Tango is not only a fascinating dance, but also a fascinating philosophy, culture, and lifestyle. The pursuit of tango is the pursuit 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 people and species. 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.

January 29, 2017

My Two Cents on Music Selections

Music plays a crucial role in tango. Of all the elements that make a successful milonga, music is among the most important three. The other two are a friendly environment governed by the milonga codes, and a high level of dancing. Good music connects and motivates the dancers, touches their hearts, stirs up their emotions, lifts their spirit, synchronizes their movements, and ignites their creativity. Without good music, the dancers cannot perform well and reach duende no matter how good other conditions may be.

Unfortunately, the music played in our milongas is not always good. Many DJs choose to play songs that are not of the highest quality while leave the best songs rest in peace in their computers. I have heard the theory that dancers like to try new songs, that they don't like to dance to the same old songs again and again, and that they'd rather take risk than be bored, etc. While such argument may not totally be false, it often becomes the excuse of those who are willing to sacrifice the danceability of the music for the sake of novelty. It is true that adventurous new songs may attract attentions. But saying that that is the only thing dancers care is an overstatement. Most dancers that I know love to dance to songs that they know well. Familiar songs arouse their desire to dance because, like singing and playing music instrument, they do better when they know the song. Tango dancers will never ever be tired of the best classic tango music. Although there may be generation gaps, I believe the majority of the songs played in the milonga should be known to the dancers overall, including younger generations.

While striving for novelty, the DJs must still pay attention to the danceability of the song. I am a fervent believer that only the most beautiful and danceable songs should be played in the milonga, so fervent that I deleted all the songs that are not of the best quality, and only kept the very excellent, beautiful and danceable songs in my computer. The fact is, you don't need thousands of songs to dj a milonga. A three-hour milonga only contain 14 tandas or 56 songs. If you meticulously select 560 best of the best songs that are of the highest quality, you can play for ten milongas in a row without any repetition. It is the quality and not the quantity that counts. (See The Signature of Tango.)

Some DJs play too many fast songs, which, although energetic, could cause fatigue easily. Others play too many slow songs, which, although sentimental, lack an energy and excitement. I believe the majority of the songs played in the milonga should be in media tempo, but they should be combined with fast and slow tandas to avoid boredom. If all tandas are of the same speed, whether fast, medium or slow, the dancers will get tired. A proper mixture of different tempos and moods suits the tastes of most dancers. But the majority of the selections should be in walking pace, which is most suitable for tango dancing.

Tango as an intimate dance is best danced to music that can stir up tender feelings. DJs should select songs that are sentimental, soulful, beautiful and rich in syncopation to allow the dancers to express their feelings, and avoid songs that are dull in emotion and monotonous in rhythm. Nonetheless, the music must have lucid beats that are not too difficult to follow. (See Tango Music and Its Danceability.) DJs need to be aware that not all tangos are created equal. There was a period in Argentine history during which tango as a social dance was discouraged by the military rulers (1955 - 1983). Tango music produced in and after that period is largely for listeners and not dancers, often with unpredictable beats, or using vocal techniques influenced by Jazz music that are hard to follow. Such songs should not be played in the milonga no matter how novel and creative they may be. Good, danceable tango songs, in fact, are much smaller in number in comparison to mediocre songs or songs created for listening and not dancing. A DJ should be able to distinguish the two and play only good, danceable songs in the milonga. (See Tango: Historical and Cultural Impacts.)

In selecting tango music, I believe the attention should be paid particularly to songs that are juxtaposed with opposite moods. Tango music by its very nature is heterosexual rather than homosexual. A good, danceable tango has a rhythm that is crisp, strong, forceful and easy to dance to, accompanied by a melody that is beautiful, supple, moody and sentimental, so it can stir up the masculinity of the man and the femininity of the woman. In essence, the dancers are playing the music with their bodies. The man and the woman are different instruments, each with its unique sound, expressing different emotions. Both are indispensable and irreplaceable, and they must complement each other and collaborate harmoniously to create a beautiful tango. Lacking either mood would make the music less symphonious, gender expressive and gratifying. (See The Characteristics of Classic Tango.)

I always feel indebted to good DJs like Tine Herrman, Paul Akmajian, Burak Ozkosem and Julia Ingram, to name a few. Every time I hear their music, I feel worth the trouble to travel a thousand miles just to enjoy the music. But the truth is, such pleasure is rare. I believe DJs should let their playing philosophy known to the public, so dancers may have a choice. I believe event organizers should be more specific about the music requirements to the DJs they hire. And I hope, with the growth of our tango, the music in our milongas will improve also, so that wherever we go, we can always enjoy the very best music and dance. 


  1. Check out this article that makes a similar argument: https://tangovoice.wordpress.com/2016/12/06/tango-dj-fundamentals-part-1-selecting-music-for-dancing-and-tanda-construction/

  2. Indeed! DJs bear a heavy responsibility for the milonga. As do the organisers in their choice of DJ.
    DJs who observe dancers' responses to their music, and who are prepared to reflect critically on their musical choices, have a chance of doing a good job. In a recent blog-post, I described some indicators which I look for when DJing. Others may find them useful.

  3. Thank you for your article. Your words warming my heart as a tango dancer. You are absolute right that the way of DJing has changed in the last years.
    The way you write about tango gives me feelings of milongas 10 years ago were the music resonates with my inner world, lets me feel the smoothing body movements of a woman dancing with me, tickling my inner creativity.

    As I grew up as a dancer with every new step or element that I learned of the dance I was able to interpret one or more peaces of the music that I couldn't "feel"/"get" before. A new world opens up each time. What a gift of this beautiful dance.

    I remember in the early days of my dancing career I bought a CD of milongas. 2 of them I really liked and the others I don't. "They are not nice to dance on." After a few years of dancing I heard the CD again and ... 21 tracks I liked to dance on and 2 were "not so good". A few years after this I have now a different feeling of the tracks. Some are "danceable" (I can't resist to dance), some are "nice" and the others I would rather listen to but wanting to dance on.

    And out of my experience I found out that nowadays often DJs are playing music that THEY "got". So that as the DJs expertise of dancing is his/her way of playing music, good or bad.

    Maybe it is also cause the way of dancing has changed in the last 5 years. No more emotions, no smooth dancing on the steady flow of the music. It is more expressive, sometimes aggressive, or totally boring cause they don't dance to the music at all. The only way to get them motivated is to play new music or music that is so chaotic that is has not much in common with tango music.

    And as you mentioned it so do I like music that is "good" and known to me and my body dances by itself just by listening to the music and feeling the woman in my arms.

    It makes me sad of how the world of tango has changed. So many dancers who are too unexperienced trying to talk me into their view of dancing and music preferences (that means NO preferences). And way too many of those are now DJing. Very often in the last years I was about to quit dancing.

    Where are the days of dancers who know how to dance and DJs who know what and how to play music. Music that makes me shiver, lets me wanting to close my eyes and dance, never let loose of the woman I'm holding in my arms.

    As you write about tango, the music, the speed and the inner variety of the music you seem to be one who "knows".

    Thank you