I previously shared why everyone should go on a dance weekender or congress. Now I’m sharing what actually happens on one. Obviously everyone’s experience is different but after going on both Ceroc Escape weekenders, and Jive Addiction and Midland Swing weekenders, I can certainly share from my point of view.
For those who have no idea what a dance weekender is, they’re essentially a weekend of dance. Workshops, classes, freestyle nights and social dancing through the day – wherever and whenever. Dancers travel from all over the country, usually taking over a holiday park (modern jive) or hotels (WCS, salsa, some modern jive) and dance from Friday night to early Monday morning. There’s often classes in dance styles other than that of the actual event giving dancers of all levels the chance to learn and socialise.
My theory is everyone’s experience changes and moves along a spectrum, dependent on how many weekenders you’ve been on. The infographic below highlights the key differences.
The main difference I’ve found is that the first few weekenders you want to do every lesson and dance all weekend. It’s achievable but you will need to eat and sleep at some point (don’t live on energy drinks all weekend like one of my roommates one time did.
I used to (like many newbies) go to classes all day each day of the weekender. Why not? You’ve paid for it and you just want to try everything and meet lots of new people. My advice would be carry on doing that if you want to, just take spare comfortable shoes (several pairs of different heights if you usually wear heels) and deep heat/cool spray for back ache. It’ll likely mean you’ll do less freestyle but that’s the choice to make.
If you’re a newer beginner-improver level, make sure you do classes at that level to consolidate your learning rather than launching straight into advanced. You won’t keep up in huge classes. And watch and listen. There’s nothing more annoying than classes that state intermediate-advanced, but is full of people who can’t follow a class, can’t grasp rotation and can’t understand direction. The key is to tune out the noise of everyone else chatting away so you can understand what’s being taught.
If you’ve been dancing a while and do a dips and drops class, don’t just drop your partner into the move without checking you’re safe and she’s in position. The follower has the say in how deep or low. My recommendation for followers in rotation is to make it clear upfront if you’ve got any reservations or niggles with each partner. If you’re 6 ft and partnered with a 5ft female leader, you need to adjust as well as the follower.
There will be freestyle slots through the day and night. Don’t be scared of being the first on the dance floor in broad daylight. It’s a great opportunity to be seen as someone willing to get up and dance.
Daytime freestyles are often in the bars (or outside on decking if in the summer). I always found these the scariest to get dancing in because everyone tends to be in there socialising. So it’s harder to work out who wants to be approached to dance. But it’s a chilled out vibe, often with DJ slots for anyone who puts their name down for one, so you can hear a lot of different music to dance to.
In the evenings it will be a bun fight if you’re a follower and want to ask the good dancers to dance. And before midnight the main room will be packed. If you want to dance with specific people, you will have to ask.
My recommendation is not to stick in one area. I tended to move around the room to find different people to dance with. You will find that a lot of teachers stick to one area (often by the stage by the DJ) usually because they’re catching up. Some people would say leave the teachers to themselves, but I say do as them to dance. Just be aware they might say no. Just don’t stalk them (ssh, I may have been a bit close to this loitering in the past). Sometimes it’s worth just hanging around to watch them dance. It’s a great way to get styling tips from watching dancers better than yourself.
If you’re lucky you’ll ask someone random to dance, have a great dance, then be gobsmacked afterwards to see them in the showcase, and find them teaching a class the next day. They’re the best type of dances – asking random people to dance and having a lovely surprise.
Second rooms (or third)
There will always e a second room, sometimes more, for freestyles. The genre of music will vary according to the second dance genre being featured at that weekender. But there will usually be a ‘blues’ or chill out room, often catering for west coast swing and/or argentine tango as well.
The chill out room for a newbie can feel daunting. Even years down the line I find it harder than the main room. I remember watching at my first few weekenders, and thinking it’s a bit voyeuristic, especially with the closeness of blues. But once you get on the dance floor you will get into it. If you like dancing to a mix of music, be prepared to do a lot of walking between rooms.
Unless you go on a dance holiday or to Lux or Swish, you can pretty much rely on your accommodation being basic. Let’s just say, I would never choose to go to Pontins on a holiday with my family, but for a weekender, it’s just about bearable. Even if you pay for the better chalets, they’re still not great. Obviously it will vary depending on the weekender and organiser. Ultimately it doesn’t really matter because you’re not in the room much. If you’re there with friends, that also helps make it more acceptable.
Chances are there will be an issue. Something will be missing or broken. You just get used to calling maintenance or taking even more contingency supplies the next time you go on a weekender.
Tips to make dance weekender accommodation better
- Take fairy lights
- Book with friends
- Take your own bedding
- Take music (don’t annoy your neighbours too much)
- Arrange beforehand what you need to take as a chalet or room and split the load. You don’t need 4 hairdryers or straighteners
- Take slippers or flip flops depending on the time of year – for comfort and protecting the feet from grim carpets
- Blankets especially for non-summer weekenders
- If you’re paying for an electricity card you will get obsessed with working out how much electricity each appliance uses. Clue – it’s hot water
- Save your unused electricity cards for the next weekender
- Pay for a parking spot if on offer and car share. It’s much more fun.
You may have the best intentions but unless you’re at a nice place with decent restaurants, relying on eating out, you may find you’re limited to confectionery, crisps and bread from the shop. Or chicken and chips from a random serving hatch.
Tips for food during weekenders:
- If there’s a pub onsite, chsagne.eck out the sunday lunch
- On the way home, if you’re not rushing back to work, arrange to stop off somewhere for brunch with friends.
- Arrange beforehand whether you’re eating as a group or separately in your chalet. I’ve always been on a weekender with friends. We’ve usually brought 2 dishes with us to share – take one frozen to defrost for the second evening, and 1 to eat the first night. The 3rd night you can just make something straightforward like pasta. Good meals for something like this are shepherd’s pie, chilli, lasagne etc.
- Think about clubbing together and each bringing component parts for lunches, sandwiches etc. Otherwise you end up not really eating while you’re on the go. If you’re dancing a lot, make sure you’re eating enough and drinking enough water.
The dress code is usually whatever you want. Some dance weekenders will have a theme for one night, and there’s usually one night which is a bit smarter. Some people will dress up glam, and you’ll have other people who might just rock up to the evening freestyle from the daytime classes, not having changed, especially if they’re not staying up late.
There are always stalls for dance shoes and clothes. If you do buy clothes and wear them straight away, you will see lots of other people doing the same.
You will get hot but it’s handy being able to go back to your accommodation to get changed or freshened up if needed. Just watch out that you don’t fall asleep rather than making it back to the freestyle.
With shoes, I have danced a whole weekender in 3 inch dance shoes. But unless you’ve got superhuman feet, I’d suggest taking a few pairs of shoes if you have them. Certainly lower heels for girls, but even changing into a different pair halfway through the night can give your feet a change. Or stick to dance sneakers during the day and heels for the evening.
It’s pretty likely that even if you plan your evening outfits, you’ll still spend ages deciding and changing in your chalet beforehand. Where on holidays I’d always say take less than you need, for a dance weekender I always take more to have the choice on the day!
Dance weekenders in the UK
Hopefully I’ve given you some tips and an understanding of what happens on a dance weekender. It can be overwhelming at first, but the best bit is being in the dance bubble with hundreds of other people who’re as passionate about dance as you. You can’t beat the weekender buzz.
Have you done weekenders? What tips have you got for people who’ve never been? Let me know in the comments or chat on the What about Dance Facebook page