19th UK Congress – Part 2

Jack Reavely’s Report.

Sammy and Barbara … Some years ago I gave Sammy and Barbara the names Superman and Wonderwoman and they have, over the years, travelled to the upper echelons of the dance business and their expertise in dance is indisputable. There is no doubt whatsoever that, in Sammy, we have a man who is utterly convinced that what he thinks is correct and he has no inhibitions whatsoever about saying what he thinks. The entire proceedings were filmed by DSI and can be purchased of course … and the money spent will be rewarded with information galore when coupled also to the prior lectures. Greg Smith and John Kimmins as always, host the show and on comes Barbara wearing six inch heeled black shoes with a silvery heel to contrast, a black suit with luxurious fur collar, red finger nails and a sleek as an otter hairstyle and a necklace sparkling with diamonds … Sammy soberly dressed in a lovely suit, shirt and tie.

 Sammy Stopford & Barbara McColl

An audience with Sammy Stopford & Barbara McColl

First question: “Sammy, is it true that your start in dance was created through a bet?”“Yes” replied Sammy, “I was deputy head boy at school and one of the lads said” … “You are very clever at everything aren’t you? Sammy replied “Yes” and the other lad lad said “Bet you can’t dance.”. Sammy replied “Yes I can” and off he went to a dance studio to learn as he didn’t have a clue at that time. The boy who told our Sammy that he couldn’t dance believe it or not turned out to be a dance teacher at the studio, so Sammy lost the bet to his chagrin and disappointment. In his very early days when he became a fanatic Sammy made a forecast and said “I will win Blackpool’s ‘Open To The World’ Latin Championship in ten years” and guess what, he did just that and to that time scale as well. Sammy said that he did Ballroom, as well as Latin, with Lyn Aspenand he tells everyone that he was good at it, but was not appreciated which he simply couldn’t understand at all … so the underlying humour was the dry type so endearing to those who use it. Lyn’s Mum and Dad had a dress shop so her Dad was at all the markets and so Lyn always had new dresses. They went to a competition in the Grafton Rooms in Liverpool and they had received a lesson from the great Bob Dale a few days before, when Bob had insisted on a highlight figure where Lyn was on the floor, that our Sammy would not look downwards at all when they danced it, as it would spoil the look. Bob went on and on to Sammy until he realised the importance and when they danced it in the competition, our Sammy was delighted, because the audience roared with approval and delight just as he danced that figure and he kept his eyes where Bob had instructed him to…

Later on he was told that Lyn’s dress had a halter neckline and an accident occurred which showed her double breasted picturisation in the flesh and this is what had wowed the crowd to our Sammy’s consternation. The International for the first time and they didn’t get a recall … The following year they made the final so Sammy said that quite obviously they had made a mistake the year before. Scottish Open Amateur Championship and Sammy didn’t think that he could beat the top couples at that time. Bobby Short the visual and creative genius said to Sammy … “I agree that you cannot beat those above you quickly but there is an answer … turn Professional and, by the time, those Amateurs turn Professional you will have consolidated yourself into the upper strata and you won’t have to worry about them at all, as you will be established and you will beat them” … How true this turned out to be.

Film was shown on a giant screen throughout the show and it was simply mesmeric to see the dancing from the past shown on screen … With Shirley Ballas, whom Sammy had trained into a superb exponent of Latin and who so protected and still protects the fundamentals of Latin dance through the beauty of use of foot and ankle. After the first round exit at the International in 1979 the Star Ball came along in 1980 and they were third, and they won so many competitions and Championships including believe it or not the British Open Disco Championship. Sammy tells us that his main achievement was winning the British Open Professional Latin Championship as it was his main purpose in life to do so and he thinks of that as his major achievement with Shirley in 1983 and after that he won three more times with Barbara McColl. In addition of course to so many other events as well but the accolade of Blackpool was his main aim to achieve.

Coaches and Mentors … Sammy considers Bob Dale a genius and those who saw Bob dance were privileged I can tell you because I was able to see and to appreciate, his simply staggering performances in the Old Time field, where with Rita Pover,he brought to the floors of dance a use of musicality and elegance, coupled to flowing beauty seldom seen before or after his time scale. Sammy says that Bob had the unbelievable ability to change how a dancer looked and Sammy said that he was very lucky to meet Bob because he had run away from home and was living on the streets. He asked Bob if he could sleep in his ballroom. Bob’s Mum had suffered a stroke so a deal was made that, if Sammy looked after his Mum, he was welcome to stay and he did. Bob taught Sammy to dance and Sammy cleaned tables, and assisted in many ways. Sammy won a competition and Bob asked him why he thought he had won it … Sammy replied because he was so good … Our Bob then said “No Sammy, you won it because there was no one else better” … That was the beginning surely of Sammy’s own lateral thought process, which enables him to assist so many couples in their quest to be the best.Bob sent Sammy and Shirley to Doris Lavelle and Sammy thought she was simply terrific. Nina Hunt, the great Latin coach of that time, made it clear that she wanted Sammy as a pupil, but it was not possible to go to both Doris and Nina at the same time … Sammy and Barbara decided on Nina and to her great credit Doris said “Of course I am very unhappy but you will always be a favourite of mine”. Now with Barbara … Barbara until she was five years old spoke Spanish as she was born in Ecuador … she started to dance in an All Girl partnership and was trained at the famous Harry and Helen Rollins Dance Studio in Glasgow. They turned up a partner for Barbara in the shape of the current Junior Scottish Latin ChampionPaul Cairney and they won the Junior Scottish. At that time, Donnie Burns and Gaynor Fairweather were kind of idols of hers. She moved to England to dance with Alan Winter and Sammy had given our Barbara lessons … One day out of the blue he asked her to go for lunch and asked her during that lunch if she would consider becoming his dance partner. Barbara thought it was a great honour to be asked and said “Yes” … but she had to detach herself from icons Donnie and Gaynor and turn to Sammy … It was a great opportunity and of course Barbara, before confirming to Sammy, discussed all the implications with her Dad. Barbara’s impression of Sammy was when at the age of fourteen she saw him dance at Blackpool with Lyn … she also saw Alan & Hazel FletcherandPeter Maxwell & Lynn Harman and calmly and concisely said to herself “I am going to be there one day too” and the rest of course is History. Their initial try out was all secret and Sammy reckoned there was so much wrong with Barbara’s dance performance but they teamed up and Sammy’s coaching prowess which is world renowned, was accepted by our Barbara like a cat licking the cream and she became the pride of Scotland through her wonderfully expert dance performances. Sammy told her “Just remember when you walk on to that floor to dance that you have something the other girls don’t have … ME” … Sammy’s belief in Barbara’s potential became more than fully justified. Shirley and Sammy had split only six-eight weeks before the World Championship was to be held and Donnie Burns and Gaynor were the beneficiaries said Sammy. When Donnie heard this he instantly said to Sammy “Bite the bullet and go back to Shirley and you will win the World Championship” and Donnie and Gaynor were the ones who, by Sammy’s absence would win … what a wondrous gesture from Donnie eeh? “Sammy always upfront and saying exactly what he thinks roared with laughter and said that Alan Winter had got rid of Barbara as a partner because he didn’t think she was good enough. In 1985 for the United Kingdom Championship Sammy wanted a really special outfit and he searched and searched for a very special and exclusive colour for it … Being delighted with the result by purchasing white fabric and having it dyed a very special colour, Sammy was delighted even though it has cost a fortune … In walked Donnie at the competition … wearing exactly the same colour which our Sammy had thought impossible because of the high cost of the special dyeing etc … “Where did you get that outfit” asked Sammy … “Och” said Donnie “we dyed it in the bath” … Sammy and Lyn used to do many demonstrations at Blackpool in various venuesand they got to know the band leaders and players

very well … Sammy ‘knew’ what the Blackpool dance orchestra would play for Rumba in the Professional Championship and all was planned accordingly … On they walked to the floor Our Sammy and Barbara … ready for the dance to commence … The orchestra struck up the wrong tune compared to the one Sammy thought to be a certainty … which had been Phantom of the Opera. “Oh my goodness this is horrendous” was their thoughts … He had to think of something instantly … walked to floor … “Have you thought of anything yet” yelled our Barbara … They took up a basic stance … They heard Bryan Allen say “Stopford’s going to dance a basic Rumba” … So Sammy and Barbara did just that and the crowd went mad. Paso came along with no audience response … Basic Rumba danced again and they had moved to the other end of the floor … surrounded byMarcus & Karen Hilton and David Sycamore & Denise Weavers … David was the first to start … Sammy then decided he would walk backwards dancing Rumba basic all the way from one end of the Blackpool floor to the other with Barbara of course dancing her famed forward Rumba walks … the legend had been formed … The final … they were urged to go back to their choreographed original programme, but didn’t and continued with basic Rumba and they won the dance. Barbara danced on a famous occasion wearing black stockings and suspenders and as Sammy remembered this chuckling he said “There is no such thing as bad publicity”. They won so many titles including twenty majors for example five times British Open Latin Professional Champions, World Professional Champions etc., etc., etc. Sammy had a blood disorder and was sleeping twelve hours a dayunable to get on with his life because of the disorder. He woke up to reality in a January and said “We are going to dance Blackpool in May” … the target was just to get to the competition and compete … His life was back in order. In 1988 Young Sammy Stopford was born and it was their joy and pride and this changed Sammy and Barbara’s life forever. Success is down to yourselves and there is almost an animalistic issue which shines from inside people and Sammy can’t teach people to be Champions, but a coach can stop a couple from becoming great by telling them the wrong things says Sammy … The celebrity profile is nearly concluded but the end produced a straight from the shoulder opinion from Sammy which was fearless in his opinions regarding present differences between world dance bodies. Never one to mince words Sammy can presumably be heard and seen talking about this if you purchase a copy of the DVD from DSI … You will not be disappointed and you will possess a record which, in years to come will be used to illustrate some of the thought process which is necessary for you too to become great Champions of Dance. Thank you ‘Supersam and Wonderwoman’.

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