How much for that tango?

Today’s topic is one that not many people discuss or at least haven’t discussed with me or my partner and that is: why do organizers charge what they charge for visiting teachers? Who decides this? How is it decided?

There is no standardization or written rules anywhere for exactly how an organizer brings a traveling teacher or tango maestro to their community. Often organizers who keep organizing say that they don’t make money off of it but yet they keep doing it. Some have quit their day jobs to become full time festival organizers and host tango teachers to their communities. Sometimes local teachers often end up feeling forced or maybe coerced into bringing outside talent. But really no one talks about this subject openly.

Now don’t get me wrong. What I would give to be able to bring a tango couple each month to my city to share in the joy of tango. And many of my students have heard me dream of this for years.

As a tango teacher and co-organizer I am often approached with requests from traveling teachers and from agents helping teachers who want to drop into our community to teach. I very often have to politely explain to them that our city isn’t big enough to support them.

But let’s look at this a bit more closely. What little I know about business models there first needs to be supply and demand. For me I look at it simply as what price do I need to charge and how many students do I need to have to cover my costs.

Now, most teachers or a teaching couple will want: 1) a flat rate of about $1500 – $2500 for a weekend of workshops (this is not their festival fee, this is just a weekend visit), 2) their RT airfare paid for, 3) lodging (which sometimes is in someone’s home), and 4) food, well, that has been a vague one, however, some teachers request a stipend of about $100/day others do not.

So now, let’s say I am organizing for a couple, I have to print off flyers; go to milongas, practicas to pass out flyers to get the community excited; book a studio which could cost anywhere from $15 – $35/hour; have liability insurance; transport the dancers from/to airport, home, studio, food, restaurants, etc.

Does this look like a good business model?

Let’s look at it from another perspective. If the organizer has a personal interest in that couple, that dancer, then it was never really about business or was it? Having some beautiful people in your home or in your car for a weekend to discuss the various ins and outs of tango life, then it might just be worth it.

This has created a particular phenomenon whereby the traveling teachers find a good business to spend their time going to different communities but the organizer who wants to make money is obligated to raise prices. And if the organizer is a teacher as well, they risk losing their profits for that week or the month if they don’t raise the price of the event with the traveling teacher.

If there is a large community, this isn’t much of a problem because the numbers make up the overhead.

But it’s particularly challenging when the community is small and even harder when smaller numbers take classes. I am speaking of a small community being about 50 people who come to milongas regularly. Of those 50 maybe ½ will actually take a workshop. And if from this ½ they have to choose between their local teachers who they take from regularly or if there is more than one traveling teacher per month, often times, the price will be the deciding factor. They may splurge or they may stick to what they know.

We haven’t even spoken about quality or how this visiting teacher would contribute to the values and growth of the community. How do you as a dancer in the community make educated choices about your dancing needs? The model that most of us use to measure what we are doing is the milonga in Buenos Aires. We dance Argentine Tango therefore, I/we would like to emulate and dance like it is in the milongas there, to be social dancing, regardless of style. Without getting into a cultural philosophical discussion about how it’s impossible to be culturally the same as in Buenos Aires, the idea is still to strive for that model. I haven’t heard anyone say, I don’t want to be social or dance like they do in milongas in Buenos Aires. (Not yet anyway!)

As an organizer, my partner and I have brought a handful of teachers to the community, from high end maestros/maestras to lesser known but intelligent teachers with our same philosophy and ideals in tango. And there have been different price ranges because we care about the community and we care about our own developments and understandings of the dance form. Or maybe we weren’t good business people to negotiate or set a standard price, which brings us back to where I started, what is the standard? And how do teachers determine this as well? Can they charge the same in Los Angeles as they do in Kansas City? (I picked those cities at random, assuming that LA has a bigger community than Kansas City.) And how do teachers know how big your city is? Phoenix is huge yet the tango community is relatively small.

So what are the solutions? I would love to hear from you. But can you understand why there is jealousy among teachers and a fierce sense of competition?

I know that better communication always helps. In my dream tango community there would be different teachers and organizers that communicate with each other who would be respectful of each other to give each other equal time throughout the year to bring guests. And this could be exciting if each teacher/organizer acknowledges their style, their values, and they bring a teacher who supports that. For example: Let’s say there are 6 teachers/organizers in a community and each were to each bring 1 guest per year in a cycle of every 2 months. (ie: 1 teacher/organizer is in charge of Jan/Feb, and the next March/April, etc). You get variety, quality, you get support from the community and remuneration for your work as an organizer. Or what if community organizers could get together and agree on a price for all visiting teachers and the costs for classes. Ok, so don’t laugh, they are just ideas!

Just another blog….


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