The business of tango

Energy has been low lately. Not just mine—everyone’s. And there is a lot of talk (although, is this really unusual?) about how the community is stagnating and possibly even getting smaller. At least, there seem to be fewer people to dance with nowadays.

None of this is probably that unique. Every community has its ups and downs. Every milonga has high points and low points. Every dancer has good times and bad times. But within all of this discussion, I have noticed some strange things about tango.

For one, people tend to complain about the lack of new dancers without offering any clear plan of how to deal with it. At work, when we have a lack of students or a lack of audience members, we strategize. We ramp up our PR efforts. We try to connect with other organizations who have potential audiences. We cross-promote. We offer deals. But in tango? Maybe it is that so many of the people involved are hobbyists, but I don’t see a lot of logical outreach. A business that needs more customers needs to market to people outside of its customer base. And given how much of this I deal with in my work life, I am not currently energized enough to help with it in tango.

But also, there is little communication about what is and is not working. Organizers talk about their plans, and sometimes they even get together with other organizers in quasi-collaboration (or at least in an effort to avoid direct competition), but they don’t work too hard to listen to their constituents. It is hard to accept critique when you feel that you are offering a service for less than its value, but when you offer a service you can’t afford to ignore the feedback from people who are paying for your service. That’s business.

And maybe this is what is draining my energy. I have been hearing a lot lately about the behind-the-scenes of organizing, and I have been hearing a lot of gossip and bickering, and I have even been volunteering my help when I can. But all of this takes away from my ability to disconnect and just have fun. I want to help our community, but I also just want to go back to being able to walk into a milonga without thinking about everything that happens around it. To just dance.


3 thoughts on “The business of tango

  1. Interesting! So it’s not just our tango community that has these problems. When I was involved in ballroom dancing, the amateur dancesport association was responsible for promoting it and did a great job. But you need a team of committed volunteers year round and someone to lead with vision and passion. I’d be interested to know how Tango Colorado does it. From looking their website they seem to be doing it right.

  2. Cathy, one difference with Tango Colorado is that it is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization. That is a very different approach than organizing/teaching as a hobby or as a business.

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