Published September 4th 2017
So I suppose this blog applies to all dances but I’ve decided to focus it towards tango dancers as this group of dancers tends to bandy the word “community” about the most. To me “community” means a group of people working together to create something bigger and better. Over the past 18 months I have been working to build the tango “community” in Swansea by running free classes and holding events and along the way there have been plenty of people who have helped, just look at the number of people and groups that shared news about Urban Tango Nights last workshop on Facebook, some as far afield as Cardiff, Bristol and Bath. This help is what I think of as “community” and it got me thinking about the responsibilities of those within the “community”. There are of course a number of groups within the community: Newbies, “experienced” dancers and teachers/event organisers.
Newbies or beginners have the least responsibilities but play a very important role in the community as without them the tango scene will disappear. It is important for those new to the tango scene to attend classes and look around for other classes that can help them progress faster. They should also overcome the natural fear of not being good enough to attend bigger events and workshops. Also it is really important for beginners to ask teachers questions during the classes and not accept flowery answers that do not answer the question (more on this later). Something that those new to tango can do which really helps the tango community is talk about the classes and encourage those outside the scene to try it.
Those that call themselves “experienced” tango dancers can do a lot to build the tango community. The most important thing that this group can do is to go to local classes. There are numerous reasons why this would be good for the tango community, as well as some personal improvement gains. I have heard a number of people say that “they are too good to go to class” or “I have been dancing for x number of years so I won’t learn anything in classes”. These statements really frustrate me because, often, neither is true. Let’s start with the former statement; I have never come across anybody who has said this and been able to live up to it. In fact many of those I have heard say this, are fairly lousy dancers and know only a small fraction about the tango world yet talk if they know it all, so they would benefit greatly from going to classes.
Now onto that second statement, I will ignore that fact that the length of time of doing a dance has nothing to do with how good you are at dancing that dance. I go to local classes and really enjoy them. It is true that I will probably not learn any new moves or find any of the sequences taxing. However, every teacher is different and by listening to what they are saying they can give you another, different outlook on tango and greater insight into the background or development of the dance. Also attending classes allows me to concentrate on and practice technique, very often I dance with complete beginners which means I have to concentrate on the quality of movement and the communication so they can experience good leading and know what it should feel like. Also dancing with beginners is a great way to encourage them to keep dancing tango, another thing I often hear that really gets to me “the class is just full of beginners”. Everyone was a beginner once and “experienced” dancers should be there to help them progress rather than see them as some sort of hindrance to their own dancing. Beginners often say to me it is nice that an “experienced” dancer has taken time to dance with them.
Another thing that “experienced” dancers should consider, and often don’t, is that events they attend such as workshops and milongas are often subsidised using takings from the classes run by the event organisers. Therefore “experienced” dancers should consider going to classes just to give a little back to the community rather than just taking from it.
This seems to have led nicely on to the responsibilities of teachers and event organisers. The role of teachers is fairly clear, offer classes with good quality teaching that meets the needs of those attending the class. I have heard many stories of people being put off classes due to an over rigid structure that saps the enjoyment that those attending want while not facilitating progress in learning. So it is important that teachers speak to those who are attending their classes and find out what is wanted. Something I cannot stand is teachers lying to their class when questions are asked, or answering with convoluted confusing statements. Teachers should realise that it is ok not to know the answer there and then and should not be afraid to say so.
It is also important for teachers to acknowledge other classes and suggest their students try them and even attend these classes themselves. There seems to be a very protectionist attitude in the dance community as a whole, where information about other people’s classes and events is restricted. People seem to think that class members will stop coming to their own class and just go to another class. This might be because they are scared of what they see as competition, however, if they think someone else’s class is that much better than their own, perhaps they should consider increasing the quality of their own class. Teachers should know that their responsibility is to facilitate those wanting to learn tango and help them progress, and this means telling them about other classes and events, as this will help the community grow. This will have a return effect of increasing their own class size, so everyone benefits.
Over the past 8 months I have been organising tango events in the form of guest teacher workshops and Milongas in Swansea. Event organisers (this applies to teachers too) also have a lot of responsibilities within the tango community. Firstly just to keep putting on events such as these in the community so dancers have a chance to dance in the local area. Secondly, to make sure events do not clash with other local events. Of course there are times when clashes are unavoidable, such as when events are run on a regular basis and guest teachers can only make certain dates, so one off clashes although regrettable are acceptable. However, putting on events that clash when other dates are available is totally unacceptable. It is disrespectful to other event organisers and those working hard to build the community. Also it is often the case that the local community is not big enough to be split between two local events and just results in division and resentment which can cause a community to collapse. Of course what is defined as local also comes into play. For us in Swansea I would count Cardiff as local and Bristol at a push, however, in more popular areas such as London the boundaries would be much smaller. Finally event organisers should also look to publicise other local events (for the same reasons as teachers). One last thing before I conclude, I should also include those who run social media groups that list and advertise events, these people too have responsibilities for tango communities. If the posts to that group have to be vetted, they should not restrict the flow of information to the groups followers based on personal opinion. The group members have a right to know about events, even if the person running the group is not interested in the event.
Of course in writing this blog, I have noticed the one thing that can explain those who do not help the community, and that is they are selfish and self-centred. Whether it be the “experienced” dancer who does not go to local classes as they do not see any direct benefit to themselves, teachers who are afraid they will lose their students to other teachers or only teach what they want to teach and not what the class wants or event organisers who try to put on clashing events for their own ego trip.
The solution of building the tango community is fairly simple, go to class, support those wanting to learn and spread the word about events in your local area. If you’re a user of Facebook or Twitter or other form of social media it takes one click to share an event or a photo. It’s a basic concept the more people you have doing tango, the bigger and stronger community becomes and the more opportunities there will be to dance. So don’t shoot yourself in the foot (dancing on one foot is difficult) due to being selfish, instead help the community.