In 2015, I wrote this doc in Chinese. Time to update and to translate. Hope these checkpoints can help you at the very beginning.
A. Tanda, the primary unit of a milonga
1. To Unify the Music in a Tanda
Tango is intimate. Acquaintance grows in time, which is almost one tanda. To be somehow predictable from first song to the last is a DJ’s community service. Therefore, it’s highly recommended to follow below:
- Same genre, not mixing tango / vals / milonga / alternative
- Same orchestra / same vocal / same period of era*
- Similar speed / BPM / contrapás
- Similar quality of recording
- Similar emotion / style / feature**
- No “Ronda de Aces” until you’re really familiar with the job
* In general, I won’t have songs in a tanda crossing 10 years range. Another principle, according to development in history , almost no orchestra you should mix any song before 1941 and after 1942.
** It’s a style thing, depends on your knowledge, learning, and preferences in music. A good example: unifying a Di Sarli tanda with piano jing-a-ling for dancers to play with. A Bad example: unifying a vals tanda with song titles about “novia”
2. To Varify the Music among Tandas
In most of the milongas on earth, dancers change partner after each tanda. We create the dynamics to move to next tango experience. Ideally, dancers decide who to invite according to the music. To pair different dancers, the variety between tandas is the key. Here’s some distinctions:
- Follow Tango-Tango-Vals-Tango-Tango-Milonga pattern, then repeat
- Include and balance rhythmic / melodic / dramatic*** tandas, all the time
- Also, balance speed / emotion / style / era of tandas of every hour
- Balance instrumental / vocal tandas if you could
- Include the big 4: Pugliese, Troilo, d’Arienzo, Di Sarli
*** There’re more ways to catagorise tango music. These 3 are just so universal that every DJ knows and uses.
3. To Play Cortinas between Tandas
To save dancers from unwanted partners, cortina is required. Just kidding, cortinas are to clean the floor for cabeceo before the following tanda, except in milongas which are non-stop, such as La Viruta after 5 am. Cortina is the free zone of a DJ. Still, there are things you may want to know before you start:
- 30-50 seconds, depends on floor size and how reluctant dancers are leaving the floor
- Strictly non-tango music
- Always pay more attention on tandas then on cortinas
B. Music Selection for dancers
4. Dancibility of Every Song
This is hard and every of us are learning from dancers on the floor, all the time. Here’s some practical suggestions:
- Play music for feet, not only for ears
- With clear contrapás for dancers to walk, for the dance flow on the floor
- Avoid very long pause, dancers can be pissed
- Consistency in a song is essential. A bad example: El Tigre/Canaro/1941
- Ask the organiser for suggestion
- If there’s live music in the milonga, strictly avoid any song musicians play, ask for list
- No repetition of any identical song (some with different title) in a milonga
5. Flow in a Milonga
Human beings get bored easily. Tango people get bored with slight stillness before their will to dance. We’ re the worst customers who always ask novelty from combination of 1930s-1950s tango music. Here’s some tricks to make same piece of music feels different only by playing with the order of music:
- Mind the ups and downs**** in the arrangement of a milonga
- Most experienced DJs recommend to climb up then drop down
- Frequency of the flow should all depend on reactions of dancers
- Advanced: flow in a tanda should be part of the flow of the milonga
- Mind the gap between any piece of music. Every ending influences how we feel about the beginning of the following music. Blank is a piece of music, too, a very important one.
****There’s no clear definition of up and down. Some take it emotionally, some believe it’s about energy, some call it the breath of a milonga. One judgement: if the dancers are doing according to your music plan, it works.
C. Self Elevation to Serve the Community
Every of us can do better. I’ll list things many good DJs are doing as your reference:
6. The milonga belongs to the organisers, who are responsible to people who paid to dance. DJs are not servants, we are hosts.
7. Manage the milonga as a shepherd manages the herd. You can rush them, you can rest them, by tandas, by cortinas, by volume, by EQ, by all means in your hands.
8. Learn some Spanish. This would help you saving a lot of time organising your database and saving a lot of mistakes in operation.
9. Organise your tango collection. This website can help.
10. Open conversations with other DJs. There are 3 major feedback resources of your music: dancers, organisers, other DJs.
Feel free to share and to give me feedbacks.