The Pros and Cons of Invitations

I have been giving some thought to the various ways of inviting another dancer for a tanda, and I wanting to just share some of the thoughts I have had. Please chip in with pros and cons I haven’t thought of, or even methods for inviting someone that I didn’t remember! (Note: I mean this all in the context of milongas. Practicas or other dance settings are unique events with their own codes of conduct.)

1. Cabeceo
This is my preferred method of invitation, although I have to admit that I don’t always follow it – not when being asked or when I dare ask a leader myself. But if everyone used cabeceo at least 95% of the time, I would be a happy tanguera. I love the feeling of securing a dance with a look, especially knowing that your partner was looking for you, too.
Pros: As a follower, I have more control over my choice of partner. I can avoid invitations that don’t interest me and seek out invitations from leaders I want to dance with. Most importantly to me, I can check out potential leaders before finally accepting an invitation. Basically, the cabeceo keeps me from feeling pressured to accept an invitation when I don’t really want to dance with someone (whether or not I would like to dance with him another time).
Cons: Sometimes, you simply miss an invitation. I have been known to accidentally turn someone down when, in reality, I just didn’t see their cabeceo. You also might end up thinking that a leader is looking at you when he is actually looking at the woman right behind you. Of course, this is easily solved by not getting up until he comes over to take you onto the dance floor.

2. Gesture
I used the general term “gesture” to include anything that involves the leader getting your attention primarily through some gestural means aside from eye contact. This could be an outstretched hand, a wave, etc.
Pros: There is no missing this kind of invitation. It’s a way for the leader to know that a follower sees him, and the follower has to give a response. It also looks gentlemanly to offer a woman your hand to help her up and escort her to the dance floor.
Cons: It is the hardest invitation for me to decline. When the invitation is posed as a question, I can just say no. When it is an outstretched hand, I have to say no to an unasked question. It feels more assuming than a verbal invitation. It also usually involves blocking my vision in a way that makes it impossible for me to cabeceo any other leaders. Like most invitations, it’s convenient when coming from a leader I want to dance with but annoying when it’s someone I would rather look for later or avoid altogether.

3. Verbal
The invitation that can vary from, “Shall we?” to “Let’s dance!” or “Would you do me the honor of dancing this tanda with me?” (Ok, I haven’t actually heard the last one. But you know what I mean.)
Pros: Again, you can’t miss this invitation. It does leave the follower the option of turning you down, too. Some leaders don’t mind the occasional rejection in these cases. It’s also handy when a follower isn’t looking your way.
Cons: The follower might be looking in another direction for a reason! But beyond the potential for rejection, or a pity dance, or a less-than-fabulous interaction, there are other reasons why verbal invitations are tricky. If another leader overhears me turning down a dance, he might avoid me – even if I’d be happy to dance with him! He might assume that I’m tired, or too picky (and doesn’t want to risk rejection himself!). And like gestured invitations, it cuts off my ability to look for other leaders to dance with. Plus, anything short of a real question makes me feel like you are assuming I will dance with you, which in turn makes me feel like a jerk if I don’t accept.

How to make the cabeceo work for you:
Yes, the cabeceo is indimidating for new dancers, or dancers who aren’t used to it. It is also difficult for those of us who live in places where eye contact is not common among strangers. And sometimes you miss the gaze of a fellow tanguero. So how can we make it work?
I have my own strategies. One is to greet friends as soon as I see them at a milonga. I make sure they know that I’m there. When I see a leader and don’t know if he realizes I would like to dance with him at some point, I say hi and tell him that I hope to dance with him later. That way he knows that I am receptive to his invitation – and it puts the idea in his mind! This allows him to avoid asking me if he isn’t interested, as well. (I don’t want to put him in the same bind I’m trying to avoid from verbal invitations!) In general, I use conversation as a way to let the leaders know that I am there and I want to dance with them. I also try to gracefully exit a conversation so that he doesn’t end up feeling pressured to ask me just because I’m standing there when the cortina ends. (Ok, sometimes I intentionally time my conversations for this, but it’s often with friends – friends who I know will excuse themselves if the music comes on and they would rather not dance with me!)

Aside from conversation, I try to be strategic about where I am during the milonga. I try to return to the same general area during cortinas or breaks from dancing so that leaders can find me more easily. Or, if I hope to dance with someone in particular, I place myself in his line of sight or stand nearby to up my chance of catching his eye. Likewise, I avoid invitations by turning away from leaders to avoid their cabeceo. Or I catch their eye, acknowledge it somehow (depending on who the leader is), and move my gaze on to search for an invitation I’d like to accept.

I rarely have trouble getting or avoiding invitations with a cabeceo. I have secured a tanda with my desired leader from across the room, with a whole crowd in between us. It’s a really nice feeling.

I would love your additions to any part of this. I know that we all have our feelings about this subject – and our own ways of dealing with it!


2 thoughts on “The Pros and Cons of Invitations

  1. The problems occur when there is no “standard”. If the woman I want to ask looks in some other direction is it because she doesn’t want to dance with me or because she didn’t notice me? In my experience it’s about a %50/%50 chance to be either.If I don’t know if someone would want to dance with me, and if it’s not obvious from their body language, I will ask verbally in some way that offers a way out. Maybe something along the lines of “I’d like to dance with you at some point tonight”. If they want to dance with me, I would expect them to say something like “How about now?” or “Come get me later”. If they are not interested a “maybe later” would send the message loud and clear 😉

  2. Sorin, from my perspective your approach is like my own, where I greet leaders and let them know I would enjoy a dance later on. Yours isn’t really a direct verbal invitation (inviting me onto the floor at that moment), although it allows me to suggest that option.I do understand your pain with not knowing whether a woman is purposefully avoiding your gaze, but I think that in combination with milonga organizers encouraging the cabeceo and dancer using conversation to express interest the cabeceo could become more standard or at least more reliable.

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