Yeah baby he's got it! Bananarama, Pontins and the brutally funny dance-off

In 1987, Dan Watson’s dance routine failed to nab first prize from a panel of pesky bluecoats. He revisits this haunting childhood experience in his new comedy show, Venus

Good art often chimes with our own life experiences and gives us cause to reflect on our memories, loves, hopes and fears. But rarely is the connection quite this niche.

In 1987, a roughly seven-year-old Dan Watson failed to win a dance contest at a Pontins holiday camp. It’s an experience that haunts him, to the extent that, 32 years later, his comedy-dance-theatre show Venus is all about it.

Watching Watson’s show at the Place in London, I felt a spooky sense of deja vu – and an empathetic bitterness. Because somewhere around the same time, maybe even that same summer, I too entered a holiday camp dance competition and didn’t win. I danced my socks off and my heart out to Rick Astley’s Never Gonna Give You Up, only to place a disappointing second. We were in north Wales. The winner was called Cerys. “They picked the local girl,” my mum said, kindly.

Until now, I’d never met anyone who shares this very particular chagrin (although Watson’s 80s pop totem was Bananarama, not Rick Astley): the blow of having your dancefloor joy blemished by a panel of bluecoats. Yet Watson’s show doesn’t come with sourness, but rather with wistful nostalgia and self-reflection, hopeful reinvention, generous spirit and a lot of good jokes.

Hopefu reinvention … Dan Watson’s Venus.
Hopefu reinvention … Dan Watson’s Venus. Photograph: Holly Revell

Of course, ironically, Watson did become a dancer (although there’s a good line in the show from his late nan about that), working at the more maverick end of dance and physical theatre with the likes of Gecko, Wendy Houstoun and Nigel Charnock. This lo-fi one-man show is more about the chat than the dance: Watson is great company, full of nervous energy and good humour as he dives back into his Pontins memories. They begin with an unexpected triumph, thrashing obliviously about the stage to the Sweet’s Wig Wam Bam to find himself crowned Cherry Pepsi Disco Winner. His prize was four cans of fizzy pop and a place in the grand finals. But that small victory only leads him to huge disappointment and some brutal lessons about the dance industry, such as the terrifying nature of well-drilled tween girls split-leaping in sparkly Lycra, and the realisation that just being yourself isn’t always good enough.

Venus climaxes by revisiting that fateful night, in a scene that is three and a half minutes of pure joie de vivre. It’s the most winning thing I’ve experienced in a theatre for ages. The question Watson sets himself is whether you can rewrite history and create another version of the past. It’s something that I had already put into practice three decades ago, when it turned out the second place trophy I won wasn’t silver but a smaller version of the winner’s gold one. So when I got home, I just let people think I’d come first. In the interest of an honest victory, though, I would 100% challenge Cerys to a rematch.


Lyndsey Winship

The GuardianTramp

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