Edinburgh, Fife & East Scotland

Dare to dance at marathon Edinburgh Fringe show

It is not unusual for a Fringe show to involve audience participation but not on the scale of Dance Marathon.

Inspired by the dance competitions of 1930s Depression era America, it requires participants to keep on dancing - with hourly comfort breaks - for all of the three and a half hour show.

Part history lesson, part performance - planted professional dancers demonstrate routines throughout the night - it is also a proper competition.

Dancers are randomly eliminated by a rollerskating adjudicator throughout the night until just one couple remains to take the Dance Marathon championship title.

The evening begins in the Traverse Theatre foyer where everyone is given a numbered bib and led across to a nearby rehearsal space.

A glamorous lady in top hat and tails explains the rules - everyone must keep dancing, knees cannot touch the floor, the adjudicator's decision is final.

Pauline McLean
Image caption The live band strike up a number and we are straight into some free-style dancing

Our numbers match footprints on the floor, opposite brand new dance partners.

Mine is professional dancer Stephen, one of the show's stalwarts, so any hopes of sitting out any of the tougher dance routines are quickly dashed.

My one moment of glory comes later, in a brief ceilidh section, when the Gay Gordons is announced and I can show the steps.

The live band strike up a number and we are straight into some free-style dancing.

Most people who arrive are enthusiastic, slightly nervous about exposing their dance styles and anxious about the stamina needed to complete the three-hour session.

But once those numbered bibs are on, and we are all on the dance floor, doing our best impression of John Travolta.

Saturday Night Fever's Stayin' Alive is just one of the many dancefloor classics played out.

The enthusiasm turns into determination.

Those who had joked about bailing out early for a swift gin and tonic in the Losers' Lounge are now determined to remain in the game.

Dances are introduced and taught to the crowd - the minuet, the hoe-down, the tango and the Charleston.

dance marathon - bindfold dance
Image caption There are more surreal moments when the audience members are blindfolded

The Madison - a seemingly simple step dance - outwits the audience when it is performed at high speed, the various planted professional dancers from the cast taking the lead and leaving the rest of us on the sidelines.

Between dances, there are games and set-piece routines.

Cast members and ordinary members of the audience perform their own party pieces - poetry, songs and of course, more dance routines.

There are pop quizzes to eliminate further dancers, a madcap derby to lose some more.

There are slower, more surreal moments.

Audience members are blindfolded, our partners softly moving around us while a beautiful ballad is sung.

When the blindfolds come off, the original partner has moved on.

The elimination gets more and more random.

Dancers are asked to select other dancers. I'm eliminated.

The lady who picked me is shamefaced.

"I didn't know who to choose," she says, "you just caught my eye".

I'm not too bothered.

dance_marathon ref
Image caption A referee eliminates dancers from the competition

Like all the eliminated dancers, I'm happy to keep on dancing on the sidelines, but the trouble comes when I have to choose another dancer to eliminate.

Who to choose? My gallant partner, who I know is in the show so will not be disheartened?

But he is clearly one of the best dancers.

Should I choose former Fringe director Jon Morgan, who just this week published a report into the strength of the Scottish dance scene, and is now practising what he preaches on the dance floor?

Or any one of the unknown but wildly enthusiastic dancers round the room.

Eventually I settle on a bearded man in the middle of the room, who is keen but perhaps a little over-enthusiastic.

The ref rollerskates on and blows the whistle. The other dancers boo. He leaves the dance floor.

I make the same wheedling excuse as the previous lady. He looks me firmly in the eye and says: "Why? Why? I was a good dancer."

He is taking it seriously, then.

And as if on cue so do the cast, who begin a series of little performances of poems and songs, and choreographed dance routines which add a level of poignancy and depth to what seemed, until then, to be a frivolous night out.

They shoot horses don't they? Some people get very tired
Image caption They shoot horses don't they? Some people get very tired

Perhaps we are just getting tired.

The mood lightens as only six couples remain - and the ref, a hilariously tall man on rollerskates - teaches them one final dance, the Hula.

We are all rooting for the remaining dancers - and guess what, the man I eliminated and his partner are back in the game, thanks to the Second Chance Dance.

They and one other couple have to race round the room in wheelbarrows, with one partner blindfolded.

They win - and do what else, but a victory dance.

As for the rest of us. we are still dancing, three and half hours on with big grins on our faces.

Fringe audiences could do worse than follow the show's opening mantra: dare to dance, leave your shame at the door.

Bluemouth inc's Dance Marathon is being performed at the Traverse @ Lyceum Rehearsal Room from 7 to 14 August at 19:15.

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