From the Mail Bag - More on the Cabeceo

Images, edited for this post, were obtained from

I received two emails from readers, one leader and one follower, regarding my continued "rabid" support of the "archaic" cabeceo.* (All I wrote in the last post was that a good, clear cabeceo knocks my socks off. I didn't think that sounded rabid.) Normally I simply agree to disagree. You can choose to participate in this custom or not - no one, not even me, is going to force you. This time, however, I couldn't help noting that in previous messages to me, they had both complained about not getting the dances, with the dancers, that they wanted. So I asked if the cabeceo was at least moderately used in their communities. As it turns out, yes - about half or more people use it in these two separate communities. My answer to them? You can't have it both ways. If you choose to ask verbally in a community that uses the cabeceo, or where the dancers you most want to dance with use it, you're putting yourself at a disadvantage - no one is doing it to you.

You can complain about the cabeceo and choose not to use it but understand that if it is used in your community, you are going to likely miss out on at least some dances from dancers who do use it. It's not "prejudice" as one of them suggested - it's simple logistics. By the time you walk over to a dancer to verbally ask them to dance, they have likely already made eye contact and accepted the cabeceo of another dancer. The leader replied, "but the codigos say I should wait until the music starts to ask, so I'm at a disadvantage because in that instance I am following the rules!" Generally speaking, so did the gentleman who cabeceo'd the dancer you wanted to dance with. Walking and asking just takes longer.

It's also not just about the instance a man makes eye contact with me and nods - the individual cabeceo itself. When the custom is in use in a community there are conversations going on all around you all the time using nothing more than smiles, raised eye brows, an occasional wink - a look that says, I can't right now, but ask me later. Body language, non-verbal cues, and slight gestures are going on all around - we do it whether we mean to or not. The codigos simply make use of something we already do to make the process of inviting and accepting (or declining) elegantly efficient - when the conditions are right. Lots of factors can work against the cabeceo - poor eye sight, poor lighting and awkward seating are the most common culprits - so sometimes you just can't make it work. That's why ask, when people complain about the cabeceo, if a significant number of the community's dancers use it. If they are - then they're finding a way to make it work.

I'm not saying that every community should, or even can, use the cabeceo. Every community, even every milonga, can have a personality of its own -and it simply may not be appropriate or feasible. But if dancers around you are using it, and you're choosing not to, you can be unintentionally limiting your options. Getting mad at the tradition doesn't really help your case.

* I received their permission to quote their emails.

Taking the Leap

(picture from Used with permission.)

"Leap and the net will appear." - Zen Saying

When he walked in to the milonga, no one I was sitting with knew who he was.

I was tired, so sore, and apprehensive. I tell people, and write in this blog, how important it is to give first, trust first . . . to risk first. But not that night. It was probably selfish, and certainly antisocial, but I kept my distance. I didn't introduce myself and welcome this new dancer to our community like I usually try to do. Since so many others were doing so, I let them make the first move. I just waited. I danced with safe friends that I knew would look out for me to try to shake off the bad feelings I had come in with - both physical and mental.

Finally, I saw him dance with La Milonguera. She looked radiant and deeply happy in his arms. Dancing with her, he looked like such a calm dancer - the eye of the occasionally whirling storm around him. I couldn't describe, even to myself at the time, what I was looking for. Not just that he wasn't leading crazy things or bumping into people - something else. Something that I see sometimes in La Milonguera's face that I recognize. When it's there, I know that the leader she's dancing with is someone I should try to dance with, if I'm able.

It was getting late. After dancing with La Milonguera, he took a seat and chatted for awhile. I thought he was probably done dancing for the evening and my "playing it safe" had cost me an opportunity.

The next tanda started. A familiar song came on, and I decided to go for broke. I made eye contact with him several tables away. He stood up, turned to face me squarely, and nodded with a questioning smile. It doesn't matter how many times it happens, there is something about a well executed cabeceo that just knocks my socks off. I grinned broadly and made myself wait in my chair for him to walk to me, instead of hopping up and trotting over to him. If he was going to go through the effort of cabeceo'ing me, I was going to answer his cabeceo properly.

He smiled warmly and invited me to the pista. As I got up from my chair, I took a moment to let go.

I let go of the apprehension, the aches and pains of body and mind. It's easy, well easier, to do that dancing with people I know. With strangers, it takes a conscious effort. I chided myself a bit. If I was going to get up, I was damn well going to give everything I had. (Why do I so often have to have the same conversation with myself?) I am so glad I did. If I hadn't, it might have all gone very differently.

He welcomed me to his embrace as if we'd been dancing together for ages, but had just been apart for a time. No hesitation, no question. Just a kind of welcome home.

That is the quality that I recognize in La Milonguera's face sometimes. That feeling. Belonging. Calm breathing in the eye of the storm. The tanda was wonderful. I have no idea what he led, or what I did. If I followed everything the way he intended. I just have no idea.

When we parted I remembered to ask his name and gibbered a few other things that I can't remember now. I only remember that his voice was much calmer than mine - relaxed. Warm.

I sat down and reminded myself for the 100th or so time, that to get it, you have to give it. Sometimes it doesn't work. You go into the embrace, opening yourself and offering all that you have - and it falls apart. It can be crushing. But when your effort is met with the same effort from your partner - it's worth it. More than worth it.

I hope someday soon to stop forgetting that.

"Risk more than others think is safe. Care more than others think is wise. Dream more than others think is practical. Expect more than others think is possible. "
- Cadet Maxim

A Floorcraft PSA from the Mail Bag

A story from one of my readers (from an undisclosed location):

Four dancers sitting at a table on the edge of the milonga floor. Three of the dancers have been dancing more than 2 years, the fourth has been dancing about six months.

All four dancers watch the couple in the middle of the floor as the leader leads a triple traveling volcada, followed by a waist high leg wrap and ending in a lightening fast gancho.

Beginner dancer: Wow! Now that's real tango!!
The other three dancers at the table: ::blink-blink:: . . . :: triple facepalm ::

Advice from my friend: Just a reminder, be sure to set a good example for the young'uns.

*PSA - Public Service Announcement

Workshops with Jorge Torres


I broke my rule to take Jorge Torres's classes. Usually, I don't sign up for classes from a teacher I haven't seen dance socially. I have very little money available to spend for lessons, so I want to know how a teacher handles himself, or herself, on the social dance floor. That isn't always possible, but it is my preference. In this case, enough people told me to take his workshops, and if possible a private, that I decided not to wait and just book on faith. No fewer than 10 people personally recommended Torres to me - and they did so quite emphatically. They called him "The Philosopher." They recommended his technique, posture and balance training very highly and since that's what I'm always after, I couldn't very well resist.

I attended all 7 classes and shared a private lesson with one of my dance partners over the course of 4 days. The balance and technique classes that Jorge Torres is so famous for were very challenging for me - and for many of my classmates. Maintaining my balance just standing still can be a challenge lately - but through turns it was even more challenging. Plus, I'm still not quite up to speed after my surgery, so I had to sit out more than I would have liked, but I still enjoyed the classes.

Well . .. enjoyed might not be quite the right word.

A conversation -

Me (to my classmate during a break), "Damn it! I finally got it (the balance exercise we were working on), did it correctly for like 10 seconds, then he (Jorge) walks up and it fell apart and I went the wrong way. Crap. Now he's going to think I can't follow simple directions"
Classmate, "Wow. At least you had 10 seconds."

So "enjoyed" might be overstating it. The classes were tough - certainly tougher than they seemed like they would be. They did follow a very logical progression, however - and that made them very worthwhile. The balance and technique exercises stressed disassociation and groundedness, especially through turns and quick changes of direction, and then were immediately incorporated into the turns we learned in the next class, for example.

This is usually when I get the argument that one doesn't need technique classes to dance tango.

Do you need yoga or Pilates or balance exercises to dance social tango? No. You can dance without them. But the truth is, I dance far better with them. I feel better. I avoid injury more easily. I adapt to my partners better. And it never fails that after I've really spent the time and effort working on those things outside of the milonga - I get far more compliments, and blissful dances, inside the milonga. After these classes in particular, I got more compliments on my dancing all weekend. I felt "stable", "fluid", "responsive", "solid", "connected". Wow. So I'm going to keep at it while it continues to bring such positive reinforcement.

Update: It's been a couple of weeks since the workshop and I'm still working the balance exercises. It's slow but steady progress. If you have the opportunity to study with Jorge, I very highly recommend his classes.