I looked up the tango club at my university, which stresses that it IS Argentine Tango and not that other kind of tango. Their website listed a schedule where they have a beginner lesson at 730, intermediate at 830, and "milonga," which I understood to mean social dancing, at 930.
So I showed up for the beginner lesson, only there was only one other total beginner there. Everyone else (a couple dozen people) had been coming for weeks or months. So the instructor got everyone else moving and paired up me and the one other beginner, a guy who'd come with his girlfriend who already danced, and had us walk back and forth. Just practicing basic lead-follow stuff with the rudiments of a tango aesthetic. Meaning, "dont bend your knees!.... straight legs! stop bending your knees!"
That was one of the several things that seemed antithetical and weird to me... there is no pulse, you don't bend your knees, you don't pick your feet up off the floor, and one of the moves that he taught us straight off the bat requires that the follow be led into split weight. Because you're not supposed to pick your feet up off the floor, the weight shifts are very subtle. I kept missing them, because in an attempt to be clear about where my weight was... I kept picking my feet up. Speaking the wrong language fail. "When your feet leave the floor, I cannot feel them," the instructor told me. "I keep losing your feet."
Another thing that I was unprepared for was the lack of systematic rotation of the lessons. I worked with the other total beginner for the better part of and hour, before I was switched to another partner that the instructor picked out. When I asked one of the other girls later if the tango lessons normally rotated, she was like, "Oh yes, definitely, we switch partners every 20-30 minutes."
I worked with this second partner for another 30-45 minutes, and then ultimately a third for another long chunk of time, at which point I asked, sure that it was 930 by now, if they ever "just danced." I got an extremely puzzled response. "We've been dancing the whole time." "Do you ever just, you know, play music and dance for a whole song?" More puzzlement. "Like without stopping? Like dancing to a song?" I was not communicating well. He eventually called the instructor over to answer my question. The teacher decided at that point (it was, definitely, according to the clock and their published schedule, dancing time by then) that it was dancing time, and turned off the lights.
It was still like pulling teeth to try and dance to a song. My partners stopped many many times to try and verbally troubleshoot what was happening, and my plaintive, "Do you mind if we just dance?"(which, in my previous experience, has always been good to stop social-floor teaching in its tracks) was mostly met with bewilderment.
Also, we still didn't dance to the music. At no point during the evening was the music even mentioned. I'm not sure I could pick out the the beat that we were supposed to be dancing to in tango music, and at this point I'm not even sure if you're supposed to dance to any particular beat to tango music, because the music was never mentioned during any of the teaching. There was music playing the whole time, but I'm certain we didn't dance to it during the instruction time. I can't tell if we danced to it during the "milonga" part. I asked some of the other students later in the evening where the beat was and if we were supposed to dance to it. They didn't know. The beginnings and endings of songs went unacknowledged, and people started and stopped dancing at will.
Coming out of my first experience with tango, I followed a few discrete things, but I don't know what the basic rhythm of the dance is, if it has a 'basic' step pattern, what that pattern might be, or how it might relate to the music. And throwing beginners into the mix and getting them to be able to enjoy a dance seems to be very low priority. I'm not sure I enjoyed it all that much.
So: good job swing dancing for making "getting beginners to be able to dance on their first night" such a high priority! I sincerely hope our beginners don't feel as adrift on their first night of swing dancing as I did on my first night of tango.