Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Sequence

When I need to prepare a milonga quickly, this is what I do ... and this is the order I do it in ... it's an efficient morphogenesis ... the unfolding of the evening's structure. You don't need to do things in this order. But it might be worth trying this, if you think you have trouble in building coherent evenings.

1. Cortinas

I pick out two dozen cortinas for the evening, often from one or two albums, of the same musical genre. This adds unity to the evening. Then I put a line of stars in the comments section so they act as markers between tandas (sets) ... "cortina lines" which need to be filled with dance songs.

2. T-T-V-T-T-M

Except for some adjustments towards the end of an evening, I stick to the Tango-Tango-Vals-Tango-Tango-Milonga Tanda structure.

3. Starting Tango Tandas

I almost always pick the two Tango tandas that start the evening first. They need to be good, be fun for both the advanced dancers and the completely beginners, who stay on the floor after the introduction lesson.

4. Valses

Waltzes are quite a bit more scarce than tangos, so I find the Valse sets I'd like to play that evening, hoping to keep it exciting, while still playing favorites.

5. Milongas

Good Milongas are a bit more plentiful, thanks to a few hard workers like Canaro. I construct a few slow-to-fast Milonga tandas, and put them in their place in the evening's structure.

6. Tangos: moods and hits

Figure out how you'd like the mood to shift over the evening. Peppy to moody to tragic to nutty? Build tandas to fit the mood, or use tandas that you like and have set aside, including variants, as playlists you can just pull it.

While doing that, make sure that you make your more experienced dancers happy by providing songs they know. Tango hits.

7. Energy

Typically, you want to move from slow to fevered over the first two hours, with a few tandas here and there that step back before pushing faster, harder, tougher. But make sure there IS an overall energy, an overall flow threading its way through your songs. It seems incoherent to dancers if you play something slow, then something loud, then something quiet, then something far out. Use gradients instead, in all the dimensions you can think of.

8. Good endings

There are lots of ways to wind up. It depends somewhat on your crowd, but of course a truly amazing final tanda and song really make that possible. It's pretty common to put a La Cumparsita at the end of the last Tanda, without a cortina. If you do this, you need to cultivate your favorite Cumparsita's, and construct great Tandas that work well leading into that version.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Basics

I just wrote this quick letter to a Tango instructor who is now considering Dj-ing a Saturday evening at the Tango Center.


Here are some DJ basics.

At the TC, we always start out with sets of Tango that are on the slow side, for the beginners' sake, with a steady beat but interesting enough for advanced dancers. The slow Di Sarli works well, but so do appropriate pieces by Calo, Canaro, De Angelis, Orchesta Tipica Victor, etc. Using fast tangos to start will fail, miserably.

Inside of most tandas (there are always exceptions) it's important to build up, from slow-to-fast. Think of a tanda as a story, typically with a climax. Also, it's important to put the most familiar or interesting songs at the beginning and at the end, to draw people onto the floor. Slow familiar songs at the start of a Tanda are always a good idea. But, super-exciting songs (Donato's El Huracan comes to mind) can also launch a tanda.

The tanda size that works best is three or four songs ... almost always of the same type of music (same band, same era, and of course, all Tango, all Vals or all Milonga) ... a consistent number (all three or all four) is more important than the actual number itself ... because people count songs. I always use four (except for milongas when I use three) but there's nothing wrong with three in Tango and Vals sets, if you always use three ...

The classic overall tanda structure is usually:


... then repeat ... this works really well.

To keep things interesting, it's important to avoid songs within a tanda that sound identical ... sometimes a band (Tanturi is a good example) will record two songs that essentially use the same rhythm, same tricks, the same key, the same singer, and a very similar melody. It's important to avoid putting those back-to-back! Also, you rarely want to play two covers of the same song near each other in an evening. There are lots of great songs ...

Good luck!"