Tango Recession (8 nov 2008)

The past few months the tango scene in SF seems to be mirroring the economy as far as milongas are concerned. Almost across the board I'm seeing unusually light attendance. I've spoken with some people about it and we can't figure out exactly what is going on, although there is a tentative consensus on two possible factors. First, that it is indeed a byproduct of the economic crisis, and second, that perhaps the community is getting diluted from having too many options.

The tango community in the Bay Area has ebbed and flowed, growing and shrinking in waves (though generally progressing in the growth direction) but in the last year the number of events has spiked sharply upward. When I look at the calendar on Tango Mango I can't imagine how all the milongas and classes can sustain themselves, although perhaps that's not the point. Maybe the point is to see what ends up working and what doesn't (in the true spirit of a free market, I suppose). I think this is generally how it works in BsAs, where the community is larger but still can't ensure success for all of the numerous tango events going on. I have found that there it is always a back and forth and from week to week the hot venue often changes depending on the circumstances. Competition requires booking a popular act to draw the crowd. In the SF scene, that's a relative rarity. More often than not, there is no dance performance in the middle of a milonga nor live music. The only usual promotion comes from booking a guest dj. While that can affect the energy and flow, overall I think its ability to create the feeling of an "event" is limited. Certainly, the dj factor is not as overt a reason for coming as the promise of a show, and even a great dj can only do so much to combat the sense of sameness in a long running or familiar milonga.

The same can be said for classes. So many teachers, so many different styles. And yet, the menu is generally the same. How does teacher A attract students for his sacada workshop when teacher B ran that subject all last month? Even on the subject of style, though the differences can be fairly marked, the nature of the social dance and the lead and follow requirements necessitate that the distinctions are a matter of degree and not of kind. So it's not too difficult to feel burnt out after a while. And I guess that during this time of cold nights and (inter)national anxiety, it's understandable that people might choose to stay in and watch new episodes of Heroes rather than head out to a class or milonga and dish out precious bucks for more of the same old.

Qué lástima. But there are some exciting things on the horizon--not the least of which is the hope of a new direction for the country--and we'll see how that affects the tango scene.

Side note: I was attending David and Mariana's advanced class on election night, and though it was assumed there would be light attendance for obvious reasons, it turned out the opposite was true. Perhaps it was because of a shared nervousness that made many people need a distraction. At any rate, when the race was called for Obama there was a collective cheer, and at the end of the class David brought out a bottle of champagne which we all shared, each taking no more than a sip as there wasn't enough to go around. David commented that it was a shame there were no McCain supporters as it would have been nice to extend a hand in conciliation. We were all a happy, relieved blue, oh well. I've said it before, the SF Bay Area is probably one of two places I can live here in the states.

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