It’s October 22, 2021 and I’m in the train to England, on my way to Torquay to go to the All Slow Bal Weekend. Only a few years ago there were no International workshop weekends that were completely dedicated to this dance. Luckily these days are over and I have participated in most of them. Joining an International Slow Bal weekends is something I would highly recommend. It’s refreshing to learn from different teachers and to dance with a whole new set of people.
Going to an international event for the first time can be a bit scary. Therefore I give you this insight: what can you expect and what do you need to prepare for when you visit an international workshop weekend.
Different kinds of events
In the world of Swing there are different kinds of events. Every event has its own pros and cons. In Swing you have workshop weekends, exchanges, festivals and holidays. Workshop weekends usually consist of (at least) three parties and two days of workshops. The amount of workshop hours varies. Usually there is also the option to buy a party pass that gives you only access to the parties.
In an exchange there are no workshops, just parties during the weekend. The focus is more on getting to know the city and the people than on improving your skills. Some exchanges have pub crawls, games, competitions and city tours. Festivals look a lot like exchanges, but they offer some workshops. Sometimes there are longer events, lasting one week or more. This is your Swing holiday. In Slow Bal, so far we only see workshop weekends. So not much to choose there (yet).
NB: This is how we categorize the events. This is not a scientifically approved definition.
Choosing the right event for you
To find the right event for you, you need to know yourself. Are you a person who has lots of energy? Maybe a workshop weekend is the right match for you. The same applies when your purpose is to learn and upgrade your dance skills. If you rather party all night long and sleep during the day, maybe do some sightseeing, and exchange sounds like a good match. I also think that when you are a very social person who loves to make new friends, an exchange offers more possibilities to meet your needs. When you are looking for a nice purpose and destination for your yearly holiday, a Swing holiday might be your cup of tea.
Other things to consider when choosing an event
If you don’t like competitions (whether you are participating or not) it might be a waste of time to go to an event that has a lot of them. Also check YouTube videos of the international teachers to see if you feel inspired by their style. Last but not least: if you are a female lead or male follow, you might want to inquire about local customs. In some cultures it is less accepted that people dance the role they like, rather than the gender-normative role.
In general: ask around. Your dance buddies might have some good experiences with events they have visited.
Sightseeing at your destination
I’m an optimistic person and always think that during a workshop weekend I have time to explore the city. Usually this is not the case. Time flies by with your basic needs: eat-sleep-dance-rest (and repeat). If you really want to do some sightseeing in the city of your event, plan an extra day before or after the event. Another option is to only join the parties during the event. This gives you time during the day to explore.
Registration for the international event
When you are a single follow (not in life, but in dance), you might want to make sure that you are the first one to register as soon as the registration opens. If you don’t do this, there is a big chance that you will be placed on a waiting list and never make it off. Registering with a partner usually gets you in right away. Prepare this before registration opens. An additional small tips from my own experience: check the total expenses before you register. This trip has cost me a fortune (at least, way more than I expected beforehand).
Finding the right accommodation
As with every trip you make, you need to organise your travel, accommodation, local transport and food. The nice thing within the Swing dance world is that a lot of people host dancers. This is a perfect way to make new friends and get an insider’s view of the city. Also: it’s often way cheaper than other accommodations. Get in touch with the organisation to see if they mediate in getting you hosted.
But, be aware, when you get hosted it is – sort of- expected that you are social a lot of the time. If you don’t feel like this, hosting might not be for you. I usually book a room via Airbnb as I like some alone time during events. Another thing you might want to check out, are the workshop and party locations. Sometimes they are quite far apart and you have to choose between travelling far after the party or for workshops.
What you should bring to an international dance event
Without making you a whole packing list, there are definitely some things I would recommend to take with you. First of all: at least two pair of dancing shoes. Your feet need the change in order to survive the workout they are going to get. Bring some party outfits, but also outfits to wear during the workshops.
Note: the Sunday tea dance is often straight after the last workshop, so you don’t have time to change (unless you use the bathroom). Also pack some stuff to make your muscles happy. This might be a massage ball, some muscle cream, heating/cooling pack or a brace. Extra tip: bring a local delicacy from your home town to give to your host or new dancing friends. I brought a pack of Kruidnoten on this journey, although they might be finished before I arrive.
How to survive the dance event
Tip one: rest whenever you can. Naps are your friend. Tip two: eat and drink enough. With drinking we don’t mean alcohol and coffee. You might even want to go slow on these beverages as they usually don’t do that much good when you need to be fit the whole weekend. So hydrate! Tip three: stretch regularly, at least before and after workshops and/or parties. Take care of your body. Tip four: dance events are more fun with friends. So either take some or make some.
About going to events with friends
Going to an event with one or more friends can definitely be a super nice experience. You get to know each other better, maybe even for the first time outside of your local dance scene. There is a possible downside though. When you travel with your own bubble of dance friends, you might be less open to get to know new people.
Personally, I really like making new Slow Bal dance friends, especially since the Slow Bal scene is still so small. It feels like being part of a close community. One does not exclude the other, so even when you do travel with a friend, you can still make new friends. Just make sure you aren’t solely focussed on the people you came with.
How to get the most out of your learning experience
If you really want to make the moves and techniques your own, so you can take them home with you, there are some things that you can do. First and foremost, pay attention during the workshops and never think that general feedback that is given by the teacher doesn’t apply to you. Know that it is quite common when you film a recap (with your own phone) after each workshops. Usually the teachers or organisers facilitate this.
In addition you can replicate the move after the workshop and let someone film you, so you can see where you need to improve. Most events have a teacher demonstration and I usually try to film this as well for inspiration. Make sure you have your phone nearby and charged during the parties. Practice the things you learned during the event, for example during the parties. This way you make them your own right away.
Ask your teachers for a dance
During parties it’s super nice to dance with your class mates and other dancers in the event, but don’t forget to ask your teachers for a dance. I know that this can be very scary and I remember that during my first 5 or 6 years of dancing I didn’t dare to ask a teacher for a dance. I was simply too afraid I wasn’t good enough or that they might not enjoy dancing with me. But I can tell you, this is all rubbish. Most teachers in the Swing dance community teach because they love to dance. They dance for the fun. So having a dance with you for fun is just what they need. Don’t be shy, ask them for a dance and enjoy it. Forget about being a perfect dancer and not making mistakes. Focus on living in the moment and fully enjoying it.
One small note: don’t ask your teachers for feedback on your dancing during a party. Teaching belongs in the class room during workshops. At parties we relax and enjoy the dancing.
Taking a private lesson with the teacher
If you´re serious about learning Slow Bal, taking a private lesson with one of the international teachers might be a good idea. Often it´s possible to arrange for a 30 or 60 minutes session. You can contact the organisation to ask if they facilitate this or contact the international teacher directly via their website of Facebook. Make sure that you know what you want work on (have a question in mind) and choose the teacher based on that. If going international feels like too big of a step for now, you can also consider taking private lessons with your local teacher.
After the international Slow Bal event
Plan your next international Slow Bal event to avoid an after-event-dip.