Why We Travel

Photo by Siriomi Joy Photography

If you ask dancers who take their swing seriously – either as a hardcore hobby or at a professional level – what it was that got them hooked on swing dancing, one of the most common answers is “traveling.”

But what IS traveling for swing dance events? If you’re new to a scene the concept can easily sound overwhelming; carpooling, housing, workshops – it’s all new, and it’s a lot! But fear not! This post is here to break down the process for dancers who are new to the idea, as well as provide encouragement and insight from other dancers around the midwest!

What are dance weekends?
You’re usually going to run into two different kinds of weekend events; traditional exchanges and workshop weekends.

  • Traditional exchanges are generally comprised of a Friday evening dance, a Saturday afternoon and evening dance, and a Sunday afternoon dance, with late night dances that run anywhere from 2-4am or later on one or both of the first two evenings.
  • Workshop weekends still have Friday and Saturday evening dances, and usually one or both late nights, as well as the Sunday afternoon dance. What’s different about a workshop weekend is the classes! The hosting scene brings in the best local, regional, national, or sometimes even international swing dance instructors to teach classes on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. There are different class tracks for different dance levels, and if you’re not sure where you belong there’s usually an audition process to help place you where you’ll learn the most.

We put out a survey and got back over 40 responses. In the survey we asked dancers if they had a preference for either type of dance weekend, and while 41% replied “I don’t care, just let me dance!”, it’s worth noting that 49% said they prefer workshop weekends. Workshops are a great way to not only improve your skills (and keep your dance ego in check), but to meet other dancers from the region, and meet new instructors whom you can go home and YouTube for endless hours of inspiration! (Or maybe that’s just me.)

Many events have live jazz bands that play incredible music and offer an unforgettable atmosphere, and many events offer different kinds of competitions dancers can enter – the prizes are frequently passes to other regional events; placing well in competitions can be a way to greatly reduce the cost of frequent dance traveling.

How does travel work? And where do you stay?

  • For events within a reasonable (or semi-reasonable) driving distance 90% of the dancers we surveyed said that they choose to carpool to and from events with other dancers either some or all of the time. While you can certainly always drive yourself, carpooling helps bring down the cost of the weekend, and several dancers recommended it as a great way to get to know the people in your scene.
  • Nearly every event offers housing! Housing is a beautiful example of the trust and hospitality of the swing dance community: dancers from the scene hosting the event open their homes for visiting dancers to crash – for free. You’re guaranteed floor space and a shower, sparing you the cost of a hotel! While carpooling is a great way to get to know people from your own scene, requesting housing through the event is a wonderful way to get to know dancers from the scenes you travel to. 73% percent of survey respondents said they most frequently lodge with other dancers, 17% said they prefer to stay in hotels, and about 10% said they like to house with friends and family they happen to know in the city that they’re visiting.

Cool! This sounds great – how do I get started?

Once you’ve found an event you’d like to attend, step one is registering!

Registration opening for a dance event is similar to tickets going on sale for a concert. There’s a date they start selling passes in advance, and there’s a date after which passes can only be bought at the door. These dates can be found at the event website, or on the event’s Facebook page, if it has one. Over 80% of people in the survey said that it was friends who convinced them to travel to their first event – if this is you, ask your friends to walk you through the registration process! If you’ve grabbed a flyer or found an event on Facebook that you’re interested in, the event website should be listed there; check out the website and it should tell you everything you need to know, as well as give you a way to get a hold of the event organizers if you have any questions.

It’s worth noting that most events have tiered pricing, whether by date or by the number of passes sold. It’s almost always cheaper to get your pass as far in advance as possible, so once you’ve decided to go – register ASAP!

What Do I Need to Bring?

Almost 70% of our survey respondents said that they attended an event hosted by one of their home scenes before traveling out of town; if your first event is somewhere you can drive back and forth to from home, you’re in luck when it comes to packing! A well-stocked dance bag (see end-of post bonus!) and maybe an extra change of shirt (for sweat) or a comfy set of clothes (for the late night) is all you’ll need to bring along.

If you’re headed out of town, you’ll need a little bit more! If you’re staying in a hotel – you won’t need to worry about any bedding. If you’re staying with friends or family, or especially if you’ve requested housing through the event, make sure you check with your host so you know what to bring in terms of sleeping bags, blankets, pillows etc. Make sure you have your toiletries at hand – soap, deodorant (!!!), and a towel at least.

Plan your outfits ahead so you don’t drag your whole wardrobe with you to and from an event! If there’s a live band playing the evening dances you’ll probably want to take advantage of the opportunity to dress up! Evening dances are always dressier than afternoon dances, and Sunday dances are usually much more relaxed – everyone’s worn out from the weekend! For classes you’ll want something comfortable that you can move in, and you’ll always, always want more fresh, clean socks than you think you do.

If you don’t have a pair of shoes dedicated to dancing, you might want to think about getting some, as not all venues appreciate or even allow outside shoes on the floor. They don’t need to be anything fancy – just something that gives you some of that magic balance between grip and slip, and doesn’t get worn outside.

This sounds like a pretty sweet deal. Are there any cons to this?

As with anything – there are. We asked dancers who took our survey to tell us their least favorite thing about dance weekends, and the two responses that kept popping up were that events can get expensive, and that the drives can get long. These are legitimate observations, and here’s a few ways to combat them:

  • Volunteer! Almost every event offers volunteer opportunities for which they reimburse you! You can work the door, help with set up and tear down, and more. You’ll make connections, meet people, and make the number on the event price tag smaller for yourself.
  • Carpool! But with people you trust. While it can be a great way to get to know people better,  what is a tolerable car ride with someone you enjoy, or a boring car ride alone, is a miserable maelstrom of terror if you wind up in a teensy-tiny space with someone it turns out that you can’t stand. So pick good fiends, and good music (or an audio book!), and give yourself a lot of extra time to get where you’re going. This makes things cheaper AND makes the drive more worthwhile.
  • Request housing. It can be hit-or-miss and not everyone’s housing stories are pleasant – but most of the time it’s great, and it can save you literal hundreds versus a hotel.
  • Pack food! Granola bars, nuts, non-easily-crushable fruit, heck – even bring a cooler if you want! Food is one of the fastest ways to rack up additional expenses on a dance weekend, so plan ahead either by bringing your own food, or allotting a certain amount of money for eating out and sticking to it so you don’t stress.

You said there would be advice from other dancers – can I have that?

You betcha’! Here’s what those who have traveled before you want you to know:

  • Go with friends! You like them, it only makes sense to take them along, right? Plus, having people you know makes the whole thing seem a lot more manageable if you’re anxious, introverted, or just plain nervous.
  • Meet people! Carpooling and housing are two great ways to do this that we’ve already talked about, but grabbing lunch or dinner with other dancers, putting some effort into being social with those you find yourself in lessons with, and not being afraid to be your silly, awesome self will help ensure that you leave the event with more friends than you came with.
  • Keep snacks at hand, and if you get grumpy – much!
  • Decide ahead of time to be in the best mood you can be in – stay happy! Not everything always goes as planned, but a lot of the time we control how much fun we have, and how much we get out of an event.
  • DANCE. More specifically, ask other people to dance. Don’t wait to be asked! This popped up time and time again in all areas of the survey. Everyone (and I do mean literally everyone) gets jittery about asking people to dance – be brave and take the initiative. Don’t be intimidated by skill levels! You’ll have fun and you’ll be so glad you asked!

One of the last questions in the survey was asking people what they would say to someone who was on the fence about traveling if they only had 30 seconds to convince them to do the thing, so without further ado, I’m going to let the amazing people who took our survey speak for themselves:

“It’s addictive. You travel to one city and you make friends from another city. And then when those friends have an event in their city, you can’t just not go. But when you do, you make more friends. And it just keeps going.”

“You’ll make so many friends your head will explode, in a good way. Like with glitter and confetti.”

“It is totally a different experience. You should do it. Not travelling develops wrong habits of dancing –  gives a wrong picture of ideal dance. Specially if most of your dance scene do not travel. Be a part of the larger international Lindy hop community by travelling and meeting the dancers of other scenes.”

“This is how I’ve made life long friends all over the country!”

“It’s a great opportunity to learn styles, tips, and tricks not common in your home dance scene. And checking out the scene in other cities is a great reassurance that you’d still have plenty to do if you move to a new place.”

“Travel to all the things, you’ll learn so much, make so many new friends and memories, and chances are you’ll get to see a super-cool band.”

“When you travel it seems like everyone knows everyone, if you keep traveling, one day that can be you, too.”

And, my personal favorite:

“Just do it! Do it! Don’t let your dreams be dreams!”

Come and travel with us! Let other dancers in the scene know which events you’re interested in – whether you’re just starting or you’ve been traveling for years – post about them in the SwingColumbus community page on Facebook! Be a part of the world-wide community of swing dancers, get to know people from all over the country, help grow your region and your scene, and help grow yourself as a dancer and as a person.

If you’re looking for a dance weekend to get you started, click here to find out about Columbus Lindy & Blues Exchange 11, also known as CBus! It’s right here in Columbus, has 4 incredible live bands lined up, and is shaping up to be an amazing weekend!

We had a bonus question on the survey, asking everyone to share what was in their dance bag, and we’re bringing their answers to you to help you stock yours up if you don’t have one yet! Here are some of the most popular responses to “What’s in your dance bag?”

  • Shoes
  • Water bottle
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Deodorant
  • Athletic tape, sprain wraps, etc.
  • Mints
  • A hand fan
  • Snacks
  • Phone and phone charger
  • Extra shirt/dance shorts
  • Hand towel (for sweat)
  • hair ties
  • Safety pins
  • Ibuprofen
  • A small amount of cash