Overview—The DJ's Role
Selecting Music for Dancing
In Search of Fidelity
Why Golden-Age Recordings Dominate Most Playlists
Using Post-Golden-Age Recordings
Using Neo-Tango Recordings
Tandas and Cortinas
Selecting a Cortina
Mixing the Music: Some Mechanics
Programming an Evening's Music
Alternative Strategies for Programming an Evening's Music
Closing an Evening of Dancing
An Annotated List of Tandas
The DJ can greatly affect the tango community by influencing how well people dance and how well they regard their evening of dancing. If the DJ plays music that has clear dance rhythms and inspires the dancers, they are more likely to move with energy and with a connection to the rhythm of the music. The DJ can also prepare dancers to go to Buenos Aires and have a great time dancing by playing the classics of tango—the music the dancers are likely to hear at milongas in Buenos Aires.
You cannot assume the responsibility for playing the music and use it as a vehicle to show off. In accepting the role of playing the music, your goal is to encourage people to dance and dance, all night long. You DJ to share the joy of this experience. It is a great experience to have a room full of people dancing, with very few sitting down, and the energy of the room electric. \
Every DJ does things a little differently, and there is no one correct way or formula. I think for North Americans who didn't grow up with tango music, it is probably important to have some experience dancing tango before assuming responsibility for the music. Personally, I consider myself a dancer who occasionally assumes the responsibility for playing the music, and I dance a lot when I DJ. I find that dancing gives me a first hand feel for what is working and what is not.
It takes a lot of time with the music to find the best dance music. Every orchestra has great pieces, and lousy ones. The DJ filters this raw material and puts together a program of music to inspire the dancers. But, it's not the size of the collection that makes a DJ. The DJ must understand the dance, and what the dancers will feel when certain songs play. It takes a lot of time listening to the music, moving to it, and really feeling it to assemble an evening of music that will make people want to dance.
Although the DJ is frequently one of the most knowledgeable people about tango music in the community and often has the largest collection of CDs, the DJ's own tastes and needs are not the priority for a successful evening. The successful DJ must have a sensitivity to the crowd and be able to engage in a conversation with a room full of dancers through the music that is played. On some nights, the dancers are full of energy and find spirited tangos to their liking. On other nights, the dancers may prefer quieter, more lyrical music.
The choice of the music will also be influenced by the style of tango that the dancers prefer. Enthusiasts of the close-embrace styles of tango typically want to hear more of the harder rhythmic music—such as that played by D'Arienzo and Biagi. Enthusiasts of salon-style tango typically want to hear smooth music—such as that played by DiSarli, Fresedo, Canaro and Sassone. Softer rhythmic music—such as that played by Caló, Tanturi, D'Agostino, and Troilo works well for both styles of dancing. The dramatic music from the golden age of tango—exemplified by Pugliese—is typically played later in the evening. Enthusiasts of tango theatrics will want to hear newer, more dramatic music with more flexible rhythms—such as that captured on soundtracks for tango shows or recorded by the Pugliese and Piazzolla orchestras after the golden age of tango.
Whatever the style of dance, the core music of any milonga is likely to be drawn from the classics of tango dance music. The classics are principally found in recordings made during the golden age of tango that extended from the late 1930s to the early 1950s. A particular orchestra's version of a song has become a dance classic for a reason. The energy of the piece inspires more dancing—even when the dancers are tired.
When the DJ has a big collection of music, it may be increasingly tempting to play unusual recordings—obscure songs and familiar tangos by unfamiliar orchestras. For the person with the collection, the variety is interesting. Listening to music is a substantially different experience than dancing to music, however. When listening to music, surprises, different phrasing, and unexpected tempos are entertaining. For dancers, however, familiarity facilitates good dancing. When the piece is familiar, the dancers can interpret the details of the music, and better get into the flow of the phrases. When the version of the song is unfamiliar, and the dancers do not know what will happen next, they cannot get as far into the music.
In short, the successful DJ must draw heavily from what the crowd considers the top 40 of tango dance music. The DJ must also not become too intellectual, too obscure or play too many pieces outside the classics, but the DJ cannot simply play the same music every milonga, or on repeated evenings the music will become boring. Variety comes from mixing the music, changing the order in which it is played, and by selectively including pieces outside the top 40 that build energy and contribute to the mood of the evening.
Newcomers to the tango scene quickly reveal the problems with relying too heavily on recordings with low fidelity. They are soon put off by music that sounds like old cartoons to them. They may be inclined to think that we experienced tango dancers are dancing to what we imagine we are hearing rather than what any normal person can hear.
But the newcomers are like canaries in a mine that warn the miners about the presence of toxic gases. Even the experienced dancers grow bored and tired when too many low-fidelity recordings are used. Fortunately, with some careful planning and a little work, a DJ can significantly improve the sound quality at a milonga.
For starters, the DJ can improve the sound chain—using relatively good equipment and working with CDs rather than lower fidelity media, such as MP3s ripped at low bit rates. The DJ can also work to get the best sounding recordings of the most popular tangos. I can hear substantial differences in the quality of the sound on the different labels that are reissuing classic tango music. For most of the material that I have heard, I would generally rate the sound quality on the major labels reissuing tango music from the golden-age as follows (starting with the best):
1. RCA Victor 100 Años (limited titles)
2. Solo Tango/FM Tango (limited titles), Danza y Movimiento (limited titles)
3. EMI Reliquias, Tango Argentino, EMI, RCA, Music Hall
4. Blue Moon, El Bandoneon
5. Magenta, Harlequin, Club Tango Argentino
A DJ should also recognize that recordings made prior to the golden age are of such limited fidelity that they can be used only very sparingly. Ciriaco Ortiz, Orquesta Tipica Victor, Julio De Caro, Francisco Lomuto, and Band Municipal de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires (to name a few) recorded great music, but more than a little of this music will make everyone tired and listless, except the tango music historians who are more likely to write and talk about tango than dance. Recordings from the golden age of tango are of much better fidelity and have solid dance rhythms.
With renewed interest in dancing tango socially, dancers rediscovered the older recordings that were still in use by those who had been dancing tango in clubs and at home. The recording companies accommodated the renewed interest in tango by reissuing many of the classics on CD. Consequently, music from the golden age still dominates milongas—some 50-70 years after it was recorded.
New recordings are emerging, however. If the tango dancing remains sufficiently popular to support new recordings, the music will continue to evolve, and gradually some of the golden-age recordings will be supplanted by newer material. Music has timeless qualities, however, and many of the recordings from the golden age will prove just too good to take off playlists.
More importantly, after the golden age, tango music made a transition into several concert sounds that are of limited usefulness for social dancing. Although the major orchestras from the golden age continued to record after the transition, they also shifted to playing concert music. The recordings of the Troilo orchestra exemplify the shift in sound. The early Troilo recordings made during the golden age have solid dance rhythms and are considered among the classics for social dance. The later Troilo recordings, which are rarely used by experienced DJs, display virtuosic playing and have a concert sound.
Some orchestras—such as those led by Sassone, Varela, Garcia, and Francini/Pontier—created a concert sound that emphasized lush, full and dramatic orchestration of music that, for the most part, had previously been recorded during the golden age. Although there are a few classics among these recordings, such as Varela's Palomita Blanca, most of these recordings lack the pulsing energy of golden-age tangos and tend to sound repititous and dull if utilized any more than sparingly.
The Pugliese, Piazzolla and Salgan orchestras pioneered a more progressive concert sound with more complex rhythmic and melodic development. These orchestras heightened drama through the use of pauses and, in some cases, tempo changes. With Pugliese's orchestra, the transitions were used more sparingly and in contrast with a strong marcato rhythm. The smaller orchestras—such as Piazzolla's and the contemporary orchestras who followed his example—create their dramatic effects through abrupt changes in tempo and/or rubato playing that often proves difficult for social dancing.
The recordings with the progressive concert-oriented sound that are useful for social dancing—such as later Pugliese, later Troilo, Sexteto Tango, Orquesta Color Tango, Sexteto Sur, Nuevo Quinteto Real, and the New York Tango Trio—tend to work best for late-night dancing when dancers are more willing to work with pauses and a changing or loose beat. Late night is a territory for which the Pugliese orchestra recorded many tangos with reasonably high fidelity that had a consistent dance rhythm. The more contemporary orchestras offer little additional variety within this place on the DJ's sound pallette.
Most recordings from tango shows present a concert sound that is designed to help professional dancers with considerable rehearsal time dazzle their audiences. The music from tango shows frequently combines progressive sensibilities with lush, full orchestration, fast tempos and difficult rhythm changes. The recordings from tango shows that are most suitable for social dancing draw heavily from progressive sensibilities and, again, are most suitable for late-night dancing.
Among the more promising recordings are golden-age redux—that is contemporary recordings made in the dance styles of orchestras from the golden age. Many of the modern orchestras making such recordings play in the style of Osvaldo Pugliese, but contemporary orchestras also play in the styles of Juan D'Arienzo, Carlos Di Sarli and Miguel Caló. The recordings made by these contemporary orchestras often have more intricate arrangements with a little more of a dramatic concert feel than those made during the golden era, but the dance beat is prominent and the fidelity is much better than on the old recordings.
At some of the milongas in Buenos Aires, Europe and North America, the DJs have added neo-tango music to their playlists of traditional tango music. Neo-tango consists of two genres of music: tango-fusion and "alternative" tango music. Tango fusion integerates traditional tango rhythms and instrumentation with other musical traditions, contemporary instruments and electronica to create a modern and culturally relevant world tango music with a dance-club sound. Some of the better-known tango-fusion artists are Gotan Project, Bajofondo Tango Club, and Carlos Libedinsky. Alternative tango music is tango music from other traditions or non-tango music that some dancers find interesting for dancing Argentine tango steps.
At its best, neo-tango music adds fidelity, variety and something a little different to an evening—along with the potential to connect with mass audiences. At its worst, neo-tango is simply music to which tango steps can be executed. The use of neo-tango music depends largely on the dancers at the milonga. While some dancers love neo-tango music and expect to hear it at the milongas they attend, traditionalists often hate it.
Some dancers and djs prefer a relatively heavy mix of neo-tango recordings. Others prefer a lighter mix. The Organic Tango School's Tango DJ Resource Page represents an attempt to bridge the gap between traditional and alternative forms of tango deejaying.
Personally, I find that neo-tango music tends to work best when it is used sparingly for late-night selections rather than as the core of the program. In some ways, the use of tango-fusion music can be like playing Piazzolla or other post-golden-age tangos—people like to hear some new recordings, but the rhythms can be quite challenging, and a little goes a long way. Non-tango music is considerably more varied, but much of it works better when the dancers have been immersed in traditional tango music and can express tango sensibilities when dancing to the more languid rhythms that tend to dominate the alternative tango selections.
Also see A DJ's Guide to Neo-Tango Recordings.
In Buenos Aires, most couples dance an entire tanda together and then move on to other partners for the next tanda. It is rare when a couple stops dancing before the tanda ends, and doing so is considered an indication that something has gone very wrong. If a person is unsure about the desirability of dancing with another for an entire tanda, the person who is unsure may delay going out onto the floor until the last song of the tanda.
Social practices are considerably different in most North American cities, but playing music in tandas familiarizes the dancers with the social codes in Buenos Aires and works quite well in helping to build a mood for the evening's dancing. Each of the major orchestras sound different from each other, but many recordings made by a given orchestra during a particular era will have a similar sound. Playing music in tandas takes advantage of both the similarity of the recordings made by the same orchestra and the differences between orchestras.
Playing three to five tangos in a row that have a similar sound, tempo and feel allows the dancers to settle into the orchestra's sound with their dancing and then draw inspiration from the music. It also allows couples who enjoy dancing together to a particular orchestra to take to the floor knowing that they will have 10 to 15 minutes to dance together to music that works well for them.
Playing too many songs in a row with a similar sound begins to sound monotonous. In addition, playing more than five songs from the same orchestra in the same era often reaches too deeply into the recordings and yields music that is not a highly regarded for dancing. Switching to a tanda of music by another orchestra changes the energy and refreshes the dancers.
I create tandas of four tangos—usually from the same orchestra. I find that four songs is just about right for each tanda. A few individuals have suggested that the ideal tanda would consist of four songs that sound exactly the same. My own experience suggests each song in a tanda should have its own compelling personality, while it contributes to the continuity of the tanda. Using my ear and this philosophy, I have successfully constructed many tandas including a few that mix orchestras and some that mix vocals and instrumentals.
The first song of a tanda has to be so strong it pulls people out of their chairs and onto the dance floor. It has to make people want to dance this set regardless of how their feet hurt, or how tired they may be. The energy of the music takes them. The last song of the tanda should be strong and compelling so that everyone who is dancing feels happy about having stayed out on the floor for the entire tanda.
The middle songs do not have to be as strong as the first or last songs of a tanda, but here are more than enough good tangos available that none needs to be filler. The ideal middle songs should sustain the energy of the first song, provide continuity to the last song, and have enough personality of their own to provide a feeling of variety. In a rhythmic tanda, the second or third song might be slightly more romantic or more impressionistic. In a lyrical, romantic tanda, the second or third song might be a little more rhythmic.
If I start a tanda with Pugliese's "La Yumba," I will end with the equally strong "Gallo Ciego." Good candidates for the second and third spots are the bittersweet "La Rayuela" and the romantic "La Tupungatina." To intensify the drama, another pair of candidates for the second and third spots are "Yunta de Oro" and "Nochero Soy."
For more examples of tandas, see An Annotated List of Tandas.
Some of these choices work better than others. At milongas where a lot people like latin dancing, salsa is a poor choice for a cortina. Some people will jump out on the floor and begin to dance, blissfully unaware that the DJ is playing a cortina and is about to cut them off. At this point, it is an embarrassment to the DJ and all the dancers to explain what a cortina is. To dancers, dance music is for dancing. Similarly, swing or any other dance music is also a poor choice in most North American venues.
Personally, I prefer to use music for the cortina that is not suitable for dancing and that has a neutral effect on the mood. I want the dancers to understand the dancing has come temporarily to an end, but I do not want to disrupt the mood that is building. I regularly use an acoustic guitar rendition of Bix Beiderbecke's "Flashes" found on Ry Cooder’s CD Jazz. I have also used cuts from Vince Guaraldi's A Charlie Brown Christmas, Leo Kottke's Peculiaroso and Argentinian folk guitarist Atahualpa Yupanqui as cortinas.
The principal advantage of mixing the music during the course of the milonga is the DJ can interact with the dancers and adjust the music to suit their tastes and the feel of the evening. For instance, if the dancers seem full of energy, the DJ can continue to build tension by playing music that is increasingly dramatic or quicker in tempo. If the dancers seem to be having trouble finding the rhythm of the music, the DJ can respond with early Canaro, D'Arienzo, Caló with Podesta or Di Sarli.
Using prerecorded music has several advantages. The DJ does not have to remain chained to the equipment and is able to have fun dancing while finding out first hand what works and what doesn't. (I have learned that some pieces that sound great at home just do not work at a milonga.) In addition, the DJ does not need to remember which three songs on a 20 song CD are the best for dancing and go well together while playing the music during the evening.
Developing and mixing prerecorded tandas captures most of the flexibility obtained through mixing the music to create tandas on the fly, and it preserves nearly all of the advantages of using prerecorded music. For the DJ using prerecorded tandas, all that is required in mixing the evening's music is a feel for the music on the prerecorded tandas, a general strategy for programming the evening's music, and a feel for what will work next.
I currently have more than 100 preset tandas—each on its own disc with a cortina at the end. As the cortina at the end of a tanda begins playing, I can return to the DJ equipment and get ready to start the next tanda. Preset tandas can also be recorded stored as MP3 files in computers or other digital playback equipment. I prefer the sound quality of compact discs.
Another possibility is to combine longer programs of prerecorded music with prerecorded tandas that are mixed during the milonga. I will sometimes start a milonga with a prerecorded program of tandas (without cortinas). I switch to mixing prerecorded tandas only after the dancers really begin showing up in large numbers.
Basic Elements of Programming
Programming a Cycle
Developing an Evening's Mood
Releasing and Softening Tension
Pulling the Strategies Together
The Dancers and the Music
Finding the Groove
As an aid to organizing the tango music to be played at milongas, I
have developed some rough style classifications to help me think about
the rhythmic and sound qualities of the various orchestras. My categories
are as follows:
|Style of Music
|About the Style of Music
|Orquesta Tipica Victor, Carabelli, Firpo, Lomuto, early Fresedo, etc.
|The tangos of the old guard generally had less complex arrangements and simpler, more naked rhythms in comparison to the tangos played during the golden age and later eras.
|Early Golden Age
|De Caro, Donato, early Canaro
|The early golden-age tangos represent a transition from the old guard to the golden age of tango. They have clear, simple rhythms but show signs of the stronger orchestration and lyricism that characterize golden-age tangos.
|Golden Age Harder Rhythmic
|D'Arienzo, Biagi, Rodriguez
|Harder-rhythmic tangos are characterized by prominent ric-tic, double-time rhythms that seem to insist on milonguero-style dancing. For the tangos in this style that have vocals, the singer stays relatively close to the orchestra's rhythm. (The prominence of the ric-tic, double-time beats is what distinguishes the harder rhythmic, softer rhythmic, and smooth categories of tango music. Although the differences in rhythmic accents may give an impression of differences in tempo, these categories are distinguished by the rhythmic accents and not the tempo at which the orchestra plays.)
|Golden Age Softer Rhythmic
|early Troilo, some Troilo/Fiorentino, Tanturi/Castillo, Caló instrumentals, Caló/Podesta, Federico, Laurenz, D'Agostino/Vargas, early Di Sarli
|In softer rhythmic tangos, the ric-tic rhythms are present but not prominent, allowing the music to support either milonguero- or salon-style dancing. For the tangos in this style that have vocals, the singer stays relatively close to the orchestra's rhythm. (The prominence of the ric-tic, double-time beats is what distinguishes the harder rhythmic, softer rhythmic, and smooth categories of tango music. Although the differences in rhythmic accents may give an impression of differences in tempo, these categories are distinguished by the rhythmic accents and not the tempo at which the orchestra plays.)
|Golden Age Smooth
|most Di Sarli instrumentals, some Canaro instrumentals, some Fresedo instrumentals, some Troilo instrumentals
|Smooth tangos are generally instrumental music that lack the ric-tic accents found in the harder and softer rhythmic music and the big crescendos, dramatic pauses and heavier beat of dramatic tango music. (The prominence of the ric-tic, double-time beats is what distinguishes the harder rhythmic, softer rhythmic, and smooth categories of tango music. Although the differences in rhythmic accents may give an impression of differences in tempo, these categories are distinguished by the rhythmic accents and not the tempo at which the orchestra plays.)
|Golden Age Lyrical
|Caló/Beron, Di Sarli/Rufino, Di Sarli/Duran, some Troilo/Fiorentino, some Canaro with singers, Fresedo/Ray, Tanturi/Campos, Demare with singers, DeAngelis with singers
|During the golden age, sometimes the singer sang with orchestra, sometimes the orchestra played for the singer. In lyrical tangos, the singer doesn't adhere closely to the orchestra's underlying rhythm, and the overall effect is to emphasize the lyrical nature of the music.
|Golden Age Dramatic
|DeAngelis instrumentals, Pugliese
|Dramatic tangos build on the power of the smooth sound and have more dramatic arrangements with bigger crescendos, often a heavier beat, pauses, and sometimes tempo shifts.
|Sassone, Varela, Francini/Pontier, Garello
|Transition-era tangos were recorded during an era in which the tango orchestras were shifting from dance music to concert music. Transition-era music was built on the foundation developed by golden-era orchestras, and many of the transition era orchestras were led by musicians who led or played in the big-name orchestras of the golden age. Those transition-era recordings useful for social dancing have a prominent dance beat.
|New York Tango Trio, Litto Nebia, Trio Pantango
|Building on the work of Anibal Troilo, Osvaldo Pugliese and Horacio Salgan, Astor Piazzolla led a revolution in concert-oriented tango music in which drama was heightened through rubato playing, pauses, and tempo changes. The combined effect works well for tango dance performances, but can be outside the comfort zone for social dancing. For social dancing, the most useful new-tango recordings combine some of Piazzolla's sensibilities with a tango dance beat that is sufficiently strong for modern ears.
|Modern Dance Orquestas
|Color Tango, El Arranque, Sexteto Sur
|Some modern tango orchestras, such as Color Tango, have returned to the dance beat that characterized the golden era of tango dance music. The recordings made by modern dance orchestras typically have more intricate arrangements with a little more of a dramatic concert feel than those made during the golden era, but the dance beat is prominent and the fidelity is much better than on the old recordings. In many ways, the music played by modern dance orquestas seems to be what might have developed had tango music and social dancing continued evolving together after the golden era.
|Gotan Project, Bajofondo Tango Club, Carlos Libedinsky
|Tango fusion integerates traditional tango rhythms and instrumentation with other musical traditions, contemporary instruments and electronica to create a modern and culturally relevant world tango music with a dance-club sound.
On a typical evening, the vast majority of music that I play is from the golden age. I also work to play a diverse selection of music. I also want each succeeding tanda to be sufficiently strong in its own identity, and not too similar to what immediately preceded it, so that it will overpower the conscious memory of the previous few tandas and pull everyone back onto the dance floor. Two tandas in a row from the same category of music usually sounds repetitious, but I do not randomly jump around from category to category because the resulting impression is too much like a top 40 radio station. It doesn't create a mood.
Hence, one cycle might look like this:
T - smooth tangos
T - lyrical tangos
V - valses
T - softer rhythmic
T - harder rhythmic
M - milongas
Another cycle might be:
T - harder rhythmic tangos
T - softer rhythmic tangos
V - valses
T - lyrical tangos
T - softer or harder rhythmic tangos
M - milongas
Another cycle might be:
T- smooth or lyrical tangos
T - dramatic tangos
V - valses
T - lyrical tangos
T - softer rhythmic
M - milongas
I try to work through the categories to build rhythmic, romantic and dramatic tension and then resolve it several times over the course of the evening. There are a number of ways to build tension and release it. Quicker tempos, sharper accents in the music, more dramatic crescendos all build tension. Light and lyrical music or music with a very smooth sound often release rhythmic and dramatic tension, though they may contribute to romantic tension.
Romantic tension is created by playing a tanda of softer rhythmic tangos or smooth music, a tanda of lyrical tangos and then a tanda of vals. For example, moving from Di Sarli instrumentals to Caló with Beron and then to vals creates a strong romantic feel. Going from softer rhythmic tangos to lyrical tangos before the vals will probably result in less romantic tension.
The most dramatic tension is created by leading with music that has as much power as the dramatic tangos. Consequently, playing a tanda of Di Sarli's 1950s instrumentals ahead of a tanda of Pugliese instrumentals is unrivaled in creating dramatic tension. A less powerful way to build dramatic tension is to play lyrical tangos, such as Troilo with Fiorentino ahead of the dramatic tangos.
I always try to keep the break in the direction of programming from being too too jarring. Following a tanda of Pugliese with a tanda of Los Tubatango or D'Arienzo valses is likely to upset the mood that is being built. Similarly, following D'Arienzo with a tanda of modern valses is not likely to work well.
A softening of the tension is a little different. It occurs when a tandas don't go quite as far as is possible in the direction that is being set or a tanda backs off the direction of intensity. For example, playing a tanda of lyrical tangos and a tanda of softer rhythmic tangos before the tanda of milongas creates less rhythmic intensity than playing tandas of softer rhythmic and harder rhythmic tangos before it. Reversing the order and playing softer rhythmic tangos and then lyrical tangos before the tanda of milongas would soften the tension by more.
Softening dramatic and romantic tension is similar. Following a tanda of smooth or lyrical tangos with a less ultimate tanda of Pugliese softens dramatic tension. Playing a tanda of softer rhythmic tangos after a tanda smooth or lyrical tangos and before the valses softens dramatic tension nearly to the point of disappearing. Progressing from lyrical tangos to softer rhythmic tangos to valses does much less to build romantic tension than progressing from softer rhytmic tangos to lyrical tangos to the valses.
Further into the evening, I might start a series of six tandas with something like Tanturi with Castillo (softer rhythmic), go onto Biagi with Amor (harder rhythmic), and then onto a tanda of milongas. I might then come back with something lyrical like Caló with Beron or Di Sarli with Duran, play a tanda of dramatic Pugliese, and then continue onward with a tanda of valses.
Later in the evening, I might start a series of six tandas with a tanda of something lyrical, such as Fresedo with Ray or Tanturi with Campos. The next tanda will be softer rhythmic, such as D'Agostino with Vargas, and then a tanda of milongas. I might follow the milongas with a tanda of Di Sarli instrumentals, a tanda of dramatic Pugliese, and finish with a tanda of valses.
In many ways, the low-end density and power of Di Sarli is a perfect lead into the power and drama of classic Pugliese. Following Pugliese with valses solves the problem what to play after Pugliese. In some ways, no other tangos can follow classic Pugliese. Classic Pugliese is the most dramatic in golden-age music, and the more modern tangos are too similar to Pugliese. Following Pugliese with valses goes in another direction. The right valses can release the power and build drama and romance at the same time. But, the valses that follow Pugliese have to be sophsticated,. Di Sarli, D'Arienzo and Laurenz valses wouldn't work well. The sound is too elemental—"too country" as Nito Garcia would say. The more sophisticated valses of Caló, Biagi or contemporary orchestras work much better after Pugliese. So do some Canaro valses.
On other evenings, it may prove desirable to work with much less tension throughout an entire six-tanda cycle. Keeping a sense of continuity while reducing tension can be accomplished by using recordings with less intensity in a given direction or by reducing continuity in rhythmic and dramatic intensity. For instance, I might start a cycle of six tandas with a tanda of smooth Di Sarli instrumentals, continue with a tanda of lyrical or softer rhythmic tangos, and then play a tanda of milongas. Such an approach builds some intensity, but much less so than progressing from softer rhythmic tangos through harder rhythmic tangos to milongas.
After the milongas, I might use a tanda of softer rhythmic or lyrical tangos (whichever didn't precede the milongas). I might follow the tanda of lyrical tangos with either softer rhythmic tangos or dramatic tangos before concluding with a tanda of valses. I might follow the tanda of softer rhythmic tangos with either lyrical or harder rhythmic tangos before concluding with a tanda of vals.
If I work toward more rhythmic intensity with the tangos—lyrical to softer rhythmic or softer rhythmic to harder rhythmic, the tanda of vals will soften the tension and provide a sense of variety. If I work toward more dramatic or romantic intensity—lyrical to dramatic or softer rhythmic to lyrical—the tanda of vals will heighten romantic intensity and release much of the dramatic intensity that has been built. But, progressing from lyrical to dramatic tangos or softer rhythmic to lyrical tangos will build less dramatic intensity than progressing from the powerful Di Sarli instrumentals to dramatic Pugliese.
I watch to see if the dancers are connecting to the rhythm of the music. If they seem to be having trouble, I will play music with simpler and clearer rhythms such as Di Sarli, 1930s Canaro, D'Arienzo, and Caló with Podesta. Playing these orchestras helps educate the dancers to the basic rhythms of tango music, and it improves their ability to dance to the more complex pieces that build tension and draw them more deeply into the music. When the room seems full of beginners, I typically end up playing more music with simpler and more obvious rhythms.
I also watch to see how much tension the dancers are willing to accept. If the dancers seem willing to accept more tension, I will push it farther. If they seem to be at the height of tension or unwilling to accept much tension, I will find music to release or soften the tension. In general, I try to create greater tension as the evening progresses.
On some nights, I find playing more of the harder and softer rhythmic music is more appropriate. One those nights, the dancers will accept rhythmic tension but not dramatic tension, and lyrical music or a little bit of Pugliese can create a very strong impact On other nights, smooth, lyrical and dramatic music is more appropriate. On those nights, the dancers will not accept much rhythmic tension. I find myself reaching the later Pugliese recordings, and I often play at least one tanda of modern tangos.
It also depends on my intentions. Do I want to kick them to unknown heights? Do I want to calm them down, because some of the dancers have become reckless? Do I want to make them listen? Do I want to put more drive in the ronda? Do I want to ready them for the evening to end? Do I want to suggest that the milonga can continue indefinitely?
Watching the dancers and developing an intuitive feel for the energy in the room, I keep all of these strategies in mind while I select the next tanda to play. I find that by pursuing these strategies, I am able to give the dancers a stronger impression of having spent a full emotional evening dancing, and they go home a happy tired, whenever the evening ends.
At a milonga that I attended a few times in another city, the DJ relied heavily on the more dramatic music from Pugliese, Caló with Beron, DeAngelis and tango shows early in the evening. In mid-evening, he shifts the mix toward the simpler social dance rhythms of DiSarli, Canaro, and Caló with Podesta. Moving toward the end of the evening, he shifted the mix toward music, such as D'Arienzo, Biagi, and Lomuto, that has the ric-tic rhythm that is favored by those who dance the close-embrace styles of tango. A friend who attended this milonga regularly explained that this DJ is playing music for people who want to dance theatrically early in the evening. And, when he starts playing serious social dance music, those who are into theatrics go home and leave the dance floor to those who want to dance socially. Personally, I did not find dancing at this milonga very satisfying, but I am glad that those who dance theatrically went home early.
Another strategy is to play tango music in a wide mixture of styles during each hour, keeping the music in tandas, but mixing the orchestras in the tandas of vals and milonga without much regard to style. A milonga where the DJ uses this strategy feels like the top 40 hits of tango—fun, but without the development of an intense mood that draws the dancers deeper and deeper into the music.
Another strategy, which does not preclude others, is to make a special effort to accomodate beginners early in the evening by playing music with simpler and clearer rhythms and by relying less heavily on the use of tandas.
Whatever the strategy, DJs who watch the dancers are provided with instant feedback about how they are doing. If half of the dancers sit down and leave the dance floor nearly empty, it may be an indication that the music is not inspiring enough for the moment. If the dancers seem to be struggling with the rhythm, it may be an indication that the dancers need music with simpler and clearer rhythms. If the floor is crowded with people who are dancing well (by the community's standards) and dancers walk off the floor with big smiles at the end of a tanda, it is an indication that the DJ is doing something right.
Many DJs in North America have also adopted the practice of playing "La Cumparsita" to close the evening. The practice helps educate their dancers to the social codes of milongas in Buenos Aires.
Many orchestras have recorded "La Cumparsita," and some have recorded it more than once. Consequently, the DJ has a wide range of excellent choices in every style including old guard, harder rhythmic, softer rhythmic, smooth, dramatic, transitional and nuevo tango. In selecting which version of "La Cumparsita" to play, the DJ should consider what most of the dancers would appreciate hearing and dancing to at the end of the evening. Do most of the dancers tend toward the close-embrace styles of tango, or to salon-style tango? Would many like the challenge of dancing to the jazz elements of new tango?