Courting Cortinas – a #tandatuesday post

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

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

Lynn Collins spends hours choosing cortinas; “because I think they are a vital part of the flavour of a milonga. Choice depends on [the] time of day, harmony with tango music and general ‘comfort’. I have a particular dislike of loud, upbeat tempo, strident cortinas and drizzly, shapeless cortinas or wildly inappropriate stuff like Bob Dylan or opera. I go for swing or songs around a theme, one particular singer, or other music from a particular era.” She aims for the feel-good factor in her cortinas but makes sure they’re not intrusive and tends to rotate between eight and ten cortina tracks throughout the milonga; “For example during my last three-hour set I used eight tracks of Louis Prima with Keely Smith.”

There are some who disagree. Simon Haddock declares some very strong opinions about using repeating cortinas; “Repeated cortinas are lazy! Please don’t do it!” and Thomas Keenes takes a slightly more moderate stance: “Unless it’s a particularly good or interesting piece of music, I dislike it when DJs use the same cortina throughout the milonga [since] it tends to gets both tedious and irritating very quickly.”

Goran Niksic waxes lyrical; “The cortina is a curtain between the acts.” He explains; “DJs don’t supply energy, dancers do. The DJs are there to set the stage and help release that energy.” And later; “There is nothing worse than cortinas that make me fall asleep. A milonga is a party, not a funeral – [so I] keep the cortinas interesting and happy [and] change them during the course of the evening, especially if it seems they aren’t doing the trick. Not death metal, of course. But get me to sleep (or feel as if moving through a sea of honey) as several DJs did and you are blacklisted.”

Wayne Rozier agrees, and recently used Hugh Laurie’s They’re Red Hot. Apparently this 1 minute 18 seconds long cortina was sufficient for some people to laugh about and dance milonga to. Terry Meinrath reminisces; “The maddest cortina I ever heard was in Buenos Aires, The Sex Pistols’ ‘Never Mind the Bollocks‘. Lord knows what the locals thought, but you sure knew it wasn’t a tango.” Andrew Ryser Szymanski responds; “At least They’re Red Hot has an ending instead of fading out, which sounds sloppy.” Barry James Ladbitter adds; “Very loud gangster rap cortinas at an event in London [once] totally killed the event for me” and Dawn Porter declares a detestation of cortinas using the la-la-la guy; “Once heard, never forgotten.” Peter Benton turns the discussion in a more positive direction by suggesting his favourite; “Japonisita by Carabelli [is] a beautiful foxtrot!” He plays it all the time and has heard it elsewhere too.

Andreas Wichter; “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. Richard Slade adds; “I like to change my cortinas quite regularly, creating them in series of three (one for next milonga, next vals and next tango). While they should have energy, they should be completely different in that they are easy to distinguish from the tango music.” His most recent cortinas have been a set of tracks from the 1940s early rock’n’roll and boogie woogie. He continues; “They are fun, have energy and allow the dancers to quicky identify that there will be a change of orchestra. I play the least energetic cortina after a lyrical or romantic set of music so as not to jar the dancers from the mood and the most energetic cortinas after a rythmical tanda” and continues; “I like my cortinas to all have the same theeme or genre. For example, all blues, boogie woogie, jazz or rock n roll.”

Other Approaches

It’s clear that there are no universally accepted rules on cortinas, and that dancers and DJs have very definite – and often opposing – ideas. Nick Stone, who says; “I am not one to just dance for the sake of it because it’s tango” can’t stand salsa cortinas but loves those comprised of English jazz. He continues; “Michael Lavoche, for example often plays these [English jazz cortinas] such as Al Bowly’s My Woman. [The] troube is I can’t sit down, and somehow manage to dance a kind of milonga to it.” Simon doesn’t like what he calls ‘sensible’ cortinas because he wants to be able to; “derive energy from them rather than sleep walk between tandas.”

Barry James Leadbetter tells of another way he has heard; “that is putting tanda and cortina together to tell a story. However my Spanish is not good enough and outside of Spanish speaking countries in the main you would be wasting your efforts” while Lynn talks about; “a superb DJ whose cortinas relate to tracks just played or tracks en route – a great way to go.”

Detlef Engles discusses an alternative approach; “We once organised a milonga upstairs in a rowing club, upstairs, so all the cortinas had marine connections such as Yellow Submarine. In this way one can play games to bring people together. Tango isn’t only what happens on the dance floor, it’s the whole thing.”

In another milonga, where they had selected their cortinas from TV shows, Detlef tells of holding a small competition where those who provided the most accurate lists of the shows won a small prize. This provides a light hearted way to connect people to the place, the organisers, the name of the festival or whatever else differentiates the milonga or location.

That it is the entire feel of a milonga (to which the cortina contributes a significant different) rather than just the tandas is born out by one of Thomas Keenes’ anecdotes;  “We heard a mad cortina at Canning [Buenos Aires] in April: it was Veteran’s Day, the DJ played a cortina by an Irish folk band singing an anti-British song.” Raquel Greenberg says; “the cortina is really about personal taste. I like jazz, swing, Latin music and pop because I like the cortina to be diverse and interesting.”

Diverse and interesting is a good choice of words, and since at least one person I’ve interviewed believes that one should even be able to dance to a cortina,  that’s how this section stays.

#tandatuesday posts will continue next week. 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;
Detlef Engel:
Lynn Collins;
Melina Sedó:
Ms Hedgehog:
Richard Slade;
Trud Anzée Fagerheim;

And for those who contributed to this particular post:

Goran Niksic:
Raquel Greenberg:
Tony Walker: