Sunday, March 6, 2016

Cultivating the tango community

Have you ever been frustrated of how your tango community develops? Did you ever left the milonga in your town with bad feeling that people do not respect others on the dance floor? You can do a lot to influence this situation, I can tell you from my personal experience. In this post I will try to point few things one should never forget in the process of helping the tango community to grow and develop.

People who realize that their tango community is not developing well are usually minority at the beginning. Since we have so much passion for the dance, tango activism can be really emotionally draining process.

Having this 4 points will help you do that process without big frustrations. They are sublimed from over 5 year experience I gained in the cultivating the tango community in my town.

1. Enforcing the codigos – There are a lots of stories from the Golden Age of tango about milongueros having to do cabeceo twice: with the girl with whom they wanted to dance, and with her mother also. Yes, there were times and milongas where the girls went with their mothers. If the mother do not like the behavior and the manners of the milonguero, he would not get permission to dance with the daughter. So guys were under constant watch and they had to behave properly. There goes the myth of the milongueros as a gentlemen – they were forced to be such.

Ask a lawyer or a judge – every law is just a piece of paper and has no meaning if there is no force to make it reality.

Today there are no mothers to do the policing. Without control the crowded danceflors can become mayhem: from acrobatic dangerous dancing to aggressive and vulgar sexual behavior. Of course, noone can stop someone to do things he likes, but this behavior can destroy the mood of the milonga. And of course, it can be damaging for the reputation of the tango as a dance – which is not that good anyway.

In the contemporary milongas the role of the policing is given to the organizers. Every organizer who cares about the reputation of his/her milonga should enable to the dancers to respect the codigos and to prevent and punish any misbehavior (the punishment can be from judgmental glance to preventing them to enter the milonga again). The rules should be explicitly stated, so everyone understands what is expected of the dancers.

In my personal experience as an organizer this improves the mood of the milonga. The behavior of the dancers in time becomes instinctive and I (as an organizer) do not have to do “the policing” anymore. Sometimes, if someone misbehaves, the other dancers prevent and punish his/her behavior. Nice place to be.

2. Educating the community – The organizers have to explicitly publish what codigos should be respected in their milongas. But this is not education – it is just statement, a condition by which a dancer is accepted to become a guest. The rules are just named and it is expected from the dancers to already know what does those rules means.

Educating about the meaning, the history and the usefulness of the codigos is a job for the tango teacher. I have this feeling that the teachers in most of the places I traveled in Europe do not work on this task. Too little or not at all.
Why is that so? I guess that many of them just forget (or worse, just do not care) that the goal of teaching tango is to prepare the students to navigate easier in the milongas – to have great time and to allow others to have good time also. Codigos and behaving in milongas should be very important part of tango curriculum – not just steps, technique, musicality, connection...

I guess Argentinians learn it because it is part of their culture and it is probably often mentioned. But how an European who lives in environment with little or no contact with tango culture, should know about the codigos?

The organizers can help in educating also – with organizing events who will bring the tango culture closer to the community – events like movie projections, public lectures and debates etc.

3. Do not waste your time – No matter what you do, there are some people who are lost forever. This means that some of the more experienced members of the community, who were never taught about the codigos – will never accept it. I do not know what is it in the people that blocks them from learning and changing their behaviors, but trust me “it” exists and stops their improvement.
So do not waste time teaching them. If they do not accept the idea of proper behavior on milongas, the organizer can forbid them to enter the milongas or can make them minority and let the other respectful dancers make the pressure on them. This social pressure sometimes works.

This was one of the reason why I started teaching tango – I wanted so bad to go on milongas where people respect each other and where the rules enables predictability and good mood. You can only have influence over the people who are beginners, who are new to the community – do not waste time with the already formed dancers.

4. People are people – Whatever you do, please, please, do not forget that you are dealing with people. I, myself, had to learn it the hard way. Do not enter conflicts without reasons, allow people to keep their dignity and their beliefs. Cultivating healthy tango community is long process. Sometimes people need time to understand how and why some things work in a certain way. Do not be arrogant in that process, allow them to mature. Better use the method of leading them, than on forcing the tango culture over them.

Have fun and love your community. No matter how disrespectful are they towards the codigos, those are the very people with whom you share your passion for the dance.

Have in mind that those are not rules, but sublimed experiences I had. If you disagree or if you have different experience please contact me. You can also write to me if you have more questions on this topic.