The British Open Championships (Part One)

The British Open Championships (Part One)

Kelly and I didn’t attend the recent British Open Championships in Blackpool. Throughout my competitive career and latterly our time together as professionals it was the competition to be at; an absolute must on a very busy dance calendar where it was important to just get your face seen even if you weren’t competing. Things have changed somewhat over the years and it’s no longer the be all or end all for competitors, especially to the new generation of dancers who have no association with the ‘old establishment’. The profession in this country will have you believe that the best of the best all want to come and compete in Blackpool, but that just isn’t the case anymore.

Of course those of us that have grown up dancing in this country or been around the dancers of yesteryear will always have a fondness and special place for ‘the British’, me for one. Some of those competing today also have the same feelings towards the competition and I’m sure the organisers will still insist that it is still the ‘best dance competition on the planet’. Hold it in a different venue – the Brentwood International Centre for instance (the home of the International Championships less major events and qualifying rounds to the Royal Albert Hall) – and I’m sure the opinion would be different. It’s the venue that makes it, in my opinion. The fantastic Empress Ballroom orchestra help a great deal too, but even to recorded music dancing in that fantastic hall is somewhat special.

One of my more successful years at the British was in 1999, competing in the Amateur ballroom event. My partner and I, Amy Pedder, finished in the quarter final round and were placed 23rd. That day 251 couples from 30 countries took part.

The 2016 Amateur Ballroom finalists

Last week the 2016 event was held and this time around 31 countries were represented, however only 159 couples took part – almost 100 less than 1999. Where have all the couples gone? I am however, just looking at the one event at a major championship. Most of the other events at the Blackpool festival have remained at around the same entrants over the years, but as this is a competition I was very much involved with, it has of course caught my eye that the numbers seem to be decreasing year on year.

Here are some other interesting statistics to look at too. Let’s break down those entrants by country representation:

1999 Amateur Ballroom Championships – Couples entered in brackets
Italy (51), Germany (50), England (30), Holland (18), Austria & USA (12 each country), Australia (9), Finland (7), Russia, Japan & Canada (6), Norway, Sweden & Denmark (5), Hungary & Switzerland (3), Ukraine, Lithuania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Poland, Thailand, South Africa, France, Hong Kong (2), Czech Republic, Latvia, Wales, Scotland, New Zealand (1)

2016 Amateur Ballroom Championships
England (27), USA (18), Russia (14), China (13), Italy (12), Poland & Ukraine (10), Australia (8), Holland (6), Germany & Canada (5), Taiwan & Indonesia  (4), Denmark, Malaysia, South Korea, Portugal & Singapore (2), Finland, Norway, Iceland, Lithuania, Byelorussia, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Latvia, Sweden, France, Japan, Philippines & South Africa (1)

It’s pretty consistent for the English couples with 30 back in 1999 and 27 in 2016, but the reduction in numbers from the Italian and especially the German couples is dramatic. There’s a significant increase in the number of dancers from Asia too, with only 10 in total back in 1999 compared to 29 in 2016. Typically the Asian couples favour the latin events, (Japan aside) so their numbers in the Youth, Amateur and Professional latin events is a very high percentage of the overall entrants. China for example made up 19% of all the Rising Star Amateur Latin competitors and a whopping 30% of the Youth Latin dancers.  When you consider that the English entrants only make up 9% and 11% respectively, it certainly puts things into perspective. I’m not sure any of the English dancers had to get a visa, let alone a plane to get to Blackpool…

The dance climate has changed a fair bit in recent years with two rival organisations, the WDC and WDSF vying for power. I’ll go into all of that in more detail in a later blog but for now you just need to know that they were once friends, but one did something the other didn’t like, so the other retaliated and then they didn’t speak to each other. For ages. They’re kind of back on speaking terms now, but a lot of damage has been done with many bridges to build. In time they might be able to once again be ‘chummy’ but I doubt they’ll ever be best friends again.

British Open in Blackpool, then and now. Not too much has changed but look at how many people crowded in to watch back then!

Blackpool then and now

Anyway, the WDSF have their own ‘Blackpool’ so to speak and that is the German Open Championships held in Stuggart every August. This is an equally massive competition (like Blackpool) and last year’s event attracted over 2500 entries in the adult competitions, of which a very small number also danced in Blackpool this year. Now imagine if all of those dancers could dance at a competition together? You could easily double the entries in almost all of the events, and interestingly all of those absent Italian and German dancers from the Amateur Ballroom event would potentially come back into the competition and change the results significantly.

So whilst the British Open in Blackpool is a truly fantastic competition to dance in, it doesn’t necessarily have all of the world’s best dancers in attendance. The same can be said of the German Open too of course, but I doubt either of them would be quick to admit it!

A panaromic shot of the 2015 German Open. A dance 'arena' rather than a ballroom...

The German Open ‘arena’

If the Italians and Germans had done a ‘2016’ back in 1999 and not shown up, the Amateur Ballroom result that day would have been quite different. Not only would an English couple have been 1st and 2nd, but I would have made the semi-final and finished 12th! Damn it…. Having said that though, at that time some of the world’s best dancers genuinely were from Italy and Germany and the competition would have been a lot worse off without them.

It seems a shame then that the greatest Ballroom in the world no longer has all of the greatest dancers competing on its famous and historic floor. I for one would love to see that happen once again in the future.

Part two coming soon…

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