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.

January 29, 2017

My Two Cents on Music Selection

Of all 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 well educated crowd. Good music touches the dancers, lifts their spirit, connects their souls, inspires their creativity, and synchronizes their movements. Without good music, dancers cannot perform well no matter how good other conditions may be.

Unfortunately, the music played in our milongas is not always good. Many DJs choose to use music that is not of the highest quality and let the best songs rest in peace in their computers. I have heard the theory that dancers like to try new things, that they don't like to dance to the same old songs again and again, and that they'd rather take risks than be bored, etc. Such arguments aggravate the tendency to seek novelty at the cost of the quality of the music.

It is true that new songs may be adventurous to dance to, but that is not the main thing dancers are after. In fact, most dancers do not like to dance to strange tunes with irregular and unpredictable beats, but prefer to dance to familiar and danceable songs. Familiar and danceable songs arouse their desire to dance because, like singing and playing music instruments, they do better when they know the songs. DJs should avoid extremist taste and take a balanced approach to serve the needs of the majority of dancers.

In selecting songs, I believe DJs must first pay attention to the danceability of the music. (See Tango Music and Its Danceability.) I am a fervent believer that only the best danceable songs should be played in the milonga, so fervent that I deleted all songs that are not suitable for tango dancing and only kept the very excellent, beautiful and danceable songs in my computer. The fact is, one does not need thousands of songs to dj a milonga. A three-hour milonga only contain 15 tandas or 60 songs. If you meticulously select 600 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 matters. 

Some DJs play too many fast songs, which, although energetic, could cause fatigue quickly. 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, the dancers will get tired. A proper mixture of different tempos and moods suits most dancers. But the majority of the songs should be in walking pace, which is most suitable for tango dancing.

I believe 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, and avoid songs that are dull in emotion and monotonous in rhythm. Nonetheless, the music must have lucid beats that are easy to follow. DJs need to be aware that not all tango songs 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 songs produced during and after that period are largely for listeners and not dancers, often with unpredictable beats, or using vocal techniques influenced by Jazz that are hard to follow. Such songs should not be played in the milongas no matter how novel and creative they may be. Excellent danceable songs in fact are much smaller in number in comparison to the mediocrity or songs created for listening and not dancing. A DJ should be able to distinguish the two and play only excellent danceable songs in the milonga. (See Tango: Historical and Cultural Impacts.)

Finally, I believe the best songs for tango dancing are those juxtaposed with opposite moods. Good tango music is heterosexual rather than homosexual in nature. Its rhythm is masculine, lucid, strong, steady and forceful, and its melody is feminine, supple, beautiful, sentimental and moody, reflecting the two sexes in the dance who in essence are playing the music with their bodies. Men and women are different instruments, each with a distinct sound, expressing a different mood. 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 could have a choice. I believe event organizers should be more clear to the DJs they hire about the music. I hope, with the growth of our tango, the music in our milongas will improve also, so 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