In the Hollywood movie Shall We Dance? Richard Gere plays bored Chicago lawyer John Clark, who spots a beautiful dance teacher staring out of a studio window he passes on his daily commute.
He signs up for ballroom dance classes in the hope of meeting her and sure enough he falls in love - but not with Paulina. John falls for dancing, and back in love with his wife.
Meanwhile Paulina’s heart lies in…Blackpool. For in the 2004 romantic comedy, a remake of an Oscar-winning Japanese film of the same name, Lopez’s character has competed in the resort’s famous Blackpool Dance Festival. Disqualified with her partner the previous year after a fall, Paulina teams up with someone new and prepares to compete again.
Both versions of the film feature scenes in the Winter Gardens’ magnificent Empress Ballroom, and whilst Shall We Dance? is fictional, as any dance lover knows, the reference to the exciting event’s international reputation is real. As one of Paulina’s students, Robbie, says: “Every year, all the best dancers from all over the world go to England and compete there.”
The prestigious annual contest has hosted the world’s most skilled dancers for almost a century, and some of its competitors taught Richard Gere how to dance, with Charlotte Jorgensen, Francesco Fluminani, Karina Smirnoff, Gary McDonald, Tony Meredith and choreographer Liz Curtis appearing in the film.
In 2021 the Winter Gardens will provide a backdrop for more Hollywood glamour when Strictly Ballroom the Musical whirls into Blackpool on its UK tour. The stage play is an adaptation of the award-winning 1992 movie by celebrated Australian filmmaker Baz Luhrmann, known for his lavish productions such as Moulin Rouge and The Great Gatsby.
Directed by dancer, choreographer and TV judge, Craig Revel Horwood, the show tells the story of talented but rebellious ballroom dancer Scott Hastings, who meets with the Australian Dance Federation’s disapproval due to his unorthodox routines, which are not “Strictly Ballroom.” His dance partner deserts him, but beginner Fran is willing to try out Scott’s moves, and together they defy their families and the Federation by dancing to their own beat. Combining classics such as Love is in the Air, Perhaps Perhaps Perhaps and Time After Time with new songs by artists including Sia, David Foster and Eddie Perfect, this uplifting show is a whirlwind of sensational singing, dancing and spectacular costumes.
Although Strictly Ballroom is a new experience for Blackpool, this kind of dance splendour is not, for the Winter Gardens enjoys a rich dance heritage. The first Blackpool Dance Festival was held during Easter week in 1920 with just three competitions, based on the Waltz, Two Step and Foxtrot.
Today it covers Ballroom and Latin American dancing, incorporating the British Open Championships for Adult Amateur and Professional couples, and in 2019 it drew contestants from 56 countries, with a total number of 2,827 entries for 13 events. As well as the Blackpool Dance Festival, the Empress Ballroom hosts the Junior Dance Festival, Blackpool Freestyle Championships, Blackpool Sequence Dance Festival, and the British National Dance Championships Dancing for all ages.
For the Winter Gardens, May 2021 will be an extraordinary month, as dancers from two globally acclaimed events cross paths. The superb performers of Strictly Ballroom the Musical will glide on to the expansive Opera House stage to sweep audiences of their feet from 24th May. Then thousands of skilled Dance Festival competitors will follow hot on their heels to display their dance expertise in the breath-taking Empress Ballroom from 27th May.
From Hollywood movies to world-class moves and musicals, when it comes to world-class dancing it's strictly Blackpool all the way.
Strictly Ballroom will be at the Opera 24th-29th May 2021. Book tickets here.
More about Blackpool Dance Festival here.