Tango is not only a fascinating dance but also a fascinating philosophy, culture and lifestyle. The search of tango is the search of connection, love, unity, beauty, harmony and humanity, i.e., an idealism that is not consistent with the dehumanizing reality of the modern world. The world divides us as individuals, but tango unites us as a community and people. In tango we are not individualists, feminists, nationalists, liberals, conservatives, Democrats, Republicans, etc., but interconnected and interdependent members of the human family. Tango calls us to tear down the walls, to build bridges, and to regain humanity through connection, cooperation, reconciliation and compromise. It is a dance that teaches the world to love.

October 9, 2011

The Signature of Tango

Music plays a critical role in tango. Lousy, unfamiliar, outlandish or non-tango songs never produced a beautiful tango. Well-performed tangos are all danced to excellent classic tango music, which is an inspiration indispensable for bringing the dancers’ skills into full play. Good classic tango music excites the dancers, stirs up their emotions, lifts their spirit, kindles their creativity, generates synergism, and leads to what the Argentinians called duende, an elated state in which the dancers perform exceptionally well. Without good music, there is little scope for even a master’s abilities.

There are tens of thousands of tango songs available on the market. Only a fraction of which are good, danceable songs and the majorities are either mediocre in quality or for listening and not dancing. The CD makers understand their business. If they place all good, danceable songs in one basket nobody will buy the rest, so they mix the good and the junk together. In a CD of twenty songs, perhaps only one or two are good, danceable songs and the rest are junks. The Argentinians know their music. They buy a CD for that one or two good songs and discard the rest. American tourists, on the contrary, buy a CD and play them all. Our rather bad collection habit and bizarre taste keep haunting us. We collect junk songs just like we collect kitchen tools and fancy steps. Worse still, we show favoritism to eccentric and rare junks such as exotic, non-tango and alternative music.

Experts all agree that familiarity with the music is essential to an exuberant tango experience. The Argentinians only play the best and well-known classic tango music in their milongas. They don’t even play rare and unfamiliar tango songs, still less outlandish and alternative music. Playing such music does a disservice to tango. It is weird. It lacks the richness and depth of the classic tango music. It cannot bring the dancer's skills into play. It changes tango to a hybrid dance that caters to the low taste. It repels the seasoned dancers who in Argentina are treated with respect, free or discount admission, best seats and their favorite classic tango music, because they are the mainstay of the milongas.

Classic tango music is the signature of tango. It is created and developed with tango and for tango. People recognize it and associate it with the dance when they hear it. There is a sentimental attachment between the two. In fact, tango dance and classic tango music are two aspects of one thing called Argentine tango, inseparable as body and soul. The fact that tango can be danced to other musics doesn’t mean it can remain intact when so danced. One may dance tango to the music of Beijing opera, but that will not be tango. Alternative music from different cultural background does not have the same rhythmic structure and sentimental richness of the classic tango music, which is passionate, multi-layered, manifold, changeful, sentimental and moody, allowing the dancers to interpret and improvise. (See The Characteristics of Classic Tango.) Any music sharing the same rhythmic structure and sentimental richness will be recognized as tango and not alternative music. By definition, alternative music is the music that lacks the structural and sentimental depth of tango, and therefore is not the best music for tango dancing. It only appeals to novices deficient in good taste or weird dudes seeking novelty, and those who choose to pander to their taste in order to make money.

Those who love tango more than money, on the other hand, can do one thing for tango. A three-hour milonga only contains 15 tondas or 60 songs. If we meticulously select 600 best classic tango songs and play them repeatedly in our milongas like the Argentinians do in the milongas of Buenos Aires, we will change our tango culture and raise the level of our dance in more ways than we can imagine. After all, tango is intimately related to its music. The better the music, the better the dance, the better the milonga, the better the community, and the better we all will be. (See My Two Cents on Music Selections.)


  1. Agreed. One way a tourist can get a good list of tango music is to buy a CD from a good DJ. At the milongas they have them for sale sometimes. I have some from Dani, a very fine DJ in BA. Later when I started playing music I realized that we should not re-invent the wheel. We play for the people who dance tango, and we must play tango tandas. There is a reason why they are all played to exclusion of the other thousands of tangos. Thanks for stating this so well.

  2. It's reassuring to read about the importance of the music and how it shapes the character of a milonga and a community.

    We want to make sure you have a look at the way we put together music for educational purposes as well.


    Keep up the good work.

  3. "If you can dance, you can dance to any music" I wish I had a pound for every time I have heard this. The only way we can educate the masses who can never get to Buenos aires is to keep plugging the greats. There is (as you so rightly say) a good reason that they play the same music over and over, It is simply the best to dance to.
    As a way of collecting music I would recomend buying the RCA collections of the great artists like Di'Sarli and Canaro, that way you get everything and no duplications.