Monday, November 9, 2015

Festivalitos & Encuentros Milongueros 2016

It is this time of the year again - dancers are waiting for me to post my recommendations for next year. But those who follow my blog know, that I find it harder and harder to compile this list. So I hesitated for a long time, if I should post this.

My insecurity derives from several developments in the last two years:
- There are many new events using this label, but of which I cannot tell, if they can hold what they promise.
- There are many new smaller events, that might be lovely, but seem to have a very local appeal. I hesitate to recommend them to international travellers.
- Most organisers don't keep me up-to-date. 
- Some established events events are disappearing and there are only very few Festivalitos left. Most events are now pure Encuentros.
- Some are developing into another kind of event, which might be good, but which means that they actually should not be called Encuentros Milongueros anymore and therefore not be part of this list.
- I don't have the time and financial means to visit many events. So I cannot guarantee, that the "established" events are still up to a certain standard. I have to rely on third party informations.
- My personal taste has consolidated to a certain style of Encuentro: the ones without separate seating for men and women. So how can I recommend the separate-seating ones wholeheartedly? But then, others might still like them. It's nevertheless a little bit of a dilemma.
- In general, the terms "Encuentro" and "Milonguero" are shifting and being discussed a lot. So what I mean when using these terms, might be understood differently by others.

You see that this is becoming quite a challenge. 

But in the end, I have decided to post another listing of events that:
- ask participants to pre-register for the whole event,
- will take at least 3 days and have separate Milongas,
- present traditional music in tandas & cortinas,
- encourage cabeceo & mirada,
- encourage people to leave the dance-floor after the tanda to find a new partner,
- use a role or gender-balance to ensure that everyone gets to dance,
- are meant to attract people who want to dance in a close embrace on a civilised ronda.
You may call these events Encuentros Milongueros or gatherings of close-embrace dancers. Whatever...

This year, I am going to present my recommendations in three columns. 
- The Events that I will visit + the ones that I organise
- Established events without separate seating 
- Established events with separate seating 
I am going to stick to events that are well-established, recommended to me by friends and and that have a certain international appeal. 

Pasionara Milonguera, Côte D'Azur, France, January 22-24
Viento Norte (Tangokombinat Sección Norte), Eckernförde, Germany, March, 10-13
Abrazos (Tangokombinat UK), Devon, United Kingdom, May 6-8
Le Rendez-vous Milonguero de l'Essaim de Julie, France, May 14-16 (FULLY BOOKED)
Pequeña (Tangokombinat), Saarbrücken, Germany, June 17-19
Embrace Norway, Lillehammer, Norway, July 1-3
Una Mirada, Bristol, UK (in case it takes place again)
FCA (Tangokombinat), October (private event)
Abrazame, Barcelona, Spain, December (on invitation only, Encuentro-Marathon mixer)

(In some cases, you might nevertheless be assigned to a seat/table)
Paquita, France, December 29/15 - January 3/16
Noches de invierno, Reichenau an der Rax, Austria, January 1-3
Ver-O-Mar, Porto, Portugal, January 15-17
Yo soy Milonguero, Crema, Italy, March 25-28 (very big event, separate seating for different countries)
Saarburg Festivalito, Saarburg, Germany, April 1-3 
La Colmena, Helsingborg, Sweden, April 22-2
Noches de Verano, Reichenau an der Rax, Austria, August 12-14
Festivalito Porteño, Constanta, Romania (not yet confirmed)
Encuentro Milonguero, Kehl, Germany, September (Date not yet confirmed)
Encuentro de Navidad, Kehl, Germany, December (Date not yet confirmed)

(In some cases with an additional area for couples or mixed groups)
Encontro Milongueiro A Promotora, Lisbon, Portugal, February 5-8
Juntos, France, January 15-17
Les Cigales, France, May 5-8
1st Encuentro Porteño, Amsterdam, Netherlands, May 19-22 
Mirame, Montpellier, France, June 10-12
Festiv'à La Milonguita, Sisteron, France, June 23-26 
Dans tes bras, Paris, France, July 14-17 
Stockholm in a close embrace, Stockholm, Sweden, Juli 29-31
La Franteña, France, August 11-15
Ensueños, Porto, Portugal, October (Date not yet confirmed)
Yupie, France, October 14-16
Te Quiero Lisboa, Lisbon, Portugal, November (Date not yet confirmed)
Raduno Milonguero, Noci, Italia (Date not yet confirmed)
Roma Milonguera, Rom. Italy, November (Date not yet confirmed)

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Great Expectations

Today, I am celebrating my 20-years-tango anniversary. 

This seems like a good opportunity to check, if I am happy with what I achieved in my tango life. At least this is how my post will start, but I could not prevent it from ending up in my usual rant. So, if you are looking for an unconditional praise of tango, better don't hold your breath. ;-)

On October, 28th in the year of 1995 - last century - a much younger Melina and her partner started participating in a tango practica, that a dancer from Berlin had started in their home town. Unfortunately this first encounter with tango was quite unsatisfying. Showing someone a step and then letting the students fool around, did not meet my expectations of learning a dance. Also back then, there weren‘t any milongas, so the whole thing was kind of pointless. Which is why after a year of dabbling, we stopped going to that practica.

But we did not forget Tango, went on practising our steps once in a while, somehow knowing that there must be more to it. Dreaming of something better...

In January 2000 we found that a small tango-community had developed without us noticing. Now there was a real school with milongas and workshops. So much better than before, although the classes still consisted of memorising steps. But now they were presented in a more professional way. Luckily we soon discovered another school in a neighbouring town. They danced in a close embrace, used Cabeceo and Cortinas, taught some tango technique (before showing the new step) and were friendly and welcoming. We had found our tango home.

You all know what happened soon: I got to know Detlef, we started danced together, we were asked to teach a pre-milonga class in another city, then more... We started giving regular classes in several towns, travelling a little, then more, gave up our normal professions, started working internationally... Our story is not unique, but I am quite proud with what we achieved. 

I had never fantasised about being a tango teacher. In the beginning, just wanted to dance nicely. After starting to teach, I just aimed to do a good job. Nothing more or less. And therefore all my expectations were exceeded in every possible way: Although we were neither argentine, nor young and attractive, although our dance is quite plainly, we not only managed to make a living from being tango professionals, but so much more. We have grown a solid reputation for our technical, musical and pedagogic approach and for organising or promoting quality events. We have even had a part in building an international community of close embrace dancers and friends. Without having to fake anything or to compromise our philosophy. Quality, reliability and authenticity have been my main guidelines in these last years. And I am really content with the outcome. When I go to a tango event nowadays, there is such an good chance, that I get nice dances in a pleasant environment. 

I am also happy about what I learned by teaching and organising. From my students, from the exchange with other dancers, in recent years through the research of music, our Tango-Teacher-Training (TTT) and the work on our book+DVD. I feel as if have been given a great gift: a profession in which I can help people to widen their horizons and offer them the opportunity to discover the joy of embracing to the music. It is wonderful to see the concentrated and happy faces in a class or a milonga. I don‘t need everyone to be a world champion or an image of myself, but if people after a class walk a little nicer or pay more attention to their partners and to the music, that‘s already a lot gained. I do my best, but I cannot produce miracles. 

The problem is: with my general approach of wanting to do everything as good as possible, I might have involuntarily contributed to a rise of expectations, that have gotten quite out of hand.

First of all, let me explain, that I am no perfectionist. By saying "I try to do everything as good as possible" you should pay attention to the second part of the sentence. "As good as possible" means: subject to one‘s capabilities, limitations and resources.
My job as a tango organiser/teacher/dj/manager/author requires that I complete a lot of different tasks in a limited time with very limited resources. When I write a promotional e-mail in 3-4 languages, my aim is to inform my customers about an upcoming even, not to gain a nobel price for literature. When doing a demo, I try to embody our pedagogical and philosophical principles, but I don‘t want to earn a championship. When organising an event, I want people to have a good time, but I don‘t promise a weekend in a luxury resort. When teaching a class, I do the same as any teacher at university or in another professional context should do, but I am neither a genius, not do I have a master degree in music, medicine or classical dance. I try to do as good as possible
In order to be perfect, I would need more time, help, intellect, talent, financial resources... and even then, I would fail, because nothing can ever be perfect. Mistakes or shortcomings will eventually happen. Usually they can be corrected or they are minor. But they will happen. 

The problem is: nowadays, many people expect everything to be perfect. And this is why great undertakings can fail completely in the eyes of the consumers. It is a well-known phenomenon. Which is why in politics, campaign managers aim to lower expectations for their candidates before a public discussion, so that they will be able to exceed them in reality. (Or at least that is what I learned from watching "Westwing".) In the world of finance, perfectly good winnings of a firm can result in a catastrophic fall of the stocks, because the market expected them to be even higher. 

And this is what happens in the tango world, at least when it comes to events, no matter if it is local Milongas or international Encuentros:
The consumer wants to dance every tanda and it has to be the snuggliest, most musical dance he or she has ever had. The floor has to be perfect, not too hard and not too soft, not too sticky and not too slippery. The lighting has do be perfect, neither too bright, nor too dark. The decoration, drinks and snacks have to be luscious. There has to be a hair dryer, deodorant and many other conveniences for your free use in the perfectly lit bathroom. The music has to come out of the most  expensive speakers arranged in the perfect manner to allow for a constant, unblemished sound experience. The DJ cannot afford to play one imperfect tanda and he will surely be a total loser, if he does not own a fancy external sound drive. Not to mention the catastrophe, if he or she - god forbid - uses MP3 instead of WAV or FLAC files. And of course: the event has to be exclusive and small, but YOU have to be admitted. If not, you are going to pout.

I could go on, but you certainly get the point. 

But it is even worse: this premium service has to come for a price not exceeding 5€ for a Milonga or 75€ for a whole Encuentro. And beware if an event is known to generate a profit at all. Shame on the organisers! They are supposed to do it for free. Out of the goodness of their hearts.

Get outta here!

What do you pay, when you go to the movies? What do you spend on a single pair of shoes? What do you pay for a weekend on the golf course? Do you begrudge your hairdresser his income? Or the pilot who flies the plane that you take to go to the Encuentro? Or the hotel owner?

Now I personally cannot complain, but most (not all) tango consumers have a much larger income than their tango teachers or organisers. I have rarely seen a tango professional with an own house, a fancy car or even with a pension plan. Those are rare animals. Most barely make a living. A tango professional can himself lucky, if he is doing ok, but he will never become rich or even well-off. At least not by european standards. So why do customers expect the luxury treatment?

Let us have a look back: When we started organising Tangokombinat Milongas, we used my old private Technics speakers that were barely powerful enough, but everyone was happy. We even used them during our first FCA during the Despedida. Later we started renting speakers for an increasing amount of money and spend hours of trying out or discussing how to set them up. Finally, Detlef bought a set of Tannoy speakers for thousands of €, because everything less fancy is regarded as stingy. And it is still not good enough for everyone. 

Another example: Because everyone hates plastic cups and what they are doing to the environment, we now use hand-painted personalised glasses. Better? Obviously not, because now but people complain about the fact, that glasses might break.

By trying to do better every year, constantly reacting to suggestions and the slightest critique of clients, we have created expectations, that we cannot fulfil any more. Because last year was top, this year has to be even better. If it is not, it is a flop.

It is not just our events. The first time that I noticed this effect, was a couple of years ago at another Festivalito. This was the second edition. The first edition was such a great success, that everyone complimented the organisers on their good work. The second time, some minor bugs had been sorted out, but the general format remained exactly the same. But now a big number of participants started complaining about the silliest things. The organiser was in tears when talking to me.

I am not an easy customer either: when I go some place, I want to get what I have payed for and what I have been promised. So, if something is called an Encuentro, I expect an equal number of followers and leaders, music in Tandas & Cortinas, a room that allows for Mirada & Cabeceo, enough seats for the majority of participants, dancers that have a general knowledge on how to move on a social dancefloor and a friendly organiser who gives the impression, that he/she likes what he/she is doing. Ok, so the floor has to be ok and one has to actually hear the music from the speakers. But that‘s it and I try to keep my expectations realistic. When I go to certain sort of French event, I usually don‘t expect a super pretty venue, because I know that they often use the free "salle polyvalente" of a village. When I go to an Italian encuentro, I don‘t expect every DJs to match my taste perfectly, because I know that many of them prefer a very energetic style. But then, I don‘t have to dance every tanda. I don‘t expect flowers on the tables, a choice of excellent wines or a crowd of tango professionals only. And when I attend a local Milonga, I don‘t expect the same conditions than at an international Encuentro. 

When I book at room at a local motel, I don‘t expect the Ritz. When I go to Mac Donald‘s I don‘t expect haute cuisine.

If I don‘t like an event because it does not meet my basic expectations and if I think that the shortcomings can be changed without too much of an effort or going against the organisers general philosophy, I might offer to give a feedback. In the USA, it will sometimes occur that an organiser asks for feedback. (We - Detlef and I - are used to asking for Feedback from day one of our tango "career".) I will in any case give an honest, but productive feedback, whilst focussing on the important things, the stuff, that really matters. If I am very unhappy with an event and I don't think that there is a chance that the setup is changed, I'd rather not go there anymore. But then I will certainly not rave about it on Facebook at the same time. (Exaggerated flattery being another annoying topic, that I won‘t go into now.) 

I behave in that way, because I know what it takes to organise an event and that not everything can be to my taste. And because I don‘t need it to be perfect. I can compromise without being unhappy all the time. And I have to say: mostly, things are good out there. Or at least much better, than they used to be. I know, because If have seen, how it started. 

Ok, now that may sound a little like: "eat your soup children, in wartime, we would have been happy to have such a feast". But we all know, that always wanting to get more for a cheaper price is one of the defining problems of modern society. As in Tango.

What I want to say is: You are entitled to quality, if you invest time and money for something. Every organiser or teacher should aim for it as well and keep on questioning  if what he or she is doing is still up to his standards. One should do so, because there are still a lot of things worth improvement in our tango world. But please keep your expectations realistic and don‘t ask for unachievable perfection. Because then, you'll never be happy with what you do or get.

One last thing: Why don‘t tangueros in general have the same expectations, apply the same crieria when it comes to instruction? I don't want to say, that only we know how to teach, but sometimes I get a little upset, when after years of meticulous class preparations, musical research, well-structured workshops, professional behaviour, projections and written class handouts... why have I not managed to raise expectations in this field? How can students still rave about teachers that show a fancy step and then spend the rest of their time doing moves with their partners. 20 years ago, I expected more. Why don‘t others as well? I guess I have to be even more patient and realistic. And continue offering my Tango-Teacher-Training. ;-)

So... I should stop now.

But my tango journey has not yet come to an end. I hope I live to see the next 20 years of development and won‘t be disappointed by it. I will certainly do my best to keep it on track.

The venue of our first regular Milonga in 2003:

The venue of our latest event in 2015:

Photo by Thorsten Janes

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Quo Vadis Encuentro Milonguero III

Much has been happening in the Encuentro and Festivalito world. And I have to admit, that I am not very happy with the development. Although I love that the idea of social tango and Encuentros is spreading, it actually gets harder for me to find one that I really like. 

Why is that?

As I have already referred to in an earlier post, two sorts of Encuentros are starting to drift apart: the ones who promote separate seating for men and women and the other ones who allow everyone to choose their seats freely or assign gender-mixed places. I have basically stopped attending events with separate seating, as I feel more and more uncomfortable in this setting. Therefore I have lost contact to many lovely people, because they prefer Encuentros with separate seating. I have not been to any italian or french Encuentro since early 2014. That‘s so sad!

Many of the mixed-seating encuentros nowadays attract marathon dancers and from what I hear, many marathons start displaying typical „encuentro features“, like invitation by Mirada & Cabeceo, dancing only one tanda... So the differences between the more „informal“ Encuentros and Marathons seem to disappear. That is generally good, but not entirely as many of the "maratoneros“ still use a quite different (more asymmetrical and in my opinion less cuddly) embrace and unfortunately still tend to make bigger or less foreseeable moves. I really don't want to say, that the "milongueros" are the better dancers, but most of them used to dance in a way, that was better suited for a crowded dancefloor. In an environment where everything is a little more chaotic, those skills tend to be forgotten as well. Everyone will feel more stressed. That makes the risk of getting not-so-pleasant dances at an Encuentro greater. Which is not good from my perspective.

But there is more. There are more. Encuentros, that is. It seems to me, that in 2015 dozens of new ones popped up. I hear of a new Encuentro almost every week. Some of them attract a more local crowd, which is fine, because then, the local communities profit from the development. 
But many new Encuentros are organised by people who have not been part of the „Milonguero movement“ before. They therefore attract another kind of dancer or might even just „stick“ the label „Encuentro“ to an event, that has got none of the defining features. There are even Encuentro-Marathon-Festivals! This is why you have to start doing research in order to check if you‘ll actually get an „Encuentro Milonguero“ when you sign up for one. 
Another outcome: Because of the greater competition, dancers have got more choices. That's of course good and the waiting lists get shorter. But you might end up being alone amongst people you don‘t know because all your friends are at another event. It‘s great to get to know new people, but one aspect of the Encuentros used to be to meet friends from all over the world. 
Even established organisers cannot fill up their events so easily as before and have started admitting participants who don‘t have the skills to share the space in the ronda without disturbing the other couples, without actually offering them the opportunity to acquire these skills. (Think floorcraft introductions before an Encuentro.) This is why it often feels less „safe“ on the dancefloor.

Whilst Encuentros are spreading out, the typical Festivalito (which includes teaching) becomes extinct or have been transformed into genuine Encuentros. This reflects the needs of a majority of visitors, who want to concentrate on the dancing during these events and take classes on other occasions. Unfortunately, normal workshop-weekends are also offered more seldomly, as many organisers switched to offering strictly-dancing events. So nowadays, there are actually less opportunities to learn. And as Tango means life-long-learning... What do you think happens, if people stop learning? I have already referred to the downsides of this development in another post.

Because all of these imponderabilia, I am thinking of downsizing my list of Encuentros/Festivalitos 2015 dramatically. I might only list the ones that I am visiting in 2016 (which are very few!) or have visited in the last 2 years and have actually enjoyed. But then, many organisers will feel offended. Oh dear... This is why I might even decide to not post any recommendations at all. I'll have to think about it...

Stay posted!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Life in 2015 - personal, promotional and potentially boring post

Here I am again. Or let's say: here I am finally. My last post was in January this year, far too long ago. I really wanted to write more, but I did not find the time. Really.

This is why.

My original plan for 2015 was to work less, which is why Detlef and I did not accept as many invitations as in the past years: we scheduled two-thirds of our usual workload of workshops and festivals. I wanted to finally have time to lead a normal life, think about possible post-tango-occupations, make plans for new projects and - on the side - write a book and produce a film: Caminar Abrazados.

Yeah, right...

I of course underestimated the work on the book and DVD a lot and ended up working more than before: Writing the script, organising the set and co-workers, filming, preparing and supervising the editing process, writing the book, choosing photos, drawing charts and graphics, discussing text and layout with my co-workers, preparing the printing and publication with our editor, publicity, setting up the new website and shop, then managing the sales... All of this was quite a feat besides managing the regular teaching and tours from my desk, as well as actually traveling and teaching. I don‘t recall one single day in the last eight months without work. Add many nights in front of the computer or lying in bed, trying to solve problems in the head. Now I am catching up with work that had to be postponed: We even had to delay the start of our next teacher training (TTT), as I did not get around to set the dates and start the promotion earlier. So the next group will start in early 2016. Until then, we also plan on publishing the german and french editions of the Caminar Abrazados. 

I guess that 2015 will end as crazy as it started.

When it comes to work.

Because, apart from work, I am actually leading a very normal non-tango-life with my non-tango-boyfriend: spending lots of time at home in front of my computer, working out, cooking (or mostly: eating meals that have been cooked for me), watching TV-series, meeting non-tango-friends. Sounds quite ordinary, doesn‘t it?

Well, it is not. Fate decided to give me a talented photographer as partner, whom I got involved into our Tango business right away. So Thorsten Janes took over the filming, photographing, editing and layout of Caminar Abrazados, which meant that he became part of my work-life as well. He occasionally accompanies us on our teaching gigs or to an Encuentro. He even got his first engagement as the official photographer of a Tango event, the lovely Festivalito Rural in Slovenia. So, although he does not dance Tango, my sweetheart got to know everything about it, most of my tango friends, lots of Milongas and events. Which sounds potentially complicated, but is surprisingly easy. He obviously gets along fine and as an artist likes watching the dancers or talking to people. Just recently, I went to bed before the end of a Milonga and he stayed. I don‘t know what to make of that. ;-)

You can tell that a lot has changed in my life. Although I am surrounded by Tango every day - writing, thinking, analysing, listening to, organising Tango - I am much less exposed to teaching and even less to dancing. As you know, I almost never visit Milongas in my hometown and dance quite little during teaching engagements - mostly to keep up my working capacities or because I am the DJ. That is fairly normal for me, but in other years, there were still more opportunities to really dance, as I was visiting events for fun or teaching at Festivalitos, where I - despite the fatigue - dance quite a lot. But this year, as a result of the project, I did also not have the time/energy/financial-means to drive to Milongas in the region or visit Encuentros, so I ended up practically not dancing in 2015. This year, I have been dancing on five (5!) occasions, all of them being Encuentros/Festivalitos, four of them being teaching engagements. It's a shame. (And I possibly should not write about this, as it will encourage people to doubt my qualification as a teacher.)

The first Tangos on each of these occasions felt very weird, because I feared that I might have unlearned dancing. Turns out it is like driving a bike: you get into it very quickly after a few steps. Although my partners might have felt differently about that. They claimed that everything was fine, but maybe they were just being polite. 

In any case, I never thought that I would say this: I miss dancing. Last week, Detlef went to the Festivalito Porteño in Romania. I stayed at home and envied him a lot, knowing that the rest of the year will not pose many more occasions to dance. I reckon two or three.

This has to change in 2016! I don‘t know how, but I will have to try and visit some more international Encuentros or milongas in our greater region or move to a city where I can actually visit local milongas.

I also would like to find some more time to write my blog. There are several articles in my head that want to be written. 

But in order to be able to do so, I have to do some more work. Back to it now.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Tango rules!

This is a post, that I really wanted to avoid, but I have to write it - or else my head is going to explode!

Triggered by my last article (who was by some misunderstood as a rejection of encuentros) and by another post on facebook, I was once again confronted with a statement that I have heard in many variations, but that always boils down to: „I will never go to an encuentro, because I hate these tango traditionalists and their rules. They are just nazis, who want to block my freedom to move! Tango does not need any rules. I want to be free. I want to have fun!“

These words make me want to shout out:
„What do you think, that a Milonga is? A psycho seminar for self-realisation? A contact-improvisation workshop? Kindergarden? Go get a grip! Really....“

No, but let‘s stay calm and think logically about it.

Tango is an interaction of individual beings. Even more so. It is a social partner dance. Such a kind of activity needs to be regulated in some way. Every form of human interaction is defined by rules. Limitations that tell us, what kind of behaviour is accepted in this setting and which behaviour will be frowned upon or will even be dangerous. Sometimes they are written down and called laws. Sometimes they remain unwritten codes of behaviour. Some are universal, some apply only to one context, group or area. Rules therefore also help define group identities.

You want to live in a certain country? You will have to abide to its laws. Or at least not get caught whilst breaking them.
You want to drive a car? You will have to adhere to the traffic laws.
You want to play tennis or chess? You are going to agree on a set of rules with the other players.
You want to dance viennese waltz? You need to understand that everyone will move counter-clockwise, if you don‘t want to bump into someone else. 
You want to participate in a debate at university? You need to know the rules.
You want to communicate with your grand-mother? You surely will know how to behave towards her, based on a unwritten set of mechanisms that make sense whilst interacting with elderly relations.
Get it?
Even free-form modern dance has its limitations. Or improvisational theatre. Or kindergarden, by the way...
There is no freedom of rules unless you move to a desert island.

The so-called „codigos milongueros“ are therefore no abomination or freak-law and not even particularly limiting. Actually they just describe a certain respectful and group-oriented form of behaviour: 
- To take care not to invade the personal space of someone when inviting him/her to dance: Mirada & Cabeceo.
- To take care of the other couples on the dancefloor: Entering the dancefloor carefully, moving counter-clockwise, keeping the feet on the floor, keeping distance to the other couples and not invading their space. (More details here.)
- Giving everyone the chance to chose a (new) partner according to the music and helping to create an open atmosphere, where dancers do not cling to their favourites: 1-tanda guideline.

A couple of years ago, nobody even cared to write down or discuss these „rules“. Why? Because those who lived by them, knew what they were doing. They shared a cultural back-ground, a common upbringing that ensured, that they would know about them, once they went to their first MIlonga. 
Then came the tourists to Buenos Aires and behaved like elephants in a porcelain-shop, because they just did not know about the setting. They had learned Tango as an imitation of art, a tuned-down version of stage-tango. Their Tango was more of an artistic self-expression than a ballroom-dance. 
I have danced lots of other ballroom dances and I agree: Tango is much freer in its musical expression and allows for much more individual creation when it comes to movements. But it is still a ballroom dance. And with it come limitations. But certain people seem to forget about this simple fact, mostly non-argentines or stage dancers.

And this is the reason, that organisers of encuentros milongueros or so-called traditional Milongas in BA or elsewhere started to write down the codigos. They did not like the chaos that was often the result of self-expressionalist-Tango. They searched for a calm social environment in which they could practise their ballroom-dance. Some guidelines where even „invented“ anew in these last years, I guess because of the insensitive behaviour that many europeans and north americans showed, e.g. when inviting someone to dance, taking it for granted, that the person would just love to do so. The Mirada & Cabeceo where most likely not used in this strict form pre-millennium. Because it was not necessary. Everyone would be careful and sensitive enough to read the body language before approaching someone else.
So, this is why it was just plain necessary to write down the codigos: To assure, that everyone has a chance to agree on a common form of respectful behaviour. Today, the codigos are not the only distinguishing feature of encuentros, but they form (apart from the close embrace) the core-philosophy of these events.

And this is why I prefer to dance at encuentros or traditional Milongas. I can rely on the fact, that people will behave respectfully and carefully in their interactions. This is not the result of nazi-behaviour, but a process of developing a group identity by defining certain limitations. Like chess players do. 
In all those years, I have only met very few people, who did not appreciate the atmosphere that is created in this manner. An atmosphere where everyone can indeed have fun, because he/she is not kicked, creeped-upon or neglected. Given the ideal case.

But I don‘t ask you to agree: If you don‘t like to dance counter-clockwise, if you need your high voleos, if you don‘t feel comfortable dancing with someone new every tanda - don‘t go to an encuentro. That's totally fine and does not need any further discussion. Not everyone has to agree on the same codes.

But do not say, that you won‘t go, because you are against rules as such! 

No Tango event is rule-free! Let's take marathons* - just to mention one setting from which some (but not all) of those come, who criticise the use of the „codigos“. I guess, marathons have just got other rules. There seems to be e.g. the unwritten code to dance at least three tandas in a row amongst some maratonistas. I dislike this idea out of many reasons. Imagine, I'd say: "You block my freedom to move with your bloody rule! I hate rules!" Would that not be plain stupid?

So, respectfully, if you don't like the "codigos", argue against them or just don't go someplace, where they are applied, but don't just tell me, that you are against rules. 

Please come up with another line!

P.S. For those who don't follow me on Facebook or don't read the comments, I would like to add:
A Tango friend who's a Cambridge scholar, just sent me an article by Mary Midgley of which she was reminded by my blog. Midgely writes about games and rules in her essay 'The Game Game': 'the restraining rules are not something foreign to the needs or emotions involved, they are simply the shape that the desired activity takes'.
Highly recommendable.

P.S.S. Just to say it loud and clear to anyone who feels needlessly offended: this is no post against maratonistas. This is a rant about some stupid individuals who position themselves as Tango-anarchists against the so-called tango-nazis. Mentioning marathons in my last paragraph, just serves an example. As I have written in one of my earlier posts, Marathons and Encuentros are much more similar as one might think. 

Monday, December 29, 2014

Are We Killing Tango?

EDIT September 2015: 
This post was read more often than any other of my other posts. I think that comes from the fact, that it was discussed in a french tango magazine. I did not read the article due to my lack of time and energy to struggle with a long french text, but I fear that the article might have misrepresented my statements - at least many readers have gotten it completely wrong, judging from the reactions that I got in numerous personal conversations. So, I want to rectify: Although I ask some provocative questions, I still think that Encuentros, Festivalitos and (from what I can tell) also Marathons make important contributions to our tango world and have encouraged social dancing all over Europe. Most accusations of elitism are widely exaggerated and the result of individuals, feeling rejected or left behind. So, that's it. For more clarifications, please read my comments on this post.

And of course, read the original text intelligently, trying to understand what I want to say and not what you want to hear:


„Again with the drama, Melina?“, says my imaginary reader.

Yes, I have to admit: I am a drama queen. But it‘s for a greater good. ;-)
In this case, I want to ask the question, if we - meaning I and all the people who share a certain philosophy of social tango - have unintentionally hindered the development of tango as an art or creative process. At least in Europe.


Yup. After all these years of promoting purely social tango, let me for once be the advocatus diaboli.
I‘ve been around for a while. Not for a super long while, but let‘s look back to the turn of the millennium. In 2000, if you were an organiser, a tango club or a local tango teacher, once or twice a year, you planned a festival. You invited one or two teacher couples and an orchestra, you organised classes and a demo... Depending on the scope of your activities, this could be a small regional event - a festivalito - or a huge international tango festival. From 2003 on, Detlef, I and the Tangokombinat organised quite a few festivalitos. It was a hell of a work and you always risked to be totally broke after it... but it was also fun and we created some lasting memories.
And today? Everyone who‘s someone will organise a marathon or an encuentro: no demos, no classes, no orchestra. I myself have contributed to this development by promoting these events on my blog, in my classes, through my mailing list or just by talking to people. And I do think sincerely and proudly, that the European tangueros have created a unique form of tango culture, focussed on the social encounter and the embrace.

„So all‘s well in tangoland?“

No, because that‘s only one side of the coin.
The encuentros and marathons have not only been added to the variety of tango events, they have replaced festivalitos and festivals, even regular workshop weekends: many big traditional tango festivals are getting smaller (in numbers of participants) or are dying, festivalitos milongueros are transformed into encuentros and instead of a workshop weekend, you organise a marathon. There is even the notion that the „good“ dancers will not go to festivals anymore. Those are only for the „show-offs“ and „beginners“. A result being, that these events (festivals and workshop weekends) get less frequent.

And so there are...

... Less classes
In these last 10-15 years, I have seen so many people develop into fine dancers with a nice embrace and an interesting musicality. One of my chief reasons to teach, was to help form more dancers with whom I would want to dance. I can be very happy with the results and I enjoy the tandas with my favourite partners from all over the world, many of them having taken our classes.
But in the last two years, I have also also noticed stagnation and in cases fall-backs. Many dancers „of a certain level“ have stopped taking local classes. Organisers do tell me, that people stop even booking workshops with travelling teachers, which is why they are reluctant to organise them. No problem, comments the experienced dancer, we don‘t need to learn more, we do just fine with what we know.
Sure, but we all agree, that Milongas are not the place to practise. There are many skills, that you will only improve at a Milonga, e.g. navigation on the dancefloor, but there will be others that might even deteriorate, if you "only" dance and never practise. At a Milonga, you will only rarely go out of your comfort zone. You might be inspired by other dancers at an encuentro, but you only rarely develop new forms of movement or work on your skills of communication. As a teacher and social dancer who prefers to dance with her students and can therefore compare, I have to say, that most of my partners lead better in the learning context. That makes sense, as the environment of the milonga will distract even the most experienced dancer. There are other couples to take care of, there are people watching, there is the wish to „entertain“ the partner... Very often this leads to rather „sloppy“ leading and to constant repetition of „safe“ and preferred patterns. The level of true improvisation is very low at a social dance event.
In class or at a practice you will hopefully have the space to move without the fear of walking into another couple. You will to be able to stop and think, to explore things slowly or to just listen to the music. You have the freedom to make mistakes. You can concentrate on special aspects of your dance and focus your attention on one thing only. And you get the feedback of a partner or a teacher. At an encuentro or milonga, you‘ll only get the praises of your preferred milongueros. That‘s a nice self-affirmation, but we‘re not that vain, aren‘t we?
Let‘s not forget: You also learn by teaching. Out of the need to develop new workshops, I had to explore all kinds of musical and movement-related questions. This widened my horizon as a dancer and as a teacher. Everyone who teaches seriously, will experience the same I guess. 
The innovators of the dance (and I am not just speaking of tango nuevo, but of all who developed the dance over the past 100 years) did not just go to Milongas, they learned from other dancers, they practiced, they explored, they passed on their experience... 
Tango classes and practicas help us improve our dance and to refine tango as a dance itself. I always say, that tango is lifelong learning. And we all still want to learn, don‘t we? 

... Less demos
Experienced dancers don‘t like demos, they prefer dancing themselves. This is why there are less and less demos at events. Even workshop weekends nowadays refrain from having them. One of my favourite partners told me that he hated demos - right after we had done one. So that was not very polite, but I had to agree, as I am mostly bored by them as well, especially if they are choreographed. Plus: We all know the disastrous effects that a show can have for the social dance floor at a festival.
But demos also inspire people, they inspire them to dance, to develop their dance or to try out new things. My capacities as a performer are quite limited, but even we got so much warm and heartfelt feedback after demos or concerning our videos on the net. I believe them, when they tell me, that they were touched or inspired, because I can feel the same sometimes.
Additionally: the performers learn by performing. First of all by watching their own video later! You cannot imagine this constant reminder of your own weaknesses and the effect it may have on your development. And the fact that others are watching, will force you to concentrate, to really give your best. Ok, sometimes this can go terribly wrong, but you know what I am getting at.
And even choreographies can make sense. I remember a discussion with Eduardo Capussi, who was offended by our (rather insensitive) remark, that we prefer improvised demos at our events. He told us, that choreographies not only can be a work of art, but they force the artist to connect with the music on a higher lever, to invent new forms of movement, to become a better dancer... Tango, also social tango, has been pushed on by performers, not only by social dancers. Let us not forget that.
Actually, as an encuentro-organiser, this is the only festivalito-feature that I have held onto in the last years: at our „Festivalito con amigos“ (that is nowadays a private encuentro without classes or orchestra) we always empty the dance floor for a couple of minutes to watch two couples perform. These are friends whom we want to introduce to our community, whose dance we like to present. It is always an inspiration. I honestly think, that every dancer can give something, if you take the time to watch him or her with respect for the effort. And you may even learn something of a performance that you don‘t like - and if it is only how you don‘t want to dance. ;-)

... Less live music
Back in the day - if you wanted to attract good dancers - a band was a must. I still remember Alfredo Marcucci playing at our soiree in St. Wendel and the orchestra „Sabor a Tango“ as well as a gifted soloist playing a Milonga for us on the organ in St. John‘s church in Saarbruecken. Those where memorable moments. I have to admit, that even then, I preferred dancing to the „old orchestras“ presented by a good DJ, but I still enjoyed sitting, listening and watching the musicians, those artists who put all their emotion and experience into one tango. Who kept up a tradition, who played and travelled for very little money and even less recognition - at least by the modern milongueros or maratonistas. Because those don‘t go to events with live music any more. Neither do I.
Something to be proud of? I guess not. I have lost contact to musician friends, I never hear new compositions... Are there even new compositions? Will there be less new tango music because we only want to listen to the orchestras of the epoca d‘oro? Yeah, I know (and have used) all arguments why those orchestras played better and more danceable than today‘s formations. But let us not forget, that the golden age was not only about the dance. It was a time of great musical development. How can there be growth in that field, if no-one will pay the musicians to play, study and perform? Is it ok, that tango music is more of a nostalgic remembrance and less of a living art? Does this affect us dancers?

... Less art
Tango festivals were always the place to present tango-related art. Not only musicians, but also painters, media artists, photographers and other creatives were given an opportunity to show their work. We used to co-operate with a local photographer and media-artist for our FCA and created some very interesting projects in years past. Not today. Don‘t we want to encourage the fine arts to deal with tango?

... More separation
I‘m not talking about the separation between milongueros and maratonistas. In my penultimate post, I pointed out that these borders are starting to vanish. I am writing about a division into „the normal dancers“ and the „elites“. Those who go to local milongas or festivals, those who „still take classes“, who enjoy the distractions of demos, orchestras and art and the others who don‘t need that kind of stuff any more because they „just want to dance amongst other good dancers“. The elite complains, if there are too many „beginners“ or „non-encuentro-experienced dancers“ at one of „their“ (OUR) events. Even those few still existing „festivalitos“ have turned into international events, where only dancers with a reputation as advanced social dancers will be admitted. No beginners please, they might disturb the ronda!
We all surely agree, that albeit being convenient for the experienced milongueros and maratonistas, such a kind of separation will have negative side effects, especially when it comes to the development of tango communities or beginners. That makes me think of a local milonga in our vicinity. The organisers and teachers discouraged their beginning students to participate at the milonga, because this was supposed to be an event for experienced milongueros. So the beginners did not dare to show up, quite a few of them stopped dancing again... Also many experienced Milongueros stopped dancing or rather went to new Milongas in the region... there were less and less people.. and the Milonga had to close. It used to be one of the best Milonga in Germany, one of the first with tandas and cortinas, with close embrace and cabeceo... and it died. Because there was no „next generation“, that was allowed to be inspired by the experienced dancers at the milonga. You might say, that this will never be the case with the marathons or encuentros, because there are still so many new people wanting to be there and so many new events of this sort. Yes, for the moment, there are. But if you look closely, all those events are often populated by the same few people who‘ve been touring the community for the past few years. What if they get tired of the tango circus? Will there be new blood?

„So, have we cut off our supply of new dancers, alienated ourselves from the rest of the the tango world and are we therefore doomed? Are we really killing tango“

No, of course not. 
I am convinced, that the recent development of social tango in Europe was and still is a remarkable one and I am proud to have contributed even a little. The general level of dancing and the quality of events have certainly reached a peak. But I think we cannot stand still and replicate old ideas over and over. We cannot just pat each others backs and keep on organising more and more encuentros or marathons. We have to reflect the present situation critically. I think, tango needs constant development in order to not become stale. Tango needs musical exploration, mingling of levels, room for practising and exploring the dance... Tango is not only a social phenomenon. I am also looking to the USA, where so many tango teachers are musicians or to Buenos Aires, where almost every Milonga presents a demo to inspire the other dancers... Maybe we need to think of other forms of events. Tango congresses, events with the opportunity to explore tango as a means of expression, a method of communication, a living art  

Please don't misunderstand me. I don't want to promote our classes or encourage more organisers to invite Detlef and me. As of now, we have cut down work deliberately and I don‘t even know, how much I am going to contribute to all this in the future. Also I am no artist and therefore my means and knowledge are limited to only a few aspects of tango. But there are others, who should and surely will be more active in the future. The next generation?

I am looking forward to it.

Disclaimer: I will of course continue promoting and going to encuentros because of the the high quality of social and respectful dancing that I can find only in this environment. Also our FCA will stay an event, to which we invite on a personal basis - although I have to state, that a good dance-level is only ONE of our reasons to invite someone and we always try to integrate "new" Milongueros. But still, it IS an encuentro and therefore per se prone to a certain elitism. I will also not start choreographing demos or invite stage-dancers to teach or perform at my events. I will always prefer dancing at a milonga over watching or doing a demo. And most likely, I will always prefer dancing to Di Sarli instead of any modern orchestra. But this post is not about my personal preferences. It is about Tango.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Festivalitos & Encuentros Milongueros 2015

Dear readers, as announced in my last post, I will from now on present the Encuentros & Festivalitos in two columns in order to assist those, who favour either separate seating of men/women or mixed groups and don't want to be surprised on site. (If you want to know my opinion on separate seating, check out this post.) In case that you don't care, you can visit all these events for Milongueros without hesitation. I have either already been to them and can vouch for their "milongueroness" or they are organised by friends, whose general philosophy of social Tango I share and whom I trust to organise a proper Encuentro. ;-)
Please note, that this is no complete list, just a personal recommendation. So… here goes….

(In some cases with an additional area for couples or mixed groups)
Pasionara Milonguera, Côte D'Azur, France, January 23-25 (not enforced strictly)
Encontro Milongueiro A Promotora, Lisbon, Portugal, February 5-8
RDV Milonguero, Bologna, Italy, February 12-15
Mirame, Montpellier, France, February 27 - March 1
Encuentro MiLYONguero, Lyon, France, March 13-15
Retiro Milonguero, Faro, Portugal, March 19-22
Juntos, France, April 10-12
Spoleto Milonguera, Spoleto, Italy, May 8-10
Les Cigales, France, May 14-17
1st Encuentro Porteño, Amsterdam, Netherlands, May 29-31 (separate seating only at evening milongas)
Festiv'à La Milonguita, Sisteron, France, June 25-28 (men/women seated at different tables, alternating around the dancefloor, but not on different sides of the room)
Dans tes bras, Paris, France, July 9-12 (special concept: front rows reserved for women)
Stockholm in a close embrace, Stockholm, Sweden, Juli 31 - August 2
La Franteña, France, August 13-16
Ensueños, Porto, Portugal, October 1-4
La Parada Milonguera, Padova, Italy, October 16-18
Yupie, France, October 23-25
Te Quiero Lisboa, Lisbon, Portugal, November 13-15
Roma Milonguera, Rom. Italy, November 12-15

(In some cases, you might nevertheless be assigned to a seat/table)
Viento Norte (Tangokombinat Sección Norte), Eckernförde, Germany, March, 12-15
Yo soy Milonguero, Crema, Italy, April 3-6 
Montecatini Terme Tango Festivalito, Montecatini, Italy, April 10-12
La Colmena, Helsingborg, Sweden, April 17-19
Abrazos (Tangokombinat UK), Devon, United Kingdom, May 8-10
Atlântico, Porto, Portugal, May 15-17
Le Rendez-vous Milonguero de l'Essaim de Julie, France, May 23-25
Raduno Rural, Slovenia, June 26-28
Embrace Norway, Lillehammer, Norway, July 3-5
Noches de Verano, Reichenau an der Rax, Austria, August 14-16
Festivalito Rural, Verzej, Slovenia, August 21-23
Silueta Porteña, Hamburg, Germany, August 28-30
Festivalito Porteño, Constanta, Romania, September 3-6
Una Mirada, Bristol, UK, September, 11-13
Encuentro Milonguero, Kehl, Germany, September 10-13
Alpine Abrazo, Austria, September 17-20
FCA (Tangokombinat, private party)
Festivalito in Castelbrando, Cison di Val Marina, Italy, October 30 - November 1
Abrazame, Barcelona, Spain (not yet confirmed, encuentro & marathon mixer)
Encuentro de Navidad, Kehl, Germany, December 10-13
… you have surely noticed, that all TANGOKOMBINAT events are mixed-seating. That may give you a hint about my personal opinion. ;-)

Note: Do not expect a version of this list for 2016 by the end of this year. The events are getting too numerous and I can visit only a fraction of them. Also, some of the events on my list have proven to not meet the standards for Encuentros this year. I would have to take them off the list anyway. Sadly...