Friday, February 18, 2011

Tips for a Great Congress Experience

I've had some fantastic congress experiences in the last year so I thought I'd share some tips in case you're considering going to one or have already gone and didn't have as good a time as you hoped. If you're already a pro at the at congress experience, feel free to share your tips by commenting to this post. If you've never gone to one before - DO IT!

plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose
I'm writing this specifically for folks (like me) who like to know what plans are ahead of time and make decisions accordingly. In the world of congresses, there is a LOT in flux all the time so plan for change - it is a constant.

A long weekend of workshops and dancing for anyone at any level interested in dance. There are events all over the world for all sorts of dances. Just check out this site Worl Salsa Festivals to get an idea of just how many there are. [NOTE: This site isn't the only resource to use, just search through Google or any other search engine of choice to find out.] I've attended salsa and bachata congresses so my experiences reference those dance types specifically. A congress is an event that bring together dance fans, dancers, instructors, musicians and performers from all over the world. You have the opportunity to take workshops, see performances and dance with folks from other cities / states / countries.

Its like dance camp  - for adults!

The event lasts over a long weekend and is typically held in a hotel near the airport of the host city OR in a hotel with the capacity for large functions. Festivities usually start on Thursday evening and end by Sunday. Occasionally, there will be Monday activities targeted to folks that decide to hang around a little longer before heading home. Thursday starts with a pre-party at a local club or at the hotel. Workshops are held Friday, Saturday and Sunday followed by performances and then social dancing with DJ (and/or live band). The peak of quality of performances and attendance is typically on Saturday as many people tend to leave sometime on Sunday.  

WHAT DO YOU WANT?  Workshops, Performances, Social Dancing, the Experience or All of the Above?

If you go for the workshops, be warned that schedules generally don't get published until closer to the event itself. So, if you're going just for the workshops, you may have to decide things with not all the information available. Bear in mind that schedules are pretty fluid: they can change during the event as well. Check the  performer and instructor lists to give you some idea about who's going to be there that might be teaching. Workshops are typically held during the day through early evening (10am to 6pm) on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The levels of the workshops can vary. If you're looking to experience a variety of instructors, this is certainly the right venue for that. If you're looking for very specific techniques and training, this is likely not the right venue unless you schedule privates with the instructors that will be there (an additional expense that you will have to coordinate with the event coordinators and/or instructors themselves).

There will be a mix of  "headliners" and local teams performing through out the weekend. The program schedule for who's dancing when is also one that doesn't get finalized till the event gets closer. The performer line-up will be updated periodically so you can see who will be performing. Typically Saturday performances have all the big names and will be the longest one. If you're going for performances, then you should shoot for Fri, Sat and Sunday night stays. Performances are typically from 9:30 to 11:00, before social dancing begins.

Social Dancing
Social dancing happens every night till wee am hours (3am, 4am, sometimes 5am). After performances wrap up, there is usually a small break so that the venue can be setup for social dancing (chairs are put away, etc.) so dancing sometimes doesn't start till midnight depending on the performance schedule. At some congresses, there will be dancing before the performances begin but that's usually attended by a smaller group. Depending on what you're after for social dancing, this has been my experience about the 'flavor' of  each night.

Friday nights are like going to a "new place" for the first time. There will be lots of people and I think in general, some initial trepidation to ask newer people to dance. This is where if you go with a nice group, you'll be able to still dance and then from there, new dances can take off. My experience has been that with the group I go with, I can dance comfortably with people I already know, we can get warmed up, strut our stuff (yes, there's a little of this element to show that you can dance, you're in a brand new venue with people that don't know you) and then continue with the rest of the night.

Saturday is the "big" night - everyone and anyone will be in attendance. If you're like me at all, I feel a bit lost when there's so many people. These large well attended nights can sometimes feel like a combat zone to me. I feel like I need to "work" to get a dance and that's when I feel less comfortable. There's a feeling of people watching to see if you're any good and of course, lines of people waiting to dance with the superstars. If you're someone that thrives on the large crowd and energy Saturday is definitely the best night for you.

For me, Sunday is the best night. Its not as crowded because some folks have left to go home and everyone that's there for performances or event organizing is way more relaxed. They can let their hair down and just kick back and enjoy the night. Also, you've now spent 2 or 3 days at the event and have met more people and danced with more people at workshops and other social dances so you're not "new" anymore. There is no more "saving energy" since its the last night to party it up! I find it more relaxing and definitely a lot more fun. 

Most of the time, the congress workshops and activities are packed into 3 days, there's really no time to explore the surroundings. Sometimes, the surroundings are basically the airport that you arrived in. So, if you're thinking about the overall experience, do a little research about where the congress if being held. There are all sorts of different places from a sunny beach, to a cruise ship or an all inclusive resort. 

Tip #1: Go with the right group of people
I think this can make or break your congress experience unless you are truly one of those extroverts who just thrives being in a  new place with new faces. For me, it can be bit overwhelming and the company of familiar friends is very welcome. Not only can you share the experience with people you care about, you can also dance with your friends and "strut your stuff" to get your dance mojo on before drifting out into the "wild" to meet with the rest of the people around you. Being with friends won't stop you from enjoying the experience of meeting new people or doing something different . Dancing is such a social thing, its just that much more fun for me to share a congress experience with friends who are just as crazy about dancing as me.

Tip #2: Get Some Sleep Beforehand and After
Seriously, there's very little time to sleep if you want to do everything that's available so get sleep before hand! If you can afford it, give yourself time to recover when you get back. There are breaks during the activities for eating and napping so use them wisely. Sometimes, between performances and dancing, you may be able to take a catnap. Dancing usually goes till the wee am hours, so you have an hour or more (depending on the venue) after the performance to catch a quick reboot before heading back out the dance you socks off.

Tip #3: Ask Someone Who's been to that Event Before
This isn't always possible but because schedules and event information change so much prior to the big shebang AND you have these great ticket deals way in advance of all the juicy details. It helps to find out who's been to the event before and what to expect. You can also contact the event organizer directly with specific questions.

Tip #4: Go with the Flow
Change is a constant so don't be wedded to anything and be flexible and open to new things. You can plan a little bit but the best experience will probably be a combination of doing what you wanted and keeping an open mind. Don't be afraid to try anything once and don't be shy! I've been blessed with some of my more memorable dances and interactions with people as a result of things "not going as planned".

Tip #5: Have a GREAT TIME!
This goes without saying and doesn't need a whole lot of explaining but its important enough so, here it is!
Leave your worries behind and soak up the experience: eat, sleep (if you can) and dance (lots) !

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