The Definitive Guide to Learning Tango without Breaking the Bank

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Photo courtesy of Images of Money – http://www.flickr.com/photos/59937401@N07/

Classes, Milongas, shoes, outfits…  learning tango can be VERY expensive.  Read on for some ways in which to learn while on a budget:

Going to Classes

Unfortunately, there is not much variation in group class prices – most teachers in a certain area seem to charge very similar prices.  I also wouldn’t advise choosing your teacher on price.  What I would suggest is find a class you like, then talk to the teacher – can you block-book and receive a discount?  If you bring a friend, will they do 2-1?  If you come on a quieter night, maybe you can get a small discount then?  Negotiate a little!

This will hopefully save you a few pounds, but your main savings will come from putting the rest of the following tips into practice:

NOT Going to Classes

Don’t immediately assume that you need hundreds of classes!  Find a teacher/class where you notice progress, and then practice in between the classes.  If you need to practice your balance, practice any chance you get – do weight changes in the kitchen, do the tango walk around the house…  Make sure you learn a few of the basics such as walking, ochos, the giro in class, then take these skills and practice every oportunity you get.

One of my first tango teachers, a fabulous, Gene Kelly like gentleman in Los Angeles told us to tango round our kitchens every evening while preparing food – keeping perfect balance.  This was a great tip, and it certainly worked for him, as for a decade, he and his wife lived solely off winning at dance competitions!

Practicas & Milongas

Classes are great to get a certain basic standard, but we all learn best by doing.

A Practica is basically a more laid-back Milonga – everyone there wants to improve, and you get a chance to do what it says on the tin – practice!  Once you have been to a few of these, try out some of the quieter Milongas, or Milongas with a separate practice floor.

Leaders – it helps to go with a friend or someone from your class who is also keen to practice.  When you do ask someone to dance, you may want to ask if it is OK to just simply walk.  You would be surprised at how many people love a great musical walk with nothing fancy added!

Followers – we have it a little easier, since as long as long as you mention that you are a beginner, most leaders will be happy to take you round the floor keeping it all very simple and easy.

Free Milongas and Practicas

Keep your ear to the ground, as there are some free events around – in London we have the Bishopsgate free classes and Milongas in the summer, and the Southbank tango days.

Practice Partners

Get yourself a few practice partners and get together in any space you can commandeer for a while.  In summer, parks work OK, just remember not to do any twisty stuff on rough surfaces though as that can do your knees and ankle tendons in (ouch – I speak from experience!).

www.meetup.com for instance has two groups dedicated to tango (For Londoners: I run lovetango, and takes two to tango sometimes get together to practice in this way).  There are also many tango pages on facebook where you can find likeminded people.

Become Part of your Tango Community

What better way to learn and keep your ear to the ground than getting involved in your local tango community.  Start by looking on the web for groups and then go and meet people in person.  You’ll soon find loads of opportunities to dance and practice for free or at reduced cost.  You could volunteer at events for instance, or see if anyone who is running a workshop needs some extra leaders/followers…  Ask around and see if anyone wants to practice with you, if you go to a workshop, share a car, couchsurf, contact tangueros in other cities and stay with them… connect and you will find the tango comes to you.

To read a tango connection story, click here. [coming soon]

Youtube is your Friend

Youtube is packed with tango videos and tango music.  Pour yourself a glass of wine or an elderflower sparkler, find a comfy chair, and settle down to some great tango.  Watch and learn. Watch the footwork, the embrace, the different styles. Watch the same video over again and pay attention to the steps, to the embrace, to the lead, to the decorations.  Watch it again and pay attention to the individual style of the dancers, to their personalities.  Find something entirely different, and see what elements are the same and what are different.  This is like your theory test in driving.  It won’t actually get you dancing, but when you do, all that you have learned here will start to make sense. 

Explore blogs, facebook, forums and tango sites for people’s favourite videos.

Listen and Imagine

Even if you don’t have a library of tango music, you can just go to Youtube, but this time, close your eyes and just listen to the music.  If you are a leader, imagine how you would lead – on which beat would you move off, on which beat would you change weight.  If you are a follower, you can imagine the most wonderful leader in the world, dancing exactly the way you like, and then, just follow them, and the music.

About the Milonga…

… as in the dance, not the event:  Many newcomers stress that they don’t know how to dance the Milonga at Milongas.  You don’t need to worry, as you can always sit these out (and many do) until you have the Tango under your belt.

But the Gear and the Shoes – they are soooo Expensive!

True.  However, you don’t need the best Comme il Faut’s to get up and dance.  Just make sure the clothes/shoes are fit for purpose [post coming on this soon] – basically, leather soles for men and something that stays on your feet and you can pivot in for women.  As for clothes, something you can move in that won’t ride up, snag, catch on things, be stepped on.

There is a lot of second hand stuff available, just ask around in your tango community.  There is always someone who ordered something and the size isn’t quite right etc and they never got around to ebaying it.  That said, check out ebay.  Check out any tango swap events.

The shoes for women don’t have to be ‘tango’ shoes – many people have found great shoes on the hight street!

Tango Travel

Surely this has no place in a tango-on-a-budget article?  Why not – if you are travelling anyway, whether for work or holiday, look up local tango classes and clubs – you might find some real bargains, and you get to learn in a different way, maybe even in a different language…  For instance, I learned with great teachers in Spain, paying only a couple of euros per class – even their private classes were very affordable when compared to London prices.

I hope this helps you get the most dance for your buck/pound/euro/yen
and gets you started on the thrifty tango mindset. 

If you have any other thrifty tango ideas, I’d love to hear them!