Atop a giant-sized Radio Flyer wagon, the Sparkle Pops are mid-conversation, adjusting their vibrant costumes and taking in the neon spectacle.
We’re waiting for Saturday’s midnight parade to begin at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where the fourth local installment of the Electric Daisy Carnival wrapped in the wee hours of this past Monday morning.
Drawing an extreme comparison to the characters of beloved children’s board game Candyland, the dancers are saccharin-sweet in neon-striped outfits, some with crowns resembling larger-than-life peppermint candies (kandies?). The group is just one contingency of more than 500 performers (i.e.: not DJs) who help bring America’s biggest dance party to life.
So how does one end up dancing under the electric sky? Insomniac holds auditions for individual performers in the months preceding festivals, and also maintains relationships with production companies ready-at-the-go with talented artists.
“I’ve been auditioning for Insomniac shows a couple times now, and this time it panned out,” says Sparkle Pop McKenna Dean, who got her start in the electronic dance music scene up in Seattle, Washington, performing at shows on a smaller scale than the Speedway’s three-night EDM epic. “I’ve just been working my way up over the past couple years and getting experience under my belt.”
And experience is something to be treasured, as applicants from across the globe audition for the coveted performer spots at EDC each year. The Sparkle Pops’ hometowns alone range from small-town Texas to Southern California beach cities to the U.K.
“This is something I wanted to do for my own self-development, because I always do the same things in the same part of the world,” says Roxanna Clarke, a Brit who has performed at similar festivals in England. “Why not do it somewhere else and make friends?”
And friends were definitely made at the Speedway this weekend. The first floor of the media center, which served somewhat as a green room for the festival’s hundreds of performers, was constantly buzzing with conversation and laughter. A congenial sense of community could definitely be felt walking past the performers' makeshift vanities.
Clarke says she has also done dance and promotional performance work—sometimes on stilts!—on television and for other events outside of the technicolor EDM world. A number of EDC performers said they make a living off events throughout the year; some go-going at clubs, others dancing for promos and some bringing their artistry to other Insomniac festivals across the country, like Nocturnal Wonderland and Beyond Wonderland.
“I started dancing at local clubs and stuff … and finally I started getting into the festival deal because they brought Nocturnal Wonderland to Texas,” says Sparkle Pop Allie Toledo. “So I tried out for that one and I made it.”
Toledo has since performed at all of Insomniac’s Wonderland-branded fests, all while tending bar and taking classes at a local community college. She’s not alone in that, as a number of performers hold day jobs that don’t require elaborate costumes and makeup—let alone a high dosage of No-Doz to make it through their shift.
Take Dean, for example, who hits the daily grind as a corporate recruiter for a Microsoft partner company. Fellow Sparkle Pop Lauren Martinez owns her own performance company, sending out go-gos to clubs throughout Austin, Texas, each week. And Diana Le, also a Sparkle Pop, attends the University of California-Irvine full-time and works at a spray-tan salon on the side. A dance major specializing in contemporary and modern, Martinez says she started go-go dancing to put herself through school. “I actually started it because I needed money to pay for college, so doing residencies and festivals was a good way to make money. And then I fell in love with it and just never stopped doing it.”
Performers interact with the crowd in a number of ways, from roving the festival on foot in groups; to riding giant, imaginative floats throughout the Speedway; and performing at festival stages during DJ sets, all while adding some signature eye candy to the neon- and LED-heavy sensory overload. Many return to Vegas each year, taking on different characters for every EDC edition. The veterans among the Sparkle Pops said they were quite happy with their assignment this year, describing the Sparkle Pop personality similar to that of Glinda in The Wizard of Oz.
“This is new and I’m in love with this character,” says Toledo. “I just love wearing it.”
And while many were content with their costuming, sometimes that visual awesomeness can be a burden—literally. The Sparkle Pops collectively made the decision to trade off wearing the Sparkle Pop “Queen” headdress each night, which allowed those not weighed-down in peppermint to dance and show their skills more freely. Even getting into the outfits can be a hassle, as the Sparkle Pops arrived to makeup and costuming at 4 p.m., but didn’t emerge from the imaginary curtain until 8:30 p.m. “Our wigs take 1,000 bobby pins a piece,” said one Sparkle Pop.
Is all that work worth it? You’d be hard-pressed to find a performer at EDC who wouldn’t say yes.
“Getting to see all the different performers and all the costumes come together is amazing. So much work goes into all of this and creating the experience that everyone gets to enjoy out there,” says Dean. “I’ve attended as an attendee before, and it’s really awesome to be behind-the-scenes and see everything that goes into the production and just be part of that. It’s awesome.”