A Private Tango Lesson

Originally published on the Tango Club (Auckland) website on 13 July 2011

Guest narrative by Karen Phelps, 13 July 2011

nora_shoesIt’s a familiar scenario in the tango world, particularly for women. You pay to take a class but then spend half of it standing on the side lines because there are not enough partners to dance with. Or perhaps you go to milongas and have the same experience—simply not enough people (usually men!) to go around. For dedicated tango dancers the only way to really improve quickly is to take private lessons.

In Buenos Aires private tango lessons start at around 100 pesos (usually for a not-so-experienced teacher) up to 300 pesos per hour (for the big name teachers). Finding the right teacher is important. I decide to go on the recommendation of an Auckland friend called Esmeralda now living in Buenos Aires whose dancing I notice has really improved. I ring the teacher Nora Schvartz (who also happens to be Esmeralda’s mother-in-law!) who tells me she recommends students take at least three private lessons. But if I do not like the first one then I only have to take a single lesson. The reason? Tango is a difficult dance. It requires at least three lessons to really notice some improvement and make progress.

I arrive at an apartment in downtown Palermo that Nora has converted to a dedicated dance studio. Nora, a diminutive lady who speaks English, French and Spanish, watches me dance with eagle eyes. Any delusions I had that I could dance are immediately deflated as she starts from the basics including walking. The walk is the most basic element of tango and also the most essential. It looks deceptively simple but many tango dancers will perfect their walk over a lifetime.
Lesson with Nora

Once Nora has corrected a few basic mistakes a young tango dancing lawyer called Matias dressed in a tight black t-shirt arrives—my dance partner. Nora has paired him up with me as it is easier to practice with a dancer who is around the same height. I also find out that Nora specially selects the dance partners using only the top young dancers in Buenos Aires. Matias for example was a recent top ten finalist in El Campeonato Metropolitano de Tango Salon—an important tango competition in Argentina. She does not let much go unnoticed correcting virtually every part of my body. By the end I am somewhat overwhelmed by all the things I have to work on. Nora tells me as many tourists do not have long to spend in Buenos Aires she prefers to correct everything she can. That way people can then return home and work on things in their own time.
For people who want to learn quickly private tango lessons are actually very good value. You could easily spend more taking group classes and not get the level of personalized teaching and feedback you receive in a single private lesson. Because tango is such a subtle dance between two people of weight transfer, balance, timing and following the man’s lead even subtle corrections can make a huge difference to the flow of the dance. As I attend milongas later that week I already notice improvements. It may take time and practice but for me private lessons have been a good investment as well as a great way to get to the heart of Buenos Aires and the dance.

When looking for private lessons consider:

How long is the lesson? Lessons can range from one hour to two hours for the same price.
Is a dance partner supplied? Some teachers expect you to bring your own partner.
How experienced is the partner you will be dancing with? Some lessons employ beginning to intermediate dancers but this makes it harder for you to learn.

Karen experienced private tango lessons in Buenos Aires with Nora Schvartz.