The following text is the English version of this article.
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.
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 an, Oft gefragt and Lieblingsmensch.
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.
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)