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.


  1. Sorry, I'm one of the unteachables - see my blogpost:

    1. I am sorry, I do not understand your language...

    2. Okay, I translated it:

      And that’s my comment which I cannot resist:

      1. Nice to hear now the umpteenth fairy tale about the origin of the “códigos del tango”: Whereas according to a german tango expert from the Saarland the wicked american and japanese tourists are to be blamed for it, it is now the fault of the mothers of beautiful daughters! At some point in the future, the traditional scene should come to a common point of view! For my part, I don’t need at milongas the uptight moral of a middle class bourgeoisie of times long ago, where chaperons with glasses checked potential marriage candidates, while their spouses had fun with their concubines… I also don’t need the sort of spies known from the former GDR, here called “respectful dancers”, who – in the name of the organizer – make pressure on dissidents. That’s incredible!

      A patter typical for such scenes is the conjuration of the “chaos” when neglecting the códigos. But “vulgar sexual behavior”? Okay, I never visited a milonga in that region…
      Fine then, after intimidation and firing of all unpopular visitors, the mood of the guests still present will rise to immensity!

      Yet the comparison of any “behavior rules” with criminal laws ordered by state shows the degree of confusion taking place in some heads!

      2. Of course the easygoing dance lessons nowadays are too lax, the only thing being helpful is the recourse to the “decency lessons” of earlier eras, in order to integrate the debutants into a wooden, hierarchic structure of society. But I’m afraid that even tango teachers will meet this curriculum only half-hearted, in order to prevent grown-ups fleeing this imposition and prefer to visit carnival dance events, sometimes there even being allowed to throw confetti.

      And as to the argentine star witnesses often cited in this scene: Many news sources tell us that tango culture there also shows a wide spectrum – as well as the music played at milongas.

      3. “The unteachables” – o yes, I know… and as I’m also belonging to them, I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry. Perhaps the thing resisting in those people is called experience – the belief that when being able to dance well and looking back to a good breeding, there is no necessity to reinvent the reel. But yes, dear código preachers, focus on the beginners, for they will believe in any nonsense!

      4. At this point the suspicion creeps me that the author could be sorry for some claims he made in the text above. At least he grants himself a certain bit of tolerance and the audience time to internalize his wisdom. Okay, after all...

    3. Oh, my dear sir, I think I explained all in my post... the only thing which is not clear is why you are against the proper behavior and respectful dancing - Do you like to dance with people who interrupt your dance bumping in you non stop? Do you like for ladies to come to you to invite you by grabbing your hand? Or you prefer to be embarrassed in front of everyone when girl refuses when you approach to invite her (not with cabeceo)? Or do you prefer to push with other men for a better position with cabeceo from standing position? Or do you prefer for girls not to have equal rights as man to invite (because the cabeceo rule enables to them to make mirada)?

      I am realy sorry for the community who is not regulated as you prefer - this way, it is wild and only the most agresive and ones with less scruples and respect dance most. Decent people (and usually the best dancers) are not quite satisfied with this chaos you are describing.

    4. Dear Sir, thanks für your kind remarks!
      I’d like to answer your questions.

      “Why you are against the proper behavior and respectful dancing?”
      Let me ask a counterquestion: To which line of my text do you refer? Of course I appreciate decent manners – including the character of not being dictatorial against other persons.

      “Do you like to dance with people who interrupt your dance bumping in you non stop?”
      No, I am not mad enough to do so. In 16 years I visited nearly 3000 Milongas, most of them with no declaration of any “tango rules”. Normally I spend some hours on the dancefloor without being even touched by other couples. I think those who urgently need laws to feel safe are dramatizing the situation much more than necessary. They rather should improve their spatial orientation.

      “Do you like for ladies to come to you to invite you by grabbing your hand?”
      In general, I’m not afraid of women touching me. That can be quite nice and – in the case of well-known people – a sign of familiarity. But most ladies prefer to ask me for a dance in polite words.

      “Or you prefer to be embarrassed in front of everyone when girl refuses when you approach to invite her (not with cabeceo)?“
      I have not much experience in being rejected when asking for a dance. In Europe, we have a ballroom tradition lasting longer than the argentine tango. Since more than 150 years men ask for a dance in decent words, and, rare enough, perhaps get a refusal – mostly without committing suicide… So do I.

      “Or do you prefer to push with other men for a better position with cabeceo from standing position?”
      No – first of all, I don’t use the cabeceo very often, and secondly I am mostly accompanied by at least one woman. So I can give precedence to single men – and if I really want to dance with someone, I always manage it sooner or later.

      “Or do you prefer for girls not to have equal rights as man to invite (because the cabeceo rule enables to them to make mirada)?”
      I even prefer girls asking me for a dance verbally – or by mirada, or by grabbing my hand – no problem at all!

      In summary, I think the best community is a liberal one allowing each member to find his own way reaching the destiny of a behavior that can be accepted (although perhaps not appreciated) by everyone. My own rules may fit for me, but it would be arrogant to impose them on others. That is my definition of “respect” – and it avoids the chaos that is brought about by enemies trying to force each other to obey their own rules.

    5. So, I guess we agree - there should be manners :)
      That was my point after all. Unfortunately in many communities manners and respect do not exist :) And they should ;)

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  3. But I'm afraid we won't agree what the word "manners" means...