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How Tango Taught Me to Find My Tribe and Start a Movement

Updated on July 15, 2015

How to Start a Movement

Cellspace Milonga


It Really Only Takes Two to Tango.. No, Really

It starts with just one leader and one follower, as Derek Sivers shares in his TED talk - essentially all you need to dance tango. When you lead with passion and intention, that's when the magic happens.

The first follower, he says, is often undervalued, because "it's the first follower that transforms a lone nut into a leader." First a few people will follow you; then slowly momentum builds.. and before you know it you're surrounded by a whole group of folks who share your passion. (Of course, "how to find your passion" is a whole other discussion for another time.)

Years ago, a few of us had the idea of dancing tango to something other than traditional tango music. Up to then this was heresy. The Old Guard - older dancers who wanted to preserve the purity of this dance style - not only frowned on this notion; this was sacrilege in the highest sense.

But we didn't stop there. What happens, we wondered, if we reached out to the masses and enticed them to dance what had become known as some strange, exotic folk dance that seethed of sexuality and seduction?

What if it became a vehicle for connecting with others and building a community?

That simple idea became the Cellspace milonga which was ultimately embodied by the non-profit called Project Tango.

Trailblazing with Your Tribe

How Change Today is Through Leadership Connecting with Tribes
How Change Today is Through Leadership Connecting with Tribes | Source

How Ideas Become Movements

So our little group took our idea to the streets. We would have "hit & run" milongas - spontaneous dances in public spots with just a boom box and a small group of friends - playing everything from Nora Jones to Apocalyptica. There were no plans to organize international events or start an organization around this. It was just a few dancers that shared their love of the dance.

In his TED talk on today's tribes Seth Godin talks about how it's about finding a disconnected group of individuals with a yearning, not persuading people to want something they don't have. That it starts with just one person saying 'I can't do this by myself but if I can get other people to join my.. then together we can get something we ALL want.'

How about your own story?

Have you found your tribe to belong to..?

See results

1000 True Fans

"For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack." - Rudyard Kipling

If you've read Kevin Kelly's work on the 1000 true fans, he basically breaks down how it doesn't take Madonna or Lady Gaga-like status to make a decent living. So, while most of this Hubpage seems to talk about non-profits and causes, it also applies to your business or art.

The key challenge, Kelly says, is that you have to maintain direct contact with your 1,000 "True Fans" - these are folks that he describes as ready to purchase your next song, art piece, film - "anything and everything you produce." Each True Fan spends at $100 per year. If you have 1,000 fans that sums up to $100,000 per year, which minus some modest expenses, is a living for most folks.

So it really doesn't take much to connect with a tribe that supports not only your vision, but your life as well.

How Tribal Leadership Takes Us Where No One Has Gone Before

Stages of Tribes

  • Stage 1 - Life Sucks
  • Stage 2 - My Life Sucks
  • Stage 3 - I'm Great (..and You're Not..)
  • Stage 4 - We're Great
  • Stage 5 - Life is Great

Connect Your Tribes, Change Your Worlds

We need to recognize where we are at ourselves and understand where those we're surrounding ourselves with are coming from. The language we speak as individuals and as a tribe is a very strong telling sign of where we are. David Logan talks about how we as individuals gravitate toward tribes that match where we are on Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

There is no magic formula or secret words to move tribes from one stage to another. It is a process of identifying individuals who are ready to step up and become a teacher or finding folks used to hiding in the background that are willing to take on responsibilities such as projects like events.

Finding those who share your values and bringing them into your culture is where the process begins. Of course, the extreme case are cults who have it down to a ruthless science. But nurturing can be simply a more organic process of identifying the good fits and investing the time / energy in connecting and involving tribe members. What's most telling is whether your loyal members embrace the new recruits.

How to Build the Culture of Your Tribe

  • Set the Stage
  • Regularly Brief Your Tribe
  • Share the Spotlight
  • Encourage Engagement
  • Teach Them via Example
  • Get Them Invested

What It Takes to Nurture Your Tribe

Before we knew it others joined us, and so we started a weekly event at Cellspace in San Francisco. We knew we were on to something when even the staunchest members of the traditional tango showed up out of curiosity to see what was going on.

Once you've found each other, how do you grow and engage your tribe? Jonathan Mead lays down the foundation:

Set the stage - it's about your message, not you

Regularly brief your tribe - each week we emphasize why we dance together

Share the spotlight - whenever possible, we recognize our volunteers; it's a cliché that "it couldn't happen without them" but it's true

Encourage engagement - we constantly invite others who show interest and seem to be a good fit to join our tribe

Teach via example - as a junior officer, I was taught to lead by example; over time I learned that leadership is teaching

Get them invested - people are not only encouraged to help out; we create opportunities to co-create, inviting others to bring their special talents to the party

Probably what was a sign that our movement had come of age was when a national event, the Portland Tango Festival, also added an alternative tango event to its schedule. We knew then that it was not just of group of us on the fringes of an already esoteric group.

Portland Tango Festival

Portland Tango Festival
Portland Tango Festival | Source

Your Tribe, Your Hero's Journey

When you get down to it, building your tribe is very much the hero's journey that Joseph Campbell talks about. A hero gives up his or her life for something bigger than themselves. This process of death allows the rebirth that needed to happen.

We weren't satisfied with dancing tango as it was. As David Logan says, we found others who agreed that our live sucked "as is," and we were willing to commit to change.

By giving up the status quo, a leader and their tribe find new life in the change that needed to happen. That's why we love the story of entrepreneurs like Richard Branson who take on industries set in their ways and change how we view them.

It takes vision and courage to stick to that vision - sometimes against the odds.

Hero's Journey - Joseph Campbell

Cool Retelling of Hero's Journey

How Your Tribe Influences Your Creativity

Killing Your Darlings.. Softly

But what happens is you might just get what you wish for..

Falkner said, “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” For me that means not being too attached to any idea or business. At some point we simply have to let go.

I'm no longer actively involved with Project Tango or Cellspace, but I do enjoying visiting from time to time to see how it continues to grow. Whether we meant for it to happen or not, on a given Wednesday night people connect, loves are born or lost, and lives are changed. That's more than anyone can ever ask for.

If you'd like to join me on my latest journeys, visit Tango Vagabond.
To connect with other creative entrepreneurs check out Butterfly Formula.

Your Tribe is Who Lifts You Up

A Rising Tide Raises All Ships
A Rising Tide Raises All Ships | Source

Join Our Tribe of Creative Entrepreneurs

Here's my latest writing on Butterfly Formula - where we connect with other creative entrepreneurs.

..or follow my travels as a digital nomad in search of awesome food and travel experiences on Tango Vagabond.


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