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Love and Tango in Argentina

Tango and Spanish in Buenos Aires, Argentina

Tango in Buenos Aires, Argentina
Tango dancers go through their paces in downtown Buenos Aires.

Buenos Aires is a vibrant, cosmopolitan city of 12 million where you can immerse yourself in a lively, fascinating culture while studying Spanish. I spent one month there at the Instituto de Lengua Española para Extranjeros (ILEE), a few steps from Calle Corrientes, the Buenos Aires equivalent of Broadway.

ILEE attracts students from all over the world. The instructors—who use the “direct method,” meaning that only Spanish is spoken—are seasoned professionals with graduate degrees in education or literature. The school hosts walking tours of various Buenos Aires neighborhoods daily at 5 p.m. and more extensive outings on Saturdays.

Although Buenos Aires has a reputation for being an expensive city, I did not find it to be so. The peso is equal to the dollar, so you always know exactly how much you are spending. A subway ride costs 60 cents. Most of the museums are free. Delicious coffee, served with a “medialuna” (an Argentine croissant) and a small glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice, costs $1.50. A tender filet mignon large enough for two diners is $9.

Then there’s the Argentine tango: a passionate, sensual, and dramatic dance invented in Buenos Aires in the late 19th century. You can see it danced for free in the city’s pedestrian-only streets and plazas; you can pay to see it performed in countless theaters and nightclubs, or, on any given day, you can choose from at least five different “milongas” (a milonga is a large room with live or recorded music and a good dance floor surrounded by tables where people gather to dance tango socially). Many milongas are preceded by a free group class. In professional dance schools tango classes generally cost $8-$9 for a 2-hour group session. Private lessons are also widely available.

No matter how you decide to spend your free time, you will have plenty of opportunities to practice your Spanish. Few people speak English in Buenos Aires, and nearly all the signs and menus are in .Spanish only. Even the tourists are mostly from other South American countries.

Group classes at ILEE cost $240 per week for 20 hours of instruction. You can begin any day, year round. A $100 registration fee covers training materials and a placement test. The school can help arrange convenient homestays with private rooms, with meals or without, or nearby accommodations in 3-star hotels. The price range is $500 to $1,000 per month for singles. My furnished, well-located, privately-owned apartment cost $800 a month. If you would prefer studying in a smaller Argentine city, you might want to try ILEE’s new branch school in Córdoba.

Contact: Daniel Korman, International Director, Instituto de Lengua Española para Extranjeros (ILEE), info@argentinailee.com; argentinailee.com.

CATHERINE M. THOMAS is a librarian at Columbia Univ.