In 2009 I was asked to lecture at the British National Congress with a title, “How to Win Blackpool”? I thought the research and findings of the lecture might be helpful, for whether you are trying to win regional, national, or International championships such as Blackpool, I believe the results will be of interest.
I was given 20 minutes to present this lecture — a real challenge! Initially I re-traced my own career to help me prepare and plan the major points I wished to research. During the reminiscing process, I asked myself the question, “How does this compare to others”? and more significantly the question, “Is there a formula to winning Blackpool”?
I felt the following points were significant: I started dancing at the age of 6. I took medals from the age of 6-14 years, as man and lady in both ballroom and Latin American. As a Juvenile and Junior Competitor I had 1 teacher. As an Amateur I focused on Latin American dancing for 5 years. I was fortunate to be able to dance with John Wood. We had small team of trusted teachers. As a couple, we were determined. Eventually we won Blackpool.
In an effort to find the definitive guide to winning Blackpool, I called upon 21 former British Open, Amateur and Professional, Ballroom and Latin American Champions to ask them questions I thought were significant to the winning process and to see if there were a number of common denominators:
Peter Eggleton Rudi Trautz Anthony and Fay Hurley Michael Stylianos and Lorna Lee Alan and Hazel Fletcher Frank and Linda Venables Espen Salberg Hans and Anne Laxholme Marcus and Karen Hilton MBE Sammy Stopford and Barbara McColl The Late Oliver Wessel-Therhorn Andrew Sinkinson Augusto Schiavo Mirko Godzolli
I asked them the following questions:
▪ What age did you start dancing?
▪ Did you go through the Medal Test System
▪ How important was it to you to have a small team or a teacher that guided and nurtured you to success?
▪ How do you think you won Blackpool?
These questions produced the following results:
What age did you start dancing?
The answer to the first question was, really surprising! If we take the most Senior and the then current British Open Professional Ballroom Champion in the list, Peter Eggleton started dancing at the age of 17, and Mirko Gozolli was 7 years of age. It would suggest in the 50 years of Champions that the starting age has dropped by 10 years. However, there were such a broad variety of starting ages, that the results were not conclusive, and were generally more relevant to the Professional Ballroom field. For example, of all the Champions, 6 of them were 15 years and OVER when they started dancing (the oldest was 19 years of age), and 4 of these went on to become British Open Professional Ballroom and Latin American Champions! The most notable, being Michael Stylianos who started dancing at the age of 18 years and became British Open Professional Latin American Champion. A magnificent achievement! In conclusion of this first question, like any sport or physical art, it is probably better to start at an earlier age, but it will certainly not inhibit your chances of reaching the highest honours!
Did you go through the Medal Test System?
It transpired that 90% had been through the medal test system, but ALL had had some form of basic training. I thought this question crucial to the development of the dancer, for there are so many wonderful subjects to research and develop in dancing when the time is right. For example, the study of the occupation of space, musical and physical expression, energy, the forces and artistic development are wonderful subjects to research and develop once the foundation has been laid. In my opinion, all these things are worthless unless you have a sound basis of fundamentals on which to build. In my opinion the medal test system is the perfect way to build knowledge of the basic steps and their names, posture, balance, timing and footwork, which helps launch perfectly a competitive career. In my own personal case, I felt the basic training accelerated my learning in later life, and made all the other wonderful things to learn about dancing so much richer, and easier to apply. Anthony Hurley, wrote some wonderful pearls of wisdom in his notes to me, and I quote “perhaps it all started from the medal test system”. This is a great example of the esteem that the Champions hold the technique.
How important was it to you to have a small team or teacher/coach that guided and nurtured you to success?
The answer to this question was a resounding “yes” from EVERYONE! Some Champions, like Alan and Hazel Fletcher and Rudi Trautz had only 1 teacher! I think that speaks volumes – IF YOU ARE THE BEST, YOU WILL WIN, WHATEVER HURDLES YOU MAY FACE! It was clear that the support of the small team/teacher was paramount to success, and was conclusive evidence. As they say, there is no learning curve like experience, and your teacher/coach will be able to impart all their knowledge not only about the stages of development in dancing, but also about dealing with all the hurdles you will face throughout your career, particularly psychologically. From personal experience, having 1 teacher as a Juvenile/Junior, was, in my opinion, 80% of reaching a level of dancing to be able to win in later life. From my Junior Teacher, Colin Twine, to Amateur teacher Anthony Hurley, there was a perfect natural progression without confusion.
How do you think you won Blackpool?
This question, as you can imagine produced the most fascinating answers. Descriptions of the qualities needed to become a champion were predictable and varied, such as: dedication, commitment, courage, humble, desire and perfectionism. There were also other details of secrets to success, such as: enjoy the learning process, practice, practice, practice!, belief in what you are doing, and never give up! Priceless advice!
Two words however, were used most frequently — Intelligence and Motivation!
Intelligence was an interesting one, for some years ago I had done a course in Psychology, and I had learned in my course that Educationalists believe there are multiple intelligences. The intelligences that are significant to Ballroom/Latin American Dancers, I believe are as follows: Linguistic, Kinesthetic-Bodily, Spatial and Musical. To accelerate our learning, , I would say that if we are Linguistically intelligent, we are able to digest information with an ease of understanding and put it into practice swiftly. If we are bodily-kinesthetically intelligent, then we probably learn by “feel”. If we combine the afore-mentioned and the kinesthetic intelligence together, I believe we land up with what we call “talent”! The other two intelligences are spatial intelligence, which means you are learning by what you see, and can improve just by watching dancers better than yourself. You will probably be good at learning by the use of image analogies from the teacher too. Lastly, being Musically Intelligent means you are going to be tuned into one of the most significant factors in performing to move and audience. The key to this, is to recognise the strength of your own intelligences, and use them to your advantage and accelerate your learning! In my opinion if you have all four of these intelligences, are motivated, you have the right partner, and a team to guide you to success it is highly probable you will win Blackpool!
Our second key word was Motivation, and, many believe that this is probably the greatest psychological factor involved in performing dancing to win. By being motivated, it is highly likely you will be dedicated, have a great attitude to learning, will be a perfectionist, have courage, and have commitment! You may be motivated to “be the best” as was the case with Alan and Hazel Fletcher, or simply having the will to win! You may be motivated to be a great artist, express yourself to the music, or simply love performing! All these factors are MOTIVATING!
The wonderful thing is, that once you are motivated, you will be able to set your goals, and goals are the driving force behind success. They enable you to have a map of how you are going to achieve success. Setting smaller as well as bigger goals is vital, so that they can be used as landmarks or pivotal points along the way to the larger, end goal. They will guide you as to whether you are on course or not, and by making smaller goals along the route, you are not putting yourself under unnecessary pressure to achieve prospects that are not realistic!
In Summary, the results of my survey were as follows:
1. Starting to dance at an early age is possibly an advantage.
2. A basic training, well that’s really important!
3. Find yourself a team who will nurture and guide you to success.
4. Use your intelligence and be motivated!
A good partner helps too!!
I would like to thank all the former Champions who gave of their time to answer my questions. They willingly shared their knowledge, and allowed me to quote them in the lecture. It made me realise (if I hadn’t already), what a wonderful art form we are in! So much knowledge and many to share it with! Like the Education Department!