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Thursday, 17 July 2014

Do cortinas matter?

How important is a cortina, apart from clearing the dance-floor between tandas?

     Does it affect the mood and energy of the milonga? 
     Might it complement or clash with the preceding music? 
     What is the ideal length of a cortina?
     Is it a problem if the same cortina is used all the time? 
     Should the DJ bother with this, and just focus on the tandas?

Well, I'm going to have a little gripe. I wish more DJs would indeed consider the contribution of the cortina. I've seen the mood created by the most thoughtful selection of music spoiled by a cortina which is soporific & energy-sapping or jarringly inappropriate.

Cortinas which allow dancers to not only clear the floor, but are also long enough to return to one's seat, have a drink and reconnect with those around, are considerate of the dancers.  So, nowadays my cortinas are usually around one minute in length, and that seems to work well.

Personally, I like using a variety of cortinas to complement or spice up the mood during a milonga - not too gloomy or bland.  On the other hand, the Heavy Metal cortinas which I heard some years ago in Buenos Aires, of all places, were way beyond the pale. Some current favourites: Pretty woman (Roy Orbison), Words of love (Mamas & Papas), Son of a Preacher Man (Dusty Springfield), Back to black (Amy Winehouse), Hard times (Ray Charles), Breaking up is hard to do (Neil Sedaka).

Am I being too precious? Does the cortina really matter at all? Next time you're at a milonga, take note and decide for yourself.


  1. I agree with you that bad cortinas ruin the mood. I think it's a DJs attempt to inject some energy at the wrong time. Some people like the Cortina so much they dance to it instead of leaving the floor.

    Miguel Angel Balbi, a milonguero viejo, explained that in the 50s the cortinas were played at a low volume and for several minutes in the days when there was no rush for the next tanda. Those days are long gone. Shorter cortinas feed the desire for more fast food tango.

    The Cortina does matter to me. I favor a nice tune that I can hum along to, not heavy metal that prompts me to insert ear plugs. The new trend in some milongas is a different Cortina after each tanda. I don't know the reason for it other than confusion.

    I don't remember in which milonga I heard it played, but the lyrics to Strangers In The Night by Sinatra are perfect:

    Strangers in the night, exchanging glances
    Wondering in the night; what were the chances?
    We'd be sharing love before the night was through
    Something in your eyes was so inviting
    Something in your smile was so exciting
    Something in my heart told me I must have you

    Strangers in the night, two lonely people
    We were strangers in the night
    Up to the moment when we said our first hello, little did we know
    Love was just a glance away, a warm embracing dance away
    And ever since that night, we've been together
    Lovers at first sight, in love forever
    It turned out so right for strangers in the night

  2. Thanks for the suggestion, Janis. Old blue eyes' song is so apt for a milonga, especially after a melancholic tanda of tango.

    BTW, I'm missing Lo de Celia & Dany's excellent music.

  3. The topic of cortinas came up last night with my table companion at Lo de Celia. She commented how awful the music was, and I agreed with her. Erwin was playing a different track after each tanda. It got worse and worse.

    Since I stayed until the end of the milonga and had an opportunity to talk with Erwin. I said the tandas were excellent, but the cortinas destroyed the mood created by tango. Not only was the music inappropriate, but it was too loud as well. Erwin said he's had requests from many dancers for different Cortina music. I'd like to see a show of hands from those who don't want a different Cortina after every tanda.

    Those who want different Cortina music can't be that interested in tango or know the milongas for many years. Every milonga has its signature Cortina, at least that's the way it used to be. It signals the end of the tanda and isn't for dancing. In these times of instant news and social media, it's no surprise that people get bored with the same tune.

    Dany's music was SPECTACULAR last Wednesday, and I told him so. He always plays the best of the great orchestras with different tunes every week. Those who know the music appreciate how he combines tunes into a magical mix for us.

  4. Inappropriate cortinas can certainly ruin the mood created by a lovely tanda of music. I do sympathize, Janis.

    For that reason, I like cortinas which suit the preceding tanda, yet at the same time act as a palate-cleanser. So, I would not choose the same cortina to follow a tanda of lively Donato milongas and a tanda of intense Calo tangos.

    On the other hand, a carefully selected signature cortina can work very successfully, too.

    PS. I'm sure that Dany Borelli's cortinas are spot-on!

  5. Jais wrote: "I'd like to see a show of hands from those who don't want a different Cortina after every tanda."

    Hand up.

    Mixed curtains are popular here in the the UK with people who get more enjoyment from pop that they know than from tango that they don't. Hence one finds mixed curtains in many a tango disco (sometimes advertised as a milonga).

    I'm sad to hear some DJs are now trying mixed curtains in BsAs.

  6. Thanks for your comments, Janis and Chris. Looks like we strongly agree that cortinas do indeed matter.

    So, of primary importance is the selection of SUITABLE music for the cortina(s) (be it a signature cortina, or one of several to be used during the milonga). If the choice is inappropriate, in either case, the mood of the milonga will suffer.

    BTW, I've heard other very good DJs in Buenos Aires (eg. Mario Orlando & Carlos Rey) using both options very successfully.

  7. Yes! They do matter. I agree with no changes in the cortina. It is a signal that allows us to immediately recognize. However, I also like the idea of longer cortinas you mentioned. Good points from Jan and Chris too. I just don't know how longer cortinas and the same song will work: Long cortinas and always the same song--does that have us going home with "strangers in the night" playing in our head rather than tangos? :-) The best cortinas ever were at the Silent Milonga in Heidelberg: Very calming bell tones. (I started salivating like Pavlov's dogs for the next tanda.)

    The problem I most have with cortinas is that some play wonderful dance music. What torture it is for me to sit down when I hear a chachachá or a great swing tune. I have to decide if I am going to be a good boy, and I am not very good at being a good boy; so DJs--don't tempt me and get me in trouble! Musicians too must learn the concept of a tanda/cortina as the dancers expect. Otherwise, go find a theater with seats to play at!

  8. TT wrote: "Long cortinas and always the same song--does that have us going home with "strangers in the night" playing in our head rather than tangos?"

    A question definitely worth asking.

    For me, the answer is No.

    Like PP, I prefer to play curtains around one minute long, and that gives one part curtain to ten parts dance music. That's not too much.

    Some curtain playing in heads still lets tango play in hearts :)

  9. I agree. I have so often heard a piece of 'pop' music ruin the mood of a tanda. It is suggested that a cortina should be cleansing, well water is a good cleansing agent and it is bland and so I always play the same piece of BLAND jazz lounge music and at a lower volume, which in no way interferes with the mood of the previous tanda. As it is always the same and in no way danceable it can only be a cortina. So I disagree with the idea that the cortina has to contribute to the mood of the tanda and I very rarely find this is achieved by other DJs.

  10. Many years ago, my husband, who is a composer, wrote me 7 cortinas. They are in the general genre of "mood music" - the kind of thing you might hear as background music at a yoga class. They are quiet, and encourage people to leave the floor. They average around 50 seconds to a minute long. They are not danceable. I usually play at least one nontango during a milonga - a salsa or swing - in place of the cortina, and people know and people know if the song is danceable I plan to play the whole thing, so they can dance without worrying about having their music fade out before the song is done. but I have been at milongas where everything fromshow tunes to folk music to classical snippets are played, and hey all work.


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