World dad dancing contest

World dad dancing contest I hoped would cha-cha change me into daddy cool

  • Reporter Harry Wallop went to sixth World Dad Dancing Championship in Devon
  • He thought he could saunter down to Beesands from London and get trophy
  • However, some fathers had practiced for a whole year for the contest 

Who knows if it was Conrad Gillespie’s gold lamé shorts twinned with pink leg warmers, or the sheer power of Benjamin Dawson’s hip-hop body popping, but I soon realised I faced serious and daunting competition.

I had presumed the World Dad Dancing Championship, in Devon, was going to be a fairly tame affair. That I could saunter down from London, show off my signature ‘primordial-man-emerging-from-the-swamp’ and waltz off with the trophy. How wrong I was.

The contest, now in its sixth year, is the highlight of DadFest, held in September in Beesands for fathers and their children.

There are archery lessons, a seaside trip and blackberry picking.

Harry Wallop headed to the sixth World Dad Dancing Championship in Devon in an attempt to win the trophy

He had thought that his primordial-man-emerging-from-the-swamp would win it, but some dads had spent a year practising for the contest. (Pictured: Harry with his daughter Cella, 11, and son Arthur, 7)

The dancing, however, was anything but bucolic. Before it started, Benjamin — last year’s winner — offered advice over a pint. ‘The secret,’ he says with a twinkle, ‘is to know the moves. I’ve spent the past 12 months learning The Floss, the Orange Justice, the Theresa May.’

The Theresa May?

‘Oh, yeah. You know, it’s the…’ at which point he does an uncanny impersonation of our ex-Prime Minister’s malfunctioning robot, performed to Abba’s Dancing Queen at last year’s Tory Party Conference.

‘I like to think I have elevated what dad dancing means,’ says Benjamin. ‘I am at the forefront of avant garde dad dancing.’ He is only partially joking. ‘Last year, they’d seen nothing like it. I was John Travolta on acid. The kids loved it.’

Benjamin, 38, has come from Bedfordshire with daughter Mai, five. I can see him tearing up a dancefloor. But dad dancing, surely, is about making your children squirm as you flail around to Oasis at a wedding. Isn’t it?

Ian Blackwell, founder of DadFest, chips in. ‘You are judged on embarrassment, yes, but also on funky moves. You can’t be Anton Du Beke, but you also can’t be Ricky Gervais,’ he says, spinning his arms like Gervais’s tragic David Brent character from The Office. I am starting to get worried. David Brent was what I was aiming for.

Last year’s winner Benjamin Dawson, 38, (back left) had perfected many dances including Theresa May’s ABBA shuffle

Dad dancing at the event is judged on both how much your children squirm and funky moves

All my children believe that me so much as waggling a finger in time to music is the gravest of sins. If I do my impression of a Nineties ‘raver’ in the privacy of our kitchen, my eldest, Alexander, 16, storms out.

At one exuberant dinner party he stumbled into the kitchen to see me dancing, started to groan as if he had appendicitis and told me I was ‘disgusting’.

At my 40th birthday party, shared jointly with my wife, Ram Jam’s Black Betty started up and I over-excitedly jumped from a chair to crowd-surf before giving the audience a few uncoordinated gyrations. I saw Celia, 11, beg her mother to make me stop. But if you can’t embarrass your kids at your own party, when can you?

At the dad dancing contest, though, the young ones are in control. The judges are five children, who patrol the dancefloor and tap fathers on the shoulder; if you get the tap, you retire. After ten minutes, three dads are left. There is then a three-minute dance-off to decide the winner.

The trophy is an Action Man figure spray-painted gold and the winner can go to a local pub to claim their height in beer.

If I do my impression of a Nineties ‘raver’ in the privacy of our kitchen, my eldest, Alexander, 16, storms out, writes Harry Wallop

Benjamin (5ft 11in — ‘that’s a lot of pints, in case you’re wondering’) wishes me luck and says he is off to get changed ‘into his outfit’. This throws me. I need an outfit? I fear I am facing humiliation.

I had come to DadFest with the two youngest of my four children, Celia and Arthur, seven. On the way down, Arthur said: ‘If you do your cringey dancing, I’m never going to speak to you again.’

Celia added: ‘I mean, it’s just going to be sad, divorced fathers and their unhappy children.’

Most of the festival goers, however, are happily married. Conrad, 44, says his wife Rachel ‘finds the whole thing completely embarrassing. But she loves DadFest, because she gets the whole weekend to herself’.

There are 70 fathers and 110 children attending. So, does there really need to be a festival just for fathers? Blackwell points out that mothers tend to have a support network of fellow mums, which fathers often lack.

On the way to the contest Arthur said that if his dad does any ‘cringey dancing’ he won’t speak to him again while Celia said she thought there would just be sad, divorced fathers with their children at the event

Crispian Roderick, 49, who everyone calls Rodders, adds: ‘Dads alone with their children have a different dynamic than when they’re with their wives. DadFest is all about: here’s a knife, here’s some matches, go off and do something.’

And with that he ushers us into the barn for the dancing. I’ve rustled up an orange shirt to wear. Men start to stretch their quads. I can smell the desperation.

Then the music starts. It is, appropriately enough, Boney M’s Daddy Cool. I launch into my dying swan routine, flapping my arms to the beat. I catch Arthur’s eye and to my relief he is not hiding behind his hands. Instead he gives me a thumbs up. I can do this, I think.

The child judges move around the floor like Harry Potter dementors, tapping men on the shoulder. Before I even get a chance to essay my primordial man, I feel the hand of doom. I have not made the cut. Not even close.

‘I thought you were really good,’ Celia says. It’s the nicest thing any of my children has ever said to me.

Most of the festival goers, however, are happily married. Conrad, 44, says his wife Rachel ‘finds the whole thing completely embarrassing. But she loves DadFest, because she gets the whole weekend to herself’, writes Harry Wallop

The final three in the dance off are a chap called Pete, Benjamin, and another named Zander Eliphinstone, 39, whose wig adds a shamanistic quality to his moves. At the end Rodders confers with the child judges and says the winner is Zander .

His son Jago, eight, gives him a hug. ‘I have seen him dance before. And it was very embarrassing,’ he says. And now, I ask? ‘Well, he’s a better dancer than I thought.’ You can tell Zander is chuffed.

Conrad, a two-time winner, says he gets recognised in Totnes. ‘People have said: “Wow, are you the Dad Dancing Champion?” ’

Benjamin too says winning changed his life. He had split from his wife just before last year’s DadFest. ‘It was really tough. But to come here, just me and Mai, and be crowned World Champion — that was a real boost. I’m serious. It was a sense that life could be okay again.’

I thought it was just a bit of silliness, but dad dancing is an affirmation of fatherhood. And a rather glorious one, too.

I’ll be back next year.

Source: Read Full Article