Two people make eye contact at the milonga, at the beginning of a lovely Tanturi tanda. They hold that eye contact for a few seconds. One of the them slightly nods, then the other one smiles and nods as well. Instead of a nod, it might have been a slight gesture of moving the head to a side, but the result is the same: both people keep looking each other in the eye as they stand up, walk towards each other and meet on the dance floor. Then the magic of tango begins.
Cabeceo is one of the best things about tango, and yet it is often misunderstood and under appreciated. Time and again I have heard people say silly things of all sorts about it, giving largely ignorant reasons to avoid doing cabeceo, from thinking it’s simply not part of North American culture in general to thinking it is an old fashioned and outdated thing to do.
In reality, however, there are many wonderful things to be gained from cabeceo. Let’s name a few:
1. The ability to be able to ask someone to dance discretely, without being exposed to a public rejection, and the ability to reject a dance without making anyone look bad.
No matter how relaxed we are, and how comfy we feel in our local community, it can still be pretty annoying to be standing up next to someone who declines to dance with us. The reasons can be very varied, and it might be someone who would love to dance with us in other circumstances, however at that particular point that person might have good reasons not to dance. Which leads us to…
2. By doing cabeceo you will make sure you’re asking to dance someone who actually wants to dance with you.
For the same reason that you can very subtly decline to dance by looking in a different direction, by making eye contact and holding it with someone you will be subtly telling another person that you really want to dance with them. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re male or female, your age, etc. Therefore…
3. It is a good way for women to ask men to dance. Or for that matter, and to be more inclusive, for anyone to ask anyone to dance, at any time.
Despite the fact that we’re in 2016 and great improvements have been made to genders having equal opportunities, it is still a bit difficult for many women to ask men to dance for a variety of reasons, if not just the usual social norms. But thanks to cabeceo, this can be no longer an issue! Any lady can look at any man in the eye if she wants to dance with him. Anybody can start this.
4. It’s just cool. Really, really cool. It’s part of the magic of tango.
Seriously, just try it. Experience it. If you don’t, you’ll be missing out on much of the mystique that surrounds the most wonderful dance ever created. When you know how to cabecear, you can enter a place where you have never been before, look for a complete stranger who is dying to try someone new, and meet that person on the dance floor. It can be in a foreign country, in a place where you don’t speak the language at all, with a person who doesn’t speak the same verbal language you do. You will share a moment of magic on the dance floor using only tango and the movements of your body to communicate. And that is, in my opinion, as cool as it gets.
So, now you know. Next time you go to a milonga, wait for the beginning of a nice tanda and make sure to catch the eye of someone lovely. 😉