Saturday, December 13, 2008

On Cabeceo

Originally uploaded by Matthew Nasholm

Photo of how *not* to cabeceo a woman...(grin)

Definition :: Cabeceo is the natural, normal, non-verbal communication using body language of the eyes/face/head to invite someone you know to dance, or at least let them know you're interested. The challenge is making it work with someone you don't know, at a distance, in a dimly lit ballroom, while she's trying to cabeceo someone who is not you, and three other guys are trying to cabeceo her.

At a recent tango event, the organizer said this during the (very long) announcements:

"Oh, and ladies, it's *okaaay* to ask the men to dance. After all, this *is* Austin, we're more relaxed here."

The audible thud was my lower jaw smacking the poorly jointed plywood floor. I couldn't believe it. An organizer, actually caught, publicly, in the act of spreading dis-information about Argentine Tango, counter-propaganda AGAINST the proven and decades-old codigo of cabeceo.

Here's a good post on cabeceo from Miss Tango. It's from the follower's perspective, dancing in Buenos Aires, but gives good leader insight as well. Be sure to read the comments as well.

Granted, in the U.S. use of the cabeceo is spotty at best. Ballrooms at festivals are large and dimly lit. I practice what I will call "recon" cabeceo. You can't do it sitting statically in the same seat all night. You have to get up and mingle. Get your water. Get your vino tinto. Chitty chat with friends. Strike up conversations with women you don't know.

In short, you have to "work the room". Keep in mind that I am not the type who is at the milonga to dance every tanda or every follower. I'm into quality over quantity. If you are always on the dance floor, even during cortinas (another BIG no-no...BIG), the principles of cabeceo become less applicable to you.

Also note that cabeceo'ing someone while you are both on the dance floor, or one of you is on the dance floor and another is not, is also a big no-no. No, no, no, no, no, no. (Imagine my inflection.)

I once danced with a woman who I could discern was scanning the horizon for leaders behind me. When I mentioned to her friend that I was put off by it, the friend told her, and she said "he could tell that?". Yes I could, dearest. At the time I said I would never dance with her again (her friend didn't tell her this, I don't think), and this is highly likely. I may give her once more chance if I ever see her again. Maybe. Perhaps.

The same holds true if I witness a woman doing it with another leader (cabeceo on the dance floor). If she's doing it with/to him, she'll do it with/to me. The point is this. She's not *there* in the dance/tanda with *me*. She's not present. She's there but she's not. Her mind is elsewhere and the quality and character of the dance will no doubt suffer.

On cabeceo for leaders, here's a reply I left for a commenter last month:

I'm curious how you managed to ask people to dance at Fandango. Heard it is huge space filled with lots of people sitting around all over the place. You can't do it via eye contact. Any tips?

Night vision binoculars and morse code with a flashlight.

Another idea is a t-shirt emblazoned front and back "For a good tanda, call 555-1212".

It is next to impossible to cabaceo from one side of the ballroom to the other. I typically sit over on the right with my back to the wall (it's a Texas thing). I scope followers out on the dance floor as best I can, and then make note of where they are sitting. I have a little map and number the tables, then I use a numerical ranking system 6 through 10. 1 through 5 are not even on my radar. I'm kidding, I'm kidding!

I do try to make mental note of where different followers are sitting, and then try to intercept her (at her table) during the cortina. I'm kinda weird about this - it doesn't seem proper to approach her right on the edge of the dance floor, or even after she has just sat down. I try to give her a minute, or at least a few seconds, but often lose out to other leads who are more aggressive in their invitations. Oh well. You snooze you lose.

Some of the better followers never leave the dance floor, because they/their leads don't follow the codigo/tradition of clearing the dance floor during the cortina. If they do end a tanda with a leader, they will likely get intercepted on the dance floor by another overzealous lead. To me, it's all about being/playing fair and sharing the best followers. Not 'hogging' them tanda after tanda in other words.

So, in my cruising the back row (along the wall where the exit doors are), to scope things out on the other side of the room, I make a lot of eye contact, stop and chat, say hi, use the 'water cooler move', or just generally lurk/loiter/wander aimlessly (but don't "stalk") any technique like that - to lay the ground work for future invites. You might call it guerrilla cabeceo or search and destroy - not a good word - let's say 'recon' missions.

Very often these shenanigans on my part end up in an invite along the way and I'll end up on the dance floor, without ever really making it back to my table much.

But, cabeceo while sitting is next to impossible, except for the people in your immediate vicinity. I'm also at a disadvantage (as many are), in that I'm behind most of the followers (with my back to the wall ya know?). I once made the mistake of tapping a woman on the shoulder from behind to ask her to dance - she was sitting in the singles/followers row of seats facing the dance floor - let's just say it was not a good idea.

So, there's a lot of verbal inviting, but it's based on preliminary 'recon' cabeceo while walking around.

Also, I'll try to strike up conversations with women out in the lobby - looking at shoes or clothes or whatever - just to break the ice. Then it's easier to say "Let's dance later - I'll look for you..." or something like that.

It's also easier if you are taking the classes, then you will 'know' or at least recognize women you may have danced with in class.

Lastly, I know more Texas followers this time around, so the ice has already been broken with many more women, making it a given that I will invite them to dance.

The most important tip I can offer is not to ask a woman to dance unless you've seen her dance. It's not always possible, but I try to stick to this as much as I can.

Hope this helps.

No women asked me to dance at the event where the announcement was made...a very good sign...


Controtango said...

Hi, but...not a word about "mirada", the first phase of this codigo. There's no Cabeceo without Mirada (unless you know the woman, or you're just so close to her that you can't do the mirada). Mirada consists on looking at a woman until she looks back at us, and then we can do the cabeceo with our head, our eyes, our gestures...

Alex said...

Gracias, controtango...

This is my ignorance - I thought the mirada was part of the cabeceo. Of course we have to achieve mutual eye contact in order for the non-verbal invitation and acceptance (or refusal) to occur.

I selected the photo as a joke, how *NOT* to mirada or glance/look. This aspect of the codigo is also, to me, delicate. I try to be casual about it and not stare.

In the U.S. most people are so unaccustomed to this, when a woman turns and notices a man's direct gaze, she will instinctively and immediately turn her head and avert her gaze. It's even happened where when she did finally look at me, I averted my gaze. Ingrained social behaviors are difficult to change.

It might be different in Buenos Aires, where a more directed/constant mirada is acceptable...?

n a n c y said...

Two things: in BsAs the guy will sometimes do a mirada and when it is returned, he will look away and in a few will do the mirada/cabeceo again to verify that he IS looking at you ( me).

Query: would you turn down a woman who asked you to dance after such an announcement?

Anonymous said...

Will you be offended by a woman who verbally asks you to dance in US milongas? I read another blog written by a follower at Fandango tango. She seemed to get excited by the host's encouragement of ladies approaching guys to dance.

Elizabeth said...

One of the great advantages of the cabaceo is the opportunity that it provides for a woman to sit out a tanda, or to ignore a leader that she believes she won't enjoy at this particular moment. An undelivered cabaceo is a non-event, but a turn-down is definitely an event, and one that can lead to hurt feelings or worse. In US Milongas, where the preferred form of invitation is to approach the woman, men should be sensitive to the "anti-cabaceo". It consists of the woman looking away, looking down at her shoes, suddently initiating an intense search through a handbag -- anything that will cause the fellow to move on. For myself, I will dance with anyone for a tango tanda, but I am very particular about milonga and waltz, and don't want to have to sit out a tanda just because someone who leads a gancho during a waltz has invited me before one of the more lyrical leaders.

Alberto said...

Nice article Alex, and very classy of you not to name the sinner while exposing the sin.

May I suggest a coupe of things?

1.Nodding,nodding, nodding, nodding.

A slight vertical down motion of the head after catching the eyes of the woman meaning "shall we dance?"

Very similar to indicating "yes" with the head instead of doing it verbally.

In short hand, when you nod, you're telling the woman, "Yes?" because everybody knows what the nodding means.

2. It is a very common and accepted practice to send an imperceptible nod to a woman who is either on the floor or sitting at a table. The purpose of the gesture is akin to making a reservation for the next tanda.

It is not uncommon for women to seek eye contact with someone else while dancing, for the same purpose, in this case saying with the gesture that she's willing to reserve the next tanda.

There are variations of the node, like tilting the head slightly towards the dance floor, lip syncing the word "Bailamos?"

Thank you,