Understand and build tandas

Gregory Diaz

Musicalize a milonga is not something that easy and each tango DJ brings his own sensitivity depending on the place, the people, the dance floor… This article describes the structure of a traditional milonga, with tandas and cortinas. Then I give some elements to build consistent tandas (or understand them better) with few examples.

Gregory Diaz

Do not copy this content without authorization.

Understand and build tandas

Musicalize a milonga is not something that easy and each tango DJ brings his own sensitivity depending on the place, the people, the dance floor… This article describes the structure of a traditional milonga, with tandas and cortinas. Then I give some elements to build consistent tandas (or understand them better) with few examples.
The information given in this article is not set in stone since always or forever. Neither it means everything is or should be in this way. However, it corresponds to what we can see in most parts of the world and that – in most cases - works.

The tanda

What we call tanda is a batch of songs on which people dance during the milonga. The tanda is generally build of four tangos, waltz or milongas on which we dance with the same partner. The 3, 4 or 5 songs of a same tanda are usually from the same style, with a similar sounding.

The cortina

The cortina is a piece of music inserted between the tandas. The word "cortina" means "curtain" in spanish. The cortina usually lasts between 45 and 90 seconds and has not necessarily something to do with Argentinian tango. On the contrary, the idea is to separate the tandas with a short break. It can be the same music all the night or it can change. In any case, it should be clearly identified by everybody in order to leave the dance floor and allow the change of partners when the next tanda starts.

Traditional structure of the tandas

The following traditional structure is the one I use most of the time, and probably the most common:

  • 4 TANGOS | Cortina | 4 TANGOS | Cortina
  • 3 VALSES | Cortina
  • 4 TANGOS | Cortina | 4 TANGOS | Cortina
  • 3 MILONGAS | Cortina

Considering an average duration of 3 minutes per recording and 1 minute for the cortinas, we get a 1h15 cycle divided like this

  • 67% of tangos
  • 25% of waltzes and milongas
  • 8% of cortinas

We keep a higher quantity of tango, while changing styles on regular basis. The cycle duration (1h15) is not too long, which is good for milongas of short or medium duration. This scheme can also be adjusted depending on the crowd and the milonga style.

Dealing with longer milongas

For the cases of long nights, it is also possible to increase the cycles duration to approximately 1h40 in order to decrease the quantity of milongas and waltzes. Just insert an additional tanda of tangos before the waltz, before the milongas, or both. Try to keep a regular structure not to confuse the dancers.

  • 4 TANGOS | Cortina | 4 TANGOS | Cortina | 4 TANGOS | Cortina
  • 3 VALSES | Cortina
  • 4 TANGOS | Cortina | 4 TANGOS | Cortina | 4 TANGOS | Cortina
  • 3 MILONGAS | Cortina

This cycle lasts 1h40 including 73% of tangos, 18% of waltzes and milongas, and 8% of cortinas. Some DJs like to put 4 milongas and valses per tanda. For me, this can be a bit tiring, but it is just a personal taste and again, each DJ will adapt his proposal to the context.

Why not playing tandas of three tangos to increase the change partners?

It is a possibility, even if I don’t recommend it in general. First of all, because I like to have four tangos to take time to invite and dance. Second because depending on the place and local habits, we may observe an opposite result. People starting to dance on the second tango would enjoy less than 2 tangos, and they may stay together on the next tanda. In that particular case, the change of partner is less often. However, for very short milongas, it can be a nice way to reduce the cycles and allow several tandas of waltz and/or milongas.

How to build tandas?

The tangos of the tanda will vary depending on the DJ, the available recordings, the mood… Traditionally, the best is to keep cohesion between the tracks of a same tanda. Like for cooking, there are obvious rules for the milonga proceedings (i prepare a starter, a main plate, and then a dessert); while others define the musical quality of the set (I select side dishes, condiments, the good wine…).

To better understand how a tanda can be built, here are some key criterion :

The style

We avoid mixing waltzes, milongas and tangos into the same tanda. Apart from special cases, to insert a milonga between two tangos will be considered as an obvious mistake. Back to the cooking example, we usually don’t take a last coffee in the middle of the main course.

The orchestra and his style

For consistency purpose, we usually select recordings from the same orchestra (style). Dancers invite on Di Sarli or Pugliese or D’Arienzo… not a mix of the three.
Sometimes, experienced DJs can mix orchestras while keeping cohesion. However it is risky and complex to do without confusing the dancers.

The singer

When possible, it is recommended to keep the same singer. We avoid mixing D’Arienzo-Echague with Mauré or Valdez. When there is no way and the singer has to change during the tanda, an intelligent mix may be found.

For those who want to try, it can be done with care. In the 40’s, most orchestras had 2 singers sharing the stage or even performing together. So we can imagine a tanda of Alfredo DE ANGELIS with the famous duo Dante-Martel. Their voices fit perfectly together. Be careful not to mix distinct singers from the same orchestra but from times that have nothing to do. If you miss information, the database El Recodo Tango Music will probably help a lot.

The date

Di Sarli from the 30’s has nothing to do with Di Sarli from the 50’s. D'Arienzo in 1970 does not sound at all like in 1935. Musical styles can change a lot with time, even considering a single orchestra. So it is important to look at recording dates (which is sometimes forgotten by young DJs) and avoid anachronisms. Moreover, considering the date also helps reducing sound differences due to distinct recording qualities.
For more details about the evolution of styles over time, check the article of Juan D’Arienzo.
To go further, it is also possible to select recordings from the same year, month or even the same day. This way you should get a tanda even more consistent. You can also follow a chronologic order of recordings, or the opposite.

Le topic / the lyrics

Each tango is a story and develops – especially when there is a singer – a specific theme and feeling. You can of course make a tanda with lyrics talking about four different topics, but it will be more logical to select them also depending on what they talk about: what he says, what story, what feeling there…? This dimension implies to know quite well the tangos, what they express and tell us. As an example, see on the right (or below) a tanda of Ricardo Tanturi with Alberto Castillo with 4 lyrics about tango.

Gregory Diaz

Do not copy this content without authorization.

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About Tandas and Cortinas - Understand and build tandas


Gregory Diaz

Hi Azza. Of course you can play what you want. Personally I prefer the original versions from Pugliese but Color Tango is a very good continuation of his style directed by Roberto Alvarez who was also part of pugliese's orchestra.

Azza Mohammad

Hello dears, Can i play Color tango in a milong night, for example : a evaristo carriego,emancipacion ?