The coronavirus conundrum: four questions for the London tango community

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So far, to my knowledge, nineteen London milongas have closed for now: Mayfair Milonga, La Mariposa, Carablanca, I Love Mondays, Tango Garden, Tango 178, Tango Bridge, Etnia, Madame Yvonne, Tango Space, The Light, La Davina, London City Milonga, Tango E14, Tango Amistoso, Corrientes, Milonga la Tanguera, Negracha and The Mercer.

The remaining ones will doubtless follow suit in the next few days; at this point, London tango is essentially suspended.

The London tango community appears split on the issue, with four main views being expressed …

Anti-closure (1): The statistical chances of anyone in a milonga being infected is still incredibly low at this stage. If we impose extreme measures for too long a period, we risk the same thing that happened in Italy: people grow bored of the restrictions and begin ignoring them just as the real need for them kicks in. Yes, we’ll need to close milongas, but not yet.

Anti-closure (2): The expert view is that all hope of containment is already lost, so we might as well just accept that everyone is going to get it at some point. Yes, take common sense precautions (stay away if any reason to suspect you may be infected, or if you’re in a vulnerable category through age or medical condition), but otherwise carry on life as normal.

Pro-closure (1): The nature of the dance makes tango a higher-risk activity than most other social gatherings. There is still much we don’t know about COVID-9, so it makes sense to err on the side of caution. Italy acted too slowly, so we need to learn from that and get ahead of the game.

Pro-closure (2): Yes, containment has failed, but slowing the spread of infection means the NHS is better placed to cope. That’s the argument made in the above graph.

So far, I’ve been an anti-closure (1) person. I’m still of that view – statistically, the risk is incredibly low right now – but I do recognise the merits of all four positions, especially pro-closure (2).

We do, though, need to think about what ‘temporarily’ closing milongas really means. So far, the expert view appears to be that, with appropriate delaying measures, the UK peak will hit around July. If it makes sense to close milongas for the four months leading up to that peak, then it will make equal sense to close them for the four months following. That would be no London milongas until mid-November. Are we seriously proposing this?

If we are, then surely group classes are almost as risky? Yes, you can argue that they are slightly safer. Fewer people attend. Sometimes we start in open embrace and then move into close embrace once we’ve got the basic idea. But, realistically, if there’s an infected person in a group class, it will be transmitted to many others in the class, especially as we typically dance with every opposite-role person in the course of the class. So is there really logic to closing milongas while keeping open group classes? Or do we cease those too until mid-November?

And if we do all that – essentially cancel London tango for eight months – how much of it will be left when the time comes to resume? How many tango schools could survive without any income for eight months? How many teachers? How many venues will still be available for class and milonga bookings after an eight-month absence?

Whether we are anti- or pro-closure at this point, I think we need to be asking these questions. So far, milongas are talking about closing for the next couple of weeks or so, but the situation isn’t going to be better in a fortnight’s time: it’s going to be worse.

The UK’s Chief Medical Officer effectively made the anti-closure (1) argument. If we impose too severe restrictions too early, there comes a point when everyone gets bored with them and decides ‘what the hell.’ If tango organisers reach the point where they can no longer survive without the income, and dancers decide they can no longer cope without their dancing fix, we risk them opening at a much more dangerous point in the timeline of the disease.

I don’t personally have answers to these questions. I’m a writer; my medical training is limited to first-aid, and my stats knowledge to a four-day quantitive analysis course many moons ago. But the first step to answering any question is to ask it. So, here are my questions for the London tango community:

  1. Isn’t closing for a short time now then re-opening at a riskier time counter-productive?
  2. If yes, do we really propose to cease London milongas for eight months?
  3. If so, doesn’t exactly the same logic apply to group classes?
  4. If so, what measures can we take to ensure schools, teachers and milongas survive that long?

On the final question, I personally would be willing to continue to pay for cancelled classes and milongas, in order to ensure their survival. I’ve heard some others say the same thing. Are enough of us of the same view?

Over to you.

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