Behind the glitter

Round & About

As a nation, it seems we just adore dancing. Beloved BBC television show Strictly Come Dancing often beats The X Factor on ratings at Christmas time.

Last year, 9.9 million people tuned in to watch Debbie McGee and Alexandra Burke show off their fancy footwork, compared to the 4.4 million tuning into the singing show final.

Step Up, the American dance drama movie franchise brought in more than £458million thanks to Channing Tatum’s swish moves. And on a weekend, come summer or winter, our country’s bars and clubs are packed to the brim with 20 and 30-somethings (or older) all dying to let go of any troubles from the previous week and just have a bit of a boogie – preferably with a cocktail in hand.

It’s understandable that many of us are considering dance as a new hobby. Ballroom, Latin, salsa, ballet, street, tap, modern, swing – there are so many different types to try. But what do you need to know before you put your best foot forward? Ballroom dancing looks effortlessly glamorous from an outsider’s perspective. But what’s it like on the front line, behind the hairspray, glitter and dazzling outfits?

I started ballroom dancing about two years ago and just competed in my very first contest, the Nationwide Medallist of the Year finals 2018 in Blackpool – the home of ballroom dance.

Stepping on to the Empress Ballroom floor at the Winter Gardens for the first time, with hundreds of eyes on me, I felt a little bit special – if not quite myself.

I was dark brown in tan, wearing the tightest and brightest royal blue ballroom dress, and my eyes fluttered beyond my control thanks to long false eyelashes glued to my eyelids. My hair had half a tube of gel in, and was hard as stone after multiple coats of hairspray. My acrylic nails were long and sparkly, my lips painted on in dark plum, and I stretched my mouth into the biggest, and most dazzling smile I could muster. I took up hold with my partner and began to dance…

It was utterly magical, if not incredibly frightening at the same time. I danced a waltz, tango, foxtrot and quickstep (the Viennese Waltz was saved for those who made the semi-final). And while I didn’t make the second round, here’s what I’ve learnt about what it takes to make it in ballroom:

1 Have passion! Like every hobby, you need to be passionate about it. I wouldn’t join a football team because I’m simply not into football. Competitive dance takes up a great deal of time, practice and requires dedication. There were moments I was ready to throw the towel in and quit forever, but my dance partner, teachers and family urged me to keep going and keep fighting.

2 Know your steps! I’ve had this drilled into me multiple times by teachers. If you don’t know the steps, it doesn’t matter how good your posture is, or how nice your hair looks, you simply can’t move if you’ve forgotten where to put your feet. Like any new skill, practice is key.

3 Take pride in your appearance! A lot of
work (and I mean a lot) goes into the appearance of a ballroom dancer before they compete – more so for the ladies than the men. Some of the dancers look completely unrecognisable. There’s fake tan, false eyelashes, hair pieces, bronzer, glitter, excessive jewellery and bright colours. Nothing seems to be off limits. I’ve seen girls wearing neon yellow dresses, with elaborate hair buns piled high into an almost unicorn shape. But it’s all to help them stand out. If a contestant decides against the fake tan – no matter how good a dancer they are – it may well be the difference between being noticed by a judge and not.
4 Stand your ground! I was, I’ll admit, a bit shocked during my first competition at the amount of elbows flying around. But once you’ve got your impressive ballroom shape, you don’t want to lose it and risk a judge seeing you just standing there in the middle of the floor. That may be the only time that judge looks up in your direction. So if you knock into another couple, regardless of whether their elbow goes into your eye socket, chest or perfectly styled hair, you stand your ground and keep going.

5 Be powerful! Dancing looks so graceful and effortless to me. But in reality, the most experienced couples are working in overdrive to power their way across the floor. Many of the top dancers are slim and slight, but underneath have muscles working harder than ever before. A judge is far more likely to spot a couple powering their way across the entire length of a floor, rather than taking tiny steps in the corner.

6 Show confidence! The winning couples are often the most confident – it pours out of them. They dance their routines perfectly, looking like it’s second nature; they wink at the audience and grin and laugh as they go. They’re the ones who catch the eye. So even if you take a wrong step, style it out, you’re far more likely to sail through to the next round.

7 Have fun! If something isn’t fun, it probably isn’t for you. It’s just the way it is. But dance doesn’t have to be competitive. If you don’t enjoy the serious side of it, it’s perfectly OK just to continue it as a casual hobby. I spent my first year of ballroom just having a laugh at my weekly beginners’ classes before I stepped into the competing world and decided to take it more seriously.

Fancy learning something new? Want to set yourself a challenge? Dance suits all ages, abilities and fitness levels. Head over to a class with your other half, friend, parent or colleague and see if you have what it takes to “keeeep dancing”.

Give it a go yourself…

The Dance Lab in Upper Richmond Road in Putney offers ballroom and Latin classes to people of all abilities; call 020 8870 6113.

Dance Attic Studios in North End Road Fulham offers classes for kids and adults, in ballroom, Latin, and ballet; call 020 7610 2055.