If we were to enter and be seated together at any milonga, there would be a few implications and consequences: we would be seen as a couple, dancing only with each other and therefore usually seated in the area for couples. Eye contact across the dancefloor for the ¨cabeceo¨ is not required here, for obvious reasons, so the location in the milonga does not lend itself to meeting other potential dance partners. In fact to try to use the cabeceo from a couples table would send quite confusing messages to a local milonguero!
So when we choose to attend a milonga separately:
- We enter, pay and are seated separately in the women´s and men´s areas respectively
- Soon after, I visit the ladies loo and change into my dance shoes, as it´s considered bad form to change them in the milonga itself. Although I´ve seen people do it, your awareness and respect for the codes of the milonga will be noted by others if you prepare yourself for the milonga in the bathroom. Some women undergo a complete tranformation from their day-to-day persona by the time they enter the milonga
- I find it´s important to watch the dancers for a while, to take in the mood of the place and importantly, to identify potential dance partners. Contrary to common belief, it´s not just up to the man to select dance partners in the traditional milonga.
- Yes, that´s right, I am an active participant in choosing a dance partner, but I never approach a man directly and ask him to dance, or vice versa. That would be asking for a public refusal and embarassment for both parties. No, it´s all in the eyes.
- My cabeceo process starts with appraising potential dance partners in action, showing discreet approval as they dance past, perhaps with a smile. My body language when seated is open and shows I´m interested in dancing. Even if I´m chatting to the lady next to me, it will not be an in-depth conversation, which would close me off from eye contact with the men, unless of course, I´m not interested in dancing that tanda.
- Bob will ask me to dance early in the piece (via the cabeceo, of course) to show that we are both capable dancers who also respect the milonga conventions, and won´t cause embarassment to other potential partners. This includes using appropriate floorcraft, which does not interfere with other dancers: no ganchos, high boleos, long steps on a crowded floor, etc. At the end of the tanda, he accompanies me back to my table before returning to his.
- When a new tanda starts and I like the music, I will discreetly scan the room to see if a dance partner of my choosing is available. If our eyes meet and and the nod is exchanged, he will approach my table. At this point, I wait until he is close enough to me to be sure I wasn´t mistaken and the woman next to me was actually the one he wanted to dance with. So I don´t stand up until I´m sure, thus avoiding embarassment all round. I´ve seen some women point to themselves at this point, as if to say¨Did you mean me?¨ But I prefer the wait-and-see approach, so no one is the wiser if there was a misunderstanding.
This discreet selection give all parties a chance to select partners according to their comfort levels without the embarassment of overt refusals.
- On the other hand, if I don´t feel like dancing and/or no suitable partners are available, I ensure that my body language indicates I´m not dancing at this stage, eg. by watching the couples on the dance floor, listening to the music, and definitely not seeking out eye-contact with the men seated in their area.
- Occasionally someone may try to ask for a dance directly, but I tend to politely refuse. Unless I am sure I will be comfortable dancing with him, I would be putting myself in a potentially embarrassing position in front of the milonga, and I would have no-one to blame but myself. And it´s true, everyone sees everything at the milonga.
- Oh, and I should add that presenting myself well for the milonga is important. It´s no secret that it helps to take time to dress appropriately, etc.
- On the other hand, when sharing a table with friends, some of these codes are relaxed, for obvious reasons.