A Pragmatic Guide

Tango DJing and music

In my previous post, I outlined my general approach to DJing in a milonga — Try to get as many people to dance as often as possible, without letting personal preferences or ego getting in the way.

To be able to do this, it helped me to understand my audience. As a DJ, I spend a lot of time looking at people dancing — seeing what gets them looking for a partner, what kinds of music makes them laugh, feel connected or bored. Eventually, I came up with a set of archetypes that help me decide what kind of music to play at a milonga.

This set of dancers have just begun their journey into tango. In a typical milonga, these dancers rarely get invited or have their invitations accepted — Unfortunately, I have generally found milongas to be daunting places for beginners.

I must make a distinction here. There can be tone and music-deaf dancers who look like they are beginners; I’m not referring to them. These dancers can be dancing for years and it still seems as if they have just begun dancing. I find it hard to DJ for such dancers and therefore cannot provide any suggestions to help them enjoy their time at a milonga. I’m referring to those dancers who hear and enjoy the music and rhythms of Tango but whose technical abilities lag behind their intrinsic musicality.

Except for the bravest ones, most beginners dance only for the first couple of hours in a milonga. I find it fun to dance with beginners; certain kinds of Tango music can enhance this enjoyment. Beginners can lead or follow a few “figures”¹. However, it is still enjoyable to dance with beginners because they bring a freshness and enthusiasm to the dance which disappears as dancers become more experienced and opinionated.

This set of dancers are attracted to the rhythmic and musical richness of Tango music. Their enjoyment derives from being able to remember and respond to nuances in the music — a piano roll here, a sudden stop in the music there. To a large extent, I’m a part of this category.

This set of dancers is usually in their twenties or early thirties, though this is not a hard statement. They are likely to know other forms of dance, are physically quite capable. They are most likely to use decorations as means of expressing themselves. They tend to quickly learn many figures and (more often than not) know where to use them.

This set of dancers tend to be quite picky about whom they dance with and what kind of music they dance to. They are more likely to dance to music that allows them use their knowledge of Tango choreography.

It is not unusual for this set of dancers to use more space and dance outside the ronda. They can get carried away in their enjoyment and make it hard for others to dance. Any DJ must be careful about what music to play when these dancers are on the floor. The decision of what music to play, of course, is dependent on the state of the floor — how many people are dancing, how much space is available, how many hours into the milonga it is etc.,

This set of dancers are attracted to the emotional and healing aspects of Tango. Their enjoyment derives from the feeling of “connectedness”² with their partner.

For me, connection is Tango is the ability to exchange emotions at a more subtle level than just enjoying tango music and choreography together. Connection is about being open and vulnerable within the safe structure that Tango provides. I tend to become this kind of dancer when Di Sarli is playing.

Dancers who look for connection are also technically quite capable (which is what allows them to explore emotions without thinking about the music or choreography), but they tend to be more restrained in terms of their choreography. They prefer dancing when the other dancers are restrained and predictable as well, since this allows them to focus on the developing a strong connection during a tanda.

This set of dancers are at the milonga purely to socialise. They are not opinionated about the music or the dance floor and spend as much time chatting with friends and drinking wine as they dance. They just want to have a good time — Tango music and the milonga can allow for this too!

The wide variety of dancers — in terms of capability, taste and agenda — makes it challenging for the Tango DJ to ensure everyone has a good time. I don’t think that this is a contemporary problem. I don’t think people who danced in Buenos Aires in the “Golden Age” were any different. I believe the rich and diverse body of Tango music that exists is testament to this fact. As DJs, it is our responsibility to harness this body of music for the enjoyment of everyone in the milonga.

[1] I’m not a fan of fixed tango “figures”, but they exist.

[2] Way too much has been written about connection in Tango (such as https://www.verytangostore.com/connection.html for example). I don’t subscribe to all of it, but I do believe that Tango allows for exchange of feelings.

Just another couple passing through life, writing about what they have learnt and experienced along the way.