Cortinas and Continuity, a #TandaTuesday Post

Los Ocampo at Tango Al Fresco. Regents Park, London. (c) Carole Edrich July 2013.

Los Ocampo at Tango Al Fresco. Regents Park, London. (c) Carole Edrich July 2013.

The dramaturgy of a milonga isn’t influenced just by the arcs of its component tandas. A choice of cortina can also contribute significantly to mood and movements around the floor. This is why experienced DJs  spend a lot of time looking for and thinking about the cortina selections they make and why cortinas are a contentious topic about which many people have definite and diverse opinions. I’m splitting the results into weekly posts as my findings to date amount to several thousand words.

“I try not to attempt to do too much with cortinas. They must let people down gently after a tanda, and generally serve as a bridge between one tanda and the next.  One specific track might fit better or worse than another from your cortina list for the event, so you shouldn’t just put them in randomly unless they are quite uniform. Cortinas support and enhance the mood you are trying to build with your tandas. That means I might for example use different cortina material for an afternoon event in a sunlit room than for a late-night milonga in a Victorian ballroom,” says Andreas Wichter.

Tony Walker who prepares them in advance is more specific; ” I choose them to contrast with tango so they stand out and they average 27 seconds in length”. When asked if they vary according to the venue, his response is “Occasionally. I always try to fit in with the house style or rules, but at my own events I can be a bit more adventurous!”

Kele Baker of Tango Al Fresco explains why she asks her DJs not to use cortinas; “As the event organiser I want to maintain a constant dance party for four hours in the park. I am really sensitive to both dancers and passers-by who stay and watch. My feeling is that the cortina breaks the mood. As the mood breaks so does the audience’s interest. The flow of the event is lost and the audience is more inclined to leave.” Kele’s other reason is more personal; “Because I started with ballroom and Latin dance I’m comfortable switching between one dance style and another. I feel that the cortina is quite jarring and like the change of sound and mood of different styles because it means I get to dance to, and express them all.”

Detlef Engel’s philosophy may mitigate this sense of discontinuity; “Both content and subject are very important and must be adapted to the context of the milonga. Cortinas should be music that isn’t salsa or swing or anything too aggressive, so that people who want to talk are able to do so without shouting. Also, while the music should be lovely, it shouldn’t animate you into wanting to dance.”

After discussion, Kele and Tony tried an experiment for July’s Tango Al Fresco, with brief cortinas that were sufficient to signal the end of a tanda, but not so jarring as to disrupt the mood. Tony explains that they agreed each cortina in advance and that he made a formal announcement so that those unfamiliar with their use would know what was happening from the start. The August Tango Al Fresco had none.

Raquel Greenberg gives the perspective of an experienced milonga habitué; “The real idea of the rule behind the structure of tandas and cortinas is to break the intimacy of the tango and the dance routine. Well respected in Buenos Aires, it reminds us to disconnect from the intimacy of the embrace, helps us chat or say goodbye and gives us time to find our table and be ready for the next tanda.”

The Cortina Fit
In a questionnaire designed to encourage dancers to better appreciate the quality of their DJs Ms Hedgehog indicates her belief that cortinas should be sufficiently long for dancers to clear the floor and find their next partner without obstructing anyone else’s view, given the size of the room and supposing there are sufficient places for people to sit. Andreas Wichter says; “A bad choice of cortinas can ruin an evening. Personally I don’t enjoy attempts to inject lots of energy into the milonga via the cortina. You should be able to do that with the actual dance music.”

Detlef gives some reasons for varying a cortina’s length; “It’s obvious you need a longer cortina for a big room and big dance floor, especially when seating and tables are arranged so that people need time to leave the floor, sit down and sip their water. If the room is very small and access to tables is easy the cortina can be shorter. The cortina length is very important in that it can also control the length of the playlist, allowing people to go to the loo, visit a bar if it’s outside the dance hall. This is especially true in Encuentros, where there may be a staircase between the dancers and the place they can buy a coffee. In this case, a DJ might play two or three well-distributed cortinas that are very long (sometimes 2.5 minutes) because then people can breathe and go for cigarette or something.”

Andreas believes there are many different ways to build and use cortinas; “For a short informal milonga or a practica-type event I might use just one cortina, though sometimes with different starting points.” Lynn Colins has very definite opinions about this; “The same cortina every time gets tedious for the dancers but does the job, while an adequate length of cortina is important in keeping the floor disciplined and allowing sufficient time for people to settle for the next cabeceo or mirada.”

Detlef takes the middle ground; “Repeating the Cortina is useful, a constant factor [and thererfore is] recognisable – it should always be recognisable – but there are good arguments to play the same [cortina] after tango, the same cortina after vals and another after milonga, thereby attaching them to a musical genre. However there should be conscious thought behind it, not random [choice]. Then you can recognise the thought and concept and what the DJ wants to tell us”

Andreas; “Normally I use different cortinas, but I like them to have some kind of coherence.” He might play mellow Motown songs by various artists at one time, stick to one band or a dozen different variations of one song in another or work on a common theme. He continues; “I might also change the type of cortina, or the band, over the course of the evening.”

Next weeks #tandatuesday post will continue this discussion. 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
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:
Kele Baker’s Tango Al Fresco; www.dancealfresco.org
Raquel Greenberg: www.facebook.com/RaquelTangoLand
Tony Walker: www.tangoonthethames.co.uk