Paul left an interesting comment to my post On Being a Tango Commuter which I thought was worth opening as a new post, rather than leaving it in the lost world of comments. I wrote about teaching outside London:
“TC wrote: a [teaching] couple with good intentions but who probably assumed that the time for close embrace social tango in rural UK still hadn't dawned
I wonder what the good intentions were specifically and how or why they got lost or diverted along the way.
This post also has me wondering about the conditions, ingredients or possible strategies that make it possible to re-create and maintain at least in part some of the traditions of close embrace social tango in some circumstances but not in others. Is it something that can be established by a set of top-down “rules of the house” promoted by some enlightened teacher or event organiser? Or does there need to be a critical core mass of close embrace social dancers who set the tone and establish the culture as faithfully transplanted from the milongas of central BsAs?”
Thanks, Paul. I assumed their intentions were good: I think they enjoyed dance and music, and found other people who shared their interest. But I think their dance was superficial, based not so much on the dancing in the better milongas, but on what they learned from some BsAs teachers. They assumed, probably correctly, that close embrace social dancing in rural England could be a turn-off. But instead of building up simple things which people could enjoy immediately, like a good walk and simple improvisation to the music, they rushed off and taught a whole load of complex and difficult stuff. & to me, not organising or encouraging social dance was a big bad error.
I can't answer the remainder of your questions but I think it's worth rambling around some of the issues. Other people will probably have answers. The central issue is the close embrace, isn't it? This is carefully protected in BsAs by the cabeceo and by the separation of men and women in milongas. This structure gives women control over who they dance with, which allows them to be much more trusting and intimate in their dance, and a deeper emotional intensity can result, perhaps one of the main reasons people go dancing. Some European milongas have adopted cabeceo successfully, so it can work here, but it's not a format that's familiar to us. We go to a dance to socialise openly with each other. Maybe that will change with tango. Successful tango involves close embrace, and successful close embrace means a woman should not be obliged to dance with a guy just because he wants to dance with her. So tango needs cabeceo or some other convention that does the same job.
In a 'second-tier cabeceo' men mix with women, but asking for a dance is by eye contact only. This is becoming more normal in London. It works OK, but isn't quite so clear. My guess is we could manage without a formal cabeceo so long as everyone is quite clear that the most wonderfully intense tanda is just a wonderfully intense tanda, with no relation to what happens when the music ends. But my ideal for the UK would be dance floors where cabeceo is strict, with separate bar areas where people can socialise.
My experience of rural tango suggests that the close embrace itself isn't much of a problem, but there's a feeling that the social implications could be problematic. People just aren't used to it, but quickly come to realise they can enjoy a close dance and can separate at the end of it. After all, the fun in fooling around with double ganchos and pretending you're in Strictly Come Prancing isn't very substantial. People realise pretty fast there's more on offer than that.
Some BsAs milongas have rules written out but that's mainly for visitors, as everyone there understands the consensus. I think people are going to work their way to a consensus, which is preferable. It might not be an exact replica of anything in BsAs, but if it does the job, why worry? It doesn't matter what colour a cat is so long as it catches mice, as Chairman Deng Xiaoping remarked. & we're not going to develop a consensus quickly unless we discuss with each other what we want, and give constant feedback to organisers. The main thing is that everyone gets really great dances, and as the quality of dances improves it'll probably become clear that a more formal structure works best. But cabeceo doesn't work in dark rooms! Tango isn't danced in the dark, and the moody lighting might have go!