[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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!