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Edinburgh Fringe 2011

Dance Marathon

Genre: Musical Theatre




Low Down

The most fun I’ve had with my red shoes on. present an evening’s entertainment based on the dance marathons of the Depression. The audience are the show, you’re there to dance and to dance for four hours at that. 


Dancing all night? The audience is the show? I couldn’t wait. Well, until an hour or so before the show that is, sat in the Traverse bar with snazzy red shoes, friends and serious jitters.

Dance Marathon is inspired by the dance marathon endurance competitions of the Depression (remember, ‘They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?’) where contestants danced the till they dropped desperate to win a way out for themselves. In Toronto based’s version, we are the contestants right from the pre-registration process, getting our numbered bibs, finding our dancing partner for the night, the dancing the night away for hours to the moment when the couple is presented with their trophy.

There aren’t many rules: the most important is that your feet must keep moving at all times. From the off, partners seize each other up, initially there for an evening out but competitive streaks emerging as endorphins get going. The music is cheesy, very cheesy (think all that music that you feel your feet tapping to but are too cool to dance to). There’s everything from Michael Jackson to the Gay Gordons and much more in between. Who’d have thought we’d find ourselves gesticulating wildly in the manner of YMCA in a whole room full of strangers?

And that’s the charm of it, that this skilled bunch of performers can engage us so thoroughly and effectively that participants are willing to take on exit interviews in the style of Big Brother, showcase dancing and even attempt some impossible dance routine called the Madison. There’s our MC for the night dressed like a circus master, lacking only a whip to crack, but who’d dare cross her anyway? Then there’s a roller-skating ref whose life’s dream is to go to Hawaii and a glamorous glittering chanteuse. Add to this a talented team of musicians and a DJ and decks and the night is sorted.

Where it becomes a little unstuck is where it tries to be more than this: more than the thoroughly fun immersive experience that it is and more than what we read into it ourselves. There’s some superficially ‘deep and meaningful’ poetry and spoken interludes that don’t add much to the evening. And in the well timed breaks there are some choreographed pieces that don’t really come up to scratch by some of the better dancers in the audience who it turns out were plants all along (and are also local dancers who’ve only had a week to rehearse).

While it seems that the concept of resurrecting the dance marathon is very much one for our times in this renewed age of austerity, this glibly drawn comparison is where it falls down. This Dance Marathon is about fun and about the experience, not about desperate poverty and dancing till your feet bleed simply to find a way out of poverty. But leaving this aside, there is so much else about this concept that works: the audience as the show (a theme of several shows in this festival), the game of chance, the spaces in between, and about us as individuals and as part of a crowd.

As participants we’re more active in this theatrical experience than in most, and so we have the time both to engage and to reflect. The spaces in between the spectacle give us pause for thought. The dancing mirrors life in its randomness, going along quite well and then suddenly being pulled up for no apparent reason, someone being picked out above another, one person’s joy being another’s loss. And for another participant, probably a totally different set of musings or even none at all.

Oh, and for the record I didn’t win (reader, I was cheated), but I had fun dancing – and that frankly is the point of the night.