While fashion week has been taking place, a horde of toned, athletic millennials have been prepping for the highlight of their own calendar. The Blackpool Inter-Varsity competition takes place annually at Winter Gardens, and sees its own kind of fashion parade. Dance Sport competitors flock from all four corners of the UK to take to the floor and the streets for this weekend-long extravaganza.
Strictly has been shining through our telly screens for many a year now, but the Dance Sport world is a far more cut-throat and competitive place. Routines are kept under-wraps for months, and friends from other cities become enemies for the 2.30 minute rounds in the ballroom. Dance-offs aside, the main spectacle is the array of divine couture gowns and dresses worthy of the catwalks themselves.
While the beginners and novices compete in gorgeous gear purchased ‘off the rack’, the intermediate and advanced dancers stride on in their made-to-measure attire. Ballroom dresses are usually full-skirted affairs, with fitted bodices, floats or sleeves, and can be covered from back to bum in genuine Swarovski crystals. First-hand, these gowns range between one and three thousand pounds which is insane when you bear in mind that, like the fashion set, dancers usually want to change their look every season.
The in-demand brands are DSI and Chrisanne Clover, and everyone dreams of a sponsorship deal. Facebook in dancer circles is awash with buy-and-sell groups, full of athletes passing on their kit at a two-hundred pound discount. At Blackpool, they have a convenient chance to see the dresses in the flesh, and the downtime at the competition is spent stripping out of one tan leotard into another. Some girls order products online from China, but being able to feel the beads and fringing for yourself makes parting with a month’s wages marginally less terrifying.
On everyone’s feet are Freed satin slippers in a delicate pointed style, or tan Latin sandals to match the Fake Bake-d legs. International Dance Shoes even offer vegan, red sole, and crystal versions of the ubiquitous leather heels, because after all, everyone is there for the footwork. The silver Mia by Lauren style has been hand-stoned by British Champion Lauren Hemera, and puts products from the ‘real’ fashion houses to shame.
Besides the sparkling accessories, the final touches to the Dance Sport aesthetic are found inside a makeup bag. If you’ve ever had a late-night Insta browse and thought ‘jeez, did she fall into a MAC counter?’ then you’ll have a good idea of how many products go into looking good from a distance. Fake eyelashes are just a basic staple. The real game-changers are lashings of highlighter, a good dusting of Urban Decay eyeshadow, and a slick of matt liquid lipstick to balance out the glitter liner. The levels of fake tan are like TOWIE crossed with a bodybuilding babe, often taking five or six coats to get your legs to match your footwear. The reason for the strong makeup is that the purple lighting washes you out on the dancefloor. As on stage, the more exaggerated your look, the better.
In a world where normcore and athleisure are still clinging on for dear life, and most of us spend our days in jeans or workout leggings, there is something decadent about pushing the boundaries of how much glitz, glamour and fashion is necessary. In the same way that bloggers peacock at Somerset House for the attention of street style photographers, Blackpool offers dancers the chance to go all out. When you are on the floor against twenty other couples, it could be your couture outfit or your wet-look hair that nabs the attention of the adjudicators. It is all very well being a good dancer, but there is really no thrill in it until all eyes are on you.
Words by India Alicia