"I'd add that a thoughtful and trustworthy DJ can also make good dancers less risk-averse, and that makes them more willing to dance with inexperienced partners. Because they know the music will be there for them if it's difficult, or for another dance with someone else!"
--Ms. Hedgehog, commenting on El Zorro Gris' entry on breaking the vicious cycle of bad music
This is exactly what I find frustrating so often at the Tango Bar, especially last time, and the other nuevo-hosted milongas around town. (Okay, one of the things.) I never know, if I don't care for a particular tanda, when the next time I'll be able to dance might be.
Last week at the Tango Bar, a guest DJ filled in for the regular one, who was out of town. The regular DJ--and bless him, he's been very kind to me, and I always enjoy dancing with him very much--is quite bad enough about catering to people who want to dance to non-tango (or non-danceable tango) music, because he doesn't want to lose those dancers. But he'll usually come back to danceable tango afterward; classic tango is actually his own preference, he's told me.
In the abbreviated time that I was at the Tango Bar last week, the guest DJ played, as I recall, a sequence of tandas that went along these lines: classic tango, then some rather obscure and difficult milongas, then alternative "tango," then blues, then electrotango, then what sounded like eastern European folk music--then "La Cumparsita."
And so after my first dances, to the classic tango and the milongas, I got up to dance ... I would call it one and a half times--an aborted attempt for the set that turned out to be electrotango and very difficult for my partner and me. (It had sounded like it was going to be traditional tango at first--deceptive.) So my partner and I had to sit down, and I didn't get a chance to dance again until "Cumparsita," when that same partner grabbed me again.
It was so frustrating. With every cortina, I'd look up hopefully, waiting to see what the tanda would be--and the DJ would play some more nonsense that I couldn't dance to. This particular DJ dances a wide range of other styles, such as blues and swing, so she was clearly having a wonderful time--but a growing collection of more advanced tango dancers were sitting out in increasing annoyance.
There are a few people in town with whom I will sometimes try dancing to alternative music. Sometimes it works, but I still like classic tango best; other music just doesn't usually feel like tango, in a way that I can't explain yet (but other people have tried, sometimes in quite technical terms). I remain picky about who I will dance milonga, vals, or tricky music such as Pugliese with, if it is played at a particular milonga--because when they're done well, they are so lovely, but when they are done poorly, they feel awful. But what Ms. Hedgehog said is absolutely right. If my partner is less than ideal, classic tango is easier for both of us to deal with. And if I know that I am likely to have the opportunity to make up for a bad dance, I'm much more likely to take a chance with an unknown dancer or unusual music.
Most of all, I go to tango evenings to dance tango, not to dance to Gypsy ballads or swing. I can't object too much to alternative tandas played sparingly--they play occasional chacarera, rock, or tropical tandas in Buenos Aires, for a change of pace (and it is worth noting that the dancers then dance in those styles to that music; they do not try to dance tango to it, like so many do here)--but tango is our primary reason for going to a milonga, isn't it? So I can't help believing that danceable tango ought to be the basis of any milonga that dancers aren't forewarned will be non-traditional. Play alternative stuff occasionally, as El Zorro Gris discusses in an earlier post, if you feel you must; I'm happy to listen and content enough to watch, even though I don't often want to participate. But then, please, come back to tango. It's why we're at the milonga and not at a salsa bar, a swing dance, or a hip-hop club.
Happening across Ms. Hedgehog's remarks has helped me sort out why I had such trouble with the guest DJ's wild music selections last week--even more than usual at the Tango Bar. I'm so glad that the regular DJ is back.
Further proof: At the next milonga I danced with, I think, three new people--because I knew that I could make up for those tandas if they did not go well. Happily, two of them were very nice (and the third was better than I thought it might be).