Andrew: So how’s Hawaii?
Vio: Well there’s 180 degrees of ocean right there. Everyone drives a pickup truck and eats food from Costco. I think young folks –men– who get to the point of having enough money to check out, they just move to Hawai’i and surf. They hit the off switch.
I wish I could shut my brain off. I think too much.
Men say that all the time. I don’t even know what it means. What does that mean?
It means you have this belief that more thinking will solve whatever problem you have and you keep on thinking hoping to find this one magical perspective, mindset change that will fix everything. But those are very hard to come by so you keep on thinking and you never really get anywhere actually.
Do you mean that if we want changes in our lives it’s more about practice or spiritual insight than intellectual churning?
That’s basically what I’ve been trying to do.
I understand that. With bad habits and stuff you really can’t fix them by making decisions or willpower. It takes something else.
I seem to have done everything with will power so far but I seem to be running out of will power.
That only works on the easy stuff.
I think it does work on the easy stuff. But on the hard stuff, willpower doesn’t seem to be the right tool. It seems like faith works better.
I don’t mean necessarily Christian faith. I really believe in intentions. Dreams are “I wish it would happen to me.” Intentions are “I’m going to do it.” When you make an intention it’s a commitment with yourself. I always tell people you don’t need to know how you’re going to do it. You just need to make the decision that it’s going to happen.
I built this thing, like an alternative chandelier. A bulb and a frame around it. On the frame you could clip a piece of paper where you write your intentions. I told everyone who came to the studio if there’s something you want or need and you don’t know how to do it, you put it there. The studio was called Festung Absicht, the fortress where we protect everyone’s intentions. And then you go out in the world and try to manifest them and we’ll take care of them here, protect them from criticism and discouragement. And that thing worked! I would climb up the ladder and look at them and realize oh, that happened, that happened, that happened. Intentions are amazing. You have to write it down and then just put it somewhere safe.
I can go back through my notebooks from the last 10 years and realize oh that was the first time I had this or that desire or idea . “Move to Europe.” “Everyone should dance both roles.” “I want to perform more.” Those were just desires that I wrote down.
By this intention you mean instead of consciously thinking how do I get to this, what do I do to get there, you instead set an image in your mind and then you find your way there automatically?
Well that’s a little bit too woowoo for me. The usual process that people have is “I want x but I have no idea how to get there, so therefore I can’t try because I don’t know how.” With intention you don’t need to know how, you decide that somehow you’re going to go there. “My intention is to do X.” And that decision that you’re actually going to do it –as opposed to be dreaming about it or wanting it or complaining about not having it or whatever– in very subtle ways that you might not even notice starts to reorient how you make decisions. You will start to notice yourself wandering off in this direction and realize hmm that’s not actually the direction of X. So maybe I shouldn’t continue down this path. Or you see something that’s related to X so maybe you should go there and find out more about that.
I also tell people you never need to have the whole plan. You only need to know the first step. No matter what you want or how far it is you can always figure out what’s the first step, a piece of information you need or a phone call you need to make or something you need to put a stop to. You take the first step, then you’re in a different universe. You changed one thing or you got information, or told someone the truth. And every step you take you get different tools and access and information. Everything happens one step at a time so you don’t have to be able to map the whole journey in the beginning.
The Development of TangoForge Pedagogy
Pretty much everything I’ve ever done people have told me was crazy and wouldn’t work. In my whole life. So I’ve got to the point where I’m used to that and I ignore them and I start building it. If I think it needs to be done I just start doing it. I would say of the things in that category I may have abandoned less than 20%, where I found out I don’t really want to to do this or I don’t like it. Only a relatively small percentage of things I come up with get abandoned.
I always believed that people need better information. And you do not need to be in someone’s arms to receive information. I went to so many classes as a student, standing there with my notebook waiting for a piece of information about what do I do as a follower. At the end of the class the page is blank because there was no information given about how to follow this move, or what I need to do with my body. So I was really aware that there’s an information deficit. Of course when you take a private lesson, you learn by feeling. But I needed to train my body, to do that I needed to understand what I should be doing.
I think that about 70% of what you need to learn tango is good information and there’s not a lot of good, clear information out there. So to me it’s obvious that you can get a chunk of what you need without a class.
The other thing that influenced me was that my second dance partner was a US Marine – of course I was at a peace rally every weekend and then Monday night I’m in the arms of US Marine. It was a lot of cognitive dissonance for me. This one was a really young guy, late 20s, young for tango at that time. He was one of the best dancers in LA, and had taught himself by watching youtube. At home, by himself, in socks, on a carpet. He was not going to group classes. He was a spectacular dancer and learned by watching. That was before there was any instruction at all on youtube. He was just watching dancing.
And he had a lovely embrace, perfectly sweet. He wasn’t just technically proficient. So from this I knew you could learn a lot without a class or a teacher or a partner.
That’s crazy because I tried that and then I came up with lots of questions. There was a big danger that I would think it was about getting this move done instead of making the girl feel a certain way that gets the move done.
There are different ways of learning. You and I learn brain first, then teaching the body. Other people learn with their mirror neurons. And a lot of great dancers cannot tell you what they’re doing. If we are going to teach by speaking, we need people who can analyze what they’re doing and put that in words. The problem is we have a lot of great dancers who don’t have that skill. Partly because they’re not very educated.
One night in Buenos Aires I was very frustrated and I was at a milonga with a Porteño friend and I asked him why is the teaching so fucking terrible?” And he said “Violetita, you need to think about who these people are. Which kind of guy becomes a great tango dancer? This is a guy who’s not in college. His parents are not putting pressure on him to go to college or have a career. Dancing in BsAs is like spending every night in the pool hall until 4am. You don’t have a job, you don’t go to school. The kind of people dancing enough to get to a high level by definition do not have the level of education that they could ever explain to someone what they are doing.”
I never thought about that.
I hadn’t either! Because I wasn’t thinking about the social context. Because so many tango dancers who are not Argentine are high educated. That’s who’s into it, are high educated people who are not feeling connected through bars, sports, the kind of activities that work for most people and make them feel fine. Intellectual people are hungry and want more of something and tend to be the kind of folks willing to slog it out with tango until they get to this extraordinary experience. We don’t realize this mismatch in class and education with the people we’re desperately trying to learn from.
It’s changing now in BsAs. Tango is more of a career now. Tango dancers are learning other kinds of dance, or yoga, pilates, or some other physical practice to learn about their bodies. The very young people are coming with more vocabulary and training.
Part of the problem also is that verbal teaching started in the 1990s, when tango came back after the dictatorship. That was the first time people stood in a circle and got instruction by words.
So how was it taught before?
In the embrace. The men learned by following. The men had to follow for a certain number of years with other men. They were the partners of more experienced guys. Then they led other men. Then they went to the milonga to dance with women.
I’ve never heard anybody talking about how the women learned, or if they learned.
So it wasn’t verbal.
There weren’t classes?
There were practice groups. The men got together to learn, somewhere and some time that was not at the milongas. In some sense it was a class, but it wasn’t by talking.
After the dictatorship, people had been psychically and socially destroyed. They didn’t like their country. The government saw tango as a way to restore a positive sense of Argentine identity, restore sociality, neighborhoodliness, and they funded classes in community centers. It was a modernized idea of conveying tango. Paying people to give classes.
And the government also supported stage shows of tango that went around the world to recover a positive international image of Argentina, and as the people around the world fell in love with tango, the performers dropped off those shows and would move to San Francisco or New York to become the local tango teacher. And again, coming out of no verbal history of how to convey this thing.
So now the gringos are standing around in a circle “tell us how to do it”. So people had to say something and a lot of what they said is fucking bullshit and useless, like “lead with your chest”. Useless. But now all the generations keep repeating this. You ask a teacher how to do something and they say that.
I don’t even think they were talking about leading. I wrote a post about that.
The point is that even the younger generation have inherited some of these clichés and truisms. “Push the floor” is another useless thing that people like to say. If you already learned what that means you can do it, but half of people can’t figure out what to do with those words, so it’s not a functional instruction.
It doesn’t make you move in that way if you’ve never moved that way before.
Well, it doesn’t mean anything! And half of people can’t do it or they do something weird. The pound the floor, or flex their knee. It’s not useful. It’s not an instruction.
It’s not something that will make you automatically do the right movement.
Right. Whereas if you tell someone “flex your knee” 100% of the people in the room are going to do it. Someone might say “what’s flex?” “Bend.” “Ah, ok.” 100% in 10 seconds. That’s an instruction.
Now I know what you mean.
I was taught to say “push the floor” so I used to say “push the floor” and I had private lesson students who I told to push the floor for months, and they weren’t doing it. So ok that doesn’t work.
So basically I’ve always been committed to language that works. And when you have language that works then there’s no barrier to teaching on the internet. information is part of what it takes to learn to dance. I would never say you can learn tango without feeling it at all. But you can get a lot done.
I recently had something similar with a zouk teacher. I go and dance zouk with a particular teacher and at some point I realized that he said stuff, and he said it was very complicated. You need to practice for years to get this into your body. And then at the end of the class I would also feel yes, it’s quite difficult to do it consistently, but did he have to spend 2 hours on this? And then I found another teacher, from Brazil, who tells you his philosophy of life, he rants for 10 minutes and then he tells you to do it, like that, then you automatically manage to do it.
Does he give you precise instructions?
No, apparently it’s not very important. He just imbues you with this philosophy? And then that influences how you move.
There are people who believe that they learn by metaphors, images, and visualization. For sure. I’ve run into a lot of them. They’re not my students.
I feel that anatomical instructions are more reliable for a higher percentage of the people. I tell them “extend your elbow” and suddenly they can do it perfectly. But there are a lot of people who just don’t enjoy it. They are more entertained by images and metaphors. They feel they’re having a profound experience with the teacher. It’s a nicer experience than talking about joints and muscles. But I find that joints and muscles are pretty reliable. If I tell them what to do with their joints, they can do ti.
I remember with my maestra, Dana Frigoli, I would take private lessons and have that aha moment and then she would be like “Now you’re dancing!” And that would be the end of the lesson. I’d be like “oh, I did it. Dana said I was dancing” and I’d be so happy. And then the next day I’d wonder what did I learn? Did I learn something? Am I forever transformed? Maybe. Do I know what it was? Do I know how to train and practice that? No. I just have to hope that emotional moment was in fact somehow transformative of my molecules.
I do think there are other forms of learning and growth and development and change, but I’m very skeptical of what people are selling.
It’s more fuzzy, less measurable.
And if you’re a charismatic personality you can always sell people a nice experience, but I don’t know the ethics of charging people for instruction and not giving them instruction. And especially this thing of telling people “it’s difficult you have to train a long time.” No one should charge money for those words, in my view.
Saying “it’s difficult” is basically saying “I don’t know how to explain it to you.” It’s a cover. “I don’t have a way to teach it to you, because it took me a long time” or “I don’t have the words”, or “I don’t really know. Just one day I could do it.” If you can’t provide something then I don’t think you should be charging money.
“It’s difficult.” “You have to go to Buenos Aires.” “It needs to be in your blood.” Every time somebody is standing in the middle of the room saying “it needs to be in your blood” – this is not instruction. I don’t pay for that!
Sometimes I waste too much time mapping the how so I never get around to doing it. Was it like that with your teaching tango online when you first started? You thought very long ago that it should be done online.
In 2012-2013 I had just finished teaching myself how to mark everything in tango. So I had a thorough understanding of all of tango and I felt like I wanted to document that. I had struggled so much with my teachers “what’s the difference in the mark between a linear and circular voleo?” They’d be like “you think too much, just feel.” I would be like “no, I want to understand.” So finally I wrestled them for some of the information and figured out the rest. And of course I realized that there was not a straightforward encyclopedia of what is everything in tango and how do you do it.
At the same time I was distilling technique. I wanted to be able to teach things with fewer instructions and more consistent instructions. So I had two projects. One was about encyclopedic description – how do you lead and follow every thing? The other was compact technique, which enables me to better communicate those things. So I thought well I should write a book about this. I started writing. Then I realized I will continue learning and a book might not be the appropriate format.
I thought it should be like wikipedia – except without the participation and democracy. It should be hyperlinked. I found there was a software that automatically hyperlinks. Every entry that’s mentioned is automatically hyperlinked and you don’t have the problem of needing to manually link everything. It automatically does the hyperlinking for you.
What’s that software?
In 2013 the one that I installed is called Encyclopedia Pro, written by Dennis Hoppe, who lives in Berlin. He’s an indy software developer. It’s a really good piece of software. It just works.
So I realized that I could build a hyperlinked encyclopedia which could maintain the quality of the content and links and then I could update it over time. The first online product was the TangoForge KnowledgeBase. It was just text and pictures [with Nick Young] and launched in December of 2013. It didn’t really sell well. It did not become a sustaining thing. Partly people don’t want to read about movements. At that time I was completely unwilling to do video. There were images and diagrams and drawings. My students bought it. Less than 100 sales. I did a lot of marketing and it never really sold.
A couple of years [Roberto and I, with CJ doing the really monstrous technical work] added very short video clips to the KnowledgeBase, 5-10 seconds no sound or instruction, just demonstrative.
Everyone told me you have to do video and I refused because I’m just too vain. I thought I will just hate every second of it. At that time I also didn’t like video editing. Then some other projects happened that I ended up getting more into editing, accepting it was going to be part of my life as a professional dancer. And then I realized that while I’m not photogenic – it take 25 still images to get a good image of me because my face is too expressive– I actually don’t look so terrible in video, so I got over the vanity problem. It won’t be terrible suffering, so ok I’ll do it.
Then we opened a school in February 2017. We had three apprentices at that time. I was trying to figure out how to train them while running a school. So I decided every week we’d do one element from the lexicon. That’s 25 weeks which is half a year so we can repeat it twice a year. Every week all the students of the school, even at different levels would work on the same theme, and the private lessons would be on that theme, practicas on that theme.
That year I was also working with trying to get the business model and the values into alignment. So one of our values is community and I’ve always struggled with how to get community into the business model. I realized the classes we were doing were amazing. We were blowing our own minds. The coherency – in an hour and a half of everything you need to know about barrida. The students can do it. And the apprentices can do it and are the proof that the technique works, because they all went from good beginners to super desirable dancers very fast because they understand what they’re doing, and they can teach and explain it.
But there were only 15 people standing in that room and we are doing this amazing work. And my students are always complaining “Your system is amazing. It works. More people need to know about it. We want to dance with people this way.” At that time the students in the school paid by the month. They had unlimited access to the school including private lessons. So we said, “ok now you also get the video for free to share with your friends in France and Italy and wherever, people you meet at festivals. Share the videos with your friends who you love who can’t be here.”
Now nobody ever shared those videos as far as I know. That relates to your questions about community-based economic systems. Whenever I’ve tried to have any thing that depends on community, I give stuff for free and try to get them to share it, it’s a dud. It doesn’t work. We can talk about why. (Later I wrote a post about this.)
No one shared those videos, but we had the videos. And then in some marketing thing I came across the word ‘MasterCourse’. And I was like omg we have a MasterCourse. In the can. That’s a flagship product.
I was also working on the point that we were too cheap and we need to not be about cheap. No one has ever asked us to be cheap. Why do we keep making decisions to make things cheap? it doesn’t relate with anything we’re about. So I was working on being more expensive. So, a MasterCourse, that’s an expensive, high-end flagship product.
People can buy something less. They can just buy the Encyclopedia, but the MasterCourse is the flagship.
So that has worked. I mean it’s still not the kind of living where I take taxis and go out to dinner in restaurants (both laughing) but compared to anything else we’ve done it’s more or less working.
Those are people who enroll. I don’t have as many students as I want, but it’s improving slowly slowly.
My students who’ve been in a room with me know that what I offer is unique. So for example when I was teaching in New Zealand and in Sydney, and when I left those places my students felt there was no one else who could explain things in a satisfactory way. So those people felt the need to have more of me. At that point I didn’t have anything for them. It was a few years until I had an online product for them. They expressed a desire for that but I said “no, I won’t do video. No video.” For years.
So you’re convinced that you can teach tango if you’ve got the right language. But how do you convince other people enough that they will pay you for your product. How do you achieve that?
People read my blog for 3 years and then they buy my educational materials. Which makes no sense.
From my point of view it makes sense. You want to get as much value as possible for free, and then at some point you reach a point where you’re like “there’s this part which I really don’t understand and because I’m at this level it’s not easy to find.
But the blog is not about technical things. The blog is about freedom, gender, pain, rage, emotional topics. I think people come to think that I’m smart, and they appreciate my values. Many of my students have never met me. Have never seen me dance. Have not much to go on in terms of me as a teacher.
Well I think it’s because your blog makes them feel familiar with you. Actually I bought your course because I felt like I could get to know you, I felt familiar.
Interesting. And that takes time. So my sales journey is really long.
So I’ve tried to building a marketing strategy that takes this fact into account. I have all these guides on the site. How to find a partner. How to make tango more popular in your community. I have a nurture sequence. I don’t know if you’ve received those. That’s also very much about values, encouraging people that they have power to be kind to others, that they have creativity inside them. “You’re already on fire.” Coaching. I’m not being cynical about it, but it’s not technical information. Because I don’t think that’s what people are attracted to. People don’t know that they want technical information.
I think that most people don’t realize they want that. Or they think they’re already getting it. They’re so intimidated by their teachers and by how badly they do in class. Most people go to class, go out of class, feel terribly incompetent, and respect their teachers a lot after that.
I think if you can’t do the move after class you shouldn’t respect your teacher. That was bad teaching.
But the teachers are so intimidating, so beautiful and so smooth. They do these long sequences so wonderfully, that the students just blame themselves and respect the teacher more after this incredibly disempowering experience.
I think people think they are getting good instruction and the problem is them. Rather than thinking they’re getting bad instruction and they need better instruction.
And they love their teachers. Argentines are the most charming people you will ever meet. That emotional connection is happening, and students are not realizing that they’re not getting information.
• • •
Throughout this time I’m learning more and more marketing. Around 2016 I was exercising going up and down the stairs of my flat in Berlin, 1000 steps a day. And it was so boring. I thought about listening to podcasts. Well what kind of podcasts are there? Hmm, maybe there are podcasts about marketing. (both laughing). 20 minutes a day.
Did it work?
I made a rule for myself: Try everything. NO more saying “I don’t want to do video”, “No popups”, “I don’t want to do this it’s cheesy” or “That won’t work”. This thinking is not allowed anymore. So I still don’t listen when people tell me something won’t work. But when someone has an idea or suggestion, I don’t let myself dismiss it. Try everything. If it doesn’t work, you can throw it away. I listened to Marketing School with Neil Patel and Eric Siu. They do 5 minutes a day: Do this. Do this. Do this. How do you do that? Should you do this? Whatever they said I would go that night and implement it on the website.
Marketing School: “If you do anything educational, you have to be on Youtube.”
Vio: I don’t like Youtube because they’re creativity mining and they don’t have good creator protection, so I won’t use Youtube.
Marketing School? “Where do people go when they want to learn something? They go to Youtube. Be On Youtube.”
Vio (after a long pause): Ok.
Andrew: Idealism v. Reality.
I strategically decided what to put there. I created a series specifically for Youtube. I didn’t throw my ethics and preferences out the window. I also just don’t like the Youtube system. If you edit a video you can’t upload a revision to the same url. Whereas on Vimeo, which I prefer, I can keep the same url. Vimeo is more professional system. I still avoid Youtube, but I created a free educational series for Youtube. The numbers look good, at least to me. I can’t imagine that 5000 people have watched anything that I created.
So I am interested in the applicability of blockchain to tango. You mentioned community before and I want to hear more about what you have done with community in tango.
Well in fact although there is always a community of students round me –and always complaining that they wish there were more like them. Then when I have tried to invoke “community” to get them to reach out to one another it doesn’t happen. Several times I have offered resources they can share with others for free (like the original MasterCourse), and they don’t. I created the TangoForge Compañeros facebook group so they could connect with each other, they don’t use it for that. (After this interview, I had another experience with this.)
I’ve written two books recently and both of them when I launched them I launched them first to my blog readers, with the idea that in some sense this is my natural audience. These are the people that I think of first when I write, and they’re my closest audience, who read my work regularly and value it, apparently. Twice now I’ve launched a book and said “this is an opportunity to support the work that I do do for free for you in the blog all the time. By paying for my writing.” In both cases set the price not like the price of a book, but like a one-time donation. The first one was €25 an the second one was €50. But that includes a workbook and a hard copy when the book is printed. Pre-release.
And they sold. Non-zero, satisfying, but not anywhere near what I hoped for, given how many people read the blog. I felt that an awful lot of people who I know read the blog didn’t buy the book. So I’ve twice explicitly asked my blog readers to support the blog with a one-time payment, not a subscription, just a one-time payment, and people have taken that, but I think the only people who took that were people who wanted that book. I don’t think people accepted the idea of supporting the blog financially.
Well it’s like, for your blog, it’s useful what you put up there, but there’s a lot of free information on the net. If I can, I don’t want to pay.
Me too. I spend so many hours, days, weeks of time not paying for software. I do pay for a few pieces, but I’m aware of how much of my energy I spend taking complicated routes which could be solved by a $30 piece of software.
That’s me. And with information. For me, I would take long and complicated routes to get the information I needed, the free way.
But, we’re talking about something a little bit different, which is that it’s the writing that people like. You can’t get my writing anywhere else. And when what it is that people get and like from the blog is my perspective and my writing, then it makes a bit more sense to ask them to support me as a writer, because you apparently value that.
But then the question is what do I get for that? I already got what I wanted. I’m already getting it.
Well that sucks. I thought people would respond with “oh, that’s a good idea. I’ve been wondering how I can support you because I don’t need to take your classes, so I can buy a book instead.” But it didn’t work.
You said once you got paid in cryptocurrency, ETH.
Whenever there’s something I don’t know about I feel I should learn about it. I didn’t want to be one of the people saying “it’s too complicated.” I can understand this if I pay attention to it. I went to some conferences and meetings. I wasn’t one of the people who got excited about it and felt it’s the future or I can make a lot of money.
But since I’m in this mode of try everything, I put “we accept cryptocurrency” on the website. I though it was cute to have a ticker for that, but then it conflicted with something else and I took it off, just for technical reasons. But one person who wanted to pay with ETH. I have never had another request.
The price went down since he paid you. How did you feel about that?
I’ll let it sit there. It’s an experiment. I really believe in this idea of experimenting. I don’t risk a lot on any single experiment. And I feel that now I have a toe in there and I can see what happens. I’m part of that world in a small way. I understand it. I’ve gone through the steps of the process. If I needed to accept it, I’d be ready now. I have the infrastructure.
So, tell me about your project. What are you working on?
Right now I’m working on two slightly irrelated things.
One is a simulation framework so that once you have your own token, you can simulate the economy around it and see what kind of parameters you should set for your economy to survive.
Then the other one is my own personal token, Chiw, which I want to drum up some value for, and I want to understand. This is also an experiment for me, in that I have no idea what to do with this token that I just made. By actually having one and by talking to people and explaining, I will have more idea what I can do with it myself. This is my current understanding.
Today we go to fb to be part of a network, because the network is at fb. But what if fb had to buy your token in order to be part of your network?
That would be nice.
So now the network is centered around you, and that is denoted by who has your token. And that is basically what the personal token is about. But your network needs to be valuable enough that is worth for people to come to.
In fb we have friendships. What can you do with a friendship? Well basically a friendship unlocks privileges. So this friendship would be like holding a token. But people have to spend money to buy your token because your wall is that valuable that they want to look at it and spend money on it. So now a friendship with me has intrinsic value. And now people who are my friends, my token holders, are also my supporters.
This way of thinking about it would make a lot of sense for influencers. There are a ton of people who create free content and if you had to actually buy your way into that content. But what we’re basically talking about is paywall and it would only make sense if that got really broadly accepted and a lot of people put up a paywall at once, and it would be a micropayment, micro-commodified content…
I could see teenagers buying 10 coins a month and they decide who their favorite celebrities and influencers are who they’re going to distribute those 10 coins to and they redistribute them every month and they punish the ones who said something they don’t like. I could see that economy working and enabling content creators to become directly supported by fans instead of indirectly supported by the brands that they’re being influencers for.
So could there be a separate tango economy, with a separate currency?
Ok, so applying it to tango. Well… Because of COVID two of my very favorite tango places in the world have just closed, Tangoloft and DNI the school where I studied in Buenos Aires. I’m going to write a blog post about it this week. I haven’t figured out what I’m going to say. It’s very emotional. (Here’s the post.) But it’s also about tango business. How is the industry working? And I think there’s been a lot of denial that it is an industry. There’s been a lot of denial that anyone is making money. There’s a lot of “it’s all love”. But the reality is that now people can’t pay their rent. So, it was a business. And students and dancers know that they need to do economically supportive things for their teachers and organizers who have no income now.
People are suddenly being a lot more honest about something that was always elided. In Buenos Aires it’s “Come on over I’ll give you a lesson. We have mate.” They don’t call it an appointment for a service. We don’t use the words ‘customer’, ‘client’, ‘sales’, ‘business model’. And it’s not because people don’t know these words. It’s business culture in Buenos Aires.
And it’s party because when tango restarted in the 1990s the government was subsidizing it, it started as a cultural, sharing project. And I think in much of the world it was taken up by people with the idea that tango was good for you. It’s healing for our community. It’s a beautiful positive human thing. In most of the world the first teachers and organizers paid the costs of what they were doing. They subsidized it. Milonga organizers didn’t make money for a long time. They paid the costs and recouped part of what they spent from the people who came.
It was a community and there’s authenticity about why we have that leftover language that we’re doing it for love, not money. There’s not a lot of money to be made. Anybody who’s breaking even is happy.
But COVID has brought everyone face to face with the fact that if we want it to continue, we have to deal with business questions, like how much is the rent of our favorite milonga? How much money is needed so that this milonga does not disappear? Suddenly, a lot of people are interested in these questions. How much money would it take to keep Tangoloft alive? That’s not happening. They’ve already decided. But thousands of people around the world who love that place want to know how much money it would take to get to the middle of next year. Business questions, money questions. Also people are worried “can my tango teacher pay the rent?” so I’ll take their online class. Suddenly the business stuff is not being ignored.
I think that’s an opportunity. It also opens space that wasn’t there before because people are now taking classes out of solidarity. People are now giving money to milonga organizers. Donations. They were not doing that before, even though those milongas were often in the red.
Before it was very transactional. I have to pay if i want to go to a class, or if I want to go to a milonga. Ok I’ll pay €10 for this. Even though everyone is talking about love and I don’t really know why I’m paying but I guess I have to pay. Everyone’s in denial that tango teachers don’t make enough money to take taxi cabs or eat in restaurants, for example. Even though they can see that this teacher just spent 2 hours with three couples, and that’s €60 and you can’t live on that. So there was a lot of denial about the math.
And now we live in a completely different world where people are giving money everywhere they can to keep the culture alive.
So I like this idea of building a system where people could express solidarity and where people could have a mechanism to support tango. I expect that in the future there’s going to be a sustaining membership model. The fact is that many milongas one week in you’re in the black and the next week you’re in the red. It’s very stressful. I think in Berlin that’s not so much an issue but the rents are going up really rapidly. They have good revenue, but the rents go up. But in many other parts of the world milongas just barely make it.
So who’s going to set up this system?
I think there’s really an opportunity to change the model of how people relate to tango. And to have that model be something that is embracing the community. I don’t think that I should have an empire of money around my people. Yes, people like and value me. That’s great. But what we realize is that my tango life is dependent on the milonga in Boise Idaho getting back on its feet. Not only because I want people in Boise to buy my class online. That’s one reason. But because if I want to have a good time as a dancer I want to go to festivals and meet new people. I need those teachers and milongas over there to survive so they become good dancers so that I have people to dance with. So that when I travel to San Diego, there’s a milonga to go to. So that people come here to dance in Berlin and I get to meet and enjoy a stranger. I need the whole world of tango to survive, not just my world. This is obvious.
Ok. I am working on a simulation for a commons. Have you heard of commons stack?
I know about commons. I studied that as economist.
A block chain to support a commons. If people can buy in, and it’s collectively distributed and people could make applications, with some obligations.
I am actually maintaining a simulation of THAT at the moment. It’s just that I don’t know if the behaviors and assumptions are realistic enough that it will work in the real world. But it is running. And it’s producing graphs.
That could be interesting. The Tango commons.
I think one really good use of a commons fund would be to have an industry association for promotion, to hire professional services to promote the whole industry. In the US there’s something called The Milk Board. It is like a communal agency of milk producers. I think Tango needs to have an industry fund for marketing. Our marketing is so shit and that’s why tango teachers are poor and we don’t have enough people – it’s also because we’re bad teachers and we lose most of our people who come, but that’s a different problem.
The marketing needs a big upgrade, no more high heels and fishnet stockings. Everyone who likes fishnet stockings is already wearing them. We need to collectively hire a real marketing agency to find out who’s the target audience? Who would come? How do we talk to them? Serious stuff.
Whereas teachers just keep putting out another sexy picture of themselves, really dressed up like they’re going to go to a wedding and think people are going to relate to that. Most people don’t. A few people do.
Wait a minute. I think the public perception of tango is very good, because whenever I mention to a girl that I dance tango they’re like “oh, that’s so cool.”
Sure, but we have a problem of not enough men coming. People think tango is cool but they don’t think they can do it, especially not men. In fact engineers can dance tango. No problem. They understand it. They think they need rhythm or that they have “2 left feet”. But no one knows how to talk to them, so we put another red dress with a slit and think that’s going to bring an engineer to tango. An intimidatingly sexy lady in high heels. It doesn’t resonate with them.
Like helping them overcome their self-doubts or self-censorship they might have about dancing in general.
Resonating with their cultural identity which is not ladies in high heels and men in suits and hats. Geeks don’t resonate to that image.
I really like that image. I wish I had an excuse to dress up like that.
Ok so you made it to tango. But most of them don’t because that is completely alien and not interesting, if not intimidating. This industry is really clueless about what will attract men, although we know that we have a lot to offer them, and I think we need professional help.
About the imagery for women. Two issues with ladies in high heels.
 A lot of ladies who like to use their bodies don’t like high heels.
What do you mean “use their bodies”?
Well a lot of athletic women, the kind of women who would concentrate and be really good at tango, they don’t want to wear high heels.
 The ladies who do love high wouldn’t be caught dead in Tango high heels, because they are completely out of fashion. A lady who wears Jimmy Choo’s or wishes she could, would NEVER be attracted to a photo of tango because the shoes are something my grandmother would wear.
I think I know what you mean. I’ve been to the Tangoloft clothes shop. And I was expecting lots of Jimmy Choo style stuff there. And it was kind of plain.
Yes! Right. So we are not successfully appealing to the people who want to work hard with their bodies or to the people who like high heels and fashion. Tango clothing is so not in fashion and so cliché. A red dress with a slit a-fucking-gain? No. That’s not in fashion. It’s anti-fashion, actually.
So I think the industry should collectively pay for a professional marketing company to go do focus groups –proper marketing– find out who is our audience? What are the images and words they would resonate with?
You ask any teacher what’s your target market? “Well, tango is for everyone.” Yes, that’s true. People from 17 to 100 years of age can dance tango and want to. But who’s YOUR target market? Who’s going to walk into YOUR building in the location and the aesthetic that it is and see you, in your outfit, and hear the way that you speak and interact, and want to stay. Who are those people?
And most tango teachers don’t even know who their market is. Sven knows.
Sven. What is his market?
Explicitly: Kids who go to clubs who want a healthier activity that feels the same kind of intensity and sexuality, like a party, staying up late and drinking a bit.
Holy shit, that’s true.
So young cool artsy, students, who have enough consciousness that they think maybe clubs aren’t healthy. But they want to dress up, go out, flirt, get a little drunk, get a little sensual.
Sven & Co believe the problem with most tango events is that there’s not enough kissing. Which is a very dramatic statement. Sven and Pedram role-modeled kissing in the milongas for the first few years. They don’t have to do it any more. They do still do it, but they feel now it’s taken off and they don’t need to train people anymore.
That’s crazy. I wish I was there to see it.
I was horrified. I didn’t know how they were managing all these women’s emotions that they were toying with. I really was confused about that. But they were very successful in every way.
(Learn more about how they came up with this model and how to apply their marketing analysis to different communities.)
Sven was successful with a very particular community, but for the whole tango industry, I would have a professional marketing company come up with 20 different ads, share those back with all the members, all the teachers who paid for the industry research, so people can then copy those ads in their own communities. And in major markets actually having proper advertising. Expensive, professionally-produced advertising for Tango as an industry.