Why do I love Cortina?

Cortina – you can definitely live without it when you don’t know what it is, but once you get used to it and appreciate it, you can’t live without it.

I remembered I had a discussion with a DJ in Europe. He didn’t use cortina when he DJed. I asked him why. Then he said when he played cortina, everybody left the dance floor at the same time and that created traffic congestion to the exit of the dance floor (in that milonga, there’s only one not-so-big exit from the dance floor to the sitting area). And they preferred dancers changed partner whenever they want and not at the same time. Then I asked him, “How do you separate the tandas then?” He said, in that case he used a short silent pause to separate the tandas. Although I’m a fan of cortina, I found he had a good reason of not using it. However, he didn’t change my belief in cortina. For me, cortina’s function is more than just clearing the dance floor and separating the tandas. I believe cortina can do more than that.

The primary function of cortinas in Buenos Aires is to clear the dance floor and encourage people to change partners. It is a very practical reason. Cortina is a code of behavior in a milonga. When dancers hear the cortina, everybody will leave the dance floor. If there’s someone who doesn’t know this rule and waits for the next tanda to start on the dance floor, then they will find themselves extremely embarrassed, it happens quite often to the milonga first timer. Then after the cortina finishes, dancers know that they can go back to the dance floor again. So it’s pretty much like the way police control the traffic – there‚Äôs moment to leave the dance floor and there’s also moment to enter the dance floor. But in milonga, the traffic light is the cortina.

Then in Buenos Aires, cortina usually lasts around 1 minute, sometimes longer sometimes shorter, depends on different DJs and different milongas. If the dance floor is big and there’re lots of dancers, of course it takes more time to clear the dance floor, hence DJ plays longer cortina, and vice versa. During the cortina, gentlemen will bring their partners back to their seats, and then maybe having a drink or chit-chat with friends. Then once the new tanda starts, they invite another persons to dance. It is an unspoken rule to change partner after each tanda. Since each tanda is followed by a cortina, it provides a chance for the dancers to break from their current partner. It is extremely useful when you don’t like to dance with someone, once cortina arrives, then you can say “bye-bye” easily to your partner without embarrassing him or her. : P

But for me, cortina means more than that. I’m so much into the music that, I need a “break” in-between tandas or something to make me forget about the previous tanda. Otherwise, I will have a hard time to pull my emotion out from what has been played, then I cannot dance the next set of music. In a nutshell, I cannot immediately jump from Di Sarli to Donato, I need something to “wash away” my Di Sarli mood so that I can change myself into Donato mode, and that’s what cortina means to me. I don’t need a very long cortina, a 20 second or 30 second cortina is good enough. I don’t know if you feel the same, but I know I’m not alone to feel this way. I noticed how much I appreciate having cortinas in-between tandas after dancing in milongas where there were no tandas and cortinas. For example the music could be like this – a Pugliese’s vals “Desde el alma” -> a Canaro’s milonga “Milonga Brava” -> a Di Sarli’s tango “Bahia Blanca” -> a De Angelis’s tango “Pavadita”… It felt like a big “rojak” (a mix salad in Singapore). I know many people don’t mind and may even like it, but to dance on all these pieces one after the other and be true to each of them with my heart, no I can’t.

Cortina can set the mood of the milonga, I noticed that when I was in Buenos Aires. I remembered I went to La Ideal on a Monday afternoon and also to El Arranque on a Tuesday afternoon. The DJs in these two places played very rhythmic cortinas, everybody shook their body or walked to the rhythm of the cortina whenever it was played. I noticed that although the milongas were long (from 3pm to almost 10pm), the energy of the crowd never cooled down. And I found myself always in a good mood to dance in those two milongas. My conclusion was that because of the music, and that included a good cortina, I always felt excited and energized. That’s why when I DJ myself, I always choose rhythmic cortinas (lively or jazzy), they keep people’s dancing spirit up. And I also found out that when people love the cortina, they might appreciate the DJ and his/her music more. :) In fact, for many dancers, the first thing they remember about your DJing may not be the tango you play but the cortina you use. Cortina can become the “trademark” of a tango DJ.

5 Responses to “Why do I love Cortina?”

  1. Emily Says:

    hahaha, you have written almost all I think….100 percent agree! one thing I want to add is, cortina can also be a trademark of a milonga in Buenos Aires. When I was in BsAs in the mid of 2005, Porteno y bailarin always play the soundtrack of Mission Impossible – it has become a trademark of PyB. I don’t know if their cortina has been changed (please tell me, royce), but during the 5 weeks that I stayed, the dj always played the same cortina, which played an important role of the identity of the milonga (which is so differernt from El Beso!). But i think this can’t work in HK (with so a lot less tango events), since there is so many milongas in BsAs (at one night!), so the cortina stands out more as the identity of the milonga there.
    My trademark (favourite cortinas) is latin/cubin music like those of Xavier Cugat!!! I guess not a lot of ppl notice this… = P I also have an special practice – I don’t play cortina at the very beginning of a milonga, cos I want to drive more ppl to the dance floor and there are just too little dancers to clear from the dance floor. But I will carefully select the music, which the style are really very similar to make the mood as smooth as possible. i also experienced to use a series of cortinas of the same melody but of differernt mood to match the flow of a milonga, (a more enegetic cortina at the beginning and the a slower cortina towards the end) but I still prefer one cortina for the whole event. I remember when I danced in a milonga in Rome, the dj chooses very very good tango, but he uses differernt songs for each cortina, which is, for me at least, quite disturbing.

  2. Lucas Says:

    Hi Royce,
    I like you wrote. It’ very good to discuss this.

    Cortina is not only cortina. Cotina changed emotion.

    To Emily,
    Last year I went HK in summer, I danced very happy when you were the DJ.
    It’s give me wonderful memorize. Thank you~

  3. la nuit blanche Says:

    this is such a good post! thank you for sharing your thoughts on the cortina. i agree with emily about latin/cuban music being a good choice! well, maybe swing or jazz is my personal favorite… :)

    there is one milonga here in new york city that often plays bluegrass or country music during the cortina. i can’t stand it. it’s too much of a mood break, and the difference between the music is so marked, that it washes the tango out of me.

  4. Eran Braverman Says:

    Hi
    Excellent information re cortinas! Loved it!
    Please also see http://www.tangoinfo.com.au – lots of tango articles including tango history, milonga and vals history, milonga etiquette, embellishments, tango photos and many others!
    Warm regards,
    Eran Braverman

  5. Hayoung Says:

    I love cortinas too. I started DJing at least twice a month at a local milonga in Seoul earlier this year, so I’m just a newbie. I’m currently in the US to take care of some paperwork issues, and I was a little appalled by the level of DJing here, so I offered to guest DJ one night. They gladly accepted, in exchange of free wine and empanadas.
    I had never received any complaints about my cortinas, but last Friday the organizer relayed some complaints that I should play calmer cortinas. I never play the same cortina throughout the night. Instead, I choose the cortinas based on what kind of tanda is coming up. So I played an ultra-fast instrumental guitar track as a ‘warning’ that a very fast milonga tanda was coming up, as it was earlier in the night (to the local standards… meaning 23:30-midnight). But there is an older crowd here who is judgmental yet don’t know crap. Whatever. Back in Korea, maybe people complained behind my back, but people were generally receptive to even my weirdest cortinas, in preparation for a wacky tanda, like a D’Arienzo Echague of the early 50s, such as Bien Pulenta, Nene del Abasto, Hipo, etc.
    Maybe I should start following your advice and just concentrate in keeping up the dancing mood!

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