I founded JewelLab at the Colombian Hotel as Rainbow Queer Tango Sydney in 2011. It started as a class, but became a practica, which Jael and I re-named it The Jewel Lab in 2012. In 2013, with Darren’s encouragement, Nick and I launched JewelLab as a milonga with the slogan “the milonga where we treat each other like Jewels”. Starting in 2014, we held a series of parties at Quro Health Studies with 100% alternative tango music. In 2016 we become a community-run practica.
Now that I am based in Berlin, December 2015 was time to transfer ownership of Sydney JewelLab. Although I will continue to teach at JewelLab whenever I am in town, I am now only one of the team of “responsibles”. We operate according to participatory democratic principles, and in December we together wrote this manifesto:
JewelLab is a community-run enrichment of our local Tango scene.
We are a conscientious practica with a purposeful culture of dialogue, participation, and role-changing.
We encourage positive attitudes toward all gender/role combinations,
toward dancing to the worldwide heritage of music,
and toward use of all movements from the living history of tango.
We also like to throw great parties!
The manifesto and our corresponding operating principles were responding to several situations:
- The lack of practice culture in Sydney, so that practicas tend to turn into milongas.
- Negative attitudes toward certain tango movements.
- The “hungry women” problem we have faced at JewelLab (and elsewhere) which drains and constrains us.
- The need for a team to support JewelLab operations, with several DJs, an admin team, and a group to develop strategies for outreach, design special events, etc.
- The desire for no person in Sydney to feel discouraged or intimidated from dancing in their alternate role.
- The love many people have for this beautiful room and for dancing to alternative music.
We want to address these things within and beyond the JewelLab by:
- Nurturing practice culture by role-modelling, providing written practice guides, and other materials to encourage people to be analytic and agentic about their dancing.
- Expecting everyone to dance both roles, and modelling this.
- Welcoming everyone and creating an inclusive atmosphere for dancers of all levels.
- Playing at least 50% alternative tango music, and sometimes 100% at our special Quro parties or other special events.
- Building a sense of community so people get involved with maintaining this unique event.
- Sharing our knowledge of and encouraging everyone to use all the movements developed in the living history of tango.
Some more details about our operational plans:
What is Jewel Lab all about?
- A real practica for dancers of all levels. We encourage dancers to be analytic and agentic in taking responsibility for their own learning.
- Role-changing. We believe learning both roles is developmentally faster and better. We also want women to be empowered dancers, not waiting hungrily to receive a dance. We want all dancers to feel totally encouraged to try and enjoy their alternate role.
- 50% altertango music. Why dance to non-traditional music? If you feel you don’t know how to dance to this music, JewelLab is the place to learn.
- No Cortinas: Get lost dancing with your partner and keep at it as long as you both want to without arbitrary interruption. Read more about why.
- Open-minded tango: Dancers are free to try new things, make mistakes, and push their dancing to the edge. Why is this important?
- Rainbow Tango: We welcome Queer dancers and anyone who wants to experiment with changing the roles. More about Queer Tango.
A community-run not for profit event: After paying the rent, we save most of extra money to throw great parties, invite live musicians, and other fun stuff. When possible we make minimal payments to long-term committed staff, but most of the work is done on a volunteer basis. Major decisions are made democratically by a Board of Responsibles. Day-to-day decisions are made democratically at informal meetings before or after the practica. Participants are welcome to join these meetings and share ideas.
- JewelLab also hosts occasional parties with 100% alternative tango music.