Cleveland Tango School embraces the city with Argentinean flair

It may take two to tango, but it also takes two to run a promising dance company. For Micaela Barrett and Alberto Cordero, owners of the Cleveland Tango School, settling in Cleveland early last year warranted much more than picking a location to host dance lessons. It was about creating a community.
“There’s definitely an untapped market here,” Barrett says. “There’s definitely an amazing opportunity for tango – especially for a younger generation.”
The Barrett-Cordero duo officially set up shop last March in the Canopy Collective, where they began teaching authentic Argentine tango lessons. In February, they found a permanent home at Vision Yoga, 1861 West 25th Street in Ohio City – a location they feel comfortable in because of its close proximity to other arts communities like Gordon Square.
Coming from New York City, the couple says that after a year in Cleveland teaching and hosting tango get-togethers, known as milongas, they are confident their new digs are ripe for a developing tango scene.

Although the Cleveland Tango School has only been around for a year, Cordero and Barret are eager to contribute to an already-exuberant community of Cleveland tango enthusiasts that has existed for about 13 years. The dedicated Cleveland dancer can find a milonga happening nightly, from Lakewood to Brooklyn Heights, which makes Cleveland the city in Ohio for tango aficionados.
Viva Dance Studio on E. 38th Street hosts its Milonga Nueva twice a month, and Mahall’s Cleveland Tango Bowling Marathon in Lakewood sees on average, 130 people at the weekend-long dance-a-thons. To add to the mix, Cordero and Barrett encourage what’s natural for them as tango experts: to harness the dance’s communal bond via weekend getaways to Detroit milongas with students or just relaxing over drinks after a local session.
Cordero and Barrett, who’ve been together after serendipitously meeting in a master class three years ago, were set for a change from the New York scene after a trip to Argentina in early 2014. So the two decided to relocate to a city with “fertile ground” for their own company.
After some research, and noticing the rising popularity of established schools in Northeast Ohio, Cordero, a former Puerto Rican radio journalist who later taught dance at Hunter College in New York, and Barrett, a lifelong milonga-hopping New Yorker, had found their spot.
“We wanted to put Cleveland tango on the map,” Cordero says. “There are cities around the United States, New York or Chicago, let’s say, where it’s considered a pedigree to be a tango dancer from that city. Our goal is to make Cleveland one of those centers.”
Fit for beginners or experienced dancers, Cleveland Tango caters to the novice as well as the aficionado. With three to four classes taught weekly, from Tango 101 to Wednesday late-night practices, Cordero and Barrett lead about a dozen students through hour-long instruction on everything from musicality and turning patterns to mastering the close embraces Argentine tango is known for. “Intimate” is a suitable descriptor for Cleveland Tango. 

"If you're here," Barrett says, "then you're going to be dancing."

Learned from his studies of Buenos Aires tango masters such as the legendary Horacio “El Pebete” Godoy or Mariano “Chicho” Frumboly, Cordero peppers his lessons with anecdotes of tango’s lusty history. These cultural tips are “coming from people,” he says, “who very much lived and breathed the dance.”
He and Barrett are confident that novices, with even just Tango 101 under their shoes, will be set to hit the milongas in about a month. Why wait any longer?

“We like to say we teach a lot of ‘self-defense dancing’ for that reason,” Barrett jokes, “meaning that we want to make it easy for people to go out really quick and dance. That’s just the fun of it.”

As Cordero and Barrett adjust to their new space on W. 25th, the two say they look forward to weaving in with Ohio City’s evolving art scene. As their class sizes increase with the incoming demand (they’ve booked two world-renowned dancers from Buenos Aires for a special class because of it), the two are taken aback how much community they’ve created thus far.
“To see a man in a suit go out next to a young cat in a full beard with tattoos up and down his arms is incredible to me,” Cordero said. “That confluence of worlds is just amazing – that people are dancing together.”

Read more articles by Mark Oprea.

Mark Oprea is a freelance writer living in Cleveland's Little Italy. He has written for Cleveland Magazine, Kent State Magazine, and other publications. More of his work can be found on his personal website.
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