Wednesday 1 August 2012

Quo Vadis Encuentro Milonguero?

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

I hope so.
* For my definition of „Tango de Salon“ and of „Milongueros“, please read these articles:


msHedgehog said...

Yes. I think the whole thing will evolve - these events will influence other totally different ones, and people will be motivated to take the ideas back to their own communities and make better, regular and frequent events there, based in (relatively) local communities and very cheap and accessibler. I think I see that happening already. It's producing some good things. In the meantime, as you say, there's still room for more events in different locations, so that people can pick and choose what suits them best. That might take a bit of the pressure off.

Alter said...

probably a bit out of topic, but can anyone explain me what is the essential difference between "marathon" and "encuentro/festivalito" ?

Melina Sedo said...

Hi Evaldas!

The difference between Festivalito/Encuentro and Marathon?

Marathon: a non-stop dancing event, usually targeting the a little more nuevoish crowd (non-stop really might include a short break in the early morning hours, but basically it is one loooong Milonga)
Encuentro: a series of Milongas, usually targeting the Salon/Milonguero dancers
Festivalito: A series of Milongas sometimes combined with demos and/or classes, usually targeting the Salon/Milonguero crowd

So, this is the simple definition. of course there are many mixed forms nowadays and Salon/Milonguero dancers may go to Marathons as well, but that's about the core of it.
All events focus on social dancing, good DJs and will not invite orchestras. It has also become the custom, that most of these events only sell festival-passes, no single-Milonga tickets.

Have a nice day,


msHedgehog said...

For me, the most important difference is the format - the 'encuentros' have a series of successive milongas that start and end at specific times, the 'marathon' goes on nearly continuously. What choice you make along that line mostly just changes how it works socially, so it depends on your personality whether you have a strong preference, or not.

It might well not make any difference at all for what Melina is discussing here.

Alter said...

Thanks Melina and msHedgehog!

now I know I'm not a "marathoner", as I don't see any reason for non-stop dancing around the clock :) I feel it is kind of childish, immature attitude. And it is somehow against the tradition, because milonga has it's cycle and social logic, which disappears if you dance without beginning and ending.

But I know events, series of milongas, which nevertheless call themselves "marathons". It means the formats and definitions are still fuzzy.

Melina Sedo said...

Hi Evaldas,

I think the definitions are not so fuzzy it is the usage!

But that's not such a terrible thing, usually you get more additional info than just the name and can decide on an informed basis.

Even our FCA's name is a little misleading nowadays: It started out as a Festivalito with classes and Milongas in different venues.
Today it is more an Encuentro: all Milongas in the same place, no classes, only some very short demos to honour some guests.
But it does not make sense to change the name after so many years, as it has become a brand!

And the Tangokombinat's "Abrazos -Encuentro Milonguero UK" is really a Festivalito with classes and demos. But it will be a pure Encuentro one day - or so it is planned.

So, names... what can I say! ;-))


Unknown said...

So about 180 in a hall with a DJ works, but 450 people in one hall with one Dj is too much. The problem becomes how to scale up.

Has anyone tried two halls, two DJs and 180 people in each? There are problems of course, you'd need two DJs of roughly equivalent reputation but differing styles to avoid everyone wanting to be in one hall at any given time. Also how do you cross pollinate your halls to mix the dancers, if you don't so this you may as well have two events roughly running in parallel... maybe the first 100 to sign up can use either hall, the rest are limited to one or the other. This two tier ticket business is hard to police of course and maybe there are other issues with it too. Are any events run this way?

Melina Sedo said...

That's an interesting idea, Rob.

But I am not sure, if it would work.
You cannot split the people by date of registration, because then you would have two events, just at the same time.
And if you let them roam free, there is always the chance, that ALL group around one room/DJ, just because they like the DJ better, or the most desired dancers go there, or... I dunno, there are sometimes events with a second floor with Nuevo music. Almost no-one goes to the nuevo room, even the most nuevo dancers stick to the traditional DJ.

But then: it might work. I have never heard of such an approach so far.
Ok, so: YOU invented it, YOU organize an event for Milongueros running that way. I'll DJ against Andreas. ;-)


Unknown said...

Further refinement:

Two rooms, two DJs of similar reputation but different styles.

Women stay in one room or the other (not being sexist here, but women seem to prefer a go back to specific seat, men seem to be more mobile, could just as easily work the other way, don't shoot me!) Men can drift between rooms at will to make it feel like a single event. DJs will swap rooms later in the fest so all people get to hear all DJs at some point. This might be the best way to balance the rooms, but it still might not work.

As for me organising an event that works this way Melina, perhaps one day I will, if I can find a building with two appropriate rooms walking distance from Heathrow airport! ;)

If this works (and a massive IF it is too) it may even scale to 3 or 4 halls and 3 or 4 DJs...

Unknown said...

Dear Melina,
Dear All;

Melina put one main question: "But which of the strategies (BIGGER, MORE, EXCLUSIVE) are for the better and which are for the worse?", and I completely agree with Melina's answer:

"Maybe it‘s the combination... and maybe there are more options and I am just too blind to see them."

Regular (weekly, monthly, annual, ...) milongas, festivals, festivalitos, marathons, encuentros (smaller or bigger), dinner + milonga, milongas with more than one room/DJ, milongas in close spaces, open air (in exotic venues) milongas, public(ized) milongas, private - or even secret! - milongas, 'milonguero' milongas, 'nuevo' milongas ou 'mixed' milongas, different simultaneous milongas with the same DJ, thematic events, etc, etc... are different ways people find to *get together* and share "Tango abrazos" - these different ways are the result of the understanding and efforts of different persons acting in different contexts.

In my opinion, there is no a "better strategy", and I fully agree with You - as You pointed out in Your text, all the options have pros and contras - in this case, the "best strategy" is the combination of different events - probably, if You are able to organize events of different type, You *should* organize different type of events - a BIGGER event (annualy?), some MORE (open) events during the year, and some EXCLUSIVE events) in order to fulfill the demand.

Sure, we are blind to see the *other* options - 10 years ago people organized Festivals (Maestros, Orchestra, exhibitions), and nobody thought about (Tango) 'Marathons' - these options came later (when, in Europe, Tango atracted a critical mass of 'younger' people)...

The 'hidden' options will naturally come out as a result of the reflection of different persons in different contexts - thanks for your 'two cents', and keep on the nice work ;-) !

All the best,

DST said...

Well I am happy to read your post, mostly because the organizers seem to agree that those meetings should be be small that intimacy is not lost. I was in one of those large meetings you mentioned.
I notice this lack of intimacy very much, also I notice that about 40 % of people were not milongueros (important point to me). When they ask for feedback I suggest for next year to cut by half the size of the dance-floor. Why I suggest this?
Those 40% are people that circulate between mostly in tango marathons with semi-open V embrace, needing more space (all the space, in my view) to dance. Cutting their space or they adapt or they leave. A milonguero always manage well the small space, I do guess….