Portland is one the places notorious in United States for tango dancing ("the creme-de-la-creme of tango dancing"). It was no surprise that our experience there was really great in terms of dancing, the crowds reception to our music, and to the social interactions we had with people at the milonga.
Megan Pingree, our host and contact for Portland, is one of the two people left who was part of the first Argentine tango classes in Portland started by Clay Nelson way back in 1993. We ended up chatting with her after an already late night (and soon to be very early morning) at her home after the milonga.
Megan talked about the way tango dancers in Portland work together, and how even some of the more difficult conflicts within the community have been repaired. It got me thinking about all of the stories we have heard on the trip from the organizers we have stayed with. For each place we have visited, we usually got the low down on all of the major conflicts within the first 15 minutes of sitting down to talk with the organizers, as if they needed to release the pressure that had built within their community. "ITS JUST A DANCE!!" one organizer commented in mid-stride of her story.
On the deepest level, tango community conflicts are almost all about struggles for power, popularity, or just plain monetary needs. However, on the surface I saw the conflicts manifested through some issues specific to tango: alternative music versus traditional music, open embrace versus close embrace, social dance style versus performance dance style, and interestingly for us, live music versus recorded music.
The healthiest communities can negotiate all of the these things, accommodating to many teachers, and opening up the possibilities for working together through many different approaches.
People can get really wrapped up into tango and with its conflicts. I think it is safe to say that the state of the friendships made through tango can dramatically affect the well being of a person and the feelings they have about a place. How many people have I heard ask when they are considering moving to a new town, "but do they have tango?" or as one dancer in Seattle asked me, "yeah, I am moving to Boise next month, what is the tango scene like?" ( I have also talked to many people who have flown all the way across the country to seek our a dance with a particular person that the only relationship they had to was from dancing tango. That is another story altogether. There are a lot of crazy tango dancers out there. Not me of course :)
Back to the community idea and conflict resolution....
Lets say that a tango community is like a forest (an appropriate image for the northwest!). The reality is that each tree (person/tango dancer) is struggling for light and nutrients so that they can grow taller, in dancer terms struggling to get better at dancing as well as for gaining acceptance within the social network of a tango community. Power struggles don't have to be violent, they are a fact of life. Very few people dance tango without some kind of struggle for knowledge, power, acceptance or inner peace, otherwise why would they do it?
Within the struggle for life a physical forest is made beautiful mostly through time: sunlight, water, growth and decay which over time makes for ecological diversity. Can't we all just get along?
I decided to make a little quiz for all of us tango fanatics and organizers out there to test how well we are contributing to our town's tango forest.
BUILDING THE TANGO FOREST QUIZ ( Inspired by Tango in Portland)
Do you cross promote events for the other tango teachers in your town?
1 pt distribute flyers promotion
1 pts email promotion
1 pts website promotion
2 pts regularly announcing someone else's event verbally at your own event
Have you ever personally invited someone to dance at your events that you know has bad talked you?
Have you ever made your space available to other tango teachers at a substantially reduced rate?
Have you ever encouraged a guest artist to perform with one of the local teachers?
Have you ever set up a meeting or been a part of a meeting between all the teachers in one town to layout tango events so that they don't conflict with each other?
Have you ever coordinated with the other tango teachers in your town to make sure there in about a 3 week gap in between guest artist visits or festivals?
In the last 6 months have you refrained from participating in negative tango gossip or encouraged a group of people who were bad mouthing someone else to stop?
1 pt for each time
Have you ever invited another teacher to come to your class and sit in for free to just help out in the class?
Have you ever (had the guts!) to speak to someone face to face (email doesn't count) in a diplomatic and respectful way about something you thought he or she was doing that was inappropriate at your event?
SOME OF THE TANGO CLEAR CUTTING PRACTICES:
Have you ever closed your practica to everyone except those that were your students?
Have you ever intentionally scheduled an event that coincided with someone you didn't like or didn't agree with?
Have you ever unintentionally scheduled an event that coincided with another tango event in your town?
Have you ever intimidated or verbally confronted someone in an aggressive way because you don't agree with or don't like them with the hopes of them not returning to your events?
Have you ever grouped together with people to try an deny someone from attending your tango event?
Have you ever physically assaulted someone (I have heard about this!!!) at a tango dance over a petty conflict?
TANGO FOREST RATINGS
14 to 10 You are on your way to growing an old growth forest (Lots of vegetation, tall trees, beautiful views)
9 to 5 The forest is growing, watch your logging practices (Soil and vegetation healthy but be open to better ways to manage the health of your inhabitants)
4 to 0 Forest in danger, your might be clear cutting or need to plant more seeds (Patches of the forest gone from poor long term planning)
-1 to -5 Clear cut, only a few trees hold it together (Tango community blinders on)
-5 to -12 Total erosion, there used to be (or could be) a tango forest here :( (Unbridled egotism, self-centeredness, greed)
How are your tango forest growing skills? Just something to think about.
My score for the community that Andrew and I started in Grand Rapids, MI two years ago: 4
(whew! I have got some growing to do)