Thursday, 7 March 2019

Long due post on gender and roles in tango

Preliminary note:
This post is written from the perspective of a female tango dancer, teacher and organiser and primarily addresses women. But it is my belief that the thoughts expressed herein are of great importance for everyone: men, women, straight and gay people, consumers, organisers and teachers. Because something is not going so well in our little tango world.

It is this time of the year:
I have finished the registrations for one of our annual Encuentros. Pequeña is obviously not big, but we have received almost 4 follower bookings for every single leader who signed up. As usual all followers are female and all but two leaders are male. Additionally there is a small number of double-role dancers, only one of them being male. Even after my usual efforts to find more leaders, there is zero chance to get even half of the followers in. I know how disappointed or vexed most will be after after yesterday’s waiting list note. And this makes me sad and furious at the same time. Increasingly so. 

As you all know, this is a very common problem: 

When registering for gender- or role-balanced events, many single women try to find partners to better their chances of being accepted, but only few are lucky and the process itself is often humiliating. Apart from the fact, that there aren’t so many single leaders to ask, their reactions can be very degrading. They range from not answering to the lady’s mail, over the assumption that she will pay their entrance fee, to outright sexual propositions. This is super frustrating. So women sign up alone and risk being refused. Which is - when it occurs - another frustrating experience.

And this it where the frustrations comes from: gender and role imbalances. Which in tango is basically the same, because dance roles are still strongly tied to the gender of a person. Which makes me think: Is this rather not a problem of role stereotypes? But why?

Yes, I know that real equality is still not implemented in our societies, but at least there are laws against discrimination and efforts are being made. So many women aspire for equality or leading positions in real life. They invest time, energy and money to achieve their goals. Strong women everywhere.

Yet in tango, a huge number of educated and emancipated women do not ever question their position. They automatically accept being assigned the follower’s role or happily choose it - often stating that they are glad to give over responsibility as they already carry so much in real life. I know that, because this is what I said as well. But does it make them happy? Often not.

The reason for this dissatisfaction is usually not the dance qualities but the quantity of leaders. There are just not enough men who dance Tango. If a lady is lucky, she has a partner to start with or her teachers will provide for experienced leaders to join the beginner’s classes. But in the milongas, most women will soon learn that waiting for dances is their lot. Yes, an active mirada and cabeceo can help, but there is nothing you can do, if you’re in a local milonga with 20 leaders and 30 followers. 10 followers will always sit - even if the leaders danced all the time. In case you’ve got a regular partner, you might get to dance more often, but we all know how good it goes when we pressure our partners into dancing with us: not good at all. The situation gets even worse if women split up with their partners who will of course find another great tango dancer. The chances of finding a new male partner in tango are not that super. Still: the ladies accept their lot, keep on dancing and sitting and and suffering. Sometimes silently, sometimes loudly.

I know what I am talking about: I started out with my husband as dance partner and because I was fairly young, pretty and talented, I got to dance all the time. But after I had taken up teaching this changed radically. Many men were intimidated and I spent a couple of years sitting at milongas and festivals, watching Detlef dance all night and being super frustrated. So you don’t even have to be a single follower to feel the pain. And although I had taken classes as a leader and was leading in class, it never occurred to me, that I had it in me to change my situation. Maybe it was just too early? Also, after a few years of teaching, developing more defined musical tastes and quality standards, I actually did not want to dance that much anymore. So: problem solved for me.

Then, 12-14 years ago, the first encuentros came into existence. In the beginning, these events were not gender-balanced. The first French Encuentro had a surplus of more than 40 followers and it took years until gender-balance was the standard at pretty much all of these events. In these early years, I thought that we had found the solution for the gender-imbalance-problem by creating zones in which ladies get to dance as much as men and go home happy. I too was glad, because this is where I found leaders with whom I really liked dancing. In particular, because we encouraged many of our students to join the community.

But in the long run, Encuentros (and Marathons) created another problem: because of their specific features, most female dancers wanted (and still want) to join such events. But guess what: many male dancers do not feel that urge, because they are much more satisfied with their local milongas - where they find lovely dancers to choose from in abundance! The result is an even bigger gender-imbalance in the booking process and the dreaded follower’s waiting list.

So, how to solve this problem? Is there any chance of bringing more men to tango? 

Yeah… forget about it: as long as young boys are encouraged to play soccer, whilst their sisters are carted to ballet classes, this will never, ever happen. As long as these role stereotypes exist, there will always be more women than men interested in dancing, no matter how appealing you make it look on posters and flyers. Couple-dancing is still considered as being unmanly in many societies. Fact. 

And in any case: does it really make sense to always base one’s happiness on other people’s decisions and actions? After 20 years of dealing with this specific situation from different perspectives, I think that there is no other solution than to finally and seriously uncouple dance-role and gender in tango. I am dreaming of a tango community in which everybody learns both roles from the beginning and in which we do not have to bother gender- or even role-balancing events, because people are free to choose how and with whom they want to dance at any given moment.

I know that my utopia may stay a dream, because as long as dancers are exposed to the traditional and often hugely exaggerated clichés in tango ads and shows, as long as there are not more role models who go different ways, a change may never happen. Or it’ll take decades.

But until then:

You are a woman and just want to dance tango? You want to be accepted to the nice events, even if you do not have a partner? So, please, please, please stop being passive, stop complaining, stop crying and do something about it. Learn to lead.

Does this sound appealing or logical? 

It might and maybe you have already started the process. Or have been working on your leading role for ages. But still many of you do not dare to register as a double role dancer - even if the organisers give you the chance to do so. There seem to be just too many fears, prejudices and obstacles. 

Please let me discuss the most common ones:

1. Leading is so much harder than following.
Is this not what we have heard from our first tango class on? The leader carries all the responsibility, has to be creative, musical, navigate and on top of that learn lots of challenging moves. The follower just has to be there. She cannot even make mistakes. Right?
NOT RIGHT! Apart from the fact, that we are nowadays searching a tango where both partners actively participate in the creation process and share responsibilities, even the "just being there, just following" can be as challenging or even more challenging than leading. Why?
Just stop and think: Sure, in the beginning, leaders really struggle with all the skills that they have to integrate. But even in their early stages, leaders will always know what will happen in advance and will rarely be surprised. Sure, they too have to adapt to the follower’s skills and habits, but the system allows for them to stay in their comfort zones. So in a milonga, they will usually apply the techniques that they have grown accustomed to, step when they choose to and repeat patterns that they feel comfortable with. Some of these patterns might be challenging, but depending on in which tango sub-culture you live, leaders know that most women are happy with musical walking in a nice embrace. Only few dancers actually "need" the complex moves. So this is what a lot of leaders do: stay in their comfort zone - year in, year out. Only few bother taking classes once they have reached the level of moving stress-free in a milonga.
Whereas many followers see tango as a lifelong learning process, go to classes and practise tango-technique or bodywork in order to be flexible, toned and in a good shape, One reason for this being: they need a much larger technical and step-based repertoire than any leader. In one single Milonga, a follower might be confronted with 5 different leading styles, 10 different ways to interpret the music and 20 different step-repertoires. Do you know how challenging this is? Yes, you do, if you are an experienced follower. But do the leaders know?
Two years ago, my boyfriend - who is no tanguero - participated in one of our basic role-change seminars. His verdict after 5 days was clear: following is more challenging than leading - in particular when you are dancing with inexperienced or unclear leaders. He found leading relatively easy, although we ask leaders to listen very carefully to what the followers do and to improvise with basic elements rather than to produce patterns. (Ok, the last may actually make leading easier.)
My view as a teacher and dancer: I don't wanna insult the guys, but leading is no rocket science. In the very beginning and depending on your personal skill set, it sometimes seems to be more challenging than following. No, you ladies should not just up and lead without instruction and serious practise. But an experienced follower can bring her leading skills up to an acceptable level within a year. Another year and you can be awesome! I have seen it happen often enough. Again: you will have to take classes and practise on a regular basis, but you can do it.
Even I have taken up weekly practice in order to be able to apply everything that I lead in class also in the ronda. At the last Minilonga in our studio, I lead six tandas and followed one. My goal is to lead 50% at Pequeña in June.

2. Women are not made for leading.
They are too weak and small, a big guy recently suggested.
Ok, this is just wrong. Apart from the fact that there are lots of tall women: has being short ever bothered any male Argentinian dancer? Everyone has to adapt to different partners and there will always be people whom you can lead comfortably - provided they have a proper technique and posture. 
Sure, followers without an axis who hang on their partners and expect to be moved, will be hard to dance with, if you are only 1.60 metres and of slender build. So don’t dance with them or give feedback! Even strong men often feel uncomfortable dancing with such passive followers, why should you put up with that?
I will not even honour the argument that women are mentally not equipped for leading with a response other than: do you think that men automatically come with the right skill set?

3. Women do not want to dance with female leaders.
Sure, some don’t. But many do. I do very much. Just recently in the UK, my nicest tandas were with female leaders and followers - although most of my male favourites were there as well. Dancing with another woman has long developed from a weak substitute into a privilege. It may be different from dancing with a guy, but can be equally beautiful. Guess whom I am searching in a room full of great leaders when Biagi is played: Yup. Dawn. Because she is the right leader to dance Biagi with. So, just look around and you’ll find a great number of fantastic women and even some men who like following a good female leader. A good female leader! So practise!
And by the way: those who worry, that they might just not be visible as a leader when unknown in a community, ask the organisers to introduce you to some potential partners. At our events, we e.g. introduce all double-role-dancers to the rest and they get pins with flowers. This works really nicely.

4. Guys will not invite female leaders.
Yes, some men might not dance with you anymore. But are these really the guys you want to interact with? Actually, when I think of the events that I prefer, quite the opposite is true: The ladies who lead occasionally or on a regular basis are amongst the most sought-after followers. All the best leaders want to dance with them. Why? See 5.

5. Leading will have a negative impact on the followers skills.
Who told you this? On the contrary: Dancing both roles will broaden your horizon and enhance your skills in both roles. And those who lead and follow from the beginning are more often than not super dancers. 

6. Female leaders are not appreciated by organisers.
Indeed, there are still milongas, in which non-gender-conform-dancing is not appreciated. Just recently a milonga organiser in Russia expelled two ladies who were dancing together. This outrage was widely answered by Facebook postings with the hashtag #tango4all and many organisers showed support. In general, I think that such incidents and the mindsets on which they are based are exceptions and certainly on the decline. Even in the more traditional Italian Encuentros you will nowadays find leading ladies or even following guys. This was not imaginable 10 years ago.
Things change and many organisers have replaced the old gender-balanced setup with a role-balanced registration-system. This is a good first step into the right direction.
It is true, that some organisers are still worried about the visuals. They fear that the event will look gender-imbalanced if they accept more than a few female leaders. Yes, it bloody will. This is an inevitable result of accepting female leaders or double-role dancers. We cannot on the one hand accept them to balance the single followers, but then try to "hide" them by keeping their numbers down. This is absurd.

7. There are not enough opportunities to learn and practise the leading role.
Now this is just lame. There are practicas everywhere and an increasing number of instructors teach both roles from the beginning. We encourage all of our teacher trainees to do so. Even Detlef and I will - after 18 years of teaching internationally  - finally start giving beginner’s classes in our hometown (that’s another post) and we will of course change roles from day one.
In addition to that, there are many courses and workshops for experienced dancers in which learning the other role gets centre stage. Either amongst women or in mixed groups. We offer a role-change seminar in the South of France and there are still places left. (Yes, I am totally fine with self-promotion. Find all info here.)

So, here is my plea: 

To all women, wo do not yet lead:
Learn to lead. It is challenging in a fun way, will improve your skills as an active dancer, bring interesting new experiences and make you happier.

To all women, who have been seriously practising leading for longer than 1 or 2 years:
Please check, if you cannot sign up as double-role dancer next time. Why have you invested all the money and hours of practise? You have to start some day! Cut the excuses!

To all men:
Learn to follow. It will hugely improve your leading skills and make you more aware of what so many women actually have to deal with. Plus: it’ll turn out to be nicer than you expected.

To all teachers: 
Teach both roles from the beginning and encourage role change in all of your classes. This may require some more time, so just stop showing long sequences and you’ll compensate for it - no problem.

To all organisers:
Encourage non-gender-role-conform dancing at your events whilst holding all participants to the same high standards. If it is an event for which people need to sign up in advance: go role-balanced instead of gender-balanced and please forget about the optics. Rather think of how good everyone will feel once they get to dance with each other.

I want to add one last wish:
There are still many dancers who believe that tango is a unique experience between a woman and a man that can or should not be replaced by any other form of connection. Well, this is your opinion and totally fine. No one forces a guy to dance with that other hairy bloke. No one forces a woman to dance with a slender female leader, if they prefer the handsome tall man. No one forces you to dance the other role. You don’t even have to go to events in which role-change will occur.
But please do not complain or stand in the way of a necessary and beautiful development by discriminating others who just want to enjoy the dance. 
Because this is what tango should be: a pleasant encounter between two open, caring and active partners. Not a historic role playing game. Not a dating event. Not an activity where a majority (women and all who want to dance in a non-gender-conform manner) don’t get what they deserve:

Many lovely dances. 

Post Scriptum (after 3 days on the net):
This post got a lot of attention. Many positive comments by numerous women and some men. There are of course also critical remarks, some of them constructive, very few not so much. But this was to be expected. I just wanted to add a few explanations for those who are not following the Facebook discussions:
- The comments on my blog are not disabled because of fear of opposition, but because of GPDR issues. I have posted about this last year. Here.
- I am a straight woman, but still believe that dancing with the same sex can be beautiful. The reason why I can find pleasure in leading or being led by women is: Today, tango for me is all about the connection to the music, the quality of movement and the comfort in the embrace. These factors are independent from gender. 
- I am living in Germany, but have been traveling as a teacher, dancer and dj all over Europe and the USA. (And of course also to BA.) My observations are based on conversations with women and men all over the world. The issues/problems/prejudices described in this blog post will not apply to every tango community or person to the same extent, but are still somewhat universal. 
- Please remember that I am not an organiser/teacher/dancer in the context of queer tango events, festivals or tango marathons. I belong to the Encuentro crowd - often called the tango taliban, because of our compliance to certain guidelines on how to interact with others, because of us favouring close embrace and dancing to classical tango music. When mentioning my friends who like changing roles or accept leading women, these are dancers who prefer dancing at Encuentros too. So: my seemingly provocative thoughts are actually shared by many people who are often called traditionalists. Go figure. ;-)
- I believe the time that everyone needs to become a leader suited for an encuentro or marathon is based on his/her general skills, the teaching that he/she is exposed to and the time/dedication that he or she invests. There are dancers who fit perfectly into such an event after 1 year, others won't be ready after 20 years. I have danced with members of both groups. In this article, I mention that talented and experienced followers who dedicate 1-2 years of classes and earnest practise could be ready after 1-2 years. This does of course not implicate that every woman will be a super leader or does not need instruction. I never wrote that. But no-one can deny that an experienced and talented female follower has an advantage over a male beginner.
- I know that my wish for a more open definition of the roles might not come true, but I also believe that voicing utopian views can help bring about change. And if - someday in the nearer future - more women lead (well) and organisers accept them as equal leaders at events and abandon the thoughts of gender balance, then we have already won something. 
- I find it not logical that one should feel threatened or disturbed by the fact of there being more women than men at events because of role-balance:

  • Men who believe that women like dancing with men better, might be less numerous at an event. So: good for them, because more women will want to dance with you. Or not?
  • Single women will certainly have better chances being accepted to events when dancing both roles. Even if they prefer following to leading, they will then have the chance to follow for half of the time at a nice event. Is this not better than not being accepted? And by the way: this is not about strict 50%. No one counts the tandas that you lead at an event. If you partially lead, you'll have better chances. 
  • The only ones who might not get out of it so much at first glance are women with partners, who prefer dancing with male leaders. They easily get into the desired events, but now there might be some more female leaders instead of the male ones to dance with. There is not so much that I can say to you, apart from: If a leading lady is accepted by a responsible encuentro or marathon organiser with high standards, this person will have qualities that define her as a good dancer. Give her a chance. Dance with her. It might be beautiful. And if it is not that great yet: try again next year. Have you not seen men evolve into nice dancers given some time and practise? Why should women not have the same chances? 

Saturday, 5 January 2019

Je déteste les démos - and why I still do them!

It is Saturday evening and you are visiting a tango festival or a workshop weekend. You know what is going to happen around midnight: the teacher's performance!

What will you do?

Secure a good seat, because you are looking forward to it? 
Do you even prepare your camera or phone to video the demo?
Or do you start making preparations for leaving the event because you hate performances?
Maybe you'll just go to the bar or have a smoke or use the opportunity to go to the bathroom.

In Buenos Aires performances are an important part of tango culture. Foreign teachers, local heroes and heroines, stars, birthday celebrants and most honoured seniors perform at all milongas. There are actually few milongas without demos and the performers usually get loud cheers during and compliments after the shows. Everyone wants to show, that they liked the dance.

But in Europe, this is often very different. Apart from cultural differences (e.g. Germans and Finns e.g. not being overly extrovert and therefore not cheering a lot), one can detect a general lack of interest in watching performances. Wanting to avoid shows are after all one of the main reasons why Encuentros and Marathons have developed. There you can dance without interruptions.

Where does this aversion come from?
Is the tango community still traumatised from the festivals of the 90's with 4 performing couples that forced you to sit and watch for an hour? I don't think so, because many people now dancing tango started much later. And weren't these the exceptions anyway? Most demos usually last 3-4 songs - the length of a tanda. And honestly: do you dance all tandas? What is the big deal of sitting one out and watching someone else dance? Don't you do that during the milonga, don't you even like watching your fellow dancers? Why is it different, when there is only one couple on the dance-floor? Do you assume that this is a fake show, even if they are "performing" social tango? Is it "evil" because it is about promotion and making money? Does it pollute the purity of social tango?

I don't have the answers, but I do have my personal experiences with this facet of tango life.

Let me tell you a story from 2007:
It was one of our first engagements outside our home region. We were giving classes in Lyon, France and the workshops were nicely filled with dancers from near and far. After this weekend, word of mouth caused a multitude of invitations from other French tango clubs. This weekend was a game-changer in our "career".
But still I think of it with very mixed feelings. Because of the demo. (See video below.)
It was a couple of minutes before the performance and I was speaking to a dancer, with whom we had dined just a few hours earlier. He seemed friendly enough, but now he was sitting outside the hall and pulling a face. Willingly, he told me why: "Je déteste les démos." I hate demos. 
Thanks a lot. I was about to step onto the empty floor and have 150 strangers watch me dance and this was really not helping.
Before this evening, I could not even imagine, that tango dancers would have such strong aversions against tango demos. Sure, one would not like a particular performance because of the style, execution or other specific reasons. I myself was quite critical, but up until then most of my tango friends also liked tango demos. And why not? Sure, we were nervous when we had to perform, but not devastatingly so and even our first performances in Buenos Aires and New York had been a very positive experiences.
So this one sentence from a french milonguero shattered my fragile self-confidence for the evening and changed my perception of performances for ever. Where others thinking the same? As I later discovered: yes, I have heard many similar comments ever since - usually in a more general context and not directed to me personally. But still, if you are a teacher, performing is part of your job and such words will affect you - in particular when they come from friends and/or clients. (And amongst my students/friends/clients there is a high probability to encounter this aversion against demos, because so many of them are regular Encuentro visitors.)
So even now, when I perform, I often first notice the people who don't like demos. In order to get into a better place, I consciously have to concentrate on a benevolent person or group. Sometimes a very welcoming audience will make me forget my doubts. (See 2 videos below.) But often not.

And this fear of annoying people is boosted by who we are and what we do.

Please understand:
We (my partner Detlef and I) are no artists. We are social dancers, teachers, organisers, book authors, djs and whatnot. We don't do choreographies. We don't practise figures or poses. My absolute focus is on maintaining a high quality of teaching and events. Therefore 80-90% of my work therefore takes place at my desk preparing the content of classes and teacher-trainings, organising events and tango-holidays, communicating with clients, making publicity, managing spread sheets and lots of other things.
How would I find the time to prepare demos and choreographies and practise many hours? We don't even choose the music for demos together, because it used to take up much-needed rest-time between classes and the milonga and usually led to arguments. So nowadays, I do that on my own and Detlef will be surprised by my choice. Like in any tanda.

But even without the "unwilling spectators" or our special priorities, I find it difficult to make social tango* look interesting for others. Our focus is not on how tango looks from the outside, but how it feels in the couple. Can you make this visible without actually affecting the feeling and therefore having to fake it? This is why for us, our demos will always feel like a compromise between authenticity and wanting to show something appealing. This does not create an ideal mind-set and is particularly disturbing, when you perform at a festival with everyone else showing the big moves. (See video below.)

The result of these inhibitors: we will only rarely dance as nicely as we'd do in a milonga. Our demos will usually be less musical, less connected, less varied and not half as elegant as in the ronda. Therefore, we are seldom pleased with the videos. Also: The more experienced we get as teachers, the more we become aware of our own weaknesses. In the years, 2016-17, we only uploaded very few videos, because we were not content with the majority of our performances. In 2018, we did a bunch of fine demos, but who knows how long this lucky stretch will hold? It remains scary!
So honestly: for me, performing is often more tedious than managing the pizza-oder-list for our encuentro and only a little less upsetting than doing the tax returns.

But, if it is that difficult, why do we still perform or invite others to do demos at our events?

There are at least three good reasons.

Let me start with the obvious one: attracting students
Although our demos are not as good as our dancing in milongas, they are still publicity. Hundreds of dancers have visited our classes or have invited us for workshops because they have seen our videos on Youtube. Sure, word of mouth (about quality of teaching) or us going to events and dancing with people are as important, but: a tango teacher has to be visible as a dancer.
And by my last sentences you will understand: The target audience of a demo is usually not the one in the room, but the ones watching on the internet. We were amongst the very first teachers to post dance-videos on our site - many years before Youtube. Back then, other teachers still feared that a video on the internet might allow dancers to copy their steps and therefore make classes obsolete. That was a wee bit short-sighted. For us, videos were an important trigger for our early popularity. 

And also: attracting the right students
Our initial reason to upload videos to our site in 2002 was not publicity, but to prevent people from coming with wrong expectations. Back then, social tango was still rare and most teachers were focussing on the big moves - in particular in their shows. We did not teach jumps and poses and wanted to attract only the people who were looking for what we could actually offer. Also, as beginning teachers we were not so confident in our own dancing and wanted to avoid disappointing more advanced dancers.
Today I am much more self confident and believe that even people who dance better than us can still profit from our classes, but the principle is still valid: a demo will give prospective customers an idea of what you are doing and will therefore sort out the ones, who don't like your idea of tango. Those who show up, will share some general philosophy with you and this creates good conditions for the learning/teaching process.

Last not least: Inspiration
Performances can inspire people to take up dancing, to change something in their dance, to develop, to dance better. And this applies not only to choreographed shows, but also to demos of social tango. As there are dancers who want to imitate the kicks and jumps of a show, there are others who strive to walk nicely, because they have seen it in a demo. I strongly believe that the rise of tango de salon / tango milonguero in the new millennium is very much due to showing how social tango can look like: how nice, musical, elegant it can be. Without that, we might still live in a tango world were everyone wears black and red and where it is dangerous to come near another couple on the dance-floor. And there might not be any Encuentros and Marathons today. Without demos of social tango, tango might still be very different. And let us not to forget that the tango shows in the late 70's - 90's caused a tango-renaissance all over the world. So, without performances, there might not be any tango today. 

So, here is my appeal for all the "advanced" dancers being bored by demos:
Before you criticise or yawn openly or pull a face, please think of your favourite dance-partner with the nicest embrace and musicality. She or he might not be dancing that way without being attracted by a video to a particular class. Her or his local organisers might not even have invited the teachers, because they might never have become aware of them. And the teachers whose classes influenced you in the past, might not be able to do their jobs, because no one would even notice them and therefore would not work at influencing more people to dance nicely. So: if you still want new people to be attracted by social tango or to learn important skills in classes, please be aware that this won't work without demos. Performances are part of the package and won't go away.

Deal with it.


Part of the demo in Lyon (2007) after the negative comment. Back then still with Ganchos and Voleos. I think one cannot see the nervousness, but I felt super bad.

A demo at a festival in Portland (2010). We were totally intimidated by all the other teachers impressing the audience with jumps, kicks, speed of lightning and complex moves. Because of being so nervous our repertoire was even more limited than usual. Nevertheless, no-one seemed to notice and the demo was very much complimented on because of its purism:

Performing the same song as in the previous video (Bajo el cono azul, OTV), this time for an audience, that made us feel welcome from the moment, we stepped onto the dance floor. On this evening, we even gave two encores and it was one of the performances that we uploaded (almost completely) to Youtube in 2016.

A more recent demo from Firenze, just to make the point that we always perform nicely there, because the audience is so welcoming. We have uploaded videos each year that we have worked there:

* The words social tango for me describe any tango, that could be danced in a (moderately) crowded ronda. High voleos and certain forms of ganchos are therefore tabu. Also any reliance on memorised figures, as well as followers projecting their legs into huge steps and decorating every movement will make navigation difficult and the dance less social. So please be aware, that not every teacher couple dancing in a close embrace will show social tango. Or teach it in class. 

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Encuentros & Festivalitos Milongueros 2019

Here I am again.

A lot of friends have asked me to post another list of event-recommendations for milongueros. 

I have hesitated for quite some time, as I still find it difficult to offer that nowadays. Why?
- The numbers of so-called milonguero-events have risen even more and I can only visit a fraction of them, as I am working most of the weekends. 
- A few events have developed in a way, that I really cannot recommend them anymore to Milongueros. 
- Some events have been stopped. One of my favourite events (Abrazos in the UK) will e.g. not take place in 2019 because of Brexit issues. 
- In general, the "milonguero" events are changing along with it's population. There is a tendency to not visit all milongas of an event - which changes the atmosphere a lot.
- The borders between marathons and encuentros are getting more and more blurry. I myself will visit a marathon in Vienna this November. Let's see how that goes.
All in all, there are many reasons to not post any recommendations.

But of course I still love going to encuentros or festivalitos milongueros, because this is where tango is danced in a way that I can relate to. I always try to keep a few weekends per year free to dance with my friends. And sometimes I am lucky to be invited to dj or teach at such an event. Then I am even happier, because I can combine the pleasure of working and dancing in the ronda! 

I have therefore decided to post another choice of events that:
1. ask participants to pre-register for the whole event,
2. use role or gender-balance to ensure that everyone gets to dance,
3. will take at least 3 days and have separate Milongas,
4. use traditional music in tandas & with cortinas,
5. encourage cabeceo & mirada, in particular by placing seats consequently around the dance floor and installing enough light to actually be able to see across the room,
6. encourage dancers to leave the dance-floor after one tanda to find a new partner,
7. are meant to attract people who want to dance in a close embrace in a civilised ronda.
Events, that have these features are in general called Encuentros or Festivalitos Milongueros (see note below). Festivalitos might include a short demo as well as some classes that focus on social tango. There will nevertheless be no live-music or extended shows at these events. The Milongas are reserved for dancing. So they could be called Encuentros+. Please note that separate seating is no necessary condition of a milonguero-event. In fact, I do better in a mixed-seating environment.

So, here goes:

EVENTS, that I organise or where I dj or/and give classes in 2019:
La Colmena, Copenhagen, Denmark - April 19-21
Pequeña (Tangokombinat), Saarbrücken, Germany, June  21-23 (Festivalito)
Embrace Norway, Lillehammer, Norway - July 5-7 (Festivalito)
Festivalito Rural, Verzej, Slovenia, August 23-25 (Festivalito) 
FCA (Tangokombinat), Saarbrücken, Germany, Oktober 12-14 (private event) 

EVENTS that I have visited in the past:
Pasionaria Milonguera, Nice, France (Date uncertain)
Yo soy Milonguero, Crema, Italy, April 19-22 
Rendez-Vous Milonguero, near Lyon (formerly SJMM), France, May 3-5 (private event)
*Les Cigales, France, May 30 - June 2
Ensueños, Porto, Lisbon, October (Date to be announced)
*TangoAGoGo, Lago di maggiore, Italy, October (Date to be announced)
Tres Besos, Basel, Switzerland (Date to be announced)
*Te quiero Lisboa, Lisbon. Portugal, November (Date to be announced)
Abrazame, Barcelona, Spain, early December (marathon-encuentro mixer)
(I will try to go to 1-2 of them in 2019. But some do not meet to my personal preferences, so I would not visit all of them again. The events with * use separate seating of leaders/followers.)

EVENTS that I have not yet been to, but that get good feedback by many milongueros, depending on their preferences:  

Noches de Invierno, Reichenau an der Rax, Austria, January 4-5
Juntos, France, February 1-3
A Promotora, Portugal, March 1-4
Ronda de primavera, Kehl, Germany, April 8-14 (privat event)
Bomboncito, Basel, Switzerland, springtime (private event)
Encuentro Porteño, Amsterdam, Netherlands, May 2-5
Encuentro de Brujas, Bruges, Belgium, May 16-19
Noches de PrimaveraReichenau an der Rax, Austria, May 10-12
Avventura Milonguera Peace & Love, Nocy, Italy (around June)
Noches de Verano, Reichenau an der Rax, Austria, August 9-11
La Franteña, France, August 15-18
La Parada Milonguera, Treviso, Italy, October
Yupie, France, October 18-20
Paquita, Sarrebourg, France, around New Year (private event)
(Many of the events on this part of the list use separate seating. Please check in advance, if this is of any importance for you.)

And last, not least - the UK EVENTS:
These are events of which the future is uncertain, mostly because of Brexit. If they do take place again, I will certainly go there. 
Abrazos (Tangokombinat), Dartington, Devon (May): Took place from 2011-17 and then went on hold for one year. But then came Brexit, so our colleagues suspended it again. Might come back, if there is no hard Brexit or if the situation in the UK will not deteriorate completely. I am not holding my breath though. Very sadly.
Sueño de Escocia, Linlithgow, Scotland: one of my absolute favourites 2018, but who knows what happens next year. Even without Brexit - it was a first-timer and it is uncertain, whether the lovely organisers will do it again. But the pressure on them is definitely high. Everyone loved it!

That's it for the moment. I might update the list as soon as I get more info. Please also write to me, if you discover a mistake. 

Please note again: 
This is a very personal list of recommendations. It is subjective, but all the events on my list are suited for dancers with a milonguero philosophy. There are many more Encuentros, that I either don't know or know to be fakes. And there are many small, more local events as well. I am here sticking to events that are well-established and that aim to attract an international crowd. For a complete listing, please visit this site

General note on Encuentros and Marathons:
Nowadays, some Marathons seem to have the same or most of the features as described in my 7-point list above. But as I have not been to any of them, I cannot vouch for that. Things are constantly on the move in the tango community and these two terms might not exist in 10 years anymore. But in this article, I am speaking from my perspective for the year 2019. 

Saturday, 5 May 2018

Photos and Films at Tango Events - how it affects all of us!

From May 25 on, the GDPR (general data protection rule) will come into direct effect in all EU countries. The law is meant to prevent the misuse of personal data - in particular by the big firms who make money by processing and/or selling data.

But the law will also affect every single person living or working in the EU and it will have a huge impact on the tango community - that has become very dependant on the exchange of digital data via e-mails, online forms, websites, youtube and social media. A lot of tools and commodities that we have been using or enjoying on a daily basis will have to be re-structured or even abandoned. And although the law certainly is of noble intent, a lot of its outcomes might be quite devastating.

The law is applied a differently in the EU countries, but in Germany, there is no extra regulation, so the GDPR regulations will have to be interpreted by model lawsuits. Depending on which country you live or work in, that might be the same or comparable because of a very strict interpretation in the country affected. Everyone will have to check whether and how exactly the regulation apply to him or her.

Because of this, my life as a tango teacher and organiser has again become more complex, costly and work-intensive. In the last few weeks, I have spent many hours and quite a few Euros to update five websites and several online forms as well as restructure my general way of data collection and processing. One of the sad outcomes is, that there won't be anymore comments on this blog. I have disabled all further comments in every single blog post - separately, because there is no option to do that for the entire blog in general. ARGH! All that work to in order to make the business GDPR compliant. Not being a lawyer or even interested in that kind of stuff made it even harder for me.

Ok. That does sound so bad and so far, the extra work and costs just affected us (and every other European organiser and teachers who takes his or her job seriously). Obviously it of no big interest to the consumers, the event- and class-participants. 

Unfortunately, affected tango organisers and teachers will have to - sooner or later - adapt their fees for classes or events in order to compensate for huge amount of extra work and costs. That’s already quite inconvenient, isn’t it?

But, money aside, there will be other (more immediate and sad) effects on our tango experience.

It concerns all tango photography as well as videos taken during events.

This is the law:

The GDPR says that every collection of data has to be agreed upon by the person whose data is collected. Digital photos and videos as well as their processing is considered as processing data after Article 2, Paragraph 1, GDPR.
Therefore every photographer, film-maker or event organiser will have to ask for permission after Article 6, Paragraph 1 GDPR before any photos or videos are taken. The object has the right to withhold this permission or to withdraw consent after Article 7, Paragraph 3 GDPR at any moment.

How is this different from the previous practise?

Although you had to ask for consent to take a photo before GDPR, there were quite a few exceptions that allowed tango photographers to take nice pictures and post them on facebook or exhibit them in another form: 
  • Declaring the photos/films as art,
  • Only asking the person in focus for permission. People not in the focus (e.g. seen from behind or taking a only a small space in the picture) could be declared as accessories and therefore did not have to consent.
  • Define the event as private and posting it only to those who have attended.
  • Defining the event as public.
  • ...
And let’s be honest: most people love tango photos or did not care so much, as long as the photographer did his/her job in a discreet manner and was willing to take down photos which one did not like after publishing them.

Now the law requires, that everyone who will recognisable in a picture (also if it is just by a haircut, tattoo or figure) has to consent before any film or photo is made at all forms of events - e.g. weddings. Also the form of storing and publishing of the material has to be informed about and agreed with. The photographers or organisers have to be prepared to produce this written permission upon request of the subject or of a regulatory authority. They will have to face potentially huge fines, if not complying to the law.

What does this practically mean?

It will be almost impossible to spontaneously take a nice photo or film the ronda or crowd. In any case, you will have to get permission before. That might create more or less difficulties. Check out some different cases:
  • As long as it is a very small crowd - like our Tangokombinat Minilonga with 30 people or so - all that might not be such a huge effort - just annoying, because everyone has to sign a paper form at the entrance of the milonga. This means that you actually have to have someone sitting at an entrance desk, not just a desk with a money-box. Why: because the filled-out form itself is an information about somebody - data that has to be protected from misuse. The cashier has to make sure that no-one else reads it. One person more to pay or compensate for or "bye-bye" dancing for the organiser!
  • At an encuentro or marathon, you can ask people to agree upon registration, but they can revoke their permission at any given moment. So it is already a lot more work beforehand. And then imagine, you’ve got 200 participants, 20 of them not agreeing and the photographer or film maker might not know everyone personally - in particular if he/she is not a dancer. He/she will have to check before every photo or film, if anyone within sight did not comply. Most likely with the help of a list and someone actually knowing all participants by name. This will be the organiser, who is already busy with lots of other things or who might want to dance as well. Sure, there is the possibility to give the non-compliant participants badges to wear, but checking for them in a crowd will also take time and honestly - who wants to wear a stupid badge? Or force someone to wear it? For me, that opens up quite another box of Pandora.
  • An open Milonga or a Tango Festival, where people show up spontaneously at the door is even more complicated. You will have to make them sign paper forms (see above). Just imagine how long a check-in might then take. And then let's hope that you can actually spot the non-compliants in the crowd.
  • A last example: taking a video of a demo or a class summary. Apart from the potentially huge effort of asking permission, the camera will be moving, so it even  harder to control who you are filming at any given moment. You can of course invite everyone who did not comply to move out of the camera angle. And then you just have to hope that no-one stays seated in a visible spot and complains or even sues later. Who will risk filming under such circumstances? Sure, in some countries making such clips just for personal usage might still be allowed - but how many of them end up on Youtube?

Imagine what all of this does to the artistic spontaneity or expression of a photographer or film-maker. It kills it. Plus the additional work! Apart from the preparation by getting people to consent, the complete raw-material has to be carefully checked before further processing and deleted in case it shows someone who was filmed by accident or someone who revoked consent after the event.
So from now on every photographer/film-maker/organiser will think about if having a few nice photos is still worth the effort. And every serious professional will have to increase prics. 

What is the outcome?

The best outcome: Having pictures or films made at tango events will become more expensive and these extra costs will be payed by the consumer's fees. 
The worst-case scenario: There won’t be any pictures or videos. Knowing the community and its mechanisms, I predict that many event organisers will just save on the expense or effort.
And would this not be incredibly sad? Don’t you all love the (moving) pictures of dancers in a nice embrace or of your favourite performers during their spectacular demo? And now think of what kind of damage this does to the artists or teachers who depend on videos or photos for promotion. 
No problem for Tango Escenario by the way, if it is exhibited on a stage without showing the audience.
All of this might have a huge impact of how tango is perceived from the outside or what kind of tango will be popular in the future. Tango as a world heritage, in particular the social tango we love could become much poorer and ultimately might face a decline because of this reduced exposure.
You think that I am exaggerating? Let’s hope so, but let’s not count on it.

How does this affect us?

By us, I mean Melina Sedó & Detlef Engel as well as the Tangokombinat-headquarter. Our UK section might not have these problems after the Brexit - maybe the one reason to looking forward to it. 
We love to have pictures taken during ours events. What would an encuentro be without the photos of happy people in lovely embraces to remember it by? We would like to preserve this!
Also there are a lot of people who enjoy watching videos of our demos - which have been crucial in our advertising for the last 17 years. We were amongst the first tango dancers to upload dance-videos onto the web - long before Youtube or Facebook! A lot of people invited us or came to our classes because of a video they had seen. Without the videos - we would not be were we are now.

What will we do?

1. We will ask every visitor of our events to allow us to take pictures or videos of him/her. We will do so upon registration or with the help of an extra form or with a paper form to sign upon entering a milonga. 
2. If there are too many (more than 10% of all visitors) not consenting, then there will simply not be any pictures or films of this event. The efforts and risks involved are just too high.
3. Because of the ambiguity of the law - we are not yet sure who will be liable, if a law is broken - we cannot officially authorise third parties to film or take photos. You will have to do so on your own risk.
4. We will ask for consent before videotaping any of our demos or class summaries - no matter who the organiser of the event is. 
5. In cases of filming outside of the EU or when filming in dark light settings, this might not always be necessary and we might additionally blur the film around the edges to make extra sure. Also some EU countries (e.g. Sweden) have taken extra measures to create own regulations that overrule the GDPR and might ease the situation. Therefore we might sometimes be able to film a demo without the written consent of the spectators at a local event. But what happens at a Festival in Sweden, with visitors from all over the EU? Do I need a written consent of a German or Greek dancer? Or do I need the consent in general because the laws of my home-country applies when posting a video on the internet via a german server? So many people give different answers. This is quite confusing.

I am not a lawyer and I seriously hope that some of the regulations might turn out to be interpreted more liberally as I now have to assume. But many of the questions have yet to be answered in courtrooms. This might take years and until then, a lot of lawsuits will cost a lot of money. We definitely won't take any risks.

I know that this was a really boring post, but one that I hope many tango organisers, teachers and dancers will read. You seriously have to form an opinion and take care of stuff ...

... before someone gets hurt! Or cries because of a huge fine.