I love the creative process of DJing, and watching dancers respond to the emotional journey created by the music.
But DJs take care! Music will make or break a milonga. Nowadays, milonga attendees are increasingly sensitive to the music. Experienced dancers' tastes have developed & matured. Some prefer to attend milongas less frequently, dance less often (even though they would like to dance more), rather than tolerate poor musical selections. In Search of Tango articulates this quite strongly.
So, as a DJ, how do I know whether my musical choices are working during the milonga? What are the tell-tale signs?
Most of the people are dancing - obviously!
DJs who forget or ignore their milonga "clientele" are simply not doing their job.
For me, there are also other, perhaps less obvious, indicators of whether my DJing is hitting the mark: Are the most experienced social dancers dancing?
If they are rarely dancing, or get up to dance only to return to their seats mid-tanda, I need to seriously reconsider my selections.
During tandas, do the dancers generally look absorbed in their dance?
If their facial expressions reflect detachment, puzzlement, boredom, etc., then the music is inappropriate.
Are the dancers moving in a fairly calm ronda? Is the dance-floor moving as a smooth stream, or is it more akin to choppy rapids? At the end of the tandas, do the dancers appear satisfied as they return to their tables?
During the last part of the milonga, is there still a good proportion of dancers on the floor?
I've been fortunate to be exposed to the DJing of masters such as Dany Borelli over many years attending Buenos Aires milongas, and have learned & continue to learn a great deal about what to do and what to avoid as a DJ. Aspiring DJs who are interested in learning, but who haven't been so lucky, still have good resources at their disposal via the internet. Some may also be able to consult with successful DJs in their community. They can, indeed must, do a lot of productive research and preparation before venturing out to DJ at a milonga. They shoulder a responsibility which should not be taken lightly.
Dancers deserve a quality experience, nothing less.
There’s value in seeking out particular partners to dance
your favourite D’Arienzo tanda, Tanturi valses, or a Di Sarli/Rufino
tanda.You know who dances these in the
style you enjoy.
But what about all of your other partners?By this, I mean the other couples already on
the floor!It may be wise to survey the
line of dance for a moment, before entering the ronda.You probably have no
desire to dance in front or behind a couple who are dancing in a dangerous
fashion (high boleos, large unpredictable movements, poor body control,
etc.).And then there are the couples
who are dancing to the music in a manner very different to how you would, e.g.
you may prefer to dance to some Pugliese slowly, without any complex moves,
whereas your neighbouring couple may be fast & furious!This will certainly disrupt your focus on the
music.It certainly distracts me! So,
look for couples who will dance in a way that complements you….. and men, there’s also a lot to be gained
by dancing behind a very good male dancer!
When I visualise dancing at my favourite milongas, I see a
crowded floor, with my dance space on the outside ronda being no more than a ‘baldosa’
– maybe one metre square.Yet, there is
rarely a bump, because the dancing reflects the music very well, and the
navigation skills of most leaders allow them to incorporate their neighbours’
movements into their own.In this
milonga, despite its busyness, I can normally relax with my partners, because I
trust most of the other leaders that surround me.
Much is said about men as leaders, and there’s a lot of
merit in “he leads, she responds, then he follows her”.However, more fundamental to the dance is the
ability of the couple to let the music lead them. Thanks Tango Therapist for articulating this concept.
But it appears not everyone places such a supreme value on
the music that they dance to.This can
be seen in: “I’ll dance tango to anything”, couples already on the dance floor
before the music even starts, and others who carry on conversations during
their tanda.However, these are
exceptions; I believe most dancers want to connect with the rhythms, emotions,
and cadences of every piece that they dance.To go some way to achieving this, some dancers even reserve a particular
orchestra or a vals tanda for particular partners.
essential, and it starts with the man & woman listening to each other’s
bodies at every moment, with every move, every lead and response.Then there is a higher order skill –
listening to and interpreting the
music.Higher order, because it is
premised on good physical technique & control, a body memory of movements
that will respond to music (rather than the dancer engaging in a
thought-process), good floor-craft, a strong familiarity with the music, and a
sensitivity & respect towards one’s partner.
So, is this listening to the music the man’s domain
alone?Absolutely not!When I dance, I want my partner to hear the music,
and to feel the congruence of my response to it.I want to take her on a journey, but one that
she will feel is guided by the nuances of the music.If her total focus is ‘listening’ to my
movements & responding to them, then she is not engaged with the music.
To listen to the music and be taken on this journey, a woman
needs to trust her partner – trust that he will lead absolutely clearly, giving
her the time she needs to respond; trust that she will be physically secure;
trust that he is dancing for her, and not for himself; and trust that he is
truly listening to the music.
Ladies, once you really listen to the music, you will be
less likely to be surprised by any lead or timing, because it will “feel
right”, and you will be more likely to respond in a way that will enhance the
What draws you to tango? People take up tango for lots of
reasons, but for me, it’s all about the milonga.
Some people spend a lot of time & money taking lessons,
going to practicas, and milongas.Yet,
some see attending milongas as the least important, and rarely put their skills
‘on the line’.
I’m a great believer in dancers getting explicit &
expert advice on the essentials: posture, embrace, tango walk, body control,
body lead, rhythm.Then, add some fundamental
tools to these essentials to enable people to improvise: ochos, cross, simple
turns, etc.A good teacher will blend
these essentials & tools into functional movements.Now the dancers must practise, and a practica
is the most appropriate place, as well a safe place to get constructive
At some stage, however, the dancer needs to take the plunge:
attend milongas, do a lot of watching & listening, and have the occasional
dance with a trusted partner. It will be pretty obvious that the milonga is
very different to a practica – intimidating is a fair description to the
novice. Gradually skills & confidence develop with regular milonga
attendance, just as familiarity with potential partners will grow.
Compare this with taking up a new sport. You are taught the fundamentals
at training week after week, then you play practice matches before the season
starts, and the main event is ‘the game’.No-one wants to go through the season playing just the occasional match
– likewise, tango dancers shouldn’t be satisfied dancing in the milonga just now
and again (or never!!).
What is the magic of a good milonga that makes you want to
keep coming back? For a start, like the sports match, it’s the real thing.It’s a total experience - venue, music, the
dancers, the etiquette, the energy - and the delicious challenge of the
unexpected.Maybe the magic is the personal connection we
have with particular milongas - El Maipu
and Lujos (video below) in Buenos
Aires are two that come to my mind.
At yesterday's milonga, a native Spanish-speaker remarked on the huge impact of the lyrics of tango on his dance. Some lyrics enriched his experience beyond description.
It makes sense when you think about it, doesn't it? Consider for a moment those tangos which absolutely summon you to floor. You hear the opening bars of the piece and feel that you have to dance. I'll wager that it's the emotion of that music which plays a huge role in making you look around - almost with a sense of urgency - for a partner. How much stronger is that emotional response when you also know something of the story, or if you understand the lyrics as they are sung?
Tango is a feeling which we share when we dance with our partner. How much richer could that shared experience be, if we understood something of the poetry?
So, if you now suspect that you might be missing out, look up a few of your I've-got-to-dance-to-this tangos. You can read translations while you listen. Here are some of my favourites in Poesia de Gotán and Embrujamiento. One website thoughtfully provides subtitled Youtube videos, too!
Here's one of my favourite Pugliese tangos subtitled by Tango Decoder:
Recently a relatively new member of our tango community was asking me about the cabeceo and tango etiquette. As we chatted, he commented on...
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