The Hard Self-Work of Creating Safer Dance Spaces



One thing that increases my anxiety about returning to tango (online and in person) is the fraught debates over what constitutes unwanted, or "bad ",  behavior in milongas/practicas/classes. I won't wade into the specifics because I think those arguments risk missing the larger points. No matter how we decide to frame our community rules, or guidelines, for safe dance spaces - there are things we all need to remember, and work on.

TL;DR: Humans are messy. Human interactions are messy.  We make mistakes. We're not as good as we think we are at reading other people, or at communicating our intentions. And alcohol makes us even worse.

I took a "Dealing with Difficult People" training course when I worked at the University of Texas a few years ago. The first thing our instructor told us:
Someone out there thinks you're the *sshole.
Of course all of us had entered the classroom thinking we were learning how to deal with that other person, you know - the difficult person. The instructor's first point was his most important one - each of us is someone's "difficult person." We all behave badly at times. We all make mistakes. We all sometimes misread the room. We f*ck up.
Here are a few good starting points to guide our self-work when we want to judge others' behavior in tango events (or anywhere):

Like I said, we're messy.

I'm not advocating tolerating predatory or abusive behavior. I believe in making spaces safe for the kind of vulnerability that tango asks of us. Expectations at the community level should be as clear as we can make them. But the list of rules on a webpage is only the beginning of creating a safer dance community. The hard work rests with each of us.


Grieving, Healing, Returning to Tango


It looks like I will finally be able to rejoin the tango community and start going to milongas again. Hubby has informed me that I'm getting grumpy with all this isolation and it's time to be social again.  Masking will still be mandatory for me since I'm a caregiver, though masks seem to have fallen out of favor in my local milongas. We do have vaccinated-only events and I'll probably stick to those. 

Hopefully my nerves won't get the better of me. I haven't danced in so long. I stopped dancing due to illness more than a year before COVID hit. I'm out of practice and not as steady as I once was. I've started up solo practice again and I'll probably start out by going to practicas rather than milongas. Just to get my tango-legs, as it were. I'm hopeful.

It's been a long few years. I lost my mother, her mother and then her father. I've lost three tango friends, including my best friend in tango. I think losing my friend Renee delayed me even further in returning to tango. I don't know how to be in milongas without her. She was my tango soulmate. I miss her every single day. I miss my mom more than I can find words for. I still talk to her, still hear the way she might answer me. It seems like I lost so much so fast. Tango had been, up until a few years ago, how I coped with grief. Not having that outlet, that connection, set me adrift for awhile. I let the isolation take me over, I think. I forgot to want to go outside. I forgot to want to connect. It's hard to explain that sensation. 

My health is still an issue. I have some hearing loss that may be a permanent issue. I get tired quickly. But I have to do something. I have to get out of my house, out of my head, and out into the world. It's been so easy to stay inside.

I've never stopped creating tango art and listening to tango music. Creating art has given me a way to stay in tango, even when I couldn't go dancing. Creating prizes and marketing material for milonga organizers has been so much fun. I love the idea that my art is turning up in milongas in Greece, in the United Kingdom, even in Australia and New Zealand! I haven't been able to go to milongas, but at least my art has. I'll be sharing my latest art and where to find it on this blog. Though it might take me a little while to catch up.

I'll be using this space to chronicle my journey back into tango - the good and the bad. I'm in a very different headspace than I was when I last danced. I don't recognize the woman in the pictures tagged with my name. The memories feel like they happened to someone else. Two things are just as true now, though, as they were when I last danced, as they have always been.

Tango waits for you.

Tango meets you where you are.

See you in the milongas.