Cluster Tango in and beyond The Distance

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In most parts of the world, dancers are living without milongas. Lucky ones have a live-in partner. Unlucky ones may wonder when or if they will ever be embraced again. Brave ones invite a stranger or three to visit for home-based tango practice.

This time reveals the fragility of our dependence on milongas as the vessel for experiencing tango.

I’m currently back in Germany, suspended on my way to Italy (where in certain regions including mine not only milongas but driving cars is currently prohibited). Germany is, as always, a bit special. This post is intended to share with others the German virus-cautious dancing system.

It is misleading to view the German dancing system as a luxury of a relatively low rate of infection. A more accurate understanding is that the German virus management system is based on math. Rather than flailing at 100% safety by disinfecting one’s hands every 35 seconds as the Americans are doing (even in Maui where there is almost no infection to protect oneself from), Germans are focused on the math of infection, and the priority is keeping social life alive, small, and traceable.

Where the Americans are worried about how to keep businesses alive, the Germans are much more concerned with psychological well-being; they see keeping the children at bay (in school and pre-school kitas) and allowing for some social life as essential for this.

For tango it has meant:

  1. Until the chill of winter took hold of all 10 toes, outdoor milongas were allowed with unlimited numbers of people so long as no one changed partners.
  2. Indoor milongas are also permitted with a maximum of 20 dancers, pre-registered for tracing purposes, and not changing partners.
  3. Cluster events are ongoing weekly events with committed groups of 10 dancers who may change partners. These groups are easily traced and notified in case any participant discovers they have been exposed or infected and some groups agree to use the Corona-Warn ap and notify the group if they discover they have been exposed. Dancers may belong to several clusters if they wish, because the small size of each group keeps the math under control. Dancers who share a cluster may also dance together at events of type [1] and [2].

I am not interested in debating the mathematical and epidemiological benefits of the German system. Instead I want to draw attention to  aspects of the cluster system that may be useful and desirable beyond the viruscrisis.

As I spent only a week in Berlin, I was not eligible to attend a cluster, so my report depends on a friend who both understands the German virus math and who participates in several clusters.

He reported that in the clusters he met a number of high-level women who he had never seen before.

These must be women who have given up on sitting in milongas watching unskilled girls reap all the attention. An invitation to a group where they know they will dance would be a welcome addition to the tango landscape for advanced women dancers.

I considered that while it’s unlikely I would ever find 5 wonderful Marks in the same room, the cluster system should offer me at least one (otherwise I should not join that particular cluster). And I would attend the event in surety that I would dance with that one at each meeting. This would be a serious improvement over a standard milonga, where if I do not appoint a partner, I very often do not dance at all.

As for the other four Marks, the committed and limited nature of the cluster would ensure that we become familiar, enter an ongoing dialogue, develop a sense of comfort and safety to experiment and make mistakes. Risk (and the accompanying development) is of course what the fundamentalist safety/elegance fad assiduously avoids, dragging many nice people down with it.

Other friends report to me that the cluster system has also accelerated commitments to dancing both roles. This in effect increases the number of dancing opportunities in a room of 10 dancers by a factor of 3.5 (from 5 partnerings to 18).

Summary of benefits of the cluster system:

  • Traceable social gatherings with acceptable infection math.
  • Advanced Revels want to go dancing again, confident of due respect.
  • Marks dance in an environment where they feel comfortable to take risks and develop.
  • Dancers are engaged in developmental relationships.
  • Motivation to dance both roles to increase experiential opportunities.
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