If you weren’t already aware, I am a huge fan of using the cabeceo. I also really like Alejandra Todaro’s Tips for Success with the Cabeceo. And lately, I have been thinking about how the cabeceo succeeds and fails for me in milongas in the U.S. Overall, it works pretty well. However, I think we need to see some changes in U.S. milonga culture to really make it work. Some of my suggestions:
1. Don’t roam. Pick a seat or a “home base” and return there during the cortina. Most of the milongas I have attended in the U.S. allow dancers to wander about as they like. Hosts rarely seat dancers as they come in, and dancers rarely feel tied down to a particular chair. However, roaming around makes it harder for a potential partner to know where to look. I recently experienced an acute case of leader blindness—I had a leader in mind, scanned the room repeatedly, and didn’t see him until a friend pointed me directly to him. I hadn’t known where to look for him! This happens to me a lot and could be easily fixed if everyone would just pick a spot and return there between tandas. It also relates to the next issue…
2. Don’t hover. Despite using the cabeceo liberally, many leaders I know like to get within 10-15 feet of their target follower and try to get her attention from there. This creates two problems: 1) It makes her rejection really painful for both parties (because it is painfully obvious to everyone around!), and 2) It obstructs her view of other potential partners. As someone who has procured dances from across the room, I can assure you that if she really wants to dance with you, she will find you. If you have to hover, you are pressuring her into a dance she may not truly want. And if you pick a spot to return to during the cortinas, you won’t be able to hover. Problem solved.
3. Don’t pout. The point of using the cabeceo is to avoid embarrassment. You know she rejected you, and she knows she rejected you, but everyone else may be oblivious. Don’t make things awkward by trying to make her feel guilty for rejecting your cabeceo. I know that sometimes a rejected invitation—cabeceo or otherwise—may make a leader stop trying to invite a follower. Bruised ego and all that. But you aren’t required to take it personally, and you definitely shouldn’t try to make her feel bad. A rejection may just mean that I am saving our tanda for music I am truly excited about. Or I haven’t danced with that eager-looking beginner on the other side of the room. Or I just don’t feel like it right now. But if you are really so upset about missing that tanda with me, take a moment at some point in the night to kindly tell me how much you would enjoy a dance that evening. And try not to pout and ask me why I didn’t accept your cabeceo earlier.
4. Do take care with the lighting. This is more for the milonga organizers, but it’s an important point. Milongas in the U.S. can be pretty dark, and darker means harder to cabeceo. Some leaders have told me that they have trouble seeing across the room in dark milongas. Recently I noticed that a string of Christmas lights was backlighting an entire row of dancers sitting along a wall—I couldn’t see any of their faces, so I didn’t even try to cabeceo them. The point is that lighting matters. A lot. If the lighting in a milonga is causing problems for you, let the organizer know.
5. Do ask about (and cultivate) local customs. A lot of leaders complain that they don’t always know if a follower uses the cabeceo. They may spend an entire evening trying to cabeceo a woman who doesn’t even know what it is. Or they may be blacklisted for asking verbally, not knowing that the cabeceo is observed religiously at a particular venue. If you aren’t sure, ask the organizer or other dancers around you. And organizers, try to promote the cabeceo at your events. (But be sure to turn up the lights accordingly and encourage complementary customs!)
6. Do come over to say hello—and then go sit down. I love to have a chat with friends, but I don’t like the assumption that just because we’re chatting I am obliged to dance with you. It’s one thing if we arrive together in a group; it’s another thing if you plop yourself down in an empty seat next to me. So don’t be surprised if I start peering past you at other leaders when the next tanda starts. As for myself, I try to greet leaders I know as I enter the milonga (sometimes throwing in a friendly “It would be great to dance later!”), but then I find myself a seat and change shoes. And if I am in the middle of a conversation when a cortina comes on, I try to gracefully end it or put it on hold so we can both look for partners. But if you do really like the music and think it would be a good tanda for us, just come out and ask. Trying to use the cabeceo with a friend from a foot away just feels silly.
Those are the cabeceo-related issues that have really been bugging me lately. Do you agree? Disagree? Want to share other problems you have had?