Living Out of a Suitcase – A Shen Yun Dancer’s Guide
Every year when the crispness returns to the air, the trees finish their undressing, and the earth settles in for months of slumber, it’s a sign that Shen Yun’s ready to head out for an all-new season. This is when I venture into our dormitory storage to dig out my suitcase for tour.
It’s mottled navy, with edges evident of a life of globetrotting. Nine years old and going strong, my suitcase has been the only constant in my Shen Yun career. I’m loath to replace it, though year after year I’m given the chance to. Just the sight of it kindles a heady mix of excitement, nostalgia, responsibility, and a hint of vexation. Why vexation? Because packing for tour means fitting my whole life for the next six months into this 13 by 22-inch suitcase.
The ratio of our days on the road to luggage space often staggers airport employees and fellow airport travelers. “How do you make it work?” many have asked. Are you wondering too?
Well, then, here are a few pointers:
1. Distill your belongings to the essentials. If you “might need” it, chances are you won’t. Evaluate each item. Can you go without it? Often, “might needs” may also be obtained on the way. This’ll give you a happy opportunity to explore the offerings of new destinations.
An exception would be medical equipment or anything you can’t be stuck in a foreign country without; contact lenses, for example.
2. Limit your valuables. Safety should be every traveler’s priority. It unquestionably is ours. If a hundred things can go wrong on any personal odyssey, then imagine the possible mishaps that could occur during large-group travel.
Also, as you may know, even after 10 years, the Chinese communist regime is still trying to stop our performances and not allow us to display all these aspects of traditional Chinese culture. Not only have they banned us from performing in China, but their embassies and consulates bend over backwards to impede Shen Yun on the international stage as well. So, since any detail going amiss could affect our entire production, we give careful consideration to safety—including that of all personnel, performance equipment, instruments, documents, personal valuables, and even our vehicles—during every step of tour.
You probably won’t need this level of security. However, consider each valuable. How will you store it? Safe deposit box, luggage padlock, or hidden pocket? Would you risk losing it? Is it easily replaced?
Best not to bring anything irreplaceable. Homecoming will be all the sweeter when you’re finally reunited with it.
3. Be artful in your packing. Much like in dance, flexibility is key. Soft toiletry bags waste less space. If you must bring angular, hard objects, make use of any crevices. For this reason, organizers devour space and can actually do more harm than good. Instead, opt for small, soft bags and piece your belongings together like a Tetris game.
Some people vacuum bag their clothing. These bags save space, but don’t work well with our schedule. We average one hotel stopover every three days, not including all those night-only stopovers during marathon drives. If you pack and unpack this much, it might be too much of a deflating experience.
4. Roll your clothing. Fold your clothing lengthwise in halves or thirds, roll, and arrange tangram-style. This is the most compact and practical method we’ve found.
5. Traveling together? Things like a camera or toothbrush charger work well for this. Take turns carrying it.
6. Empty space is your friend. The less you begin with, the more you can acquire. At the start of our journey, I like to bring a few small rewards for myself (i.e. bath bombs). These are things I wouldn’t pamper myself with during the offseason. But as tour progresses, it brings me joy to see my belongings become sparser… and then gradually richer as I acquire new memories and souvenirs.
Shen Yun’s uniform tour suitcase has an extension with the ability to expand from seven inches to almost a foot deep. Every year, we embark with flat suitcases and return with swollen ones. However, I advise against using it until the latter half of your wanderings.
Work with your suitcase, because you’ll go through some tough times together. Tailor your habits to it, and it’ll have your back time and again. On tour, as luggage zippers get harder to close, we jokingly wish for a carpetbag à la Mary Poppins. But tell you a secret: each offseason I yearn to live out of a suitcase again. The feeling of not having or needing many possessions is freeing and rewarding—it’s one that I hope everyone can experience some time, whether you are traveling or not.
November 29, 2016