The gifts that build Oxygen: completing our replanting

Photo by Andrei Andreev

Photo by Andrei Andreev

Oxygen is like a little plant and each year it grows a bit and needs a new pot. This year's replanting has been carried out by one of the dancers among you, Magan Wiles.

Last November when she joined the school, she offered to lend her expertise in small business infrastructure to improve O2. I had no idea what powers were being unleashed...

Magan peppered me with tons of questions about our processes and thought hard about O2's unique needs. She researched and scheduled demos with a dozen software providers and payment processors. She pulled everything together into a strong, intelligent recommendation for a database/CRM that meets the needs of the O2 community and prepares us for long term growth. She advocated for this solution and found the most budget-conscious way forward. Then she personally sifted through over 3500 records representing over 42,000 event attendances, sprinkled across 7 or 8 different databases to unify and remove redundant info. She spent nights learning wizardly new Excel skills instead of dancing, and she still graduated from the Tango Challenge with flying colors. She created a training manual for class and practica hosts and has come in to personally train every one of them. She has pushed me forward, keeping me to deadlines and prodding me to make hard but necessary decisions. And she has been a source of happiness, fun, positivity and light as all this has unfolded.

Magan has gathered the scattered strands of Oxygen's soul and unified O2 in a way that is going to be very invisible to most of you but will uplift your experience in many subtle ways.  Every drop of this hundreds' hours' effort was donated. Please, thank Magan for her hard work and her incredible contributions. I would never have been able to do this without her.

Everything's there - your attendance history, your membership status, your past challenges, your "tangoversary," your past transactions.

To me, Magan's effort symbolizes the efforts of dozens of others who volunteer their time. Over the past 7 years Oxygen has been graced by the living efforts of dozens of people who have been volunteer teachers, administrators, practica and class hosts, "bears", "fractal specialists", "tranzkrafters," tango guides, graphic designers, web designers, team members, backers, brainstorming partners, milonga hosts, writers, event creators, bloggers, interviewers. I would like to write a story about every single one of them. Maybe that's what I'll do with all my free time now that I'm not going to be going crazy trying to make sense out of 8 different data systems.

We live in gratitude for all the miracles that allow us to meet and embrace each other and dance. Love, Mitra

Money can't buy me Tango: Community is a Life-Form that Resists Normal Price Setting

When was the last time you experienced deep human connection?

How much was it worth to you?

You can't buy connection

Our soul resists that question because it knows that love - the love between friends and partners, the love found within a community - is so natural, is our birthright, and should be freely accessible as the air we breathe.

You can't buy a tanda - or a partner - or a friend. All you can do is cultivate a life-circumstance - an intent, an attitude, an energy, a set of habits - that makes it easier for these experiences to be in your life.

Each individual's experience of community is unique

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A community is a life-form that resists traditional business categorization and business practice. In "normal" businesses, it's easy to define exactly what is being offered, and for people to agree on what it's worth in a concrete measurement like money.

But your experience of community last night was probably totally different from the person who walked in right after you. And different from what it was a month ago, and what it will be next year.

The value for you may come from the challenges you experience as much as from the moments of ease and effortlessness. From the moments of delight as from the opportunities to forgive. Or maybe from having, for the first time, a chance to serve, to be helpful, to further something you find beautiful. Your treasure may be the friends you meet who become part of your life even as you both move away from Tango or deeper into it or to another city. Or maybe it was just overhearing a conversation about a book that you go out and buy that changes your life. Or maybe you never find anything of value to you - that can happen too.

How much are those things worth? The question doesn't make sense. It's not the right question.

The question is, do you want it to continue? Do you want it to grow?

Choosing to give your creative energy to what you value

If you do want it to grow, then, what kind of energy do you choose to put into it? Financial energy, emotional energy, intellectual energy, musical energy, delicious snack energy, artistic photographic energy, code monkey energy, teaching energy - what is your choice, your contribution - your gift, your donation? What do you need to receive for that contribution to be sustainable for you? 

These are some of the reasons why Oxygen Tango has become a donation-based Tango community. We hope you will support our schedule of group classes and practicas that provide more than 50 hours per month when people can gather to explore the possibilities of connection.

A Story About Giving Up

I gave up. And then things started to work.

It was six years of pain I was at the end of all my ropes. Completely broke and in debt, we had to make massive changes to the school for it - and us - to survive.

We had read business books and hired consultants. Spent hours brainstorming and calculating, analyzing reports. Marketing. Pricing. More marketing. We changed and tinkered but our numbers never changed.

Setting prices was one of the most freakin' complicated - and, advisors told us - most important parts of running a good business. I don't know if you have every tried to make prices for Tango but it is mindbogglingly complex. I won't bore you with the grisly details but trust me it is not worth the ink that still drying on my poor sad collection of interlinked, formula-weary and overcaffeinated Google Sheets.

One morning while trying to crank around with that collection, I realized something strange. I realized that I really didn’t care what people paid us for a class or a practica. I didn’t want to think about prices and price rules at all anymore. I wanted to focus on Tango. I wanted to focus on teaching and learning, on dancing, on creativity.

I realized I had never CHOSEN to be in charge of prices. I had just starting doing it as if there was not any other way to do things. But now I saw another way: I could let our students decide to give whatever they wanted. And I realized that I actually without exception trust our community to pay whatever they think is fair for what they are experiencing through Oxygen.

So I gave up. It was an intuitive leap. Overnight we became a donation-based Tango community.

Sometimes the thing you have to give up is an assumption that is so deeply embedded that it is invisible, a worldview that distorts your view of what is possible and okay.

Sometimes all the struggle is there just to point toward freedom, toward opening our minds in ways we may never have found otherwise.

I never give up on people, on relationships, on the projects I have chosen.

But with this experience I am readier than ever to give up on any idea that is constricting my view of what's possible in this magical world.


Mitra Martin

Mitra Martin is Program Director at the Oxygen Tango where her focus is developing an interconnected community learning experience, and facilitating conversation around excellence in Tango as a portal to personal and social transformation.

Four questions about Oxygen's social experiment in donation-based Tango

In November, we changed our approach to pricing at Oxygen Tango. Instead of asking people to “pay” for our “services,” we now offer our full weekly Tango community schedule to all. We request a donation - a gift of any size - from participants and supporters.

Here are four challenges we are tackling as we collectively give birth to this new model:

  • How can we get everyone on the same page?
  • How can we find the right backend technology to support a donation-based school?
  • What if people don’t donate?
  • What if events become too full?

How can we get everyone on the same page?

Anything new requires more communication. It is hard for people to believe that we are really donation-centric, since “fee-for-services” is more common in the “dance” world. It takes a lot of dialogue for people to start to see their new role in the community not as passive “consumer” - but rather involved co-creator.

Possible Solution:
If you understand and are passionate about this model, take the time to help others understand the benefits and the values behind those benefits. Our newcomers need your help to make friends with this idea. So do dancers who are returning after a long time away from the school. Compare it to healthy, familiar models like donation-based Yoga or dana-based Buddhism.

How can we find the right backend technology to support a donation-based school?

All the dance/fitness/yoga type customer databases are optimized to do one thing: carve time up into tiny pieces, and then exchange those little pieces for money, and track that. It is very hard to kindle community with that kind of focus.

Possible Solution:
We are exploring a variety of options for technology that is simple, affordable, unified, expresses our values and enables our members to connect with the school and each other. Our current software frankenstein is a dead end. We are looking for a better way forward and would be excited to discuss possible solutions with our tech-savvy community members!

What if people don’t donate?

Currently, we have recurring donations from $5/month to $120/month and I sincerely celebrate every single one as a true gift that powers connectedness. Everyone donates something. 

Possible Solution: 
As long as participants observe our Community Agreements, they are genuinely welcome at O2. And as long as the community makes available ample financial resources to express Oxygen’s mission in the world, we’ll continue to do that. If we can’t, we’ll share challenges we’re facing, and trust in the generosity, largeheartedness, and respectfulness that powers O2.

What if events become too full?

Our practicas have become quite full lately. But I am also aware that Tango has its cycles and there is an ebb and flow as dancers cycle between novelty and nostalgia. So I’m not sure yet if our visitor numbers right now is directly tied to our new model.

Possible Solution:
If we notice that group classes and practicas are uncomfortably full, we will:

  • Request people to RSVP before coming
  • Add classes and practicas to the schedule

In summary: the change is in all of us

You are part of this transformation, and your thoughts, words, actions, and gifting are what will make it work. 

Although it’s still too early to tell whether this is a durable solution, I can say that the initial results are pretty exciting. Since the switch, our membership has grown every month; we can pay the the bills; and the community is rich and diverse, respectful and generous.

Got an idea or a question? Share in the comments or email us! 


Mitra Martin

Mitra Martin is Program Director at the Oxygen Tango where her focus is developing an interconnected community learning experience, and facilitating conversation around excellence in Tango as a portal to personal and social transformation.

A priceless community: Four great things about donation-based Tango

Wow, what a mix of reactions when we announced that our monthly pass would be donation-based. Some of our members felt inspired and enthusiastic, and many felt confused and concerned. 

It is too early to tell if this experiment is going to be a permanent feature of Oxygen Tango, because we need more months to see how it affects the community's numbers. 

In the meantime, four things stand out to me as wonderful facets of the donation-based model:

1. Flexible prices foster the diversity that fuels inspiring Tango

A “pay what you choose” approach welcomes the grand diversity of people from all life-stages, socioeconomic levels, backgrounds, and levels of Tango experience that creates a rich and vibrant community learning experience.

It embraces all the people who can benefit from and contribute to a joyful community: from grad students to retired people; artists, engineers, and entrepreneurs; doctors and healers; people with all kinds of backgrounds and capacities; people in transition or stability; people who may be your next surprise best friend, mentor, life-partner, Tango travel companion. 

2. The freedom to choose what you want to give supports everyone's individual autonomy

When prices, and rules relating to those prices, are set by the organization, people sometimes feel anxious, protective, defensive. A pay-what-you-choose model reinforces your own strength, power, freedom, and ability to set your own meaningful boundaries and be generous within them - all very essential Tango principles!

We love that a donation-based community expresses the truth that YOUR being and presence is what creates this place; give what you wish, and make it what you want.

3. Community is sacred and priceless; fixed prices don’t fit with its nature

When you join Oxygen, you are joining a whole network of new and potential relationships. Friends, peers, people who inspire and enrich your life - AND, and opportunity to turn around an enrich theirs. In community giving is receiving.

The priceless experience you can enjoy here is sustained by the enthusiastic, persistent giving of countless invaluable unseen gifts and donations. Experienced dancers who help beginning dancers. Volunteers who create amazing events, help you find what you're looking for, make information flow smoother and easier, donate home-baked cookies and bottles of wine. Anonymous donors who offer guidance, financial and physical resources.   

Instead of “charging” a fixed price for access to this - which feels weirdly antithetical to its nature - we are seeking to create a culture where those who benefit and have been enriched are inspired to give what they can to enable the experience to survive and thrive.

4. We want everyone to passionately pursue their unique interests and still be able to afford a Tango home base

Tango can get expensive! Not only do instruction and social dancing events cost money, but there is also the cost of shoes and attire as well as more hidden costs like transportation, travel, meals with Tango friends.

And when you really are inspired you’ll want to take advantage of all the learning resources all around you - private lessons, courses and challenges, festivals and marathons, guest teachers, and all that jazz.

When you passionately pursue your own interests, this fuels the whole Tango ecosystem! We WANT you to have enough dollars to take that next step: training with any of us here at Oxygen or with the other wonderful teachers who live in or visit LA or at the awesome events all over the region and country!

And we think you should be able to afford doing ALL of that while still having a friendly and familiar Tango home with great music and loving supportive faces where you can come practice what you're working on and maybe even enjoy paying it forward a bit too. If we decide to believe we can have it all, maybe we can create a future in which that’s possible. 

So those are the four things I love about donation-based Tango so far! 

I would welcome your comments below or direct to me, about what stands out to you about the donation-based model we are now offering at Oxygen Tango.