In an earlier post, I described the difference between social tango and a tango social (an "encuentro"). I did not mean to say that encuentros are morally wrong, but indeed there is a great distinction of public and private schools and public and semi-private milongas; so why not make that distinction! Encuentros are mostly very private affairs with a long list of those who cannot get in. Here's the link to the earlier post.
There are some advantages that will certainly influence the future of tango. Many of the problems have an easy solution if organizers are listening to the public. Yet, many of the problems with elitism will never go away. The advantages will assure that encuentros will continue:
Reason #1 Gender Balance: Gender balance is the norm at encuentros. This is especially important for women. An encuentro's gender balance may expresses its highest social worth. Solution needed: Women will be rejected at higher rates than men because of the gender imbalance, and that rejection can really hurt if a woman really, really wants to get accepted to go to the encuentro. Solution: Allow women who didn't get in one year to be picked up the next year. Others who have good solutions, make a comment below. Ladies?
Reason #2: Meeting friends and making friends. A tango social is a great place to meet friends. Meeting friends is the biggest draw for me. People from 10 countries might be there, and you will rarely see them unless at this tango social. Who wants to travel a long way to a milonga unless it has some quality controls and people who love to dance with international guests? And a solution to the problem of good dancers "fleeing" the local scene? I suggest a milonga dedicated to the uninvited. Tango culture prides itself on no obligation to dance with anyone, but every once in a while, I think a milonga should be dedicated to the "uninvited." This would be a truly social, public milonga, dedicated to the women who sit too much, and the male stranger in town who cannot get even a single mirada from a local woman. I call these "Milongas de los deinvitados" (Milongas of the Uninvited). Very social. Very cool. This is what social tango is all about.
Reason #3: Tango Skill Level. Tango Socials have a high level of dance. Sometimes it is worth it to have a milonga where skill is a safe assumption. It may not help your local milongas to grow from your example during your absence, but from time to time this may be a well-deserved experience.
Reason #4 Educational Enclaves: Tango Socials can be "old school" centric or teacher-centric, which allows people to expect a high level of dance. This is a privileged group. But so what? Great teachers often were well known in public, but then had time to spend with a select group: Socrates had his own inner group; Jesus, his twelve. No problem. I wish I had a chance to sit at Socrate's feet, Jesus' feet, meditate with Buddha, or ponder with Hagel. Solution: In order to be a bit more social, having no teachers allows more diversity. If the teachers help the financial support of the encuentro, then "let it be; let it be; there will be an answer..."
Reason #6 See the world: The tango social meeting place often will be in wonderful places on the planet for tourists too. It's better than joining the Navy to see the world. The problem is that many are upset for not getting into the exclusive event. Solution A: This travel away to nice places should take place away from a local scene, like a remote resort or inexpensive meeting place. Too many encuentros cause hurt feelings and division in a community when the locals cannot get in. Solution B: If the encuentro must be done locally, then publish the quotas, such as-- (1) The amount from local tangueros/-as; (2) The amount of international guests coming for more that 160 km; (3) The amount of VIP's (well-known DJ's; organizers that want to get away without organizing; well-known teachers who want to just dance, etc. If everyone sees the list is short perhaps there will not be so many hurt feelings and schisms in the community. The encuentros get filled fast and people should know the rules of the game. Finally organizers: Once accepted, guests should be asked that they brag about it on Facebook or start emailing their friends that people do not ask anybody else, "Are you coming?" That is just salt on the wound for those who are not accepted. Let it be a surprise.
Reason #7 Close embrace: So-called Milonguero style or close embrace is usually the embrace of choice at tango socials as far as I know. This is a great plus for me! By far most people at an encuentro are wonderful, social people, many are friends or I meet new friends. The "rules" at an encuentro go along with my view of how one dances, but for the person who presents no danger and takes up little room, it is more important that a person is social in the way they dance with others on the floor than having a particular form. Crossing oneself is not automatically "Christian." Dancing in close embrace is not automatically "social." Solution: Being able to dance safely and use little room is truly the only criteria to be a social dancer. All who accept should know that complaints of taking up too much space and being unsafe, could lead to a refund of money and a request to leave. In Buenos Aires this happens; it can happen here.
Reason #8 Tango Etiquette: Tango Socials are the best place to expect tango etiquette. This is wonderful. For some people this may be the most wonderful thing. I am never nervous at an encuentro that people are going to step on me or my partner. I can relax a lot. There are many rules in tango, but the basic rules that are often forgotten are the two rules that cover all rules: Be nice, play safe. Solution (for no stated problem): Sure, there is some beauty of how Tango Etiquette developed, and often with much wisdom/trial and error. Being nice is within the holy Códigos de Tango. But sometime there is a bit of fundamentalist zeal for los Códigos. Tourists who go to BsAs to dance will take with them their own understanding of the rules, and really do not know exactly how they naturally develop. I get this tip from expatriates living in Buenos Aires. Be a fundamentalist there. We know that you have been to Mecca, but really, world-wide reaction to fundamentalism is. "You all are a big pain in the ass!" So give up tango fundamentalism (and any other fundamentalism). The world will be a safer place without your beliefs. :-)
Before you simply have to try out an encuentro, think about the kind of dancer you are. I prefer social tango--the kind down the street, where people are much more relaxed. And well, how can I say it? Perhaps, the social tango that has a diversity of people, a milonga that is open for all. I think the real question about the growth of the encuentro ideas is whether it takes us really to the heart of what tango is. A truly social tango is like a well-financed public school system, as we have here in Germany. My oldest son, who is German-American, is going to a great university for free because of his grades in his German high school (Gymnasium). Social tango is absolutely public, not a private and elite enclave for V.I.P.'s.