- The development and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines has resulted in a substantial decrease in the spread of SARS-CoV-2 (coronavirus) in the United States. As a result, in May 2021 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revised mitigation guidelines for fully vaccinated individuals, permitting them to move freely both outdoors and indoors, under most conditions, without masking and practicing social distancing.
- Under these revised guidelines, tango event organizers across the US have begun or are planning to reinitiate tango social dance activities.
- There are several factors which are likely to complicate a return to pre-pandemic conditions for tango communities.
- New genetic variants of coronavirus have been evolving. Although the Covid-19 vaccines authorized and administered in the US (Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson) are highly effective against the widely circulating UK, Brazilian, South African, and Indian strains, there is a possibility that new strains will evolve that will circumvent vaccine induced immunity.
- These new vaccine circumventing strains could evolve within the US as long as long as the coronavirus spreads within the US because a sufficient proportion of the population has not been vaccinated (i.e., herd immunity has not been achieved).
- Achieving herd immunity is impeded by vaccine resistance on political, religious, and cultural grounds, as well as lack of access to vaccines, for example, for children.
- Even if herd immunity against existing strains of coronavirus is achieved in the US, lower vaccination rates worldwide allow continued evolution of the virus; therefore, new genetic variants that evade vaccine induced immunity could evolve outside the US and enter the US, despite testing of individuals upon entry into the US or requiring proof of vaccination.
- Renewed Covid-19 (disease) outbreaks in the US could cause states and localities to reinstate restrictions on social gatherings that would interrupt tango social dance activities.
- Even if disease outbreaks do not resume in the US or are isolated incidents, there are numerus challenges to returning to pre-pandemic conditions in tango communities.
- Upon the resumption of tango social dance activities, in virtually all communities it will soon become apparent that a noticeable number of dancers have not returned to dancing; i.e., community size has decreased.
- Given a 12-15 month (or longer) hiatus in tango social dance activities, there will be the normal loss to community participation that occurs in a time period of this length, due to changing life demands upon previous dancers (e.g., education, employment, finances, health issues, moving, new romantic relationships, children and other family responsibilities).
- In addition, Covid-19 may have added to the loss of community members through mortality and lingering illness.
- Some risk aversive individuals will not return to dancing tango upon reopening because, whether vaccinated or not, they perceive there is still a risk of contracting Covid-19 through close social interaction. Some conscientious individuals, although not perceiving a threat to themselves, will not support social activities in which some (unvaccinated) individuals are at risk for contracting Covid-19.
- It is expected that younger dancers will be less risk aversive and more inclined to return to tango soon after reopening. This may diminish the return of older dancers to the community.
- If some dancers become more partner exclusive upon returning to tango, some dancers without partners may not return to participate in tango events.
- However, in many (perhaps most) tango communities, the greatest loss to membership will be the failure to retain most newcomers recruited over the last year prior to the onset of the pandemic. Add to this the inability to recruit new dancers during the 12-15 months (or more) of shutdown of social activities during the pandemic, a hidden loss, and there will have been a 2 year period (or longer) of no or few dancers recruited to a tango community to replace normal turnover. This disruption is expected to be greatest in communities that normally have high turnover (e.g., in college towns).
- Additional obstacles to resuming a schedule of tango activities similar to what occurred prior to the pandemic are the following:
- One or more event organizers, particularly tango instructors, may not resume hosting events, possibly leaving a community with a vacuum in leadership.
- Facilities that were available for hosting tango activities (e.g., dance studios, restaurants, bars) may have gone out of business and are no longer available for hosting tango events.
- Inability to circumvent the challenges facing tango communities in reopening as the Covid-19 pandemic subsides in the US could result in some tango communities failing to survive.
- A lower geographic density of smaller tango communities, as well as decreased availability of tango instructors from Argentina due to an uncontrolled epidemic there, is likely to inhibit tango event organizers from hosting larger and more costly events such as tango weekends, festivals, marathons, and encuentros.
- It will probably take several years for tango activities in the US to return to pre-pandemic conditions, and these conditions may never be achieved.
- Recognition of the challenges facing tango communities upon reopening will allow tango community organizers to develop strategies to adapt to changing conditions as they rebuild their communities.
The Covid-19 pandemic has created a major disruption in social and recreational activities throughout the world. With some exceptions, in person tango social dancing and instructional events were suspended worldwide [Yahoo Life (Buenos Aires); Deutsche Welle (Berlin); Gothamist (New York); Tango Mentor (worldwide survey) ]. However, with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) of three Covid-19 vaccines in the United States (manufactured by Pfizer, ModernaTX, and Johnson & Johnson), in conjunction with a rapid federally managed vaccination program (WebMD), the number of new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths due to the (SARS-Cov-2) coronavirus have been decreasing rapidly in the US (CDC). A steady decrease in new cases led the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on May 13, 2021 to issue revised guidelines for fully vaccinated individuals (CDC; Wall Street Journal) regarding mask wearing and social distancing that state it is safe, under most conditions, for fully vaccinated people to be either outdoors or indoors without masks and do not need to practice social distancing.
In late 2020, as approval for Covid-13 vaccines was imminent, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) predicted that there would be a ‘return to normalcy’ by sometime in the fall of 2021 (CNBC). In early April 2021, Dr. Fauci elaborated upon his prediction and stated that a return to normalcy could begin as soon as late summer 2021 (Business Insider).
One interpretation of a return to normalcy is a return to pre-pandemic conditions of employment rates, travel opportunities, and full operation of businesses and community, cultural, educational, and medical institutions. However, it might take several years to return to these conditions, and some lifestyle changes due to the Covid-19 pandemic (e.g., remote work, remote conferencing, telemedicine, increased online shopping and home delivery, less travel, increased at home recreation) are likely to remain integrated into human activities (Forbes; Money Crashers; Harvard Gazette). For most people, the visible evidence of a return to pre-pandemic conditions will be the elimination of masking, social distancing, and event size limitations for public events.
The reduction in the number of coronavirus infections in the United States, as well as the CDC relaxation of masking and social distancing recommendations, has led tango social dance event organizers to contemplate and actually initiate the reopening process in many tango communities. The focus of this post is the pathway to re-establishment of pre-pandemic conditions in tango social dance communities, and the challenges facing these communities in achieving this goal. This entails not only holding instructional and social dance events without requiring masks, partner fidelity, or limits on event size, but also a return to the pre-pandemic diversity of instructional and social dance events and attendance at these events. This will be evaluated across the different landscapes – virologic, immunologic, epidemiologic, behavioral, sociopolitical, economic, and demographic – that contribute to the overall environment confronting tango communities in the resumption of normal tango activities.
The Virologic and Immunologic Landscapes
In order to comprehend more fully the challenges faced in reinitiating tango social dance activities, it is beneficial to understand the characteristics of the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) responsible for the Covid-19 pandemic and its consequences, as well as the interaction of the virus with human immunologic responses.
SARS-CoV-2 is a single-stranded RNA virus with a large amount of genetic material for an RNA virus (J Biol Chem). In viral replication, there can be errors that result in progeny with (usually) slightly altered gene sequences, i.e., mutations. The mutation rate of the coronavirus is low compared to other RNA viruses, such as the influenza virus (The Conversation). Most mutations result in decreased function and viability, but some provide new genetic variants an advantage in functionality and subsequent replication success; as a result, these new variants spread more rapidly in the viral population. In terms of pathogenic organisms, increased transmissibility usually results in these mutant strains becoming more prevalent in the population of infected hosts. Increased transmissibility may be associated with increased virulence (i.e., causing more severe disease), but a virus that is too highly virulent may kill its host before transmission to additional susceptible individuals can occur, and may be become less prevalent in the population as a result (i.e., it is ‘selected against’).
In late 2020, as a result of gene sequencing analysis, new genetic variants of SARS-CoV-2 were discovered that were different from the original wildtype (Wuhan) strain identified at the beginning of the pandemic. These have included the UK (United Kingdom) strain (Contagion Live), the South African strain (Biospace), the Brazilian strain (New Scientist), and the more recently identified Indian strain (CNN; Nature), with the nomenclature indicating the geographic region in which they were first identified, but not necessarily their origin, which is unknown. A common characteristic of these newly evolved coronavirus strains is that they are more highly transmissible [UK strain (Science); South African strain (Wall Street Journal); Brazilian strain (Science); Indian strain (Nature)] than the Wuhan wildtype. The UK strain is currently believed to be the most prevalent genetic variant of coronavirus in the US (NPR), although the Brazilian and South African strains (CDC) and the Indian strain (NPR) have also been identified as circulating in the US.
Evidence regarding the virulence (severity of disease caused) of the newly identified mutant strains compared to Wuhan strain is inconclusive or contradictory. The UK strain has been reported to be more virulent and more likely to cause mortality (CDC; NIH), although other reports claim no association of the UK strain with increased virulence or higher mortality risk (The Lancet; Science). The Brazilian strain appears to be able to overcome natural immunity (i.e., due to prior Coivd-19 disease) (New York Times); data indicating the virulence of the Brazilian strain relative to the Wuhan wildtype are inconclusive at this time (Science). The South African strain does not appear to be more virulent than the Wuhan strain (Wall Street Journal; BBC). However, the Indian strain is suspected to be more virulent than the Wuhan wildtype (Mint; CNN).
Vaccination against SARS-CoV-2 significantly reduces the risk of Covid-19 symptoms. Randomized controlled clinical trials have indicated that the Pfizer vaccine is 95% effective in preventing Covid-19 clinical signs and 100% effective in preventing severe disease (hospitalizations and deaths) (New Engl J Med), the Moderna vaccine is 94% effective in preventing clinical signs (New Engl J Med) and 100% effective in preventing severe disease (Science), and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is 72% effective (US data) in preventing clinical signs and 86% effective in preventing severe disease (UCSF). Additional studies have indicated that vaccinated individuals are less likely to have asymptomatic infections (Live Science), and there are data indicating that people vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine with asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection are 40% – 50% less likely to transmit the virus to household members, where the infection risk is considered to be highest (Gavi).
In terms of the protection provided by vaccines or prior Covid-19 disease against infection with the new mutant strains, data are somewhat limited. The message to the public from medical authorities (Advisory Board; Healthline) has been that the currently authorized vaccines are effective against the mutant strains, but this is not the complete picture. Laboratory studies of challenge of neutralizing antibodies from sera of vaccinated individuals suggest there is reduced immune protection, to varying degrees, against mutant strains (Medscape). In these studies the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines showed only a slightly reduced effectiveness against the UK strain, but somewhat reduced effectiveness against the Brazilian and South African strains; similar results have been obtained for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine (The Scientist). There are insufficient data at present to determine whether vaccine efficacy is reduced against the Indian strain, although preliminary data suggest reduced efficacy for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which have been tested in this regard (bioRxiv1; bioRxiv2). Although all vaccines given EUA in the US are highly effective (close to 100%) in preventing hospitalization and death when encountering SARS-CoV-2 genetic variants, the predominance of the evidence suggests that genetic mutations can be associated with reduced effectiveness of vaccines in protecting against less severe Covid-19 symptoms. Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson are all developing updated vaccines that account for genetic changes in SARS-CoV-2, with the expectation that vaccinated individuals will need to get a booster dose of modified vaccine 6 -12 months after the last dose received (Prevention; Gavi).
Although CDC has based its decision to relax mask wearing recommendations for fully vaccinated people based on the reduced probability of vaccinated people spreading SARS-CoV-2 (CDC), masking and social distancing are still required or recommended in certain environments, e.g., in health care settings (AHA), in educational settings (CDC), when using public transportation (CDC), and at large gatherings, both indoors and outdoors (CDC), in recognition that SARS-CoV-2 may still spread in these environments.
In consideration of the factors discussed here, CDC admits (CDC):
Scientists are still learning how well vaccines prevent you from spreading the virus. We’re also still learning how long COVID-19 vaccines protect people.
The uncertainties regarding continued SARS-CoV-2 transmission will be considered below within the context of the evaluation of factors affecting the reopening of tango social dance activities.
The Epidemiologic, Sociopolitical, and Behavioral Landscapes
The primary goal in combatting Covid-19 is to achieve herd immunity, a situation where a sufficient proportion of the population has protective immunity against SARS-CoV-2 so that opportunities for viral transmission are reduced due to a paucity of susceptible individuals in the population (PATH). The main route to achieving herd immunity is vaccination. Estimates of the herd immunity threshold, i.e., the proportion of the population with immunity against SARS-CoV-2, either through vaccination or recovery from infection, needed to control the spread of the virus, have varied over the course of the pandemic from 60% to 85% (New York Times; Johns Hopkins). Higher estimates of the herd immunity threshold have been postulated with the emergence of more highly transmissible genetic variants (Annals of Translational Medicine) .
The primary obstacle to achieving herd immunity is that certain individuals remain unvaccinated. In the US, there are subpopulations that are underrepresented among those vaccinated and have been identified to varying degrees as being hesitant or resistant to receiving the Covid-19 vaccine; these include Republican men (CBS News), White Evangelical Christians (Washington Post), Black and Hispanic Americans (Reuters), and young people (Stat; ABC News), although recent evidence indicates vaccine hesitancy is decreasing among Black Americans (KHN). Hesitancy in receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine increased after findings that approximately 1 out every 1,000,000 recipients of the vaccine developed blood clots (Yale Medicine; CNBC). There also has been evidence of hesitancy in getting the second dose of vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) requiring two doses for maximum immunity (New York Times), leaving these people at suboptimal levels of immunity. In addition to those adults who are not (fully) vaccinated, children under the age of 12 are not currently receiving Covid-19 vaccines and thereby comprise a significant proportion of the population susceptible to infection and capable of transmission of the virus. Some progress towards achieving herd immunity has been achieved with FDA EUA for administration of the Pfizer vaccine to 12 – 15 year olds (FDA; CNN), and preliminary reports of clinical trials of the Moderna vaccine administered to 12 – 17 year olds indicate high effectiveness in this age group (AAP); in addition, Pfizer plans in September to seek FDA EUA for administration of its vaccine to 2 – 11 year olds. Nevertheless, there exists considerable reluctance among parents in having their children vaccinated (New York Times).
Various strategies have been initiated to increase Covid-19 vaccination rates. Involvement of community leaders in educating and providing an example of vaccine acceptance is an important tool in overcoming vaccine hesitancy (National Academies; APA). Providing financial incentives and other items of value has also been shown to be successful to some degree (Time; AARP). Requirement of proof of vaccination for enrollment in colleges is expected to become widespread (CNBC; Best Colleges) and will increase the vaccination rate of a certain population of young people. Access to facilities and events based on vaccination status has been under consideration and even put into practice (e.g., in New York state to a limited degree) and may be used more widely (CNBC; ABC News), which will incentivize vaccination for some people. Nevertheless, political and religious opposition to Covid-19 vaccination, which encompasses a significant proportion of the US population, could prevent the US population from reaching the herd immunity threshold (Mercury News; New York Times). Despite a Biden Administration goal to administer at least one vaccine dose to 70% of the US adult population by July 4, 2021 (NPR; White House), it appears unlikely that this goal will be met (AP).
Failure to vaccinate a sufficient proportion of the US population to reach the herd immunity threshold is likely to result in continued circulation of the coronavirus in the population, which creates additional opportunities for the virus to mutate, and there exists the possibility that some of these mutations will result in new genetic variants that are more highly transmissible, more virulent and, most concerning of all, able to circumvent to some degree the immunity provided by vaccination, thereby increasing the pool of susceptible individuals in the population. If new SARS-CoV-2 genetic variants are associated with significantly increased cases of disease, hospitalizations, and mortality, it increases the probability that governmental agencies will take corrective actions that tighten restrictions on social gatherings, mandate increased social distancing, and strengthen mask wearing requirements; private organizations are likely to follow suit in this regard.
The revised CDC guidelines (CDC) for mask wearing based on vaccination status have generated confusion and subterfuge, in that some individuals not fully vaccinated, whether intentional or not, have ceased wearing masks (and social distancing) in public (STAT; The Conversation). Persons not fully vaccinated ignoring masking and social distancing recommendations contribute to the continued spread of SARS-CoV-2.
Vaccination hesitancy and resistance, refusal to abide by behavioral mitigation recommendations, and viral mutations are all factors that contribute to continued transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and therefore prevent the attainment of herd immunity. Therefore, many epidemiologists and public health officials now are concluding that the achievement of herd immunity is unlikely in many populations, for example, in the United States (New York Times). A consensus appears to be developing among scientists that SARS-CoV-2 will become endemic in human populations, causing disease and some mortality among the most vulnerable, much as the influenza virus has, but that most likely the general population, if vaccinated and revaccinated on a regular basis, will experience only occasional less severe disease (Nature ).
Even if it were possible to achieve herd immunity to existing genetic variants of SARS-CoV-2 in the United States, the US does not exist in isolation from the rest of the world that is experiencing the Covid-19 pandemic. At present (June 2021), although the number of daily new Covid-19 cases worldwide is decreasing, there are still over 300,000 cases diagnosed worldwide daily (WHO), with the highest number of new cases occurring in India and South America (including Argentina) (New York Times). Although entry into the US by air travel requires a negative Covid-19 test (CDC), Covid-19 tests have imperfect sensitivity (The Lancet; Nature), and therefore can result in infected individuals bypassing screening measures. Vaccination passports for international travel appear imminent and are likely to reduce SARS-CoV-2 transmission across political boundaries (Healthline; Cnet). Nevertheless, the increased mobility of millions of people worldwide is likely to allow the coronavirus to continue to slip through borders due to imperfect test sensitivity, limits to vaccine effectiveness, and the latency from infection to viral detection; all of this may be exacerbated by continued viral mutation. That highly transmissible and more virulent SARS-CoV-2 strains are able to bypass border inspection is indicated by the presence of the UK, Brazilian, South African, and Indian strains in the US today.
The Economic Landscape
An analysis of the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the infrastructure supporting tango activities has been discussed in detail in a previous post (Collapse of the Tango Social Dance Infrastructure During the Covid-19 Pandemic: An Economic Analysis). In summary, the social distancing and attendance restrictions imposed by governments over the course of the pandemic, as well as the large scale unemployment that resulted has caused the closure and economic failure of many facilities hosting tango activities, in particular dance studios, bars, restaurants, houses of worship, and small private colleges (for smaller events) and hotels and convention centers (for larger events). Therefore, when planning to reopen tango communities to regular social dance activities, tango event organizers will often find that the establishments that were utilized prior to the pandemic may no longer be available for hosting tango events, and that the number of alternative facilities will be limited, perhaps having less desirable physical characteristics (The Role of the Milonga Organizer in Creating an Environment Promoting Argentine Tango Cultural Traditions), existing in less desirable locations or available at less desirable times. These factors, as well as inadequate communication and the compromised economic conditions of some tango dancers could contribute to reduced attendance at tango events compared to the pre-pandemic period.
Inflation and the uncertainty of the economy upon reopening (Washington Post) also are likely to have some depressive effect on participation in recreational activities.
The Demographic, Psychological, and Sociopolitical Landscapes
Upon resumption of tango activities the composition of tango dance communities will be different compared to the pre-pandemic period. There will be the natural loss in membership that typically could occur over a 12-15 month period, i.e., due to dancers who have moved away or had other normal changes in their lives, such as the varying demands of employment or education, changes in marital or romantic relationships and familial responsibilities (e.g., child or elder care), that remove them from availability for tango dancing. There are also likely to be losses due to the direct impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. In some cases there will be the most unfortunate loss of community members due to Covid-19 mortality and lingering health problems. Some older dancers will have experienced deteriorating health, independent of Covid-19, that will prevent their continued participation in social dancing. Decrease in expendable income due to loss of employment and/or inflation will also contribute to a decline in community membership, although that reduction is likely to be temporary.
During normal times, losses in community membership are usually replenished by recruitment of new dancers and by experienced dancers moving into the community. New arrivals of experienced dancers to the community will still occur in the recovery period, but one of the greatest setbacks to a tango community is likely to be the inability to retain the beginners who were recruited and instructed in the last year before the Covid-19 pandemic. These newcomers to tango dancing have had their initial development of dancing skills interrupted and are unlikely to return because most will have forgotten what they had learned and would need to go back to the most elementary level of instruction; these are also dancers who are unlikely to have felt the commitment to tango dancing that comes with positive experiences acquired as dancing skills improve. Added to loss of tango newcomers recruited during the immediate pre-pandemic period is the absence of recruitment of new dancers during the year or more of the pandemic shutdown of tango activities. Therefore, there will be a period of two years or more with no or few dancers added to the community through recruitment of beginners while normal losses encountered in any time period continue. For some communities, particularly those with high turnover rates, such as college towns, which could lose up to 25% of their dance population each year, the negative impact on community size could be devastating.
Despite the fact that addition of new dancers is going to be essential for most tango communities, recruitment of newcomers during the recovery period will be challenging. After 15 months of mask wearing, social distancing, and interacting with a limited number of people, most people will be hesitant to return to social activities, particularly those in which there will be physical contact with other individuals (Huffington Post). The challenge of entering into a tango social dance environment, where dancers embrace for 10-12 minutes, chest-to-chest, perhaps cheek-to-cheek, without masks, and changing partners with each tanda, sometimes in a crowded environment with limited air circulation will present a daunting image that many potential newcomers to tango will avoid. Along these lines, an American Psychological Association study reports (APA):
Looking ahead, Americans are hesitant about the future regardless of their vaccination status. Nearly half of Americans (49%) said they feel uneasy about adjusting to in-person interaction once the pandemic ends. Adults who received a COVID-19 vaccine were just as likely as those who have not received a vaccine to say this (48% vs. 49%, respectively). Similarly, 46% of adults said they do not feel comfortable going back to living life like they used to before the pandemic. Here, too, similar proportions of Americans agreed with this statement regardless of whether they had received a COVID-19 vaccine (44% of those who received a vaccine vs. 46% of those who did not receive a vaccine).
Therefore, not only will it be more difficult to recruit new people to tango dancing, but some pre-pandemic dancers also will hesitate in returning to tango social dance activities, subtracting further from community membership.
Event organizers may intend to provide reassurance of safe conditions for dancing tango by requiring masks, admitting only fully vaccinated individuals, requiring bringing a partner and dancing exclusively with that partner, and limiting the number of individuals attending an event. A combination of these measures is probably overkill and does not communicate the intended veneer of safety a dancer might seek, and may create impediments for those who are not risk aversive. Mask wearing reduces the intimacy in dancing tango and is likely to cause some dancers to not attend an event. Demonstrating proof of vaccination also may disincline some dancers from returning to dancing tango. All of these protective measures could contribute to decreased attendance and the possibility of economic losses for the event organizers.
Although the number of new Covid-19 cases is decreasing as vaccination progresses across the US, many people who are not afraid to hug strangers under normal circumstances are still waiting to see if the pandemic is really subsiding, i.e., there is not a new surge in Covid-19 cases when people remove masks and diminish social distancing. There is logic in this viewpoint – if masks are still required in health care settings and on public transportation, then the risk of acquiring SARS-CoV-2 infection still exists. Some dancers who have been fully vaccinated and do not feel at risk themselves for contracting Covid-19 may refrain, on ethical grounds, from participating in tango social events where the possibility exists for other dancers to contract Covid-19. If new Covid-19 cases appear in a community, particularly among dancers, this could create a rapid exodus from engagement in tango social dance activities. The worst epidemiologic situation is the identification of new SARS-CoV-2 genetic variants that evade vaccine protection.
It is expected that those who are hesitant to return to dancing tango will be more highly represented among older dancers than among younger dancers, in part because younger dancers are less likely to have medical conditions that put them at risk for Covid-19, even if they have not yet been vaccinated or do not plan to be vaccinated. Therefore, upon resumption of tango activities, it is expected that the average age of most tango communities will be lower than prior to the pandemic. A decrease in the number of older dancers may cause some additional older dancers to be less involved in tango dancing after an initial return.
Even among those returning to tango social dancing, partner fidelity probably will become more common, under the reasonable assumption that one’s regular partner, particularly a cohabiting partner, is highly unlikely to be a source of infection, whereas other partners, whose infection or vaccination status is unknown, could present an infection risk. If this pattern is widespread, it could decrease dance opportunities for dancers without partners, who will be discouraged from continued involvement in tango social events. In communities with gender disparities (typically more women than men), members of the sex in oversupply in particular will be disinclined to continue participation in tango events.
A particularly strong challenge to the resumption of tango activities for a community will occur when the tango organizers who were active prior to the pandemic are not willing or able to reinitiate the hosting of tango events; the challenge will be most severe if tango instructors in the community are reticent in resuming their teaching and recruiting activities. A significant negative impact to a community will be experienced when previously successful event organizers withdraw permanently from their leadership roles, something a deadly pandemic can cause. The loss of a popular DJ, for whatever reason, can also have a negative impact on the attractiveness of some milongas if an adequate replacement cannot be found.
The hesitancy or inability of tango organizers to resume pre-pandemic tango activities could be due to a number of factors. Organizers who had a substantial financial investment in a facility (e.g., dance studio) may be unwilling or unable to risk further financial investment in a new tango enterprise; those organizers who were renting space from a facility that suffered business failure (e.g., dance studio, bar, or restaurant) may be left without a suitable alternative location to host tango events. Some organizers who were at the brink of exhaustion prior to the pandemic may have decided during the pandemic period that life without organizing tango activities has its benefits. Some tango organizers may have moved out of the community. There is likely to be a shock to a tango community at the dawn of reopening when no one remains to adequately fill the shoes of previous community leaders. Instead of having a normal orderly transition, previous organizers may not be on the scene to guide any new event organizers in their enterprises.
A Composite View of Challenges Facing Tango Communities upon Reopening
The first challenge facing a tango community regarding reopening is the decision of event organizers regarding when and how to undertake the reopening. Some organizers may be hesitant, fearing financial risk or even fearing the appearance of Covid-19 within their midst. Opening too early may fail to attract a sufficient number of dancers because people are not yet ready to return and opening too late may result in losing additional time in recruiting new dancers, as well as causing some previous dancers to lose interest in returning.
Assuming event organizers are ready to reopen tango activities, the next challenge may be to find suitable facilities for hosting events. Event organizers may find that inflationary costs (in particular, rental costs) inhibit their plans. If new locations must be sought, they may not be in locations that are as attractive as those used prior to the pandemic, perhaps because they are more distant from the center of the population, are difficult to reach by public transportation, lack adequate parking, are in less safe neighborhoods, have available fewer and less convenient time slots for events, or lack some of the amenities sought by dancers such as a good dance floor, favorable arrangement of tables around the dance floor, or availability of food and alcohol for consumption.
Virtually all tango communities will experience a loss in membership upon reopening. It is possible in some cases that attendance at events initially, particularly at milongas, will be higher than prior to the pandemic, due to the desire of experienced dancers to return to dancing after a long hiatus; this is more likely to occur in communities with many younger dancers, who are less likely to be risk aversive. On the other hand, in communities consisting primarily of older dancers, it is possible that initial attendance will be lower than prior to the pandemic, as dancers evaluate the hazards associated with the close contact in tango dancing. Nevertheless, in the short time of a few months or less, it will become apparent that many of the dancers who participated in tango activities prior to the pandemic have not returned, for the reasons stated previously. Decreasing attendance is likely to lessen the motivation of some initially returning dancers to maintain their interest in tango dancing. Changes in community demographics, for example due to changes in age and gender distribution, may cause some remaining dancers to decrease or cease their participation due to decreased availability of partners. Decreases in attendance at tango events could make hosting tango events unprofitable for some event organizers.
How a tango community deals with shrinking event participation ultimately will determine its future. For large communities, such as those existing in some large cities, a sufficient number of dancers are likely to be retained upon reopening so that opportunities for attending events and finding partners will not be impacted significantly (although the number and variety of events may be curtailed), so that the normal course of recruitment of new members eventually will replenish whatever losses in community membership have been experienced. However, for smaller tango communities, the challenges for recovery will tend to be greater.
The key elements in maintaining a critical mass are to reverse community decline by minimizing loss of existing dancers and the more challenging task of recruiting new dancers. In fact, recruitment of newcomers to tango is likely to become and should be the primary focus of nearly all tango communities as they reopen.
This post opened with commentary on the ‘return to normalcy’ as the Covid-19 pandemic subsides in the United States. However, in many communities it will be a long time before the tango social dance landscape returns to pre-pandemic conditions. It is likely that some, mostly smaller, tango communities will not be able to be revived as the Covid-19 pandemic recedes. This will result in a sparser density of tango communities in some areas of the country. A smaller number of dancers in a geographic region is likely to result in reduced profitability for regional events such as tango weekends, marathons, encuentros, and festivals. When these events do occur, there is a risk that attendance will be lower than prior to the pandemic, although fewer scheduled events of this type may concentrate the remaining interested dancers in these fewer events. The rebuilding of tango community networks will be a regional and national undertaking.
The tango cultural connection with Buenos Aires will be severed as long as Argentina is suffering from the Covid-19 pandemic (Reuters; Johns Hopkins; CDC). The US Department of State has recommended against traveling to Argentina (US Dept State); the country is closed to tourism anyway (Government of Argentina). Argentines wishing to enter the US require a negative Covid-19 test (CDC). Health restrictions and limited opportunities for teaching, among other things, will hinder tango instructors from Argentina from traveling to the US.
Given current epidemiologic conditions in Argentina, it is difficult to predict when life in Buenos Aires will return to normal. The devastation of Covid-19 upon an already depressed Argentine economy (New York Times) will present significant challenges for tango entrepreneurs in Buenos Aires to reinstate their tango operations. For the milongas, tango organizers will face the same post-pandemic obstacles as anywhere in the world, magnified multiple times. For tango tourists desiring to experience social tango at the level of porteño culture, they will find fewer milongas, probably with lower attendance, and most likely a higher proportion of foreigners present; the worst case scenario is that many milongas will be run as tourist attractions with a small number of Argentines hired to dance with the tourists.
Even with the apparent impending subsidence of the Covid-19 epidemic in the US, medium and long term epidemiologic prospects are uncertain. Although substantial progress is currently being made in vaccinating Americans, vaccination resistance, as well as delayed vaccination of children, could provide the reservoir of susceptible individuals necessary for the opportunistic spread and evolution of vaccine resistant strains of SARS-CoV-2, which could thrust economic and social structures once again into lockdown; one must also take into account that vaccine induced immunity may wane over time, and previously vaccinated people may need to be revaccinated (Healthline), although recent research has increased confidence regarding the duration of vaccine induced immunity (New York Times; bioRxiv).
Nevertheless, the greatest threat to economic and social stability, even if the US achieves herd immunity, is the continued circulation of SARS-CoV-2 around the world. Given the limited supply of vaccine, the limited medical resources of many countries worldwide, it will be a monumental task to vaccinate the entire world population (New York Times; Nature); it has been predicted that it will take until 2023 at the earliest before all regions of the world could have 60-70% of their populations vaccinated (Statista). Given this extended timeline, it is inevitable that new virulent genetic variants of SARS-CoV-2 will evolve, and although the Covid-19 vaccines currently available provide immune protection against the existing genetic variants, it is likely that in the future new variants will evolve that will evade vaccine induced immunity to varying degrees. It is highly likely that new versions of Covid-19 vaccines will need to be developed to protect against new virulent strains, in a manner similar to the annual modification of influenza vaccines.
The worst case scenario for US communities is repeated outbreaks of disease caused by virulent mutant strains of SARS-CoV-2 that bypass vaccine induced immunity. Even if limited in scope, these outbreaks are guaranteed to induce fear and retreat from recreational activities, whether by government mandates or individual choice.
Any interruption of tango social dance activities is likely to have a negative impact on recruitment and retention of dancers; even experienced dancers, especially older ones, would be expected to exercise more caution in participating in tango dance events, particularly if community members are known to experience Covid-19 (disease).
Therefore, although there is reason currently to be cautiously optimistic regarding a return to pre-pandemic conditions, there are likely to be obstacles great and small. Recognition and planning for these obstacles will improve the chances for returning to pre-pandemic normalcy in the long run. Tango social dancing will survive, but it may never return to pre-pandemic levels, and its character may change.