Saturday, June 1, 2019

The Suspicious Tango Pastor

Organizers and teachers in my experience most have been wonderful, giving people. But then there are a few bad apples.  (If you have a bad apple in your community, see the "solutions" at the bottom of this page.)

Most people I know have great skills with avoiding cults, religious zealots, and hell-and-brimstone pastors who claim to have "all the truth." Politicians too.  But with tango?  All those skills of being leary of zealots seem to be thrown out the window sometimes when a tango organizer or teacher claims they have the whole truth, the only way to tango heaven. Why?
I suggest that we apply what we know about zealots and charismatic toxic leaders and use the same "skills" when it comes to leaders in tango communities--teachers and organizers. Just imagine that the suspect tango teacher or organizer were a pastor or religious leader.  Wouldn't you see some red flags with the following assertions?  Here are some radical, fundamentalist Red Flags:

1. I am the One True Voice: "I have the true way to tango heaven. Others in town are wrong."  And then what quickly comes out of their mouth is: "Avoid going to another worship services [milongas]."

2. I am the Chosen One: "I have met and seen the True Source of tango bliss and I sacrificed my life to give you everything I know; so I find it disrespectful for you to support other events or learn from others who don't have my credentials and birthright. ("I grew up in ...fill in the blank.... [Mecca, Rome, a monastery, or Buenos Aires], therefore I speak the pure truth.") Too bad all their truly wonderful talent is invalidated by toxic arrogance.  Being born, living or studying at the Vatican does not make one holy or pure--as we all too well know.

3. I am the First Born: One might hear, "I was first in this town; so all other events are secondary to mine." (Even religions don't do this in free countries. Do you have to get special permission from the Methodist Church before you build a Synagogue or Baptist Church?)

4. I am the True Protector of Victims:  Also, beware of the stern preacher of morality, who in reality may be a wolf in sheep's clothing. The very people who speak up loudly about improprieties of touching or calling out "predators" are too often the ones who have scandalous behavior. True victims even by well-meaning "advocates" are often used to increase the zealot's desire to hide personal improprieties, or simply for his or her agenda of alpha-male / alpha-female status.

Let me give a real-life example:

I recently got the following message from an organizer. I translate the message into English below. The archetype for the hell-and-brimstone pastor reappears in many cities and towns; so you may think I am describing your town.  Yes, I am--your town and many others. Here's the letter:

"Dear Mark," he wrote, "In our community, we have an instructor and organizer who behaves in a territorial manner in regards to the tango community as though he owns it. [Red flag #3. "I was here first."]

"He does little in the way of nurturing the community as a whole and also works backhandedly to undermine others attempts to bring things of benefit to the community. [Red flag #1: "I am the one true voice."]

"He has secretly and sometimes openly discouraged dancers from going to and supporting other events in the community and feels he has the right to come to our milongas for free but will not reciprocate with other organizers."  [Red flags #3 & 4: "I have the birthright."]

I asked more questions, and yes, he leaves signs of taking new dancers "under his wings." [Red flag #4.]  Nearly in all situations, the stern tango "pastor" is charismatic and talented. So the allure to his/her "truth" is difficult to resist, especially for new dancers. The place to start is to identify if your community has an omniscient "tango pastor." And watch for the scandalous or power-hungry behavior behind all the worry about sexual improprieties that he/she sees. Communities deserve to dance with open hearts and mind.  The healthy tango community is "ecumenical"--that means, they dance with each other and tolerate diversity. Tango community leaders can destroy a small tango community or stunt the growth of a large city's community.  Then they move on and do the same in another town.

The Solution:
My present community is in Austin Texas, and they have a long tradition of bringing all teachers/organizers into the fold. It's not perfect here, but pretty darn good. As a result, there are many more tango and happy dancers than in many other same-sized cities (or larger) around the world, including larger cities near Austin. I have seen the same collegial behavior around the area surrounding Frankfurt am Main, in Germany (Wiesbaden, Mannheim, Kaiserslautern, Mainz, Heidelberg).  Washington DC also has unity through its calendar and community leadership.  These communities combine forces to have a community calendar and teachers and organizers who support or attend other events.  Is there some undercurrent and drama at times? Sure.  Perhaps a few toxic organizers?  Maybe.  But that's a bit of human nature, no? A unified community will undo them.  Especially important is to have a special milonga for all organizers to be celebrated that brings out all the factions together.

Again, use what you know about creepy religious zealots and charismatic preachers. Then apply what you already know to your community. Toxic people will ruin your community if it goes on for long. No drama is necessary. Speak up and if necessary, vote with your feet.

Brimstone photo credit

The Suspicious Tango Pastor 
by Mark Word

1 comment:

  1. Spot on, but in my town it’s not the instructors and organizers as much as few church elders and self-appointed deacons. Besides knowing the righteous way to dance, they also seem to hold the view that the Códigos are not really rules of social etiquette, but more akin to the ten commandments. I’ve even read detailed explanations of when you are allowed to smile at the milonga, the proper thoughts to have while smiling, and whom you may gaze upon during the smile. Another thing I’ve noticed is that these clergy seem to have a vivid, unflappable, overly-romanticized vision of milongueros transcending meaning at some golden age milonga. Like they were there. Most photographs I’ve seen from this era seem to indicate more interest social strata than spiritual awakening.
    Red Flag #4 is serious business. These guys that hold themselves up as male feminist that are going explain to all the other men how to behave are waving a red flag in your face. A common tactic of sexual predators is to place themselves in positions beyond reproach, and pursue their pray from that advantageous position. Don’t be fooled.


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