So I have been thinking about the cabeceo from the follower’s perspective, but a leader friend brought up this dilemma:
If a leader walks into a milonga that he does not regularly frequent, he does not know what the accepted or expected norms are at that particular milonga or with the dancers in attendance. To be polite, he may keep his distance and try to catch the eye of the followers there. If the followers avert their gaze, he is stuck: Are they trying to avoid his cabeceo, or are they unfamiliar or unused to using it?
My friend pointed out an instance where this happened recently. He was attending a milonga in another city. He likes to use the cabeceo, and he was trying to use it, but he wasn’t dancing much. Well into the milonga, he gave up trying the cabeceo with at least one follower and asked her verbally. She readily accepted his invitation. She even went on to say that earlier in the evening, she was wondering why he was staring at her. Clearly, she did not recognize the cabeceo. But how was he to know?
How do we deal with this dilemma in a tango culture that does not clearly prescribe either the cabeceo or other methods of inviting someone to dance? I can make it clear to my friends, but that doesn’t help the leader who is in town visiting. It can make it confusing for a beginner, as well. My first reaction was to say that the organizers should get involved to help clarify what is expected or welcomed at their milongas, but I don’t know if this is likely to happen. Perhaps leaders could get used to checking with leaders who are regulars at that milonga to find out what followers tend to respond to. But really, I’m not sure.