The educated Tanguero

Essential Tango Knowledge

Tango DJing 3.4: Putting it all together – The Strategy of a Milonga


How can we put everything together for a Milonga? This is the main question, all DJs have to resolve. There is no rule, besides the typical Tanda cycle, most DJs use. The Tanda cycle ensures the balance of Tangos, Milongas and Valses during a Milonga. Most people come to a milonga to dance Tango, Vals is very popular, but people get quickly tired from Milongas. So typically, a cycle is TTMTTV (means, we play two Tandas of Tango, one of Milonga, again two Tandas of Tango and one of Vals. Some people use a cycle of TTVTTM, but first both cycles are actually the same if you look at consecutive cycles and second Vals is a very good point to change the style of the Tango Tandas, so I like to use Vals Tandas as a connection/separation point between to different styles.
What is the strategy for an evening of Tango dance? Actually there is no rule at all. I would like to present the two strategies, I like to follow:
1. Developing Energy during the Evening.
The typical Tango evening starts early with beginners present from a possible pre-milonga class (people want to make good use of a rented venue). Beginners like easy music (slow with a good rhythm and not too difficult syncopations, usually instrumentals). Advanced dancers use to come late, they want to dance to more sophisticated rhythms, music with singers and possibilities of interpretation and contrasts of compass and melodical lines). Later in the night, more romantic and even dramatic songs are sought after. So a development from simple rhythms to complex and quick rhythms to romantic and finally dramatic songs as the climax of the night can be used. For the end, it is a good idea to change back to simple rhythms to conclude the milonga. This strategy is perfect for shorter milongas (2-3 Tanda cycles, which estimates to 3-4.5 hours). As this approach typically is a tour from early Tango to late Tangos it can be seen as a historizing approach. During the early evening, the DJ should stick to classy EDO songs, after the climax, there is room for experiments (like a crazy hour “hora loca”, a Nuevo Tanda or even a Salsa Tanda, but this depends on the format of the Milonga and the crowd present).
For this approach the DJ should try to find a smooth transition between the different flavours, so the Tandas are somehow connected.

2. Building contrasts in Flavour
For really long Milongas, the first approach is not a really good idea, because transitions between flavours can last too long, which creates boredom. Here a new idea can be to create contrasts between Tandas in order to not let the crowd become too much bored and always create an exciting variety of flavours. This may be a Tanda cycle like this:

T: D´Arienzo-Maure quick rhythm
T: Troilo-Ruiz melodic
M:Canaro-instrumental simple, straight
T:Calo-Beron soft rhythm
T:Di Sarli (50ies)-instrumental lyric, soft drama
V:D´Agostino-Vargas playful, joyous

The real advantage of this approach is the possibility to deal with very long milongas (>6h or longer). As the Tandas are not that much connected, it is much easier to assemble a playlist “on the fly” and to deal with special requests and the situation on the dancefloor.

3. Mixed Approach
This is the method of contrasting Tandas, but with a development to a climax in mind. Means during the development of the evening, a slow buildup of Tandas with higher energy (but still contrasting flavours) is created, climaxing into a Tanda cycle with mainly dramatic music. After this, the energy can be released with the idea of another climax in mind. I personally like this approach for the few really lengthy gigs I have to do.

However you want to DJ your Milongas, it is a good idea to have a strategy in mind and to follow that (unless you find out that it does not work and you have to develop a plan B).
Some Tango DJs like to assemble the whole Milonga at home. I like this approach, because you can provide beautifully designed Tandas and a build in strategy. I myself did that for many years and found myself frequently in the situation of a DJ who just started the playlist on auto cruise. Many times this worked out well, but that does not prove you are a good DJ. Today I am satisfied with my work when I had to adjust my playlist a few times to the situation on the dance floor. I also do not believe that auto cruise is a good thing for real DJing. I still come with a prepared playlist, but I like to do the real work, to shuffle my Tandas, insert or change Tandas “on the fly” and manually start my songs. This is what DJing is all about.

Have fun,


-Richard (DJ Ricardo)

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