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August 28, 2006

Secret(?) to community growth

It seems to me that three essential ingredients are needed for sustained growth in a Tango community. By the way, what I list below are only what I consider as the direct means of introducing the mystery of Tango and maintaining these people’s interest – there is still a need for various ways to generate community awareness in the first place. Not in any particular order:

  1. Quality instructions from both visiting maestros and local teachers;
  2. Regularly held and guided practice sessions for polishing of techniques;
  3. Regular and well-run Milongas (with good music and appreciation of social etiquettes on the dance floor).

These three aspects serve complementary purposes.

Visiting teachers tend to be able to inspire the masses with their mastery. This can generate renewed community interest. More importantly, in the early days of any Tango community, such teachers provide a guiding light to new and experienced dancers alike by introducing new concepts and ways of dancing. However, it is left to the local teachers to carry the torch of preparing the community to receive the advanced training from the visiting teachers and to reinforce it afterwards. This requires guided and well-constructed practice sessions.

Finally, Milonga is the culmination of one’s Tango experience and tends to be the focal point of any Tango community. It offers an outlet to use what has been learnt – or else Tango will forever remain an academic exercise in the classrooms. A Milonga is also the time/place to express freely what has been internalized and a chance to socialize with friends.

Looking back at the various phases the local Tango scene in Singapore has gone through, it seems that seldom were all three ingredients available for any sustained period of time.

  1. In the beginning, quality instructions from visiting teachers occasionally. There were regular practices (Tuesday nights at the already-demolished Drama Centre) but not guided. Milongas were almost unheard of.
  2. In late 2000, regular Tango classes commenced at the dance studio Jitterbugs. However, not much effort was put into the attached practicas. Again, Milongas were rare – a lack of experience in Tango DJing.
  3. Since 2002, a trickle of small and regular milonguitas were being organized, kicking off with Chijmes Bobby Rubino’s (Saturday nights) in early 2002 which ran for a short while. The Porridge Club followed (in mid-2002) and continued till the closure of Porridge Club in mid-2003. This was a small eatery offering value-for-money food (including porridge, of course!) and averaging about 20-25 participants for the first 4-5 months and consistently hitting the 15-20 mark until the last few months before its closure; this venue was trialled on both Tuesday and Wednesday nights (yours truly was the DJ and I was studying for my DipFM at the time) without having a significant effect on the numbers. In fact, quite a number of people were recruited during this phase and who are still either regular or semi-regular in the Tango community today. This was then followed by the opening of Xen Bar by our friend Justin since 2003 until the present day. However, the Achilles heel is again the lack of quality practicas.
  4. Start of Tango events at Singapore History Museum in mid-2003. Occasional smallish Milongas but no guided practices. This venue is no longer available since end of 2005.
  5. Opening of LVDC and IXI Danza (both part-time affairs with similar concept) in 2005 and 2006 respectively to integrate all three functions into one location despite space constraints.

Perhaps finally the start of a new trend and a new experimental path which can have some chances to promote growth?

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