Thursday, 1 July 2021

Where do we go from here?

I have not written for a long time, but even those who do not follow me on Facebook can imagine what it has been like in the past 15 months: Tango has basically collapsed and apart from a few months last summer and early autumn, we were not allowed to work at all. These restrictions have taken their toll and I am in a quite bad condition - physically and mentally. 

Still, 2020 was manageable:

Our Indiegogo campaign last June went well and we sold a lot of digital content or vouchers for classes. Some friends even made donations - which we did not ask for, but that were welcome nevertheless. Your help added up to more than double of what we received from our government in 2020. This was is a wonderful sign of solidarity and we are super grateful.

Our financial situation last year was also aided by the fact, that many events and classes had been payed in advance. When the lockdown started, most participants agreed to re-schedule and let us hold onto their money. Unfortunately, many of those classes and events had to be delayed much longer than anticipated and some have still not taken place. 

But as restrictions were lifted a bit in May, we were now able to work-off a few of our teaching obligations:

  • Bootcamp - finished after 15 months
  • Tango-Teacher-Training - finished after 1 year
  • Mini Vals Seminar - finished after 8 months
  • Local courses - to be finished next week

The Damocle’s sword of refunds has now become a little less threatening and I am very relieved.

There nevertheless still remain: 

  • Many vouchers for privates and other classes bought in our Indiegogo campaign
  • Pequeña that was re-re-scheduled for June 2022. With all costs (djs, venue…) still awaiting us.
  • Quite a few local dancers who have not yet completed their classes from 2020 and who will hopefully do so in autumn.

But in most German regions, regulations are still strict and apart from small classes for tested and vaccinated dancers, nothing is possible. No real milongas, no events… Travelling to other countries is still difficult as well and organisers are not yet inviting us for workshops. And even when they do: it takes many months - up to a year - from scheduling a weekend until earning a salary!

So, given that there will be very few opportunities to generate new income in 2021, our car died and that there are still some studio renovations to be finished, this year remains difficult. Much more than 2020.

We will nevertheless not start a new funding-campaign, as some of our friends suggested. 

It is now the responsibility of the governments to give us back our lives and livelihoods. We have complied to all regulations and the incidence rate in Germany has dropped to 5,1. But now the hysteria is raging again and new lockdowns are discussed for autumn and winter. Despite the fact that 80% of the population (including me) will have had their vaccinations by the end of summer. This makes planning for the nearer future almost impossible. 

I also observe that many people have retreated from tango. After 1,5 years of abstinence, they have acquired new interests and are not finishing courses or signing up for new ones. Others might never overcome their fear of the virus. The tango community has shrunk to a few passionate survivors and classes fill up even worse than 2020 when there were no vaccines and no antigene-tests. Who knows how many years it will take to re-build all this!

In any case: If we are not given back our right to earn a living soon, I do not know, whether we will survive as tango professionals. Detlef is more optimistic than I am, so let us hope that he is right. 

In the meanwhile, I have taken up an exciting and challenging new work, writing a roleplaying campaign set in 15th century Florence and Dante’s afterworlds. You can read everything about it here.

If you want to help me and Detlef, please feel free to buy our digital content, sign up for our classes and tango-holidays and invite us for workshops in your community. We are not scared of travelling.

Wednesday, 10 June 2020

My incredible shrinking world

First they closed the borders, so that it is you and the others again: Germany (low infection numbers = safe) vs. Italy (high infection numbers = dangerous). Or: Germany (strict measures until present day) vs. Switzerland (contact restrictions stopped). Europe has ceased to exist and all of a sudden its countries are separate again. 

Even worse: Germany consists of quite independent federal states and because most of the corona measures are decided on a "Bundesland"-basis, it really matters where exactly you live. You start comparing your situation with those of the other provinces: I live in the Saarland. As our regional prime minister is particularly interested in showing resoluteness, the measures here are stricter than in the neighbouring Rhineland-Palatinat. All these months, I was really envious of the relative freedom they had. They could sit on a bench in a park. We were not allowed to. In Hesse, they even were permitted to visit friends. Here, this was strictly forbidden for a long time.

Then recently, the government decided that lockdowns will be made stricter again, when there are more than 50 (in Saarland 35) infections per 100.000 inhabitants over 7 days in one immediate region. So now you start comparing the numbers in the different cities of your "Bundesland" and hope that your city’s won't go up. The "Regionalverband Saarbrücken" looks very good at the moment. Our average infection rate over the last 7 days is 1,22. Neunkirchen is more critical - they’ve got 6,83 daily infections per 100.000 inhabitants. So I hope it will not seep over. (Note how I am obsessing over such low numbers! We’re far away from the 30, have not reached this number since mid April, but I am already worried, because every single registered infection now endangers the lifting of restrictions and therefore my livelihood.)

Also, I almost never leave the flat. I have no fear of the virus, but there are only very few reasons for me to go out: there is no work, no travel, no money to spend in restaurants or with other activities, no inclination to go into stores having to wear a mask... I go out once a week for grocery shopping, occasionally to run and in the last two weeks, we’ve again taken up privates.  But our studio is in the same house. 

I spend my entire days in front of the computer screen. When I am not working on our digital versions of Caminar Abrazados, I am trying to coordinate other dance schools in our region, writing protest-letters to ministries and watching the numbers. Day in, day out observing the numbers on John Hopkins, on the site of the RKI, the WHO and some others. This is my new hobby.

In past years, the whole world seemed small, because I felt connected all over it. I travelled all year, made friends in so many different countries. The distances between us became irrelevant. Now my world is small and the others are far, far away.

Even the distance to my non-tango friends in the same city has become huge, feels unbreachable. Their lives have changed considerably less as they went on working normally all these months and have hobbies that were not prohibited. They meet colleagues, go out, earn their living. I am reduced to receiving charity and trying to sell digital products, that (I guess) most buy out of pity. They are successful university teachers or computer specialists. I am the looser artist who’d better stuck to her profession as a psychologist.

My world has collapsed. It is now only one room, one chair with the same view every hour of the day.

One day, this might disappear too. 

Note: Yes, I know that it should be "My incredibly shrinking world". But those who know me might have guessed the pop-culture reference.

Wednesday, 18 March 2020

I'm so worried

I know that as a tango teacher and organiser, I should now be confident and send out positive vibes and believe me: this post will also come. Last afternoon, Detlef, Thorsten and I made plans on how to survive the complete stop of our work. I will therefore have to snap out of my temporal paralysis. But before I soldier on, I have the urge to write about my worries. If you only want to read positive things, please skip this post.
On Sunday, we had our last workshop for an indefinite time and I started to cry during our final words to the group. It was very embarrassing.
The weekend had already been difficult because of cancellations and because of the fact that we could not correct by dancing with the students, but only by "show & tell". There were also no changes of partner, every couple kept their distance to the others and I felt that although we tried our best, our teaching quality suffered.
But this was not the reason why I cried.
I wept because I could not greet and see off any of our students with the usual hug and because we do not know when we'll meet anyone again. Yes, I cannot deny my distress caused by the financial insecurity, but the relational aspects of this crisis are far more troubling. Teaching and organising tango has been my life since 2001 and it has now come to an end. In these 19 years, we've helped build an international community of dancers and friends: the encuentro scene, our students, our teacher training graduates... We've traveled so much and I feel close to many people around the globe of whom I am now cut off. For how long? Who knows!
I am also extremely unhappy because we have only taken up teaching in our hometown last year and are in the process of building a very fine thing. We’ve got super motivated and talented participants as well as assistants and helpers but now had to stop working with them in the middle of two great courses. The same goes for the intensive bootcamp. We had just finished the first module with a brilliant group and now the rest is suspended. It is so frustrating!
And social media did not help in the last weeks. Usually I enjoy communicating via Facebook, exchanging information, casually sharing a bit of your lives or just being silly. But now Facebook just upset me.
So many interactions and posts were and still are being ruled by fear and distrust and the social pressure on teachers and organisers these past weeks was immense. Anyone who held a milonga or taught a class was accused of jeopardising the public well-fare, independent of the individual circumstances. People seemed to be giving all the responsibility to organisers and teachers instead of believing in the sensible behaviour of others. Names of infected persons were openly circulated in Facebook-posts and organisers of past tango-events connected to corona-incidents were being dissed without knowing all facts. All of a sudden, everybody was an expert and tried to regulate the lives of others. My life! As if the regulations and measures by the governments as well as the media were not already draining all my energy and disturbing my sleep! As if I was not aware of the situation myself! As if I was not spending most of my days reading the sites of the WHO, the RKI and the John Hopkins institute! It has now gotten a bit better and people are talking about ways of helping organisers and teachers, but this feels a bit weird after being scared into immobility.
As a psychologist and person, I find all that very worrying. It reminds me of the AIDS panic and its impact on society in the 80s.
That's not good!
Because this tango community will not only suffer from illness caused by a virus. It will also be harmed by how we interact with each other. What do you think will happen when not only all tango activities are suspended over a long period, but tangueros continue behaving in hurtful and often irrational ways? Sure, many dedicated dancers are counting the days until they can go to the next encuentro or marathon. But do you really think, that things will just resume, where they were left off? I am not so convinced. 
This is what I worry about:
  • Many not (yet) being infected with the tango-virus will disappear and take on other activities. That concerns in particular newbies whom we and others have lovingly groomed into becoming tangueros. Without these dancers, tango schools will have to close and the communities (already deprived of advanced dancers by the international events) shrink.
  • Organisers who do not only have to cancel their events, but also refund payments will make losses because of the obligations towards venue, artists and other parties. People thus affected might not continue organising events - which is already a high-risk/little-income activity. (Ok, let's be honest: less encuentros or marathons would actually not be such a bad thing, but not at the expense of motivated individuals.)
  • Anyone living from tango has to start seeking alternative sources of income less volatile to catastrophes and difficult social interactions. Not everyone will survive on online videos. I am planning to visit the local “Arbeitsamt” (public agency of work) to check my options of returning to psychology or another line of work in the social sector. Let's see how many other tango teachers go back to being computer specialists, engineers or nurses.
  • Anyone being upset by the public discussion might turn away from tango or at least from certain persons. Sensitive people already stopped using Facebook because of this. Who wants to interact with a community that denounces infected persons and puts such a pressure on individuals?
  • People for whom tango is the only social activity and the only form of physical contact with others will feel isolated and lonely. This goes in particular for everyone living alone and for many older people. Depression rates will go up amongst those groups. Yes, people die from the virus. But they also die from depression. I am incredibly worried about that!
I know that I paint a very dramatic picture but please do not dismiss my words as the ramblings of a professional pessimist. I beg you: Let’s all behave sensibly and carefully. Dancing and hugs have an immensely positive impact on life-quality, well-being and our health. Please do not destroy these resources with fear and distrust. When everything has calmed down, you still want to be able to take your friends into the arms.
And on another note:

Friday, 28 February 2020

Tango Queens Congress 2020 - an organiser's perspective

In early 2019, when I accepted the invitation to a new Facebook group, the Tango Queens, I would never have imagined how much it would become a part of my life.

I actually considered rejecting the invite because I could not relate to the name. Although I use the term in class (e.g."walk like a queen"), it somehow sounded girly and I mostly expected make-up or shoe recommendations. Yes, there are such threads, but many more serious topics were and still are being discussed in a very engaging manner. This group was indeed needed!

Very soon, the idea of a congress for women was born and I found myself in the organising team gathered by Monika Jurkiewicz, a polish dancer living in London. Monika is the founder of the Facebook group and therefore it was natural that she took the lead. Most of us did not even know each other personally and as we were spread far apart, our team met over the course of an entire year via Skype to prepare the intricate details of this ambitious project. The other team members were: 
  • Juliana Thutlwa, a German tango organiser and psychologist, who would handle the website and research about "tango visuals and imagery". Juliana was the only one whom I knew personally.
  • Carmen Cordiviola, an Argentinian powerhouse and coach living in Berlin, who'd be responsible for the feminist perspective.
  • Evren Jülide Koç, a Turkish dancer and yoga teacher, who would become our liaison to the South-Eastern hemisphere.
  • I, Melina as the local representative and co-ordinator as we choose my home town Saarbrücken as location.
As anticipated, the logistical preparations for the first TQC would become quite extensive. Although I have been organising tango events since 2001, this was an entirely new category. We needed a venue in which 3-4 different activities could be conducted at the same time, a round-the-clock catering, a main hall with a podium and complex technical setup to allow for panel discussions, lectures, big workshops and milongas. That all went far beyond the scope of a simple Encuentro, Festivalito or workshop-weekend. I was nevertheless lucky to have an experienced local team as well as the support of the location owners and we even got a small grant by the city of Saarbrücken. So all went well on the home front! 

As for the programme, our team put together a multifaceted choice of activities:
  • 5 plenary sessions for all women present: The opening activity focussing on "The Embrace" (lead by myself), a lecture "Woman in red" by Veronica Toumanova, a panel discussion about "Tango visuals and imagery" with most of the organising team members plus the psychoanalyst Rachel Seidel and the photographer Viktoria Fedirko and two sessions "Feminist Tango" lead by Carmen.
  • 7 body workshops about "Empowered Follower", "Leading for Women" and Yoga. The teachers were Mila Vigdorova & Corina "Abraztango", Veronika Toumanova, Imme Oldenburg & Ramona Steckermeier, Evren and myself.
  • A workshop about "Organisation of tango events" by me, Melina.
  • A lecture by Theresa Faus about "Women in Tango History".
  • An interesting choice of small-group discussions about "Leader and Follower roles & stereotypes", "Getting more leaders into classes & events", "Discrimination – being in the minority in Tango", "Sex & Dating in Tango", "Clothing & Gender – Stereotypical expression & expectation", "Tango & Ageing", "Sex & Abuse – the dark side of Tango", "Competition among women – how can we be more supportive?", "International Tango – cultural differences in dancing", "Women as teachers, performers, mentors" and "Women as DJs". All sessions were lead by the organising team members reinforced by Rachel Seidel.
  • And last not least there were 2 milongas with the DJs Gabriela Ioana Manea and myself.

Because I was so busy with the logistics and leading so many group activities, I unfortunately had very little opportunity to sit in as a mere participant. I regretted that because my original motivation was to bond and engage. Now I spent far too much time running between the different rooms and facilities. I would definitely take on less responsibility at another occasion. But this is not uncommon when organising a new event: it took years until I had developed a form of organisation that allows me to actually dance during our encuentros. 

This is why the following observations are more from an organiser's and teacher's perspective. Those who were "only" participating had the chance to develop a more emotional connection to the whole process compared to someone who is on the clock. I nevertheless would like to share some impressions:

I found it astonishing how harmonically and constructively 120 women of different age-groups, cultures, sexual orientations and tango backgrounds interacted. There were differing opinions and not everyone felt a deep "sisterhood", but the general benevolence created a very special atmosphere that was different from every other tango event. I have been leading Ladies-Only-Seminars for many years. They have a similar feel, but the sheer number of congress participants had a very uplifting and empowering effect that is impossible to create in a smaller group. It also allowed us to experience two milongas in which men were not missed. I hope it convinced everyone present, that we need never complain about too few male leaders with such a potential of lovely dancers right at hand!

As a teacher, I am super proud that so many of my students and numerous of my teacher-training-graduates took part in the congress, either as participants or as helpers, teachers and speakers. Over the past few years, many of them have not only worked on their leading skills, but have also participated in building a network of women in tango. From their personal feedback I can tell, that their motivations and connections have been reinforced through their experiences at the congress.

Before and after the congress, there were quite a few critical voices, in particular when it came to excluding men. I understand the fears beneath some of the critics' accusations, but can assure them that the "safe space" created by the congress was at no time abused for bad-mouthing men or for resorting into mere complaining. Most of the time, we did not even think about men. Discussions and talks were either referring to one's owns feelings or a more general perspective trying to understand the female situation in tango. We also did not burn bras or hold other rituals that are connected to hard-core-feminism. Actually during one of the plenary activities, only very few women raised their hands when being asked if they understand themselves as feminists. I feel that what matters aren't labels but the wish to stand on your own feet and be self-determined without having to put the blame on "the men". The red thread in all discussions, workshops and talks was that we've all got it in us to change our situation to the better!

But besides all these empowering words and the fact that women can be as good leaders as men (in all fields) we cannot deny that there is still a technological bias that makes many women dependant on men. We discussed this when it came to women as djs. There are still quite a few female djs with very little technical know-how who rely on their "guys" being present. A limited technological focus can also be an advantage because it makes women concentrate on what is important: creating a flow and playing nice music instead of obsessing about nerdy sound-quality-details. But for our congress, it also meant that we could not do without male help. After a quite desperate search, a good friend of mine volunteered to travel from afar and be there over the whole weekend as our sound-person. I have to admit: My logistical team anyway included my sweetheart who - as a non dancer - acts as the chief logistics-person at all our Tangokombinat events. Having such an experienced help in the background allowed me to actually conduct the content-sessions I was responsible for. Our technical advisor on the other hand actually was "in the room" during some of the sessions because of the complex technical setup. He did super in being invisible and I don't think that any woman was disturbed by his presence, but still: more radical voices could argue that a female congress should not have to rely on male help. 

I am not one of them because I do believe that we anyway have to cooperation to make our tango world better. Independence is important, but no one lives in a vacuum. This is why I also think that there should be future events that include male dancers. Most likely not the next one and maybe not under this label, but ultimately some important discussions should not be held without this significant minority in tango.

Out of personal reasons, I will not be participating in the organisation of the next Tango Queens congress. I hope to be there as a participant or - if the new team decides so - as a teacher/speaker and I will certainly follow the development with geat interest. 2020 was just the beginning of something wonderful and necessary. I am looking forward to what comes next!

Information about location and staff: 
The first Tango Queens Congress took place on January 24-26, 2020 in Saarbrücken Germany. The venues were the Acting and Arts school, the space of photographer Jean Laffitau and the Tangokombinat studio. All local helpers were Tangokombinat members or students of the acting school who were co-ordinated by Thorsten Janes. I would like to mention Estrella Ina in particular who produced the great wall-tattoos. The sound-specialist was Gregor Killing, dj and dedicated tanguero. I would like to thank all of them. Without you, it would not have been possible!

Photos in this post:
Photos 1-3 are by me and show three different setups of the location: Milonga (with tables), opening activity (no tables, but space to move on the floor) and plenary discussion/lecture (in this case lecture by Veronica).
Photos 4 + 5 are by Viktoria Fedirko and show me leading the dj-discussion and teaching an empowered followers class. 
Photo 6 shows the wall-tattoo and is by myself.

Monday, 30 December 2019

The reasons why I lead + resolutions for 2020

2019 was a very exciting tango-year: After 25 years of dancing tango and 18 years of teaching it, I found myself as a student.

Ok, this is not really new, because I constantly research and develop my tango-knowledge as well as my teaching and organising skills. I constantly initiate new projects, that "force" me to go out of my comfort zone and explore new fields: developing a teacher-training, learning more and more about website building and hosting, offering new forms of events, researching tango music in great detail, exploring various forms of bodywork and much more. I am an eternal student.

But when it came to dancing, I felt a bit stuck. Sure, over the past years, the dance with Detlef has become much better connected to the music. This was mostly a result of the musical work for and in our classes. But as we dance what we teach and nowadays almost never teach patterns, our repertoire has been streamlined to the basics. This is good, because we've eliminated all the superfluous and become even more puristic. But it does not feel like a great challenge. It is just what we do.

But this year, I practised my leading skills.

Although I had always been leading in classes. I almost never did it in milongas. In the first years as a teacher, I would still lead sometimes, but later it completely stopped. Mostly because of the shoes (not wanting to change them) and because of the Encuentros (more interesting leaders).

But it always bugged me that I was not capable of applying all that I lead in class in the ronda. The few times that I was leading in the past years, I just walked rhythmically. That was nice, but not interesting enough to want to do it more often. So finally I started practising consequently with one of our teacher-training-graduates in Saarbrücken. Over the first half of the year we managed to meet regularly, sometimes twice a week. Unfortunately this was not possible in the second half of the year, but I am going to take up practising again in January. Here's a resolution!

But the most important change was: I consequently started leading at milongas and encuentros. From the 520 tandas that I have danced socially this year, I have lead 184.
Yes, I count tandas. And yes, I know it is crazy. but craziness aside: Yay! I lead 35%!

But then recently I was asked: why do you lead?

My first impulse was to say: "Why not?" But that sounded lame.

So here are my reasons:

1. It is fun. It is different from dancing the followers role, but as much fun. (It could even be funner, if it weren't for the incompatibilities.)

2. It is a challenge. As stated above, I like learning and the sense of achievement that comes from successfully doing something new. Luckily I am no perfectionist but forgiving towards my own mistakes. I'm fine to know that I am "on the right way". So, most challenges don't frighten me. They inspire.

3. It is the right moment. This year was my year with women in tango, the preparation of the Tango Queens Congress, so many talks with women, bonding.... It was the right moment to also spend more time with women at milongas. Yesterday at the milonga, I sat and chatted with women and I danced with them. I only danced one tanda with one guy: Detlef. No, I've not had a sudden coming out. I just enjoy the company of women.

4. It is the right thing to do. I cannot preach that dancing both roles is good for the understanding of the dance and absolutely necessary from a practical point of view and then not lead myself.

5. Independence and peace of conscience. If I manage to up my game to 50% leading, I will have less problems getting into events. Ok, I don't have any problems getting into events now, because I often register with Detlef and most Encuentro organisers know me and want to be admitted to my evens as well. But when registering as single follower, I just feel super bad for the organisers. They will have to balance me with one of the rare leaders and that is so hard nowadays. For my conscience and karma, it is much better to register as double-role dancer.

6. The music. After so many years of musical work, I often suffer from unmusical dancing or diverging musical interpretations when being in the follower's role.
Sure, I can and will of course influence the dance actively. But depending on the receptive skills of the leader, this can be a bit of a struggle and I don't want to fight.
My considerable musical demands do not apply to every orchestra. To some orchestras, I am totally fine with some nice hugging, to other with dynamic moves, depending on what the leader's core skills are. Musicality is not always my first priority.
But there are quite a few orchestras that I can only dance to when I know that the musical interpretation of my partner goes conform with mine: D'Arienzo, Biagi, Pugliese, Troilo, even Canaro, all milongas and most valses... and some more. Di Sarli (formerly a hugging orchestra) has now transformed into a musical-priority orchestra. So... actually, my musical standards apply most of the time. ARGH!
I am lucky, because at many Encuentros I will often dance with our students who know what I like and mostly have the skills to put it into action. But at other events, I will more frequently prefer to not follow.
I might be exaggerating a bit, because there are now many more musical leaders than 10 years ago. Just recently I danced a Biagi tanda with someone I had never seen before. It was lovely!
Maybe I should take more risks, but I am not that brave. What if someone runs over the end of a musical phrase? My system might go into shock! Yes, I know, drama queen!
Long story short: Very often, I prefer to lead. Then I am on the safe side. ;-)

7. I am a leader. I always was. I am making decisions, taking action and "showing the way" to others. This is what I do. I can also follow and it is super nice to hand over responsibility. I can even perfectly overlook "mistakes" and compromise when someone else "leads the way", but not always. I lead. This is who I am. So my initial answer "why not?" to the question why I lead, was actually the most authentic.
I ask myself: Why have I not done it more consequently from the beginning? Maybe out of the same reasons, why so many women in tango want to follow: It is nice to not always be responsible for everything. But the more you understand, that both partners shape the dance, that both are responsible, the more "active" you become as a follower, the less you will ever feel that you can "just follow". So the whole concept gets reversed and restricting myself to the follower's role does not make any sense.
I am glad that I finally got it, but sad that it took my so long. Because I wasted 25 years in which I could have enjoyed both roles. Stupid me!

To all ladies out there: If you feel that leading would be the right thing to do, don't wait 25 years. Please read this post to be reminded that leading is no rocket-science.
And to all guys out there: if you feel, that following would be right for you, please don't renounce it out of misunderstood masculinity. Men can be super followers. They often just don't dare.

I am now looking forward to my last milonga of the year where I am going to dj and will therefore not be dancing a lot.

And next year?

That will be full of new experiences. I wish myself and you lots of fun and success!

Saturday, 21 December 2019

Festivalitos & Encuentros Milongueros 2020 + Historical Notes

I really did not want to do this again, but so many people keep asking for my recommendations for milonguero events.

First, let me (again) summarise my criteria for festivalitos or encuentros milongueros.

These events
1. require participants to pre-register for the whole event,
2. use role- or gender-balance to ensure that everyone gets to dance, 
3. have a duration of 3+ days and separate milongas,
4. use traditional music in tandas & with cortinas,
5. encourage cabeceo & mirada,
6. encourage dancers to leave the dance-floor after one tanda to find a new partner,
7. encourage the use of close embrace,
8. encourage a civilised ronda, by supporting the "codigos milongueros para la pista",
9. Festivalitos will offer some classes that focus on social tango and there might be a short demo. There will nevertheless be no live-music or extended shows. We could called them Encuentros+. 
Please note that neither separate seating nor exclusivity (personal invitation) are necessary requirements of milonguero events. Some have it, others not.

These days, I am facing numerous problems when trying to put together my list of recommendations:

- The number of milonguero-events has multiplied and I have no chance of visiting even a fraction of them. (Please remember that my weekends are mostly reserved for work.)
- Quite a few of the new events do not guarantee the same quality standards that I am used to. 
- Because of the huge competition, even established organisers start admitting dancers who do not have the necessary skills to participate at such events. Often the floor craft is far from ideal.
- It is getting harder and harder to motivate men to commit. Very often this results in a large "surplus" of following women. One solution to this problem is to abandon the gender-based booking format and have dancers register by leader, follower and double-role dancers. We and some other organisers do so and by that achieve a perfect balance of leaders and followers. But at many encuentros, women are frustrated because they have to sit much more than anticipated.
- Some of my favourite or long-lasting events have died: Abrazos in Devon, the Festivalito Rural in Slovenia and Yo Soy Milonguero in Crema are no more. Ex-St.Julien will make its last appearance in 2020. 
- In general, the "milonguero" events are changing its character. There is a e.g. tendency to not visit all milongas of an event and the borders between marathons and encuentros are getting blurry. 

All in all: I feel that an era is coming to its end. Change is good, but I am a little sad and disoriented. Where will I meet my friends in future? In earlier years, such encounters could even get a little boring, because you would always meet the same people. But because there is such a huge choice of potentially nice parties, it is now hard to gather them all in one place. 

And there is another issue that has presented itself to me in 2019:

This year, I have visited 10 Encuentros/Festivalitos Milongueros and danced more than 500 tandas (not all at encuentros), approximately 1/3 of them leading. My experiences with changing roles differed a lot. At some events, I managed to lead almost 50% of the tandas, at others only very few. Whether I get dances as a leader, depends on a complex set of factors: seating arrangements, lighting, size of the event, openness leading women and many more. Also: Because I have for many years only lead in classes, I am not yet "on the radar" of followers, who love dancing with the (quite numerous) leading ladies in the milonguero community. 
For me, the events that work best are smaller encuentros or festivalitos that actively encourage double-role dancing and that do not have separate seating. For all who are interested in dancing both roles or the gender-atypical role at milonguero events, please contact me for for recommendations.

The following overview is far from complete. I will exclusively present events, that are either well-established or organised by milongueros who have regularly been participating in encuentros for many years. You need street-cred to fill up such a meeting with committed milongueros and experience to create the right ambiance! 
Private events will not have a link. I nevertheless list them because the information is valuable for the coordination amongst organisers. But also because you always could contact the hosts and express interest. Just because you do not have an invite now, does not mean that you won't receive one in the future. Be bold!

So, here goes:

EVENTS, that I will definitely attend:

  • Encuentro +, Newport News VA, USA, June 9-14 EDIT: Postponed to June, 10-13, 2021
  • Pequeña - Festivalito Milonguero (Tangokombinat), Saarbrücken, Germany, June 19-21 EDIT: Postponed to June, 18-20, 2021
  • Clermontito, near Clermont-Ferrand, France, June 26-28 
  • Embrace Norway - Festivalito Milonguero, Lillehammer, Norway - July 3-5
  • FCA (Tangokombinat), Saarbrücken, Germany, Oktober 9-11 


  • Garua, Ireland, June 26-28 / I would have loved to go, but unfortunately, cloning does not yet work properly and Clermontito was faster with their info.
  • JusTango, Bruxelles, Belgium, August 7-9 
  • There might be a new edition of our friends Armin + Elena's Festivalito Milonguero New Year Tango in Saarbrücken, Germany. This event has already taken place in 2019, so it is actually not new, but because it was planned very late and people could register for single milongas, it had not been added to last year's list. Let's see how they handle it next year.

EVENTS that I have visited in the past:

  • La Colmena, Copenhagen, Denmark - April 17-19
  • Rendez-Vous Milonguero, (formerly SJMM), France, May 1-3 / This will be the last edition of a lovely event.
  • Whisky.Tango.Foxtrott?!, Linlithgow, Scotland, May 22-24 / My favourite event in 2018. Unfortunately we cannot go in 2020.
  • Les Cigales, France, May 21-24 
  • Ensueños, Porto, Lisbon, October
  • TangoAGoGo, Lago di maggiore, Italy, October 
  • Tres Besos, Basel, Switzerland, November 5-8
  • Te quiero Lisboa, Lisbon. Portugal, November
  • Roma Milonguera, near Rome, Italy, November
  • Abrazame, Barcelona, Spain, December (marathon-encuentro mixer) / At this year's edition, I danced incredible 47 tandas. Next year, we won't go, because of our USA tour.

I might to go to 1-2 of those towards the end of the year. I am hoping for Tres Besos that I had to cancel because of illness in 2019. Or maybe Roma Milonguera. 

EVENTS that I have not yet visited, but that get good feedback:  

I would like to add a few historical notes:
The were of course always (well, from the 80s on) milongas and tango festivals and shortly after the turn of the century the first tango marathons were initiated. But the idea of full-weekend events for milongueros is quite new, because it took many years for the so-called "traditional" communities outside of Argentina to develop. (Read this post.) 
The first encuentro-like event was the Raduno Milonguero in Impruneta, Italy. In the beginning, the attendees were purely Italian and I actually don't know if it was always over an entire weekend. In its later course, the event grew to be very international. This meeting gave inspiration to encuentros, but ended in 2013 after 9 editions.
Our FCA (Festivalito con Amigos) is now the longest running international weekender for milongueros in Europe. It started as a festivalito milonguero with workshops and a demo in 2008, but has been an encuentro since 2011. We nevertheless preserved a short demo of two milonguero couples until recently, because we believe that social tango needs inspiration and engagement for the community should be honoured. 2020 will be its 13th edition.
Les Cigales in France and Yo Soy Milonguero in Italy (the latter discontinued) started in 2009, one year after the FCA. These two events were pure encuentros from the beginning without classes or a demo.
But please note, that all the events mentioned above in their early years looked quite different from what we are used today. Neither event had a balanced number of participants and YSM still admitted dancers per single milonga, like we also did until 2010. Even the original Raduno Milonguero opened the Sunday milonga for the general public without balance or having to book the full event. 
It took some years until the above listed criteria were well established. 

So. This is it for today. I might add the exact dates for some events later, but only if I am actively informed about them. 

I wish you lots of fine dances in 2020.

Wednesday, 18 December 2019

European Milongueros: Les Anglais

Although I had planned on writing this article for months, I actually started it on the day after the general election in the UK and now fear that it might be overshadowed by the sad news of a conservative majority and certain Brexit. But even such a disaster cannot break the bonds that have formed across the channel!

What is this article about?

In 2011, I published a series of articles to introduce some friends who have contributed to the early development of milonguero culture in Europe by promoting and living social tango, the "codigos milongueros" and a culture of the embrace as teachers, organisers, djs and dancers. 

Today, I would like continue by presenting a few of my British friends, who were not so much "on the map" when I wrote the original series. Back then, the UK had not yet developed a distinct milonguero culture, but that changed after the first edition of Abrazos - Encuentro Milonguero, organised by our Tangokombinat colleagues Andreas and Lynn in Devon. Today, a large number of Brits are not only amongst the most popular dancers at any European meeting of close embrace dancers, they also shape tango culture by organising events, teaching, djing and spreading milonguero culture through their tireless travels. As our French friends say: "Sans les Anglais - ça va pas du tout!"

I find it super hard to make a choice, but the ones that I am going to introduce share not only their milongueroness, but also two other important properties: All of them have repeatedly taken classes with us and/or visited our events, so that I had plenty opportunities to get to know them better. In addition to that, they are dedicated Europeans who have fought actively for the UK to stay in the EU by going to and organising rallies, by posting about it on the internet and by trying to reason with those who want to bring us apart. 

In the photo below, you can see Matthew, Nikki, Dawn, Eleanor, Krissy, Nick and many other tangueros during a march against Brexit. The others are not on it, but believe me, they've also done their part.

But let's look back to 2009.

This was the year when Detlef and I were for the first time invited to teach in the UK. The SuperTangk in Bramshaw exceeded our expectations. We had been told to be prepared for a bunch of lazy open-embrace dancers but what we got were enthusiastic students, eager to immerse themselves into close-embrace social dance. This was when we first met:

Nikki Mellor + Matthew Cooper
These talented dancers don't teach or organise but an encuentro without them is like a picknick without sun. Matthew is one of my favourite partners and the most positive person. When being nervous before a demo, I just have to look at him to know that everything is fine and that what we do is appreciated. Matthew's presence lights up my mood every time. Apart from being a remarkably musical dancer, Matthew also has an incredible eye for the small things around him. Have a look at his short film of loss and hope. It is one of the many moments that he captured with his camera.
Nikki is less visible on the internet, but she is one of the preferred partners of Detlef and many other leaders. She also leads, but not as regularly as Dawn and Eleanor. I unfortunately only got to dance with her very few times, but always enjoyed her embrace immensely, no matter in which role. I think you will get to know this strong woman best, when you see her through the eyes of her beloved. And by the way, I lied: Nikki has started teaching women's leading classes with her friend Krissy. 
This video shows Nikki and Matthew dancing the last tanda of Matthew's "40th spectac-EU-lar birthday" party- an occasion on which all his European friends united to celebrate tango, friendship and the EU. By the way: Dawn and Eleanor, whom I will introduce below, can both also be seen dancing in the video.
The cool photo below was made in Berlin where Matthew works in software development. Hopefully, he'll be able to continue this employment after Brexit. 

Eleanor Durrant
Eleanor has not taken many classes with us, but she is a dear friend, whose opinion I highly value and a fabulous dancer in both roles.
I first met Eleanor in 2009 on occasion of our Festivalito de los Angeles in St. Wendel, the next year at Les Cigales and at the FCA when it was still a festivalito. She reviewed all of these and many more events on her blog as Ms.Hedgehog and by that immensely contributed to the popularity of encuentros and festivalitos milongueros in Europe. Her writing is witty and always to the point, whether it is about tango, film, books, needle work or whatever she deems worthy writing about. 
In real life she's a freelance business analyst specialising in difficult business situations. As a tango dancer, you will often see which role she is dancing by her marked clothing: dress and high heels when she's planning on following or trousers and flats when she is leading. That makes her very visible when signing up as a double-role dancer and is one of the many precious tips for tango-dancers on her blog. She has taken up teaching in London, specialising on basics and floorcraft and I am confident that even the most advanced dancers will get useful advice from her how to dance better in a crowded ronda. Eleanor is also an active dj.
Here you can see her dancing with Andreas during the last edition of Abrazos in Devon. The picture below is by Markus Schüller. 

A year later - in 2010 - we first met:

Marion Greenwood + David Thomas
David told me that they used to watch our videos on Youtube thinking "that looks like it might be interesting to try". Well, they got to try a lot.
Marion and David not only visited numerous of our classes and tango-holidays, but also took part in our first Tango-Teacher-Training in 2013. I will always remember David's enigmatic introduction and Marion's ever encouraging smile, even when the classes took much longer than planned. This first TTT was very exciting and by working with each other, we forged everlasting memories as well as pedagogical concepts and musical ideas. It was on this occasion that David and Marion presented the orchestra of Francisco Lomuto in such a creative way: "Imagine an elephant running through a jungle." After the TTT, David carried on his research, resulting in the book Getting to know - 20 Tango Orchestras. I recommend it as an excellent resource for every tanguero. 
Because they are elegant dancers and great in any form of communication, we invited them (and Saso + Alja from Slovenia) to participate in the film to our book Caminar Abrazados. It was David who magically made an apple appear during one of the exercises and thereby initiated a running gag. Here you can see us all in action.
David and Marion are not only the most friendly and beautiful couple, but also very active in spreading the word. They teach and organise milongas as well as tango-holidays and David regularly works as a dj in the UK and all over Europe. The only thing that I regret is that we nowadays don't meet so often anymore because we fequent different Encuentros.
Fun fact: Marion and David live in the same village as Matthew and Nikki. How can such a small place turn out so many dedicated dancers?
The photo below by Thorsten Janes shows them on the film set. 

Dawn Porter
I first met Dawn in 2010 only three months after she had started dancing. It was on occasion of workshops in Bristol and two months later she already visited our Encuentro in Germany. I have seldom met someone so eager to absorb tango. In our teacher trainings I present her as an example for the ideal student. No wonder she made such great progress in short time. In the beginning she concentrated on the traditional follower's role, but soon asked me, whether I thought that learning the leading role would be a good idea. I encouraged her and never regretted it, because today Dawn is one of my favourite leaders for Biagi. I am lucky that this feeling seems to be mutual, because once a tanda starts, our miradas find each other across the biggest rooms. Needless to state that she's an excellent follower as well!
Apropos mirada: Dawn - who is also djing on a regular basis - was the creator of Una Mirada, which was the second Encuentro Milonguero in the UK from 2014-16. In recent years, she has hosted me and my partner Ramona for Ladies Only weekends and I hope we'll go on working together after Brexit. I would not want to miss the hours around her kitchen table. 
Another thing that comes to mind when I think of Dawn are her t-shirts. Since 2017, I have frequently seen her in EU-blue with stars, but the coolest was her "Made by Tangokombinat" shirt. As she has not only worked intensively with Detlef and me, but also with by Andreas, our Tangokombinat colleague, the inscription made us all proud!
Here you can watch her perform with Eleanor at a milonga in London. The video is old but you can already see Dawn's typical dynamic and Eleanor's relaxed footwork. And by the way: the person giggling so audibly is Matthew who made the video. 
The photo of Dawn and me dancing was made by the French milonguero Xavier Delalle.

Mike + Patricia Barrow
Mike recollects based on his diary entry: "We first met on 31st July 2010 at the Milonga del Angel in Nimes. You were running your Mas de Mestre workshops, we were on holiday in the area and visited the milonga.  ...  We danced...  Patricia apparently had two dances with Detlef... The diary records: Memo to self: we should sign up next time they come to a Tangk in Bramshaw. The rest is history."
Indeed. In the following years, we would have the pleasure of working and dancing with this interesting couple several times in and outside of the UK. I not only enjoyed the shared tango experiences, but also our vivid discussions about life outside the bubble. Mike is an academic economist, Patricia - originally French - was a school teacher. So far, the two have not ventured into organising or teaching, but given their background I would not be surprised. 
An interesting fact: Since this year, these smart milongueros both have British and French citizenship. They will therefore be amongst the lucky ones to be able to travel and work freely in both worlds after Brexit. I am very happy for them and hope we'll meet even more often in the future. The most recent encounter was at our Festivalito Pequeña in June, where Patricia won a ticket to the 2020 edition. So there are good chances to dance with them next year!
The picture below is from an Italian milonguero Christina Campagna.

Jeff Allen + Caro Millet
In my original post, I did not include Jeff and Caro, because they are actually not "Anglais" and new to the milonguero scene. But I have decided to add them, because things are constantly changing.
The fist time that Jeff and Caro took classes with us was in Bristol 2012 and 2013, so we know them quite some time, but it took a few years until we bonded. In 2013, I saw them at Abrazos in Devon, but there was not much of a personal contact. 
Caro and Jeff are another very European couple. They live in Glasgow, Scotland. He is Scot and she is from France, but has been living in the UK for many years. Both are very much affected by the political situation, but who knows, Scotland might remain in the EU. 
A fun fact about Jeff: although coming from another line of work, he is now building violins. I find that very impressive! 
Since 2002, Jeff has been teaching with the Finnish dancer Sari, but as you can see from (quite old) pictures on their website, their school does not have a definite milonguero orientation. Jeff has nevertheless changed his personal approach to tango a lot: In 2016/17 he registered for our TTT and since then been integrated into the milonguero community. He and Caro have also participated in a few of our tango holidays in France and regularly go to milonguero events in the UK and on the continent. Here you can see them dancing at an encuentro. Jeff has also participated in my dj-seminar and is djing in Glasgow.
Caro has not only started to lead but is now also giving classes with Jeff. They are actively helping to boost social close embrace tango in this rather remote part of the UK. I wish them lots of luck and hope that we'll soon return to Glasgow to support this great development.
The picture below is by Thorsten Janes and shows them dancing at our Pequeña.

Nick + Krissy King
These lovely people are the last to be presented here because we met them relatively late, in 2014 during workshops in Cambridge. But since then we've danced frequently at encuentros all over Europe and many milongas in the UK.
Nick is one of my favourite Di Sarli partners and I always try to catch his mirada when I hear the first notes of any song. Krissy is just wonderful and like mine, one of her favourite orchestras is Biagi. Such a warm person and great hugger. Both of them actually. Abrazadores par excellence!
Krissy and Nick teach and organise milongas in the Hertfordshire area and Krissy offers classes for leading ladies - sometimes with her friend Nicky Mellor. Nick, a TV film editor in real life, is also a committed dj.
There is another thing I particularly like about Nick: his outspokenness when it comes to British politics. After reading his Facebook posts, I feel entirely free to say "Bollocks to Brexit"!
In this video on Eleanor's blog, you can watch Nick dancing, but unfortunately there is no film that shows him with Krissy. That's a shame, because I love watching them move ever so smoothly. Can someone please film them at an event, so that I can post a link?
The photo below is also by Cristina Campagna.

So, it seems that I am done for the moment. I won't apologise for the length of the article, because I already had to restrict myself to not introduce even more British milongueros or continue my love letter to the few I chose. 

Let me finish with yet another video by Matthew. It features most protagonists of this article and many more of our friends. I'm also in it, leading the "Git Up" at the FCA. Apart from showing the friendship and love that binds us, this film proves once more that milongueros are first and foremost great fun!

I wish everyone a Happy New Year and a much better 2020.