Behind the Scenes: Dazzling Dancesport

Sarah Shapcott takes a look at the Strictly Come Dancing world of diamante dresses and smooth moves at Dancesport Cuppers

Before I begin there are two things you should know about me. Firstly, the last time I properly danced was aged six. I did ballet, I wasn’t great and I quit. Secondly, despite growing up relatively near Essex I never used fake tan – ever. Yet, since coming to Oxford, each year I have taken to the dancefloor (rather haphazardly) in the little known ‘Dancesport Cuppers’. But, you may well be asking, what on earth is ‘dancesport’? And what could it possibly have to do with fake tan?

Dancesport is, quite simply, competitive ballroom dance. Couples compete against each other in a range of dances from tango to salsa, waltz to quickstep. The Oxford Dancesport Team are one of the best, regularly winning competitions across the country. They were founded way back in 1968 when the first ever Oxford University Ballroom Dancing Club met at Iffley Road. Since 1997 and 2003, first for girls and then for boys, it has been a full blue sport.

Those who train at the highest level practise meticulously for hours a week. For a member of the main team this involves at least eight hours a week of compulsory dancing with additional optional hours (that most do) taking it up to around thirteen hours a week. Each partner has a personal coach who works with them individually to devise routines for competitions – each pair needs to show themselves at their very best on the dancefloor. The weekly training timetable is made up of these private lessons as well as group classes in general dance and technique.

Not all those who glide and fly across Oxford dancefloors came knowing how to chasse. Though most dances have some kind of dancing background, the Beginners Team coaches those who came up with absolutely no ballroom dancing experience. Here those who trained when younger in jazz or ballet can pick up ballroom basics with remarkable speed. It’s not uncommon to see the talented dancers of the Beginners Team rise up to the main team within a year. But what of those, like me, who have a very limited knowledge of dancing basics? Dancesport Cuppers gives the chance for those who’ve had just two hours practice to compete against those with years under their belts. Maybe this sounds a little unfair? Perhaps – but the event’s aim of opening dance up to all embodies the spirit of the day.

One novice dancer put it: ‘it’s actually a really good day out’ giving the chance to meet ‘a whole group of different people from college and just be really silly for an afternoon’. Blues dancers perform examples of various styles of dance with their stunningly glittery dresses twinkling as they sail across the floor – as the same dancer said, ‘they don’t dance, they fly’.

The Cuppers Competition features four dances: the Cha Cha Cha, the Quickstep, the Waltz and the Jive. For the Waltz think effortless gliding, and for the Quickstep look no further than 1920s rhythms. The Cha is the sexiest of the four with Cuban beats, saucy hips and Beyonce-style booty shaking, at least from the boys. Lastly, for the Jive, you’ll probably be wiggling your hips to ‘Jitterbug’ – but it’s not unheard of for S Club 7’s ‘Reach’ to come blasting over the speakers.

This year also featured the ‘Improvisation Round’, where singles, couples and groups took to the floor to show off their stuff. Judged by audience appreciation, the winning pair stole the show with the classic worm – breaking form with the sedate dances and sharp shirts of the afternoon.

But, you may be thinking, what remains of this fake tan? For those baring skin, having a tan is pretty much an essential accessory. And it’s not just girls – boys need to turn a little bit more orange. Though dancesport is about the beautiful steps and intricate, precise timing, it’s also, at least a little, about showing off. The dresses taking to competitions drip with diamante – glitter is certainly the order of the day. But even with a tan and a stunning dress you are not yet complete as slicked back hair is vital. No matter how bouncy your curls are they must stay in place.

In a world of essays and revision, dancesport is a fun-filled way to blow off steam. Plus, when else in your life will most of us get the chance to take to the floor, be spun around and show off our stuff?