Friday, 21 August 2009

Tale of Two Cities & the Cabeceo

There’s been a lot of discussion generated by our milonga codes quiz, particularly the place of the cabeceo. As an exclusive interaction, the question has been rightly asked, “what about couples?” The way we attend milongas in Buenos Aires illustrates one part of the story.

Some Buenos Aires milongas are primarily for couples – Sunderland & Sin Rumbo, for example – so we enter together, sit together, dance together, and we don’t expect to encounter the cabeceo. Nor do we seek it out. The only exception would be where we already know, or are introduced, to other dancers; in this case, approaching the table, seeking the man’s approval, and inviting the woman to dance is the norm. The cabeceo, in fact, protects the couple, because single men will not approach a couple and will use the cabeceo only with unaccompanied ladies who indicate they are available to dance.

Other milongas are largely for “singles” – eg. Lo de Celia & El Beso - and the cabeceo is used almost exclusively, even between people who know each other (and may even be a couple in other circumstances), but are sitting in separate sections of the milonga. Again, the couples seated together won’t be bothered by the cabeceo. So a couple would need to have a mutual understanding about whether they planned to dance with others at that function before arriving at the milonga, as this would determine how they entered the milonga and whether they sat together or separately.

In all milongas there will also be groups of friends – couples & singles – sitting together, and invitations to dance would normally occur informally within the group. In Buenos Aires, the cabeceo is the communication tool primarily used by available “singles” for connecting from a distance with other available “singles” to dance a tanda.

By encouraging the cabeceo in Adelaide, we have tried to introduce a little more of the Buenos Aires culture to Oz. In our local tango scene, the custom of the cabeceo is less well-developed, but nevertheless used effectively by a number of tangueros and tangueras in order to dance with others. And while the reasons for using the cabeceo are fundamentally no different to those in Buenos Aires, this strategy is seen by many who employ it here in Adelaide, as an additional light-hearted and fun element at the milonga.

However, most of the dancers in the local community know one another and may consider the cabeceo unnecessary, others may feel a bit uncomfortable about seeking dances by eye contact, while others simply have no knowledge of it. An added complication is that, unlike Buenos Aires, we don’t use segregated seating in the milongas ie. no separate areas for single females, single males and couples & groups. Hence, it’s likely that a variety of approaches will be seen as acceptable – including the direct style of personally inviting a lady to dance. Regardless of the strategy, the interaction should of course, be based on sensitivity to others.

A couple can decide to dance just together, but it’s always possible that someone may attempt to intrude on that understanding – so, if used well, the cabeceo can provide a protective zone around the couple. However, despite sitting together, it’s not unusual for couples in Adelaide to have a simple understanding that they will use the cabeceo to seek out other dance partners during the milonga.

Wherever you may dance tango, there’s merit in knowing how to use the cabeceo and feel confident with it. You may not choose to use it all the time, or even at all. But be aware that in other cities, it may be the only way of getting a dance.

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