Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Tango Vultures

When vultures fly over head, fear is a gift.

There is not a book specifically on Tango Vultures, but I hope that this frank article will help tango communities to be one step closer to clipping the wings of those who use tango to hurt others.

A Tango Vulture is a person who uses his dancing skills in tango to take advantage of especially new members of the tango community.  This person is more than just "inappropriate."  He is a predator. Please do not over-use this word.  A Tango Vulture is a rare bird, but one in a tango community is one too many.  Also, around half of the vultures in the skies are female; however, I am limiting the scope of this discussion on only male Tango Vultures.

Let's not just point fingers at the person who is causing havoc in a community.  When a person ruins tango -- usually for a fairly new dancer in the community -- it usually started as a tango community failure.  Clay Nelson, a tango instructor and fesitival organizer in Portland, Oregon, charges the tango community to protect especially new members of the community.  He charges the senior members to take action.  He writes:

"Don’t accept predatory or toxic behavior from individuals. This can be a difficult issue. Occasionally there will be an individual who has socially unfit behavior. When this happens, do not take it upon yourself to correct it. First discuss it with a few of your most trusted and respected comrades in the community and if, and only if, they agree with you, then take appropriate action by gently confronting the individual as a group and discuss the matter. Afterwards, carefully monitor that person's behavior and if it doesn't change, you may have to be more persistent. In a worse case scenario, shun them from the community--however, be careful. No matter how awful an individual is, he or she will always have some allies and friends. Shunning or banning someone from the community will almost always cause some division/riff/split and/or controversy within your community."

Read his entire article for the context of these ideas in the arena of "community building."

Let me add something to Clay's point about the Tango Vulture having important aliances in the community. There is a good reason for the Tango Vulture to have lots of friends:  He needs the protection of blind friends to shield him from those who figure him out. My first exposure to this fact was from a training article in a newsletter, "FBI Reports" on victimology and specifically pedophilia.  Having important friends to cover antisocial behavior is part of the make-up of very scary people called psychopaths.  Psychopaths and pedophiles, for an example, often parade a long line of "character witnesses" into court who will vouch for what great people they are.  The public and untrained observer is convinced by this parade of praise.  Being a nice and active community person is not a bad thing, but it does not impress the forensic psychiatrist or the FBI investigator, who know that this is one of several "red flags" they should be looking for.  Unknowing people think that nice people and active community (even church community) people just cannot be that bad.  Presently female psychopaths/pedophiles/Tango Vultures cause great damage in the world but we are culturally blind to them, especially in some countries -- but this is a very unpopular subject to approach.  I will allow a some tanguera to approach this subject.  I do not dare.

Although a Tango Vulture is not necessarily a dangerous psychopath, they have many of the characteristics of a psychopath. Every tango community I know has at least one Tango Vulture, who stalks new tangueras as they arrive on the scene.  They then use the magic of tango (the socially accepted embrace, the joy of movement to music and the joy of mastery of improvisational skill) to get what they want.  Most of their "crimes" are those of selfish passion, but these behaviors could slowly grow in maliciousness. Any tango community aware of a Tango Vulture should be protective of any new community member and the community's reputation at large.

Knowledge Clips the Wings of the Tango Vulture
No one "red flag" makes a person a "vulture," so please do not over use or over think this.  Some people are just jerks but are not predatory!  With this first in mind, I will share the Tango Vuture's Method of Operation (MO) as I have observed it:
  • Younger is better:  The Tango Vulture almost always go for a much younger person than they are.
  • A certain profile that suits them:  Beyond just young they usually like a certain "flavor" to their victim.  She may be oriental, Russian, Hispanic or just simply a redhead.  They often to go for the same "flavor" of victim over and over.
  • The Free Tango Teacher role:  The Tango Vulture's MO is nearly always to play instructor with someone new to the wonderful world of tango.  Free lessons or being a "practice partner" becomes a prelude to have sex with that person.  The worst sort of predator is the tango organizer or professional tango teacher who uses their prestige and position for these "fringe benefits."  The Tango Vulture can easily go from one victim to the next.  This phenomena of using one's position is well known in the Boy Scouts among public school teachers.  Because of this, those active in the boy scouts or professional teachers are trained to watch out for predatory colleagues.
I have a colleague who is a highly trained forensic psychiatrist.  She is called into court about criminal behavior as a expert witness.  A while ago she recommended that I read a book that unwittingly describes the Tango Vulture.  Especially any younger female (dancer or not) should add this book to her "must read" book list:  The Gift of Fear:  Survival signals that protect us from violence by Gavin de Becker.  This book has been translated into 14 languages and was #1 on the New York Times best sellers list.  The author's Pre-[violent] Incident Indicators help a person clip the wings of a Tango Vulture.  I have already named indicators of (1) youth seeking; (2) seeking out a the same sort of individual; and (3) playing tango teacher. Here is Gavin de Becker's red flags or "survival signals":
Pre-Incident Indicators
  •  Forced Teaming. This is when a person tries to pretend that he has something in common with a person and that they are in the same predicament when that isn't really true.
  • Charm and Niceness. This is being polite and friendly to a person in order to manipulate him or her.
  • Too many details. If a person is lying they will add excessive details to make themselves sound more credible.
  • Typecasting. An insult to get a person who would otherwise ignore one to talk to one.
  • Loan Sharking. Giving unsolicited help and expecting favors in return.
  • The Unsolicited Promise. A promise to do (or not do) something when no such promise is asked for; this usually means that such a promise will be broken. For example: an unsolicited, "I promise I'll leave you alone after this," usually means you will not be left alone. Similarly, an unsolicited "I promise I won't hurt you" usually means the person intends to hurt you.
  • Discounting the Word "No." Refusing to accept rejection.* 

The usual victim cannot complain to the community. She has no voice. She simply disappears out of shame or no longer sees her Safe Place as being tango. The new person is soon gone after the affair is over, and the tango community? Too often the ladies did not take the new tanguera aside to mention that "Fulano" may be a great tanguero, but he has had more than a few affairs with new dancers. If this appeals to the new tanguera, then stand back and watch. But she deserves some kind older sister advice. Or the gentlemen never gently told the guy that it is not appropriate to monopolize the time of a new dancer, and point out that the young dancers he "mentors" often give up dancing. In other words, no one had the guts to say, "We are watching you, Fulano." You can also slip him a copy of this blog into his shoe bag some evening.**

In my next post I will have a short post on what to do when in spite of your above knowledge, you find yourself in the talons (via a tango embrace) of a vulture, and why an understanding of tango etiquette adds another layer of protection against the Tango Vulture.

September 8th Post Script:
I am finding out from emails from both men and women that problematic tangueros and tangueras do not necessarily focus just on the young -- but the newcomer is indeed the person who is most vulnerable.  Also, I would like to note that the tango community is probably safer than some religious institutions.  Predatory behavior hides in every corner.  Read the book I have suggested above.  Knowledge is power.

*Quoted from Wikipedia on The Gift of Fear.

**Fulano is the Spanish equivalent to "John Doe."

Photo credit: Lisa Tannenbaum, 2009.http://newmexicophotojournal.com/2009/11/


traveling dancer said...

To counter the traditional gender-stereotyping which permeates your post let me add that in my experience (with many years of dancing tango and active involvement in building a number of tango communities both in the US and in Europe) I've encountered more female "tango vultures" than male "tango vultures" who manage to become acceptable dancers and persist in the community. Pride, a widespread culture of not speaking up about sexual abuse, and a widespread taboo on complaining about such experiences among males, accompanied by the fact that they are the ones who are, at least according to appearances, have the lion's share in making partner choices (which is mostly true when the majority of non-psychopathic females are concerned), is quite instrumental of hiding this fact, but the psychological abuse perpetrated by female dances can be every bit as hard if not more than the usually more apparent advances of their male counterparts. Female psychopaths (at least according to Robert D. Hare) are somewhat more rare than male psychopaths in the general population, but I'm pretty sure that in the tango population it is the converse.

However both of them are quite rare and none of the "signs" you mention above is evidence for a person to be one of them.

cassiel said...

Even sometimes it is difficult to distinct between a vulture and a nerd, your article is important since: "The usual victim cannot complain to the community. She has no voice. She simply disappears out of shame or no longer sees her Safe Place as being tango. The new person is soon gone after the affair is over [...]". You are absolutely right!

I have observed the same situation several times and in one case it was a local tango-teacher acting in this way (in the meantime he destroyed the local community successfully).

Tango Therapist said...

@Traveling Dancer: You have some good points! I have limited myself to male vultures. Female lions kill and so do male lions. Vultures can be female or male too. No surprises here. I deal with the effects of female predators with my therapy clients constantly. Many male predators were created by early experiences with sexual abuse from adult females, who if reported often will not even be taken seriously. Many of my female colleagues close their eyes to this because they believe in the Bad Man Model. So I appreciate your words. However, please do not believe that psychopathy is mostly a male problem. Just because experts and society are blind to it, does not erase the great facts of female psychopathy, which is often aided by anti-male legislation (my experience in Europe). You go way beyond my experience to blame tangueras on a higher rate of predatory behavior. I sincerely would be honored for you to contact me via email so that I could better understand what you have experienced after so many years as a teacher and DJ in regards to your insights on female tango vultures. I am facinated. I have yet seen a new tanguero give up on tango because of an early sexual affair with a good tanguera. But perhaps I am missing something. Finally, please do not assert that the indicators I present are not valid without presenting at least a few to replace them. I worked with forensic psychiatrist who is also a tanguera on this article. Are you really sure that I missed pointing out what a Tango Vulture is? Also, I have received private emails that say that I have described the very man who had his talons in them.

Tango Therapist said...

Cassiel: I hope that a few people will identify especially the Tango Vulture who systematically is hurting individuals and the community at large! What a sad thing when that person is a teacher. Traveling Dancer has pointed out that the Tango Vulture can be a woman. I hope to hear from more men and women on this. Please read Clay Nelson's full article -- it is really quite insightful. He gave me the strength to talk about this unpleasant subject. Danke Schön für deine Kommentare. Ich habe ein Post-Idea über Tango in Deutschland, die ich bald schreiben will. Bis bald! -- Mark

tangocorazon said...

First let me say that you are rather brave to put this out there and it is part of the dark side of tango which nobody wishes to speak of.
I have encountered such people, these vultures, and have done my best to push them out of my community as I saw what they were up to.
Being a 'tango vulture' need not be just of a sexual predatory nature though. People with ulterior motives masked in 'the love of tango' are in every community. These people can be seen as leaders to some and community destroyers to others. I do not know why this happens. It makes me sad. Tango has all of life in it, the good and the bad.
Thanks for your post, Mark.

cassiel said...

@Traveling Dancer
I cannot share your experience with woman (so far). In fact I think there is another typical pitfall for woman: gossip (the real bad one). In some cases I've observed that and it could be as harmful as the behavior of the male tango vulture.
I've read Clay's article and I think he is right. But we have to be careful not to focus only on negative behavior. At least in my opinion supporting good traditions and manners in any community is more effective than putting the finger in the wounds.

Stephen Manion said...

We are talking about adults here aren't we? Some of this tends to verge on paranoia and perhaps, between the lines, sour grapes.

A seduction happens, instigated by male or female, in the dance scene. Everything works out, they get married, have kids and dance happily ever after. A fairytale romance come true. Same scenario. It doesn't work out. Feelings are hurt all around. Somebody gets branded a Tango Vulture.

Sexually active adults indulge in seduction, of each other, in social settings. Being new to a dance or to a social group doesn't make a child of an adult. Most of us can take care of ourselves.

Tango Therapist said...

@ Stephen: I am pretty sure, Stephen, that you would approach this subject quite differently as a father. Let's say your daughter was born when you were 31 and now your are 52. You are elated that your daughter is sharing your love for tango at her college. Someone has slipped an article on "Tango Vultures" into her shoe bag. It bothers her because it makes her wonder about her new tango boyfriend. He is 45, a great dancer and just-for-fun teacher. She knows that he has had several affairs in the last few months, and the young ladies all disappeared from the tango scene. It didn't work out to be the fairy tale as they had hoped. They were all adult, as is your daughter is -- a mere 24 years in age difference from her tango boyfriend. Stephen, my guess is that your fatherly advise would take a different direction than what you have suggested to us. Many men and women have written to me via email, confirming very toxic individuals harming their community. Read the book I suggested. My guess is that you may be more protective of women in your life after reading it, not out of your paranoia but out of a new knowledge base and genuine concern.

tangodimension said...

thank you a thousand times for the article about the tango vultures. I started tango one year ago. And fell in love with the one of my tango community. I was so new, I didn't understand anything. And little by little I just went through all the steps you mention. My problem now is gossip, and many men won't danse with me. It's been one month now I stopped dancing. I don't dare to go. I live in a remote area, I wanted to change my tango community. But it's too far from my place. How should I gain the affection of my tango sisters again and gain the arms of the tangeros? What should I tell them? I do agree on the vulture having his own faithful net which spread gossip. He has all these characters you mentionned around him. I want to break the silence around me, and fill the empty spaces around me. Is it an inner spontaneous feeling, or is it real ? I don't know.

Tango Therapist said...

Tangodimension: My next blog will address the importance of women protecting women. If you have a mission, perhaps going back will be less shameful. So here is your mission in two parts: (1) Go back for yourself (see Re-finding your Tango Haven, the article before Tango Vultures). (2) Go back to start a movement of women who will protect each other in that community -- protection through Tango Etiquette and sisterly advice (not gossip). Tango vultures maintain themselves on the hope that the community will stand back and watch and do nothing. With a mission both for yourself and others, you can go re-find your Safe Place. If you have questions you can find my email address under "About me" on my blog (on the right side).

Anonymous said...

Sometimes Tango Vultures' aim is not just sexual. I experienced a Tango Vulture whose modus operandi wasn't to lure the new to tango dancer into a sexual relationship but instead to increase this person's ego. This tango vulture used my lack of knowledge about tango to increase his own feeling of superiority through giving me corrections (that were totally wrong), telling me not to take from certain instructors (even though I have learned a great deal from those very instructors), and telling me what everyone else lacks in the community (when actually some of those people have some very admirable traits). When I realized that he wasn't as good as he thought he was, that became a problem indeed.

Luckily, I have a healthy tango community. Leaving that "partnership" did not mean I had to leave the tango community. Whew!

In short, toxic behavior isn't limited by sexual motivations. I consider this person a vulture for sure.

Anonymous said...

These articles are way too alarming. The situations described are not unique to tango. They are common in all facets of human interaction. But never mind the commonality of the "issue". I think that the whole scenario is a rather concocted and artificial construct. The tango "communities" are not some sort of close knit, benevolent institutions. They were never so in Argentina and should not be anywhere in the world.

The tango scene is just like any other nightclub/dance club scene. Men and women get together to be together and play the game of love/life. Who are you or anyone else to interfere with other peoples affairs? (no pun intended). Seduction and manipulation are used everywhere by people of both genres to gain what they desire. e it love, sex or simply acceptance.

Forget tango and imagine some group of people, say runners, or card players, or any social group that would self appoint themselves to "protect" or regulate some body else's behavior? As long as they are not physically or emotionally attacking others or stealing or causing a huge disturbance, it would be awful to get a group together to chastise or cower a guy who likes to seduce or just charm women?

Women are not children, they need no protection from some benevolent father figure or a gang of "brothers". Men also do not need to be protected from predatory women. We are all adults and should behave as such. If one makes mistakes, one ought to suffer the consequences, Particularly if it involves romantic disillusion or heartbreak.

Forget the witch hunt, forget trying to find villains and culpable persons for the ebb and flow of the tango scene. There are better and more effective ways to increase one's enjoyment of the tango, and they don't include vigilantism or censorship.

Tango Therapist said...

I discovered some new comments here. Please be aware that my blog "Tango-Beat" became a trademark, and it had to be changed. See www.tango-therapist.blogspot.com