The Milonga arc in larger events – a late #TandaTuesday post
Having established the artistic, emotional and practical shape of a milonga and its component parts, the next logical step is to examine how and whether different milongas should be shaped by the festival or event that they comprise.
When asked if there is a difference in the requirements for different DJ sets throughout a festival Andreas Wichter says yes, because the people attending have different levels of energy and moods; “At the first milonga people will be traveled-out, they may be tired or tense. Then the main [Saturday night] milonga also often has high levels of tension, while on the third day of a festival people have mostly had their “must-have” dances, they feel happy and mellow and are more relaxed.”
It therefore makes sense that the experienced DJ will have adopted different approaches to deal with such scenarios, especially if the dynamics are so predictable throughout a festival or similar event. Goran Niksic is not so sure; “dancers need good music, regardless of the time of day or time in the festival. If you overdo anything, they’ll remember it. The DJ isn’t supposed to “educate” the dancers but playing only one type of song because “people seem to like it” or “they don’t have the energy for more” is wrong. What they need is a nice mix of everything; [with regards to] time, orchestra, singer and genre, all the time.”
Lynn Colins qualifies this; “The Choice of music is dependent on all the factors you mention [time of day, order in festival, organiser’s requirements, risks], plus the anticipated, known or encountered skill level of the dancers, but there are always the same basics to be covered regardless: energy, variety, spice, rhythm and drama.”
Richard Slade believes the first night DJ has the trickiest job. He says that the dancers are all eager to get going with friends and new partners, expectations are high, but no mood has yet been established other than that of anticipation; “The first night DJs have a rough deal in my view as they set the tone for the rest of the festival.” Lynn; ”The first is usually a late afternoon or early evening milonga and as the person kicking off the show, I would be responsible for easing the transition of the dancers from the stress of travel and arrival into enjoyable, comfortable, relaxed dancing.” She explains that people arrive at very different times, the floor will be sparsely populated to begin with and the overall dance level is most likely unknown. She adds that the first milonga is often the shortest, which provides its own challenges; “The key is to energise the floor incrementally and not overwhelm it by throwing in too many high powered rhythmic tandas at the outset. Energy and rhythm yes, but head-banging onslaught, no.” She’ considers that well known music is vital at this time to encourage confidence and relaxation and continues; “I wouldn’t go in for edgy experiments or play a series of unfamiliar tracks. For pace, spice and rhythm a rich mix of GA [Golden Age] tandas makes the most sense with a minimum of VG [Guardia Vieja] tandas. I’d probably stay completely away from anything post late forties.”
When the challenges are met in this way it’s no surprise that the dancers’ perspective is a little different; “the first milonga goes well for me and it’s Saturday night that feels like hard work.” writes Ms Hedgehog in a recent post on Encuentros.
Lynn, who prefers to attend the first milonga to avoid duplication of tracks and to get a good feel for general floorcraft and dance level, gives her first-night-second-milonga objectives as; “a time for more complexity and intensity as the milonga will be longer and end in the small hours. This allows far more leeway for a series of musical arcs and overall dramaturgy. If levels of the dance level or floorcraft are not high, then I might avoid tricky stuff like Laurenz, De Caro, the most dramatic Pugliese and punchy Troilo for example, and keep the floor sane by interweaving plenty of tandas which steady things down but still maintain energy. If it’s a well-seasoned crowd, then the last couple of hours could include more demanding tracks and lyrical/dramatic high notes from Pugliese, late Biagi and some of the very high energy D’Arienzo, Rodriguez and Troilo.”
Detlef Engel explains how the times at which a milonga is held can change the dramaturgy; “In a milonga starting at ten in the evening the first high point may be between midnight and one o’clock. By now the crowd interacts well, and [the DJ has] got to know the room and flow, and so aims for a first high point about 2 hours after the beginning. Working with the milongas’ energy, he may play something rhythmic and strong but only if they [the dancers] don’t go crazy and bump into each other. Then he has to cut back, to take the energy down and then build it up again, so his phrases of 6 tandas are put together in the fashion of a dramaturgy of energy during the evening.”
Goran; “Very rarely are these sets [of milongas in a marathon or festival] joined seamlessly, there’s usually at least a small break. Besides, not all people will be everywhere. In that sense it is usually, though not always, good to look at every DJ set as an independent milonga.” This leads me to think that there should be a kind of risk management approach during and for every milonga, especially when he says his biggest fear is to blow the set; “I want people to have fun, [and pressure is on] especially when I realise that the DJ before me blew it.”
When asked about the extent to which DJs can manage such a wide gamut of risks, Andreas responds; “As a DJ you can be proactive in creating the atmosphere you want, and you can also react to what is happening on the floor. For example play some energetic up-tempo music when you feel the energy slacken or play something mellow when the floor gets too frantic and bumpy. Ideally the proactive approach is good enough so that such problems never occur, but the DJ needs to stay on his or her toes just in case.”
Ms Hedgehog says of Encuentros; “My favourites are the afternoons, especially the last one. Andreas; ”Afternoon milongas usually have a different feel about them, and you might appreciate some breezy tunes fitting the sunny weather and gentle warm winds. Often the feeling is more relaxed, the energy more awake while a late night milonga might feel more intense. The music might be quite different.”
Lynn talks about how she would approach an afternoon; “People would be settled in, much more relaxed and up for some fun and delights, so now would be the time to throw in the odd rogue tanda, some stunning VG tandas and some relatively unknown tracks, while still keeping the overall arc lightish and buoyant.” This could explain Ms Hedgehog’s perspective; “Assuming the DJing is all pretty good, it usually takes me until the middle of Saturday afternoon to really get into it properly, transforming my dance through tiredness. At that point, I feel like I am doing less and hearing more, I connect much more deeply, and I am sure I feel more musical to dance with.”
Goran tells me that while he has noted trends both as dancer and DJ, they can’t be taken as hard-and-fast rules. His first bug-bear is that one should play a significant amount of VG [Guardia Vieja] music in afternoons so as not to put too much strain on the dancers or as he says; “to ‘let them wake up and dance nice and eeeeeasy’. B#!!LS#~T. I hate that, [it] makes me fall asleep!”
Lynn calls the Saturday night milonga (the one that goes on into the small hours of Sunday morning) the no holds barred milonga. She says there is; “plenty of time to build up to the slower lyrical tandas, Di Sarli for example, throw in drama and plenty of punch with kick-ass milongas and super romantic valses and to keep everything energised with punchy, well-paced tandas from orquestas like Donato, Canaro, Tanturi and Demare.”
Goran again on another perceived rule; “Afterparties [are often considered to] have a higher level of dancing and more demanding, more rewarding audiences where deep-cuts, more obscure orchestras or simply wider variety will be greatly appreciated. Overplaying only famous songs may work at an afterparty, when dancers are *actually* tired, but that is also not a rule. Some people come to dance after 2am, so they’ll be at their peak at 5am.” In any case he says that while such milongas have a party atmosphere he hopes to make all his milongas feel like that.
Richard Slade believes that the last night DJs are often considered to be the best; “[The last night milonga] carries a lot of risk as the dancers are often expecting to have the best time then. It does carry a lot of goodwill though, and maybe that’s why the last night DJ often gets the most praise. These DJs will often play the best of the classics and a smattering of newly heard tracks.” Lynn continues; “The despedida is the most relaxed milonga of all and people just want a final opportunity to dance their feet off with old friends and the new. I’d play the lushest favourites, the tried and true [tracks], the warmest and most romantic, the instantly recognisable with kicks in the tanda for surprise and delight. “ She finishes by telling me how she’d still keep plenty of variety, pace, interest and consistent energy because her aim, as always, is “to pull people irresistibly onto the dance floor and to send them home glowing.”
Thank you Barry for letting me know that this hadn’t been published. My bad – after writing it I saved the draft but didn’t press the publish button!
Next weeks #tandatuesday post will be about the construction of the cortina. 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: www.tangokombinat.de/uk.htm
Barry James Leadbetter; www.tangocats.co.uk
Danny Evans’ Carablanca: www.carablanca.co.uk
Detlef Engel: www.tangodesalon.de/en/ehome.htm
Lynn Collins; www.tangokombinat.de/uk_DJ.htm
Melina Sedó: melinas-two-cent.blogspot.com
Ms Hedgehog: mshedgehog.blogspot.com
Richard Slade; www.menudamilonga.com
Trud Anzée Fagerheim; tangoimmigrant.blogspot.com
And for those who contributed to this particular post through facebook discussions:
Goran Niksic: https://www.facebook.com/tango.dj.goran: