers out of sight when the player’s shift concludes.

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We already knew to expect a different style of ballroom dance at Blackpool (American vs. International). Amazingly, for at least the first three dances we simply sat at our table thinking, We can’t do that! We never get a chance to dance because everyone on the floor is doing the same thing … the same steps/pattern.

I approached a couple near our table about what we were observing. They explained that the English and many Europeans dance sequences, which are set patterns that every does. The clue would be to listen to the organist because he would announce the name of the sequence and dance, so we should listen for the terms traditional or ballroom that will signal an non-sequence dance.

Sequences are fun to watch, but not if you are there to dance and you don’t know the sequence! We were surprised by the number of sequences … and dancers sat down if they didn’t know the sequence.

This is the Engagement Waltz.

We finally made it on the floor … and the first thing that we noticed was the amount spring in the floor – especially in the center. Our tea-table was almost in the center, and the movement made photography difficult – and of course I started wondering about potential motion sickness. Yes – the movement was that noticeable!

We stayed for almost 4 hours, and we were glad to check the box on our Bucket List. With the ship departing at 8 pm, we were fortunate to have a few hours in Liverpool (the previous post).

Here’s a short (90-second) promotional video showing the Blackpool Tower Ballroom. Enjoy … and you notice sequence dancing.

Next stop: Belfast, Northern Ireland

For other posts about our time in the British Isles, click here.

My past post about Blackpool’s Tower Ballroom

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On Exploring an Unexpected Place

Ljubljana, Slovenia is a place on my bucket list.

I know the thoughts racing through the mind of most readers right now …. “Ljubljana, Slovenia? Where’s that? How does one say that place? What the heck is he thinking?” (Was I close?)

First the pronunciation – lyoo-BLYAH-nah. I even discovered that the Italians and Spanish simply say (and write) Lubiana, which I find helpful.

Slovenia is a small country that was part of Austria-Hungary (WW I), part of Yugoslavia after WW II, and part of Italy for 27 years between the two World Wars. It became independent in 1991, and has been part of the EU and NATO since 2004.

It has a small coastline along the northeastern Adriatic Sea, and those who remember my background note that Slovenia is very close (a few miles/kilometers) to my birthplace – Trieste, Italy – so I’ve seen Slovenia in the distance, but haven’t visited.

I recall watching a feature on a Slovenian skier from Ljubljana during the Sochi Winter Olympics, and a Rick Steves episode expanded my attraction for Ljubljana. Yep, I’ve even researched how to get from Trieste to Ljubljana by train – so it’s time to pass along this hidden secret to others. FYI: Trains don’t connect the two cities, but I discovered the way.

Enjoy this short tourism video. For those wanting to do see the Rick Steves episode, here it is. What do you think? Ready to join an aFa tour group?

On Exploring a Bucket-List Place

All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware. (Martin Buber, philosopher)

The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page. (Saint Augustine)

Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not. (Ralph Waldo Emerson, poet)

I have no idea why and how this place captured my attention, but Bratislava, Slovakia is on my bucket list of places to visit … so please come along for a short visit.

Have you ever been to Bratislava? Would you consider going? What’s the less-than-obvious place on your bucket list?

On a Spot for the Bucket

Blackpool may not mean anything to most – but it holds significance to some. Eight years ago, it was unknown to me – very insignificant. Today, it’s on my Bucket List.

Blackpool is on England’s western coast – in Lancashire county – north of Liverpool and northwest of Manchester – and one of England’s most popular seaside resorts.

Today, Blackpool offers its infamous tower, a giant ferris wheel, an amusement park, a seaside promenade, gardens, a water park, Madame Tussauds,, and other attractions. Actually, this doesn’t seem like a place for me, let alone my Bucket List.

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For me, Blackpool is about it’s famed dancehall. The original Blackpool Tower Ballroom dates back to 1894. During the dance craze of the 1920s-1930s, dancers filled Blackpool’s ballroom floor.

The ballroom still hosts one of the world’s most famous and long-running ballroom dance competitions (Blackpool Dance Festival) with dancers from across the globe coming to compete. The ballroom has also hosted other dance competitions and BBC shows Come Dancing and Strictly Come Dancing.

I’ve stated (several times) that my wife and I don’t compete – we dance for fun and being with friends … and to be honest, attending the famed festival isn’t the reason for its Bucket List status. Unless reserved as a rental space for an event, the ballroom has regular hours for open dancing.

Given the floor, the historic significance, and the ornate surrounding – absolutely Bucket List for us. Better yet, the ballroom also hosts an afternoon tea with dance to the sounds from the mighty Wurlitzer organ – which sounds quite delightful.

On Grace and Elegance

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Ballroom dance has taught me many things. It’s not easy, it can be graceful, but leads must be subtle.  We’ve also met many wonderful people, thus have our dance friends.

Ballroom dance is a niche, thus there is a ballroom community. Although we know only a small portion, we recognize many faces because we attend the same functions. Dancers are at all levels, yet we note differences. Many know numerous steps, but the don’t look good doing them because they’ve primarily (or only) learned from group classes – but they enjoy themselves, which is important. Others look better, but don’t know as many steps – those are the ones who take private lessons.

Their timid and stiff nature identifies the beginners, but hey – all of us were there once. A handful have danced for more than 20 years, and let’s just say that some of them are very good .. the few that stand out. Even on a large floor with two hundred people, those that are trained, experienced, and/or competed at a high level are easy to identify – after all, they probably practiced, too! Reality is that most of us are between those two extremes.

It didn’t take long for us to identify Madam M. As she danced down and around the floor with her competitive partner, her movements defined elegance and grace as her smile beamed joy. Madam M is a relatively tall, attractive woman, and her firmly anchored partner knew how to display her. While watching them dance, I would think – Someday – maybe someday – I will join her for a smooth dance – a foxtrot or a waltz. Keep in mind, this is 4-5 years ago, which was early in our dance experience.

Over time, we’ve had several encounters with Madam M, and most importantly, she’s very pleasant. Maybe a year or so ago we were talking and she suggested we dance. Although it was a west coast swing – not my best dance – of course I accepted, … but that didn’t count as that dream dance. Later, there would be times when I would step toward her direction, but only to be intercepted by another invitation.

Image from Microsoft Office

Image from Microsoft Office

At a recent small ballroom gathering, there was Madam M sitting alone at a table. The DJ played a Foxtrot, so I asked her to dance. We went to the floor where I offered my left hand as a starting position, she took her place then arched back into my right hand after I lightly placed it on her back. I straightened my frame, and in no time, long strides were gracefully gliding us around the floor (at least to me).

I kept the patterns simple because my Foxtrot timing has gone in the toilet the past few months. The dance was wonderful, and afterwards, I told her how I just accomplished one of my goals. Her laugh and words conveyed both, That’s silly and Thank you … but my soul was beaming.

A short time later, it was a waltz, thus I couldn’t resist. Again, we glided and I followed various shaping that she led with subtle precision. We were both casually dressed and in a less-than elegant venue, but it was easy for me to envision my tux with tails and her flowing gown in a grand ballroom. At the end she told me that I dance well, which I found reassuring as I checked the box on my personal bucket list … even better, I checked it twice.