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Strictly Come Dancing - The 2014 Argentine Tango Ball at Blackpool’s Tower Ballroom

PUBLISHED: 11:35 23 November 2014 | UPDATED: 19:24 07 September 2017

Workshop at the Blackpool Tower Ballroom

Workshop at the Blackpool Tower Ballroom

not Archant

Rebekka O’Grady was hot to trot when she heard the UK’s biggest Argentine Tango ball coming to Blackpool’s Tower Ballroom. Sadly, she was Strictly awful!

Rebekka doing her best to concentrate! Rebekka doing her best to concentrate!

After watching the BBC1 smash-hit Strictly Come Dancing, I imagined myself as pop sensation Pixie Lott drawing admiring glances as I glided across the floor of Blackpool’s Tower Ballroom for one of the terpsichorean treats of 2014.

With a red rose in my hair (I thought between the teeth might seem a little precocious), a borrowed pair of dancing pumps and all the courage I could muster, I hit the dance floor for the 2014 Argentine Tango Ball.

And straight away I realised I’d forgotten something important. Yes, it really does take two to tango and I’d come alone. Still, shyness was never one of my faults so I managed to persuade one lady to loan me her man for a while during what was Britain’s biggest mass tango.

This was a sell-out event and visitors were told to be prepared to be lost in a world of elegant charm and refined beauty. Arriving at the stunning venue, I could immediately see this was no exaggeration. It was certainly going to be a glamorous evening but, sadly, none of it would be provided by me.

Gabriel Marino teaching steps Gabriel Marino teaching steps

OK, I should have admitted it before I agreed to go. I have two left feet and the dancing skills of an inebriated giraffe. It was never going to end well. My vision of lithe Latina loveliness was crushed when I practised some pre-ball dance moves in the office and was immediately by met gales of laughter. As Craig would have said: ‘Darling, it was a di-zars-tah.’

However, often determination is key to making it in this world, so I applied a slick of red lipstick and strutted my way to Blackpool.

Prior to the event starting at 9pm, I had signed myself up for a tango workshop to sharpen up my moves. Held in the ballroom by tango-queen extraordinaire, Raquel Greenberg, the class was fully booked with dancers who had travelled from not just all over the country but the world.

My excitement quickly turned to fear as soon as the music started as I saw everyone pair up and begin to glide around the dance floor.

How it should be done - Flavia Cacace and Vincent Simone in Midnight Tango How it should be done - Flavia Cacace and Vincent Simone in Midnight Tango

Never normally the wallflower, I found myself dropping back into the shadows wondering what I had got myself into. With no partner and no idea about anything tango-related, my saviour arrived in the form of a kind lady who had been dancing for a number of years. She offered to show me some basic moves, including the ocho, a classic tango step which sees you draw a figure of eight on the floor.

With the workshop now in full swing and Raquel and her dancing partner, Gabriel Marino, breaking the class down to demonstrate certain moves, I could start to understand why people get so passionate about this dance.

While I laughed out of embarrassment at my ineptitude, all the other dancers remained poised with severe expressions. I think we often forget, especially with entertainment shows like Strictly, that dances such as the tango involve serious skill and dedication.

Although my time in the ballroom was short lived, I still managed to stand on a lot of toes (sorry everyone). But it definitely gave me a flavour of life on the dancefloor. Just don’t expect to see me trying again anytime soon unless I’ve had a cocktail or two.

To get a more informed insight into the allure of the tango I spoke to Lucy Wishart, organiser of the Argentine Tango Ball, and teacher Raquel Greenberg.

‘This is the first ball of its size in the UK,’ said Lucy. ‘After a year of promoting it, I am so proud and excited to see it actually happening.’ Lucy, from Hoghton, is a teacher at Strictly Tango dance classes in Preston. She has been dancing for 13 years, and the tango for seven. ‘I started off as a salsa dancer,’ she said. ‘However I met someone who did tango and just fell in love with it. I haven’t stopped since.’

Lucy’s passion for the Latin dance culminated in 600 people attending the event. She now hopes to hold the ball annually as it has proved so popular, especially with the meteoric rise of Strictly inspiring people to take up ballroom dancing.

Thanks to Strictly, dance fever has gripped the nation. The Royal Academy of Dance says there has been a 70 per cent increase in demand for its adult classes during the past year. It also said that research showed that dance could help older people to improve their quality of life.

‘People of all ages and gender enjoy this dance. Some have flown here tonight from France, Spain and Italy,’ said Lucy. For teacher Raquel Greenberg, this is her first return to the Blackpool Tower Ballroom after competing here in a dance competition a number of years ago. The experienced tango dancer, who was born in Israel to an Argentinean mother, grew up in Paris before living in Buenos Aires where she taught, performed and lived the essence of the Argentine tango.

‘This is symbolic for me to be here as I used to compete in the Ballroom, so it is special,’ said Raquel, who now runs a tango academy in London. ‘I am so proud to teach this wonderful dance and meet so many people from around the world. I want to spread the culture of the tango throughout the UK.’

Step this way

The tango is believed to be based on dance styles from Cuba and when it arrived in Buenos Aires it was adopted by the African community who added in African rhythms as well as European music.

The dance as we know it today, is a melting pot of styles which evolved in Argentina in the 19th century. Just before the First World War musicians from Argentina travelled to Europe and the United States and it turned into a craze among young people. However, the amount of body contact shocked many and there were attempts to have it banned.

Back in 2009, Lancashire Life interviewed Crosby-born Maggie Cowan-Hughes, a 55-year-old mother of two, who quit Lancashire and started a new life in Buenos Aires where she became one of its leading Tango teachers.

She is now back in the UK running workshops in the Midlands.

If you want to find out how to learn the tango go to www.strictlytango.co.uk

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