I’ve always been a firm believer that our community is filled with the most fun, energetic, good-hearted and kind people. You’re probably asking, why do I need to be concerned about safety at West Coast Swing conventions? Aren’t Westies a good group of people? Yes, they are! But my other philosophy is that even West Coast Swing events aren’t immune from Murphy’s Law (anything that can go wrong will go wrong). While I wish no harm on anyone going to events for the first time, this post will cover several topics under the “safety” umbrella to ensure that you stress less and focus on the most important part of a westie weekend – THE DANCING!

ICE! ICE! ICE, baby! – It’s more than just a good throwback hip hop track, it’s a good reminder to have an In Case of Emergency contact. Common sense 101, right? Think about this. How many phone numbers do you actually have memorized? To be quite honest, I think I can count on one hand the amount of phone numbers I have memorized. It’s good to have a “go-to” person at the event. This could be your roommate(s) or the people you’re traveling with. However, if you’re flying solo it’s a good idea to befriend the local dancers, event staff, or others who have been to that event a few times and know the hotel/area. Should an emergency arise, this person can point you to a doctor, hospital, etc. You should also have the contact information of someone at your home base. What if a family member or someone is trying to contact you, but they can’t reach your cell phone? Leave the name of the hotel where you’re staying so they can contact the front desk if they’re having difficulty contacting you.

Let’s Talk About Health, BABY! – Since dancing’s the main activity for the weekend, make sure to listen to your body throughout the weekend. Take time to stretch and don’t ignore any sudden aches or pains. Jennifer Nye, a westie event veteran, has this bit of advice westie convention newcomers should heed:

The biggest thing I can say about health and safety is to respect the physical limitations of your body. I’ve seen so many preventable accidents happen because someone didn’t stretch or ignored injuries and danced through the pain. Ignoring the warning signs that your body is giving you is one way to further damage it. My best advice is to stretch and pay attention. If stretching isn’t helping or pain is persistent it may be time to consult a professional.”

It’s super important to listen to what your body is saying. We westies sometime get so involved with workshops, competing, and social dancing, it’s like we don’t set aside time to decompress or tend to our bodies. If your hamstring is bothering you, stretch it out. Stretching does a body good, and you can  check out this video for a good starter stretching routine. Stéphane Schneider from Abi Therapy (a vendor at 30 to 40 events a year) says,

“Dancing is a sport! You should warm up your joints and muscles before dancing and you should never lay down before stretching your sore body.If you don’t pack light, get a massager to help your sore muscle.If you are in pain, go see one of the therapist who set up a massage table for you. If it’s just soreness, schedule a massage on Sunday before heading back; it will save you tons of pain for the following week.”

Eating Healthy At Events: Eating healthy at events can be a little tricky if there are no healthy options nearby or the hotel dining falls more into the hearty side. Scheneider advises to eat smart at events:

“You should consider a dance weekend like a marathon activity. Therefore you should have the following snacks ready : Bananas, cereal/protein bars and some Powerade-like drinks. As for light meals, you can easily travel with some sandwich materials: Whole grain bread, turkey meat, sliced cheese. If you go out, you should give priorities to salads and easy-to-digest food (easy on the bacon!).It is also important for you to plan time for meals just like you do for other activities. Twice a day, you should free an hour and an half in your calendar.”

ZZZZzzzz Catching Zs at events events can be pretty difficult. The enthusiastic westie in all of us wants to attend ALL the workshops, comps, shows, and social dancing. However, getting sleep (no matter how little it is) is important.

It’s all about planning: you can choose to skip some workshops or take naps during comps that you are not entered in. Also if you plan to dance late night you will have to consider skipping some shows at night to get some rest before dancing. Remember that if you have a full-time regular job and are over 25, it will take you weeks to recover from 2 nights of late night dancing! No matter how hard it is for you to wake up from a nap, remember the key rule: Any sleep is good and better than no sleep. Power naps of 30 minutes can relieve a lot of stress from your body and mind!” say Schenider.

Hydrate! Water stations around the ballroom are a dancer’s best friend! It’s SUPER important to stay hydrated when we’re dancing for hours. We obviously sweat while dancing, and we have to counteract that with hydration. Drinks with electrolytes like Gatorade and Powerade are good for re-energizing as well.

Drink water! A lot of water! Would you go run for hours without drinking water? Would you get on a football field with a glass of alcohol and a hangover? Probably not…No one should drink less than half a gallon of water when dancing four hours; think about it,” Schneider advises.

What if there’s a medical incident in the ballroom? 
Unfortunately accidents can happen at events. If someone is suffering from a seizure or other serious injury, take these steps: 1) Make sure one person calls 911. In situations like this, a lot of people tend to panic, and you’ll have multiple people calling 911 to report the same accident. This clogs up the dispatch line and delays the process of getting help to the person. 2) Don’t crowd. We all want to express our concern and make sure everything’s ok. However, it can overwhelm the person seeking medical attention. The best you can do is give the medical personnel space to attend to the patient. 3) Let the professionals handle the situation. Westies who also happen to be medical professionals have stepped up and assisted in these dangerous situations and it’s remarkable! However, if we don’t possess the proper knowledge to help out, it’s best not to get in the way.

Everybody in the ballroom gettin’ tipsy! So, I talked a little bit about drinking at events in my last post. Disclaimer: I’m not against drinking at events. I myself am a wine and westie girl. HOWEVER, what I don’t promote is drinking and engaging in obnoxious behavior. What do I mean by that? Inappropriately touching your partner (goes for both guys and girls, not just one group), getting in physical altercations, and trashing your hotel room or someone else’s are never okay. I once hosted what was supposed to be a chill kickback in my room one night at an event, and one of the attendees ended up throwing up right in front of my hotel room in the hallway. It’s a wonder I didn’t get a cleaning charge on my bill. I’m not saying this to discourage people from going to events or to scare parents into not allowing their kids to go events. I’m simply stating that, in the Westie world, we’re sort of known for social drinking. As such, it’s best to respect your body’s limitations with alcohol. I know when I drink, and I enter that tipsy-drunk phase, I run the risk of hurting my partner so I warn them that I’ve been drinking a little, so they know to take it easy. Bottom line, eat, drink and be merry, but don’t overdo it.“The Talk” Unfortunately sexual assaults can, and have, happened at events. No one likes bringing this topic up, but it shouldn’t be ignored either. Dance events are supposed to be fun, and a relaxing break from our everyday life. However, the post-traumatic effects from sexual assaults can take away that enjoyment. No one should have to go through that.

Just because you’re acting sexy or feeling sensual, it doesn’t mean you want sex.” – Devin Lyle (Buzzfeed Producer and S Factor Instructor)

West Coast Swing can be a sexy dance, however just because a lady does a few booty pops or a gentleman body rolls really close doesn’t mean that either party is asking for attention. It could be solely because the music made them feel a certain way. Sexy moves don’t equal an invitation.

If someone’s repeatedly touching you inappropriately or asking you to do something you’re not ok with, 1) say “no.” No is a complete sentence, and if you already told them they’re making you uncomfortable, you don’t need further explanation. 2) Tell someone! Your roommate, an event director, a pro on staff, a volunteer… whoever. PLEASE make sure someone knows. It can be scary, and you might feel like a snitch, but trust me you’re not only protecting yourself you’re protecting others.

This post from Champion Stephen White received 185 shares and over 1,000 likes:

New rule for myself at events. I am a safe zone. If someone is making you feel uncomfortable or unsafe and I’m around, (and you can see the blonde hair floating about) you get to come up to me and say “I need you.” No questions asked. You can even tell the other party that I requested the interaction and I will go with it. I won’t need an explanation, qualification etc. We can take a walk outside, grab water, etc. I don’t care if I’m mid dance. I know it’s not a lot, but I offer this in the hopes that others will too. I understand some of us can be socially awkward. I do it all the time unfortunately. It’s not an excuse to make people feel unsafe. Time to be better about this. EDIT And post script for clarifications sake.– I’m sincerely hoping other professionals will get on board with me for this.
Too often people won’t reach out to us for help, when we’re the ones that can give it. There doesn’t need to be witch hunts or mob justice, but if everyone knows they have people at EVERY EVENT they can go to, just in case, this could aid in being a deterrent for errant behaviors across the board.
Even if it’s just as a peer or community leader saying “Hey, I know you didn’t mean to do that for the 15th time, but here’s how you lead that without your hand slipping where it shouldn’t. ” I want people to flourish and have room for mistakes as is often needed with our ridiculously awkward selves. I want us to be an understanding and empathetic community. Yet, it’s also time we apply pressure where it’s needed and stand up and say some of this sh*t is not ok.
Cool? Cool.”

My coaches have become more than just mentors. They have become my confidants at events, and if something feels wrong, I feel 100% comfortable telling them something’s not right. If there are any red flags going through your head that someone you’re dancing with has had a little too much and/or touched you inappropriately, please tell someone on the staff! It’s so important to make others aware so we’re not kicking ourselves later for being too late. See something, say something.

Dance Jam Productions (Responsible for events such as MadJam, DCX Swing, Swing Fling) recently came out with a code of conduct for their events that should apply to all events.

This post’s content was on the heavy side, but it’s so important to bring these issues to light. Remember the goal of a westie weekend is to enjoy each other’s company! We want to make sure everyone’s having a great time, especially newcomers to the convention life. That’s it for this week! The topic for next will be a fun one! How to expand your dance family and make new friends at events. For Wandering Westie blog, I’m Stephanie Pham. Keep dancing!

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