Cabeceo - The Follower's Responsibility

(Picture: “The Cabeceo” A great picture by Tom Gettelfinger of Memphis)

I had a conversation with a fellow tango dancer a couple of days ago, outside of the milonga, and said to him it seems like ages since we danced and I was looking forward to seeing some of the new moves he'd been learning. He smiled and shrugged and said he'd tried to cabeceo a couple of time, but I was never looking - always chatting or dancing.

Oh dear.

It's true.

In an effort to seem nonchalant about my desire to dance, sometimes I appear downright uninterested. When everyone else at my table is dancing or otherwise occupied, I do watch the milonga floor and make a little eye contact. Well, very little. Old habits die hard. I want to look interested, but not over-eager. And by over-eager, of course I mean desperate. I almost always dance as much as I want to dance, occasionally more than I *should* dance if my feet had a vote in this, but I still have that fear of looking needy. Also, part of the reason I go to the milonga is to visit with my friends that I never get to see the rest of the week. But in an effort to be social with my friends, I'm occasionally appearing a bit indifferent to leaders. I'm especially guarded seeking the cabaceo from leaders I don't dance with often, or have never danced with - and these are precisely the dancers I should be seeking out. I'm still in that stage where every dancer seems far more advanced than me, so the voice of insecurity wins out.

And I want to be clear - I am a cabeceo advocate. Having a leader turn up in front of me without warning, hand held out expectantly makes me feel a bit pressured. This almost never happens and when it does it's usually a leader I've never (or very rarely) danced with. Luckily, in my tango community we have a wealth of leaders with fabulous cabeceo technique - experts at the compelling eyebrow lift and nod. But if I haven't looked up from my conversation for awhile, I'm not giving these guys a lot of choice. In trying to alleviate my own anxiety, I'm putting the pressure on them to come over without a clear invitation and risk rejection.

When I walk over to the refreshments table and a leader makes eye contact and/or smiles at me, my first instinct is still to smile sheepishly and look away. It's worse if I don't know him at all - a total stranger's gaze sometimes sends me into full "duck and cover mode" with me racing back to my seat. How is he supposed to read that? Probably not with the accurate assumption that I'm interested, just neurotic.

Of course there are those who would say that the milonga is strictly for dancing, and not for socializing (see Jantango's comment to an Ask Arlene post). But I truly can't see myself sitting for hours at a milonga not talking to anyone. I would be missing out on one of the joys of milongas, which I truly believe are inherently social, and that is catching up with friends.
In summary (-insert encouraging deep breath-) it's time to be brave and be alert.
Maybe I should practice in front of a mirror . . .


NYC Tango Pilgrim said...

I can't tell you how many times in the milonga, when a good tanda starts, I jumped up and looked around for a partner, most of the women were either talking among themselves or having their eyes fixing on the floor or the wall. It seemed to me that none was interested in dancing and moved by the music.

I believe that milonga is a place for dancing as well as for socializing. After all, tango is a social dance. It doesn't mean, however, that while one is not dancing, one just focus on socializing. How is a guy supposed to invite if the woman wants to dance yet shows no intention?

I am so glad that you've brought this up from a woman's perspective.

Elizabeth Brinton said...

Mari, Good post. In a place where cabeceo is used, you have to participate in order to dance, and usually the good dancers are the ones doing it. Also I remember thinking it was really hard to look at people so...openly? I wondered, like you, if I were neurotic, but I think it is a cultural thing.
But the social part seems more important in North America. We are a pretty lonely people I think, having lives involving mostly work, and being at home in places where we drive into garages as close the door and never see or interact with stree life, etc. Many who go to dances go because they are hungry for the social. It is true for me. Of course I want to dance, but I truly enjoy seeing friends too! We have started talking to each other while scanning the room...sort of strange and conversations get stopped when we start to dance, and then start up again some other time.

happyseaurchin said...

there's a new milonga in london in a restaurant-bar
the noise of people talking floods the music
i end up just stepping about...

i like the social aspect
and believe we can have a conversation that is as deep as the tango just conducted
but the space for it must be carefully considered
so that it doesn't spoil the dance space

as for cabeceo
which i assume is to do with initial engagement before standing on the floor
that's pretty tricky in my experience
but a practice that is well worth it

there is another reason more important than avoiding bad partners...

tangocherie said...

Hi Mari,

The milonga is a place where people dance tango, but it's also a place to see friends and have a good time.

I can not imagine enjoying myself as Jantango does, sitting for hours and not speaking one word to the person next to me at the table.

I love to dance, and I also love watching the dancers and listening to the music. And I love seeing my friends and drinking champagne.

Yes, the milonga is for dancing. But it's for socializing as well. As long as the codigos are observed, we can each do what we feel like doing without bothering anyone. There are some people (usually men) who almost never dance, just sit with their buddies and drink and watch the women. What's wrong with that?

When someone is ready to dance, they are focused on prospective partners and the cabeceo. Other times they want to rest, chat, have a snack.

It's not a place for long serious discussions. It's also not a competition or an army exercise. The milonga is a place to have a good time;

Golondrina said...

Great post. I know I do the same all too frequently as I'm afraid of looking needy and in need of pity but by looking aloof I have probably missed out on some great dances! Thanks for highlighting this - I'm going to make more of an effort with eye contact this weekend. Fingers crossed it works!