Tango DJ Fundamentals: Part 2 – Managing the Overall Sequencing of Music at a Milonga

May 31, 2017
  • The role of the DJ at a milonga is to provide recorded tango music to dancers that enables them to connect to the music and their partners, as well as maintaining their motivation to dance. Selection of the best available classic tango music enhances connection to the music and one’s partner. Maintaining dancers’ motivation to dance involves recognizing the changing energy levels of dancers over the course of the milonga and selecting music that elicits energy from dancers while at that the same time not exhausting them. Therefore, tango DJs need an overall strategy for selecting music over the course of a milonga.
  • Tango music (including milonga and vals) varies in musical intensity based on tempo, emphasis on the beat, and emotional intensity of singers. Tango music with higher physical intensity (more rapid tempo, greater emphasis on the beat, including minor accented beats) and higher emotional intensity tends to elicit more energy from dancers. Tango music with lower physical intensity allows dancers to continue to dance while replenishing their energy reserves.
  • Some tango DJs, in their discussion of the selection of music over the course of the milonga, have emphasized paying attention to the current energy level of dancers and selecting music to match these perceived energy levels. General principles that have been stated focus on increasing musical intensity gradually over the course of the milonga, providing relief with lower intensity music at times before rebuilding musical intensity again.
  • The challenge faced by tango DJs in selecting music over the course of the milonga based on the perceived energy level of dancers is that the dancers at a milonga at any specific point in time differ in their motivational states. Appropriate selection of music for dancing relies on the ability of the DJ to predict the energy levels in the upcoming tanda, which may consist of different dancers with different partners on the dance floor.
  • Fortunately, tanda sequencing practices of tango DJs in Buenos Aires provide a structure for music selection at milongas around the world. The general tanda sequence that is followed is TTVTTM, a cycle of approximately one hour that is repeated over the curse of the milonga. Because the tempo of vals and milonga music is faster than that of tango, the high intensity points in music selection during a tanda cycle will be the tandas of vals and milonga. As typically danced (i.e., stepping on the major accented beats), most music in the milonga rhythm will extract more energy from dancers than most music in the vals rhythm. This results in a cycle of music in which there is a highest intensity point during the tanda of milonga and a secondary high intensity point during the tanda of vals. Selecting music to create a smooth transition in dancers’ energy levels will involve selecting tango music that increases in intensity from the first tanda of tango to the second tanda of tango in a tanda triplet (TTV or TTM) before reaching a high intensity point in a tanda of vals or milonga. Considering a cycle designated as T1 T2 V T3 T4 M, and considering that the intensity of milonga is higher than that of vals, the generally recommended  intensity relationships among tandas within a cycle are: M > V (milonga greater than vals), T2 > T1 and T4 > T3 (second tanda of tango within a triplet higher than first) and T3 > T1 and T4 > T2 (the intensity levels of tandas of tango before the milonga tanda are higher than those of the tandas of tango in the corresponding temporal position before vals tanda), and therefore M > T4 > T3 and V > T2 > T1 defines the intensity levels recommended over the course of a tanda cycle.
  • Milongas generally last between 3 and 6 hours. This results in between 3 and 6 tanda cycles in a milonga. As a general strategy, musical intensity increases from the first cycle through the middle cycles; it is recommended here that in the last cycle (which typically omits the tanda of milonga), when many dancers have more limited energy reserves, dancers’ motivation is maintained by substituting music with higher emotional intensity for music with higher physical intensity.
  • Other strategies for selecting music over the course of the milonga include playing music with simpler rhythms (e.g., Canaro, Di Sarli, Fresedo, Demare, Rodriguez) in the earliest cycle, reserving music with greater rhythmic complexity (e.g., Troilo, Biagi, Pugliese) for later cycles and, for the most part, reserving music with higher intensity vocals (e.g., Di Sarli – Podesta, Di Sarli – Duran, D’Agostino – Vargas, Calo – Beron, Troilo – Fiorentino) for Middle and Late cycles.
  • With regard to sequencing of tandas within a tanda cycle, the tango DJ should alternate as much as possible music that is more rhythmic (e.g., D’Arienzo, Biago, Rodriguez) with music that is smoother (e.g., Fresedo, Demare, Canaro, Calo), so that dancers are not faced repeatedly with music of the same rhythmic structure. Tango DJs also should balance over the course of a tanda cycle music with high emotional intensity (e.g., Troilo – Fiorentino, Calo – Beron, D’Agostino – Vargas, any tangos with Podesta vocals, Pugliese instrumentals) with music with lower emotional intensity (e.g., most Canaro, Rodriguez, Fresedo), with the possible exception of playing music with high emotional intensity throughout the Late (last) cycle.
  • Additional recommendations for tango DJs to prevent a lack of connection or interest of dancers in the music include the following:
    • Avoid playing music that is unfamiliar to most dancers.
    • Avoid playing music that lacks a clear rhythm.
    • Do not play music from the same tango orchestra more than once within an interval of 3 successive tandas.
    • Do not play music with the same singer more than once within an interval of 3 successive tandas.
    • Do not play an interpretation of the same musical composition more than once within a 3 hour period.
    • At least one third of the tandas within a one hour tanda cycle should consist of or contain instrumental music.
    • Over the course of the milonga, music selected for dancing should vary in musical intensity (tempo, emphasis on the beat, emotional intensity).
    • Music should be played at a volume that is neither too soft nor too loud.


The decisions made by the tango DJ in selecting music for dancing at a milonga have a critical impact upon the dance experience of milonga attendees. Important in this regard are the judicious selection of Classic Tango music for dancing, and the arrangement of this music into homogeneous tandas, as discussed in the previous post (Tango DJ Fundamentals: Part 1 – Selecting Music for Dancing and Tanda Construction). However, beyond this, tandas need to be played in sequence during the course of a milonga in such a way as the motivate dancers to continue their engagement with the music and their partners. Although simple in principle, the effective execution of this task evades many tango DJs. The development and specification of guidelines for the selection of tandas in sequence over the course of a milonga is the focus of this post. These guidelines are based upon practices developed over more than 15 years as a DJ at a community milonga, as well as DJing experiences in several other tango communities in North America. The practices of tango DJs in Buenos Aires milongas have been influential in the development of these guidelines.


Perspectives on Music Sequencing for a Milonga

The role of the tango DJ is to arrange the music for dancing in sequence in such a way as to manage the physical energy of dancers on the floor, to motivate them to dance by providing music with sufficient intensity, while at the same time preventing exhaustion or boredom among the dancers. The tango DJ also is managing simultaneously the emotional energy of the dancers, which affects the nature of their connection with their partners. In general, higher intensity music, that with a faster tempo and/or a stronger beat, elicits more energy from dancers, whereas lower intensity music, that with a slower tempo and/or a softer beat is more relaxing, thereby extracting less energy from dancers. The emotional intensity of singers also impacts the emotional state of dancers and thereby their expression of physical energy. For example, the soft sounds of Roberto Ray singing with the Fresedo orchestra (e.g., Yo no se llorar 1933) tend to calm dancers, whereas the singing of Alberto Podesta with the Di Sarli orchestra (e.g., Llueve otra vez 1944) tends to stimulate the emotions and thereby the physical energy of dancers.

At the first level of music sequencing, there is a general structure to the intensity relationships among recordings contained within the tanda. The tanda is a set of 3 or 4 recordings that should be similar in rhythm, tempo, emphasis on the beat, and emotional intensity; this is most often best accomplished by selecting music from the same orchestra from the same time period with the same singer (if relevant) (Tango DJ Fundamentals: Part 1 – Selecting Music for Dancing and Tanda Construction). The primary exception to this is that tandas of milonga and vals may be comprised of recordings from more than one singer and more than one orchestra, as long as there is sufficient homogeneity in rhythm, tempo, and emotional intensity.

Despite the desired homogeneity of recordings with a tanda, some tango DJs have discussed varying the characteristics of music presented within a tanda to some degree.

Stephen Brown has discussed the relationships among recordings in a tanda in terms of their impact upon dancers:

The first song of a tanda has to be so strong it pulls people out of their chairs and onto the dance floor.  It has to make people want to dance this set regardless of how their feet hurt, or how tired they may be.  The energy of the music takes them. 

The last song of the tanda should be strong and compelling so that everyone who is dancing feels happy about having stayed out on the floor for the entire tanda.

The middle songs do not have to be as strong as the first or last songs of a tanda, but there are more than enough good tangos available that none needs to be filler.  The ideal middle songs should sustain the energy of the first song, provide continuity to the last song, and have enough personality of their own to provide a feeling of variety. 

Michael Lavocah has discussed in detail the ‘energy shape within the tanda’:

More experienced DJs experiment with small changes in energy in the tanda. A simple example would be, in a tanda of three valses, to start with a slower vals and finish with a faster one. This tanda will feel as though it has a rising energy. Such movement in the tanda adds interest, but if there is too much movement, the tanda starts to lose coherence.

This is the simplest example of the energy shape within a tanda: a rising energy. The reverse shape —a falling energy— generally doesn’t work, because it loses energy. It will probably sound flat.

Another possibility —particular with a tanda of four songs— «hammock» shaped tanda: a strong, familiar opening song that pulls dancers onto the floor; a middle section; and then a climax.

A tanda that starts with high intensity music and decreases to lower intensity is working in opposition to the overall trend in managing the energy of dancers and is likely to leave dancers unsatisfied at the end of the tanda; therefore, this strategy is contraindicated in most cases. Both Brown and Lavocah speak of lower intensity music in the middle of a tanda, while at the same time warning against wide variations in intensity within a tanda, or using ‘filler’ in these places in a tanda (i.e., music that is not as compelling or popular). Although an experienced DJ can effectively manage the energy of dancers within a tanda with minor changes in intensity between songs, the best overall strategies are to maintain a nearly constant level of intensity or utilize a very gradual rise in intensity over the course of a tanda. If all selections in a tanda have (nearly) equal intensity, this is likely to be well received by dancers, provided the overall quality of music selected is good by other standards (i.e., clear rhythm, constant tempo, sufficient minimum intensity). It is important to recognize that in achieving these goals the DJ should provide dancers with music that is familiar to them, which enhances their physical and emotional expression (Tango DJ Fundamentals: Part 1 – Selecting Music for Dancing and Tanda Construction).

With respect to the strategy of providing music that motivates dancers to remain engaged with the music over the course of the milonga, the decision to prepare an evening’s music in advance and not deviate from the plan, a course of action taken by some tango DJs, poses potential pitfalls that can create an inharmonious energy flow on the dance floor, i.e., the intensity of the music is not in synchrony with the energy potential of the dancers. It is the responsibility of the DJ throughout the milonga to monitor the connection of the dancers to the music, determining whether the tempo, characteristics of rhythm and phrasing (e.g., pattern of emphasis on the beats, inclusion of pauses between musical phrases), and complexity of the music selected (e.g., degree of independence of singers and individual instruments from the underlying rhythm) is well managed by dancers on the floor.

In this regard Stephen Brown states:

I watch to see if the dancers are connecting to the rhythm of the music.  If they seem to be having trouble, I will play music with simpler and clearer rhythms such as Di Sarli, 1930s Canaro, D’Arienzo, and Caló with Podesta.  Playing these orchestras helps educate the dancers to the basic rhythms of tango music, and it improves their ability to dance to the more complex pieces that build tension and draw them more deeply into the music.  When the room seems full of beginners, I typically end up playing more music with simpler and more obvious rhythms.

At a more complex level, tango DJs can respond to the current and anticipated energy level of dancers in making decisions about music selection.

Michael Lovacah discusses sequencing of tandas in this regard:

The next tanda is the meeting of the DJ with the atmosphere and energy in the room, which the dancers co-create with the DJ. … The DJ must have a dual attention: partly inside, to her feeling for the music, and partly outside, to the energy and atmosphere in the room.

If you have a good connection to the room it becomes much easier to choose the next tanda. It is a question of feeling. What is the energy in the room doing (rising, falling, staying the same) and what do you want to do with it – follow that direction, change it, or make a contrast – to change the musical colour and mood? Are people sitting down? At any moment, there is more than one right answer. This is down to the DJ and the atmosphere and flow she wants to create.

Stephen Brown is somewhat more specific about judging the energy on the dance floor:

When DJing, I watch the dancers and adjust to what they seem to want.  I watch to see what music pulls them out on the floor…. 

I also watch to see how much tension the dancers are willing to accept.  If the dancers seem willing to accept more tension, I will push it farther.  If they seem to be at the height of tension or unwilling to accept much tension, I will find music to release or soften the tension.  In general, I try to create greater tension as the evening progresses….

The tanda I actually choose at moment of time depends greatly on the current mood on the dance floor.  Are the dancers feeling lazy?  Are they crazy?  Are they listening?  Are they getting tired?  Are they bursting with energy?  Are they connecting with the rhythm….

It also depends on my intentions.  Do I want to kick them to unknown heights?  Do I want to calm them down, because some of the dancers have become reckless?  Do I want to make them listen?  Do I want to put more drive in the ronda?  Do I want to ready them for the evening to end?  Do I want to suggest that the milonga can continue indefinitely?


Assessing the Motivational State of Dancers at a Milonga

Both Lavocah and Brown indicate that the tango DJ needs to be able to assess the current motivational state of dancers on the floor and respond accordingly to maintain or modify that state in such a way as to maintain engagement of dancers with the music, i.e., to keep dancers on the floor without exhaustion or lethargy. For some obvious and not so obvious reasons making this assessment is a challenging undertaking.

  • The motivational state of dancers on the floor is not a homogeneous mix. Responding to the energy level of some dancers in selecting subsequent music does not elicit the same response from all dancers.

The dancers on the floor in a particular tanda vary in their motivational state due to how long they have been at the milonga, how much they have been dancing, the emotional state they brought into the milonga, their experiences at the milonga, their physical fitness, among other things. It is erroneous to assume that the collection of dancers on the floor comprises a superorganism that can be influenced uniformly by music selection.

  • Predicting the future responsiveness of dancers on the floor is imprecise. Current motivational state only partially predicts imminent motivational state with regard to dancing.

There are numerous factors that determine a dancer’s morivational state, but most important are the music being played, and the partner with whom one is engaged. The dancer – music and dancer – partner connections are unique to the individuals involved. Each dancer responds differently to the same music and each partner combination creates a different dynamic.

  • The collection of dancers on the floor during the current tanda is an inaccurate predictor of the collection of dancers for the subsequent tanda. Some dancers will return to the floor and some will not. Others sitting will participate in the next tanda. Partnerships will change.

Participation in the next tanda is a function of several factors, including not only the current energy reserves of individual dancers, but also specific musical tastes of individual dancers, as well as partner preferences and availability of preferred partners.

Therefore, in an attempt to respond to perceived motivational states of dancers at a milonga, except in cases of nearly uniform lack of connection to the music (as mentioned above), the DJ of necessity may be responding to a (sometimes small) subset of the dancers at the milonga in order to plan imminent music selection. Heterogeneity in motivational state among dancers is increased by several factors. The most obvious is higher milonga attendance. Other contributing factors are diversity in musical tastes and diversity in dancers’ expertise in interpreting the music.

Nevertheless, despite the challenges encountered by tango DJs in assessing the motivational state of dancers in order to select music for play at a milonga, the DJ needs to monitor and interpret dancers’ expression and make decisions about music selection based on these perceptions. Fortunately, there are some general guidelines for music selection that tango DJs can follow in order to maximize dancers’ engagement with the music.


Corrective Measures in Music Selection

When observing a widespread lack of engagement of dancers with the music, either as a lack of connection to the rhythm, or a lack of interest in dancing as indicated by fewer dancers on the floor, there are certain corrective measures that a tango DJ can implement to (re)establish dancers’ connection to the music.

  • If the majority of dancers are losing their connection to the rhythm of the music, the rhythm of the music may be too complex for this group of dancers [as may occur with the music of Pugliese (e.g., Nochero soy 1956, Gallo ciego 1959), Biagi (e.g., Quejas de bandoneon 1941, Belgica 1942), and Troilo (e.g., Inspiracion 1943, Quejas de bandoneon 1944)]; in this case the DJ should revert to playing music with a simpler rhythmic structure [such as the music of 1930s Canaro (e.g., Lo pasao paso 1939, Tormenta 1939), 1940s Di Sarli instrumentals (e.g, El jagüel 1943, Ensueños 1943), 1930s Fresedo (e.g., Vida mia 1933, Yo no se llorar 1933), 1940s Demare (e.g., Soy muchacho de la guardia 1942, Malena 1942) or Rodriquez (e.g., Tango argentino 1942, Adios para siempre 1943)].
  • If the DJ is sequencing tandas so as to increase musical intensity and the number of dancers on the floor decreases, or the dancers are losing their connection to the rhythm of the music, this may be because the dancers are becoming (physically or emotionally) exhausted. In this context, music with a slower tempo and lower emotional intensity should be played. The music of Canaro, Fresedo, Demare and Rodriguez just mentioned works well in this regard.
  • If the number of dancers on the floor is decreasing but the number of milonga attendees has not decreased significantly, then the DJ may not be attracting dancers onto the dance floor. This may be because the music is no longer interesting to the dancers, either because it is unfamiliar music or because the music has not varied significantly in quality (i.e., tempo, rhythmic characteristics, emotional intensity) over the previous several tandas.

There are tango DJs who prefer to play mostly faster and rhythmic music [e.g., D’Arienzo (Mandria 1939, Trago amargo 1939), Biagi (A mi no me interesa 1940, Indiferencia 1942), Rodriguez (En la buena y en la mala 1940, Como se pianta la vida 1940), Tanturi (Noches de Colon 1941, Pocas palabras 1941), Donato (El acomodo 1933, La tablada 1936), early 1940s Di Sarli (Corazon 1939, En un beso la vida 1940), early 1940s Troilo (Toda mi vida 1941, Te aconsejo que me olvides 1941)], and others who play mostly slower and smoother music [(e.g., the 1930s Canaro, late 1940s Di Sarli, Fresedo – Ray, and Demare cited above, as well as D’Agostino – Vargas (Mas solo que nunca 1944, Su carta no llego 1944) , Tanturi – Campos (Una emocion 1943, Que nunca me falta 1943) and mid 1940s Troilo (El encopao 1942Pa’ que seguir 1942). Playing too much of one type of music versus the other loses the interest of most dancers. DJs who face an empty floor when there are or were dancers to fill it should ask themselves whether the musical quality has not varied sufficiently from tanda to tanda.


Proactive Measures in Music Selection

Corrective measures are needed when dancers lose their engagement with the music. Disengagement with the music can be minimized by a tango DJ developing a general strategy for selecting music over the course of the milonga that prevents lack of dancers’ interest in the music or a disassociation of dancers from the music. Important in this respect is providing variety in music selection.

Some general proactive measures that a tango DJ can take to maximize dancers’ engagement with the music include the following:

  • Avoid playing music that is unfamiliar to dancers.

Familiarity with the music increases a dancers’ motivation to dance. Knowledge of the music can energize dancers, as well as enhance their ability to improvise on the music.

  • Avoid playing music lacking a clear rhythm.

When music lacks a clear rhythm, dancers will be moving disconnected to the music, which can be an unfulfilling experience.

  • The same orchestra should not be played in more than one tanda within any interval of 3 successive tandas. An exception to this is where one of the tandas is a mixed orchestra tanda (almost always vals or milonga), in which case the first or last song of the mixed tanda should not be of the same orchestra as the previous or subsequent tanda, respectively.

For example, a tanda of tangos by D’Arienzo should not be followed in the two subsequent tandas by another tanda of music by D’arienzo. Too much of the same kind of music loses the interest of dancers. Variety in music selection maintains dancers’ interest in the music.

  • Recordings with the same vocalist should not be played in more than one tanda within any interval of 3 successive tandas. An exception to this would be tandas continaing recordings with more than one vocalist, in which case the first or last song of the tanda with multiple singers should not have the same singer be of the same orchestra as the previous or subsequent tanda, respectively.

For example, a tanda of tangos by Calo with Raul Beron as the vocalist should not be followed in the two subsequent tandas by a tanda of music by Demare with Raul Beron as the vocalist.

  • The same musical composition should not be played more than once within a 3 hour period unless the interpretations are very different (e.g., Gallo ciego 1937 by D’Arienzo vs. Gallo ciego 1959 by Pugliese).

Music selections made by a tango DJ should also be balanced so as not to overrepresent music of a particular type, for example, instrumental music verses music with vocalists. There is considerably more Classic Tango music with vocals than instrumental music, so usually the challenge for a DJ is to select a sufficient amount of instrumental music. At some Buenos Aires milongas, the percentage of tandas with instrumental music may approach 50%. However, a useful guideline for tango DJs to introduce variety is:

  • At least one third of the tandas with a one hour cycle of music should consist of (or at least contain) instrumental music.

Another challenge for tango DJs is to offer variety in the musical intensity of music played at a milonga. A milonga music program that is primarily low intensity will not energize dancers and a milonga music program that is primarily high intensity may exhaust dancers. Therfore, another useful guideline for tango DJs is the following:

  • Music played at a milonga should vary in musical intensity, i.e., the music should vary in tempo, rhythmic structure, and emotional intensity of the singers.
  • Low intensity music should be avoided.

Tango music may have low intensity because of poor recording quality. For the most part, music recorded in the 1920s and early 1930s (e.g., from the orchestras of Canaro, Di Sarli, Fresedo, and Orquesta Tipica Victor) should not be selected for play because the poor recording quality makes it difficult for dancers to connect to the music.

Another factor that affects the engagement of dancers with the music is the volume (decibel level) of the music. Music that is not loud enough fails to stimulate dancers. Music that is too loud may distract dancers’ concentration. The volume of music may only partially be under the control of the DJ at any given venue; nevertheless, the DJ should evaluate the music volume at a venue, for example by walking around the room, preferably prior to the milonga, and make adjustments to assure that the volume level is suitable for a pleasant dancing experience.

The practices recommended above reflect to a signicant degree the choices made by tango DJs in Buenos Aires milongas. Following these guidelines will introduce variety (and minimize monotony), with the consequence that more dancers will remain interested and connected with the music.


General Principles of Music Sequencing at Milongas

The corrective measures cited above assist tango DJs in rectifying dancers’ lack of conection with the music and the proactive measres provide general guidelines for avoiding this situation in the first place. However, in order to manage successfully the energy of dancers over the course of a milonga, a tango DJ needs a more detailed general strategy in music selection that stimulates dancers to engage with the music without becoming exhausted. An effective way to envision this strategy is to recognize and work within the natural intensity cycle of music that exists at a milonga due to the recognized normal succession of tandas over the course of the milonga.

At the most basic level, the custom practiced in Buenos Aires and in most milongas around the world is to arrange tandas by rhythm class (tango, vals, milonga) into a TTV TTM sequence, with this cycle repeated throughout the course of the milonga. Nevertheless, there are several common exceptions to this general TTV TTM sequence of tandas:

  • At the start of a milonga, there may be 3 or more tandas of tango prior to the first tanda of vals; i.e., the first cycle of tandas may be TTTV TTM.
  • A tanda of milonga is typically omitted in the last cycle of tandas, which becomes TTV TT or perhaps TTV TTT).

(The duration of milongas may be variable, dependent in part on attendance, and therefore the final cycle may be of indeterminate length.)

In some Buenos Aires milongas, sets of other rhythms of music (typically Tropical Latin/cumbia, jazz/rock ‘n roll, chacarera/paso doble) may be interspersed in this sequence, usually at a rate of approximately once per hour or less frequently. Dancers do not dance tango to this music, with the exception that it may appear that dancers are dancing milonga to paso doble music. Sets of music in other rhythms are more common at weekend milongas than weekday milongas, and at milongas del barrio than at milongas del centro [Tango de Salon: The Tango of the Milonga (Part II of ‘Tango Styles, Genres and Individual Expression’)].

At some milongas del barrio, the sequence of sets of music may follow the pattern TV TO TM TO, where O represents music of other rhythms.

There are dances called ‘bailes’, where 50% or less of the music is tango music (i.e., tango, milonga, or vals), where the TTV TTM sequencing of sets of music is not followed. These are not milongas.

The playing of Tango Alternative music (non-tango music intended to elicit movements characteristic of tango), which has been practiced rarely in Buenos Aires and appears to be decreasing in frequency at North American milongas, and the (relatively uncommon) inclusion of music other than tango/milonga/vals for the purpose of dancing other dances at a milonga is not considered here with regard to strategies of music sequencing.

Therefore, if the standard practice of including only tango, milonga, and vals music for play at a milonga is employed, beyond the structure of tandas within a cycle (typically of TTV TTM), there is an overall structure of tanda cycles that characterizes the sequence of music played at a milonga, as well as the choices made by tango DJs in selecting music. Tanda cycles can be classified as follows, according to their temporal location over the course of a milonga.

  • Cycle E (Early)        T1 T2 V T3 T4 M   or    T1a T1b T2 V T3 T4 M
  • Cycle M (Middle)      T1 T2 V T3 T4 M
  • Cycle L (Late)          T1 T2 V T3 T4       or    T1 T2 V T3 T4 T5

With this sequencing of tandas by rhythm class, each tanda cycle has a duration of approximately 1 hour. Most North American milongas have a duration lasting between 3 and 6 hours. (For longer milongas, e.g., at Tango Marathons, separate events are demarcated and/or involve a change in DJs.). If a milonga is longer than 3 hours, cycle M is typically repeated until the last cycle L. If a milonga is of indeterminate duration, depending upon attendance or remaining energy reserves of dancers, modifications are made in Cycle L; i.e., it may be shortened, lengthened, possibly even repeated.

Within this basic structure of recordings selected for tandas, tandas organized into cycles, and the repetition of tanda cycles throughout a milonga, tango DJs make decisions in the selection of music, which should be designed to maximize engagement of dancers with the music and their partners.


Natural Intensity Relationships existing within a Cycle of Tandas

Judicious selection of music to manage the energy levels of dancers is facilitated to a significant degree by recognizing the natural musical intensity relationships that normally exist within the TTV TTM tanda cycle as the basic structure for music programming at a milonga. The intensity differences stem in large part from the differences in tempo of the 3 rhythm classes of tango music; vals and milonga music have a faster tempo (more beats per unit time) than tango music. As reported here, there is a wide range in tempo (beats per minute) within each of the 3 rhythm classes: tango (60 – 160 bpm), milonga (150 – 240 bpm) and vals (150 – 240 bpm). However, this count includes both major and minor accented beats; the default among tango dancers is to step (change weight) mostly on the major accented beats. (The web page referenced has a convenient bpm calculator to estimate this parameter.) The default for dancing to tango music is to step on the strong beats 1 and 3 of the 4 count measure, for vals to step on strong beat 1 of the 1-2-3 rhythm, and for milonga to step on the 1 of the 1-2 rhythm.

Using the beats per minute calculator referenced above and calculating instead ‘weight changes per minute’ based entirely on the pattern of major accented beats, the following results are achieved for some common tangos, valses, and milongas played at a milonga:

Therefore, most dancers, dancing primarily on the major accented beats, will dance milonga faster (more weight changes per unit time) than vals; i.e., milonga is usually perceived as more energetic than vals. More experienced dancers will also step on minor accented beats (e.g., stepping on counts 2 and/or 3 of vals, and stepping on minor accented beats in milonga in what is known as milonga con traspie.) For tango music, syncopation in the music, as is common in the music of D’Arienzo, Biagi, and Rodriguez, often elicits additional weight changes (and therefore more energy expenditure) among more experienced dancers. This variability in interpretation of the rhythm of the same tango music by different dancers further complicates a tango DJ’s anticipation of dancers’ responses to the music, as addressed previously. Nevertheless, programming from the perspective of typical differences in musical intensity that are inherent in the tempo of the music, the tango DJ can operate under the following general assumptions regarding musical intensity relationships within the TTV TTM cycle of tandas:

  • V > T
  • M > T
  • M > V

Tempo is an important component of musical intensity but is not the only factor. The degree of emphasis on the beat is another important characteristic of musical intensity that impacts dancers’ energy expression. For example, the music of D’Arienzo (e.g., Mandria 1939, Dime el amor 1941) and Biagi (e.g., Son cosas de bandoneon 1939Racing Club 1950) has a stronger emphasis on the beat than that of Fresedo (with vocals by Ray, e.g.,  Vida mia 1933), Canaro (with vocals by Maida (e.g., Poema 1935) and Demare (with vocals by Arrieta, e.g., Tango guapo 1942). Usually, stronger emphasis on the (major accented) beats is associated with syncopation (increased emphasis on the minor accented beats), and with faster tempo, but these are different components of musical intensity.

Emotional intensity of singers is an also an important component of musical intensity, and although judgement of emotional intensity is subjective, most dancers will agree in their assessment of the emotional intensity conveyed by a singer. For example, most dancers would agree than the voice of Alberto Podesta (e.g., in the Laurenz orchestra Recien 1943) conveys more emotional intensity than that of Roberto Ray (in the Fresedo orchestra, e.g. Vida mia 1933, even though these recordings are of music with a similar tempo. Tango singers who convey significant emotional intensity include Alberto Podesta [with Di Sarli (Tu … el cielo y tu 1944), Calo (Percal 1943) and Laurenz), Roberto Fiorentino (Troilo: Pa’ que bailen los muchachos 1942), Raul Beron [Calo (Al compas del corazon 1942), Demare (Una emocion 1943)], Alberto Castillo (Tanturi: Moneda de cobre 1942), Jorge Duran (Di Sarli: Tu intimo secreto 1945), Angel Vargas (D’Agostino: Mas solo que nunca 1944), Alberto Echagüe (D’Arienzo: Trago amargo 1939), Hector Maure (D’Arienzo: Dime el amor 1941), and Raul Iriarte (Calo: Cuando tallan los recuerdos 1943).

In a DJ’s selection of music within a TTV TTM cycle, in general the highest intensity music will be the last tanda of milongas, and the second highest will be the tanda of vals; the musical intensity of the tandas of tangos will be lower. In order to maintain harmonious progession of musical intensity throughout a cycle (T1 T2 V T3 T4 M), there should be a rise in intensity in the triplet of tandas T1-T2-V, as well as in the triplet of tandas T3-T4-M:

  • V > T2 > T1
  • M > T4 > T3

In order to maintain a general progression from lower to higher intensity within a cycle, with the highest intensity contained within the tanda of milongas, the tandas of tango within the milonga triplet should, in general, have a higher intensity than the corresponding tandas in sequence in the vals triplet:

  • T3 > T1
  • T4 > T2

In following the guidelines presented here,a tango  DJ will avoid large and random changes in musical intensity from tanda to tanda, as this will disrupt the smooth build up and release of energy by dancers. [A large change in musical intensity would be a tanda of Fresedo – Ray tangos (e.g., including Vida mia 1933, Yo no se llorar 1933) followed by a tanda of Canaro fast milongas (e.g., including Soy un porteño 1942, and San Benito de Palermo 1942).] At the same time, DJs should avoid playing two (or more) tandas in sequence that are too similar in tempo, e.g., a tanda of Laurenz – Casas including Amurado 1940 and No me extraña 1940  followed by a tanda of Troilo early 1940s instrumentals including Cachirulo 1941 and Milongeuando en el 40 1941 or too similar in emphasis on the beat (in this case, similar syncopation), e.g., a D’Arienzo – Echagüe tanda containing Indiferencia 1938 and Pensalo bien 1938 linked in sequence with a Rodriguez – Moreno tanda containing Danza maligna 1940 and Llorar por una mujer 1941.


Programming Intensity Differences between Tanda Cycles over the Course of a Milonga

Given the general structure of cycles of tandas over the course of a milonga:

  • Cycle E (Early)        T1 T2 V T3 T4 M   or    T1a T1b T2 V T3 T4 M
  • Cycle M (Middle)      T1 T2 V T3 T4 M
  • Cycle L (Late)          T1 T2 V T3 T4       or    T1 T2 V T3 T4 T5

there are several typical milonga types based on duration:

  • 3 – 3.5 hr Milonga         E M L
  • 4 – 4.5 hr Milonga         E M M L
  • 5 – 6 hr Milonga            E M M M L

although a longer (i.e., 6 hr) milonga could, in the hands of an experienced DJ, also follow a pattern of tanda cycles of [ E M E M L ] or [ E M L M L ].

For the more commonplace 3 – 4 hour duration community milongas in North American tango communities (in contrast to festival and marathon milongas), programming evolves around a standard pattern of an early cycle [E] followed by one or two middle cycles [M] followed by an ending cycle [L]. Within this general E-M-L tanda cycle sequence, there are some general patterns of music programming that work well for most dancers.]

In the Early cycle of tandas, dancers are warming up and connecting with the music. Music introduced in this cycle should have a lower intensity and less complicated rhythmic structure than in later cycles, especially compared to the Middle cycles.

In the Middle cycle(s) of tandas, most dancers should have acclimated to the rhythm and intensity of the music. In this stage of the milonga, faster tempo music and music with greater rhythmic complexity can be introduced. Also, the emotional intensity of music can be increased in some of the tandas at this stage of the milonga.

In the Last cycle of tandas, dancers usually need some reprieve from the physical intensity of Middle cycle(s), thus the elimination of a tanda of milonga and, in general, a decrease in tempo relative to the Middle cycle(s) is warranted. However, the intensity of the dance experience can be retained by maintaining or even increasing the emotional intensity of the music offered for dancing.

There are exceptions to this general pattern of dancer readiness by tanda cycle in that there are some dancers who are late arrivals, but for a well functioning milonga that attracts dancers, the general patterns of dancer readiness described above will serve as a useful guide for music selection.

These general princicples of programming music over the course of a milonga by musical intensity are applied below in making recommendations for selecting specific types of music for different tandas and different tanda cycles.


Selection of Music over the Course of the Milonga

During different phases of the milonga, the dancers present are in a variety of motivational states with respect to their dancing. Different kinds of dancers are present at different times. In North American milongas, less experienced dancers tend to arrive earlier and leave earlier. Most dancers require some time on the dance floor to adapt their bodies to the music. Most dancers need some time to relax into their partners’ embrace. A good tango DJ brings dancers smoothly along the course to greater energy expenditure, and provides periods of respite for revitalizing the body and the emotions before extracting additional energy from dancers. These principles are applied below in the selection of music for dancing tango over the course of the milonga. The selections listed for each tanda are not exhaustive of all possible music selections that would be appropriate at each point in the milonga, but serve as a resource base for those seeking this kind of information. The selections listed should work well for most dancers who pay attention to the music while dancing tango.


Early Cycle [E]

This is the first cycle of tandas, when most dancers are arriving at the milonga and their bodies are warming up to dancing, establishing a connection to the music. In most cases, music with clear and simpler rhythms (Canaro, Di Sarli, D’Arienzo, Rodriguez, Donato, Demare, Fresedo) is appropriate in this cycle; music with more challenging rhythms (e.g., Pugliese and most Biagi and Troilo) is held in reserve. Also held in reserve for late in this cycle or in later cycles is more emotionally intense music (Pugliese, most Di Sarli vocals, most Calo vocals, D’Agostino – Vargas, Troilo – Fiorentino).


This is the first tanda of the milonga. The dancers present are warming up their bodies to dancing. The best music at this time is slower music with a clear beat. The orchestras mentioned below have recordings that serve this purpose. Selecting music that is faster will find some (perhaps most) dancers off the beat, either ahead or behind the music. At the same time, the music selected needs to have sufficient intensity. This is not the time in the milonga for the DJ to provide ‘filler’, i.e., uninspiring music (e.g., Orquesta Tipica Victor, most Lomuto, 1920s Canaro, 1920s Fresedo), as often occurs at North American milongas; it is the time to provide music with a clear beat that inspires dancers to come out onto the floor.

At some (usually local community) milongas, where attendance is low at the beginning or dancers are not highly skilled, it may be appropriate to repeat this tanda type (i.e., the cycle begins as T1a T1b T2 V); in this case, a good strategy may be to select from Group 1 below for T1a and from Group 2 for T1b, with the recordings in Group 2 having a slightly highly musical intensity than those from Group 1, due to a stronger emphasis on the beat. At a milonga where the attendance is high from the beginning (e.g., at regional or national gatherings), or where most of the dancers have good music connection skills, it may be more appropriate to start the milonga with recordings from Group 2.

Group 1:

Group 2:


In the second (or third) tanda of the milonga, the intensity should be increased by increasing the tempo and increasing the emphasis on the beat (e.g., Fresedo 1930s instrumentals or Donato 1930s), or by introducing music with pronounced syncopation (D’Arienzo 1930s, Rodriguez – Moreno); the Rodriguez recordings mentioned here have a somewhat faster tempo than those in T1 Group 2.

If tanda T1(E) recordings were selected from Group 1, T1(E) group 2 recordings may be appropriate here, particularly if it seems the energy level of dancers has not yet been sufficiently activated. (This assumes the next tanda will be vals, i.e., a T1 T2 V structure.)


The first vals tanda increases musical intensity through faster tempo. However, dancers are usually still warming up in their physical energy, so slower valses are usually most appropriate here. The valses by Demare – Beron and D’Agostino – Vargas have the appropriate character in this respect, as do some valses by Troilo, Calo, De Angelis, Donato, and Tanturi. Mixed tandas incorporating valses from several of the orchestras mentioned here also may be appropriate.


This first tanda of tangos after the first vals tanda will have a lower intensity than the vals tanda because the tempo of tango is slower than that of vals. However, the DJ should increase the intensity relative to T1(E), but not as high as T2(E), because there needs to be a gradual build-up to the highest intensity tanda in this cycle, i.e., the first tanda of milongas. A good choice for T3(E) is to add some emotional intensity at a somewhat slower tempo, which can be provided by the vocals of Calo’s 1940 singers Iriarte or Ortiz, Di Sarli with Rufino, Duran, or Podesta, D’Agostino with Vargas. (These are not the slowest D’Agostino – Vargas, which are held in reserve for a tanda after a milonga tanda.) If lower intensity music had been played in T1(E) (i.e., Group 1), the slower tempo Rodriguez – Moreno or Tanturi – Castillo also may be appropriate here.


This is the tanda of tangos where the intensity is increased, in part by increasing the tempo, and in part by increasing the emphasis on the beat (e.g., in pronounced syncopation), in preparation for the highest intensity music of this cycle, the subsequent tanda of milongas. Nevertheless, the fastest tempos and/or most complex rhythms are retained for the Middle cycle(s). Appropriate for T4(E) are early 1950s Biagi (less complex rhythm than most 1940s Biagi), some early 1940s Di Sarli instrumentals, some 1930s D’Arienzo vocals with Echagüe, and some moderately fast Rodriguez.


There should have been a build-up in intensity through the first (Early) tanda cycle, which culminates in the tanda of milongas. These should not be the most intense milongas, which are reserved for the Middle cycle(s). It is appropriate in this tanda to select slower milongas, most of which are amenable to dancers who dance milonga con traspie. The slower milongas of Canaro and Donato are particularly appropriate for this tanda, but the slower milongas of D’Arienzo and Di Sarli (with Rufino vocals) are also good choices here.


Middle Cycle(s) [M]

This cycle is the middle of the milonga. It is the cycle that reaches the highest intensity, before the final (L) cycle. It is the cycle characterized by faster tempos, more complicated rhythms, and more emotionally intense music. The M cycle may be repeated 2 or 3 times, depending on the length of the milonga. Therefore, recommendations for music offerings for cycle M are divided into Group 1 for an earlier M cycle and group 2 for a later M cycle, based on reserving more intense recordings for a later cycle, if the DJ decides this is appropriate given perceived dancers’ motivational states. Likewise, in a 3 hour milonga (i.e., with only one M cycle), the DJ may choose music for that cycle depending on what is observed on the dance floor. (Selecting Group 2 recordings for an early cycle M or Group 1 recordings for a later cycle M is not contraindicated. The actual selections made for each tanda are at the discretion of the DJ, depending on current milonga conditions.)


This tanda of tangos, that follows a tanda of milongas, is the point where the DJ lowers musical intensity as a prelude to increasing it again (albeit faster than in the E cycle). There are several options for music selection here, depending on the apparent collective motivational state of the dancers. In most cases, the dancers have established a connection with the music, so playing simple rhythm music is not as critical here. However, if dancers still appear to have difficulty connecting to the music, selections for cycle E can be used here, particularly those from T1(E) and T3(E) [Group 1 below], e.g., Demare with vocals (by Arrieta, Miranda or Beron), slower Rodriguez – Moreno, Fresedo – Ray,  or Di Sarli 1940s slower instrumentals). However, at this point, hopefully the better options are to increase rhythmic complexity in slower music [Group 2], e.g., by the introduction of music with pauses at the end of musical phrases (e.g., D’Agostino – Vargas, Tanturi – Campos). Emotional intensity also can be increased here by selecting Di Sarli – Duran, Di Sarli – Podesta, slower Di Sarli – Rufino, Calo – Iriarte, Calo – Ortiz, or Tanturi – Castillo.

Group 1:

Group 2:


The second tango tanda of cycle M is where the DJ has the opportunity and arguably the imperative to increase the musical intensity, with the option of also increasing the rhythmic complexity. Musical intensity can be increased by increasing the tempo relative to T1(M) (as in Laurenz – Casas and faster Di Sarli – Rufino). Some of the recordings recommended for T4(E) (particularly moderately fast Rodriguez – Moreno and 1930s D’Arienzo with Biagi on piano) are also appropriate here. Other options for T2(M) [Group 2] include late 1930s – early 1940s Biagi, early 1940s Troilo, and mid 1940s slower Pugliese, which provide increased rhythmic complexity in addition to increased tempo.

Group 1:

Group 2:


This tanda of valses increases musical intensity relative to T2(M), but also relative to tanda V(E). This is accomplished by playing valses with a faster tempo [Group 1] (e.g., D’Arienzo 1930s instrumentals, Donato, faster Tanturi – Castillo) compared to V(E), or even faster tempo valses [Group 2] (e.g., Laurenz, faster De Angelis, Biagi); the latter may be reserved for a second or third M cycle.

Group 1:

Group 2:


In this tanda the musical intensity is lowered after the vals tanda, but is maintained at a level higher than T1(M), and also at a level higher than T3(E), because intensity is increased on the average in cycle M compared to cycle E. The tempo of selected songs tends to be slower, so intensity is maintained through strong emotional expression of singers. Di Sarli (with Podesta, Duran, or slower Rufino), Calo (with Beron or Podesta), and Laurenz – Podesta are good selections in this regard [Group 1]. For more rhythmic complexity, slower recordings of Troilo (with Fiorentino or 1940s instrumentals), Tanturi – Campos, and Pugliese are also appropriate here.

Group 1:

Group 2:


In T4(M), musical intensity is increased relative to T3(M) primarily by increasing tempo while maintaining high emotional intensity; this is the highest intensity tanda of tangos during the milonga. Pugliese instrumentals from the late 1940s, with their faster tempo and more strongly accented beat, are appropriate here. Early 1940s Troilo (instrumentals and faster vocals with Fiorentino), which offer some musical complexity in addition to faster tempo, are also appropriate here. This tanda is also a good location for the emotionally intense faster Di Sarli – Rufino recordings, as well as the D’Arienzo – Echague recordings from 1939 (after the departure of Biagi as pianist), and the 1940s D’Arienzo – Maure tango recordings. The fastest Rodriguez – Moreno, Tanturi – Castillo, and Biagi recordings are also appropriate here.

Group 1:

Group 2:


Tanda M(M) is almost always the highest intensity tanda of the milonga, although in 4+ hour milongas there can be more than one tanda M(M), as cycle M is repeated. This is where the faster milongas are played. Canaro’s 1930s fast milongas are a high priority selection here, as are Troilo 1940s milongas. D’Arienzo 1940s faster milongas also function well here, as do the milongas of Laurenz.


Late Cycle [L]

Cycle L follows a cycle M and is the final cycle of tandas at a milonga. By this time most dancers are probably a bit tired physically, yet it is still possible to extract some energy from them, although this cycle is typically a cooling down period where a shift is made to the most emotionally intense music that keeps the energy of dancers going in the emotional plane.

One strategy of music selection for cycle L (that exemplified here) is to create a general trend of increasing the physical intensity of tandas over the course of the cycle, with no significant decreases in physical intensity from one tanda to the next. How this is accomplished is explained below.


Tanda T1(L) is a cooling down period after tanda M(M), the highest intensity tanda of the milonga. Slower tango music is called for here. Options for the tango DJ are in selection of music by emotional intensity. Lower emotional intensity is provided with the recordings of Fresedo – Ray, Demare – Miranda/Beron, slower Canaro – Maida, and slower Donato [Group 1]. Higher emotional intensity is provided by Calo – Beron/Iriarte, Tanturi – Castillo/Campos,  D’Agostino – Vargas, and Troilo – Fiorentino [Group 2].

Group 1:

Group 2:


In the T2(L) tanda the musical intensity should be increased relative to T1(L), but not as high as in T2(M). Replacing physical intensity (faster tempo, stronger beats) is emotional intensity. Slow tempo music music with syncopation, such as Biagi – Amor, Laurenz – Podesta or early 1950s Di Sarli instrumentals, can generate some additional physical energy in dancers without exhausting them. The slower emotionally intense music of some 1940s D’Arienzo – Echagüe can also work well here. The DJ also has the option of inserting some music with both physical and emotional intensity here, such as some of the medium tempo Troilo – Fiorentino tangos.


Although the valses in V(L) should increase physical intensity compared to T2(L), they should also create some relaxation, perhaps providing some emotional relief. The slower 1940s valses of Canaro have a romantic feeling and function well in this regard; with a faster tempo, the valses of Canaro’s Quinteto Pirincho also function in this respect, to a somewhat lesser degree. The slower valses of D’Arienzo, and the valses of D’Agostino – Vargas also serve this purpose. The soaring, emotionally uplifting valses of the Firpo orchestra and Orchesta Tipica Victor, which mix well in the same tanda, can also generate additional physical energy in dancers who have been dancing for hours but still have some energy reserves.


There are usually are 2 or 3 tandas of tango after the last tanda of vals [V(L)]. [T3(E) may be repeated.] Tanda T3(E) represents an important transition tanda leading to a climax [T4(L)] for the evening of dancing. The level of dancers’ physical energy reserves may have been depleted to a significant degree, but new energy can be extracted with music that is dramatic or emotional. This is the natural place for late 1950s Pugliese instrumentals or slower Troilo – Fiorentino, although De Angelis late 1950s instrumentals or Biagi 1950s instrumentals can also increase dancers’ energy levels, and can also serve as a prelude to a subsequent tanda of the aforementioned Pugliese or Troilo [i.e., a second T3(L)].


After one or two tandas of tango [T3a(L)], T3b(L)], T(4) is the last complete tanda of the milonga (before La cumparsita). This tanda of tangos needs to send the remaining dancers home satisfied. There are several good options available to the DJ for this tanda. If dancers still appear to have reserves of physical energy, late 1950s De Angelis instrumentals are a good choice here, if not used previously. If the physical energy level of the dancers is low, it is wise to end the milonga with some slower more relaxing music such as Canaro – Maida. Assuming there is a range of energy reserves among dancers, a common choice among tango DJs is to play Di Sarli instrumentals (from the late 1940s to the late 1950s) as the last tanda of the milonga. Some slower Troilo 1940s instrumentals also work well here.

La Cumparsita

La cumparsita is the last song of the milonga, played either as the last song of the last tanda, or as a separate one or two-song ‘tanda’ (i.e., one or two versions of La cumparsita). There are several good versions that can fit in the last tanda [T4(L)] – De Angelis, Di Sarli, Troilo, and Canaro. There are also good versions by D’Arienzo, Fresedo and D’Agostino – Vargas that can be used alone or in conjunction with another version of La cumparsita.

Before transitioning to the next topic, it should be noted that the frequency of recommendation of a particular orchestra’s type of music across tandas above should not be interpreted as a indicator of the relative frequency with which that orchestra’s music should be selected for play at a milonga. Wider acceptability of an orchestra’s music across different tandas is only that; i.e., some music fits well in different time periods of the milonga and some other music works best only in limited time periods. The relative frequency with which different orchestra’s music is recommended for play at a milonga has been discussed in a previous post.


Sequencing of Tandas over the Course of the Milonga

The previous section addressed the issue of selecting music at different points (tandas) over the course of the milonga. It did not address specifically the sequential relationships between consecutive tandas, or these relationships within a cycle of tandas. To some degree, specific recommendations were made regarding sequencing of tandas in the section above on initiation of proactive measures, but these mostly dealt with practices to avoid, such as playing music from the same orchestra or with the same singer in consecutive tandas.

Stephen Brown has presented in detail a strategy for selecting music in sequence over the course of the milonga. His discussion focuses on managing the’tension’ of the dancers at a milonga. Although the terminology used and perspective are different in some respects from that presented below, there are several points of convergence. Interested readers should consult Brown’s commentary.

From the previous discussion, it should be apparent that intensity relationships between temporally adjacent tandas are determined to a significant degree by the TTVTTM cycle, as well as the location of the cycle (Early, Middle, Late) within the overall course of the milonga. Nevertheless, beyond selecting music for dancing according to cycle and tanda, there are certain transitions between tandas within a cycle that work better than others.

It is desirable for a tango DJ to include within a tanda cycle music that appeals to as many dancers as possible. For example, an Early cycle tanda sequence of

  • T1: Rodriguez – Moreno (slower)
  • T2: D’Arienzo 1930s instrumentals
  • V: Donato
  • T3: Tanturi – Castillo (slower)
  • T4: Biagi early 1950s instrumentals
  • M: D’Arienzo 1930s (slower)

contains all music that that has a strong emphasis on the beat (often classified as ‘rhythmic’ music’).

Likewise, a Late cycle combination of

  • T1: Fresedo – Ray
  • T2: Troilo – Fiorentino (moderate tempo)
  • V: Canaro (slower)
  • T3: Pugliese 1950s instrumentals
  • T4:  Di Sarli 1950s instrumentals

contains all music that is smoother, i.e., has less emphasis on the beat, particularly minor accented beats (less syncopation).

There are dancers who prefer more rhythmic music and dancers who prefer smoother music. Selecting music that is smoother or more rhythmic for an entire cycle may leave some dancers with lower motivation to participate in dancing.

In order to provide variety that maintains the interest of most dancers, while at the same time building musical intensity over the course of a cycle, it is best to mix smoother and more rhythmic music as much as possible within a cycle, striving for a 3-3 or 4-2 division between smoother and more rhythmic, while avoiding selecting more than 2 consecutive tandas of the same rhythm type. For example, the following sequencing of tandas for a Middle cycle will be well received by most dancers.

  • T1: Tanturi – Castillo (slower)
  • T2: Laurenz – Casas
  • V: D’Arienzo 1930s instrumentals
  • T3: Calo – Beron
  • T4: Di Sarli – Rufino (faster)
  • M: Troilo 1940s

This cycle contains 3 tandas of smoother music (Laurenz, Calo, Troilo) and 3 tandas of more rhythmic music (Tanturi, D’Arienzo, Di Sarli).

Another possibility for a Middle cycle that meets the standards mentioned here is the following:

  • T1: Demare – Arrieta
  • T2: Rodriguez – Moreno (moderately fast)
  • V: Biagi
  • T3: Troilo – Fiorentino (slower)
  • T4: Tanturi – Castillo (faster)
  • M: D’Arienzo (faster)

This cycle contains 4 tandas of more rhythmic music (Rodriguez, Biagi, Tanturi, D’Arienzo) and 2 tandas of smoother music (Demare, Troilo) without playing more than 2 consecutive tandas of more rhythmic music.

Selecting tandas in sequence that provide variety in rhythmic structure is challenging, but should be taken into account by a tango DJ.

Another consideration for a tango DJ is to provide contrast in emotional intensity over a tanda cycle, which is usually provided by the singers. For example, the tanda sequence for an Early cycle consisting of

  • T1: Fresedo – Ray
  • T2: Rodriguez instrumentals
  • V: De Angelis – Dante/Martel
  • T3: D’Agostino – Vargas
  • T4: D’Arienzo instrumentals

although selecting individual tandas that are usually appropriate for each point in time, except for D’Agostino – Vargas, there is an absence of significant emotional intensity in this cycle,

On the other hand, a Middle tanda cycle of

  • T1: Calo – Ortiz
  • T2: Troilo – Fiorentino (faster)
  • V: Tanturi – Castillo
  • T3: Di Sarli – Duran
  • T4: D’Arienzo – Echagüe (late 1930s or 1940s)
  • M: Troilo – Fiorentino

may be too emotionally intense for some dancers.

Tandas of instrumentals (with the exception of Pugliese) usually provide some needed relief from emotional intensity.

A good mix in emotional intensity, can be provided by the following selection of tandas for a Middle cycle:

  • T1: Di Sarli – Rufino (slower)
  • T2: Troilo 1940s instrumentals
  • V: Biagi
  • T3: Calo – Beron
  • T4: D’Arienzo – Maure
  • M: Canaro (fast)

Di Sarli – Rufino (slow) injects some emotional intensity, but Troilo instrumental tangos and Biagi valses lower the emotional intensity. Calo – Beron and D’Arienzo – Maure raise the level of emotional intensity, the fast Canaro milongas, although injecting a high level of physical intensity, lower the emotional intensity level.

Examples of managing the different aspects of tanda sequencing are given in the following Sample Milonga program.


Sample Milonga Program

Listed below is an example of a music program for a 3 hour milonga that could have been developed to manage the energy of dancers at the milonga. It is not by any means intended to advocate for a tango DJ bringing a prepared program to a milonga and playing the music without responding to what is observed on the dance floor; rather, it should be viewed as a (hypothetical) finished product that was developed by a DJ over the course of a milonga. The program listed below indicates how a DJ could have selected music to influence the energy level of dancers at this hypothetical (supposedly typical) milonga.


Cycle E (First hour)

This is the cycle that wakes up the bodies of the dancers, providing music with clear rhythm to which dancers can readily connect.

This tanda of slow tango instrumentals by Canaro provides music with clear rhythm that has enough energy to get dancers moving while also providing some interesting melodies.

This tanda of D’Arienzo tango instrumentals increases the intensity by increasing the tempo and the emphasis on the beat, including syncopation. The familiarity of El flete to most dancers should draw them out onto the dance floor.

This tanda of valses by Donato increases the intensity further by increasing the tempo. The rhythm is still clear and uncomplicated. The melodies are sweet.

The dancers may need some relaxation after the uplifting valses. Although the tempo is slower, the emotional intensity of Podesta’s vocals and the accompanying instrumentation draws them back out onto the floor. A straightforward rhythmic clarity is retained, while introducing some opportunities for pauses in dancing.

This tanda of Rodriguez tangos once again raises the intensity with a slightly faster tempo, increased accent on the beats and syncopation. This increased intensity prepares dancers for the upcoming tanda of milongas. The familiar Llorar por una mujer provides a nice climax to the tanda.

Although these are slower milongas, the rich syncopation of slower Canaro milongas elicits traspie from experienced dancers, allowing the opportunity for increased expression of energy. Even for dancers not using traspie, their rate of weight changes will be sufficiently increased by the faster tempo relative to the Rodriguez tangos in the previous tanda.


Cycle M (Second hour)

The second cycle of tandas has higher intensity music overall than the first cycle, achieved by playing music with faster tempos than at equivalent tanda positions in the first cycle, as well as increasing emotional intensity. It also introduces music with more rhythmic complexity, thereby assuming the dancers present at the milonga had achieved a good connection with the simpler rhythms of the music in the first cycle.

This tanda by Tanturi returns musical intensity to a lower level after a tanda of milongas, but the intensity is higher than the Canaro instrumentals played in T1(E), due primarily to the emotional intensity added by the voice of Castillo.

This tanda of lively Troilo instrumentals increases musical intensity by increasing the tempo. It also increases rhythmic complexity over previous tandas. The high familiarity of this music should draw dancers out onto the floor.

These popular D’Arienzo valses should also draw dancers out onto the floor. These fast valses extract additional energy from dancers.

This tanda by Calo lowers the physical intensity from the previous tanda with a slower tempo, but substitutes emotional intensity with the vocals of Beron. This tanda has a higher intensity than T1(M), as well as T3(E).

The fast tempo of these tango instrumentals by Pugliese raises the intensity over the previous tanda and should energize the dancers. The rhythmic complexity should challenge the more experienced dancers. This music of Pugliese also has considerable emotional intensity.

These fast tempo milongas with a driving rhythm by Troilo should energize dancers, bringing them to the highest physical energy level in the milonga. The clear rhythm should keep them connected to the music.


Cycle L (Third / Last Hour)

It is assumed here that the greatest amount of energy was extracted from dancers in the second hour (cycle M). There is no tanda of milongas in cycle L. In the third and last hour of the milonga, the DJ emphasizes music with high emotional intensity, which keeps dancers motivated to dance, although music with higher physical intensity is not avoided completely.

These are among the slowest tempo tangos recorded by D’Agostino with vocals by Vargas. The slow tempo is relaxing after the M(M) tanda of Troilo milongas, the fastest tempo music in the music program. There is plenty of space for pauses in this music. The intense emotion expressed in the vocals of Vargas keeps dancers motivated to dance.

These tangos by Biagi with vocals by Amor have a smoother rhythm and slower tempo than earlier tango recordings by Biagi; i.e., they have lower physical intensity. Nevertheless, there is a more insistent rhythm than the tangos in the previous tanda by D’Agostino – Vargas, thereby injecting more energy into dancers. They also have a more ‘romantic’ sound, due in large part to the vocals by Amor, giving dancers a booster of emotional intensity.

These valses by Canaro have a slower tempo but are also very light and romantic. In 3 of these valses, Roldan’s vocals contribute to this effect. This usually motivates dancers to relax and replenish their physical energy.

Unlike in previous cycles, these Pugliese tango instrumentals in tanda T3(L) actually have higher physical intensity than the preceding tanda of valses due to the strong emphasis on the beat. There is also considerable emotional intensity in the music. For more experienced dancers, there are plenty of spaces in the music for pauses. These characteristics, as well as the familiarity of many dancers with the music, should keep them motivated to enter out onto the dance floor.

This tanda includes some of the slower Di Sarli 1950s instrumentals, yet the strong beat still gives dancers an injection of physical energy. Simultaneously there is sufficient space in the music for pauses. Dancers can relax in this last full tanda of the milonga. Some dancers also find emotional energy in this music. The familiarity of this music for many dancers also brings them out onto the dance floor.

For ending the milonga, the 1955 version of La Cumparsita is a good follow-up to the previous tanda. Its familiarity and strong beat bring dancers out onto the floor one last time.

Note that in this hypothetical musical program, the music selected is entirely from Essential Tango Orchestras (Di Sarli, D’Arienzo, Troilo, Canaro, Pugliese), with each of these orchestras included in two or more tandas, and from High Priority Orchestras (Tanturi, Biagi, Calo, D’Agostino, Donato, Rodriguez), with each of these orchestras represented in one tanda (See Tango DJ Fundamentals: Part 1 – Selecting Music for Dancing and Tanda Construction).



Selecting music over the course of a milonga to keep dancers engaged with the music may appear to be a complicated task for a tango DJ. A focus on the motivation of a group of dancers to dance to specific kinds of tango music is somewhat misleading is that the dancers present at a milonga, both those on the floor and those seated, are not uniform in their tendencies and abilities to dance connected to the music in an upcoming tanda. Although a tango DJ can respond readily to discordance between dancers and the music by using certain corrective measures, and significantly minimize discordance in the first place by implementing certain proactive measures, the successful management of dancers’ energy throughout the course of the milonga requires a general strategy for motivating dancers without stressing them into a discordant state.

Fortunately, the traditional sequencing of tandas in cycles (T1 T2 V T3 T4 M) over the course of a milonga used by tango DJs in Buenos Aires provides a structure that simplifies decision making in the selection of tango music over the course of the milonga. Tandas of vals and milonga have a faster tempo than tandas of tango, and thus tend to extract more energy from dancers than tandas of tango; most dancers also expend more energy dancing milonga than vals. If a tango DJ selects music with a faster tempo and/or greater emphasis on the beat (i.e., greater musical intensity) for the second tanda of tango in each tanda triplet (T1 T2 V or T3 T4 M) and a greater musical intensity for the tandas of tango in the corresponding positions (first or second) in the milonga tanda triplet than in the vals tanda triplet, then a T1 T2 V T3 T4 M tanda cycle will be characterized by musical intensity (and thus dancers energy expenditure) rising gradually through the T1 T2 V triplet, returning to a somewhat lower level for T3, but rising again to a higher level through T4 and M.

Over the course of a milonga (Early to Middle to Late tanda cycles), the corresponding musical intensity levels should increase from the Early cycle to the Middle cycle(s). To enable a harmonious development of connection to the music, music selected in the Early cycle should have a simpler rhythmic structure; during the Middle cycle(s) music with a more complicated rhythmic structure can (and presumably should) be introduced. It is also during the Middle cycle(s) where music with greater emotional intensity can (and presumably) should be introduced. During the Late cycle, the physical intensity of music usually should be decreased somewhat to prevent dancers’ exhaustion. This is accomplished in part by reducing the tempo of music played, which includes the elimination of the tanda of milonga (so that the Late tanda cycle becomes T1 T2 V T3 T4 or T1 T2 V T3a T3b T4), but also by selecting music with a slower tempo and less emphasis on the beat; however, dancers’ engagement with the music can be retained by the introduction of more music with higher emotional intensity.

This strategy of selecting music over the course of the milonga should function well for most dancers. Although assessing the motivational state of the composite of dancers at a milonga can be challenging, tango DJs still have many choices of music for each tanda, that exist within this general framework outlined above, to select specific music that is of lower or higher physical intensity, rhythmic complexity, or emotional intensity to correspond to the perceived composite motivational state of dancers, should a reasonable state of homogeneity exist. Experienced tango DJs can (and should) even modify the intensity transitions between tandas in creative ways that go beyond the general structure presented here. (This is not recommended for developing DJs.)

In a practical sense, what is presented here is an idealized format for managing the energy of dancers over the course of the milonga. It assumes a minimal level of ability of dancers to listen to, interpret and connect to tango music. The reality in many milongas worldwide is that for many (if not most) tango dancers, the music played by tango DJs is only a background for the execution of steps learned in tango classes or mimicked from online videos. Correcting this lack of connection of dancers to the music is a broader problem that is beyond the scope of this post.