Being a tango teacher and organizer is a fragile path even in the best of times. Tango is a tiny niche market that is deeply misunderstood by the larger society; it is an activity that requires considerable commitment and investment from learners without being able to guarantee a consistently positive experience; and there is a general lack of understanding about best practices for business, marketing, learning and community development.
Furthermore, there is a complexity to offering tango, which requires that an individual act as a teacher, coach, event producer, artist/performer, DJ, marketer, salesperson, administrator, and volunteer recruiter/manager, all at once. And, making a living in tango usually requires producing more than one kind of offering to the public — private lessons, group classes, practicas, milongas, memberships, workshop weekends, festivals/marathons — each with a different cost structure and set of challenges.
With COVID, the complexity of this work has exploded. Bereft of every conventional form of monetizing their work, cut off from the community experience in which their professional art takes place, and beset by the practical and emotional challenge of the pandemic — professionals now must pivot their work online, requiring new ways of thinking, working, and collaborating.
Meredith Klein has donated her time to create this report on the experience of tango professionals. Spoiler alert: the situation isn’t pretty. Here are six insights that emerge from her analysis:
For those who derive a significant portion of their income from tango, tango is not just a livelihood, but a life — and, a way of contributing to others and the world that has deep meaning for them.
For tango artists, whose creativity is embodied, interactive, and participatory, COVID’s impact is especially destructive.
Being a tango pro pre-COVID was stressful, and some welcomed a moment’s pause to reflect on their career and consider new ways of moving forward.
As the tango economy pivots to online offerings and sees an explosion of formats, there is a disconnect between what producers enjoy offering compared to what consumers enjoy doing. New skills and training are needed by professionals.
Tango professionals are financially fragile, and despite the generosity of many community members, require financial support beyond what community members can offer.
In addition, there is a great appetite among tango teaching artists to collaborate in new ways, both with those who are part of their immediate community, as well as across communities.
As someone who taught and danced tango professionally for almost ten years, I’m personally aware of the many kinds of fragility that it can lead to. Like many who responded to this survey, I also saw it not as a livelihood but as a mission, and this led me to give beyond my means. Believing tango was good for people, communities, and the planet (which I still do!), my husband and I funded our community’s learning experiences with our future earnings, and with extreme overwork leading to debilitating health challenges. Looking back, I see how unbalanced this was. Yet, I’m grateful for what I learned, both from the experience and from my pivot to a new way of thinking about my relationship with tango.
I am left with a sense of awe for those who, like Meredith, have charted this path and who are continuing to do so during these extreme times. I hope the insights and conversations sparked by this survey can lead to the creation of a more sustainable model for those who love tango deeply and want to partner with it, and with one another, to co-create a better world. We carried out the Tango Gamechanger Summit on September 12th to explore new ways of moving forward.