Ruminations on the Sydney tango scene

I'm back in Sydney, but am I back in tango? I'm not sure. Before I went away a community project I had suggested to the tango club here in Sydney was mercilessly scuttled. Together with loss of a major venue and low numbers all round I felt sad about where tango in Sydney was going. Also the major information source for tango information in Sydney was under new management... what would happen there?
I thought a few weeks travelling and I would come back refreshed and ready to enjoy the dance and music I find so enthralling, once more. But I haven't - partly I think because my social hub is slowly moving away.
 I find the scene is factionalising more and more, numbers are down at some of the big milongas, many of my friends are giving up or cutting back, disillusioned with the factions and looking for something more, and the good dancers seem to be fewer and fewer.  On top of this there are groups splitting off with different notions of tango, creating their own thing, not joining in the mainstream, and taking some of the fringe dancers with them.
I look at the scene in Melbourne, where some of the long established schools have their own venues and so are able to continue secure in the knowledge that they can plan a future, and I wonder just what will happen in Sydney. Any suggestion that the schools join together to rent a venue they share on different nights of the week falls on deaf ears, yet that would be a sure way to create a tango hub for the community and no doubt present the 'clients' with more options and more opportunities. Hardly a month goes by than a new 'school' is set up, yet they are not bringing new dancers into the social scene.
I wonder what others who have been in the tango scene as long as I have think. It is 14 years since I did my first tango class - and sometimes I yearn for the 'good old days' when it was all new and exciting and a milonga was a once a month event.


Unknown said…
Don't want to sound like I'm banging an old drum, Carol, but we know that Milonga Para Los Niños has had an energising effect for Tango communities in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth over the years. To our delight and surprise, it even happened in Buenos Aires. Perhaps it's the notion of working together for something more meaningful that self-aggrandisement. Right now, the German Tango scene is doing the best. Sydney has not held one for a few years. I remember when Sophia & Pedro, Mimi & Teddy, Jacqueline, Chris (Synergy) and Sima & Ralph created memorable nights. You can do it again.
tangogeoff said…
Hi Angelina, I've blogged on the same topic and enjoyed reading your similar experiences. They're pretty common as dance scenes mature, I think.

Factions arising as tango scenes grow older is almost inevitable, because people accumulate history with each other. We have had a similar experience in Wellington, and much of the reason everyone gets along in the early days is that one has to because the numbers are so small!

Plus, we get more discerning as we get older. These days I won't attend Milongas that are sweat boxes or have sticky floors whereas when I was younger I was grateful to just have tango music playing.

A great defence is to encourage new organisers, and offer constructive advice if they aren't giving you what you need. They will create history of their own with other people eventually but it will take some time which gives more new organisers a chance to come in.
Tango SEQ Seg... I would love to think that we could a MPLN again in Sydney, and I did try to get some interest this year, but no success. The tango club has had a difficult year and is not ready to undertake anything new, and trying to get the schools to work cooperatively has resulted in answers such as 'I will if the others will'! and no way...
Tango Geoff... Sydney is bursting with new organisers, some doing what I would call 'faux tango' but mostly they are taking dancers who would otherwise go elsewhere... bringing in new people is not happening... time will tell.
Hi Angelina,
As to groups splitting off, doing their own thing - the principle of 'survival of the fittest' will apply, sooner or later. Just as it does in Buenos Aires and elsewhere.
One thing organisers need to do is to warmly welcome and look after people coming to their milongas, rather than creating an exclusive environment. Provide a genuine and positive milonga experience, with consistently good music and good venue, as well as an inclusive environment, and people will come.
Tango 63 said…
I went to a Sydney milonga tonight and as an out of towner was very disappointed. Low numbers, women outnumbered men 5 to 1. Very unfriendly and there didn't appear to be any structure ie tandas.
Tango63 - on behalf of Sydney dancers my are not the first. I think some of the organisers who do multiple milongas/classes a week get blase and forget to welcome new people, but that is not an excuse.
Tango 63 said…
Thanks. I will try elsewhere next time!
highlyharried said…
Hi Angelina. I've been trying to find a recommendation for a tango teacher based either in Melbourne or Sydney to go to for private lessons. That search lead me to your blog.

From a skim of this post and others, your dilemna is similar to that experienced in other dance styles, and in fact other recreational activities. It's the complexity of:
- it was so fun when it was new and exciting but now that I'm old hat, what is there for me (and what can I offer)? Will it remain one of the centres of my life or is it time to let go?
- why do people let politics / factionalisation / arrogance / possessiveness get in the way and ruin things?
- where is the scene going? How is it growing? How do we attract the new while retaining the old, and keeping everyone happy and engaged and challenged and growing and friendly...
- why isn't my local scene more like scene X? (I moved home to Sydney from London a year ago and still miss the vibrancy and possibility of London and European blues dance scene tremendously)

I have no solutions, just sympathy. I think people in the dance scene could and should all be a lot more positive, and a lot more respectful, and a lot less possessive and arrogant about their opinion.

Meanwhile. I'd love some recommendations on dance schools/teachers that you've found positive/strong.

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