I'm up in Blackpool, Lancashire, England. It's a seaside resort that became popular in Victorian times with working-class families who needed a break from cities and coal mines to take in the fresh sea air. The climate being what it is, it is often cold, grey, damp, foggy and dreary here this time of year -- like Summer in San Francisco. The past few days have been a glorious exception. There's a real Summer happening now: clear blue skies, calm seas, temperatures in the high 70's. Visitors spend the day lounging in the sun outside their hotels, drinking and laughing. People actually frolic in the velvety smooth Irish Sea. My flat is about a mile and a half walk from the Empress Ballroom along the seaside promenade. There's a tramway in case of bad weather, but I've been walking it round-trip to watch the dancing.
So far I've witnessed (parts of) three events. My friends Jody & Andreas (shes's wearing the black dress) competed in the Over-35 Ballroom Championship, and came in 5th out of 200 couples from around the world. This is a massive achievement, but since the US media only thinks of competitive ballroom dancing in terms of gossip from "Dancing with the Stars," their success will go unremarked at home. The US actually had three couples in the final round -- again an incredible achievement. And if that wasn't enough, a US couple won the Professional "Rising Star" Latin event. 250 couples from Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America entered the event. (For some reason South America is pretty much uninterested in competitive ballroom dancing, although there was a Chilean version of "Dancing with the Stars.") Today is the Latin championship for dancers under age 21. I walked down to watch the first two rounds. 222 couples had entered, each round eliminates approximately half the competitors. This means the six couples the Final will have been competing from 3pm to 11:30pm, dancing a total of seven competitive rounds. It's a very long day for everyone, and requires incredible fitness to compete at this level.
I wasn't feeling up to this kind of marathon, so I left after three hours and walked back to my flat. While most of the B&Bs, flats, and hotels along the Promenade are quite modest, there are a few grand examples of Victorian brick architecture. Most notable is the Imperial Hotel. I've been in the lobby and it's quite elegant, probably the fanciest place in all of Blackpool. It looks out over the sea, and today the red brick contrasted wonderfully with the blue sky. Now I'm watching "The Big Bang Theory," which seems to be on two or three times a night every night of the week. It was that or International Test Match cricket. I actually sort of enjoy cricket, but I barely understand what's going on and tonight I couldn't deal with trying to remember what I learned on my trip to Australia back in 2008.