Veronika von Heise-Rotenburg: Tango argentino


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To be a good DJ is not easy. I learned from online tutorials, on some workshops, and by discussion and observation of other DJs, not to forget critique by dancers.
For newbies and for all who look for additonal knowlege, I've written this guide to DJing. Any suggestions welcome!


DJing, probably, works like everything else: 98% work, 1% genius, 1% luck. So, basically there are no requirements, but some skills which make the job easier, to name:

Sources for music

Generally, you never can have enough ;-) Honestly, I do not think that you can DJ successfully with 5 CDs without being repetitive, but 50 hours of well-selected music seems to be a good starting point. Music can be bought either with amazon or with specialty stores such as Zivals/BsAs, Danza y Movimiento/Hamburg, El Bandoneon/Barcelona,, all of which have online resources. For beginnder-DJs, the collection "tangos de mi vida" of RialProducciones offers a vast selection of classical tango in ok-sound-format, and this relatively cheap. Legal downloads are another source - e.g. with allofmp3, itunes or
To me, it is crucial to not only possess and know traditional tango, but also modern orchestras, non-tango music and electrotango. Why? Tango evolves, in both music and dancing. I want to dance and dj not only the past, but give tango a chance to evolve and develop. And… most dancers, especially the good ones, crave for novelties, if they are inspiring ones. Further information online, especially on how to build a collection: Traditional tango


There is numerous DJing software available - I personally use i-tunes, like most other semi-professional DJs. Another renowned program, rather cheap ($ 35): J River Media Center, or else more expensive but seemingly the best ($ 500): BPM Sound Studio. However, I feel that itunes is sufficient and the best freeware I know of for the following reasons:

Work on the music

To be a good DJ, you have to know the music and work on it continually. And I really mean it ;.-) Establishing my dj database of about 4000 songs was a work of approximately 500 hours, and till today I try to work one hour each day (not counted the hours of pure listening…).

What's to do?
Absolutely basic: copy the music from CD on the computer, name each file with title and artist (this work is done automatically if you're online while importing the CD - vast databases make it possible) Oh, and if you expect discussion about file formats at this point: to me, mp3 or aac is absolutely sufficient, bit rate should be above 128. More discussion on the tango-dj newsgroup.
Basic: look for pieces with clear, audible rhythm and full sound, other stuff is not danceable. Neither is (too much) vocal tango. Watch out that the silence after the tracks is equally long (if not, add/cut)
Necessary: tag the files with additional information (year, singer, genre (tango-vals-milonga), style (guardia vieja-golden age dramatic-golden age smooth - to be found here)
Nice to have: count beats per minute and tag (count e.g. with this tool), get an overall rating for each piece, cut too long pieces
Really advanced: characterize each piece (invent a code) and tag, speed up/slow down pieces that are out of a comfortable dancing beat

Cutting: I use audacity, freeware. Additionally, you need a so-called lame encoder to ex-port files as mp3s. Features I use:cut (applause, too long silence) generate silence (if not included in the file after a piece) cross fade in/cross fade out for applause, often also for cortinas effect - change tempo (amazing how well dancers react to it, e.g. I speed up "J'oublie"/Oblivion by Milva from 32 to 48 bpm, slowed down "Catalina" by Lomuto from 78 to 67 bmp Get cortinas: a good cortina is one that cannot be danced, it takes between 20 and 40 sec-onds. I generally play it less loud than tangos. Most cortinas I find in my non-tango music. It's a lot of fun to prepare an eve of "specialty" cortinas - e.g. Christmas carols for the Chrismas milonga, Irish Folk for St. Patrick's day, Love songs for Valentine's Day, and so on. Also, you can try to have coherent tangos (e.g. fusion jazz) all evening, or might even just use one single tango as to get dancers accustomed to the cortina concept (at the 5th repetition, everyone gets that it is not danceable…)Some DJs, instead of playing a cortina, shortly announce the next tanda.

Adapting volume: in itunes, it is possible to adapt the sound volume for each song specifically, so that e.g. romantic/sad pieces are played less lound than dramatic ones. Before doing so, and especially when you worked with different programs for file import, I recomment running iGain (first download mp3gain, then aacgain) as to adadpt the volume of all files to one standard. The program is better than the automatic adjustment itunes does, and works once and for all. BUT think of de-fragmenting you hard disk after you run it, otherwise you'll have cracks and music shutters when you DJ next.

Here’s a trick for those who also organize „normal“ listening music in itunes: create two databases. Press the shift key while opening itunes, create a second database (which will work with the same files as your first one) and import the titles you want there. Thus, you’ll keep your tango library clean of listening music and other stuff.

Database maintenance

Once in a while (typically year-end), you should do database maintenance. A lot of search options depend on how you organized your library, but here are some suggestions:


DJing with or without tandas?
I personally do prefer to dj with tandas - people can anticipate what I hold in store for them. If the first song of a tanda is a di Sarli, they know they can expect 3 more. Also, I feel it is necessary to separate those tandas to really indicate a change in musical style. I like to use cortinas, but if dancers don't understand them (there are people who dance to absolutely everything ;-)) or in smaller milongas, when people cannot/do not want to switch partners, I use 5 sec. of silence instead.
Nevertheless, if you have a little crowd or a práctica, it might be preferable to dj without tandas as not to break the energy on the floor and to get in a huge variety of music. Nevertheless, I do it tanda-like (3 similar pieces), but create a transition from one piece to another style. Often, be-tween two classical sections, this works with a non-tango. When I dj alternative/electro, I sometimes opt for crossfade-playback, so that the transition of the pieces goes smoothely and in a flow. Some dancers really do like it, other's don't - a controversial tactic to be used sparingly, at least.
How to arrange tandas?
A job to be done at home, before the milonga - composing tandas on the fly is difficult and needs experience.
Basic rules:

And how to break the rules:

Composition of the milonga

How to mix tandas:
For a non-specific (trad/modern) milonga, I would stick with the following: as to genres (all through the different styles): 50-70% tango, 20-25% vals, 15-20% milonga. As to styles (all through different genres): 60-70% classical (I split 70:30 traditional recordings:modern orchestras), 15-20% non-tangos: classical, jazz and latin work best; occasionally rock and pop can be fun , 10-15% electrotango

Keith Elshaw ( claims there are 8 big orchestras which should be played at each milonga - I find myself to agree with him, although sometimes it's only 6 or 7 I integrate in the course of an evening: Osvaldo Pugliese, Carlos di Sarli, Francisco Canaro, Angel d'Agostino mit Angel Vargas, Juan d'Arienzo, Miguel Caló, Anibal Troilo (I sometimes skip him, as well as Tanturi), Ricardo Tanturi.

Also, you might want to plan on a other-than-tango tanda, depending on which other dances the people at the event usually do. The usual breaks are salsa, chacarera, rock'n'roll, but I would not do more than 2 breaks in the course of an evening. It usually chases away dancers who are not intimate with other dances, and the totally different quality of music often destroys the atmosphere. Additionally, you might have to consider a demonstration/show or announcements by the organizer.
Usually, after such events, all energy is lost - and you'll have to start building it from scratch. Best works a short cycle (see below) started with energetic, but not dramatic music (such as Caló, di Sarli).

Alignment of tandas?
Some of this can be done in advance - when djing regularely, you'll get a good feeling of what works and how the energy curve of a dance community evolves. Some cannot - you'll need to switch tandas around according to what you observe on the floor.

Tandas in the course of a milonga usually are aligned in a short cycle (40 minutes): 4 tangos, 3-4 valses, 4 tangos, 3-4 milongas (early in the eve to build energy), in a medium cycle (50 minutes): 4 tangos, 4 tangos, 3 valses, 4 tangos, 3 milongas (regular or to sustain the energy), in a long cycle (60 minutes): 4 tangos, 4 tangos, 3 valses, 4 tangos, 4 tangos, 3 milongas (regular, especially good late in the eve to capture the flow).

Two succeding tandas should not be alike, but rather disctinctive in style. The evening is started with softer, the climax should be reached about 1 hour before the end with a cool-down phase and a little climax towards the end.

The beginning of the evening is rather traditional, the later it gets, the more alternantive/electro I mix in. What usually works best:
Early evening: beginner-friendly music: not too fast/slow, easy beat, e.g. Canaro, d'Arienzo, de Angelis
Middle evening (people drop in…): pull them on the floor with valses (Caló, de Angelis), full-sounding tandas (di Sarli, Tanturi). Alternate short Energizing/dramatic cycles with longer mellow cycles.
Later evening (people get a little tired): mix energetic music (Pugliese, modern orchestras) with some alternative/electro, some more milonga
Late at night (only some dancers stay): get dramatic (Pugliese,

The milonga and feedback

As you have prepared well in advance, the evening will be a quiet one: arrive early, do a quick sound check, ensure that the laptop has enough power, and start the playlist.
Unfortunately, this is not all - I find myself sweeping around tandas oftentimes in the evening, because I feel a different energy on the floor than anticipated, because there's an event that destroys the energy on the dance floor (oh how I LOVE birthday waltzes and endless speeches) so that I have to build it up again or someone asks for a specific song which I feel able to mix in wrapped up in a tanda. At last, you'll want to watch out for signs of trouble:

Keep on learning

After one milonga is before the next one! During my dancing-only time, I found those DJs the best which really worked on their dj-ing style, so I try my best to work through the following after a milonga has happened:

Also, you might want to read, exchange with other DJs, and so contains many useful links, Tango-dj group is the best group for discussion about tango music!

All of the above are some rules generated by observation of other DJs, some workshops, and own experience. They are not to be slavishly followed! I just wanted to raise awareness of some of my best practices, because their imitation helps to develop a personal style. I guess DJing is also much about self-confidence: whatever you'll do, you'll get some positive feedback and some slaps in the face. Don't let yourself down, just go on and don't always follow those who scream loudest. So, the ultimative advice is:
Be yourself when DJ-ing: a unique person with a unique style! Do what you like, what your dancers like - and have fun!

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