Return Of The Blog, COVID Updates, and State Of The Scene

…and we’re back. Despite my graduation from coding boot camp a few weeks ago, my schooling isn’t so much finished as it has let up a little bit, which still gives me more time to come back to this blog.

Unfortunately I return to this blog with the COVID-19 situation at the worst point it has ever been here in the United States. The much anticipated and highly feared second wave of COVID-19 kicked off at the beginning of November and has left a trail of death and devastation in its wake. Cases are surging out of control in many states and recent Thanksgiving travel and indoor gatherings will likely further exacerbate these surges. Hospitals and ICUs in many states are being strained to the breaking point and are close to running out of resources and staff. Many states have returned to the restrictions imposed in the spring in order to try and slow the spread of this new wave of the virus and California has reintroduced a limited stay-at-home order.

As for social dance, it has more or less stopped cold again in most of the country. Here in the Washington DC area, several medium sized events both indoors and outdoors held earlier in the fall resulted in outbreaks of positive COVID-19 cases and everything basically stopped after that happened. Most of the rest of the country has also stopped social dance, with the exception of a couple states that are continuing at near pre-pandemic levels despite reported outbreaks at dance events and some of the worst COVID numbers in the country (you know who you are).

The good news is multiple vaccines are on the way and an end to this pandemic is in sight. Vaccine candidates from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna both displayed over 90% effectiveness and 100% safety in phase 3 clinical trials and both companies have applied for emergency use authorization by the FDA. A third candidate, a collaboration between AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, demonstrated up to 90% effectiveness and 100% safety in phase 3 clinical trials and could also go before the FDA soon.

If approved, the first round of vaccines could start going out to healthcare workers and hospital workers as soon as two weeks from now. Production and distribution will ramp up then to teachers, hotel staff, and other essential workers into the first half of 2021 and the majority of the general population is projected to receive the vaccine around May or June (possibly a bit later). Distribution will be somewhat tricky as both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require storage at -94°F, but it is doable. Storage requirements for the AstraZeneca vaccine are reportedly not as stringent, making it easier to distribute.

For the remainder of this year and the first half of 2021, we will be watching and providing updates on the COVID-19 situation, the vaccine situation, and the state of social dance in the United States in Europe, as as well as preparing some new features and surprises so we can hit the ground running again once it is safe to social dance and hold large events again.

As for covering the few dance events that are happening this month into the first half of 2021, our stance is very simple. We will not cover ANY social dance event that is scheduled to happen before enough people are vaccinated to make large gatherings a safe prospect again. Based on what we know now the earliest this could happen is June, although there’s a good chance it could be a bit later than that.

In the meantime my personal suggestion would be to find another hobby until it is safe to social dance again. We love social dance, we dearly miss social dance, and social dance is our lifeblood, but the long-haul symptoms of COVID-19 in particular are very scary and are permanently debilitating. Let’s be honest: social dancing before it is safe to do so is not worth risking permanent disability resulting from a long-haul COVID infection, and this is not even touching on exacerbating the already out-of-control community spread of the virus. I personally plan to get back into bicycling for the next 6-8 months, both to replace the endorphins I’m missing from social dance and to shed some quarantine pounds in anticipation of my return to the floor.

One last very important reiteration: for heaven’s sake, please wear a face mask when you go out in public. There really is no good reason not to wear one, and covering your nose and mouth in public while a rapidly spreading airborne virus is killing hundreds of people daily is just common sense self protection as well as courtesy to others. Based on IHME data, we could save over 50,000 lives this winter with universal face mask use. Anti-maskism is some of the most toxic borderline sociopathic malarkey I have heard in all of my years on this earth. The lies of anti-maskers are easily debunked with 30 seconds of Googling, and the misinformation they spread has been responsible for killing people. Don’t fall for their stupidity. Wear a face mask.

I’ll be posting significant updates as they come in.


August State Of The Scene and Hiatus

I haven’t written much on this blog in the past few months because, frankly, there still hasn’t been much to write about as of the time of this writing in the late hours of August 16, 2020, COVID-19 is still wreaking havoc on America. After a relative lull in cases earlier this summer, cases are now surging again in several states, and the majority of states in America have, at the very least, seen an uptick in cases. Because of this, the vast majority of dance events, including all congresses, remain cancelled or suspended. Many dance venues have closed and others hang on by a thread.

Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine entered phase 3 clinical trials in July. Although encouraging progress has been made on multiple COVID-19 vaccines, the earliest that we could see one available to the general public, even if all goes well, is next spring.

The IHME is now predicting another large spike of COVID-19 cases throughout most of the country beginning in October and lasting through the winter, culminating in close to 300,000 deaths total in the United States. It is likely that the second spike will not be as severe as the second wave of the Spanish flu (knock wood, I hope I’m right there) but at the very least it could be a repeat of March and April if mandates are eased too extensively and guidelines regarding face masks are ignored.

Which brings me to my plea to everyone: PLEASE WEAR A FACE MASK WHENEVER YOU GO OUT IN PUBLIC. Face masks have been proven effective at stopping the spread of the coronavirus and much of the junk science pushed by anti-masker conspiracy theorists is just that: junk, and dangerous, deadly junk at that.

If you look at the IHME graph above this paragrapH, the short small green curve represents what will happen in the fall if we have mostly universal face mask wearing and the much steeper red curve represents the brutal and tragic reality we will face this fall if we do not have at least mostly universal face mask wearing and public safety mandates are eased too extensively. Which scenario do you want to be our reality in the fall? If, like most people, you want a scenario that involves a lot less death and suffering to be our reality, then please wear a face mask whenever you are out in public and especially in situations when social distancing is impossible. Wearing a face mask is not a political issue, it is an issue of common sense self-protection and self-preservation, as well as protecting your community.

I’m choosing not to cover the few dance events that are going on because the vast majority of them are private, and I don’t necessarily want to encourage people to go to the few public ones that are available at this time as I personally believe it’s too soon to begin social dancing again.

I also don’t know of many dance events because I’ve been out of the loop lately. This morning,I am entering an intensive computer programming school for the next three months, after having been in their prep program for the last three months. Therefore, from this morning on, this blog will go right back on hiatus again until the middle of November, at which time I will drop another state of the scene report. If something very groundbreaking and game changing happens regarding coronavirus and social dance before then, I will report on it on a Sunday as Sunday is the only day off per week I get from this intensive school program.

I hope everyone is doing well and is able to weather the storm in the meantime. If you must social dance right now, consider forming or participating in a quarantine dance bubble. If you must go to a public social dance event (if you are of a mind to do so, now is the time before things are anticipated to get serious in October), then please wear facemasks at all times and follow all of the event’s other guidelines without complaint.

The more we take steps to protect ourselves and stop the spread of this virus, the sooner we will be back social dancing, hugging, and hanging out in person like we did before COVID, and the sooner the dance congresses and festivals this blog faithfully covered prior to COVID will return. I wish everyone well, and I’ll be back in November.

“Is It Safe To Dance Yet?” A Comprehensive Update

[DISCLAIMER: I am NOT a doctor, epidemiologist, virologist, or health expert. This article is purely my opinion and speculation based on what I know right now, which could change rapidly. Do not base any of your short or long-term actions on any of my speculation and go by what the CDC recommends. I have no affiliation with any news organizations or other organizations cited in this article.]

I did not necessarily want to write an update so soon after my last post on this subject, but with large parts of the country opening there has been serious talk of restarting dance classes and socials and I felt I needed to address this.

First of all, I am NOT entertaining any unproven conspiracy theories. Do not waste your energy by posting them in the comments.

As we all know, large parts of the country are beginning a first phase of reopening, with the virus still spreading and a cure still a long way away. Predictably, cases are rising in the parts of the country that are reopening.

The CDC is now recommending that everyone wear a face mask in public, which some people are protesting.

A vaccine is still estimated to be about 12 to 18 months away, although some candidates are showing promise in phase one trials. Hydroxycloroquine, the drug touted by the President and others, has been proven to be ineffective and have potentially fatal side effects. Remdesivir is showing promise, but only as a therapeutic that reduces recovery time of severe cases. There is an uptick in antibody testing, but we still do not have conclusive proof that antibodies confer immunity to the virus (which means we are still a long way from “immunity cards” if that will even happen at all). Everything from llama antibodies to cannabis is being floated as a potential treatment or prophylaxis, but we do not have anything conclusive yet.

Contact tracing and selective quarantine of those in close contact with known positive cases is a long-term solution that could allow us to reopen the country and contain the virus safely, but we do not have the infrastructure in place to do this as yet.

Despite the country reopening, and maybe even partially because of it, we are not out of the woods.

The latest IHME graphs show a large delay in the expected summer drop-off of the first wave of coronavirus cases, partially due to a reduction in social distancing and the country starting to open up.

Even with cases dropping off during the summer, large dance events, with large intermingling crowds dancing less than six feet apart from one another and touching hands, are prime examples of what is known as a “super-spreader” event. As we observed in South Korea recently, all it takes is one super-spreader event to cause an explosion of new cases even in areas with the virus contained.

Worse still, if this virus follows the same course as the 1918 “Spanish Flu”, which appears to be what is happening, a brutal, deadlier second wave of the virus could be coming in the fall. During the second wave of the Spanish Flu, millions died and many parts of the country shut down entirely. Granted, it’s not 1918 anymore and things are very different, but parallels are beginning to show. China has just placed over 100 million of their citizens back into lockdown after a second wave of cases started to come up there, making a second wave here all the more likely.

So what does all of this have to do with dance? As I said, there has been some serious talk of starting in-person dance classes and large socials again as soon as later this year and I wanted to address this.

My educated assessment, based on what we know now, that holding a large dance social or a large in-person dance class any time this year is still a bad idea. A large dance social is guaranteed to be a super-spreader event, and we do not have the contact tracing and infrastructure in place to contain the explosion of cases that will result from such an event.

If a second wave does occur in the fall, holding any large dance socials is particularly unadvisable for obvious reasons.

I would say the most we can get away with dance-wise this year, as I alluded to in my last article, is small private invite-only parties of 10 people or less with mandatory temperature checks at the door during the summer when the case-load is at its lowest, and even that is pushing it, especially given that we know that this virus spreads asymptomatically.

I miss dance dearly and want to get back to it as much as anyone, but we have to be careful, responsible and methodical about getting back to normal. We will not stay in lockdown forever, or even necessarily until we have a vaccine (keeping the country shut down that long would not be sustainable), but we have to respect the new rules until we can get the infrastructure in place to open safely. No one asked for this circumstance, but this is where we are, it is what it is, and like all other crises, it’s going to take some personal sacrifice on everyone’s part to make it through.

Salsa In Crisis (Guest Post)

[This is a guest post. All views expressed in this post are the views of the author. – #FrugalCongressLife Management]

Salsa In Crisis

By Elizabeth Silleck

Salsa is saving me in this very moment. Instead of day drinking on my living room floor eating another bag of fake Doritos from my Aldi Instacart order, I’m writing this. Don’t get me wrong—I will day drink on my living room floor and demolish those “Fauxritos” (as me and my boyfriend have started calling them) at some point this week, but “just for today”, I’ve got an on2 class to teach later, a reason to stay bloat-free, and a little spark of inspiration to tell the world (ok, that’s ambitious—to tell the few on my friends list who actually read this) how, throughout the years, dancing salsa saved my ass.

When I started taking lessons in NY, I was 25 years old. My daughter was turning 10 (yes, you read that right) and becoming more interested in her friends, and I’d spent the years after graduating college pretty lost. I’d been disillusioned with my intended career path as a social worker and quit after 6 months, and had spent a few years working with unintelligent, petty people in a small medical office run by condescending and thankless doctors. I made crap money. The few friends I’d made in college had moved on and I had less and less contact with them. I didn’t know it, but I was depressed. I spent way too much time and energy on dead-end “relationships” with commitment-phobic boys. One of those ridiculous flings actually led me to a salsa class, and I was instantly obsessed. When the thing with the boy crashed and burned, I decided I HAD to keep the dancing going.

I ended up going to a studio near my job in White Plains, NY, and that was the beginning of a complete shift in my life. I met women and men at that studio who, to this day, are my closest friends. When I say that I mean they know EVERYTHING about me, they’ve seen me at my best and my worst, they’ve been there through all the victories and really, really rocky times in life, and they love me fully, including all my flaws. They are the people I think about when I need to be reassured that there are still sane, reasonable, kind and intelligent people in the world, despite the fact that these values are constantly under attack at this time in history. Salsa save #1: my friend group.

It was right around that time that, after much hesitation and procrastination, I had finally submitted an application to the law school near my job, which had an evening program; I only half-expected that I would really go. But go I did, and life was a challenge. I worked 8am-5pm at a law firm as a receptionist/legal assistant, then went to school from either 6-10pm or 8-10pm, Monday through Thursday. My weekends were consumed mostly with studying and spending time with my daughter. The only time that felt like “mine”, that provided release, where I wasn’t working or planning or processing or navigating, was when I went dancing…and go dancing I did; whenever I could, I went to classes and workshops and socials in NYC, Latin nights, house parties and even managed a few Congresses. I had a lot more energy and needed a lot less sleep then, but I have no doubt without salsa I would have had a nervous breakdown from the amount of pressure and responsibility I had day after day after day. Salsa save #2: keeping me sane during the four years I did work + law school + parenting.

Around the beginning of those four years, at one point I fell in love. It was a real relationship, not the stuff of my EARLY early 20s. He was a salsa teacher, and I learned a lot from him. Ultimately, he broke up with me and never before (or since) have I felt my heart be crushed so completely. I almost lost the will to live, if I’m being honest—only the knowledge that I needed to be there for my daughter took that off the table. It took me almost 8 months to recover from that heartbreak, and the ONLY thing—I mean, I would cry during spin class and sometimes break down in my law school classes—the ONLY thing that distracted me from the pain was dancing. Salsa save #3: helping me manage heartbreak.

Fast-forward 14 years or so, and I’m living in Florida with a man I married way too soon, with way too many idealistic notions of what that marriage would be and nothing to back it up. The distance between us grew along with the hostility, and I found myself painfully alone. I’d made attempts to form community in Florida, but I didn’t realize, in my desperation, that I was failing to discern whether the people I tried to befriend were actually people I meshed with—I found out later they weren’t. The marriage imploded and my husband left to another state, to take another job (and tried to take my dog, too). I was left with an unaffordable mortgage and expenses, in a big empty house. And then it occurred to me, I had a skill others would pay to learn—dancing. I was already assisting newer dancers in the classes I was taking and had informally taught friends over the years, and several of the people I’d met through salsa in Florida had encouraged me to teach—since I hadn’t needed the money before that point, I’d chalked that up to a “maybe someday” thing. But then I did need the money. So I started to teach ladies’ styling at a studio, and then transitioned to another studio, where I completed a formal salsa instructor training program, learning how to follow AND lead, and teach followers and leaders various fundamental partnerwork, along with styling and shines. I was able to supplement my income, keep my mind focused on preparing for my lessons, and I ended up making a small circle of invaluable friends for the first time since moving to Florida. Having that focus on learning and practicing new material, staying mobile and active, and having in-person friends to hang with helped me to not take the dating thing too seriously, as well…and I ended up meeting an amazing man who is now my partner. Salsa save #4: helping me through divorce fallout, financially, physically and romantically.

And now, here we are. With group classes, workshops and private lessons IRL completely moot due to COVID, salsa is saving me yet again. I’m extremely fortunate and I know that—my full-time career job is thus far stable, as is my partner’s. We are safely quarantined in that same expensive house (it’s on the market, FYI!), but I’ve lost several hundred dollars per month of income, the joy and connection that working with my students gave me, the exercise, the community. And so, on a whim, I decided to try something different and, with the help of my partner, launched UWanna Dance Salsa. Streaming online classes are not the same as IRL, I won’t try to pretend they are. BUT thinking up ways to teach partner work to people alone at home, drawing on years of experience across many studios to devise well-rounded classes, looking for new music to play for my students, helping to popularize the on2 style in an area where on2 dancers are few and far between, and interacting with students via chat, all bring me a lot of joy and purpose, which I really need right now. And a little income from those classes helps to keep us stocked in Instacart Fauxritos from Aldi (AND fresh organic produce from a local farm). I also decided right away that as long as health care workers are overloaded and underequipped and working people are laid off due to COVID, I will not charge anyone on the front lines for my services, nor anyone who lost their jobs/businesses because of it—I might not be in a position to do much, but at least I can bring an hour of distraction, release and joy to the folks who are feeling this the most. Salsa save #5: helping me stay sane during a frickin global pandemic.

I say it to everyone who will listen: learning to dance salsa is one of the best decisions I ever made, and I think that will remain true as long as I’m on this planet. If salsa were a person, I’d be that annoying, clingy girlfriend with doting heart emojis in my eyes that can’t stop saying “I love you” to it. I can’t do that, so I’m encouraging you to learn, or keep learning, or try a different style of, or listen to more music related to, or one way or another connect to salsa. (*caveat: for those in the scene, I am aware that “salsa” is an umbrella-like, contrived marketing term under which numerous dances and genres of music fall; I’m not trying to be a dance or music historian right now, simply singing the praises of the dance, so don’t come at me).

There are a ton of people who have built their entire careers on this dance, know more than me, dance better than me, and are extremely prestigious in the field—I love to watch them on YouTube and aspire. I’m not that person, and I probably never will be—it’s really not my goal. My goal is to keep on loving it, and help others love it too. To express the music and the joy it brings me using my body. To put aside the things that hurt, that worry, that feel insurmountable, for just an hour and enjoy the feeling of being in the dance. To, someday, I hope, dance with my favorite leads and follows and meet new ones on a Sunday afternoon daytime social and have more of those moments when the music drops, when the turn is perfect, when the beat causes various parts of my body to pop, roll, whip without my full direction, to feel alive on the dance floor. My goal is to keep on letting salsa save me in the inevitable dips in life, and letting it bring immeasurable joy during the good times. My goal is to help you find that too, so you can do the same. So, come dance with me. You know Uwanna…

[if you want to share an inspirational story about how dance saved your life, e-mail – #FrugalCongressLife management]

The Future Of Social Dance During And After COVID-19: One Blogger’s Perspective

[DISCLAIMER: I am NOT a doctor or a health expert. This article is purely my opinion and speculation based on what I know right now, which could change rapidly. Do not base any of your short or long-term actions on any of my speculation and go by what the CDC recommends. I have no affiliation with any news organizations or other organizations cited in this article.]

The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic (otherwise known as SARS-COV-2 or novel coronavirus, commonly known as just coronavirus for short) burned through the world in March and April of 2020 leaving hundreds of thousands dead, ravaged economies, record unemployment, and overwhelmed medical systems in its wake, and continues to do so at the time of this writing on April 17th, 2020.  State-wide lockdowns and social-distancing measures have completely upended our way of life as we know it, forcing all but the most essential workers inside and away from each other for the time being. These measures, while critical for public health, have had the obvious but painful side effect of all but eliminating social dancing (the polar opposite of social distancing) for the foreseeable future.  I haven’t written much for this blog lately, because, frankly, there hasn’t been much to write about. All congresses and social dance events are cancelled for quite some time.

There has been a lot of speculation on social media as to what social dancing is going to look like moving forward. I figured I would offer up my thorough, rational perspective as one blogger who admittedly is not a scientist, doctor, or health professional, both to avoid typing the same Facebook post ad nauseum and to have some content for this blog for probably the only time for a while.

What We Know Now: A Broad View

This information is current as of 4/17/2020. The COVID-19 pandemic is a constantly developing situation and there could literally be a new development tomorrow that changes everything.

COVID-19, a respiratory virus, is known to spread through close person-to-person contact (6 feet apart or less), via micro-droplets when an infected person sneezes, coughs, or even talks loudly.  COVID-19 is also known to spread via touching an infected surface, including the hands of an infected person, and then touching your face, eyes, nose, or mouth.

There have been known cases of pre-symptomatic and even asymptomatic spread of COVID-19.

Stay-at-home orders, mass quarantine, and social distancing (staying 6 feet apart or more from other people) have to date been the main measures taken to slow the spread of the virus and avoid overburdening hospitals and healthcare systems with a massive influx of cases.

The CDC has begun recommending the use of non-medical-grade face masks or other alternative face coverings in public when social distancing is not possible.  These recommendations are not a replacement for social distancing at this time.

According to data from the University of Washington’s Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, a very influential model relied upon by the White House and many individual American citizens, we appear to be hitting the peak of the first wave of COVID-19 deaths and hospitalizations and will slowly ramp down to zero deaths/hospitalizations per day between late May (as early as then in some states) and late June (the entire country/some states have longer tail ends of the graph). The lockdowns and social distancing measures appear to have been effective in reducing the spread of the virus and keeping hospitals from being overwhelmed by a flood of new cases, but we are far from out of the woods as of now.

If the current COVID-19 pandemic follows a similar pattern to the 1918-1919 “Spanish Flu” pandemic and other similar coronaviruses such as SARS and MERS, we may see a reduction of cases when the weather gets warm and therefore at least a temporary reprieve from some of the strictest quarantine and social distancing measures. There is already evidence from new government tests that sunlight and high heat and humidity accelerates the death of the virus. Scientists are warning that this data is inconclusive as of now, and that even in best cases high heat and humidity won’t completely stop transmission of the virus. Even if it becomes conclusive and becomes the basis for a reprieve from the strictest lockdown measures, a complete return to normalcy including large social dance events during such a reprieve is unlikely.

The combination of the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, a common antibiotic, is a pharmaceutical combo heavily touted by President Trump as a therapeutic and prophylactic for COVID-19.  So far, this combination appears to have, at best, dubious anecdotal evidence of improvement in non-severe cases, and, at worst, crippling side effects that outweigh the positives of use.

An experimental drug called remdesivir is currently in phase three clinical trials as a therapeutic for severe cases of COVID-19 and is showing a lot of promise.  

There are at least two candidates for a COVID-19 vaccine currently in phase one clinical trials.  If all goes well, one very promising candidate is targeted for health care workers and other emergency personnel and essential workers in Fall 2020, and for the general public in Spring 2021.  These dates are of course fluid and are contingent on the vaccine being proven safe and effective without any serious issues or side effects. The general consensus among scientists, including National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director and White House Coronavirus Task Force advisor Anthony Fauci, is that it will take 12-18 months for a vaccine to be available to the general population if all goes well.

President Trump is hoping to begin opening the United States again in three phases starting in early May 2020.  Whether this plan is executed statewide is up to the governors of each individual state.

The United States lags behind other countries such as South Korea in both testing and contact tracing.  Apple and Google are working on contract tracing solutions using cellular phone data.  Reliable testing and contact tracing will be critical to a safe and effective reopening of the country.

There are currently experimental tests for antibodies to the virus underway that may be able to determine who has already had the virus and has built up antibodies to the virus making them immune.  This testing is inconclusive at this time, but could be a game changer. If immunity in certain parts of the population can be proven, we may be able to issue immunity cards for those who are immune, allowing them to work and go about life without having to quarantine themselves, effectively instituting more targeted quarantines and social distancing instead of blanket quarantines and social distancing for everyone. 

The Bad News: Social Dance As We Knew It Probably Isn’t Coming Back For A Long Time

The sooner we accept this reality, the better for all of our sanity.

Yes, I miss social dance.  We all do. But large social dance events are the polar opposite of what needs to be done to stop the spread of the virus for the time being.  Social dance is done in close contact with many people in one night, less than 6 feet apart and touching hands continuously. Without reliable testing or contact tracing to identify and isolate known positive cases of the virus, large social dance events are too powerful a vector for unchecked community spread of the virus to even contemplate risking at this time.

This is particularly true of dance congresses and festivals, the largest scale of social dance events there is.

While I understand the desire of dance congress organizers to not owe $250,000+ to a hotel, the reality is that dance congresses tend to be petri dishes of illness in normal times, and a currently-incurable pandemic of a novel virus would not only spread like wildfire at the event, but then would spread widely in the communities of traveling attendees upon their return.  I can’t tell anyone what to do, but all I can say is that if someone insists on holding a dance congress in 2020 and you insist on going, I would highly, highly advise a two-and-a-half-week strict self-quarantine afterwards (meaning don’t leave your house for ANY reason including and especially the grocery store).

Very likely, we shouldn’t expect social dancing to return as anything approaching normal until, at the earliest, the summer of 2021, likely not until the fall of 2021 — and that’s if all goes according to plan and schedule in the search for a vaccine.  Even then, it will be a new normal; lots of people will be hesitant to return to social dance for quite some time. Face masks, other face coverings, and gloves will be common social dance accessories for quite a while once social dance returns, just to name one example.  We may also see mandatory breaks for hand washing/sanitizing every few songs rather than a long blending of songs for several hours straight. Social dance isn’t returning for quite a long time and will not be the same again once it does.

So How Do We Cope In The Meantime?

Virtual Dance Classes

Since the beginning of the pandemic, there has been an explosion of online virtual classes for every style of dance including all styles of salsa and bachata, zouk, west coast swing, and others. This is a trend that will continue throughout the next year at least. While not a great substitute for in-person dance classes and instruction, these virtual classes at least have the positive effect of helping individual dancers keep their technique sharp pending the return of social dance and in-person dance instruction and guiding dance-monagamous couples (see below) in their dance training.

Feel free to post any links to virtual dance classes you recommend in the comments.

Dance Monogamy?

If this goes on long enough, we may see a rise in couples that agree to only dance with each other until all is clear or even moving in together to do so, as dance couples already established prior to the rise of the virus are already doing. These “dance-monogamous situationships” likely will end quickly when the virus ends, as wanting someone to dance with is a very superficial foundation for a relationship (especially a live-in relationship), but it may help some people cope with not only the lack of social dance but also extended isolation for the time being.

Dance “Quaranteams”

As an alternative, we may see a rise of group houses where groups of dancers shack up together and only dance with each other.  Whether these arrangements will become prevalent and stand the test of time remains to be seen, but this practice is already playing out outside the dance community and it could become a more palatable alternative to dance monogamy for the commitment-phobic dancer who wants to avoid dance-starvation and extended isolation in quarantine.

Private Parties

Once we have reliable testing and contact tracing in place, the first returning manifestation of anything resembling social dancing we will see, and probably the dominant manifestation for the foreseeable future, will be private invite-only social dance house parties. These small invite-only parties of 10-14 people or less will come with mandatory temperature checks, use of protective equipment such as face masks and gloves, handwashing and sanitizing breaks, and, if immunity cards become a widespread phenomenon, immunity cards as a prerequisite for even being invited. While private house parties do not quite match the experience of large socials or congresses, they do have an intimate charm to them, and they will be the closest thing to a real dance social that we will see for quite some time yet.

Other Hobbies

Of course, most dancers do have other hobbies, and this would be a good time to more deeply explore or cultivate other hobbies that are more in line with social distancing guidelines.  Hiking, running, cooking, fishing, gardening, video games… just to name a few examples. Now may also be a good time to enter an intense immersive accelerated learning program for education or new job skills, such as a computer programming bootcamp or other type of accelerated job training.  After all, what else are you doing for the foreseeable future?


Of course, this all could change. We may come up with an effective therapeutic/prophylactic that changes the game entirely and allows us to get back to normal faster. I don’t have a crystal ball. I’m just offering my perspective based on the information I have now. Like everyone else, I will be following this entire situation closely.

#FrugalCongressLife Survival Guide: Viva La Bachata Weekend

The Baltimore area’s newest bachata event is officially here in the form of the Viva La Bachata Weekend!

Viva La Bachata, the collaborative brainchild of DC-based international sensual bachata instructor Vladi Aragon and world-renowned bachata DJ Emerson “Emerzive” Morales, has so far produced an outstanding and wildly successful monthly Saturday night bachata social held in Tysons Corner, VA on the first Saturday of every month.

This coming February, the Viva La Bachata crew is expanding onto the congress/festival/weekend stage with this brand new weekend event as their first multi-day offering, which they hope to expand into a full festival starting in 2021.

In the search for a venue that will accommodate a larger crowd, the Viva La Bachata experience is, for this event only, shifting an hour and a half northeast from its usual Tysons Corner location to the northern Baltimore County suburb of Timonium, Maryland. The weekender will happen from February 22nd-24th, 2020 at Towson Dance Studio (hereafter abbreviated as TDS), a gorgeous, classy, and expansive studio named for the adjacent town of Towson, MD, and located next to the Maryland State Fairgrounds at 9486 Deereco Rd in Timonium.

Confirmed artists so far include Vladi & Ximena, Kat Arias, and Spain’s Luis & Andrea, with more to be announced.

Confirmed DJ’s for the evening parties include DJ Soltrix, DJ Emerzive, DJ Manuel Citro, and DJ York from Germany. The schedule so far for the weekend consists of a party on Friday night and workshops in the morning and afternoon followed by performances and a party at night on Saturday and Sunday.


If you didn’t jump on any of the pass deals at this year’s New Jersey Bachata Festival, full passes are still available for a very low price (around $70-80) at the time of this writing. The sooner you buy the better, as always!


Baltimore City and the surrounding areas, including Towson and Timonium, are supported by Citymappervia their DC/Baltimore package at the time of this writing. Via is not supported in the Baltimore area at the time of this writing. UBERPool and Shared Lyft are not supported in the Baltimore area, making UberX and Lyft your cheapest ride hailing options.

Timonium is accessible by public transportation, but is located quite some distance from most of the airports, train stations, and bus stops in the area. Additionally, the closest hotel is a nine minute walk, and it goes up from there, and this festival is at the end of February where temperatures are in the 30s and 40s on average. Therefore, if you are able, driving and/or ridesharing are the most practical options for this festival. There is a good amount of parking near TDS itself, and an even greater abundance of overflow parking at the Park and Ride a stone’s throw away. All the hotels, food options, and grocery stores have abundant parking as well.

Rush hour traffic in both the DC and Baltimore areas are very bad on Friday afternoon and can add multiple hours to your trip (not kidding) – be mindful of this if coming from points south of Towson/Timonium.


BWI is your airport for this festival whether you’re flying a budget airline or balling out in first class. From there you have a couple of transportation options. The baller option, and the time-saver option, is to take an Uber or Lyft directly from the airport to the studio or your hotel of choice. TDS is located about a 37 minute drive from the airport, so this is bound to be staggeringly expensive (about $40-50 one way on average), especially given the lack of shared/pool options. Coordinating a share with other attendees landing at or around the same time as you shouldn’t be hard to pull off, and should ease some of the financial pain of this option. If you’re stuck going it alone, I honestly would recommend renting a car at the airport if you can – it would cost roughly the same as UBER or Lyft both ways and would give you some very helpful extra mobility during the festival.

Your extreme budget option if you are willing to tack an extra 105 minutes (not a typo) on to your trip is the Baltimore LightRailLink. From BWI Airport, head to the light rail platform (about a 3 minute walk up the road from the Spirit and Frontier concourses) and take the light rail north toward Hunt Valley. From there, ride 25 stops to the Timonium Fairgrounds Light Rail station. From there, TDS is either about a 6 minute walk northwest up Deereco Road or a shorter and much less expensive UBER ride. The entire trip will take you 90-110 minutes on average, but will cost you only $1.80 one way. Light rail and UBER can also of course be mixed for a balance of saving money and saving time.


Amtrak to Penn Station in downtown Baltimore. The area around Penn Station is fairly safe, but as with just about anywhere in downtown Baltimore, it’s a good idea to keep your head up and look alive.

From there you have similar options to the trip from the airport. TDS is about an 18 minute drive/UberLyft ride from downtown Baltimore and will probably be about $20-30 one way on average. I can’t imagine as many people will be taking the train or bus as flying so coordinating a shared Uber or Lyft could be tougher.

The light rail will be about 50-60 minutes from downtown Baltimore, but as with BWI, it will cost you only $1.80 one way. Make a left on Charles Street out of the station and a right onto Oliver Street, walk about 8 minutes then make a right onto Mount Royal Avenue to the Mount Royal & Lt Rail Stat stop. Ride 9 stops to the Timonium Fairgrounds light rail station and walk 6 minutes northwest up Deereco Road to TDS.


While Megabus’ Baltimore-area stop at the White Marsh Mall is wildly impractical for the Baltimore Salsa Bachata Congress’ downtown location or the Zouk Heat Festival’s BWI location, it is only about a 20 minute UBER ride from TDS and UBER will be about $20-25 one way.

If you have an extra 155 minutes to space there is a public transportation route from White Marsh. Walk about 8 minutes east to the BROWN bus stop toward Br Um Medical Center, then take it 17 stops to Belair Rd & Overlea Loop SB – 6553, and transfer to the 33 bus toward Mt. Washington LR. Ride 27 stops to Kelly Ave & Sulgrave Ave WB – 5049. Walk 3 minutes northeast to the Mt. Washington & Light Rail Stat and follow the light rail directions from there.

A more practical route for Megabus, especially if coming from points south of Washington, DC, is to take it to Union Station, then take the Marc Penn Line to Penn Station and follow the train directions from there. Bolt Busstops downtown a block east of Penn Station on Maryland Avenue. Walk west toward Penn Station and follow the train directions to TDS from there.

Greyhound stops closer to the stadiums on the south end of downtown Baltimore. Take an UBER or Lyft to the Pratt Street Light Rail Station and then follow the light rail directions to TDS from there.


There are three different specific public transportation options local to the DC Metro area that will take anyone in the DC/MD/VA area to BWI for a very low price, and the light rail route from BWI can be taken to TDS from there.

The MARC Penn Line is an excellent option for getting to BWI from anywhere in the Washington, DC city limits. It picks up at Washington Union Station and will take you the BWI Rail Station for around $6-8.

For residents of Montgomery County, MD, the MTA 201 bus will take you from the Shady Grove metro station (northwestern end of the red line), the Gaithersburg Park & Ride, or the Georgia Avenue Park & Ride in Aspen Hill to BWI for $5 one way. This trip will take a little over an hour. The 201 accepts debit and credit cards for the current trip’s one-way fares only or cash in exact change (no change given if you overpay). This is also a good practical option for anyone who flew into DCA or IAD and can catch it from the Shady Grove metro station.

For residents of Prince George’s County, MD, including the College Park/University of Maryland area, the WMATA B30 bus goes from the Greenbelt Metro station at the northern end of the green line to BWI for $7.50 one way (exact change required). This bus isn’t really practical for anyone outside of PG County, however, as it is located further away from either of the DC airports than the 201 stops above. Additionally, the B30 does not run on Saturday or Sunday, so anyone leaving for PG County on Sunday evening will have to take the 201 back to Shady Grove, then return to PG County via the red line and the green line, which will take close to three hours total.


Since this event is taking place at a studio and not a hotel, I will freely discuss a multitude of lodging options.

There are several hotels located very close to the festival at a variety of price ranges. An official hotel for the weekend has not been announced as of the time of writing.

Your best logistical bet is the Holiday Inn Timonium (9615 Deereco Rd, Timonium, MD 21093) located just up the street from TDS. The hotel is currently going for $111 per night at the time of this writing and is located a 2 minute drive or 9 minute walk from TDS. The hotel was recently renovated and reviews are mostly positive. It will likely be the most popular option for those looking to roomshare as it is closest to the event. Amenities include free high-speed wireless internet, a refrigerator, HBO, and “Refresh” bedding.

Additionally, there is at the time of this writing a cyber sale going on for members of Holiday Inn’s IHG Rewards Program where if you book your hotel room between November 11th and December 17th, 2019 and stay between November 14th, 2019 and May 31st, 2020 (which includes the weekend of the festival), you can save up to 25% on your room, making the Holiday Inn a better bet for this festival.

Another good alternative is the Hampton Inn and Suites Baltimore North/Timonium (11 Texas Station Ct, Timonium, MD 21093) going for about $97-100 per night. It is further from TDS, located about a 4 minute drive or 15 minute walk away, but it has a higher rating on Google and more positive reviews than the Holiday Inn. Amenities include free breakfast, free wifi, a fitness center, a business center, digital key entry, a refrigerator, a microwave, and a 42 inch TV.

Your closest budget option is the Extended Stay America Baltimore North/Timonium located about an 3 minute drive or 12 minute walk away from TDS at 9704 Beaver Dam Rd, Lutherville-Timonium, MD 21093 and going for about $80 per night on average, as well as featuring kitchenettes. Some reviews of this hotel complain of cleanliness issues and all are quick to point out that the Ritz this hotel ain’t. Bring the bleach wipes and caveat emptor, as with any budget hotel.

Located about a 7 minute drive up the road in the adjacent town of Cockeysville at 10100 York Rd is your budgetiest budget option, the Ramada Limited Cockeysville, which goes for about $55-60 per night for the VLB Weekend’s dates. Reviews describe not only cleanliness issues similar to the Extended Stay but bulletproof glass in the lobby and “sketchy characters” hanging out in the parking lot. I wouldn’t recommend this particular option for dancers planning on returning from the VLB socials late at night, but it is the cheapest option.

AirBNB is decidedly not an option for the 2020 edition of the VLB Weekend, as only 19 listings are left in the area for the festival’s dates, and only two of them (averaging $50-60 per night) are located within commutable distance of the studio.


Your closest Wal-Mart is located about 8 minutes up the road at 1 Frankel Way, Cockeysville, MD 21030. Target is located slightly closer, at 9901 York Rd, Cockeysville, MD 21030. If you happen to have a Sam’s Club membership, they are located much closer, about a 5 minute drive or 17 minute walk away at 15 Texas Station Ct, Timonium, MD 21093. Giant is located abouat a 7 minute drive away at 2145 York Rd, Timonium, MD 21093.

Green Valley Market Place, a local organic supermarket, is located about a 4 minute drive or 20 minute walk away at 15 E Padonia Rd, Lutherville-Timonium, MD 21093.

The nearest coffee spots to TDS are a Starbucks located a 5 minute drive away at 2129B York Road and a Dunkin’ a short walk south from there. My plan is to stock up on iced coffees and Bulletproof cold brews at Wal-Mart (yes, Bulletproof cold brews are available at Wal-Mart now) before the weekend.

You have quite a few options for your meal out. If you want your baby back baby back baby back baby back ribs with your bachata, there’s a Chili’s right next to the Holiday Inn at 9615 Deereco Rd, Timonium, MD 21093. If you want your comfort food to be more local, Mother’s North Grille is located about a 4 minute drive or 18 minute walk away at 2450 Broad Ave, Timonium, MD 21093. Hightopps Backstage Grille is another comfort food spot located near the fairgrounds at 2306 York Road and Gibby’s Seafood & Gourmet Market is right next door. Located in the shopping center near the Hampton Inn and Sams Club is a Japanese restaurant called Umi Sake (9726 York Road), an Italian pasta and pizza joint called Fazzini’s Taverna (9811 York Road), and, most important to the frugal congress-goer, and all-you-can eat Indian buffet called Royal Kitchen (9832 York Road). Located further up the road from Royal Kitchen are Taco Bell, Popeyes, IHOP, Wawa, and Chik-Fil-A. The Wits End Saloon (9603 Derreco Road), a whiskey-and-burgers joint, and Liberatore’s Ristorante and Catering, a family-run Italian chain (9515 Deereco Road), are good options for the Holiday Inn and the Extended Stay crowd as bpth are a short walk from both of those hotels. There is also a 7-Eleven located near the Hampton Inn, the Holiday Inn, and the Extended Stay America at 9709 Beaver Dam Road.

That’s it for this guide; hit the comments if you have anything to add and I’ll see you in Timonium this February!

There Are Three Currencies In Dance Congress Life (And Life In General)

We’re going to do something a bit different with this article and talk about a foundational principle of managing currency that is very important to the deep understanding of going to dance congresses frugally.

That principle is that there are three different currencies you have to deal with when planning to attend a dance congress as frugally as possible.

Some of you play mobile phone games and have encountered games where there are two or more different currencies. You may have coins to pay for some things, gems to pay for other things, and maybe a third or fourth currency in the case of some games.

There are parallels to real life with this – when planning for a dance congress or any other type of trip, you deal with three different currencies in real life.

The first currency is money. This is the obvious one. Dollars, pounds, pesos, rupees – whatever the currency is where you are in the world at the time. Your pass, hotel room, food, plane ticket, all of that is paid for with money. Money is the first and foremost of the three currencies of the #FrugalCongressLife.

But there is a second, less obvious currency you have to deal with: time.

How is time a currency, you ask? Simply put, many of the ways you save money at congresses have you spending extra time.

Let’s say you stay offsite from the event hotel at a cheaper motel or AirBNB 15 minutes away from the event, which to be clear is something we do not recommend doing for a variety of reasons, but that some people do regardless. You may be saving money by staying offsite but for at least a sizable chunk of the money you are saving by doing this, you are spending time instead.

We’ll assume that each day of the event, you travel from your offsite location to the event for workshops, back to your offsite location to shower up for the party, then back to the event for the party, then back to your offsite location to sleep after you finish dancing. That’s two hours you have spent on commuting that you could have spent napping, taking workshops, eating a nice meal, socializing, or doing any number of other things if you had stayed at the event hotel and just had a 30 second walk from your room to the event. What money you saved is offset at least somewhat by time spent.

This is true for many other money saving strategies as well.

If you take public transportation somewhere instead of an UBER, you have saved money, but spent time, as public transportation takes anywhere from two to four times as long as an UBER ride on average.

Same thing with buying groceries instead of eating out – you save money, but spend time. If you go super frugal and make your own food at the congress, you spend even more time.

About the only money-saving strategy that doesn’t also have you spending time is buying your pass early, which is frankly a no-brainer for congresses you know that you will be attending.

Thinking of time as a currency puts a lot in perspective.

But there is still a third currency one deals with in dance congress planning and budgeting: stress.

Stress is a more abstract currency, but it could be classified as a form of currency, because it takes away from your enjoyment of the event and the absence of it adds to your enjoyment of the event. Furthermore, if you have to deal after the event with a stressful caused by a money saving decision made at the event, you have still paid in stress, but it was a deferred payment.

Let’s say the budget motel you stay in is a block away from the event hotel, but your room has a bedbug infestation and some of the bedbugs come home with you in your luggage. You have not really paid in time immediately to offset what you have saved in money in this example, but you have most certainly paid in stress, both instant and deferred. A bedbug infestation you bring home from a cheap motel is something you have to pay professionals to fix and lose your bedding and other possessions as well, so going to a cheap disreputable motel possibly carries extra payments in money, time, AND stress.

If you take public transportation to the event and the train breaks down, you are paying in stress AND time what you saved by taking public transportation instead of UBER.

If you fly a budget airline or take a budget bus line and your trip is delayed or cancelled, you have paid in time and stress as well.

If you stay at an AirBNB, you have the extra time and stress of having to manage your host’s expectations (your host is likely not a dancer and doesn’t fully understand the world of the dance congress) and clean up after yourself a bit more diligently than you would at a hotel that has a cleaning staff.

The key to effectively attending dance congresses frugally without subtracting from your enjoyment of these congresses then, is to know how to manage and balance these three different currencies and understand how one can offset the other. Sometimes it is worth spending a little extra money to save time and stress, the two other currencies of dance congress planning and budgeting. Sometimes spending a little extra time or dealing with a little stress is worth the monetary savings. It’s really more of an art than a science and something that has to be felt out and applied to every individual situation, but that is something that gets easier with time and experience.

I hope this article helped some people gain more perspective as they plan and budget the rest of their congress season.

#FrugalCongressLife Survival Guide: Connecticut Salsa Fest

[DISCLOSURE: As of the time of this writing, I have no direct affiliation with Connecticut Salsa Fest other than being an attendee and have not been hired to promote Connecticut Salsa Fest 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.]

For today’s survival guide, we are covering Connecticut Salsa Fest, an excellent salsa festival with a strong bachata component. Connecticut Salsa Fest just celebrated its 15th anniversary in 2019, making it one of the longest-running salsa festivals in the US. In addition to world-class salsa workshops and a large salsa ballroom, there is also a strong bachata component, with equally world-class bachata workshops and an active bachata room hosted by Island Touch. The event also has had a charity component for the last 10 years, with a gala fundraiser for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital on Sunday that raises over $100,000 for the hospital every year.

In addition, Connecticut Salsa Fest is one of the most child and family-friendly festivals around now, with youth passes and performances as well as special youth parties available. Expect to see a lot of young children running around at this festival.

In 2020, Connecticut Salsa Fest will take place on the weekend of June 25th-28th at the Hilton Stamford Hotel & Executive Meeting Center in Stamford, CT, a heavily urbanized metropolitan New York City-area Connecticut suburb located about an hour outside of NYC and convenient to a variety of transportation options. Stamford has shown up on many a list of the best NYC suburbs that are marginally commutable to New York City while allowing one to avoid NYC’s astronomical rents and cost of living.


You know the deal by now, the sooner, the better. For the bachater@s who only wish to participate in the nighttime bachata parties, there is usually a bachata room-only pass sold for around $50 in the late fall season preceding the festival that is good for Friday through Sunday night.


The festival’s organizers offer a room block at the Hilton Stamford for $109 per night. Hilton Honors members purchasing in advance can possibly access even lower rates than this. Of course, roomsharing with up to three other people can bring the cost down to as low as $30 per night once taxes and fees are figured in.

A link to book your room for 2020 will be posted here when available.

Amenities at the hotel include clean, modern rooms and suites with all the room amenities one would expect from a modern hotel, a heated indoor pool, a seasonal patio, a fitness center, a tennis court, and, most notably, a free shuttle going to Stamford Town Center and the Stamford Transportation Center.

With Stamford being an urban transportation hub, there are many alternate hotel and motel options, including some that are less expensive, but you know me by this time. No discussion of alternate options until the hotel is completely sold out.


Citymapper supports not only the NYC area via its NYC package but also the immediate Connecticut suburbs, including Stamford, going as far out as the New Haven area. Citymapper will be immensely helpful in planning your trip and I suggest downloading it and using it for this festival and any others in supported cities.

UberPOOL and Shared Lyft are not available in the state of Connecticut at time of writing, making UberX and Lyft the least expensive options available. These options can be split with fellow attendees of the festival with some coordination. As of the time of this writing, Hilton Honors members who have linked their Lyft accounts to their HH accounts will get 3 Hilton Honors points for every dollar spent on Lyft rides. It’s not much, but every little bit helps.

No matter how you get to Stamford, the Stamford Transportation Center, served by Amtrak and MTA Metro North trains and also known as the Stewart B. McKinney Transportation Center, will likely be your ultimate destination and travel hub for the immediate area. Located at 30 South State Street in downtown Stamford, the station is small and aesthetically unfussy, but well laid-out and a breeze to navigate. The station has a Dunkin’ and a small convenience store if you get hungry or thirsty, as well as another cafe that I can’t comment on because it was closed when I was there. The Stamford Transportation Center is located about a 12 minute walk away from the Hilton.

Walking directions from Stamford Transportation Center to the Hilton:

Exit the station at South State Street and walk southwest. Make a left onto Greenwich Avenue and an immediate right onto First Stamford Place. Follow First Stamford Place all the way around the hotel, making a left at the fork in the road, and the hotel will be on your right. Follow the reverse of these directions to get back to the station.


For anyone on the east coast, the train and/or the bus will likely be your preferred way of getting to this festival.

Your baller option for train travel on the east coast is the Amtrak Northeast Regional, which will take you right to Stamford Transportation Center. It is very expensive, costing an average of $100 from anywhere in the northeast within 6 hours and even more for business class, but if you want maximum comfort and legroom and a dining car and are willing to spend some extra money, this is a good option.

For most people on this blog, you’ll want to take the frugal option, which is a combination of the bus to NYC, a short walk or ride on the famous NYC subway to Grand Central Station, and the MTA Metro North New Haven Line from Grand Central to Stamford.

Megabus and Bolt Bus are the two recommended options for travel to NYC. Both buses average around $15-20 one way for a trip from anywhere within a 4 hour radius, depending on what time of the day you take the bus.

Bolt Bus stops at 11th Ave and West 34th Street in Hudson Yards near the Javitts Center. From there take the 7 subway train towards Flushing – Main St from 34 St – Hudson Yards to Grand Central – 42 St station, and Grand Central Terminal is a short walk from there. This will cost about $2.75. The walk is about 30 minutes if you have that time and want to save the subway fare.

Megabus now stops at 7th Avenue and 28th Street. From here, take the 1 train uptown toward Van Cortlandt Park – 242 St 3 stops to Times Square – 42nd St. Grand Central is an 11 minute walk east on 42nd St from this famous NYC tourist trap to Grand Central. The subway fare is, again, about $2.75, and the walk is about 24 minutes if you want to save the subway fare.

If you really want to risk riding the Dirty Dog, which we do not generally recommend, Greyhound stops at the NYC Port Authority Bus Terminal, a mere 14 minute walk east on West 42nd Street from Grand Central Station.

Once at Grand Central Station, a digital kiosk for tickets to the MTA Metro North train heading in the direction of New Haven (with some terminating at Stamford station) is very easy to locate. These commuter trains run at about 20 minute intervals, even on Memorial Day. The kiosk is very easy to navigate and purchasing a one-way ticket will take about 5 minutes. The trip between Grand Central and Stamford will take about 52 minutes and cost $11.50 one way. I found the Metro North trains to be clean and comfortable, and many seats have working outlets that you can use to charge your phone and/or external battery on the train. The digital kiosk for Metro North at Stamford is located right next to the ticket window.

For residents of New Haven or any other Connecticut towns served by the train route between Grand Central and New Haven such as Fairfield, Bridgeport, Milford, and Darien, Metro North will get you to Stamford for about $8 one way.

Shore towns east of New Haven such as Branford, Guilford, and Madison are sometimes also served by Metro North, but this service is less frequent. Expect to sometimes drive or take Uber/Lyft to New Haven if you live anywhere east of New Haven, depending on when you go.


For all of you flying, your two most convenient airports are LaGuardia Airport (LGA) in NYC and Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) in NJ, both of which are served by Spirit Airlines.

The trip from EWR to Stamford is about two hours on average and costs $27.25 one way (that includes NEC/NJCL, subway, and Metro North). Take the AirTrain from Terminal A 4 stops to the Newark Liberty International Airport Stop and take the NEC or NJCL towards New York Penn Station 3 stops to New York Penn. Once at Penn, take the 1, 2, or 3 NYC Subway Trains uptown to Times Square, walk from Times Square to Grand Central following the Megabus directions above, then from Grand Central take Metro North to Stamford Transportation Center.

The trip from LGA is comparatively shorter and less expensive, at about 1.5 hours and $14.25 one way (including M60-SBS and Metro North). From LGA Terminal A, take the M60-SBS bus toward W 106 St./Broadway to the East 125th Street/Park Avenue stop. The Harlem-125th Street MTA station is about a block west, and a Metro North ticket to Stamford can be purchased here for about $8.


For everyone driving, parking is offered at the hotel at $20 per day for self-parking, which is not a bad deal for the area. Many people driving will opt for this for convenience purposes, but it is the baller option.

The frugal option is the Harbor Point Gateway Garage which offers daily parking directly adjacent to Stamford Transportation Center for $12 per 24 hour period, for as many days as you like. Parking can be reserved in advance via a web form at the above link.


For the bachater@s, there exists in Stamford about an 8-10 minute drive from the hotel a restaurant that was seemingly put there just for you. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, there is a restaurant in Stamford called… Bachata Restaurant. This cozy Dominican eatery, located at 822 East Main Street in Stamford, offers cafeteria-style service of a wide variety of delicious Dominican food staples and a sound system that plays a steady stream of… Polish-Iranian industrial folk/death metal fusion music. What else would this restaurant play on their sound system? No really, the sound system plays a wide variety of both traditional and urban bachata. The place isn’t really set up for dancing, but there’s a small area of open floor where you and your partner can have a reasonably restrained and space-mindful dance if it isn’t too crowded and there aren’t other people there with the same idea.

A large plate filled with as much food as the plate will hold costs $11 and a small plate can be had for $9. The service is cafeteria-style with you pointing out what you would like to eat and the workers behind the counter serving it up. There’s a bit of a language barrier if you don’t speak Spanish and can’t identify some food items, but it isn’t a big deal. This restaurant is excellent and wholeheartedly recommended not just for the novelty of a restaurant called Bachata Restaurant but also because it’s a very good restaurant.

Another excellent option right next to Bachata Restaurant is Kumo Ultimate Sushi Bar & Grill. At this sushi buffet, you can fill up to your heart and stomach’s content on a variety of sushi rolls, other Chinese and Japanese foods, fruits, and dessert items for a mere $18. I also wholeheartedly recommend this restaurant as well; the food is delicious and $18 to fill your belly is as good a deal as you will get at a restaurant in this immediate area.

For all the drinkers, also located in this immediate area is a beer and wine SUPERSTORE called BevMax. The yellow and red sign is hard to miss. I don’t drink much, so I did not check this place out, but I’m sure a beer and wine superstore would have everything you need and then some.

Closer to the hotel, the hotel’s restaurant is a Mediterranean farm-to-table restaurant called Tavola selling New England staples such as lobster rolls and flat breads for lunch, and a breakfast buffet during standard breakfast hours.

There are very few coffee options close to the hotel (Starbucks is about a 14 minute walk west). Your best coffee practice is likely to buy a few iced coffee cold brews from the Dunkin’ at Stamford Transportation Center and mix in some Rapidfire powder if you want, and otherwise make coffee cold brews and energy drinks part of your grocery shopping.

My advice for your grocery shopping and staples would be to bring as much as you can from wherever you’re coming from as possible. With Stamford effectively being a New York City suburb, everything is likely to be more expensive than it is where you’re at.

The closest frugal shopping place is the Target at Stamford Town Center (21 Broad Street), which is a short trip from the Hilton on the free shuttle, 8 minutes in an UBER, or a 24 minute walk. The closest Wal-Mart is a 15 minute drive away at 680 Connecticut Ave in Norwalk. You will definitely save more ultimately by going to Target if you did not drive. Walgreens is located east of Stamford Town Center on Main Street, about 3 or 4 blocks west of Bachata Restaurant.

Alternately, Fresh Nation is a three minute walk from the Hilton at 300 First Stamford Place and Utado Grocery is located an 11 minute walk or 4 minute drive away at 60 Selleck Street.

Finally, there is a bevy of food options located in Stamford Town Center including but not limited to: Buffalo Wild Wings, Kashi, Starbucks, Fiesta Atlantic, Fairfield Pizza, Cilantro, Sushi X2, and McDonald’s.

That’s it for this guide… hope to see everyone in Stamford next year!

#FrugalCongressLife Survival Guide: Sensual Bachata DC Fest / Classé Dance Company 3rd Anniversary

[Disclosure: At the time of this writing, I have no direct affiliation with Classé Dance Company aside from being a sometime student of their classes and Linda being a friend of mine and one of my favorite dance instructors. I have not been hired to promote this event at the time of this writing nor have I been hired by or am affiliated with any of the other businesses whose services I describe, and everything I am writing is my objective opinion and 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.]

[UPDATE 8/31/19 – Sensual Bachata DC Fest is reportedly being moved to a new venue.  We will update as soon as announced]

If the legendary Ferocity Dance Company is considered by many to be the Harvard of sensual bachata in the mid-Atlantic region, upstart newcomer Classé Dance Company is poised to quickly become the Yale of sensual bachata in the mid-Atlantic if it has not already.

Classé Dance Company was started by salsa/bachata instructor Linda Saenz in the fall of 2016. The new company quickly gained a good reputation for its fast-paced but comprehensive weekly bachata and salsa classes and outstanding performance teams. Highlights over the next few years include Linda winning best female dance instructor at the DCBX Excellence Awards in 2017 and becoming a Korke & Judith-certified sensual bachata instructor in 2018 after extensive training in Spain with the aforementioned creators of sensual bachata. In addition to teaching regular group classes in both Virginia and Maryland, Linda still directs several bachata performance teams, including the DC chapter of the Korke & Judith World Team Project.

Classé Dance Company celebrates its third anniversary from September 6th to September 8th, 2019. Unlike Classé’s previous two anniversary celebrations, which took place over one day, Classé’s 3rd anniversary has been extended to a full weekend event, officially re-christened Sensual Bachata DC Fest. At Sensual Bachata DC Fest, Classé Dance Company’s third anniversary will be celebrated in style with three nights of socials and workshops from not only Linda Saenz herself, but international bachata couples Kiko and Christina, Marco & Sara, Truji and Gloria, as well as worldwide sensual bachata ambassadors Kike and Nahir and sensual bachata creator Korke.

It all goes down at the Washington Dulles Airport Marriott (45020 Aviation Dr, Dulles, VA 20166) right next to Dulles Airport about an hour northwest of Washington DC. You may recognize the Dulles Marriott as the 2019 location of the Zouk Heat Festival. Zouk Heat has since moved to the BWI Airport Marriott, and I have written a whole new guide for that festival’s new location, but I was happy to pull my old Zouk Heat guide out of the archives and repurpose it for Sensual Bachata DC Fest.


For those who didn’t get the $99 early bird pass last year, which I will assume is most of you, a full pass is still relatively inexpensive for an event of this caliber now, going for about $130. Performer’s passes go for $99 and one-night social-only passes are $40 per night.


There currently is a room block available until August 17th at a cost of $109 per night. A four-person room-share will cost the budget-minded about $30-35 per night with taxes included. For those who miss the room block, rooms at the Dulles Marriott can still be had for a relatively low price, especially for members of Marriott’s all-new Bonvoy rewards program, a merger of the old Marriott Rewards program, Starwood Preferred Group, and Ritz-Carlton Rewards. Bonvoy members whose names are on the room folio can also get 500 extra points per night on top of the points already awarded for the stay for refusing room service for up to 3 nights for a maximum of 1500 extra points; inquire about this program at the front desk. Additionally, roll-away beds are available at an extra cost of $25 per room – no one sleeps on the floor at the Dulles Marriott!

If you do the offsite congress grind regularly, take a break from it at this festival and get yourself an affordable room right in the center of the action at the event hotel.

The Dulles Marriot’s array of luxurious amenities include an airport shuttle with an up-to-the-minute tracker, a fitness center, a pool, complimentary standard WiFi or two different tiers of high-speed WiFi for $12.95 and $15.95 per day (obligatory PSA: always use a VPN on hotel WiFi or any other public WiFi to protect your personal data from hackers), breakfast buffets ($15-20 on average), tennis courts, and on-site coin-op laundry room, valet dry cleaning, bottled water, and individual climate control, among others.

Fair warning: the Dulles Marriott’s onsite laundry room consists of exactly one washer and one dryer for the entire hotel that are both in constant use throughout the day and night. I would highly recommend not counting on the onsite laundry being available. If needed, the Sterling Herndon Laundromat is located about 9 minutes away from the Dulles Marriott at 23070 Oakgrove Rd, Sterling, VA 20166, and has a star rating of 4.3 on Google as well as positive reviews.

As per usual, I won’t be discussing any other lodging options unless the Dulles Marriott fully sells out. You’re on your own if it’s offsite options you seek.


The entire DC/Baltimore area, including the areas around BWI and Dulles Airport, are all supported by Citymapper by way of their DC/Baltimore package at the time of this writing.

UberPool and Shared Lyft are both supported in the entire DC area including the area around Dulles Airport, but are not supported in the Baltimore area including the area around BWI Airport.

At the time of this writing, Via is supported within the DC city limits, Arlington, and Alexandria, but is not currently supported in the area around Dulles Airport or anywhere in the state of Maryland including the Baltimore area and the BWI area.


Since the DC Metro system did away with paper farecards a while back, a SmarTrip card will be essential for paying the fares on the Metro system. A SmarTrip card costs $10 for the initial purchase but can be refilled as many times as you want at designated SmarTrip kiosks located at any Metro station, but prepare for this initial expense. Try and keep your SmarTrip card if you plan on visiting DC again in the future.

Information on the MARC trains from the Baltimore area can be found here.

Information on the DC Metro system can be found here.

A map of the DC Metro system can be found here.


Driving or ride-sharing is the preferred option if possible for this hotel as there is abundant free parking around the hotel. Be advised that the fastest road to Dulles from DC and points east is a toll road, charging anywhere from $2.50 for a 2-axel vehicle up to $8.75 for a 6+-axel vehicle in tolls to go from the DC area to Dulles, but if you have some extra time to spare and set your GPS to avoid toll roads, you can get around the toll road by using parallel local roads instead. Prepare to add an extra 30-65 minutes on average to your trip if you go this route.


This goes without saying, but try to fly into Dulles International Airport (IAD) if you can. The hotel is located right next to Dulles Airport and has a free shuttle going there, and the other two airports are too far away from this particular venue to be practical.

IAD is also at the time of this writing the only airport to not be served directly by a DC Metro station.

Any money you may save by taking Spirit or any other airline to BWI or DCA will be offset at least somewhat by the cost of transporting yourself there, particularly from BWI.

Once you land at IAD, the Dulles Marriott has a free shuttle that will transport you from the airport to the hotel.


From DCA, take the DC Metro blue line (make sure you are on a blue line train as the yellow line will add extra time and transfers) toward Largo Town Center to Rosslyn, then transfer to the Silver line toward Wiehle-Reston East and take an UBER to the Dulles Marriott from there.


If you must come from BWI, try to get there during the day so you can take the MARC train to Union Station. Once at Union Station, take the Metro red line toward Shady Grove to Metro Center, then transfer to the Silver line toward Wiehle-Reston East and take an UBER to the Dulles Marriott from there.


Take any bus or train line to Union Station in DC and follow the above Metro directions for BWI from there.


There are some food options close by and others within a reasonable driving distance.

For your frugal grocery shopping, Walmart Supercenter is located about 15 minutes up route 28, at 45415 Dulles Crossing Plaza. A Giant (1228 Elden Street, Herndon, VA), Harris Teeter (12960 Highland Crossing Dr, Herndon), and Safeway (413 Elden St, Herndon) are all located within a 15 minute drive of the hotel.

Whole Foods is located about 20 minutes east (no tolls but the toll road is faster) at 11660 Plaza America Dr, Reston, VA.

Most of your immediate food options for your daily meal out are located in the airport, and include a Kitchen by Wolfgang Puck, Smashburger, District Chophouse, Wendy’s, Au Bon Pain, Bar Symon, Pei Wei (Chinese), Chef Geoff’s, and two different Subways.

A 15 minute or so drive into the nearby town of Reston, VA yields several other options, including Pollo Peru, a casual Peruvian-style chicken place (1675 Reston Parkway), Hibiscus Thai Cuisine, a Thai eatery (11790 Baron Cameron Avenue), and a Silver Diner (11951 Killingsworth Avenue). Also to be found in Reston is Midtown Kabob (11990 Explorer Street), Jackson’s Mighty Fine Food and Lucky Lounge (11927 Democracy Drive), Big Bowl (11915 Democracy Drive), and sweetgreen (11935 Democracy Drive), among others.

Parking is a little tighter at Reston Town Center, but there are several parking garages located directly nearby that are all free after 5pm on Friday and all weekend. Info here:

That’s all for this entry. Hit the comments if you got anything to add and I’ll see you all at the Dulles Marriott in September!

#FrugalCongressFood Profile: Send In The Quest Bar Clones

[Disclosure: As of the time of this writing, I am not directly affiliated with nor have been sponsored or hired by any of the 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.]

For my very first #FrugalCongressFood profile, I covered Quest bars, those portable, shelf-stable, and ever-reliable flavored chunks of protein, soluble fiber, and sugar-free sweeteners that have been the food source powering many dance congresses as well as, frequently, day-to-day life in general for me. Quest bars accomplish this while being free of the carbs, sugar, and low-grade soy protein present in many of the candy bars masquerading as protein bars that defined the protein bar landscape before Quest Nutrition came on the scene in 2010.

Indeed, Quest bars remain to this day the gold standard for low-carb low-sugar high-protein bars, with delicious new flavors such as birthday cake, chocolate hazelnut, mint chocolate chunk, and chocolate sprinkled donut (my new favorite Quest bar flavor btw) being introduced in just the short period of time since I wrote the above linked article and the time I wrote the first draft of this one in May of 2019. Undoubtedly at least one or two new flavors will have come out between then and press time. Quest Nutrition has also expanded their food offerings into low-carb high-protein chips, cookies and even pizza, which are all also quite good.

However, a bevy of clones are now vying for a place in the low-carb high-protein portable food arena alongside Quest’s offerings, and that is what we are covering in today’s article.

We will start with the budget alternative: Wal-Mart’s Equate brand. The Equate line covers a wide variety of adult nutrition products including protein bars, protein powder, and protein cookies. The bars are slightly less expensive at Wal-Mart than Quest’s offerings ($5 for a 4-pack vs. $7 for a 4-pack of Quest bars).

Equate’s protein bars are a functional alternative to Quest bars with much the same consistency and the same protein content. Taste wise, they are much blander and less flavorful than Quest’s offerings, but they use a blend of whey protein isolate, milk protein isolate, pea protein, and rice protein as a contrast to Quest’s use of only whey protein isolate. Equate’s cookies, by contrast, are sweet and flavorful, but only pack 10 grams of protein to the bars’ 20, and the cookies have higher net carbs so be mindful of this when using them to hit any daily protein numbers you may have.

Switching to the higher end of the Quest clones, ONE is a new direct Quest competitor who has come onto the scene in recent years. ONE’s bars are available at Wal-Mart, Target, 7-Eleven, CVS, Safeway, Harris Teeter, and GNC for roughly the equivalent cost to Quest bars at each location. Unlike the chewy consistency of Quest and Equate bars, ONE’s bars are glazed and have a very different taste and feel from Quest bars. Still, they have roughly the same calories, protein, sugar, net carbs, and fiber as their Quest counterparts.

ONE bars come in several delicious flavors, including birthday cake, peanut butter cup, dark chocolate sea salt, maple glazed doughnut, cookie dough, blueberry cobbler, and, my personal favorite, almond bliss (which is basically a low-carb low-sugar high-protein Almond Joy bar for those who are fans of that).

Protein powder mega-players Optimum Nutrition have also thrown their hats in the low-carb low-sugar high-protein snack food ring in recent years with a diverse array of products including cake bites, protein almonds, and crispy treats, all packing the same nutritionally sound numbers as the other brands and Optimum Nutrition’s tried-and-true whey protein as their basis.

The crispy treats, available in salted toffee pretzel, vanilla marshmallow, and peanut butter crunch, are basically nutritious Rice Krispie Treats packing 20 grams of protein and only 3 grams of sugar per bar. They do contain 22-24 grams of carbs per bar, which is a bit on the high side for those on low-carb diets.

ON’s cake bites are pleasantly flavored, but the downside with them is that the different flavors of their cake bite offerings kind of taste the same to me. I’m not sure how it’s possible for birthday cake, chocolate cherry, and red velvet to taste the same, but they do. Still, the flavor is pleasant and satisfying, and ON’s cake bites are about as nutritionally sound as cake bites can be.

The almonds are delicious, and the extra fat from the almonds is beneficial in filling you up, but they only pack 10 grams of protein per bag, so be mindful of that as well.

Optimum Nutrition also offers high protein chips, wafers, energy chews, and even protein water via their website.

As I stated in my previous Quest bar profile, what essentially amounts to healthy high-protein candy should NOT form the entire basis of your diet, at dance congresses or anywhere else. But these Quest clones, alongside Quest bars in order to add some new flavors and textures, and alongside other portable shelf-stable nutritional staples such as almonds, jerky, and fruit and vegetable squeeze pouches, could be a part of the reasonably balanced dance congress diet needed to power you through your weekend! I hope this helped somebody and as always, hit the comments if you have any suggestions.