The fol­lo­wing text is the Eng­lish ver­si­on of this arti­cle.

Thanks to Vero­ni­ca Tou­ma­no­vaSusan­ne Mühl­haus and Peg­gy Schorn for help with the trans­la­ti­on. 

The­re is a stran­ge tra­di­ti­on that at most Neo­lon­gas, i.e. milon­gas with alter­na­ti­ve, non-tra­di­tio­nal  tan­go music, DJs don’t play tan­das and cor­ti­nas (T&Cs). I always do becau­se in my opi­ni­on they have a lot of advan­ta­ges.

Parting

T&Cs make it easy to part poli­te­ly and wit­hout any stress. The lea­der needn’t think when to lea­ve the fol­lo­wer wit­hout appearing impo­li­te (“Less than three dan­ces is a turn down.”). The fol­lo­wer can endu­re dan­cing with a bad lea­der more easi­ly, when she knows that she can lea­ve him after 3–4 dan­ces wit­hout having to humi­lia­te him by ending the dance herself. A lot of tra­di­tio­nal pie­ces are ca. 3 minu­tes long, whe­re­as a lot of modern songs are ca. 4 minu­tes (or more). That’s why in con­trast to the tra­di­tio­nal tan­da struc­tu­re (4 tan­gos, 3 milon­gas, 3 val­ses) I most­ly play only 3 pie­ces per tan­da. It is bad enough for the fol­lo­wer to be embraced too tight­ly, be whir­led around or be forced to dance acro­ba­tic jump or fan­cy dive figu­res for 12 minu­tes. In my opi­ni­on it is unac­cep­ta­ble if the fol­lo­wer has to endu­re that even lon­ger.

Dancing with your favourite partner

T&Cs make it much easier to dance with your favou­rite part­ner. Wit­hout cor­ti­nas peop­le switch part­ners arbi­tra­ri­ly and it often hap­pens that you keep mis­sing the per­son you real­ly want to dance with. When I would like to dance with a par­ti­cu­lar woman I have two opti­ons. I can sit down and wait pati­ent­ly until she is avail­ab­le. If I am unlu­cky I may have to wait pret­ty long, when the woman e.g. dan­ces with a man who doesn’t want to let her go. The alter­na­ti­ve is that while I am dan­cing I have to glance at the woman of my dreams all the time in order to lea­ve my pre­sent fol­lo­wer at the decisi­ve moment, taking the risk that I embarr­ass her becau­se we have only dan­ced two dan­ces tog­e­ther. Moreo­ver she will pro­bab­ly noti­ce that I am not real­ly “with her”.

With cor­ti­nas you don’t have all this stress. All cou­ples stop dan­cing at the same time. Of cour­se it may hap­pen that my favou­rite part­ner wants to dance also the next tan­da with her pre­sent part­ner, in this case I still have to be pati­ent. But at least I know that I can dance the next tan­da wit­hout glancing around fur­tively. Of cour­se the­re will always be a few impo­li­te, igno­rant peop­le who stop dan­cing in the midd­le of a tan­da, but the more DJs play T&Cs, the soo­ner this par­ti­cu­lar dan­cer “spe­ci­es” will disap­pe­ar.

Musical and emotional structure

The most important rea­son for me howe­ver is that T&Cs struc­tu­re the evening musi­cal­ly and emo­tio­nal­ly and make it pre­dic­ta­ble. “Tra­di­tio­na­lists” often (and right­ly so, in my opi­ni­on) accu­se Neo-DJs of crea­ting an insen­si­ti­ve cha­os. In extre­me cases you get e.g. some poun­ding Otros Aires pie­ces, fol­lo­wed by some­thing ten­der by René Aubry, then some end­less lounge music, fol­lo­wed by a tra­di­tio­nal tan­go from the 1930s, then a vals from “Ame­lie”, fol­lo­wed by some elec­tro Gotan Pro­ject etc. Of cour­se you have every right to find that “varied” and “inte­res­ting”, but per­so­nal­ly I find it (to put it mild­ly) musi­cal­ly insen­si­ti­ve and ter­ri­ble. I know a num­ber of peop­le who enjoy “modern” music at least as much as tra­di­tio­nal one, but who (under­stand­a­b­ly) sim­ply can’t stand this acoustic hotch­potch and the­re­fo­re only go to tra­di­tio­nal milon­gas.

I don’t want to be “pushed” into a dif­fe­rent direc­tion by every sin­gle pie­ce of music play­ed. In the cour­se of an ent­i­re evening I do want to live the who­le emo­tio­nal spec­trum from dyna­mic / lively / cheer­ful to melan­cho­ly / roman­tic, but NOT with each pie­ce. One of the rea­sons why I find tra­di­tio­nal milon­gas often so boring and mono­to­nous is that at the end of the evening you fre­quent­ly have the fee­ling of having dan­ced all the time to the same pie­ce with just some slight varia­ti­ons.

Cor­ti­nas crea­te an emo­tio­nal­ly “neu­tral” tran­si­ti­on bet­ween the dif­fe­rent moods. Alt­hough he refers to tra­di­tio­nal music Roy­ce has put it very well:

I’m so much into the music that, I need a “break” in-bet­ween tan­das or some­thing to make me for­get about the pre­vious tan­da. Other­wi­se, I will have a hard time to pull my emo­ti­on out from what has been play­ed, then I can­not dance the next set of music. In a nuts­hell, I can­not imme­dia­te­ly jump from Di Sar­li to Dona­to, I need some­thing to “wash away” my Di Sar­li mood so that I can chan­ge mys­elf into Dona­to mode, and that’s what cor­ti­na means to me. I don’t need a very long cor­ti­na, a 20 second or 30 second cor­ti­na is good enough.

I see it exac­t­ly the same way, my cor­ti­nas are 30 seconds long. I find cor­ti­nas that are much lon­ger (a minu­te and more) too long. Such long cor­ti­nas are often play­ed by DJs, who were in Bue­nos Aires and try to copy BA customs. What they don’t under­stand is that cor­ti­nas have a dif­fe­rent func­tion in BA:

The pri­ma­ry func­tion of cor­ti­nas in Bue­nos Aires is to clear the dance floor and encou­ra­ge peop­le to chan­ge part­ners. It is a very prac­ti­cal rea­son. Cor­ti­na is a code of beha­vi­or in a milon­ga. When dan­cers hear the cor­ti­na, ever­y­bo­dy will lea­ve the dance floor. If there’s someo­ne who doesn’t know this rule and waits for the next tan­da to start on the dance floor, then they will find them­sel­ves extre­me­ly embarr­as­sed, it hap­pens qui­te often to the milon­ga first timer. […] Then in Bue­nos Aires, cor­ti­na usual­ly lasts around 1 minu­te, some­ti­mes lon­ger some­ti­mes shorter, depends on dif­fe­rent DJs and dif­fe­rent milon­gas. If the dance floor is big and there’re lots of dan­cers, of cour­se it takes more time to clear the dance floor, hence DJ plays lon­ger cor­ti­na, and vice ver­sa. (source)

You may con­si­der many rules of tra­di­tio­nal tan­das as pet­ty (e.g. not mixing dif­fe­rent orche­s­tras, sin­gers or vocal and instru­men­tal), but a lot of them do make sen­se. The func­tion of tan­das is always the same:

The func­tion of a tan­da is both soci­al and musi­cal. It estab­lishes a mood for the coup­le to sha­re. For this rea­son, it’s essen­ti­al that a tan­da is cohe­rent. The songs in the tan­da should feel as if they belong tog­e­ther. (source)

Let’s take a roman­tic vals like Tar­des de Bolon­ha. I need the first vals to “tune in” to the woman who might be a stran­ger to me and get into the mood. I can only ful­ly enjoy the second and (hope­ful­ly) the third vals. But if, after the first vals, the­re fol­lows some mono­to­nous hea­vy poun­ding by Otros Aires or Gotan Pro­ject, all our mood and plea­su­re are lost again.

My basic struc­tu­re rough­ly looks like this (3 pie­ces each, sepa­ra­ted by a cor­ti­na): tan­go: dyna­mic / lively / cheer­ful – tan­go: medi­um speed – milon­ga – tan­go: calm / roman­tic / sad – tan­go: medi­um speed – vals – ever­ything repeated from the begin­ning

Like in tra­di­tio­nal tan­das I like com­bi­ning simi­lar pie­ces e.g. to a “Greek”, “Tur­kish” or “Arab” tan­da, or a tan­da with instru­men­tal ver­si­ons of well-known hits like Hel­lo or only with Ger­man songs like e.g. Fang mich anOft gefragt and Lieb­lings­mensch.

Predictability

T&Cs make the music pre­dic­ta­ble. Let’s ima­gi­ne someo­ne sim­ply doesn’t like Greek music like “Sou Aksi­ze …”. If I play this song, he will know: “Ok, I can for­get the next tan­da, becau­se it’s going to be this ter­ri­ble whiny folk music. I’d bet­ter go to the toi­let, get a drink or chat with some­bo­dy.”

Each new tan­da is a new begin­ning, and the dan­cers deci­de whe­ther or not they will dance, and with whom, accord­ing to how it opens. The first song is a sign and a pro­mi­se of what is to come. Accord­in­gly, it is important that the first song accu­rate­ly por­trays the tan­da as a who­le. If it does not, the dan­cers start to lose trust in the DJ. (source)

I hate it when I have to dance to music that I don’t like. When you have a stea­dy part­ner you can sit down and wait for the next pie­ce. But when you dance with an unknown woman, eti­quet­te for­bids to take a break alrea­dy after the first dance, only becau­se you can’t stand a cer­tain type of music.

I find it rather stran­ge when DJs play tan­das, but don’t make them reco­gniz­ab­le with cor­ti­nas. What sen­se could that have? One rea­son that I have heard / read several times is that cor­ti­nas inter­rupt the flow of the music. The­re may be non-stop dan­cers who see it that way but my view is com­ple­te­ly dif­fe­rent and I rather like breaks. Some DJs don’t play any cor­ti­nas becau­se they con­si­der the evening to be an “orga­nic who­le” and want to have “smooth” tran­si­ti­ons from one pie­ce to the next. One fre­quent con­se­quence of this con­cept is that pie­ces blend into each other or that pau­ses bet­ween pie­ces are eit­her extre­me­ly short or don’t exist at all. I can’t stand any of the­se. Blen­ding pie­ces into each other for me shows a lack of respect for the music. Moreo­ver the (hope­ful­ly) poi­gnant ending with its cor­re­spon­ding final pose at the end is auto­ma­ti­cal­ly lost (I like music with a dis­tinc­tive end and don’t like it if the music just fades out). Espe­ci­al­ly after roman­tic pie­ces I want to have a few seconds in which I can let the music and the dance reso­na­te insi­de me for a brief moment. I find it stress­ful and irri­ta­ting if the next pie­ce begins imme­dia­te­ly.

Playlists

From the above-said it fol­lows that I have abso­lute­ly not­hing against DJs who use play­lists. On the con­tra­ry: I pre­fer a care­ful­ly cho­sen and varied play­list to “spon­ta­ne­ous” djing, which, in my expe­ri­ence, often leads to musi­cal cha­os. That’s why I also don’t expect the DJ to “work” the who­le evening e.g. with a head­pho­ne over one ear all the time just becau­se he becau­se he con­stant­ly has to select the next musi­cal pie­ce. I focus exclu­si­ve­ly on the dance, the music and of cour­se on the woman in my arms. It may sound harsh but I don’t care at all about the DJs, he needn’t be “pre­sent”, as most of the time I am not even awa­re of him.

Dancing yourself in spite of being the DJ

Also, this is why I total­ly don’t mind when DJs enjoy them­sel­ve and dance to “their” music. The tra­di­tio­nal com­man­dment for DJs says: “You have to at least pre­tend the who­le evening to be ter­ri­b­ly busy, sta­re con­stant­ly at your dis­play and fum­ble around with your knobs and con­trols. Under no cir­cum­s­tan­ces are you allo­wed to enjoy yours­elf and dance.” I find this who­le idea rather sil­ly. That’s why I like the fol­lo­wing state­ment of a tra­di­tio­nal (!) DJ:

Becau­se I’ve spent so much time in pre­pa­ra­ti­on, I usual­ly dance a lot when I dj. A dj who doesn’t dance makes me won­der why … (Not a dan­cer? Not pre­pa­red – just choo­sing in the moment? Oh, oh). (source)