Off to a dance festival but don't really know what to expect? How to plan a trip to a dance congress? What do you need to pack with you? How to best prepare yourself and make the most of the event?
Lucky you, going to a dance event - they're so much fun! This is the fully updated survival guide for you who are going to your first international dance event or you who want to have remind yourself of what to pack and prepare for. First we look at where to go, then other preparations for the event, then how to survive the event itself and what to do after!
Where to go?
This is the question I hear so often; Which events are you going to? The options are pretty much endless. No matter your dance style, you'll be sure to find more and more events locally and internationally. The lists of artist names, shiny flyer pictures and descriptions sound tempting. The biggest events may not be the best, the smallest may not be the coziest, the most far away may not be the most exotic and what your friends like may not be what you like. How to decide? Everybody has some of their own criteria - I can suggest some things for you to weigh in:
Type of event: Do you like big or small events? Which dance styles are featured in the event?
Location: Do you want to travel near or far? Do you want to do some sightseeing in a city, relax on the beach, meet some friends? Want to see a new place or visit one that's familiar? Is it easy to get there from where you live? Is it a good time of the year to visit that place (in terms of weather or costs)?
Budget: How much can you spend on a full pass, accommodation, meals and travel? Do you want something that's all-inclusive (e.g. meals and accommodation)? Do you want to visit more than one event?
People: Which artists are in the event? Are there a lot of social dancers attending? Are your friends going?
Organisation: How is the event organised, is it easy to make to bookings and find information? Are all the workshops and parties in the same venue? Is there accommodation near the venue? Is the venue big enough for the amount of people? If there's more than one dance style in the event are there a separate dance floor in the party for each dance style and enough artists & social dancers for each style? Are there competitions and do you want to take part in them?
These are just to give you an idea what you can look into. Obviously it may not be possible especially for a first-timer to find answers for all of those questions - and would take too much time to find those answers. Also, what has happened in the past may not be the same for the future events. It's also fun to be a little surprised and plan everything to a tee.
Zouk event calendar
For zouk events, a list of all the major congresses & festivals can be found in the Zouk congress calendar.
For the latest news on the zouk events read more in the What's hot (and what's not) on the 2015 zouk congress calendar).
Zouk event stories and reviews
First-hand stories and detailed information about zouk events can be found in these posts:
PREPARATIONS BEFORE THE EVENT
"I'm a beginner - am I ready for a congress?"
If you've been going out social dancing for a few months then I'd say you have passed the biggest hurdle in starting zouk, salsa, kizomba, bachata, WCS 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, but check the event schedule or send a message to the event organisers directly to ask what level of dance skills they recommend you to have. You can also ask your local teacher for advice on this. It's a good idea also to join a local group for your first event. If you're in doubt still, try first attending a local dance event; it's the easiest and cheapest way to start off!
Early bird catches the worm - passes and classes
Congress organisers offer good deals for those that register early so as soon as you know you are going to an event book your pass! Putting a group together can save you and your friends' money as quite often there are group discounts. It's also fun to travel with your dance friends - a great chance to get them know better! Unless you can travel by car or have a place to stay at a friend, then it's usually a safe bet to also book your flight and accommodation as early as possible. More about accommodation in the next section.
What pass to get?
I usually take the full pass even if want to go do just 1-2 workshops a day, just for the convenience of not having to make my choices before the event. Most times a full pass is cheaper than 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 in my opinion the event pass is not the best place to save money. Also if you're not a "seasoned veteran" the workshops are a great place to meet other dancers and to get to know the teachers! It's good to check the list of artist for the event and 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. This will help you in planning your days once you're at the congress.
If you just want to dance the nights away and sleep, relax or sight-see the days then the party pass is the best option for you.
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 unfortunately, the congress schedule may leave you (as well as the teachers) very little time to do that! If you already know in beforehand that you want to book a class with a particular teacher then do that in advance if possible. Get in touch with the congress organisers or the teachers themselves.
Don't leave your accommodation to the last minute. Remember to ask the organisers if they have arranged accommodation options or or deals with local hotels/hostels. To help you get through those long congress days & nights get accommodation close to the congress venue!! Check if all the workshops and the parties are in the same place. 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).
Plan ahead for life outside the event - 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. If you've got yourself a full pass you won't have time or the energy 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-parties or local socials where you can already meet some of the local dancers. It is advisable to also schedule a day for resting after the congress, there or at home.
Keep in track with the 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 page for the congress you are going to and possibly also a group page for the local dancers. There you usually see the latest information and can ask any questions related to the event and the location. If you're arriving early why not even see if some of the local dancers can show you around the city?
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.
All the essential for your trips to Brazil are in this post:
Traveling dancer's vocabulary: English - Portuguese (Brazil)
You might want to travel light but this is not one of those trips, sorry. In addition to the 3-10 pairs of shoes you're taking with you, you'll need plenty of clothes. Bring a pile of t-shirts/tops and pants/bottoms - no matter if you're a guy or a girl. You need plenty to replace the ones you sweat through in the workshops and parties.
The workshops you'll manage with light sports clothes and dance sneakers (ladies may need heels in some of the workshops too). If you're not in the tropics, bring something warmer for the breaks.
For parties, personally I find it 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. I try to pack different types of clothes that are easy to mix and match. The parties may also have themes so check that before you close your suitcase. If you don't feel like dressing up for the theme nights, don't worry, 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 10-50% have a costume, if it's generic (e.g. wear something red) then 50-90% dress to the theme.
Leave your designer shoes at home
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, depending how much you sweat and how often you like or need to change shoes. 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).
Ladies - a quick reminder; 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. Also, this is not the time to test out the new pair of heels you just bought, instead bring the ones you've already worn in!
“In rain or shine"
Like whenever you travel, prepare for the local weather. The weathers change and you might be out & about all day (and night) so it's good to have some options. 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. Some of the venues may have super strong air conditioning so extra sweater and long pants or leg warmers for ladies are always handy to have. 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: then make sure you bring enough bikinis, short pants and dresses, and loose tops - men will only need light t-shirts, sandals and shorts there. If you're in a beach location never forget your super-light beach towel, a hat or scarf, flip flops and swim wear!
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, jewelry, 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. 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".
What else? My essential packing list - the things I keep forgetting I need:
- A couple sets of earplugs to help you sleep the 1-5 hours you may have and save your ears at the parties.
- Sleeping mask, cause you and your roommate may not sleep the same hours - that, together withe earplugs should help.
- Compeed patches / stick 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. And of course any prescription meds or medical supplies you may need before finding a local pharmacy.
- Chewing gum or mints will make sure you have fresh breath all day and night.
- Refillable water bottle to keep yourself hydrated!
- Small snacks of your choice so you don't have to find a shop right away, especially if traveling long distances.
- Small notepad (paper or digital) to jot down names, numbers and sudden dance insights.
- Camera to record the important moments.
- USB memory stick to copy music or videos.
- Portable speaker and some new music charged up on your ipod / cell phone for the impromptu in-room preparty.
- Wine bottle opener, for wine, obviously.
- Small towel is handy keep with you during the day (and night).
- Light workout bag or a string bag to carry extra stuff around day and night. I usually 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, some snacks (nuts, fruits..), water bottle and all the small items of the list above I can carry!
- For wardrobe emergencies I like to have with me a needle and thread (use safety pins with caution!).
- Scissors are always handy. And avid traveler carries a bit of duct tape in case a bag falls apart or you suddenly get creative with putting together a theme costume.
At the event
Plan your arrival
There isn't much that can prepare you for the queues at registration - except to arrive early. Make sure you get to the venue a bit early to not miss that first workshop you were really looking forward to. Check what kind of receipt or ID you need to have with you for registration; at most events your name / ID is enough. It's always fun if you can rally your friends for breakfast before the first workshops or dinner before the first party - though that may lead you all to be even more late!!
You'll probably find shops, kiosks and restaurants close or even within the venue but you may have very short breaks or there might be 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. I've found that some salty snacks are good to avoid muscle cramps on days when you sweat a lot! I've also found it's good for your general spirit to sometimes replace the healthier nuts and fruits with a chocolate bar.
Workshop mania - planning your days
Your congress days will be long. Typically 6-8 hours of workshops during the day (if you can make it) and how-ever-many-hours-your-feet-last of dancing during the nights. 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. You commonly don't need a partner for the workshop and usually you get best results when you do change partners.
Try to find the level of workshops that fit your dance experience and don't hesitate to change if you think the workshop is not to your level. Beginner classes are always very insightful so don't get stressed about not being on the advanced classes. I usually get the most out of the technique and styling workshops but some prefer to learn many new sequences. The titles (such as "turn variations" or "connection") sometimes are good indicators of the class contents, sometimes not. 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. Save your energy and concentration for those classes that are most important to you.
Q & A
A lot of time and money is spent on 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, so now that you're actually there, make your time worth while!
Usually shows are somewhere in the first couple hours of the party. If the shows are scheduled in the program expect them to start a bit (a lot) later and run longer than planned. If you want to stay in the party until the last dance then you might 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 lasting impressions and give inspiration. Usually there's a videographer (or many) so you can leave your camera at home just enjoy the moment!
Partytime - relax, breathe, have fun!
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.
11 things I wish I knew when I started dancing
Don't feel you want to run after the teachers in the parties? Good, cause it's not the best way to spend the entire night, just waiting and not dancing. There's always a lot of talented, social, comfortable and fun dancers on the floor - 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 only 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. 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!
This should be a no-brainer but feels like you forget it sometimes: Sleep. Whenever you can. It will make your weekend or week more enjoyable I you feel a slightest bit alive. And it will get you home in one piece... I remember so many horrid trips back home, wondering at a bus station or an airport how to prevent myself from missing that bus or plane just because I'm falling asleep with my eyes open, while standing.
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, stay for the after parties...
After the congress
Organize 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! What ruined or saved your congress trip? You can write them in the comments section below!
Find the best Zouk events
Take a look at the Zouk congress calendar and the latest event posts below!