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: