It's tiaras and ringlets galore as 3,000 Irish dancers reel into Belfast
Published 29/10/2013 | 12:00
Bouncing curly wigs of all colours, oodles of fake tan, tiaras, long white socks, vibrant frocks, and a sea of diamante.
It can only be the All-Ireland Dancing Championships.
Some 3,000 dancers, aged from eight to their late 20s, have travelled from as far away as Russia to take part in the eight-day competition at Belfast's Waterfront Hall.
It's an expensive hobby, with dresses alone costing £1,000-plus, then there is the wig (£50-100), make-up and diamante.
On stage, the competition is fierce with dancers either competing in teams (ceilis) or solo.
To get to this competitive standard, dancers need to train at least three times a week.
Jane Coelho brought her daughter Tara (12) over from New York to compete in the competition.
"We have been here for a week," Mrs Coelho said. "Tara is interested in Irish dancing because of her Irish roots. She used to watch the Lord Of The Dance video and imitate all the moves, so we took her to a class and she has been doing it ever since."
Tara said: "It is fun to be able to dress up and put on the make-up. I won't get behind at school being here as they have given me some work to take with me."
Tara's dance school in New York has just merged with the Doherty School in Belfast to create an international school, allowing students to go on exchanges.
The curly tresses and heavy make-up may not be everybody's cup of tea, but Alison Quigley, who has her own school, is keen to point out that it is just a costume.
"You can say that you don't agree with the wigs, the make-up and dresses, but it is a costume, it is a stage. You wouldn't go down the street wearing them.
"The younger ones and beginners at the school aren't allowed to wear make-up. They are only allowed wigs. The little ones are still very simply dressed and it is all about them doing their one-two-threes and winning a medal at the end.
"It may put people off, but if I had to do it all over again, I would still do it.
"I started dancing from when I could walk and danced until I was 21."
The All-Ireland Dancing Championships began in 1932.
This year there is a return to more traditional dances as competitors are required to perform steps which can be traced back to the dance masters of the 19th century. Their history is evident in the awards.
Some of the silver cups date back well into the last century.