13  Tango crash course and community building

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From: Stephen.P.Brown [Stephen.P.Brown@DAL.FRB.ORG]
Sent: Mittwoch, 14. Februar 2001 00:21
To: TANGO-L
Cc: Stephen.P.Brown
Subject: Re: Tango crash course and community building

A man once asked a tango master, "How long will it take me to learn to
dance tango well?"

The master replied, "For most people, the answer is many years."

The man asked, "What if I try even harder."

The master replied, "Then it will take even longer."

--Steve de Tejas

still learning



Date: Sun, 27 Apr 2008 08:53:52 -0700 (PDT)
From: "Trini y Sean (PATangoS)" <patangos@yahoo.com>
Subject: [Tango-L] Community building

--- "Chris, UK" <tl2@chrisjj.com> wrote:

> That is nonsense. A good leader needs only the girl to
> stay on his chest.

Sean here. 99% of what is written on this list is nonsense.
Now I remember why I quit writing.

But Chris did have some good observations about
communities. As he pointed out, an established community is
self sustaining. There are no essential members. The
problem here in the 3rd tango world is that established
communities don't spontaneously appear. Someone has to
start them from nothing, and those pioneers deserve credit
for that. As the community is being built up, some people
become the essential, sustaining members. Unfortunately,
those members often end up being the very people who arrest
the growth of the community when it is on the verge of
becoming self sustaining. They aren't prepared to become
mere mortal nonessential members. In your words, they don't
want to give up their power. In most cases I think it has
more to do with validation than with power.

I suspect this is what Floyd is going through. For years,
he was the driving force promoting tango in Buffalo. That
brought him a certain status, even stardom on the local
level. But the community grew too big for him to control.
Some rogue members slipped out and went off to a festival
in Toronto where they met some guys who dance very well.
Now those same rouges are inviting outsiders to teach on
his former turf. Floyd went from being the king of tango in
Buffalo to just another non-essential member of the
community in a very short time, and that must be painful.

Now that they have dethroned their king, the next challenge
facing the Buffalo rouges is to avoid setting themselves up
as the next generation of petty tango tyrants. The leaders
of a proto-community must be marginalized if it is ever to
becoming self sustaining. They can do it themselves,
someone will come along and do it for them, or the
community will stagnate.

Years ago, Trini and I were the rogues in Pittsburgh. We
made some mistake along the way; but we also acted to
marginalize our own importance from the very beginning. Our
most successful strategy for community building has been to
foster our own competition:
- We helped to start tango clubs at two local universities,
and then left them alone. Trini still volunteers to teach
free classes for one of the clubs, but we don't interfere
with their operation.
- Trini promotes everyone's events in a weekly email
newsletter.
- We invite all of the competing teachers in Pittsburgh to
take turns teaching the class before our weekly milonga.
This gives every student a chance to meet all of the other
teachers. As a bonus, it gives the Pittsburgh community
more than one shot to retain new dancers.

I have tough questions for all the self proclaimed
community leaders on this list:
- Are you building a self sustaining community (one that
doesn't need you)?
- Are you building a little tango fiefdom, totally
dependent on you, so that you can play petty tango tyrant?
- Or are you just a tango merchant, building a captive
customer base for your personal profiteering?

Sean


PATangoS - Pittsburgh Argentine Tango Society
Our Mission: To make Argentine Tango Pittsburgh?s most popular social dance!
http://patangos.home.comcast.net/




Be a better friend, newshound, and





Date: Sun, 27 Apr 2008 16:53:12 -0500
From: "Tango Society of Central Illinois" <tango.society@gmail.com>
Subject: Re: [Tango-L] Community building
<cff24c340804271453jbeaea8cr1a37945221fdc372@mail.gmail.com>

On Sun, Apr 27, 2008 at 10:53 AM, Trini y Sean (PATangoS)
<patangos@yahoo.com> wrote:

>
> Years ago, Trini and I were the rogues in Pittsburgh. We
> made some mistake along the way; but we also acted to
> marginalize our own importance from the very beginning. Our
> most successful strategy for community building has been to
> foster our own competition:

> I have tough questions for all the self proclaimed
> community leaders on this list:
> - Are you building a self sustaining community (one that
> doesn't need you)?
> - Are you building a little tango fiefdom, totally
> dependent on you, so that you can play petty tango tyrant?
> - Or are you just a tango merchant, building a captive
> customer base for your personal profiteering?
>
> Sean

If creating more tango subgroups in Pittsburgh has led to greater
overall community growth and harmony, then that is great. I've heard
that a similar symbiotic relationship exists among tango groups in
Portland.

Certainly a tango community with only one organizer is always living
on brink of extinction. However, with multiple organizers, rather than
blissful harmony, the more likely scenario is the balkanization of
tango communities. Numerous community members want to teach, be DJs,
organize milongas, invite visiting instructors. To some degree, more
teachers and milongas results in community growth, but my observation
is that very few tango communities know when they have reached the
optimal number of events. It is more likely that multiple classes,
practicas and milongas leads to decreased attendance at most of them.
Organizers compete for dancers. Hostilities develop. Newcomers see a
small number of competing groups and get turned off. Some of these
communities progress to senescence.

So there is some optimal number of instructors, classes, milongas, and
practicas that any community can have, based on potential population
size. In rare cases, such as young communities, that number may be 1.
In most cases, it is probably a few more. Most tango communities I
have learned about have exceeded that optimal number.

Ron





Date: Mon, 28 Apr 2008 11:51:28 -0500
From: Stephen.P.Brown@dal.frb.org
Subject: Re: [Tango-L] Community building

Both Sean and Joe offer interesting perspectives on the inevitable
transition a successful tango community must make. The domination of the
founding organizer(s) gives way to market determined outcomes as a new
generation of organizers and teachers organize new milongas, classes,
practicas and workshops.

In such a transition, the original organizers may suffer from a sense of
shock that new organizers no longer make decisions out of a sense of what
builds the community. Instead, the new organizers take a different
approach: What is fun to do? What might be successful? The old
community understandings of no two milongas on the same weekend give way
to two milongas on the same night. The big halloween milonga becomes
three smaller milongas, and the big New Year's milonga becomes four
smaller milongas.

Inevitably, geography and the development of stylistic and philosophical
differences leads to some degree of splintering--even if there are no hard
feelings. At that point, some of the founding organizers may look around
and wonder why things look do different and why the new generation of
organizers take what looks like a selfish perspective--rather than a
community perspective. That is what a market place looks like.

It's natural to be concerned when such changes take place. I remember in
the mid-1990s when the Stanford Tango Week was the only tango festival in
the United States. Everyone wondered whether the country could support
new summer events in Chicago, Columbus and Miami. When the Stanford Tango
Week came to an end, it was not because it had lost out to other events,
rather it was because the organizer wanted to concentrate on other
activities. Now there are more than 50 tango festivals in the United
States, and we see the continual entry and exit of tango festivals from
the market. Some of these festivals cater to the latest stylistic trends.

What do the founding organizers get for their effort?

1) An opportunity to dance in a self-sustaining tango community that no
longer requires their organizational effort. (How many times did the
founding organizers think or say that they'd just like to quit organizing
and become dancers in a city where tango was already established?)

2) The opportunity to be revered as one of the original organizers--if
they didn't try to hold onto control too long.

3) If the founding organizers started their community in the mid-1990s or
earlier, they were also rewarded with the opportunity to create a network
of friends across the country and globe made up of founding organizers in
other cities.

With best regards,
Steve (de Tejas)

one of the founders of the tango community in Dallas, TX










Date: Mon, 28 Apr 2008 14:15:12 -0500
From: Stephen.P.Brown@dal.frb.org
Subject: Re: [Tango-L] Community building

Hi Ron:

Oops! I should have mentioned Ron rather than Joe in my previous post
about community building. I was writing in response to Ron's and Sean's
posts about community building.

Let me clarify a few points:

What Ron described is happening in many U.S. cities--the seeming
proliferation of tango activities without a comensurate growth in
community size, with the consequence smaller and smaller attendance at any
given event.

Milongas are actually among the easiest of these activities to organize
and often the first to become what some might regard as too plentiful. In
a city like Dallas, where the new things are always considered attractive,
milongas in stable venues quite often take a back seat to new milongas in
what are likely to prove unstable venues--restaurants. Restaurants that
have a dance floor and sound system but are lacking customers will quite
often accomodate what promises to be a large crowd for for dinner and
dancing. The large turnout indicates a success to the organizer. The
feeling of success lasts until the restaurant goes out of business or
finds out that tango dancers don't drink or eat very much. (One or the
other always happens. No successful restaurant will continue to
accomodate a group that eat and drinks so little.) In the meantime, the
established milongas in venues that have been stable (because the
owners/organizers know what to expect from milongas) suffer from poor
attendance and are in danger of being discontinued for lack of income.

Similar occurrences arise with workshops. In the mid- to late 1990s,
people in Texas would check with organizers in other Texas cities to make
sure they weren't organizing a workshops too close together in time in the
three cities that then had active tango communities--Austin, Dallas and
Houston. By 2001, however, newly emerging organizers in Dallas didn't
even bother to consider schedules in their own city before scheduling
workshops. In a community that was then less than 100 active dancers, we
saw three workshops shoehorned into a six-week period with the new
organizer jumping into the middle of two already scheduled workshops. A
little bit later the same year, we saw two workshops on the same weekend,
with the new organizer saying that if she had to consider existing events
that she would be excluded from organizing. Needless to say, all of these
workshops suffered from diminished attendance. After these scheduling
conflicts, those of us that had long-standing records of organizing
workshops quit doing so. We weren't really making money on these
workshops in the first place and didn't want to take losses for the
inability to meet minimums.

I'm not justifying these market forces. I'm just saying that the dynamics
in a community change as it grows and makes a transition to market
determined outcomes. Unless one wants to make a living at
tango--something that I decided didn't suit me--what remains for founding
organizers is to accept or lament the changes for what they are or aren't.
I'm doing a little of both, but I'm leaning toward acceptance rather than
lament.

With best regards,
Steve






Date: Mon, 28 Apr 2008 16:18:44 EDT
From: Crrtango@aol.com
Subject: Re: [Tango-L] Community building
To: TANGO-L@mit.edu

Stephen wrote:

<<<What Ron described is happening in many U.S. cities--the seeming
proliferation of tango activities without a comensurate growth in
community size, with the consequence smaller and smaller attendance at any
given event.>>>

We have had this same problem in NYC for many years but in spite of the
diluted scene, the tango community has grown to fill in the spaces somewhat. We now
have many milongas every week and new workshops on almost a weekly basis and
some for extended stays...but we also ahve a very large community. We also
attract a lot of good people and many Argentines pass through here and live here.
Even in the beginning days when the milonga of Danel and Maria was the only
dance in town, there was a community of older expat Argentines here who would
show up every week. But I would caution that NYC is not your typical city in
this regard. There are still new venues that open here, and just as many soon
close.
However one venue is consistent with other cities...the restaurant that has a
slow night (or has low attendance in general) that expects to bring in a
tango crowd to bolster its business. After an initial rush they usually close. A
few have survived but as Stephen said, tango dancers do not spend money on
food and liquor and often the restaurant will drop the tango night, especially
if business picks up. One or two have survived here, notably Lafayette Grill
which also has tango now on other nights (but it is an exception), but the floor
is a little small and the level of dancing is mixed. Others hang in but
usually with a small crowd. I have personally seen maybe twenty "restaurant
milongas" come and go.
Most of the people who run the milongas have resigned themselves to making
only a certain amount of money and no more...no one makes a big profit. Most of
the people who run the milongas have other income or are involved in other
milongas and workshops.

As Danel once said to me: Nobody got rich from tango, except Francisco
Canaro.

Cheers,
Charles


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