Wednesday, July 27, 2016

How to Nurture a Tango Community

As someone who has been running a successful weekly milonga for 20 years, I have some firm ideas on this subject.

The first step is to establish a weekly milonga.  You must commit to being there every single week, week after week. If for some reason you cannot be there, line up a substitute. It is permissible to close on major holidays, or to take the summer off, if you let people know way in advance.

You need a knowledgeable DJ, someone who knows how to assemble a tanda, who has a wide selection of music, who can "read" the dancers, and who is capable of adjusting a playlist on the fly. If you plan to DJ yourself, take the time to learn your music, put together workable Tandas, and be willing to listen to feedback from longtime dancers

 Establish a welcoming atmosphere. When someone walks into your milonga, they should be made to feel like an honored guest, whether it is their first visit or their hundredth. They should be greeted at the door by name, or asked their name so they can be greeted. And remember that people come to a milonga to dance. I invite a few people every week to come for free, whose specific job is to make people feel welcome, and to make sure everyone dances at least one tanda. I also encourage my regulars to dance a tanda every night with someone new.

 Include a beginner lesson before your milonga. Encourage experienced dancers to join in.

Regular classes by a good teacher are an absolute necessity if a community is to grow. If your community has good teachers, support them. If not, try to bring in guest teachers from a neighboring community on a regular basis.

 Avoid drama (This is not always possible, since there are always people who enjoy drama). But don't feed it. Don't gossip about the dancers, don't say anything not nice about other promoters, be positive and upbeat about everyone in your community.  When it comes to the larger Tango community, use a cooperative model rather than a competitive one. Encourage dancers to support all Tango opportunities in your community. Do your best to avoid scheduling conflicts, so that people are not forced to choose between events. Reach out to other promoters to work together to avoid conflicts, and to let them know when you are adding something special. Invite other teachers to attend your events at no charge.

 Make sure you have a social media presence, and nurture it weekly. Post your events, but also post all other Tango classes, milongas, and practicas.

 Every now and then, plan a  "Tango Family" activity - a road trip to another city, a cookout, or a night out without tango. Keep track of birthdays and mark  them - a shoutout on facebook, or Birthday Dance at the milonga.

Growing a Tango community is a frequently thankless job requiring time, passion, and committment. But if successful, the rewards are worth it.

Monday, July 11, 2016

The Different Accents of Tango

Tango is a folk dance, or, as I like to call it, a "barroom" dance. As such, it lacks the rigid rules that apply to Ballroom dances. There is no one true frame, no one true posture, no one true way to do a "step".  And because of this, new Tango dancers frequently find themselves,when dancing at an unfamiliar milonga, in the uncomfortable position of finding that much of what they were taught is "wrong" - at least in the context of that milonga.

This can be unsettling, at the least. When a woman who has been taught to wait for the lead to the cross finds herself dancing for the first time with a man who expects an automatic cross, the results can be confusing. When a woman who has learned strictly milonguero style dances for the first time with a partner who frequently opens the embrace, she feels abandoned. And her partner may feel smothered.

 Every Tango community has a unique accent. Every Tango dancer has their own accent as well. The reason we dance tandas is that it often takes at least 3 songs to learn your partner's accent, to adapt your own dancing to that accent, and finally, to blissfully enjoy the dance for a song or two.

 Whenever I go to a new community, I try if possible to take an introductory class or two with the local teacher. I find that to be the quickest way to learn the local accent. And I usually learn something. A good teacher will generally explain, if asked, why they teach one way and not another (it may be as simple as personal preference). This is a great way to expand your own Tango horizons - as long as you do not waste it by complaining that your own teacher does it differently.

 Experienced dancers know not to judge. They know that differences in style do not necessarily reflect lack of competence. We all have our preferences, and that is OK. But if your preferences are solely due to unwillingness to be open to different accents, you miss out on one of the best parts of Tango - the joy of creating a new dance with each new partner.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Who Says Ballroom Dancers Can't Dance Tango?

I have often found that there is a scorn for Ballroom dancers among teachers of Argentine Tango. This manifests itself in numerous ways.

I disagree, and would like to address some of the more ridiculous statements.

- "Ballroom dancers can't understand Tango".
No one can understand Tango until they learn it. Even the most advanced Ballroom dancers are beginners when they start to learn Tango. Why in the world would you hold Ballroom dancers to a different standard than everyone else?

- "Ballroom dancers can't learn Tango"
This is just flat-out absurd. Yes, Ballroom dancers have to learn a lot of new concepts. Ballroom is a lot more structured than Tango. There is less room for improvisation. But anyone who has danced with a really good Ballroom dancer knows that it is not choreographed, and can be very creative. Once Ballroom dancers get past the idea that there is a step pattern for everything, and master the concept of an embrace rather than a frame, they usually do quite well.  They ARE dancers, after all.

- "Ballroom Teachers can't teach Tango"
Obviously, you cannot teach what you do not know.  But dance teachers can teach both, if they know both.

The problem is when a Ballroom teacher decides to teach Tango as another ballroom dance, teaching a set series of steps. Tango does not work that way. I do not understand why a Ballroom teacher who spent years mastering their craft would assume that a few workshops and youtube videos would qualify them to teach Tango. If a Ballroom teacher wishes to teach Tango s/he must put in at least the same hours of study that they put in to learn Ballroom, and must approach the process with the mindset of a total beginner. If they do so, it is quite possible for a teacher to be competent in both disciplines.

- "I have never been able to teach Ballroom dancers to dance Tango"

This is a common complaint among Tango teachers who have no Ballroom background. If you do not understand how the dances differ, it is hard to explain it to your students. I firmly believe that every Tango teacher should spend enough time learning Ballroom to be able to understand the differences.

- "I don't want to - like to - teach Ballroom Dancers"
This is just dumb. Here you have a huge community of people who ALREADY enjoy partner dancing, already understand the basic concept of partnership connection and musicality, and you do not want to teach them??? Yes, teaching Ballroom dancers can be a challenge. It is always harder to change habits than to make them in the first place, and Ballroom dancers arrive with a whole slew of habits that, while quite proper for Ballroom, do not work for Tango. But they also arrive with a whole slew of skills that, with proper guidance, can be effectively used in Tango.

Ballroom dancers and Tango dancers differ in a lot of ways, but they share one thing, and it is the most important thing - They love to dance. And for that alone we should welcome them.