The Cabeceo – From the leader’s perspective

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.



8 thoughts on “The Cabeceo – From the leader’s perspective

  1. I like the idea of the organizer making it clear, describing cabeceo, suggesting the use of it. Our Argentines here have sent out emails to the community about it, and ask that people at least try it at their milonga. It is so much more polite, and preferable, but people have to know about it.

  2. What kind of an Argentine tango community is that, where the majority never have, even vaguely, heard of cabeceo? I am not entirely sure I want to dance there… sorry.On the bright side, I do not remember being in a group of dancers entirely insensible to non-verbal clues. Even at ballroom socials people more often than not interpret the eye contact as an interest in dancing together, and the latter occurs.

  3. Frances R … frankly, I agree with your entire comment. But I would give this girl the benefit of the doubt – maybe she was relatively new to tango and hadn’t had anyone tell her about it?Elizabeth, I like the email idea. We have a pretty active local email list that could serve to inform people about the cabeceo, and organizers could easily slip a note about it into their announcements.

  4. To be fair, when one goes to a milonga where nobody knows him (or her), and no one had seen him dance, chances are, he will not dance much, cabeceo or not.We might start writing a manual “How to go to an out-of-your-town milonga and have a good time. ” 🙂

  5. If I were a leader who is dancing in a new community, I would first watch some of the other leaders, who dances well, how do they invite ladies? Also, I would meet a few leaders, introduce my self, and informally ask them about how the community works. I am a follower, but still, in my early days I learned a lot by just observing. A leader can also observe, and maybe enjoy a glass of wine while doing it?

  6. I’m with Danzarin on this. Everything takes time. When I walk into a milonga where I am not known, and where I do not know anyone, I’m going to settle in for a bit and check out the scene. See who can dance, who looks friendly, see how people interact. In the case of this gentleman, he should have approached a group of friendly leads and started a conversation. Follows would have seen this and noticed him.And finally, this young lady must be somewhat dense not to recognize a friendly eye exchange as an invitation to dance. Especially since she noticed it from the start!

  7. Unless the cabaceo is used EXCLUSIVELY at an event, trying to use it exclusively by either a leader or follower will unavoidably cause missed dances both partners would’ve enjoyed.

  8. To be clear: We have Argentines in our community in Seattle, who run the best milonga. They merely suggest to those of us who come that it is nice to try the cabeceo. Many use it here now, and we appreciate it. This is a fine milonga and people travel far to come to it. Those of us who get to go to BA then have some clue.

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