16  Tango DJing


Date: Fri, 15 Jun 2001 11:36:01 -0800
From: Dan Boccia <redfox@ALASKA.NET>
Subject: Re: Tango DJing

In reply to Victor's original note about DJing:

I was the DJ at the USTC for three of the nine milongas. There were around
three hundred people in

First off, 3 nights out of nine DJing for roughly 300 dancers per night,
many whom traveled quite a distance to attend the milongas......that's a
huge responsibility and honor to undertake, and a lot of work! Bravo,
Victor for your big contribution to the event!

One night, I started with a tanda of Di Sarli. I immediately got an angry
complaint (I don't know if it was Stephen) that I shouldn't waste this good
music so early in the evening. I assured this person that I would play more
Di Sarli later (which I did). He continued that you should 'never' play Di
Sarli at the beginning of the evening.

First, the word "never" rarely applies to playing music for a room full of
dancers -"there is no formula", and for that, I am quite thankful. The
strangest things can end up working magic when you're DJing, and starting
the evening with Di Sarli is certainly not very strange. Many people know
the music, most people like the music, and most people dance at least
reasonably well to Di Sarli, so why not start with his orchestra? Stephen
prefers to start with 30s Canaro or some of the other nice music with a
clear, steady beat, also quite fine and I agree. When there's 9 milongas in
a row, starting one with Di Sarli doesn't seem like a disaster to me. As to
"wasting" Di Sarli's music, I can see the point (I think) because I like to
dance to Di Sarli when I'm warmed up too, but I can imagine off the top of
my head at least 4-5 great Di Sarli tandas, so "wasting" one early in the
evening still leaves a few excellent tandas for later in the evening!

Getting the evening started is often the most uncomfortable part of the
milonga for me when I DJ, because it always seems to take a few tandas to
sense the energy of the dancers, no matter how well I know them or not.
Once I get some feedback by observing the dancers, I can get into a rhythm.
Obviously, Victor was paying attention to the dancers and I'd bet that most
folks had a blast dancing at his milongas.

Another night, I started with a Tango a Calo. I was immediately approached
by someone telling me that he loves this music and likes to dance to it
later in the evening and that I shouldn't play it so early. I also played
more Calo later.

Again, a solo complaint that I can only partially understand - There's a ton
of Calo to play, all excellent for dancing!! The other complaints about Di
Sarli, D'Arienzo, etc make me chuckle. I know a few people who don't care
much for D'Arienzo or early Triolo, Biagi, etc. because they have a slow,
smooth salon style and prefer Di Sarli, Sassone, Pugliese, etc. Fine with
me! But you can bet I'll still play D'Arienzo, Biagi, etc., and plenty of
it. The difference is that these people don't complain! They often sit
these sets out and manage to enjoy themselves. Perfectly acceptable.

Part of my point is that not everyone can hear exactly what they want when
they want. If there is a perfect formula for what should be played when and
in what order then all the milongas would be the same and that would be
completely boring.

YUCK!! No formulas please! Start with a set of vals, that'll really stir
people up (I did it once and people loved it!). I'm with Frank on this
one - take a risk once in awhile, mix things up!

There is a custom of playing La Cumparsita at the end of a milonga. I would
like to ask for opinions on what people prefer to be played at the beginning
of a milonga.

I would generally say that anything that brings the dancers to the floor and
that is recognizable, to allow the dancers to get their rhythm and
connection, is worth playing. And personally, I would not completely
eliminate the possibility of a vals or even a milonga set (although I have
yet to start with a milonga set). It all depends on the "energy of the

I've been told that Pugliese should only be played later in the evening,
what about people that like to dance to Pugliese but can't stay until the
end of the milonga? Should groups like Color Tango never be played at a

The "N" word again! I must admit that I tend to prefer Pugliese's
recordings to those of Color Tango, but that doesn't mean Color Tango is no
good! Play it! As for Pugliese, in a 5-hour milonga, waiting until "later
in the evening" means what, midnight? I don't see any harm in playing
Pugliese's music earlier in the night, especially his music from the 40s.
When you're playing at the USTC and people have been dancing all week, I
would imagine that even more dramatic Pugliese quite early in the evening
would be fine. Oh, but I forgot, that would be wasting it now, wouldn't
it??? :). Hmmm, I think I'll include a small garbage can in my sound
equipment stash so I can throw Di Sarli, Calo, and Pugliese out after I've
wasted it.....

With that in mind, I would like to ask that in the future, when you have
complaint or a request of your
local DJ, please remember that you are not the only person in the room and
treat him like a fellow Tanguero, which he is, and not like hired help.

I generally make a point of thanking the DJ for their efforts, complimenting
them on some music they played that I particularly liked, or asking them
about some music I'm not familiar with, etc.. Also, I treat them, as Victor
mentioned, as a fellow tanguero/a, and often I enjoy a brief conversation
with them, as I would anyone else. I consider some of the DJs I know as
good friends and always enjoy dancing to their music, and particularly enjoy
their enthusiasm for tango and music. I wait until I can see they are
comfortable and not when they're deep in thought as to which set to play
next - remember, most DJs take themselves fairly seriously, and really want
to give the dancers the best experience possible - sometimes, that means
giving them a bit of space so they can concentrate! If the DJ plays a lot
of music that I don't care for, I'll either sit out, or leave. Who am I,
one single person, to say that the music is no good!

Victor, once again, my hat's off to you! Thanks for opening up the
discussion. Because I'm a DJ, people will often tell me how the do or don't
like other DJs, and it often comes down to these people having a narrow
style of tango they like to dance and listen to. As DJs, we cannot let
their narrow interests govern the entire evening's presentation, especially
when everyone else is dancing and enjoying themselves!!


Date: Sun, 17 Jun 2001 18:48:24 -0400
Subject: Tango DJing

I WAS going to sit this thread out because it's so easy to throw down a few
words and not really get across what you want to. Or to be mis-read.

But, while reading the other posts, it struck me that there is probably some
value in the dj's at the USTC talking a bit about it all.

When I came to Tango, I had a history of knowing a lot about sustaining
interest over time by putting on exactly the right song after this great
song. I started programming music on the radio when I was 13. I've had a
long career of programming radio stations through highly competitive ratings
situations and proving myself good at it.

Selecting music is an art and even a bit of a science. I am more influenced
by psychographics than demographics, certainly. You have to be subjective
whilst maintaining objectivity. And vice-versa. You develop little golden
rules ("If in doubt, bail out!"). Your concepts and ideas change and evolve.

I have a foot in two camps: I'm a dancer looking for a great evening; I love
to choose the music to make one for everybody else.

I've had a little chuckle reading the other guys' posts. It seems I wasn't
the only one who was dismayed to have Caló/Berón played at 9 o'clock when
there was no one there to dance with. And, by the way, I heard lots of
Caló/Podestá or Caló/Iriarte later on - but that ain't the same thing!

Di Sarli shouldn't be played early? Give me a break! Wonderful music to get
to know someone with and get your wheels going. And wonderful late, too!

(You see, already I can seem inconsistent or be taken the wrong way if
someone isn't reading carefully. Writing about this stuff is tricky).

Every dj there will tell you it was hard doing those Milongas because of all
the stopping for the band. And I expect a majority of the dancers there
would tell you there was too much of the band as well, with their limited
set-list. Going to the band over and over brought many groans.

I will use the band as a way of getting across a point to the other guys:
did you notice that when they played a Milonga it was ALWAYS just a little
too fast? That there was no comfortable pocket for you to dance along in?

I felt that many of the Milongas chosen by the dj's felt that way. Too fast,
too tricky arrangements. No feeling, just flash. I think going for some kind
of variety leads to this. You'll never piss me off if you play a Milonga by
one of the Big 8. Same with the Vals.

Victor was kind enough to let me use his computer system when I was playing
the music. I was learning how to use it as I went. I got a couple of songs
in there I didn't want! That's embarrassing. I hit a wrong button at one
point and lost the next hour that I had worked ahead on. Oops. But his
system is really neat and I marvel at how much money he has spent on
acquisitions. This guy is serious! (As is Bob Dronksi. And I love it when
Victor and Manuel and Bob are working - I can dance more with their

Now we come to that part of the evening where I was damned if I wasn't going
to play some music that challenged and moved into other emotions.

I knew it would be provocative. I expected some heat. I was a bit nervous
because I didn't have time to set-things up right musically, what with the
band droning on, etc. The CD player was not very user-friendly. But ... here
we go ...

I am very familiar with the views of old-guard, narrow-minded people. They
are allowed to have their views. Doesn't mean I have to agree.

For instance, my ex-wife danced on stage for years with Piazzolla playing
behind her; but she would never countenance playing Piazzolla at a Milonga.
She says you can't dance to it. Well, I can. Something like Milonga Del
Angel speaks to me. It doesn't have to be choreographed, no matter what they
might say.

One of the things I love about Montréal is the artistic sensibility that
allows people to enjoy dancing to many different kinds of music.

To my way of thinking, people who hate Nuevo Tango don't mind at all when 15
minutes of Swing, or Salsa, or whatever is put on. So, let me play Nuevo for
10 minutes. Let me play Tango Negro and Milonga to it. It's fun!

So, at one in the morning, here I go with some Montréal music: "L'Androgyne"
by Quartango; "Noche De Tango" by Tango Vivo; Tierra Querido by L'Ensemble
Montréal Tango.

One elderly drunken Argentino asked me if I had ever heard of Argentine
Tango. (By then I was playing Pugliese, so I asked him if he'd ever heard of

One woman asked me if I was trying to clear out the place and go home. (She
is a great dancer - I wished I had been dancing with her through these

Maybe 15 people came to ask, what was that? It's beautiful.

One gentleman said, I can't dance to it, but I love it.

Well, I think it is good to push the boundaries a bit sometimes. Not to
excess. And remember, this is coming from someone who relishes playing old
Tango more than many others. I love playing "Ventarron" by Elvino Vardaro
from 1933, for instance. I'm big on the old De Caro, Lomuto, Canaro, others.

I would be quite happy to be known as the dj with the most eclectic taste in
music. Excessive sameness bores me.

There was one small highlight for me that night ... it was Copes' 70th
birthday, and I got to choose the music as he danced with all the women who
asked him. I played Verano Porteño by Pugliese - one of his great pieces
with Maria Nieves. Juan and Maria were the first Tango dancers I ever saw.

To me, it was quite hairy doing the music that night and I regretted not
bringing some pre-programmed CD's. But I also enjoy living dangerously.

To other dj's: when you go MP3, make sure you get the best sound card you
can in your lap-top, or you'll be playing files that are "there" but can't
be "heard."

Also to the other dj's: remember the Monty Python skit: Oh, you wanted
abuse! That's down the hall!

As knowledge grows and more styles come into vogue, it is getting trickier
to please all. I know I can seem hard to please - but all I want is good
music to dance to. If you want to play a Tanda of Varela vocals, you invite
dirty looks. Why play that guck when there is so much other better music?
You've let your judgement slip.

I live in the here and now and don't do something just because "they do it
this way in Buenos Aires" or whatever. I think it's kind of nice if each
place has it's own flavor.

As a dancer, my biggest complaint is that dj's will play 4, 5, 6 songs in a
row with exactly the same feel. I put everything into this song that is
playing now. When it's done, I've said it. Asking me to again go down the
same path over and over again is cruel. There is enough variety in the works
of the great orchestras to play Tandas that lead somewhere in each
selection, one to the next. We're talking subtleties here, and therein lies
the magic.

If a dj thinks he knows everything, dancers have every right to prick their
balloon of hot air.

And dj's should continue to consider the source when someone comes along
brandishing a pin.

(I'm going to spend this week re-writing my page about programming music for

I just loved the Miami Congress. I thank all the women, all the dj's and
Randy and Lydia for putting up with me!



Date: Mon, 18 Jun 2001 11:31:44 -0700
Subject: Re: Tango DJing

> It never fails to amaze me how subjects that are brought up on this list


> misunderstood, over analyzed, and beaten to death.
> First, let me say that I did not find DJing at the USTC to be an


> experience. Exactly the opposite, I thoroughly enjoyed DJing for over 300
> Tango dancers that showed their appreciation by keeping the dance floor
> filled past the 2:00am official end until 3:30am

Dear Victor,

thank you for clearing out this misunderstanding: since I was NOT in Miami,
and since I did not have yet the opportunity to meet you in person here in
reading your original posting, I was under the impression that you had a
experience being the DJ at the Congress. I am glad to hear that you enjoyed
instead. I am also glad to have gone deeper into this issue, as there are
at least 714
people on the list that, like me, were not at the Congress, and, like me,
could have
misunderstood your message. (assuming that ALL 300 in Miami subscribe to

So, the issue you brought up is how a DJ should deal with a few "jerks" that
know civil manners in expressing their disagreement with the music selection
you play at a certain moment.

Well, I think that if you have a solid knowledge of tango music for dancing
(and I know that you DEFINETLY have MUCH MORE than what is needed) you
should simply ignore those stupid remarks, you will never be able to please
anyway, why cumulate resentment in your hart?

Being Latin, I probably would think "el gringo de m---a, no lle gusta la mi
(get it translated from a friend, "he doesn't like my music") and quickly go
over it.
But you are a Canadian living in the Florida, I don't know if you have been
raised dealing with your feelings, like unger. You dance tango, I am glad
for you (and for me) that you don't carry a knife (or a gun) in your pocket
for such
occasions ;-)



Date: Mon, 18 Jun 2001 17:26:24 -0500
From: Stephen Brown <Stephen.P.Brown@DAL.FRB.ORG>
Subject: Re: Tango DJing

Victor Crichton wrote:

>>There is a custom of playing La Cumparsita at the end of a milonga. I

like to ask for opinions on what people prefer to be played at the
of a milonga.<<

The multiplicity of versions of La Cumparsita means that one can close a
milonga with just about any style of tango music--from old guard to jazz
tinged--and still be playing La Cumparsita. It is more difficult to come
up with a comparable standard for opening. Consequently, I would suggest
that the opening music ought to be selected with the notion of helping
establish the predominant style of music to be played throughout the

If the dancers demand a multiplicity of styles, how about opening with a
mixed tanda--such as La Melodia de Nuestra Adios by Francisco Canaro, Yo
Soy El Tango by Miguel Calo, El Once by Osvaldo Fresedo, and Mano a Mano by
Francisco Lomuto?

--Steve (de Tejas)

Date: Tue, 24 Dec 2002 12:42:07 -0800
From: Bugs Bunny <bugsbunny1959@HOTMAIL.COM>
Subject: Tango DJ

Well this might sound strange. I had a great time the last time Ward DJ'd as
a guest DJ at our Monday night dance. I wasn't paying attention enough, nor
do I know enough, to know exactly what he was playing. Perhaps transitioning
from one sound era to another or something. A great non-Tango set that
wasn't any/or all Salsa or Swing. SLow enough to Tango to, which I really
love doing. Night Club 2 steps are perfect (of which Tango2Evora is one).
Beats per minute of something in the 70s or 80s are wonderful. I'll write
another post on this soon. If he played the sets at one of our local
festivals here in Portland, I would find it a welcome change & I know others
as well. Perhaps he'll have the opportunity someday, I hope...


Date: Sat, 24 Jul 2004 06:20:15 -0700
From: "arabtanguera@yahoo.com" <arabtanguera@YAHOO.COM>
Subject: DJing

What makes a good DJ? What makes "hot music"? How does a good DJ decide what music to play? Does a DJ make a list beforehand, or does she decide according to the mood at the milonga? What orchestras would you avoid completely? Would you experiment with new tango music or non-tango music? (I guess that depends on the milonga.)

If you were to create a list of music you would play at a milonga, what would it be? And in what order? Why?

How does a DJ learn to be a DJ? :)

---- Tom Stermitz wrote ----

> Subject: Spontaneous Combustion Milongas


> The DJ is playing hot music

Date: Sat, 24 Jul 2004 18:18:24 -0400
From: WHITE 95 R <white95r@HOTMAIL.COM>
Subject: Re: DJing

>----Original Message Follows----
>From: "arabtanguera@yahoo.com" <arabtanguera@YAHOO.COM>

>What makes a good DJ? What makes "hot music"? How does a good DJ decide
>what music to >play? Does a DJ make a list beforehand, or does she decide
>according to the mood at the milonga? >What orchestras would you avoid
>completely? Would you experiment with new tango music or >non-tango music?
>(I guess that depends on the milonga.)

>If you were to create a list of music you would play at a milonga, what
>would it be? And in what >order? Why?

>How does a DJ learn to be a DJ? :)

Interesting question(s) and difficult to answer. What makes music "hot" at
any given milonga will not necessarily be hot at another milonga/time. Music
tastes and fashions change all the time and from place to place.
The best way to learn DJ'ng is to go to many milongas in various places and
observe what happens. Sometimes you have to set aside your predilection of
music and see what makes people dance and what kills the energy in a
milonga. Lately, I see a lot people dancing tango to "alternative" music.
Sometimes it's good and fun to watch and sometimes it sucks in a big way. I
prefer to dance to the more rhythmic tango music of the golden era and the
vieja guardia, but not everyone shares my enthusiasm for Orquesta tipica
Victor, Carabelli, Donato or Canaro. Others have no use wathsoever for
Darienzo, Tanturi, Enriquez, or Demare.... If you want to be a good DJ you
must watch and learn what various dancers like and what's in fashion at any
given time.
Personally, I think it helps a lot if you understand the lyrics and have a
sense of the epoch of the tangos you play. Also, it's good to have lots and
lots of CDs or even old cassettes or LPs.
I try to have an idea of what I'll play at the milonga, but it generally
goes out the window once I'm actually there.
Personally, I put a lot of trust in the orchestras of the golden era and
make them the bulk of the tango I play. I also try to keep an ear out for
neat or cool music other DJs use. Particularly if I really enjoy a
particular milonga. OTOH, I also listen and learn what a DJ plays where the
milonga really sucks... This gives me a chance to weed out bad music or to
make sure the order of the music is better chosen. I'm not afraid of
"alternative" music, but I definitely listen to anything with a critical ear
before I play it in a milonga.
Most of all, learn not to take yourself too seriously or to become convinced
you are the final authority in tango music. One DJs meat is another one's
poison. Also, even if you hate some music, you must play it and play it a
the right time if the dancers like it. Sometimes, I think my music is great
and is really hot, other times, I'm pretty disgusted with the music I've
played. Remember something else, you cannot please everybody, so don't even
try. Just try to please the majority without alienating the minority.

Good music to all,


Date: Mon, 26 Jul 2004 13:52:37 -0500
From: Stephen Brown <Stephen.P.Brown@DAL.FRB.ORG>
Subject: Re: DJing

Arabtanguera wrote:

>>What makes a good DJ? What makes "hot music"? How does a good DJ decide

what music to play? Does a DJ make a list beforehand, or does she decide
according to the mood at the milonga? What orchestras would you avoid
completely? Would you experiment with new tango music or non-tango music?
(I guess that depends on the milonga.)

If you were to create a list of music you would play at a milonga, what
would it be? And in what order? Why?

How does a DJ learn to be a DJ? :)<<

With the help of a number of people who contribute to Tango-L and some
others, I put together some online resources for those who are interested
in DJing at milongas:

A guide for the person playing recorded music at milongas, practicas and
other tango events.

A list of great tangos, milongas and valses for social dancing as
recommended by tango dancers and DJs from around the world.

My list of preset tandas.

A brief guide to some post-golden-age CDs for the DJ playing music at
milongas and practicas.

A brief guide to some neo-tango CDs for the DJ playing music for tango
dancers who would enjoy dancing to something new and different.

With best regards,

Date: Sat, 7 Oct 2006 13:56:35 -0400
From: jackie ling wong <jackie.wong@adelphia.net>
Subject: [Tango-L] DJing
To: tango-l@mit.edu

this discussion is very interesting. i would like to share some of
my observations. none are hard and fast rules.

1. if there are more followers than leaders i will play 3 tangos per
tango tanda to encourage more rotation. sometimes i will start with
4 but you can tell immediately if the community is a 3 tango tanda
group whether there are lots of followers or not.

2. in buenos aires when i dj i find that the cortina is longer and
even the space between songs within a tanda are expected to be longer
than in the USA. i agree with the observation about couples staying
on the dance floor and noticing when they don't leave and thereby
cutting the cortina shorter. i also agree with trini about long
cortinas bringing down the energy at small intimate milongas.
sometimes in very small groups, cortinas don't make sense at all.

3. because i generally play a mix of alternative and traditional, i
like to use the same cortina or a theme of cortinas ... motown like
marvin gaye.... or ella fitzgerald... for example. using the same
cortina or theme throughout the night makes it clearer when you shift
between alternative and traditional. some djs lower the volume but
in a packed room i find that the cortina can get lost.

4. i also have a friend in buenos aires that will play an electronic
tango as a cortina and, if couples get up to dance, will play the
whole song. because i am known for playing alternative music, this
would not work for me.

5. performances in buenos aires tend to be more serious than here.
at the festivals, coordinating the music with the lighting
specialist, sound crew, the performers (and their choreography) and
the announcer is a huge part of the djs job. at the milongas,even if
it's just coordinating with the dancers, it's intense but
exhilarating. the performers there expect professionalism from the DJs.

6. i would say that alternative tango has not arrived in Buenos
Aires but electronic tango is popular among certain groups. luiza
and pulpo are considering adding an alternative opening social
practica to their week long festival. okayyyyyy, i'm trying to talk
them into it ;-)

7. if the alternative tanda i play is at the milonga speed, i will
replace a traditional milonga set. if it's alternative vals, i will
replace a vals set(i am very picky about my alternative vals because
i love so many of the traditional vals and have to truly feel moved
in order to replace a traditional set) alternative tango sets are
grouped with an traditional set which is dissimilar. slower.....or
lighter...or more dramatic. i also tend to start the evening
exclusively with traditional sets and then will ease my way into

8. live music... so hard to dj between their sets... they generally
play tangos and then 1 vals and tangos and then a milonga. so, i
will either lead off after a set of live music with a vals or milonga
tanda and will try to end with an alternative tanda. again, this
depends on the mood, the crowd, the energy. sometimes i make
mistakes and have to do the slow fade... but thankfully not very
often. i'm a work in progress. :-)

9. i like the format T T V T M because i love milonga and vals and
think the T T V T T M means i have to wait longer for the juice.
think about it... 6 tandas and only 1 set of vals... seems more fair
to be 5 tandas with 1 set of vals. the problem becomes that some
communities are not milonga communities. why is that? vals are
always popular.

10. which DJs are high on coke in BA? don't doubt it but i don't
know any that are.

11. i also like that folks in BA will sometimes clap if they love a
particular set. it's very gratifying as a DJ. it's important to
make sure to your milonga attendees what to expect from a DJ. I
think you can safely assume that if you're going to an alternative
festival that alternative music will be played but other times you
don't know. also DJs generally make it their job to understand what
the host expects and will plan accordingly. the problem becomes when
people show up that normally don't because they expect and want a
different format. then it feels like walking on a tightrope.

those are my thoughts. you won't get me to defend them because as i
said, variables change and people adapt to their situation.



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