12 March 2014

The tanguera and the pea

Nostalgic friend: "When I started dancing, we only had CDs at the milongas. If the CD had been on repeat and played like five times, anyone was allowed to go and put on another."


If you've been dancing for some years, you probably remember a similar scene. The CDs would all be homemade compilations, many of which seemed to contain Corazón de oro. There would probably be one store-bought CD, La Revancha del Tango, and everybody rated this as Gotan Project's best. Piazzolla was the tango-est of them all, especially when played by Yo-Yo Ma. Hugo Díaz' harmonica made everyone's hearts throb. It didn't matter that it also made everyone's eardrums throb. There was pure tango passion in this harmonica, I'll have you know.

Oh, the long-lost innocence. I just caught the tail end of this era before the tango community embarked on its journey towards enlightenment. A little army of budding DJs walked in front, equipped with laptops and newfound knowledge and impressive collections of flac files. The rest of us followed, ditching "nuevo" and "tango for export" as we understood that the only true way forwards was backwards, to the Golden Age.

And so a nation of nerds was born. We, who had been happily dancing to I'm yours by Jason Mraz, suddenly would stop dead in our tracks if anything from the forties was mixed with anything from the fifties within a tanda. Dancers who had lost themselves in A Evaristo Carriego a few years back would be seen sulking in the corner whenever any Pugliese was played. People who had been to three Bajofondo concerts during the summer of 2006 started questioning whether [insert famous DJ name here] *really* was making the wisest choice by playing Di Sarli after Fresedo at this particular moment on this particular night in this particular milonga venue, especially with these particular dancers present.

So here we are. We've learnt a lot about orchestra leaders, singers, styles, and genres over the last years. We have also learnt a lot about concepts, rules and circumstances: how DJs should combine all the above to make us want to dance. But sometimes, it feels like the how is becoming more important than the what; that the need for presentation is overshadowing our love for the content.

It's like the story about the princess and the pea, only with tango music. Spot the annoying detail, and you've proven that you're worthy to join our community.

I'm wondering though: how hair-splittingly subtle should we allow ourselves to become? Are we arriving at a stage where the evening is ruined if the DJ isn't doing things exactly the way we think they should be done? Are we even rejecting opportunities to have fun because we don't allow ourselves to have fun?

I'm not saying that presentation isn't important. It just seems like it's becoming important because we say it's important. It's an idea that is reinforcing itself, and before you know it, the milongas are brimming with nitpicky nerds who refuse to dance if we don't get things exactly as we want them. Don't get offended, I'm a nitpicky nerd myself. And an obnoxious know-it-all. And maybe even a pompous ass - and most probably a spoilt consumer at times.

Maybe it's time to realise that we also have some responsibility for our own enjoyment.

Another thing: as we're gaining knowledge, it seems we're forgetting our manners. We expect the work of every DJ to suit our perfectly honed tastes and our detailed preferences. If it doesn't, we feel entitled to freely express our anger, contempt, and disappointment. So we complain to our fellow dancers (who probably think we are being the biggest killjoys ever), to the DJ (who has spent a lot of time and money preparing to present the music we're dancing to), and to the organisers (who work so hard, mostly for free, to provide us with a nice milonga or event).

Used right, knowledge about the music will enhance our tango experiences. It's nice to be able to appreciate a well-designed tanda, and I love making tandas and creating a good evening when I'm DJing. But music is also a mark of humanity, not just science. Each person has to make it happen, every time.


The princess and the pea (H.C. Andersen)

Corazón de oro (Francisco Canaro 1961 instrumental con coro)
La revancha del tango Gotan Project
Yo-Yo Ma Soul of the tango
Hugo Díaz Milonga triste
I'm yours Jason Mraz
A Evaristo Carriego (Osvaldo Pugliese live from Teatro Colón 1985)