Most representations of tango repeat well-known fashion, music, and emotional clichés. Unfortunately, professionals replicate these clichés in their marketing promotions. The result is that most prospective dancers have no idea that tango can be contemporary – athletic, casual, gender non-conforming, and chill.
This not only limits the numbers of people who give tango a try, but also their diversity. What is advertised tends to attract Victorian types.
If we want contemporary-minded people we can’t rely on the professionals’ clichés to attract them. We need to invite them and we need to shape their all-important first experiences with tango.
In many sports and hobbies, new people have their first few experiences under the guidance of a passionate amateur, only moving on to professional instruction once they become serious and willing to invest time and money.
We need more Advocates for tango, people considering deeply how to promote tango more effectively.
Think about the kind of people who you want to dance with: more athletic?* more feminist? more musical? more fashionable? more theatrical and expressive†? … Consider where and how you find people like this in your community. Then … invite them to a party (of covid-safe size). Design the food and atmosphere to resonate with their values … keto for the athletes, champagne for the fashionistas… a costume party? … live music?
“Now we come to the dancing part of the evening” you announce. And then you share just two little tiny tastes of tango, practiced to music carefully selected for contemporary tastes and this group in particular and not interrupted with corrections. These little tastes should be things that will cause people to fall in love with tango without being able to do them well. Think hard about that!
Keep the music going and don’t give lectures about tango.
When folks come to you and say “hey, how can I find out more about this tango thing?” you have won the first crucial phase. Do NOT send them off to a local teacher. Say “well I’m not a teacher but I could should you some stuff, and explain how it works.”
Meet them for a few sessions. Make sure you stay focused on getting them to fall in love with tango, not on learning tango properly. Make sure that you create experiences they can be successful at.
You’ll probably feel unsure what you should teach them but keep in mind that most professional tango teachers drive off 50% of their students within 6 weeks so the most important thing you can do as a guide is not to repeat the things that professionals tend to do to beginners. Here are some examples of things NOT to do:
- Walking, because it’s boring and disempowering to discover you don’t know how to walk.
- Ochos, because they’re actually really complicated, for both roles
- Solo practice, because it’s not fun or social, and makes people feel awkward and clumsy
- Clapping the rhythm, because they are adults with their own relationship to music so don’t treat them to a kindergarten music class.
Ask your fledglings to bring music they love. If they continue to seem enthusiastic, after a few sessions sit them down and explain:
“So I’m not a teacher, and if you want to continue you’ll need to get proper instruction, but I want to give you an introduction to how that is.” Tell them what to expect in a local tango class (music, gender roles, shoes…). Explain to them that “This is where we get the technique and then we go off and make tango our own in communities that have different social, aesthetic, and musical values.”
It might also be good to show them the diversity of tango music and dance with a few videos, ranging from Di Sarli to Massive Attack. (A few people have mentioned that showing their friends our Paradise Circus† video was effective in renovating their ideas of what tango could be.)
Then send the new dancers to the best instructor in town. By “best” I mean the one who produces people you like to dance with. This may not be a person you are friends with, or agree with, or like. It means the person least likely to waste these dancers’ time and money.
Check in with your friends regularly and ask how it’s going. Offer to practice with them and continue to organize mini-house parties.
* Because I want to dance with athletic people, I made a tango promo film, WARRIOR, intended to resonate specifically with yogis and martial artists. This is an example of re-thinking how to present tango to people you want to dance with.
† Everyone loves how Germain Cascales dances. One of the things that makes him so special is his theater background. You see that he uses his face and body and especially his hands –hence the nickname, Mano. If you want to dance with folks like him, go find some aspiring actors, and get them into tango!