SLIDESHOW: Harrogate Dance Festival

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Dance is back with a bang as bands return - report by Howard Hughes

Big band dancing came back to our town in a big way last weekend. Created by a community partnership team of White Diamond Entertainments,

Dancers in the waltz masterclass

Dancers in the waltz masterclass

Echo 42 Big Band and Soiree Presents, the first Harrogate Dance Festival provided a range of activities and events to satisfy even the most ardent ballroom and Latin dancer.

This three-day dancefest included workshops, party nights and tea dances using the Crown and Cairn Hotel, the Sun Pavilion and the pièce de résistance - a magnificent Gala Dance Night in the Royal Hall.

Ballroom dancing across the country has exploded in popularity since the advent of the hugely successful BBC TV series Strictly Come Dancing and millions have been inspired to take to the ballroom floor. It was very fitting, therefore, that dance professionals of international standing were engaged by the Festival team to provide dance enthusiasts with expert tuition in ballroom and Latin dance skills ranging from quickstep, foxtrot and waltz to cha cha cha, tango and jive. What was particularly welcome was that dancers could then go on to hone and practice their skills in a proper ballroom setting rather than on the ‘postage stamp’ dance floors that are all that is on offer at so many dance events.

Hundreds of dance enthusiasts literally had a ball at the various events. However, the highlight of the weekend was, without question, the Gala Dance Night in the Royal Hall. Strict-tempo music was provided by the ever-popular Echo 42 Big Band, a group of Yorkshire musicians formed almost 30 years ago who still include one of the band’s founding members. Seeing the enjoyment of the hundreds of dancers who thronged the Royal Hall’s huge, sprung floor, the band deployed four trombones, six saxophones, five trumpets, drums and guitars. Together they filled the magnificent auditorium with sound from the big-band era that made the very rafters reverberate and caused the hairs on the back of the neck to stand up.

And then came the demonstrations. A range of exhibition dancers wowed the audience into thunderous applause. If you haven’t seen Sami and Rox perform their Columbian salsa, you haven’t lived! But the largest cheers of the evening were reserved for the two professionals from Strictly Come Dancing – Ukrainian-born Pasha Kovalov and his gorgeous partner from Lithuania, Katya Vishilas. Their repertoire ranged from the sheer elegance of the Viennese waltz through flowing foxtrot to the spine-tingling drama of a paso doble which lacked only a Spanish bull thundering across the floor to complete its amazing effect! Finally, as the night drew to a close with couples snuggling together for the Last Waltz, it was impossible not to be drawn back to the glory days of the 70s and 80s when the Royal Hall vibrated to new year balls and where so many met the love of their lives at the weekly Saturday night ‘hop’. Organisers have confirmed this is the start of something new for the town.