Structure tracks and tandas on #TandaTuesday

Dancers at Tango Al Fresco, (c) Carole Edrich July 2013

Dancers at Tango Al Fresco, (c) Carole Edrich July 2013

Finding the perfect combination of tracks for a particular milonga is a complex challenge. “If the very same DJ plays the very same tanda in 2 different milongas (not different continents or countries, just different settings) it can either be a good tanda or a bad one. It’s the big picture that matters. In what spirit are these people dancing? What spirit does the organiser want to convey? What is the space, the light, the seating?” Detlef Engel hasn’t begun to discuss dance styles here, he’s establishing the right tone and level for the event.

Richard Slade illustrates his appropach with extremes; “It depends very much of where you are and to whom you are playing. For example, in a small intimate indoor milonga I would cut down on and even play less of the later [more recent] or more dramatic music which might encourage use of more space. Where a milonga has more beginner dancers, the music should be kept simpler, and the curve to more complex music should take longer to build…” Naturally, he also emphasises the fact that each DJ should assess the individual requirements of the host (if they have any), the dancers, venue and events.

Andreas Wichter discusses the idea of arcs within arcs, each arc a component of the overall structure of a set with its own requirements and challenges; “It is possible to make a comparison between the progression of a story (with beginning, middle and end) and the “energy curve” or dynamic arc of a tanda.” This arc can exist on several levels: within one particular track [the structure of a song], within the tanda [the combination and order of tracks], within the milonga and for the complete milonga.


A gradual trend throughout a long novel is fine, but it is the individual components; the sub-plots and back stories, the highs and lows within it that make it an interesting read as a whole. Stefanie Godderidge bears this out when describing what she likes; “danceability and good energy (with variations through the evening). Energetic milongas, beautiful valses. Add to that exhilarating cortinas and a Pugliese tanda to make the perfect mix.” That’s exactly what Melina Sedó provides; “by alternating more rhythmical tandas (valses and milongas are also rhythmical) with lyrical or dramatic ones” (more from her later).

Few DJs would start a milonga with very complex music. Instead they build the mood carefully, slowly building complexity and tone before playing the difficult stuff. Whether they call it an arc, framework, phrase, phase, structure or the line of music, and even if (assuming they’re good) their constructions are completely intuitive, overall contexts (metastructures) and component arcs can be recognised throughout a festival or milonga.

Lynn Colins explains her favoured metastructure (my word not hers); “My opening tandas tend to be steady and rhythmical to energise the floor with tracks like Canaro or D’Arienzo. The next phase of tandas sustain the direction, often moving to a climax. Then I might add spice and complexity through tracks from Biagi or move into more lyrical pieces such as those by Fresedo. The final phase might add drama with tracks from Orquesta Tipica Victor.”


Whatever the way they describe meta-, micro- and sub-structures of a milonga, the construction of tandas and dramaturgy is a completely personal artistic expression. “It’s just a way that make sense.” says Barry James Leadbetter (more from him later). As a photographer and ex-astrophysicist I’m attracted to the way Andreas concludes his discussion of arcs; “So if you were to draw a graph depicting let’s say the “energy”, or the “drama”, or whatever it is you want that tanda to have/express, then you get a graphic representation of what I call “arc”.” I see that as a tempting future challenge combining mathematics, photography and tango!


Next weeks #tandatuesday post was going to be about the construction of the tanda itself but interviews with Barry James Leadbetter and Richard Slade have made me think that the arc of this series will be better served by looking at the different approaches needed to successfully meet the risks and requirements of different festival sets. Meanwhile, here’s the original Dance Today article, the research for which lead me to start on this series Timing & Tandas.

Regular contributors, those whose initial interviews contributed to the overall shape of this series and founding article (published by Dance Today, link above):
Andreas Wichter:
Barry James Leadbetter;
Danny Evans’ Carablanca:
Detlef Engel:
Kele Baker’s Tango Al Fresco;
Lynn Collins;
Melina Sedó:
Ms Hedgehog:
Nikki Preddy:
Raquel Greenberg:
Richard Slade;
Trud Anzée Fagerheim;