Gentrification

Berlin’s venerable dance-hall, Clärchens Ballhaus, is endangered. The building is protected, but the activities which fix it in the fading constellation of Berlin Bohemianism, are not.

It’s in Mitte, where gentrification seemed already victorious more than 5 years ago, but tilts now at peaks newly emerged from the German fog. Three corners of my intersection have turned over in the last year. A three-block walk North to my grocery store finds two old stores evicted “non-renewal of lease”. To the west two blocks of ground floor retail have emptied. The sweet stretch of local cafés leading up to the rose garden faces a crude fracture; in the place of the small organic market is now a Ben & Jerry’s.

People like to say “as long as you see those cranes on the skyline, the economy is doing well.” From my window I count 13. The economy “doing well” means displacement for the people who knit these two cities back together, who made home and art in this dreadful history.

The excuse being given is that dancing is too humid for the Ballhaus, which must be rescued by some “development” project.

I walk to Clärchens every Tuesday to listen to Leandro and Francesco’s fantastic cortinas and fearless Pugliese tandas. I drink, stare at the ceiling, watch more and more leg emerge from skirts, and write blog posts.

Attendance at the weekly Clärchens milonga has doubled since people became alarmed that tango’s 20 years heritage there will end in December.

Decades of Clärchens dancers have a sense of entitlement to personal pleasure from our heritage over and above the righteousness of market prices and landmark preservation. What I want to say is only this: All tango dancers should have a similar sense of entitlement to personal pleasure from our heritage of tango movements over and above the righteousness of pseudo-authentic “rules” and smug milonga police.

All tango dancers, including women. Who should make it very clear that we want to do more than pretend to enjoy repetitive sequences and a diet restricted to ochos, giros, and crosses, in the overcontrolling embraces of unambitious men flying false flags of elegance, musicality, and traffic etiquette.

Like Mitte, tango is being gentrified by industrial concerns and short-sighted ambitions. As we love Clärchens’ dusty splendor, as we love tango’s intricate gift, we must understand the treasure profoundly and not allow it to be censored and redacted for popularity or simplicity.

• • •

If you would like to sign a petition to retain Clärchens Ballhaus’ current use, it’s here.

I want you to know that you are not alone…

… neither in your dreams for tango nor in your frustrations.

My deepest desire is the same as all my students and friends … those who have yet to start dancing and those who dance a lot.

It’s partnership.

One thing I’ve learned on this quest, we need to:

Stop Waiting for Partners, and start Building them.

I’ve written a 10-step Action Plan.

Are you ready to find the Partners you want?

 

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