Cabeceo (again)

I have been thinking a lot about the cabeceo lately. There are, of course, a number of other good blog posts out there about the cabeceo. Here are just a few:

1. Tango in her eyes: Tips for success with the cabeceo
2. YYQuest Tango Blog: Everyday Cabeceo
3. Tango and Chaos: The Cabeceo
4. Royce’s Tango Thoughts: Antes de Cabecear

There are two points that always jump out at me when I think about the cabeceo:

First, using a cabeceo is not some mysterious, foreign tradition. Just as the “Everyday Cabeceo” article suggests, a cabeceo is just an extension of fairly natural gestural communication. It is the same as catching someone’s eye in any other social setting. It isn’t something to shy away from or reject as specific to Argentine culture or “traditional” tango settings.

Second, the cabeceo is NOT just about avoiding rejection and protecting a man’s ego. For me, the most AWESOME thing about the cabeceo is that it empowers the followers. It gives us so much more freedom to select our partners. This is especially true for a follower like me who lives in a city with more leaders than men – without the cabeceo, followers often have to deal with eager leaders rushing up to them and pushing them for a dance.

Of course, I do not strictly cabecear. I have been known to accept all manner of invitations onto the dance floor. But after all of this thinking during the past few days, I want to change that. I am tired of feeling obligated to dance, of feeling guilty and over-apologetic when turning someone down, of letting a leader’s eagerness rather than my own readiness or interest dictate when I will dance with someone. I am willing to deal with a lost dance once in a while due to failed eye contact. Now that I am ready and armed with ideas for encouraging leaders to cabecearme, I want to also encourage the milonga organizers to create spaces that also encourage the cabeceo with lighting, table arrangement, etc.


3 thoughts on “Cabeceo (again)

  1. Hi Modern Tanguera!One of the great things about BsAs tango for me is that in the places I like to frequent, to cabecear is the norm (the rule, the code), and as you say it gives me power! I can choose to refuse without any awkwardness and I can also choose to will the man (with my eyes, my smiles and my movements to attract his attention) to look at me which sometimes works! Here we all know where we are with the rules and so if someone approaches and asks verbally I have the option to say no thanks without explanation because really they know they take a risk if they don’t use the cabeceo. I too have come to dislike feeling under pressure to dance when for whatever reason I don’t want to. The cabeceo makes it all so simple.And of course our seating arrangements in many traditional places enable easier eye contact too, with men and women seated separately and often opposite each other.In some places here it ain’t so strict and I’ll weigh up the whole situation. I won’t always refuse a verbal ask if the circumstances feel ok. But sometimes I will refuse and so will most women who have been here any time. Guys here know that.I know it’s different in other countries, it was in mine – I prefer the system here. This kid is happier when the rules are clear and she can say no without awkwardness for me or him! Mucho!Of course in the beginning it took a bit of getting used to. To be really bold and confident with my eyes took time. But it’s like everything, practice makes better! Now I love to play!Love your blog, love your posts. Always read them even if I don’t always comment. Beso, SC

  2. MT, you’ll see that I posted this elsewhere, I think, but for the benefit of those who won’t see it, I’ll repost it here:I see some difficult barriers to overcome to get the cabeceo to work in our community. Perhaps most importantly, the followers have to begin refusing inappropriate invitations. Some guy that comes and interrupts a conversation by sticking out his hand with a “Would you like to dance?” is not going to get the hint until he gets repeatedly refused.Next, the followers must become more aware of what is going on around them more than 2-3 feet away. Because, in places like BA, invitations come from a distance, peoples’ awareness distance is much larger. In a BA milonga, people notice EVERYTHING that goes on THROUGHOUT the room. What has happened in North American milongas is that, because the followers are expecting verbal invitations, they tune out their surroundings.Finally, the lack of fixed seating at our milongas is a significant impediment to the cabeceo. In BA, when you enter a milonga, the host escorts you to a table, and that’s where you sit. And from there is where you ask for dances via cabeceo. In our milongas, everyone moves around a lot, and it diminishes the ability to use the cabeceo. I think this is one of the reasons that, in my experience, anyway, the cabeceo works better at festivals, because they tend to stay in one place when they’re not dancing (but it still doesn’t work so well).I LOVE the cabeceo and wish it were in wider use in our communities in North America. For me, the cabeceo is part of the dance. Successfully contracting with a woman to dance, just with a slight nod of the head significantly enhances the dance experience. I think it’s because then I know she really wants to dance with me.

  3. Sally, thanks for the comment and compliment! 🙂 I am looking forward to whenever I get to visit BsAs to experience the differences for myself. I don’t really expect everyone here to make a complete change, which is fine, but it would be neat to see what it’s like in a milonga where it’s a risk to do anything more than cabeceo!RM, I think that, for the most part, you don’t give the followers enough credit for their awareness. If I am tuned out in a milonga, it’s because I’m not looking for a dance. (Yes, I have been known to accept such dances, but when I want to dance I am very aware of where people are.) I assume – although perhaps incorrectly – that other followers in our community are the same.But I have been with at least one organizer (of course) about how to make the milongas more cabeceo-friendly. Encouraging more lighting, discussing seating, etc. Some of our milongas are more resistant to that (one in particular where the tables are absolutely not allowed on the dance floor, which limits their quantity and location …) but I think that with some discussion and lobbying there can be changes. I also try, more often than not, to hang out in the same general area throughout the night.I think it’s all up to local interest and putting our heads together to make it work. And I entirely agree with the last paragraph you wrote.

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