STRICTLY speaking, for those who’d answered the call to come dancing by the seaside, it will go down as a glorious British failure.

But the 731 people who flocked to Saltburn yesterday, hoping to be part of the world’s biggest ever mass waltz, still did the memory of the great Gene Kelly proud as they snaked along the promenade, singing and dancing in the rain.

The world record had been set in Bosnia in 2007 when 3,020 people waltzed their way into the history books. Saltburn’s effort, in aid of Age UK Teesside, may have fallen short but it still surpassed the UK record of 710, set in Bath seven years ago.

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The Northern Echo:

Couples taking part in the event dance their way along Saltburn promenade. Picture: PETER BARRON

The event wasn’t without its hiccups to begin with. For starters, the park-and-ride bus got stuck on Saltburn’s notorious hill and had to inch down backwards before a fuel spillage led to a call out for the fire brigade.

That was followed by the abandonment of the original plans to dance on the pier amid health and safety fears over the slippery surface.

But it didn’t stop a throng of wonderful waltzers, from the age of seven to 97, strutting their stuff, and singing along to the music, in front of the steel grey North Sea.

Some were in their finery, others covered up in Age UK rain ponchos, but every one of them had smiles on their faces.

The 97-year-old was war hero Eddie Straight, who’d been brought from the Four Seasons Care Home, on the edge of the seaside town.

Together with four other residents – Sadie Curnow, 90, Nada Millington, 87, June Barber, 76, and Arthur Lawson, a mere spring chicken at 66 – Eddie had been practising for weeks.

“I think I’m ready,” he said as the clock ticked down.

At the other end of the age scale, pupils from Saltburn Primary School had also learned their steps well and joined in what organiser Pat Chambers rightly described as “magnificent madness”. 

Even a frowning seagull, perched on a nearby bench, peered across in bemusement at the most peculiar human tide ever witnessed in this lovely Victorian resort.

The dancers included Reverend Adam Reed, Vicar of Saltburn and New Marske, who was trying in vain to partner his wife Estelle, who runs the local DanceFit group.

Could he not have had a word with “him upstairs” to fix better weather?

“I should think he organised the rain to try to stop me making a complete fool of myself,” he replied.

“Let’s just say dancing wasn’t part of the training for the clergy.”

In contrast, Cath Powton, Lynnne Durbridge and Helen Cole, their glad rags hidden beneath rain macs, knew their moves well thanks to the ballroom dancing classes they attend at Richardson’s Dance Studios in Bishop Auckland. Cath was even happy to give lessons to the clueless – but gave up on yours truly.

“It’s such a shame about the weather but we’re northerners – we’re tough,” she declared.

“It’s still a brilliant atmosphere. We’ve had fish and chips and there’ll be lemon top ice creams on the way home.”

The official figure of 731 presumably meant some poor soul danced alone and it isn’t clear whether the tally included Mr Punch and Judy, who accompanied Darlington’s celebrated puppeteer Brian Llewellyn and his wife Marilyn.

The Northern Echo:

“That’s the way to do it,” someone in the crowd shouted as Mr Punch danced past. “Oh, no it isn’t,” Mr Punch squeaked in reply.

The waltzers were expertly marshalled by Joan Martin, who’s run a dance studio at Eston for 48 years and is President of the UK Alliance of Dance.

Joan was meant to be teaching in sunny Portugal but chose instead to be at soggy Saltburn.

“This is home and it’s more important,” she explained before turning her expert attention to the dancers.

“Keep your heads up, smile and enjoy yourselves,” she ordered, sergeant major style.

And that’s exactly what they did, for precisely five minutes and 30 seconds, to music specially composed for the occasion.

Jeremy McMurray, formerly the head of music at St Michael’s School in Billingham, produced the Teesside Waltz and it was beautifully performed in a dripping tent by The Pocket Orchestra.

“We are proud of our roots, and our North-East history,” the lyrics began. And when the siren sounded to mark the end of a proud, historic dance, there were cheers, cuddles and then a conga.

“Crackers. Completely, utterly, wonderfully crackers,” smiled Pat Chambers.

Already, there are plans to make it an annual event. Come rain or shine, don’t fret – this won’t be the last waltz for Saltburn-by-the Sea.