Creating Community or Disintegrating Community

Crowded MilongaThe ins and outs of the milonga community is a subject for much discussion. As I have ventured in and out of many communities throughout this year of travel, I still ponder the question on how to create community or how we contribute to disintegrating community.

Interestingly enough, just last week, Buenos Aires milonga organizers and dancers joined a large outdoor demonstration, that consequently turned into a milonga. They were protesting the closure of milongas due to the rising costs of the building owners’ overhead: electricity, gas, general maintenance costs. The AOM – Associacion de Organizadores de Milongas  got together to create a legislation that would help owners of the buildings and organizers to work together so that the milongas would not have to close – after all, these establishments are hosting an intangible world heritage event. On this day it didn’t matter which milonga you normally attended or didn’t attend, everyone was joined by a common cause: keeping the milongas alive and kicking in Buenos Aires. All the milongas, organizers and dancers alike, found themselves joined together for this purpose.

I bring this up maybe as a contrast to what happens in so many cities: milongas compete with other milongas and there sprouts hard feelings, etc. Or even within a milonga people are competing for attention and feeling inclusive or exclusive (invited or uninvited, friendly or unfriendly).

Possibly a positive way to look at this, is that it is normal and healthy for communities to be varied. There will always be cliques (after all you have known your friends for years!), there will always be the loners (and some people like to be loners), there will be people ok sitting with new people, and some ok sitting alone. And it is all ok.

As I continued to reflect upon all of this by comparing my great experiences with my not so great experiences, I thought there might be a “less painful” transition to entering communities.

The Steps

I recall a British TV series I watched several years ago, Teachers. In one particular episode the lead character, a high school teacher, is questioning how a new teacher is entering their after school drinking social group, he is a little miffed that she didn’t actually follow the proper steps.

He outlines them as thus:

Initiation
Apprenticeship
Acceptance
Inclusion

I think each of these words are understandable without needing too much of an explanation (a person initiates into a group usually through another person or through common activity, they are taken under that initiators wing, the group accepts them, and they are now included) so let’s look at how the model might apply to the tango community.

Initiation

How you are initiated into a community and into the milonga might be the key to feeling successful and to the reason for staying or for leaving the tango community. If a teacher brings students to the milonga and invites them to sit at a table together, this helps the initiated to feel less awkward and more welcome.

I think we forget, as those who have experienced or learned Argentine Tango outside of the culture, that Tango is first and foremost social. It is about the community. Tango is (although not exclusively) a Friday night with friends in Buenos Aires. So I think it is difficult to extract Tango from its culture even when we bring along all the codes! I suggest if you are going to a new community alone, email the organizers ahead of time, find someone in that new community to introduce yourself to, then meet them at the milonga, and get invited to sit with them. And then smile and have a good time. Facebook is great for this, as so many communities have their own Tango pages now.

Apprenticeship

It is a bit hard to imagine that there is an apprenticeship phase in entering a community regardless of your years of dancing but maybe look at it like this, if you have some “new tango friends” at a milonga they help you during this phase. You see who they dance with and who they don’t. You get to decide who you might like to dance with or not, and, without a doubt, they will let you know some of the ins and outs of that community (call it gossip or not!). And hopefully, they will also introduce you to some of their friends and favorite dancers. Thus your apprenticeship, until you get on your own feet!

Acceptance and Inclusion

I have combined these two phases. It is hard to say if there is a predetermined time frame for when one is accepted or feels accepted. I also know communities where dancers never feel accepted, and they therefore stop attending milongas and often stop attending classes too. Therefore, clearly, they do not feel included.

The acceptance phase is quite personal and community – based. You might feel accepted by some but not by others. If you have the luxury of choosing among different milongas, then you can find yourself accepted and feeling included at one and maybe not at another milonga. I have found that sometimes even the same dancers who might dance with me in one milonga, might not, in another milonga (ie: Wednesday night in one location versus Friday night in another location). So I feel accepted and included in one milonga and variable in the other! And my desire to go dancing on Friday night is incredibly lower unless, I know people who say to me, “come, we will be there!”

I had an experience, where I had already been in Berlin for 6 months, and one of the leaders, who I saw everywhere (we clearly liked the same milongas), finally asked me to dance. His first words were, “you’re still here!!” AHH – he discovered I was going to be part of the bigger community, not just here for the weekend!!! And then subsequently, his small group of friends, all took me for a tanda afterwards. And now a year later, he rarely asks me to dance although we still pretty much attend all the same milongas. One of his friends asks me to dance sometimes and there you have it! BUT I do feel accepted and included in the milongas that I enjoy attending regularly. Otherwise, I wouldn’t go, right?

So maybe not a perfect model. And in the TV show, the young teacher who was missing the steps, found herself included anyway!

And you?

What about you? Were you initiated into your community? Have you initiated another into your community?? If so you will probably not have an inclusive/exclusive issues! Do you find yourself feeling accepted and included?

Would be interested in hearing your thoughts. And I know many of you have a lot to say on this topic too!!!!

2 Comments
  1. Sharon 2016-07-20 at 22:14

    This is excellent and applies to the swing dance world as well. There are some critical points in here. One is variety of types and experiences at milongas. I have always tried to be a welcoming person to someone new to the community but one milonga in particular stood out. I was visiting Austin TX and was a relatively new tango dancer. When my friend and I(both followers) walked into the dance- several women immediately came over- introduced themselves and proceeded to introduce us to others and lined up a couple of their more advanced leaders for us to dance with…I would hope most milongas would strive for that level of friendliness. If I don’t find myself in familiar territory and no one to initiate me- I look for a friendly face. I have also learned to not take it personally when someone doesn’t want to dance with me. IT takes practice. Remember to pay the good stuff forward.

  2. daniela 2016-07-23 at 23:08

    that is so great! Austin is known to be friendly, glad that they didn’t disappoint. Introductions to other dancers is key!!! thanks for posting Sharon 🙂

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