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Monday, 30 January 2017

Music will make or break a milonga

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.


TangoDJ fundamentals
DPP's Favourite Tandas


  1. Tango Salón Adelaide wrote: "Music will make or break a milonga."

    Unfortunately many bad-music milongas are indestructible. :-)

    Particularly the kind that's better called a tango disco.

    To the list of tell-tale signs that one's music selection is working, I would add: One doesn't get requests. Most requests are from people who simply don't like the kind of tango played in real milongas, so when you no longer hear from these requesters, it's usually because your music selection has driven them out to a tango disco.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Chris.
    I am curious about how other DJs judge the success of their musical selections, so I appreciate your addition to the list. I'm not familiar with the "tango disco" phenomenon, but it sounds like something I might prefer to avoid.

  3. It's pretty easy to tell if the music is working, in my view. Most, meaning more than 80% of the people will be dancing, and sometimes it will be higher than this. Conversely, if half the crowd, or more, are sitting it out, then the music is not working.

    It really doesn't matter if those few on the floor look like they are enjoying themselves....the litmus test is not them...it's the ones who sitting it out who are the real test.

    The half sitting down probably won't be there next time.

  4. Thanks for your comments, Anonymous and Felicity.

    Anonymous, as I said in the post, "Most people are dancing" is the basic yardstick. So, I think that we are on the same page there. However, I feel that there's more to evaluating one's efforts as a DJ.

    At milongas, you may have noticed that there are some people who will happily dance to pretty much any music that is played. Extreme examples of this are the people who are up on the floor with their new partner ready for the new tanda while the cortina is still playing. In other words they don't discriminate.

    Those dancers are enjoying themselves. However, they don't provide the DJ with reliable feedback on the musical selection. They would probably dance regardless of the selection.

    The smaller, remaining 'sample' are the individuals whom the DJ needs to focus on for more accurate feedback.


  5. Hi Pat,

    I think that you are more than halfway there just by asking the question. In the mot-de-jour, you are using "mindfulness". Some DJs are much more thoughtful than others and I have seen a wide range of DJ attitudes. How well I remember once seeing a busy DJ look up from his keyboard only to discover *no-one* dancing! To his eternal credit, he promptly faded out the song and jumped to an entirely different tanda which succeeded in getting dancers back on the floor - an unorthodox but much-appreciated approach.

    In DJ seminars I have attended for which you have been on the panel, I have heard very interesting discussions from you and Yuko and others about modulating and shaping the overall flow of dynamics across the course of the whole evening. Now, even though those discussions have made me aware that (some, at least) DJs are thinking about such things, I find as a dancer that I simply don't have enough neurones spare to maintain presence of mind about that aspect. Therefore, something which the DJ almost alone can uniquely consider is whether the overall flow is working.

    If the pista is pumping to a fast milonga and is then calmed by some contrasting tango, but the floor is full for both tandas, then you can be sure that your choices have been sound. I think all of your criteria points are relevant to your self-evaluation.

  6. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts, Howard. I completely agree with you. The DJ needs to be constantly mindful of the effect of the music.

    By the way, as a dancer, you needn't have a DJ hat on. If the DJ is doing a good job, just feel the music and dance. You don't need to analyse the musical choices. On the other hand, if those choices are not hitting the mark .....

  7. But I'm an over-thinker!


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