On Competitiveness in Social Tango

One evening, during a kitchen conversation with my relatives, the topic unexpectedly turns to my tango photos on Facebook: "Are you at least winning there?"

I explain that this is social tango, that we do not compete. "Wait, you mean, you're not even going to get a… a balloon?"

Indeed, what's the point of engaging in something, spending so much time, money and effort, if you cannot win? Modern culture is inundated with competition. Okay – sport is built on contest. But now, it seems, people compete in business, at work and in school. Even family bonds sometimes exhibit rivalry.

On the subconscious level, certain aspects of competitiveness are also present in social tango. When we go to classes, technique and practicas, we do so in order to get better. But it's one thing if I want to dance better than I did before, and quite another if I want to dance better than someone else.

What is the difference between social tango and competitiveness? Social tango is a dance "together" – together with the partner, together with everyone on the dance floor. Competitiveness is a fight for a place in the sun. Instead of dancing with the entire ronda, a "contestant" sets a goal to stand out and therefore dances "on their own," often using their partner as props.

The mentality of one's own superiority over others can also be considered as one of the variations of competitiveness. Here, the contestant usually believes that they have already won. The resulting behavior, unfortunately, is the same.

On the dance floor, we are all one team. – Semeon Koukormin

The first victim of competitive mentality at a milonga is traffic. Considering that a contestant's goal is to set themselves apart from others, the whole idea of dancing with the entire ronda is out of the question. Even if a contestant will move in the same direction as the ronda, their dance will still go against the grain. Choice of figures, amount of space occupied, contact with the partner, reaction to collisions with the neighboring couples – all this depends on the mentality: competing or dancing together. Mentality is something that is impossible to hide on the dance floor: if someone tries to stand out, then they will most certainly succeed. Many of us often see such situations at milongas:

· Enters the dance floor with his back, does not make sure that he is noticed

· Avoids eye contact, instead of letting the entering couple know that they are noticed

· Takes a long time (even an entire melody) standing in the ronda without moving

· Darts back and forth, clearing space for himself on a crowded dance floor

· Leads or follows grandiose figures, while others mill around "penguin-style"

· Gets angry and blames others when collisions occur
On the dance floor, we are all one team.
There is a notion that moderate doses of competitiveness in social tango are useful, in that it provides incentive for growth and development. I have nothing against this point of view: if a person takes classes and improves, then what difference does it make as to why they do this – in order to enjoy the dance more, or to dance better than everyone else? The problem only arises in cases when competitiveness becomes a habit and surfaces as disrespect toward other dancers.

A person's attitude toward others reflects his mentality. Does he respect everyone, or only certain people? Does he treat his neighbors in the ronda as an integral part of the event, or as obstacles? Does he value his own presence at the milonga higher than that of others, or on par with everyone else? Does he follow dancefloor traffic rules, or neglect them?

Today, for example you can buy a business class air ticket and fly in luxury. You can even sit at a VIP table at a milonga, taking advantage of your status. But if you take this mentality of superiority to the dance floor, then the result is obvious disrespect toward others. After all, there is no VIP zone on the dance floor.

Unfortunately, status and experience do not solve, and often even aggravate this problem. Many maestros, teachers, DJs, etc. often set an example of competitiveness. Not willing to adapt their dance to traffic conditions (let others do the adapting), status dancers often take up as much space as four couples would at a crowded milonga. Can you imagine what would happen if everyone behaved this way on a crowded dance floor? The dancers would mutilate each other.
Competitive mentality negatively affects the overall atmosphere of the milonga.
Competitive mentality negatively affects the overall atmosphere of the milonga. No matter how much you try to hide it, however friendly and sociable you try to seem, the atmosphere will reflect everyone's real mindset.

What to do about it? Here are some suggestions:

1. Remember that a milonga is social tango and not Mundial. No one will give a balloon to the winner, but disrespect toward others is something that's felt right away. If you would not be comfortable dancing next to yourself in this ronda, then it's worth thinking about before subjecting others to it.

2. Don't dance with those, who will "compete" using you as props.

3. If you're an organizer or a DJ, it may be prudent to denounce disrespectful behavior, and perhaps to not even invite those who do not value others. When making announcements, it's helpful to remind people that everyone came here to dance, and that everyone deserves to be treated with respect.

4. If you're a teacher, I think it would be good to remember that if you're not teaching your students to respect everyone on the dancefloor, then you're teaching them "antisocial" tango.

5. If you're a maestro, I suggest that you keep in mind that you're always setting an example on the dancefloor, whether you like it or not. You have even more responsibility for shaping your tango scene. I suggest that you set an example of respecting everyone on the dancefloor.

Social tango is a kind of magnifying glass. A person's character traits and psycho-behavioral aspects, which they may try to hide from others, will undoubtedly come out in the dance. And, as always in situations like these, a person has a choice: to see the undesirable qualities in themselves and change, or to continue to do the same.

Author: Aleksey Vays. Photo: Zhanna Krasnoschek. Opinions expressed in articles within this blog may not coincide with those of the editor.
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