Baoshan District plays host the century-old Blackpool Dance festival

Ballroom dancing has been popular activity in Shanghai for over a hundred years but it is going through something of a Renaissance in the city's north Baoshan District. 


The ongoing Blackpool Dance Festival has managed to get lovers of ballroom dancing back on their feet in Shanghai.

Ballroom dancing has been popular activity in Shanghai for over 100 years but it is going through something of a Renaissance in the city’s north Baoshan District. And it is just as well because the century-old traditional British Blackpool Dance Festival began on August 17 in the Baoshan Arena and ends tomorrow.

More than 2,800 professional ballroom dancers from 25 nations are competing in a range of Latin and ballroom dancing disciplines at the annual festival, known as the “Ballroom Dancing Olympics.”

“Bringing the Blackpool Dance Festival to Shanghai has just added to that culture and hopefully people can enjoy the competition,” said Michael Williams, managing director of Blackpool Entertainment Company, who operates the festival.

Shanghai is the only city to host the traditional festival outside of the United Kingdom, which originated in 1920 in the northern English town of Blackpool. In 2016, the international event was held at the Shanghai Grand Stage, the first time it was held outside the UK.

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Riccardo Cocchi (right) and Yulia Zagoruychenko, the current Blackpool world champions of professional Latin dance, will compete for the final championship on August 22 at the Baoshan Arena.

“The most interesting part is that this year in Blackpool we have a 24 percent increase in Chinese dancers. I think they enjoyed their experiences in Shanghai last year and come to the festival this year as well which is great for cultural exchanges,” Williams added.

This year’s festival in Baoshan has seen the very best international dancers competing in a number of disciplines. The festival has also incorporated performances and competitions among many junior dancers.

Famous dancers include: Riccardo Cocchi and Yulia Zagoruychenko, the current Blackpool world champions of professional Latin dance, as well as Chinese dancers, Wang Wei and Chen Jin, the Chinese Latin champions, and the Blackpool quarterfinal dancers. They and other performers will compete for the final championship at this year’s festival tomorrow night at the Baoshan Arena.

Apart from the dancers, the judges and live bands are the same from the previous festivals in UK. All the equipment at the arena also meets the world’s top standards.

The Empress Orchestra, under the musical direction of Ashley Frohlick, provides music. Marcus Hilton and Robert Bellinger, are once again in the chair of the international adjudicator panels.

At the end of the 14th century, the European court artists refined and standardized the folk dance and developed it into a court dance for entertainment and social activities. The predecessor of the modern ballroom dance was quite popular among the aristocratic community. George IV, Queen Elizabeth I and French King Louis XIV were all loyal fans of it.

With the development of Western industrialization and the rise of working class, the dances evolved and gradually developed into today’s ballroom dance. Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot and Quickstep were gradually created and soon spread across the globe.

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Chinese dancers Li Weiping (right) and Zheng Cen are among the contestants of this year's Blackpool Dance Festival.

The first Blackpool Dance Festival was held in Empress Ballroom, Winter Garden, Blackpool, in 1920 and gained world fame since then.

Over the past two decades, ballroom dancing has been a fast-growing business in China in the wake of the government’s drive for citizens to lead a healthier lifestyle. The rise in popularity has seen an increase in participants from China at the Blackpool festival. Around 80 percent of the dancers are Chinese this year.

“Though the festival has had nearly 100 years of history, it is still new to local audiences since it has only been in Shanghai for a year,” said Wei Quanmin, vice president of the Alisports, a partner organizer for the festival in Baoshan. “We have a lot to do to promote the history, culture and rules of the ballroom dancing among local audiences.”

Alisports has used its platforms to promote the festival. People are able to watch the competition live on stream platforms such as Youku, Meipai and Migu. In the future, Alisports will have a more in-depth cooperation with Blackpool to popularize and develop the ballroom dancing in China, according to Wei.

Tickets to the competition are available on online shopping platforms, such as Damai and Tmall. Meanwhile, the district government has offered free tickets to amateur dancers and young ballroom novices to watch the competitions during the festival, said Jiang Biyan, director at Baoshan sports bureau.

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The festival music is provided by the Empress Orchestra under the musical direction of Ashley Frohlick.

“We hope to make Baoshan a training center for the standard ballroom dance and young dancers from the district could compete in the international stage in future,” Jiang said.

Baoshan, which has been known for its iron-steel industry, is now striving to improve its cultural brands. In recent years, the district government has built a large number of cultural venues including the Baoshan Arena, on 700 Yongqing Road, which features an NBA standard basketball court.

The government has injected a large financial investment for cultural projects into the area. For instance, the district will build China’s largest screen cinema at a former container dock on the bank of the Yangtze River.

The ball-shape Changtan Huge-screen Cinema with a diameter of about 35 meters will become the third largest in the world following the LG IMAX Theatre in Sydney and an IMAX cinema in Singapore upon its completion in 2019. Its screen will be 22.4 meters wide and 12 meters tall.

“People usually see Baoshan as an industrial district, but we have been developing quite fast the last few years,” said Wang Yichuan, director of the district bureau of culture, radio, film and TV. “We are gradually turning from a manufacturing hub to a cultural center, and we believe the Blackpool festival can help us for the transition.”


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More than 2,800 professional ballroom dancers from 25 nations are competing in a range of Latin and ballroom dancing disciplines at the annual festival known as the "Ballroom Dancing Olympics."



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