Why Do We Still Dance to These Old Tango Songs?

A tried and true format in the structure of a milonga is there for us to follow and emulate in Buenos Aires. The music selection is an intricate part of the reason tango keeps us growing. A driving factor in tango being so popular and addictive is the fact it is still mainly danced to the original songs that were mainly recorded from the 1930s to 1950s. There are literally thousands of danceable tango songs from the golden era of tango and it will take you years to hear them all, then even more years for you to recognize and then more to get to really know them. Tangueros have depended on these songs for their musicality and their floor craft since they were first played. There is a structure to the music and the way a milonga comes together.

It is no accident that the popular method of organizing a milonga is T-T-V-T-T-M (tango-tango-vals-tango-tango-milonga). It is a structure on which the milonguero can depend. It is no accident that the mood of an entire tanda is the same even to the point of having the same orchestra from the same year with the same sound and rhythms to the songs (for instance Rodolfo Biagi used to play piano for Anibal Troilo, when Biagi formed his own orchestra the sound of Troilo’s music changed radically, so you wouldn’t want to mix songs with and without Biagi’s famous rhythms in a Troilo tanda because it would disrupt the flow and connection developed by the milonguero) – tango is a complicated dance and there are nights and partners where it takes all 4 similar songs to create a good connection – a milonguero depends on this structure to create confidence in his partner. It is important the flow of the milonga that the a vals and a milonga appear in the proper place so that the experienced milonguero can select his partner based on the genre of song coming next – there are partner’s where one can connect better for a vals than a tango or a milonga, and it fits within the structure if one knows and can depend on what is coming next. Give me a good DJ and ( if I have been dancing and not talking for several tandas in a row) I can tell you the mood if not the coming orchestra that the next tanda will be and most certainly the genre. This isn’t just important to the milonguero, it is the hallmark of the advanced and seasoned milonguero to create a real and true flow of well managed and connected dances.

Continuing to dance to these early compositions has allowed tango to keep its original essence and culture, where the evolution of other dances has caused them to lose contact with their roots. Since we continue to dance to the same music it is an actual advantage for dancers that have been around for some years, it takes years to really come to know the original recordings that are played at milongas all over the globe – because they are complex and they are so many. But is a comfort to know that if I dance in Buenos Aires or London, I will hear my favorite orchestras playing my favorite Di Sarli or Pugliese composition.

The traditional music really does drive the movements we dance to – the music and the movements all evolved together – it is because of the traditional music that we learn and eventually make tango our own; mess with the music and you mess with tango itself. Still a certain amount of alternative is maybe needed to bring in new blood, but it should never be allowed (on a regular basis) to over shadow or out play the original recordings.

Folks say there should be new tango songs written and added to the mix and wouldn’t that be great. But how can this happen? Imagine Buenos Aires 1945… Di Sarli is playing in this barrio, Troilo is playing across town and over here in a little club by Puerto Madera D’Agostino is playing… they are all vying for your business and patronage they are all striving to write a better more danceable piece.

In my opinion – given the evolution of the music – unless there were suddenly competitive frame work of orchestras competing for the dancers, there can’t be new recordings to compete fully with the traditional music, because without numbers of orchestras all feeding off of one another’s talents and inspirations. The original essence can’t be recaptured in newly composed tango songs. This era of tango was a phenomena that can’t be artificially reproduced.

Could it happen again? Maybe, but wouldn’t mean that suddenly there were scores of talented musicians forming orchestras all competing and striving to get the milonguero to come and dance in their venue to this new piece that was written for the dancer by the dancer because of the dancer? Modern orchestras have become known for not being there at the milonga to please the dancer but to more to flaunt their talents and wares (though this is by no means always the case). This truly was not the case in Buenos Aires during the golden era, quite the contrary, the orchestras were there because of and for the milonguero the dancers affected the music as much as did the musician and most of the musicians were dancers. This would be a hard phenomenon to replicate – but given the powers of tango, truly who knows?

It isn’t an accident that tango is still danced to the old recordings (though I remember specifically when I thought it was just an unexamined fluke, and found it uncomfortably strange that this dance was locked into a paradigm of dancing to these old recordings). These aren’t just my opinions tango is a worldwide phenomena that started before any of today’s living milongueros were even born. Something magical happened in Bs As in the middle of the last century and we wouldn’t be hooked on this dance without each and every orchestra that ever played a milonga in Buenos Aires during this time frame. Tango was created like a magical king wave, one that we are still all surfing today. The culture and music and codigos are all a part of the tango process. As you begin to travel and dance you will see more about what I mean.

This was and email to a student that asked me to post it… thanks, Jim.

Love, Light and Gratitude,