Monday, September 30, 2013

Dance congress survival guide

How to plan your dance congress trip? What do you need to pack with you? How to best prepare yourself and make the most of the event? This survival guide is particularly for you who are going to your first international dance congress. Lucky you! I wrote this from the zoukeira's point of view but I think it can be used by any dance congress traveler! If you're a beginner dancer you can also like to read my thoughts on how I became a zouk dancer (and how can others too).

To plan your zouk congress trips you may also want to look at my zouk congress calendar!

Before the congress

"I'm a beginner - am I ready for a congress?"
If you are already going to social dancing then I'd say you have passed the biggest hurdle in starting zouk, salsa, bachata or any social dance and yes, you are ready to go to a congress! Most dance events have a beginner track or open level classes. If in doubt you can always ask about what the event is like directly from the organisers or from your local teacher. A local dance event is the easiest and low budget way to start if!

Early bird catches the worm..
Congress organisers offer good deals for the early birds so as soon as you know you are going to an event book your pass! Putting a group together saves you money if there are group discounts and it's also fun to travel with your dance friends - a great chance to get them know better! If you have to travel far it's usually a safe bet to book your flight and accommodation as early as possible - remember to ask the organisers for their deals on accommodation. Tohelp you get through those long congress days get accommodation close to the congress venue!! If the workshops and parties are in different places then perhaps choose a place closer to the workshop venue as you may go there & back more than once a day but to parties usually only once (and during the night you may need a taxi anyway).

What pass?
I usually take the full pass since even if want to go to just 1-2 workshops a day it still makes more sense to get that then a party pass + individual workshops or a day pass. When you travel abroad to events you'll spend so much money on other things (travel, accommodation, food..) that is not the best place to save money. Also you'll get to meet the other dancers and the teachers better during the workshops! Private classes are best for sorting out any moves you've been struggling with and use the expertise of teachers that are not available at your home country but the congress schedule may leave you - and the teachers - very little time to do that so plan for those in advance if possible.

Plan ahead for sightseeing - and rest
If you're interested in doing some sightseeing during your congress trip (I fully recommend it!) it's best to book time for that before the event - you won't have time for it during the congress and no energy for it after. If you're there early you may also see if there's a congress pre-party ;) It is advisable to also schedule a day for resting after the congress, there or at home.

Porto Seguro - home of the Berg's Congress
Connect on social media
Facebook is possibly the best source of information for dance events. It's also a great forum to get to know dancers around the world. Always try to find the event and possibly also a group page for the local dancers on Facebook. There you usually see the latest info and can ask for information on anything even remotely related to the event and the location. If you're arriving early why not ask if someone local can show you around the city, where are the best places to eat or the quickest ways to get around...

Brush up on the local language
Congress attendees come from all over the world. English is usually all you need to get around anywhere but you can break the ice with locals by memorizing some key phrases. This holds particularly true for events in Brazil - and it never to hurts to know a little Portuguese among the zoukers! Simple "thank you", "excuse me", "can you help me", "do you speak English" and "would you like to dance with me", is a great start! In Portuguese that goes "obrigado/obrigada" (if you're male/female), "(com) licença", "você pode me ajudar", "você fala Inglês" and "gostaria de dançar comigo".

Leave your designer shoes at home
Ladies, those super high heels may make you feel like you’re on top of the world but after being on your feet for 12-18 hours a day you are ready to murder. Bring at least one pair of your most comfortable shoes to get you around outside the congress venues. You'll need at the very least 1-2 pairs of dance sneakers for workshops and 1-2 dance shoes appropriate for the party (2 pairs of heels and 1 pair of dressy sneakers is what I pack). It's good to have a couple different pairs; your feet will inevitably get tired with one and the shoes may get too wet or smelly. Light shoes are the best (you can carry more shoes and they don't weigh your feet down either). Pick your best dance shoes - this is not the time to test the new pair of heels you just bought, in stead bring the ones you've already worn in!

Wardrobe check
You might want to travel light but this is not one of those trips, sorry. In addition to those 3-10 pairs (hehe) of shoes you're taking with you, you'll need plenty of clothes. Guys will need extra t-shirts for both the workshops and the parties (you won't have time to wash them..), that's easily 3 shirts per day or more!

Girls have plenty to pack - surprise surprise. For workshops you'll manage with light clothes and dance sneakers + something warmer for the breaks (unless you are in the tropics). For parties, personally I find it's always difficult to know exactly what I want to wear - I might plan some outfits ready but on the night of the party I will most likely feel differently. "This shirt / these pants / this dress is too tight / too loose / too warm / too revealing"... Know the feeling girls & guys? ;) I try to pack different types of clothes that are easy to mix and match.

The parties may have themes so check that before you pack! You may not have time for shopping during the congress and using what you have already is a good solution to save a bit of money. Don't feel like stressing about themes? It's never frowned upon if you show up without a costume! If the theme is elaborate/specific (e.g. superheroes, aliens, mountain goats) about 10-30% have a costume, if it's generic (e.g. wear something red) then 50-90% dress to the theme.

“In rain or shine..." or snow!
A special reminder: Prepare for the local weather. For a Finn this is obvious as the climate here is fickle but I keep reminding about this in any case.. It's easy to get the congress flu anyway but you'll be considerably less likely to get to it if you wear enough warm clothes while getting home all sweaty after workshops and parties. So pack something warmer than you would normally pack for that weather! Unless you're in a place like Porto Seguro where it's always hot: there make sure you bring enough bikinis, shorts and loose tops - men will only need sandals and shorts! :D

What else? The essential packing list:
  • couple sets of earplugs to help you sleep the odd 1-5 hours you may have and they will save your ears at the parties
  • compeed so those blisters won't stop you from dancing
  • vitamins & minerals are my essential items that keep the flu and muscle cramps away
  • painkillers - trust me they will come in handy
  • chewing gum or mints will make sure you have fresh breath
  • refillable water bottle - keep yourself hydrated!
  • small notepad (paper or digital) to jot down names, numbers and sudden dance insights
  • camera to record the important moments
  • small towel is handy keep with you during the day (and night)
  • light workout bag to haul stuff around day and night - I have with me at all times a spare set of shoes, a clean shirt and if it's not above +25 a jumper and legwarmers, and also snacks, water and all the small items of the list above I can carry!
  • a couple other things "in case of emergency": needle and thread to fix that broken top/dress.. we've had bad experiences with safety pins so use them with caution! Maybe also duct tape and scissors in case you suddenly get creative with putting together a theme costume! :D

At the congress

Plan your arrival
There is not much that can prepare you for the queues at registration - except to arrive early. Make sure you don't miss that first workshop you were really looking forward to or the first shows at the congress by coming to the venue as early as you can. Usually you won't need any receipts for tickets unless you are told to bring one by the organisers - your name / ID is usually enough. It's always fun if you can rally your friends for breakfast before the workshops or dinner before the party - though that may lead you all to be even more late!! :D

Snack time!
You'll probably find shops and food vendors close or within the venue but you may have very short breaks or you run across lengthy queues. Prepare for the day ahead with a solid breakfast and bring some light snacks (such as nuts, dried fruits, müesli or protein bar) as well as a full water bottle. Keep yourself hydrated at all times: here is where less is NOT more. Some salty snacks are good to avoid muscle cramps on days when you sweat a lot!

Workshops at the Prague zouk congress
Workshop mania
Your congress days will be long. Typically 6-8 hours of workshops during the day and how-ever-many-hours-your-feet-last of party at night. Moderation is key when making your schedule for the day - don't aim to go to all the workshops, especially if you're tired. Ask yourself what is your priority and work your plan from there. Try to find the level of workshops that fit your dance experience and don't hesitate to change if you think the workshop is too easy or too difficult. Save your energy and concentration for those classes that are most important to you. If there's a lot of unfamiliar names you could even look ahead on Youtube for the teachers' demo videos to see what they're style is like and if that could interest you. The headline teachers will probably have the most crowded workshops so you may think of plan B for those hours or come early to the workshops and get a space as close to the teachers as possible. I usually get the most out of the technique and styling workshops but some prefer to learn many new sequences.. You commonly don't need a partner for the workshop and usually you get best results when you do change partners.

Q & A
So much time and money is spent to attend the workshops so make the best of it. Pay attention to what the teacher is saying at the workshop, of course, but if you have trouble nailing that move go ahead and approach the teacher during or after the workshop. It may be a very busy moment but most teachers make time to help you as they want you to make the best out of their workshop. After all, videos are available on Youtube only a couple days after the event at far less expense than booking a flight and a hotel so make your time worth while!

Save some space (and dough) for "souvenir" shopping
Like it or not, there are usually some stalls at the congress venue where they sell dance clothes, shoes, music, instructional DVDs, etc. This might be the best chance to get that CD or t-shirt you've been trying to find so bring some extra cash. And if you see something you like buy it on the first day - the vendors usually have only limited stocks with them so first come first served.

Partytime ... and showtime!
Usually shows are somewhere in the first couple hours of the party; if the shows are scheduled in the program expect them to start later and run longer than planned. If you want to stay in the party until the last dance then you may be in for a looong night but I say the professional shows are worth to check out, make sure to see them at least one night! These are the moments that often leave the budding dancers - and even the hardened ones - with the lasting impressions and give inspiration. Usually there's a videographer (or many) so just enjoy the moment!

Party night at the end of the Beach & Zouk Lambada Festival
Party hard
For most dancers the congress parties are the moments you live for!! So even if you're a beginner don't miss out on the experience! Don't hide in one corner; go ahead and look around. You can start the night by asking your friend for a dance and look for all those lovely people that you met during the workshops. Nobody is there to judge you - we've all been a beginner once. Just have fun! Don't feel you need to run after the teachers (since that's possibly the best way to spend the entire night just waiting and not dancing), there's always a lot of talent on the dance floor and your dream dance partner could be out there anywhere. The best dances are usually also the most unexpected ones! And don't forget: keep yourself hydrated and drink alcohol with moderation (the congress party is no the place to get drunk). If you're having a bad time and suddenly don't know which leg is left and which is right, then don't dwell on that; it happens at least one night out of every congress I swear. See if your mood changes - if not, then take this chance to finish the night early and come to the next congress day a bit more refreshed!

Leave energy for the last day
Last day is usually, for some mysterious reason, the best day. That's when you attend the best workshops, have the best parties and dance the most memorable dances as people get more relaxed. So don't bail out early! If you have time, check ahead for after parties... ;)

After the congress

Organise and upload the videos, train those newly learned dance moves, meet your locals dancers to recover from the "my life has no meaning after the congress" blues... and book your next congress trip asap!

Your best tips

I'd love to hear your best tips for dance congress survival!! And what ruined or saved your congress trip?? You can write them in the comments section below!

And check the congress tag for all the congress related stuff on this blog! For zouk wear you can also visit my shop :)

1 comment:

  1. One thing to add to the list!! A reader of mine pointed out I forgot to mention the sleeping mask on my packing list (thanks Kirsi!). But I think I may have forgotten to mention sleeping altogether? (I can never really get some sleep at the festivals..) So here goes: try to rest and sleep whenever you can!! And whatever you need to catch some shut-eye during the odd hours of the day and night, pack with you! :)