So, you’ve taken the plunge. You went online and bought your first congress ticket. Congratulations! Maybe your friend talked you into it. Or, perhaps the event caught your eye and you really want a vacation.
Whatever the reason, you will never forget your first event.
A lot of first-timers get nervous before their first event. Most of this stems from not knowing what to expect! Let’s fix that.
There’s two types of first-time attendees: beginner dancers, and people who have been dancing for a while but never traveled.
Tips for beginner dancers
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Attend beginner or open-level workshops
Even better: some events have special tracks dedicated to complete newbies. Cherish those. In newbie-specific tracks, you will meet other people that you can practice and chat with. The people in your class will all be in the same place and learning the same things as you, so it makes them perfect instant-friends.
Go to other workshops – as an observer
While we love it when beginners come to congresses, more advanced dancers can get frustrated if you join high-level workshops but aren’t familiar with the concepts.
If you want to take a peek at the higher-level workshops and it’s included in your event pass, go ahead! Just make sure you remain as an observer, or take a buddy to practice on the side.
Feel free to tell people you’re a beginner
In most genres, seasoned dancers are very welcoming to newbies. If you are really nervous, you can let them know that you’re a beginner. Many seasoned dancers will respond well to this and adjust their dancing accordingly.
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Tips for all first-time congress attendees
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Buy your pass early
It can be tempting to put off buying your pass – but you will almost always get the best deals early. There’s many people who put off buying a pass, and then get sad when they realize they’ve missed the Early Bird deadline or the lower rate has sold out!
Congresses are very social
If you’re going alone, don’t worry. You will make friends. The smaller the event, the easier it is to connect with new people.
If you want to connect, take advantage of group dinners, classes, and practices. It’s much easier to strike up a new friendship during the day than during peak social-dance hours. Another option for making new friends is to volunteer at the event.
A great way for insta-friends is to find a bed in someone’s room. You can also book a room yourself, and then advertise extra bed space. It’s a great way to meet people from around the world. Many people looking for a spare bed will also be travelling solo or with 1-2 other friends!
If you’re planning to get a room yourself, you should book early. Most events have a special hotel – but the rooms sell out or the rates expire at least a month before the event.
It can be easy to go over budget at a congress. Plan for your travel, hotel, pass, and other expenses in advance. Remember that most events also have a shoe vendor or other salesperson. If you want to buy, set aside some money for that as well.
If money is tight, you may also want to consider volunteering at the congress.
Plan what you want to do, but try a bit of everything
If it’s your first congress, you’re in a great position to see what your favourite parts are! Some people are workshop junkies, others social dance ’til the wee hours. Sample a little of everything, and it will put you in a great position to select and enjoy future congresses as well.
At the same time, you can’t do absolutely all of everything and maintain your sanity at most events. There’s just too much.
If you want to social dance until 6am, don’t plan on doing all workshops from 10am onwards, going to dinner, and then social dancing again. You risk burnout, illness, grumpiness, or sleeping through the next night of social dancing!
Pick your workshops
There’s a cap to how much you can absorb in a day of workshops. Pick the ones you care about, and attend those. Also keep in mind that ‘big names’ draw huge crowds – regardless of level or their teaching ability. Some of these workshops are great, but others turn into a zoo – especially if people aren’t respecting levels.
Pick your level appropriately. The level of dancing at congresses is always higher than your local dance scene’s level. You may want to ‘level down’ – especially at your first congress. It never hurts to take a workshop below your skill level, but leveling up can leave you confused, unable to grasp the material fully, or slowing down a room full of dancers with way more experience than you.
If a workshop is a zoo, feel free to go peek into another room. You may find another one works better for you.
Check the themes
A lot of events have themes or dress codes for particular nights. It’s always a good idea to check in advance. Themes aren’t mandatory, but they tend to look great for pictures and are fun to participate in!
Understand the nighttime social dancing
At evening parties, there’s usually 3 or 4 distinct components:
Shows or Competitions
Most events have shows or competitions at some point during the evening. Typically, the ‘highlight’ entertainment is on Saturday night. In a performance schedule, the strongest routines are usually saved for the opening and closing acts.
Some people enjoy watching shows and competitions – especially when it involves the pro’s. Try it at least once, to see if you enjoy it.
Shows and competitions can either be before the dance, or during primetime. This varies from event to event.
Early night dancing is when beginners and first-timers tend to be dominant on the floor. If you’re looking to make connections, being there early gives you a chance to acclimatize before the evening hits primetime.
Early night is when you also have the most space to dance. For newer dancers, this can relieve some of the pressure of needing to watch out for other couples.
This is when everyone is out. Beginners, first-time congress attendees, and seasoned dancers. This is usually when you’ll see the pro’s out as well. Primetime can be very crowded, and floorcraft very important.
Depending on your genre, primetime can be anytime between 10 and 2 am. Typically, it starts 1-2 hours after the ‘start’ of social dancing, and ends 2-3 hours after that.
As the night gets later, the dancefloor gets less crowded. Usually, more experimental music is played as well. This is where people tend to have both a large amount of social dance experience and lots of room.
Late night is when you’ll find social dance addicts. You may have a few professionals and beginners out, but it’s far fewer. Pro’s need to sleep, and most beginners have gone to bed.
You will probably be sleep-deprived
Make sure you set aside sleeping time. My personal minimum is 6 hours. I can’t do less than that. Other people are expert nappers, and grab sporadic hours throughout the day. Not my thing, but some people love it.
Even if you budget for at least a reasonable amount of sleep, you will almost certainly be tired by the end of the weekend. If you have to work on the Monday, make sure you budget extra time on Sunday night to recover – or that you have a plan to get through the next day.
Don’t forget to eat and hydrate!
Seriously. Forgetting to eat is a thing. If you can, pack lots of easy and nutritious snacks that don’t need a fridge. Bonus points if you can actually bring full meals. It’s way too easy to forget to drink and eat at events.
Some people bring regular or electric coolers. I’ve also seen portable microwaves. It’s also a good idea to check if there’s a mini-fridge or a microwave in the hotel rooms ahead of your arrival.
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Do you have any tips for first-time congress attendees? Leave them in the comments!