For weeks, everyone on Strictly Come Dancing has been on and on about the importance of getting to Blackpool Week. “If only I get to Blackpool, I will have achieved my dreams,” say the celebs. “You deserve to go to Blackpool,” say the judges. It’s Blackpool this and Blackpool that – but what makes the Strictly special episode more than a glorified school trip?
The reason is the Blackpool Tower Ballroom, a magnificently-decorated ballroom that is steeped in the history of dance in this country.
Here’s everything you need to know…
Why is Blackpool the home of ballroom?
Blackpool Tower opened in 1894 and housed a circus, a dance floor and an aquarium, with trips to the top of the tower costing sixpence plus admission.
The tower itself was based on the Eiffel Tower and was an impressive feat of engineering, being built to gently sway with the wind. Unfortunately, however, it was not painted properly during the first 30 years and quickly became corroded by the sea air – so the steelwork all had to be replaced.
The original ballroom was the Tower Pavilion, a small dance floor occupying the front of the tower complex. But the Tower’s owners wanted to compete with the newly-built Empress Ballroom in Blackpool’s Winter Gardens, one of the largest and most magnificent in the world. They commissioned Frank Matcham to design the Tower Ballroom, which opened in 1899.
When contact between dance couples became much closer in the 1930s with the rise of the Waltz and Foxtrot, controls on conduct and skirt lengths became even stricter. The men and women would stand on opposite sides of the floor, with the women holding a card listing the songs for the evening so they could note down which men they had agreed to dance with for each number.
During the Second World War, the ballroom’s huge floor space was used to practise military drills – and sew parachutes – though in the evenings the customers arrived and the show went on as usual.
The ballroom was damaged by fire in December 1956 caused by a stray cigarette. In the following two years of restoration, many of the former designers and builders came out of retirement to assist.