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 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.

On an Unexpected Connection

Saturday is Dance Day and Down Syndrome Day – thus the perfect opportunity for a post about special people. After all, I imagine many may not see a link between ballroom dance and Down Syndrome.

I volunteer at a weekly dance event that is not only fun, but one with ample opportunities for smiles because it is for adults with Down Syndrome. Some of the attendees are functional enough to have a job, but others aren’t. Some a more coordinated and able to move better freely, but others physically struggle. Toss in a wide range of speaking abilities, it’s quite a gathering of about 30 attendees and numerous volunteers.

My smiles come from an action or something said. From a person running up to me for a dance to receiving a smile given by someone who has difficulty speaking. Simply put, the 45-minute session is a weekly delight in my life.

However, these events are not about the volunteers, but about the attendees. First of all, it’s a social event. They arrive with smiles and race to greet their friends they haven’t seen in a week. That is followed by the power of music and dance as it speaks to them just as it does to the rest of us.

Each week is the same. The 45-minute session starts and ends with the same song – the group’s theme song – a version of Over the Rainbow to which everyone dance a group routine. After a line dance or two, the instructor reviews the dance, and then a song plays for dancing. Another song for the same dance is the sign to change partners. The pattern stays the same through Rumba, Salsa, Waltz, Foxtrot, Cha Cha, Tango, and Merengue – with the latter quickly morphing into a predictable conga line. After another line dance or two, the session ends with the same theme song that started it all.

I want to toast several of the attendees for the joys they give me.

  • To T, one of the better dancers, and one with an infectious smile and positive attitude
  • To K, whose quiet nature always answers question and giggles
  • To S, who is always smiling and laughing as she thinks I’m a bit crazy
  • To C, who best communicates to me through her eyes and smiles that make me melt on the spot
  • To J, who runs to me with a smile for a salsa or cha cha
  • To R, who insists on being a lady
  • To Teddy, one that I’ve written about here before, whose positive attitude about life is a role model for anyone
  • To the parents and caregivers for being supportive
  • To Mary, our leader (the blonde in the opening video), and the one who has made this happen

I close with a collection of clips for the competition held last October for these wonderful people. (Because you want to know, I’m in Foxtrot, Swing & Tango sections with contestants 35 & 54 – but I think that’s me in the center of the still)

Other Related Past Posts

On Waltz

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Did you hear the 1-2-3 pattern in the beat?

The waltz is a fun, elegant dance, but the truth be known, it is not easy

Waltz music is in 3/4 time (three beats per measure), whereas most dances are in 4/4 time

Waltz music should provide an easy to hear 1-2-3, 1-2-3 pattern, with the first beat heavier (more pronounced than the others)

In many steps, dancers elongate the second beat

Today, waltz is associated with flowing gowns, tails, and sophistication, but its roots are as a dance of 16th century peasants in eastern Europe

Here’s a chance to learn the basic step

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The word waltz is from the old German word walzen, meaning to roll, to turn, or to glide

Waltz became fashionable in Vienna in the 1780s

As the dance spread across Europe, religious leaders vehemently opposed the dance, thus proclaimed it as vulgar and sinful

Acceptance in England was even slower, but opposition waned because Queen Victoria was a good dancer and enjoyed waltz

Waltz received a big boost when Austrian composer Johann Strauss wrote numerous waltzes

Waltz first came to America in the early 1800s, yet it also received religious opposition – but to no avail as society accepted waltz by the 1850s

Here’s one of our favorite waltz songs, Come Away With Me by Norah Jones with Jonathan and Anna on DWTS (listen for the 1-2-3 beat)

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In dancehall settings, waltz moves counter-clockwise around the floor with a rise on the second beat

Waltz looks best with long, controlled strides to move the floor

Social dancing is not choreographed – it’s lead and follow … yep, the male leads and the female follows …. Ladies, would any of you have a problem with that?

Today there are two prominent styles: International Standard Waltz and American Style Waltz

Major difference is that in international style, the dancers always stay in closed position (in hold), while American style breaks hold for spins, turns, and other steps (This was very evident to me on my trip to Italy early this year)

Viennese waltz (shown later) is also in 3/4 time, but at a much faster tempo with a lot of turning (thus I don’t do Viennese because of motion sickness)

Other styles include Scandinavian, Peruvian, Mexican, Cajun, Tango vals, Venezuelan, Contra/Freeform, Valse Musette, and Cross-Step

The next set of videos are to some of my favorite waltz music – Enjoy!

Still Me (American style)

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Theme from Cider House Rules (International style)

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She Dances by Josh Grobin with Tony and Julianne on DWTS

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Nocturne by Secret Garden

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Here’s a beautiful Viennese Waltz, which is much faster, but the 1-2-3 beat is still prevalent

On Variety Show Saturday

I wanted to try something different for today. Besides, I don’t want to mess up a Saturday Morning Classic Cartoon post!

Because I haven’t tried the time/scheduled post function, this weekend is a good time to try. Therefore, wherever you are at whatever time, and no matter the mood, there’s probably something below to strike your fancy.  Watch as many as you want. Return at different part of your day. Nonetheless, but I want to know: What did you watch?

For those needing the Saturday morning cartoon fix, watch one of the all-time, great introductions

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One of my favorite overtures, the very moving Festive Overture

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Get some energy with Riverdance

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Perhaps you prefer a graceful trip around the dance floor

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Enjoy the pleasant tones of a choir and orchestra version of Call Me Maybe

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Jump on for a quick tour of the city of my birth

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Nothing like job interview tips from a hyper comic

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Maybe you want the soothing, mystical sounds of handbells

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Grins from Squirrels and Gangnam Style

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A great training video for learning how to twirl your tassels

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For those who have the time an interest, here is a Cincinnati tradition on Labor Day – a sensational 30-minute fireworks display choreographed to music

On a Special St. Patrick’s Day

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Today is the one day that many non-Irish wear green, drink green beer, attend St. Patrick’s Day parties, and maybe attend parade dedicated to Ireland’s patron saint. For those planning to celebrate, enjoy the event, and be safe.

FYI: A popular Cincinnati institution is serving green spaghetti today!

Although I imagine green will work into our day, our heritages of Italian and Swedish-German will temper the day. On the other hand, today we celebrate a birthday of the woman I love – my beautiful and wonderful wife.

When she was growing up, I’m sure she received more than her share of green birthday cards. Since those early days, she’s received non-green birthday cards, e-cards, and birthday greetings via Facebook; but today, she receives her first-ever blog post dedicated to her on her actual birthday … and hopefully greetings from bloggers.

Regular readers realize my wife and I enjoy ballroom dancing. Although others say we dance well and encourage us to compete and participate in shows, we stick to social dancing. Because waltz is one of favorite dances, here’s a video I know she will enjoy – a waltz from the Blackpool Professional Ballroom Championships (2010).

Happy Birthday to my long-time friend and love …the other angle, my supplementary and complementary angle. How about green spaghetti for lunch?