We travel all over the country (or sometimes the world) to attend tango festivals. We spend a huge amount of free time at milongas, classes, and practicas. We splurge on nice dance shoes, outfits, and frequently socialize with other tango dancers when we’re not at a milonga.
We jokingly refer to our tango communities as cults, probably because we talk about tango all the time. And before we accept a job offer in a different city, the first thing many of us do, even before searching for a place to live, is to check out the local tango scene.
Cults aren’t always religious in nature, as they also come in secular forms such as multi-level marketing arrangements (pyramid schemes) or even entire governments (like North Korea’s Communist Party).
So in all seriousness, are we a cult?
At least we shouldn’t be.
All joking aside, cults aren’t (always) made up of creepy people clothed in black robes who carry candles and chant weird stuff while biting the heads off of chickens. Most of the time, they operate out in the open.
An activity such as tango has a ton of physical, emotional, and mental benefits. Modern cults promise much of the same, but prolonged involvement with them will have detrimental, rather than beneficial, long term effects. In the end, they are destructive.
No one willingly joins a cult, but when we’re feeling insecure or unsure of ourselves, we’re more likely to listen to an organization that not only seems sympathetic to our troubles, but promises to show us a way to happiness and fulfillment. And aren’t we more inclined to listen to charismatic, well-spoken individuals who – at least on the surface – appear to know what they’re talking about? Cult groups are aware of this, and it’s during those moments when their recruitment techniques prove most effective.
I’ve never personally encountered a tango group that behaved like a cult (yet), and I don’t mean to scare the wonderful blog readers who happen to come across this article. But many of us have found comfort and satisfaction in tango from a place of emotional vulnerability. We’ve trusted teachers or other community leaders, and the vast majority of them truly are caring and responsible. But it’s worth it to be on guard against anyone who might want to pull a fast one on us.
So how do we pick out the “wolves in sheep’s clothing?”
Here are some red flags to look for:
-Shortly after joining, are you instantly “love-bombed” by the group before you’ve even accomplished anything?
And after being involved in tango for a while, at some point in time beyond the honeymoon phase:
-Do community leaders insist that their way of dancing is the “only right” way?
-Do they actively discourage you from taking lessons with different teachers?
-Do they repeatedly say nasty things about other teachers in the area, or trash students who have left?
-Do they try to make you feel guilty for missing classes or events?
-Do they suggest that you only attend their social events and avoid others?
-Do they try to scare you into thinking you’ll never improve or advance unless you do things “their way?”
-Do they try to scare you into believing that no other dance group will “care about you” more than they will?
-Do community leaders demand an inordinate amount of your spare time?
-Do they make you feel as though a large part of your self esteem is defined through your tango abilities?
I know it’s a bit extreme, and don’t be afraid to tell me to calm down in the comments section below. But exposure to such treatment from a tango community (or any other group, for that matter) can cause long lasting emotional/psychological damage.
So if you suspect your tango group might be functioning like a cult, it might be useful to cross-examine their behavior with what’s known as the BITE model (Behavior control, Information control, Thought control, Emotional control). If they are, then leave! Of course, not all of the items from the above link will apply exactly to social organizations like tango groups, but you get the idea.
At no point is it acceptable for a tango community to exert control of our lives, or emotionally take advantage of us as we work to reach our dancing goals.
Tango should be fun, challenging, and constructive, and it’s okay to spend a ridiculous amount of hours on the dance floor…so long as we’re participating out of our own free will.