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Sydney, as we all know, there are tango factions. Mostly they are organized as schools. Teachers hold their students tight and argue that their methods of teaching are the best. 

At weekend milongas, the tables demarcate school/faction territories. Some people, not belonging to any of them, don’t know where to sit. Others feel uncomforable showing their alliances, so move between the tables of their friends. Many dancers feel resentful that people stay in their factions, only dancing with those familiar to them.

It’s true that few dancers cross the room for a stranger. They’re likely to dance with strangers they meet at or near the table where they’ve landed, and they will cross the room to flirt with or collect a friend, but at a big milonga, there are too many strangers to engage with those far off.

Some bold women will importune an admired man from another faction.

There might be more mixing at the big milongas if students crossed the factions for classes. Then they’d already know that lovely dancer across the room.

I’ve tried to avoid creating yet another faction, while decrying them. But one of the things I do as a community organizer is create space. I†believe that  space can enable people to grow, to connect, to experiment. I endeavor to make space that is inclusive. I†introduce new dancers around, match-make, and encourage everyone I can get my hands on.

Last Saturday for the first time I had a table. At risk of becoming a faction, I invited everyone I knew to gather and share chairs. I expected that alliances pre-dating my time in Sydney would preempt my new friendships and was surprised when we did indeed overflow the table.

It’s always a pleasure to be a host, but i couldn’t help seeing my table from across the room, as an albeit-ebullient exclusion. I kept asking myself if it was worth it. However welcoming I was, I couldn’t and didn’t welcome everyone.

Lately some fans of Jewel Lab have been urging me to go further. Since I run one of only two spaces encouraging open-minded tango and playing music from beyond the golden age of tango, those hungry for a more modern tango urge me to expand these perspectives to 50 or 75% alternative music, to call my dance and teaching ‘nuevo’, and to build a scene that is explicitly about youth.

But I love Tango, and I don’t want to make a milonga where some tango dancers won’t feel comfortable. I know that the contested word ‘nuevo’ will cause most dancers to imagine that what I teach has nothing to do with their dancing, and one thing I most appreciate abot my tango life is the age diversity.

So I am resisting these suggestions, even though they affirm values I nurture.

I am struggling to distinguish between creating a precious free, open, and inclusive space and creating another faction. And I’m asking myself what constitutes a faction?

Is territory really the issue or is it hostility? Friendliness can make the boundaries softer.

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