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.


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