#FrugalCongressLife Resource Spotlight: Stretching and Core Training Apps

[DISCLOSURE: At the time of writing I am not affiliated with not have been hired to promote any of the other companies or services mentioned in this article.

Any exercise program or regimen carries with it an inherent risk of injury. Consult a doctor before beginning any physical exercise program or regimen.

Read and follow any and all safety instructions on any exercise product that you purchase for your use.

All advice presented in this article is presented as is with no liability to #FrugalCongressLife or the author.]

Welcome to part two of our three part series on fitness resources for the traveling dancer for National Physical Fitness and Sports Month!

Last time we discussed resistance bands, a portable and versatile alternative to free weights and gyms for getting a full-body workout in on the go. The full-body beach-muscle workouts you get from weightlifting or resistance band training programs are certainly very important to strength and fitness for dancers. However, as I said last week, two of the most important salient components of physical fitness for dancers specifically are touched on only briefly by most weightlifting and resistance training programs aimed at bodybuilders, and can be done without a gym, weights, bands, or anything of the sort.

Those components are stretching/flexibility and core training. Training the core, in addition to training the lats, is very important to keeping a dancer’s frame solid, as much of a dancer’s frame comes from the core. Stretching and flexibility are important, particularly for follows who are led into moves requiring flexibility,

The following smartphone apps present comprehensive stretching and core training programs to increase your flexibility and strengthen your abs and core. The exercises shown in the apps are exercises you only need your body and some floor space for and can be done in your hotel room easily, although I would do them while you’re in the room by yourself if you have a lot of roommates as they do take up some real estate on the floor.

High-level dancers and performers will undoubtedly already have stretching and core training programs very similar to those shown in the apps in place already, but the apps offer an excellent framework to beginners just getting into stretching and core training, as well as structured programs.

STRETCHING AND FLEXIBILITY

Start Stretching from Gregory Dunn and Health & Fitness comes with a free stretching program featuring such foundational stretches as the rear hand clasp, shoulder extension, back bend, and lying twist, and two paid premium regular and advanced programs. The app also offers stats on which stretches you have done and for how long, and times you when you select a stretch in addition to showing you the proper form for the stretch in detail both with words and pictures. Stretch duration and countdown times can be customized in the app.

Sworkit’s Stretching app offers three programs: Full Body Stretch, Head To Toe Stretch, and Pilates Essentials, offering a very similar program of stretches as the Start Stretching app. You pick the amount of time you want to spend stretching in minutes, and the app gives you a structured program with a new stretch every 30 seconds, accompanied by videos demonstrating the stretch in detail, and all you have to do is follow along with the voice instructions.

ABS AND CORE TRAINING

Sworkit’s Abs And Core app offers three programs: Awesome Abs, Complete Core, and Back Strength. Each workout program offers exercises critical to core strength such as the plank, the situp, the 6-and-hold, the twist, the hundreds, and many others. The workout structure is identical to the stretching app.

Both Sworkit’s stretching app and their abs and core app can be connected to your phone’s health app and any music apps on your phone.

The most comprehensive free alternative on the app store is Abs Workout from Fast Builder Limited. The app comes with a staggering eight different workout plans ranging from beginner to advanced: Beginner Abs, Beginner Core, 7 Minute Abs, Ab Blaster, Core Trainer, Plank Challenge, Angel Abs, and the toughest of them all, Hard Core. Workout times range from 7 to 21 minutes. You are shown a preview of the workout before starting and letting the voice guidance take you through your workout in a manner very similar to the other apps.

The app can be configured to skip the countdown seconds, voice guidance, and halfway prompt, as well as connect to Apple Health.

CONCLUSION

Stretching and core training are some of the most pivotal exercises for a dancer’s fitness and long-term health, and we hope these apps are useful to you in reaching your goals in this area.

If the hotel-room workouts just aren’t cutting it for you, next week we will be covering a possibly revolutionary new app that could make gym access on the road much easier – stay tuned!

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#FrugalCongressLife Resource Spotlight: Resistance Bands – The Portable Gym

[DISCLOSURE: At the time of writing I am not affiliated with Bodylastics or Blake Kassel nor have I been hired to promote any of their products. At the time of writing I am not affiliated with not have been hired to promote any of the other companies or services mentioned in this article.

Any exercise program or regimen carries with it an inherent risk of injury. Consult a doctor before beginning any physical exercise program or regimen.

Read and follow any and all safety instructions on any exercise product that you purchase for your use especially weights or resistance bands.

All advice presented in this article is presented as is with no liability to #FrugalCongressLife or the author.]

Happy National Physical Fitness and Sports Month! As many dancers know, physical fitness is very important for both leads and follows, not only for looking one’s best, but also for avoiding injury, successfully executing the more athletic and dynamic moves present in certain dances, and increasing one’s overall longevity as a dancer. For the month of May, which has been recognized as National Physical Fitness and Sports Month since 1983, #FrugalCongressLife will be doing a special three-part Resource Spotlight series on resources to help dancers work out and maintain physical fitness on the road.

As anyone who travels and is into fitness is well aware, hotel gyms vary wildly in terms of equipment and quality. I’ve seen hotel gyms that are as good as or better than any commercial gym, and hotel gyms that are literally just one treadmill and a handful of small dumbbells going up to 20 pounds. Of course, many hotels, particularly the budget hotels, do not even have gyms to begin with. The latter two scenarios present a challenge to the fitness-minded traveling dancer who couldn’t get all their workouts in during the week or whose specific workout regimen demands working out 6+ days a week and now needs to carve out an hour to work out at the congress.

I will be discussing a few different solutions in this series, the first of which are resistance bands. Resistance bands are bands made of durable latex that provide resistance similar to, but not exactly the same as, that of a free weight for muscle-building resistance exercises.

A variety of different free-weight resistance training exercises such as curls, chest presses, and lateral raises can be duplicated using resistance bands. Additionally, the durable anchors that come with many of the higher end brands of resistance bands allow them to be anchored to doors or other objects, allowing many cable-machine exercises such as cable rows, crossovers, and tricep pushdowns to be replicated with resistance bands as well. Generally different colored bands in a given set have different thickness and therefore different levels of resistance, measured in pounds. Pulling or pushing a band rated at 20 pounds of resistance, for example is about the same as lifting a 17 pound free weight.

Resistance bands are very compact, have a very low footprint, and are effectively a portable gym that can be packed in even the tightest of Spirit Airlines bags effortlessly, depending of course on how many you bring with you and what attachments.

The gold standard for resistance bands that I have used before and personally recommend is Bodylastics, a dedicated manufacturer of resistance bands started by bodybuilder Blake Kassel in 1994. Bodylastics bands are stackable, meaning they have carabiner clips attached to the end of each band that attach to durable handles included in most resistance band packages, meaning different bands at a variety of different resistance levels can be combined to create even more resistance.

A full list of Bodylastics’ different resistance band packages can be found here and several different programs of resistance band exercises can be found here.  The 404-pound “Super Human Strength” package may be overkill for those just starting out, but one of the four smaller sets, priced from $28.95 to $68.95 and ranging from 96 to 202 pounds of total stackable resistance, should be more than enough for most people and should pack right into your luggage easily.  

Each package comes with two different anchors for anchoring your bands to solid objects for cable-style exercises.  The door anchor threads through a door to stay in place once its closed allowing you to loop the band through the anchor.  Be warned that some of the more fragile doors out there can be broken by attaching heavy resistance bands to it by an anchor and pulling.  If you are in a hotel room by yourself, your hotel door should be durable enough to withstand this, but note that it completely ties up the door allowing no one in or out, so probably not the best choice if you have roommates.  Your best choice in this case is to use the Anywhere Anchor, tie it to a light pole or other SOLID grounded object that can withstand a lot of heavy pulling outside, and attach your bands. 

Resistance bands are best used in conjunction with bodyweight exercises in a workout program.  Band-resisted pushups are very good chest exercises in this capacity.  A set of flat resistance bands such as those offered by The X Bands is recommended for band-resisted pushups, as they stay in place more easily than the Bodylastics bands in this exercise. 

I have used resistance bands as a form of resistance training while traveling, to rehabilitate injuries, and also while recovering from injury as a way of easing back into free-weight training. My personal verdict is that they do not replace free weights, but are an acceptable substitute in a pinch, and working out with them is better than not working out at all.

It seems like I am shilling for Bodylastics, but I am not – I find them to be objectively the highest-quality and most versatile resistance band system on the market today.

Of course, some of the most important exercises for any dancer can be done without weights or bands. The next part of this series will discuss various smartphone apps for stretching and core exercises – be on the lookout!

#FrugalCongressTourism: Baltimore, MD – Crabtowne

[DISCLOSURE: As of the time of this writing, I am not directly affiliated with nor have been sponsored or hired by Crabtowne or any other companies or organizations whose services I mention in this article – everything you read from me regarding these companies is my objective advice. Any advice in this blog does not constitute legal or medical advice and is provided as is with no liability to #FrugalCongressLife or the author.]

[EXTRA DISCLOSURE: I wrote almost all of this entry while listening to the Street Fighter II and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles original arcade soundtracks, because what else would I listen to while writing an article like this?]

As promised, we’re going to go off the beaten path with our second #FrugalCongressTourism entry for Baltimore this month in anticipation of the Baltimore Salsa Bachata Congress next weekend. This entry is for all the dancers who like seafood, video games, vintage video arcades, or some combination of all three.

We kept it in downtown Baltimore pretty close to the BSBC hotel for the first part of this informal series, but for part two, we’re going to go about 20 minutes south of the downtown Baltimore area to the working-class suburb of Glen Burnie, MD to visit Crabtowne, a small independently owned seafood joint located just off a busy stretch of Crain Highway.

“A seafood restaurant?” you ask me, “That’s tourism? How is this place different from any other seafood restaurant in America?”

How about the most comprehensive fully operational old-school video game arcade anywhere in the immediate vicinity, for starters?

For my younger readers who don’t remember the 1980s/1990s heyday of video arcades, I’ll drop a brief history lesson. Video arcades were rooms full of large vertical stand-alone coin-operated video game cabinets (pictures in the link) featuring one video game per cabinet that you could play for anywhere from one to four quarters per round. Yes, only one game per cabinet, generally (a rare few were two-in-one). Yes, the cabinets were really that big. Yes, quarters only. No, I don’t know how we survived back then either.

Video arcades began to gather steam in the late 1970s and flourished throughout the 1980s and the 1990s, long before smartphones and today’s generation of high-definition home video game consoles. Back then, coin-operated arcade cabinets provided a superior audio and visual experience to the home consoles of the time, although scaled-down home console ports of arcade classics such as Street Fighter II, Donkey Kong, Mortal Kombat, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Space Invaders did enjoy success. Another advantage of video arcades at the time was public availability and a pay-per-individual-game-played pricing model for anyone who didn’t own home video game consoles for whatever reason.

In addition to dedicated video arcades, sometimes bars, restaurants, laundromats, bowling alleys, and other similar establishments would feature video arcade cabinets in order to keep the kids busy or pull in some extra revenue, and amusement parks such as Wild World (now Six Flags America) maintained video arcades.

Video arcades and coin-operated video arcade machines began a slow decline in popularity around the early 2000s as home video game console technology began to catch up with video arcades and are today mostly a niche nostalgia experience for those of us who remember their heyday or younger folks who want to see what it was all about back then, although of course a few non-nostalgia-oriented establishments still own and maintain arcade machines.

Various spots around the US such as the Barcade chain in the northeastern US, and, to a lesser extent, the Dave & Busters chain in the US serve this nostalgic niche, and then there’s Crabtowne in Baltimore.

GENERAL INFO:

CITY: Glen Burnie, MD (near Baltimore)

ATTRACTION: Crabtowne

ADDRESS:

1500 Crain Hwy S

Glen Burnie, Maryland 21061

WEBSITE: http://www.crab-towne.com

COST: Varies – food items are around $8-15, arcade machines are 25 cents per play generally

HOURS: 11am-11pm Monday-Saturday, 11am-10pm Sunday, kitchen closes an hour before the restaurant

MINIMUM TIME NEEDED TO SEE: Varies depending on how you get there and how engrossed in the games you get

TRAVEL TIMES (ONE WAY)

FROM BALTIMORE SALSA BACHATA CONGRESS: About 17-20 minutes by car, UBER, or Lyft, about an hour and a half by light rail/bus combo

FROM BWI AIRPORT: About 10-12 minutes by car/UBER/Lyft, about an hour and a half by light rail/bus combo

TRANSIT DIRECTIONS FROM HILTON BALTIMORE: Walk a block east on Pratt Street to Pratt Street Light Rail Stat, take Light Rail – Bwi Airport | Cromwell Station to Patapsco & Light Rail Stat, walk to Patapsco Light Rail Station Bay 3 – 14091, take the 70 bus toward Annapolis to Crain Hwy & Oak Manor Dr, Crabtowne is the blue building with the Crabtowne sign out front visible from the bus stop

TRANSIT DIRECTIONS FROM BWI: Walk to light rail stop, take Light Rail – Hunt Valley to Linthicum Lt Rail, change platforms to Light Rail Cromwell Station, take Light Rail – Cromwell Station to Cromwell Station & Glen Burnie, walk to Cromwell Light Rail Station Bay 2 – 14138, take the 69 bus toward Jumpers Hole to Crain Hwy & Main Ave SB and walk about 15 minutes south on Crain Hwy to Crabtowne

Baltimore and all its surrounding suburbs including Glen Burnie are supported by Citymapper as part of their combined DC/Baltimore package. Unfortunately, neither Via, UberPOOL, or Shared Lyft are available in the Baltimore area at press time — it’s either UberX or regular Lyft (which can of course be split between multiple festival attendees) if you’re going the rideshare route.

A very normal un-fussy cafeteria-style seafood restaurant is located at the front of this unassuming blue building. However, once you enter the back room located just to the right of the service counter, you will be whisked away to yesteryear as you are greeted by a large room full of old-school video arcade machines and pinball machines (lovingly maintained in perfect condition by a local company called Game Time specializing in vintage arcade machine maintenance), and your ears fill with the familiar cacophony of several arcade machines all playing their respective in-game sounds at once. Well, familiar to anyone who remembers video arcades, anyway.

“Wait… pinball machines?” – youngins

Remember that pinball game on Windows that some of you used to play when you were bored and the Internet was down? Think real-life mechanical non-computer version of that. First appearing as early as the 1940s and popular during the 1960s and 1970s, pinball machines were the mechanical analog precursor to the video arcade machine, and were often themed around a band, movie, or similar concept.

Make sure you bring quarters in abundance, because just like old times, these games run on QUARTERS. If you did not bring enough quarters and need more, Crabtowne has plenty of change machines in good working condition.

The selection of games in the arcade spanning the full glory days of video arcades from 1977-2000 or thereabouts includes, but is not limited to: Arkanoid, Asteroids*, Blitz 99, Centipede*, Donkey Kong, Final Fight, Galaga*, Klax, Mario Bros., Mortal Kombat 1/2/Ultimate, Ms. Pacman, Pacman, Street Fighter II (Champion Edition, the first of approximately 18,000 different remakes of SF2), Pole Position, Q-Bert, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Terminator 2, Tetris, The Simpsons, and Tron.

For the starred games, Crabtowne owns and maintains two separate cabinets located in both the arcade and the restaurant.

Another very notable machine found in Crabtowne’s arcade is Vs. Super Mario Bros., a special arcade port of Nintendo’s revolutionary 1985 NES platforming classic Super Mario Bros. and a rare example of a game originating on home consoles later ported to the arcade (the Vs. Super Mario Bros port was released to arcades in 1986, a year after the NES original). This cabinet is rare and Crabtowne is one of the few places where you can find it.

The selection of pinball machines includes, but is not limited to: Baby Pac Man, Chicago, Cyclone, Dirty Harry, Ghostbusters, KISS (both the 1979 and 2006 editions!), Playboy, Terminator 3, The Addams Family, Strikes And Spaces, Twilight Zone, Twister, and World Cup Soccer.

The full list of arcade and pinball machines can, of course, be found on Crabtowne’s website.

Of course, this IS still a restaurant as well, and the food menu offers excellent seafood, pizza, sandwiches, and other such items at very reasonable prices. Although anyone here for the weekend will obviously miss the weekly specials, the value meals offer an entree, a side, and a can of soda for the low price of $8.99 between 10am and 4pm. The bar offers very competitive prices for beer and wine as well as such signature drinks as the Ms. Pacman and the Crabtowne Cosmo and seasonal drinks such as the Apple Cider Margarita and the Peach Sangria.

Crabtowne also hosts special night events during the week.

Expect to dedicate a few hours to fully enjoying this attraction, and for time reasons driving or splitting an UBER/Lyft there is the recommended way to get there. The evening downtime between workshops and performances on any day of the festival would be the perfect time to check this place out (unless you are going for the value meals of course). Due to Crabtowne’s relative proximity to BWI, it would be good to check out for those leaving the festival on Monday afternoon or evening with some time to kill before their flight leaves. Just don’t get so caught up in playing the games that your flight leaves without you.

Crabtowne is fairly out-of-the-way from BSBC’s downtown Baltimore location, but it is still a good off-the-beaten-path fairly inexpensive attraction that is worth checking out, especially for seafood lovers and old-school video-arcade aficionados alike. In fact, I’m about due to pay them another visit…

As always, hit the comments if you have anything else to add and I hope this helped someone!

#FrugalCongressTourism: Baltimore, MD – Top Of The World Observation Level / Baltimore Museum Of Art

For a special two-part edition of #FrugalCongressTourism for this month, we are going to go to Baltimore, MD in anticipation of the Baltimore Salsa Bachata Congress happening later this month. This first part of the series will be a two-for-one, covering two different very touristy attractions located right in downtown Baltimore, walking distance or a very short drive away from the Hilton Baltimore, where BSBC takes place. The second part of the series, dropping next week, will cover a more off the beaten path attraction located slightly further away from the congress.

The first attraction of this two-for-one entry is the Top of the World Observation Level, located on the top floor of Baltimore’s World Trade Center.

GENERAL INFO:

CITY: Baltimore, MD

ATTRACTION: Top of the World Observation Level

ADDRESS: 401 E. Pratt Street

WEBSITE: http://www.viewbaltimore.org/about

HOURS: Thursday 10am-6pm, Friday/Saturday 10am-7pm

Last tickets sold 30 minutes before closing. Special events affect regular hours, however no special events are scheduled for the weekend of BSBC at press time.

MINIMUM TIME NEEDED TO SEE: about one hour

COST: $6 for adults, $5 for 60+ or military with ID, $4 for children 3-12 years old, free for children under 3

TRAVEL TIMES (ONE WAY)

FROM BALTIMORE SALSA BACHATA CONGRESS: 13 minutes walking, 3 minute drive/UBER/Lyft, 7 minutes on public transit

TRANSIT DIRECTIONS FROM HILTON BALTIMORE:

Walk out of hotel to Pratt St & Howard Street EB – 1265, Take the NAVY or BROWN bust to Pratt Street & Gay Street FS EB, walk back down Pratt Street to the World Trade Center

7 minute trip, $1.80

The Top Of The World Observation deck, located on the 27th floor of Baltimore’s WTC and managed by the Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts, offers breathtaking 360-degree views of downtown Baltimore, MD including the Inner Harbor and the skyline. These views can be taken in either through the windows or provided binocular stations.

Fair warning: bags will be searched at the door. Leaving any nonessential items in your hotel room is advisable.

Due to the relatively early closing time, the downtime between workshops and performances won’t work as a time to see this attraction. If your chosen workshop schedule ends earlier in the afternoon, that would be a good time to see this attraction. As this is a tourist attraction, expect it to be busy at peak hours.

Group tours are available as well.

The second attraction we will cover in this two for one guide is the Baltimore Museum Of Art.

GENERAL INFO:

CITY: Baltimore, MD

ATTRACTION: Baltimore Museum Of Art

ADDRESS:

10 Art Museum Drive

Baltimore, MD 21218

WEBSITE: http://www.artbma.org/

COST: Free for everyone all the time

HOURS:

Gallery:

Thursday: 10am–5pm

Friday: 10am–5pm

Saturday: 10am–5pm

Sunday: 10am–5pm

Monday: closed

Shop:

Thursday: 10am–8pm

Friday: 10am–8pm

Saturday: 10am–8pm

Sunday: 10am–5pm

Monday: closed

MINIMUM TIME NEEDED TO SEE: 1-2 hours

TRAVEL TIMES (ONE WAY)

FROM BALTIMORE SALSA BACHATA CONGRESS: 13 minutes driving/UBER/Lyft, 26 minutes on transit

TRANSIT DIRECTIONS FROM HILTON BALTIMORE:

Walk 8 minutes east from the hotel on Pratt Street to Charles St & Pratt St NB – 121, take the MTA Silver Sv Morgan State University bus to Charles St & 31st St NB – 543, museum is visible from the bus stop.

The Baltimore Museum of Art is an expansive three-level art museum featuring special galleries for Asian art and African art on the first level, American, European, and English sporting art and textiles on the second level, and contemporary art on the second and third levels.

The museum also features a series of special exhibitions on the first and second levels. The special exhibitions that will be running around the time of the 2019 Baltimore Salsa Bachata Congress include, but are not limited to:

DIS | A Good Crisis – a video series on the impact of the 2008 financial crisis

Commons Collaboration: Get Your Life!

Subverting Beauty: African Anti-Aesthetics

Monsters & Myths: Surrealism and War in the 1930s and 1940s

Located directly outside the museum is the beautiful idyllic Janet and Alan Wurtzburger Sculpture Garden and the adjoining Ryda and Robert H Levi Sculpture Garden. These garden are open year-round Wednesday-Sunday 10am to sundown unless there is inclment weather.

The hours page on the website lists detailed rules and policies that apply to both the galleries and the sculpture gardens.

BMA also features a gift shop and Gertrude’s, a cozy restaurant serving chef John Shields’ Chesapeake Bay dishes.

Due to the museum closing in the early evening most days, the morning or during a break in workshops would be the best time to visit.

CONCLUSION:

The Top of the World Observatory and the Baltimore Museum of Art are excellent attractions to see and are both right in downtown Baltimore a short drive away from the Hilton Baltimore.

Museums and observation decks, while excellent and memorable in their own right, are along the lines of what one would expect from tourist attractions in any given city. In the second part of this informal series, we will visit an unexpected very off-the-beaten-path attraction just outside Baltimore City… tune in next week!

#FrugalCongressLife Survival Guide: Capital Congress

[DISCLOSURE: As of the time of this writing, I have no direct affiliation with Capital Congress other than being an attendee and have not been hired to promote Capital Congress in any way. As of the time of this writing, I am not affiliated with nor have been hired by any other companies or organizations whose services I mention in this article – everything you read from me regarding both the festival and the above companies is my objective advice and is presented as is with no liability to #FrugalCongressLife or the author.]

It is a great honor to cover the oldest and longest-running salsa festival in Washington, DC for this #FrugalCongressLife Survival Guide. The Capital Congress, established in 2005 by promoter Shaka Brown, has been drawing dancers to the DC area for the last 14 years for workshops, performances, parties, and socials in four dedicated ballrooms for not just salsa, but also bachata, zouk, and kizomba.

In 2019, Capital Congress is picking up and moving about 10 minutes northwest from its longtime location at the legendary Westin Alexandria to its larger and even better permanent new home at the Hilton Alexandria Mark Center, a breathtakingly gorgeous lakeside hotel located near a botanical preserve! Therefore, rather than applying our Westin Alexandria guide to this congress, we will cover the ins and outs of the brand new Capital Congress location in this guide!

Capital Congress happens from June 20th to June 24th in 2019.

PASS:

Capital Congress passes get very expensive (up to $350) the closer you get to the event. Buy as soon as possible for the best prices! We have been advertising super-low early bird prices for this event on our Facebook page in the past few months so hopefully some of you were able to jump on that!

If you are in the DC area or nearby, the Capital Congress lineup reveal party happens at Mr. Mambo’s Salsa Bachata Social at Hollywood Ballroom in Silver Spring, MD on Saturday, March 23rd, 2019 at 8:00pm. In addition to the full artist lineup being revealed for the first time, there will be raffles to win free full passes and heavily discounted full passes will also be sold. $100 full passes were sold at the lineup reveal last year. Will they be this year? Come and find out.

Party and single-day passes are sold closer to the event.

TRAVEL:

One very important amenity that sets the Hilton Alexandria Mark Center (hereafter referred to as the HAMC) apart from many other DC area hotels is a complimentary shuttle servicing both Reagan National Airport (DCA) as well as the Pentagon and King Street metro stations. This shuttle, needless to say, will be an immense help with travel logistics.

After some looking around online, I was able to find a shuttle schedule and itinerary courtesy of the National Jewish Retreat. Take a look here.

DRIVING:

Driving or rideshare is a decent option. If coming from points north of DC, be sure to account for the DC/Northern Virginia area’s infamous rush hour traffic (6am-11am, 12pm-8pm on weekdays, not kidding) in your travels.

Self-parking at the hotel is $28 per night and valet parking is $34 per night.

Your best frugal parking option if you don’t have a lot of luggage is parking at one of the Franconia-Springfield Metro station’s overnight spots for $4.75 per day (first come, first served). From there take the yellow line toward Fort Totten to the Pentagon, King Street, or National Airport stop and take the shuttle to the HAMC from there.

FLYING:

Fly into DCA (Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport) and take the complimentary shuttle to the HAMC from DCA.

FROM BWI:

Try to fly in during the day. Take the MARC or Amtrak to Washington Union Station and follow the train/bus directions from there.

From IAD:

Take an UBER or Lyft to the Wiehle-Reston Metro station. From there, take the silver line toward Largo Town Center to Rosslyn, transfer to the blue line toward Franconia-Springfield to the Pentagon City, King Street, or National Airport metro stations and take the complimentary shuttle to the HAMC from any one of those stops.

TRAIN/BUS:

Take any train or bus line to Washington Union Station. From there, take the Metro red line to Gallery Place/Chinatown, then transfer to the yellow line toward Huntington and take the yellow line to the Pentagon City, King Street, or National Airport metro stations and take the complimentary shuttle to the HAMC from any one of those stops.

See our DCBX guide for in-depth info on the DC metro as well as the MARC and Amtrak trains.

DC and the surrounding Virginia suburbs, including Alexandria, are supported by Citymapper at the time of this writing as part of their combined DC/Baltimore package.

LODGING:

There is presently an active room block for the HAMC; book your rooms for $130 per night here.

The hotel’s amenities include:

– Gorgeous lakeside setting that is also near the Winkler Botanical Preserve.

– Incredible views of Washington, DC in suites and select standard rooms

– Shuttles to and from the airport as well as the Pentagon City and King Street metro stations

– Pet-friendly policies (pets up to 75 pounds allowed with $50 deposit)

– Fitness center

– Pool

– Blackout curtains

– 42-inch widescreen TV with Complimentary HBO

– Self laundry available

Rooms in the secluded lakeside “retreat room” are also available at a lower cost (around $125 per night) for AAA members and Hilton Honors members.

As always I will provide no info on offsite options until the event hotel fully sells out. Really, the event hotel is so gorgeous and available at such a relatively low price for the area that you want to stay there anyway.

The HAMC is located at 5000 Seminary Road, Alexandria, VA.

FOOD:

The closest Wal-Mart Supercenter is located about a 20 minute drive from the HAMC in the Belle Haven neighborhood at 6303 Richmond Highway, Alexandria, VA 22306.

Target is located a considerably shorter distance away at 5115 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041. This is about an 8 minute drive from the HAMC. Whatever you save going with Wal-Mart over Target, you may spend on gas in this case. AL-AMAL Super Market is located nearby at 3817 – G S George Mason Dr, Falls Church, VA 22041 as an alternative.

There is also a Giant and a Global Food located in the nearby Shops at Mark Center at 1476 N Beauregard St, Alexandria, VA 22311. This Giant is about a 3 minute drive or 12 minute walk from the HAMC and probably the best bet for people not driving.

For your meal out, the in-hotel options include Finn & Porter, a contemporary surf and turf restaurant, as well as a sushi bar.

Food options nearby include a McDonald’s, Dairy Queen, Sardi’s Pollo A La Brasa, Subway, Noodles, Starbucks, and CVS in the same shopping center as the Giant.

Clyde’s At Mark Center and the Mark V Deli are also located about an 8 minute walk or 3 minute drive from the HAMC at 1700 N Beauregard Street and 1900 N Beauregard Street #100, respectively.

Restaurants located near Target include McDonald’s, Five Guys, District Taco, Wendy’s, Taco Bell, Popeye’s, TGI Fridays, Potbelly, Olive Garden, Longhorn Steakhouse, China Delight (Chinese food), Stone Hot Pizza,

Those craving some Habesha food will be pleased to find THREE Ethiopian restaurants in the same shopping center as AL-AMAL. These restaurants are Nazret Ethiopia Restaurant, Abay Market, and Balagger Ethiopian Restaurant and Bar.

That’s it for this survival guide! Hit the comments if you have any additional info and I’ll see you all at Capital Congress!

#FrugalCongressTourism: Washington, DC – The Monuments At Night

[DISCLOSURE: At the time of this writing, I am not directly affiliated with or sponsored by any companies or organizations whose services I mention in this article – everything you read from me is my objective advice. Any advice in this blog does not constitute legal or medical advice and is provided as is with no liability to #FrugalCongressLife or the author.]

Another new series? Yes, another new series. Last new one for a while, promise.

I got in a comfortable groove in the final months of 2018 with congress survival guides, food guides, and resource guides but in 2019 I want to shake it up a bit and do some new things whenever I find a need, and there is a need for this new series.

Why? Because dance travel is travel, as I have said before, and frequently it is the only travel the dedicated hardcore attendee of dance congresses does. While dance congresses are fun, fulfilling, transformative, and memorable experiences in and of themselves, does anyone really want their only travel memories to be one big blur of hotel ballrooms and lobbies? This could feasibly happen if you stay exclusively around the dance congress hotel doing dance congress things.

What I’m saying is, get out of the hotel for at least a few hours (in the downtime between workshops and shows, for example) and see something else in the city you are visiting. After all, you are in another part of the country and who knows when you’ll be there again?

The dilemma is that tourism and sightseeing can be at odds with living the #FrugalCongressLife and saving as much money as possible so you can do more of these dance trips.

That is where our new #FrugalCongressTourism series comes in. In this new series, I will be detailing a tourist attraction or off-the-beaten-path thing to do in a city hosting one or more dance congresses that is either free or costs less than $30 to participate in and can be reached and seen in a relatively small amount of time.

I will provide information and a review on the attraction as well as its cost, its proximity to the area’s major congresses, public transit directions from all the city’s nearby major congresses to the attraction, and other miscellaneous info.

For organizers and volunteers tasked with entertaining artists while they are in your city, these are good ideas for you as well.

For today’s #FrugalCongressTourism attraction, we are going to my current city of Washington, DC, to look at the monuments along the National Mall… after dark.

GENERAL INFO

CITY: Washington, DC

ATTRACTION: The Washington, DC Monuments at the National Mall

COST: FREE (if you do not film professionally there – see below)

HOURS: Open 24 hours, but best experienced from sundown on

MINIMUM TIME NEEDED TO SEE: about 2 hours depending on transportation and distance

TRAVEL TIMES (ONE WAY)

FROM DCBX/RENAISSANCE: 10 minutes UBER/Lyft/car, 20 minutes Metro

FROM SAWA SAWA KIZOMBA FESTIVAL/UNION STATION: 12 minutes UBER/Lyft, 22 minutes Metro

FROM SENSUAL DAY/DIW: 18 minutes UBER/Lyft, 32 minutes Metro

FROM WESTIN ALEXANDRIA: 44 minutes Metro (only realistic option, parking is nonexistent near there and UBER would be too expensive)

Not readily accessible from the Dulles location of DC Zouk Festival or Zouk Heat Festival. Would have to be a Metro/UBER combo about 1 hour and 33 minutes there one way.

DIRECTIONS FROM THE METRO:

Red line: take the red line to Metro Center and take the orange line toward New Carrolton or the blue/silver line toward Largo to Smithsonian.

Green line: take the green line to L’Enfant Plaza then take the orange, blue or silver line toward Vienna/Franconia-Springfield one stop to Smithsonian.

Orange/blue/silver lines: Take any one of these lines to Smithsonian.

The Smithsonian station is right on the National Mall and right next to the Washington Monument; you can see the Monument from there.

See our DCBX guide for information on the Metro system.

DC and all surrounding Maryland/Virginia suburbs are supported by Citymapper as part of their combined DC/Baltimore package.

The monuments can, of course, be seen at all times of the day, but as the sun goes down and after dark is really when the true spectacular glory of these iconic buildings really shines. The break between workshops and performances is the ideal time to experience the monuments as the sun goes down, but make sure you are back in time for performances.

Start with the Washington Monument at sunset, walk around to Constitution Gardens, the WWII Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the MLK Jr. Memorial, Ash Woods, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, and maybe end at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool.

A map of the National Mall can be found here.

The atmosphere of these majestic monuments at night is untouchable. As an added bonus, the National Mall and the monuments, at its busiest between 10am and 7pm, tends to be less crowded at night as well, although don’t expect to have the entire Mall to yourself, that just will not happen as the Monuments are a very popular attraction and there are bound to at least be some people there at any time of the day.

This is also a proven and tested activity to take your significant other or romantic interest on. I may or may not have taken a few dates here.

The National Mall is located in a very safe area, but use due diligence and be aware of your surroundings, especially late at night.

The Monuments would also be a good place, of course, to film a dance video if you can pull it off without attracting too much attention or getting in anyone’s way, and taking videos with a handheld consumer-level camera (such as a DSLR or phone camera with a lens adapter, which can still capture great images) does not require any permits. However, if you wish to use ANY professional video equipment including tripods, stabilizers, or high-end cameras, you need to cough up for a film permit and that’s upwards of $150 per day and will take weeks to process. There are also areas where filming is forbidden with or without a permit. Read all about the rules and the permit process here. I can not advocate any illegal activity on this blog. Make sure you are following all park rules and regulations if you decide to film a dance video here.

That’s all for this edition of #FrugalCongressTourism… this was a fairly straightforward easy frugal tourist attraction to cover, but can make for an unforgettable experience for those visiting DC for the first time or anyone who has never experienced seeing these monuments in person.

As always, hit the comments if you have anything else to add and I hope this helped someone!

#FrugalCongressLife Knowledge Bank: Hotel Roomshare Safety

[DISCLOSURE: At the time of this writing, I am not directly affiliated with or sponsored by any companies or organizations whose services I mention in this article – everything you read from me is my objective advice. Any advice in this blog does not constitute legal or medical advice and is provided as is with no liability to #FrugalCongressLife or the author.]

This new series, the second of three new series we are starting in the opening months of 2019, is called #FrugalCongressLife Knowledge Bank, and covers general tips and tricks for making your frugal congresses experience better or more fruitful that do not fit under the heading of a congress survival guide or a resource spotlight.

In less than two weeks, the 2019 US dance congress season will begin anew with the Atlanta Salsa Bachata Festival the first weekend of March and Chicago Salsa Bachata Festival the third weekend of March, and will continue until about the end of November with the Masters Of Bachata Takeover and NC Zouk Festival closing out the season. Between the end of November and the following March, the weather is generally too unpredictable and holiday activities too prevalent to realistically plan a dance congress, although outliers such as DCBX Ultimate Tropical New Year’s Eve, Orlando Bachata Kizomba Festival, and Interfusion Festival (which just happened at the Westin Alexandria last month) do happen during the winter. However, the majority of the US’s staggeringly abundant selection of dance congresses take place between March and November.

As the upcoming dance congress season kicks into high gear, many of you will be going to a lot of congresses, and most of you will be staying in hotel rooms. Staying in a hotel room by yourself can be very expensive and the costs can add up quickly. Lodging is easily the largest of the four major dance congress expenses, and while there are a number of different ways to mitigate lodging costs, the one that is publicly recommended by most people including me is a shared hotel room at the event venue (hereafter, “roomshare” – the vaguely Newspeakish term for this practice widely adopted by dance congress attendees in the US). As I have discussed many times, I recommend this option over others because it supports the event hotel and by extension, the event organizer, and is the most convenient frugal option, as well as a good way of potentially building friendships and camaraderie with fellow dancers.

The tricky thing about roomshares is that they are a short-term financial and living arrangement with one or more people that you may or may not know that well. This is a situation that requires a lot of trust, and as much as we would all love to treat the dance scene like a beautiful safe-space utopia where you can just blindly trust everyone, that would be extremely naive. Although most of the dance community’s people are good and well-intentioned, there are bad apples, even in our relatively calm, peaceful, and loving community. Additionally, there are financial predators in the dance scene who specifically target hotel roomshares to try and get something for nothing at YOUR expense.

Safety is a big concern for anyone who participates in congress hotel roomshares. With this in mind, this first edition of the #FCL Knowledge Bank is all about doing congress hotel roomshares as safely and effectively as possible.

Laura Riva’s guide on how to Be A Better Congress Roommate is required reading for the rest of this entry and a good general guideline for how to navigate hotel roomshares in any capacity.

This article is meant as a supplemental guide to Laura’s article detailing further good safety practices for hotel roomshares, and is mainly aimed at what I call “roomshare admins”, that is, people who book the rooms, put up the initial money for the rooms, the people who are generally in charge of making sure everything runs smoothly, and the people whose names and credit card numbers are first on the hotel room’s folio. In the context of hotels, a “folio” is a fancy term for the master bill detailing all charges attached to the stay for all guests in a particular room.

While this article is aimed at roomshare admins first and foremost, it is good reading for non-admins as well.

SAFETY TIPS FOR CONGRESS ROOMSHARES

BE SELECTIVE

Try to seek out people who you know are going to be calm and respectful and pay in a timely manner. Only room with random people as a last resort. First, try to room with people you have had good experiences with in the past or ask for recommendations from trusted friends. Rooming with close friends is certainly a safer bet than with people you don’t know, but I can tell you from experience that close friends are just as capable of screwing you over as anyone else — always use and trust your intuition when judging the character of people with whom you are entering into short-term (or long-term for that matter) living and financial arrangements. If you see any red flags, find someone else to room with.

LIMIT NUMBER OF PEOPLE IN ROOM

You must limit the number of people in your room to a comfortable level. It seems tempting to save more money by cramming 6-7 people into a standard hotel room, but this introduces not only safety issues, but logistical issues as well. Can you find a place for everyone to sleep? How will bathroom use be coordinated? More people in the room also means more people not on the folio – I will detail why this could be a safety issue later.

Cap it at 3 people for a standard one-king room, 4 people for a standard two-double room, and 5-6 people for a suite.

USE GROUP CHATS TO COMMUNICATE

Set up a group chat for the roomshare through text, WhatsApp, or Facebook Messenger two weeks before and add ONLY people who have paid in full (see below) to this group chat. Use the group chat to communicate anything related to the roomshare such as information on the room itself (room number), and logistical information such as when you will meet for exchange of room keys etc.

#NOPAYNOSTAY

The best practice when dealing with roomshare money is to make up-front pre-payment a non-negotiable prerequisite for securing a spot in the room for everyone involved.

Last fall, I conducted a poll on my personal Facebook page that was answered by dancers from all over the US asking whether or not you should ask your congress hotel roommates for their share of the room costs up front. The general consensus on the poll was almost unanimous: 93% of respondents agreed that room payments should be made up front and that should be non-negotiable. #NoPayNoStay, period (credit to Tim Currier for coming up with that hashtag).

Simply put, this practice weeds out flakes and financial predators almost instantly, and enforcing it establishes you as someone who won’t be walked on or put up with any BS.

The poll also confirmed that it is a common practice, so don’t let anyone tell you that it isn’t. Make sure you figure taxes and fees into the total cost as well.

Anyone who can even think about attending dance congresses consistently (especially if this attendance includes extravagant super-expensive events like Aventura Dance Cruise) can afford not to give you funny business over $60-100 or whatever relatively trivial amount of money we’re talking about.

A good system to use is to ask for a 50% refundable deposit prior to two weeks before the congress to secure the individual’s spot in the room and the remaining 50% within two weeks before the congress, after which the money becomes nonrefundable.

ON BARTERING

I would say it’s ok to do barter (wherein someone pays for the cost of their room stay with a non-sexual service of some sort such as private dance lessons or business consulting) in emergency situations with people you know and trust. I would not do barter with randoms and would encourage payment with money first and foremost for everyone.

Also, this should go without saying, but never ask for or accept sexual favors of any kind as payment for a hotel roomshare. In addition to being a sleazy and morally bankrupt thing to do, it is personally risky for you in this day and age of heightened awareness around sexual impropriety. A handful of prominent dancers have been taken down by sex scandals recently – don’t you be the next one.

SET GROUND RULES EARLY

It is not an easy discussion to have, but setting ground rules and expectations early, as Laura Riva alluded to in her article, is critical for a safe and enjoyable hotel room share experience.

Here are my standard ground rules for roomshares I‘m in charge of:

1. Anyone who sleeps or showers in the room chips in for room cost somehow ($$$ or barter).

2. Quiet hours 4am-9am.

3. No big parties (for safety reasons)

4. Ask people before touching/moving their things or sitting on their bed.

5. Keep time spent in bathroom reasonable.

6. Don’t break or mess up anything in the room.

7. No room service or restaurant charges on the room.

8. Use space in room wisely.

9. Be excellent to each other.

Make agreeing to ground rules a prerequisite for securing a spot in the room and being added to the rooms group chat.

Some of these rules seem uptight, but there are good safety reasons for all of them that I will go over, starting with…

AVOID HOSTING PARTIES OR LARGE GATHERINGS IN YOUR ROOM

There is always going to be an inherent risk with party rooms, especially with your name and payment details on the folio. If something gets broken or stolen from the room during a room party, you will be charged money for it and that could add up to hundreds of dollars depending on what is broken or stolen, so the safest practice is to avoid hosting parties in your room. Make it clear in your room’s rules that parties are not to be hosted in your room, go to the party rather than having it come to you, and seek out roommates who will do the same. There are dance organizations out there (at least in the Latin scene but probably everywhere else also) with the resources, social clout, and wherewithal to take on the risk of hosting room parties; leave the party hosting to them.

Needless to say, YOU be respectful at any room party you attend yourself, whether it’s put on by an organization or an individual. Don’t be an ass… you are NOT a rock star and trashing stuff in a hotel room will have dire consequences for both you and others.

NO FREELOADERS

Anyone who sleeps and/or showers in the room must chip in their fair share toward the cost of the room, period.

It is unfair to everyone else in the room who paid to have anyone using the room for free. Additionally, allowing people to freeload off of you also makes you a target for financial predators who want something for nothing both at that time, as well as in the future once the word gets around that you are a weak chump who is willing to let people walk all over you. That’s probably the harshest thing I have ever said on this blog, but it’s real. People might not explicitly say it about you, but they will be thinking it.

If somebody is bringing their significant other into a not-at-full-capacity room they need to let you know beforehand so the money can be divided fairly in some fashion, whether they pay their SO’s share or not.

NO ROOM SERVICE OR RESTAURANT CHARGES

While this has thankfully never happened to me, I have heard horror stories of hotel roommates charging restaurant meals and room service to the room and sticking the roomshare admin with the bill. In addition to pre-screening for respectful roommates who are not inclined to steal from you, one extra measure of protection you can take is to inform the hotel upon check-in that no room service or restaurant bills are to be charged to the room and to inform you immediately if anyone tries to. You’ll have to give up room service yourself by taking this measure of protection, but this is worth protecting yourself against an unscrupulous individual getting room service on your dime potentially.

GET AS MANY NAMES ON THE FOLIO AS POSSIBLE

Try and have as many people legitimately on the room’s folio as possible. If this means having to pay an extra $25 or whatever to have more than two people on the folio, that extra protection may be worth the extra $10-15 dollars per night.

Bottom line, the more people whose names and credit cards are on the folio, the more people who own the situation in the room and therefore have that much more extra incentive to be respectful and act right.

ONE ADDITIONAL POINT

The above are all things that any reasonable person should agree to and you should take any objections as a red flag. Full stop. There’s always someone else looking for a room at a congress.

CONCLUSION

These ugly matters are hard to talk about and hard to think about when all we want to focus on is the beauty and happiness of our dance congress scene, but these are discussions that have to happen. The dark side of dance has to be brought into the light in order to be fixed.

I hope you all have a safe congress season in your hotel roomshares, hit the comments if you have anything to add, and as always, I hope this was helpful to someone!