Community-Building: New Dancers

When I started dancing tango, I had some serious advantages:

  • I had danced my entire life. This didn’t make tango easy, but it was easier than starting from nothing. I was already aware of my body, the music, and my partner. I had good posture and other good (and, I admit, bad) habits.
  • I was a young woman. I wish age and gender didn’t have anything to do with how welcome you are as a newcomer, but I am sure that it does. We are all human, and my community tends to have too many men.
  • I was slowly integrated into the greater community. Many students in my classes went to the same practica. The leaders of the practica explicitly tried to welcome new dancers. And those leaders also ran a milonga, so that many of the same people were there to welcome me when I began social dancing at milongas.

Not everyone is so lucky.

For some people, their first milonga means walking into a room of strangers who don’t have any desire to take a chance on an unknown quantity—especially a beginner. It is always hard to enter a new social situation, but add in the milonga codigos and the sense of exclusivity that is often cultivated in tango communities, and the experience can be downright hostile. (I am not just saying this—it is what newer dancers have said to me.)

What is the answer? Charity dances? I don’t think so. I think the answer is a change in attitude:

  • We have to recognize that welcoming new people is vital for sustaining our communities. A closed community is a dead community. If we don’t have new dancers, we will get bored and the community will wither away as people drop out of it.
  • We have to find the joy in dancing with all different kinds of people. I know that not everyone will be like that amazing leader who has been dancing for the past 15 years (or for a lifetime!). Instead, I have to look for the beauty in each individual. No one dances exactly like anyone else, and that makes tango exciting—even if all a leader can do right now is walk. (Note: This doesn’t mean forcing ourselves to dance with that creepy guy who has been hanging around for 15 years without improving! It means finding the spark in dancers who haven’t reached their full potential yet.)
  • We have to remember that other dancers are people, too, and this is a social setting. If all I want to do is dance, I can go to a dance class. I was raised in the classical ballet world; I am happy going to classes. But tango is social, and we need to remember that milongas are social events that require social graces. If we take the time to truly meet the new faces coming in the door, we can create a social atmosphere that is inviting even when getting a dance is difficult.
  • We have to love ourselves first. How can we be inviting and welcoming when we see each new dancer as a threat to our own self worth? We are all worthy of love and support. If we can’t embrace ourselves as people and as dancers, we won’t ever fully open ourselves to newcomers. Each new dancer is someone we can embrace, and who can embrace us.