In my admittedly limited experience to date, it seems some tango DJs are more consistent than others in the type of music they play. Bruno at Los Angelicas and Shaun at Tango Terra are very consistent, reliably playing a high percentage of music to my taste. The DJ at tonight’s milonga is more variable, in my view, which got me to thinking about what factors might be at play.
If you’re a tango DJ, please do comment below; in the meantime, here are three theories …
First, there’s the type of dancer to whom you’re trying to appeal. Some, like me, value consistency. We like to know the style of music we’re going to get so we can identify our favourite DJs and turn up at their milongas confident we’re going to want to dance a lot. But there will be other dancers who love to be surprised. Love to hear new versions of old favourites. Love variety.
That’s probably reasonably well aligned with experience. Someone a year or two in is more likely to value familiarity of music; someone who’s been dancing for 20 years is more likely to want to be surprised.
Second, there’s that most mysterious of things: reading the room. Trying to assess what these particular dancers want at this particular point on this particular evening. How DJs do that is beyond me, other than the obvious (if lots of people are dancing, you’re getting it right; if lots of people are sitting, you’re not). But clearly that’s a key DJ skill, and it means the music they play may be very different from milonga to milonga.
Third, I suspect, DJs have to make sure they don’t bore themselves. Even if the same 300 songs, let’s say, reliably get people dancing, and keep most of the crowd happy, it’s going to get pretty boring for the DJ when they’ve been doing it for five or ten years. So I think some of it is simply that: keeping themselves entertained.
So at this particular milonga, I never know how much I’ll like the music. Occasionally, little of it appeals to me; more typically, a reasonable percentage does. Tonight, it was about 50% – which was a distinct improvement on my Sunday experience!
Like some DJs, the tango experience can also be unpredictable. Some evenings, we feel like we’re on fire; other evenings, like we’ve forgotten anything we ever knew. Tonight was somewhere in that comfortable middle ground. No tangasms, but I enjoyed every tanda I danced. They all seemed to flow easily – with one amusing exception.
The exception was a tanda with Ray, from Queer Tango London. It was his first time at this milonga, and he said he made it his mission to bring a little of the Queer Tango spirit to each one he visited. There wasn’t much need here – it’s not unusual to see men dancing with men and women dancing with women. Indeed, two male teachers dancing together is often one of the more fun things to watch.
We had a fun tanda, but I’m not sure we could quite apply the ‘smooth flowing’ description to it! Ray is a far, far better follower than me (not a high bar, admittedly), but is a bloke of a somewhat rugby-player build, and that fact is not entirely absent in his following. So we had moments of me completely failing to lead a particular movement, and others where I wanted to go one way, he wanted to go another and it wasn’t entirely clear whose idea would prevail …
There was one professional performing couple there, dancing amazingly. There was also a second couple who I believe are teachers, whose dance was less showy but beautifully musical. I don’t know any of their names, but was wowed by their dancing.
Beautiful as it was, it was also slightly depressing, seeing the vast chasm between my dance and a really high-level one. But then, just at the right time, came a moment as flattering as it was amusing.
It was the second to last tanda, and one of my favourite followers made it clear that tanda was hers. As we walked onto the dance floor, I saw her giving a thumbs-up and mouthing something to one of my other favourite followers. It turned out they’d been coordinating their invitations: she was claiming this one, leaving the last one for the other follower.
I may be on one side of that chasm, but there are enough followers who enjoy hanging out there with me!