Pack like a Pro
Traveling Tips to Save a Headache
By Alexzandra Enger
If you're a competitive ballroom dancer, chances are you'll be traveling to a competition by air at some point in your dance career. This can present new concerns and new challenges, many of which are entirely unique to ballroom dance. If you're a follow, your traveling troubles are even greater since the sheer volume of things we need to be floor-ready, from dresses to makeup, is so much more than it is for our leads. Recently I flew to the East coast for the New Jersey Summer Sizzler, a USA Dance National Qualifier Event, and had to practice creative packing myself, so I'd like to take this opportunity to share some of my favorite follow's packing tips for having an easy and stress-free trip.
First of all, invest in a high-quality carry-on sized suitcase. When I travel for ballroom, the only luggage I use is a carry-on and a personal item. This way, you can keep all your things with you at all times. There's nothing worse than showing up to baggage claim and discovering that your suitcase, with your several thousands of dollars-worth of dresses has been damaged, lost, or stolen. Travel insurance might cover this loss, but that won't help when you've got a competition tomorrow. Keeping my bags with me at all times gives me the security and peace of mind that I will definitely walk out of the airport with all my belongings intact.
Cut your packing list down to the essentials only, then add extra things only if you have the room. Traveling with only a carry-on significantly limits the amount of available packing space. If I'm lucky, my partner will have room in his suitcase for my shoes or a dress since he doesn't have to pack voluminous dresses or ten pounds of makeup, but I don't like to rely on this. When I sit down to pack, I seriously consider what I'm actually going to need. My costumes, their accessories, and my dance shoes are the first things to go into my bag. Then, I lay out my makeup and toiletries and set aside any duplicates or extraneous things. I'm probably not going to need three different blushes, so only the one I know I will be using goes into my bag. Most hotels have hair driers, so you can leave yours at home. After this, I pack my non-dance clothing, which we'll talk about soon.
Invest in miniatures of your makeup and toiletry products. I have a travel makeup bag that is specifically for ballroom, and in it I have minis of all the products I need to complete both my ballroom face and my regular day face. Mini products don't last as long as regular-sized ones of course, but that's just fine since they're only used when I travel by air for competitions. The biggest caveat of this is that the products' cost often isn't scaled down proportionally for the size of the minis, but I'm again okay with this since the precious square inches of space saved more than makes up for the difference in cost. Since you're traveling carry-on only, you'll also need minis of your liquid products to get through TSA successfully, so we're knocking out two birds with one stone here. You can buy things too big to pack like hairspray at a drugstore once you arrive, since you can't bring aerosols into the cabin anyway.
Grab some plastic zip-top bags and get comfy. Every inch of space is needed, and air takes up much of what we have to work with. If I'm struggling to fit everything into my carry-on I'll pack my dresses and clothing into gallon-sized (or larger! Look in the camping section for these giant bags) zip-top bags and sit on them to squish the air out before closing them up. The amount of space saved by doing this is almost comical. I never knew how much airy fluff was in the skirts of my dresses until I did this. My standard gown in particular halves in size.
Choose items that can do double duty, and of course wear the biggest ones on the plane. This one is the trickiest since it'll depend on how long your trip will be. First, ask yourself what you're really going to wear when you're not dancing. If I've got a break between heats I'll rarely want to put on anything other than yoga pants and a t-shirt, so that's what I pack. Leggings and t-shirts roll up small, so these won't take up much space. Where I'm more likely to run into issues is packing nice clothes for evening shows, dinners, and sessions I'm not dancing in. What I do here is pack a couple pairs of tights and two or three different nice dresses that pack small. I then wear another dress or a suit onto the plane with a pair of heels dressy enough to work for all situations. Wearing heels on planes has never bothered me, it's not like I'm running sprints down the concourse of course, and so it is one big place I can save space. From here it's just mixing and matching. Now naturally I won't want to be wearing heels all weekend so I'll pack a comfy pair of flats as well, and shove things like socks into the toes.
Your personal item is an often overlooked resource. I like to bring a big (really big - I always underestimate how much space is beneath the seats) tote bag and then put my electronics, snacks, tsa liquids bag, any medications, and other small essentials into it to save space in my carry-on. I'll also pop a smaller purse and an evening clutch in my tote to use later on in my trip. If I ran out of space in my luggage and still have space in my tote, I'll also put some clothing in here. What I don't bring is books or magazines. I know I won't use them since I always sleep during the ride, so I just leave them at home. I can get almost anything I'd want on my phone or tablet anyway. I also pack a cardigan here since flights can get chilly. Basically, anything I'd need to pull out for TSA or would want during the ride will go into my tote bag.
On the topic of TSA, I do have one warning. Sometimes follows will be pulled aside during TSA screening because of the metal-backed Swarovski stones on our gowns. This is rare and irritating, but sometimes unavoidable. If I can, I pack my dresses on top so if I do need to pull them out I don't have to unpack everything else as well. Almost always I'll be able to breeze through security without issue, and I like to think that smart packing is one of the main reasons for my lack of headache. Efficiency is a wonderful thing, and I'm always looking for new and better methods.
Do you have any ballroom tricks, hacks, or tips? Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org for a chance to be featured in our next issue!