Strictly Come Lancaster

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I really had no idea what was going to happen when I turned up on a bitterly cold Friday night to cover the LUBDS Charity Showcase. Ballroom Dancing has enjoyed an explosion in popularity over the last few years, which prominent philosophers are now attributing to something called ‘The Strictly Effect’, but since I’ve never watched an episode I didn’t have the slightest idea of what to expect. This lack of prior knowledge, combined with the promise of “campus-celebrities” trying to dance, meant that my brain had conjured up images of Robbie Pickles et al performing pirouettes and back-flips in sparkly, multicoloured leotards – not a particularly appealing thought, I’m sure you’ll agree. It was therefore incredibly fortunate that this nightmarish vision was about as far from the truth as possible. The Ballroom Dancing Society – along with LUDans, the ULMS Big Band and the Cheerleading Team – managed to put on a brilliant and highly varied showcase of Lancaster’s massively talented students, raising a huge amount of money for Cancer Research UK in the process. And there wasn’t a single sparkly leotard in sight.

The night kicked off with a couple of great performances from the Big Band, which led straight on to the first few dances from members of LUDans and LUBDS. The performances were impressive in terms of both skill and variety; the transition from Latin Ballroom dancing to a Michael Jackson medley was slightly jarring, but a lot of fun nonetheless. Equally impressive was how many relative beginners took part; the Michael Jackson section (including the obligatory “pretend to be zombies to Thriller” bit, obviously) was followed by another superb performance from newer dancers. Training up new folk in the arcane art of Ballroom is quite clearly one of LUBDS’ biggest strengths. “I am really grateful to those who took part in our formation team dances”, said Jodie Waggoner, the choreographer of the group dances, “we didn’t have a lot of time to get the routines together, but everyone worked so hard”. It was quite hard to believe that some of the dancers had only been training for a couple of months, since they moved like pros.

With the initial few dances over, the tension in the room had built to enormous levels (well, there was a lot of clapping at least) as the centre-piece event of the showcase, the much anticipated ‘LUBDS does Strictly Come Dancing’, approached. The dancers entered the stage accompanied by the Big Band before launching into their routines. Lizzie Houghton and Ben Marshall kicked things off with an entertaining Rumba, which was followed up by performances of the Brazilian Tango and the Salsa (which is apparently a dance as well as a tomato-based hot-sauce – who knew!). The second half of ‘Strictly’ was even better than the first; Robbie Pickles and Becki Finney did a great Rock n’ Roll number, which was very entertaining and energetic. My personal favourite was the Charleston, which was performed by Alex Grievson of the Sailing Society. Not only was he the clear victor of the prestigious ‘Best Beard in Show’ prize, but his dance performed alongside LUBDS officer Becky Hallworth was bloody brilliant, and included a huge number of difficult looking manoeuvres and lifts. As good as the performances were, it was a shame to see that the Big Band wasn’t playing the music for the dancers. The Band were consistently excellent throughout the evening and it would have made the show even better if there had been more link-up between the two groups during ‘Strictly’. Obviously it would have been a difficult feat to learn the songs for each dance, but being left to listen to the music through the Great Hall’s terrible PA system diminished the effect somewhat, especially when there was so much musical talent sat on the stage.

Robbie Pickles, the LUSU President, came out on top after a particularly hard fought competition.“I really enjoyed teaching Robbie the Rock n’ Roll”, said Becki Finney, the President of LUBDS and Pickles’ dance partner, “practices were always lots of fun, despite being dropped when trying out the lifts! He was very enthusiastic and gave an amazing performance despite several injuries”. SCAN was represented at the showcase by Editor Lizzie Houghton Cartmel JCR member, Natalie Hook, and LUBDS Charity Officer, Andrew Pickup, also impressed with an extremely lively Quickstep, which came second in the public vote. Pickup was awarded a special award at the end of the night for organising the event.

The LUBDS Charity Showcase seems to have become a bit of a beacon of quality for student-run events over the past few years, and this years performance will only serve to cement that position. The fact that it has managed to bring together so many different groups to work together is an extremely encouraging sign, and hopefully it paves the way towards more events of this type being run by different societies. It’s a shame, then, that Lancaster doesn’t really have the top of the range facilities to match top of the range talent. The most obvious example is the Great Hall, where the showcase took place. Rather than being a central hub where events like these can thrive, it’s a squalid, dark, out-of-date place that is put to shame by most Primary Schools, never mind other Universities. It’s probably wishful thinking to hope that eventually the University will stop spending money digging up (and subsequently relaying) the flagstones in Alexandra Square, but a bit of investment in the right areas would really help cultural life thrive even more on campus.

The night was not just a success for campus culture, though. By the end of the night LUBDS had raised massive amounts of money for charity, too. Over £1000 pounds was raised through ticket sales and raffle tickets, and the sale of the night’s DVD has seen that figure rise even more. The DVDs are still available through LUBDS (send an e-mail to lancasterballroom@gmail.com to get a copy).

The 2011 LUBDS Charity Showcase was an enthralling night which did not fail to entertain at any point. It’s fantastic to know that there is such a massive amount of talent in the University, and its success will hopefully lead to many more of these events springing up on campus.

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