next weekend...;

Serious fans of dance music know there's just one place to be next weekend. Not the latest northern superclub or a hip one-off party in London, but the unlikely surroundings of Pontin's holiday village, Southport.

Pontin's?

Yes, Pontin's. From next Friday morning until Sunday afternoon the seaside complex will be colonised by 4,500 clubbers gathered for the 18th Southport Dance Music Weekender. It is, say the promotors, Britain's answer to Ibiza (but without the weather). This might sound like a throwback to the extended northern soul endurance tests of the 1970s and 1980s, but it is a lot more sophisticated. The twice-yearly gatherings are a chance for dedicated fans to binge on an aural extravaganza served up by 40 leading DJs and a sprinkling of the dance scene's best live acts. And why brave the mud and overflowing toilets of Glastonbury-style rock festivals when you can take over a holiday camp? Those self-catering chalets may not be Ritz- standard luxury but, honey, they're a lot more comfortable than a draughty old tent. And at pounds 75 per person including accommodation, it's good value for money.

Who had the bright idea?

In 1987, Alex Lowes, a record shop owner in the North-east, decided to hold a one-off soul weekend at a holiday camp in Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland. Six hundred people turned up, a wild time was had by all, and Alex was bitten by the organising bug. As the dance scene grew so did interest in the weekenders and 4,000 people unsuccessfully applied for tickets for the last one in November.

Who will be there?

Devotees from across Britain, and as far afield as the Czech republic, South Africa, Germany and Sweden will be in attendance. Loyalty among participants is strong - a third of the party people going next weekend have been before. Among the crowds whooping it up will be massed hordes of DJs, club promoters and music industry types. (Most of them stay off- site at smart Southport hotels, and commute to Pontin's each day.)

What is there to do?

Dance, obviously. But it's useful early on to work out what music is being played in which on-site venue so you can decide where to spend your time. The Powerhouse is the room likely to attract most attention, with top-name DJs such as Danny Rampling, Graham Park and Roger Sanchez spinning the latest house and garage tracks. The other "dance arenas" are the Soul Base, where it's slower cuts, the Sidewalk, featuring street soul and hip-hop, and jazzy grooves down at the Hip Joint. The music kicks off at around 6pm on Friday and, apart from a couple of short breaks to allow the sound and lighting crews a chance to grab some shut-eye, it will keep going until 5pm on Sunday. If you tire of dancing, stroll along the beach, swim in the Olympic-size pool or try your skills in the games room. There are plenty of bars, cafes and record stalls.

What should I wear?

Number one priority has to be comfortable footwear. Trainers are a good option, but expect to see a few kitten heels tottering around. For women, lace dresses, shantung silk and hipsters are high on the list of desirable outfits, while for men essential kit includes tight t-shirts and sportswear. But it's a safe bet that however snazzily attired you are on Friday, you'll be looking distinctly rough at the edges by close of play on Sunday.

How do I get there?

From the south, head up the M6 until it joins the M58, then take the A570 until you reach the town centre; Pontin's Holiday Village is in Ainsdale four miles south. Coming from the north, take the M6 to Preston, then the A59 and A565. Trains go from London Euston; return fares travelling on a Friday start at pounds 34.

If you can't make next weekend's dance extravaganza at Southport (and tickets are in short supply) book for the next one which starts on 8 November (for details, write to: Upnorth Promotions, PO Box 16, Chester-le-Street, County Durham DH3 3XT, or call 0191 389 0317).

Dance events are also held at Vauxhall Holiday Park, Great Yarmouth, which is the venue for a revival of the legendary Caister soul weekenders on 4-6 May and the Seduction dance weekend 4-6 October (call 0701 0702 0703 for details). For fans of 1940s and 1950s sounds, there's also a Swing, Jive and Rock 'n' Roll weekender there from 8 November (Information from Pollytone Weekenders, PO Box 124, Ruislip, Middx HA4 9BB; 01895 638584.)

HELEN NOWICKA

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