In 2011, I‘ve spent quite some time writing about and promoting the Encuentros Milongueros and Festivalitos. These events focus on social dancing in a close embrace, traditional music, invitations by Mirada/Cabeceo, an equal number of men and women and an amicable ambiance amongst people who share the same Tango philosophy.
And I can tell you: Encuentros and Festivalitos have become super hip, everyone wants to be there! Most sell out very fast and people travel from all over Europe and the USA to meet other dancers. I guess this is quite similar to the development of the Marathon-scene that started a little earlier. As far as I can judge, the amount of Milonguero/Salon-dancers is increasing every year - also amongst young people. I am happy and proud to have contributed my share.
But popularity always comes with a price. The amount of people wanting to participate in the Encuentros surpasses by far the momentary capacity.
So this is the issue: You‘ve got a small number of Encuentros and Festivalitos and a whole bunch of people wanting to participate. Many applicants are close friends, people who have been part of the crowd for a long time, others are newly-found Milongueros*, others just wanna go someplace „sexy and cool“ although they might be into another kind of Tango. You don‘t want to exclude your friends, you want to give newcomers a chance to participate and maybe even create an environment where the so-far-not-so-close-embrace-dancers might be „converted“. Every organizer tries to solve this problem in a different manner and every coping strategy creates its unique problems.
In order to cater to the increasing demand, some of the Encuentros have expanded their capacity. In 2010, the average Encuentro accepted 100-250 dancers tops. In 2012 there have already been two events with 340-450 participants. I have visited one of them and felt quite lost at the beginning. During the course of the event, I somehow adapted and danced a lot, but the ambiance had lost it‘s intimacy: There was no time and space to connect to all friends, to dance with everyone you like and I surely made less new acquaintances. Also, there were many people who did not really dance in a social way and who disturbed the Ronda a lot and invitation by Cabeceo/Mirada was quite difficult because of the huge number of people moving and standing around at all times. The whole thing felt more like a Festival!
After this experience, I did not visit the second Encuentro that was supposed to host 450 participants. Friends have told me that it was very nice nevertheless. Maybe I will grow accustomed to these Mega-Encuentros in the future, but I don‘t know if I want to. It‘s just not the same...
(By the way: The organizers of the two above mentioned Encuentros are friends and I have informed them personally about my critical view to increasing the capacity. This article is not about complaining. It originates in my wish to discuss a problem that I have helped create.)
New Encuentros and Festivalitos are being created or existing events multiplied. That sounds like a good idea, but as there are more events, it gets harder to co-ordinate dates amongst organizers. Most of them know each other and so far managed to avoid double-booked weekends or even setting dates that are too close to one another. In 2013, this will not be so easy anymore and dancers who have so far participated in all major events will have to make choices. No-one can be everywhere anymore! That‘s maybe not a bad thing because you‘ll make more new friends, but from now on you can be less certain that your favourite dancers will visit the same events as you do.
I can also not forgo to mention the sad fact, that knockoffs start to pop up, events that are only by name Encuentros. There will always be people who want to make money without actually sharing the same philosophy or even having a clue. How can someone who has rarely visited an Encuentro or Festivalito understand how to create it‘s characteristic ambiance? So now you have to start examining very carefully, if your chosen product really contains what it promises.
(You can be sure though, that my blog will only recommend the „real deal“: events that I have visited personally or that are suggested to me by people whose opinion I can trust.)
Almost all hosts ask the participants of their Encuentros to register in advance. This allows to balance the number of men and women as well as monitor the general turnout. With more and more people wanting to come, this process does not anymore guarantee that your friends, favourite partners or acquaintances will get a place. Your friends might just register a little too late and could be turned away. So your favourite Encuentro might be filled with lots of folk whom you have never met and with bad luck many of those might not even be dancers sharing your style of dance and philosophy. This is why, in order to assure a high quality event amongst like-minded dancers, some organizers now changed to „invitations only“ or select amongst the applicants. This is considered - rightfully - as a very exclusive practice. Not ideal if you promote a social Tango.
So, what is the right thing to do? Whatever option you chose, there seem to be significant downsides.
You might know that the TANGOKOMBINAT (me and some close friends) organizes two events over the year: the „Festivalito con Amigos“ in Germany and „Abrazos - Encuentro Milonguero“ in the UK. How do we cope with the rising demand?
First of all: The Tangokombinat sticks to a „small-event“ policy. We will not grow our Encuentros but keep them intimate and friendly. So, BIGGER is not our deal.
Let‘s have a look at our Festivalito con Amigos: It was one of the first Festivalitos, has grown a very international community and keeps on growing in popularity. With Detlef and me travelling and making new friends every week the list of possible participants grows per day. The rest of the crew does not travel quite as much, but each of us contributes a whole bunch of „amigos“ to our common event. Once a year we want to gather all people to whom we have bonded and who enrich our dance. This event is the highlight in our schedule.
Last year, we had pre-invited a number of personal friends or former Festivalito-participants before opening the official registrations. We had not anticipated all of them accepting the invitation, leaving almost no places when the official booking opened. This created quite some rumpus.
As a consequence, we have turned the FCA into a private party on invitation only and stopped all publicity. But even the EXCLUSIVE strategy does not solve our problem as we know far more nice social dancers than we can host. In order to avoid refusals, we sent out only as many invitations as we‘ve got places, 180. So this year, we already had to chose amongst our friends, students and colleagues. That‘s per se unpleasant. And it keeps on bugging me: The event is sold out for weeks and - as I am writing - more Milongueros keep applying or asking to register another dear friend and great dancer. We have to refuse and disappoint them all.
There is one thing we can do: try to invite different dancers with every new year. This should give more Milongueros the chance to participate. But even this measure cannot avoid people being mad with us because we had to refuse them at a given moment. That‘s super frustrating.
(You don‘t believe me and think that this is an act in order to brag with the popularity of our event? Go on, tell a good friend or faithful customer that he cannot come to your party and we will talk again. It‘s no fun!)
Because of this high demand (especially amongst German and Scandinavian dancers), the TANGOKOMBINAT decided to host one event for Milongueros MORE. Two of our friends (Sylvia & Jürgen) have moved to the north of Germany, a seaside town named Eckernförde and will be organizing a regular traditional Milonga. In order to initiate their lovely venue, we proudly present the „Festivalito Viento Norte“ on March, 8-10, 2013 . We hope this will please all northern friends of the embrace who could not attend the FCA this year. Naturally, the rest of crowd is welcome as well!
So, we‘ve got our strategies in coping with the high demand, other organizers have chosen theirs. The next years will definitely change and develop the Encuentro and Festivalito scene. Some of the events will grow bigger, some will perish, other will become even more exclusive. But which of the strategies (BIGGER, MORE, EXCLUSIVE) are for the better and which are for the worse? Maybe it‘s the combination... and maybe there are more options and I am just too blind to see them.
I am sure there will be enough nice embraces in an intimate setting for every dancer who loves this culture. Everything will be good, yes? Most likely I was just worrying without a cause...
I hope so.
* For my definition of „Tango de Salon“ and of „Milongueros“, please read these articles: