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Saturday, 26 November 2011

Cabeceo - making it work for you

So you've tried this cabeceo thingy a few times but it somehow didn't really work for you.

Did you look in his direction and he didn't return your gaze?

Was she was too busy talking to someone to notice that you were trying to get her attention?

Did you stare at him/her without success?

Well, here are some tips.
  • First and foremost: it's about choice - for both parties - not about imposing your will.
  • If you want to dance, show it, but in a way that allows the other person some choice. (See earlier post Cabeceo: the subtle game of pursuit)
  • If possible, sit where eye contact with potential dance partners is easy. (Unfortunately, the physical conditions of some milongas can make this challenging eg. lighting, seating layout, etc.)
  • Gentlemen, if you need to wander around to achieve that eye contact, just make sure you do it from afar thus allowing ladies real choice. (Contrary to popular opinion, nodding vigorously at a potential partner after coming within a metre or so, does not constitute a cabeceo!)
  • Ladies, if you think this is all unfair and that you have little say in the process, think again. Women can have as much power in this situation. (See earlier post Buenos Aires milongas from a  woman's perspective for more details.
  • Accept that there will be ups and downs. People choose not to dance at any one time for a multitude of reasons. Be patient and stay positive - nobody would want to dance with a disgruntled-looking person.
  • Remember that it's about real choice for both parties.
    Do you want to dance with someone who is simply going through the motions because they didn't want to hurt your feelings?  Or do you want to dance with someone who really wants to dance with you?? Think quality rather than quantity.


  1. In my experience of tangoing in a few overseas places, including BA, the cabeceo is a free tango accessory invented by the Argentines, to save the man the trouble of walking 120 m. around a vast dance floor, only to get a refusal. (Make that 50 m. in Australia, where the men walk straight across). It works well in a closed tango society, (we all know those), where everybody knows everybody, and has regular favorite partners, with whom a subtle gesture is adequate and recognised, but it's less effective when you go to a new place.
    If you doubt that, try it out on yourself in front of a mirror, and then on a waitress, before you risk it in public on unsuspecting foreign ladies. Or play safe - there is absolutely nothing wrong with making any sort of polite gentlemanly approach to a woman, anywhere.

  2. However polite and gentlemanly the approach, John, you run the risk of public refusal. In fact you'd be asking for it if you used the direct approach in traditional Buenos Aires milongas.

    Looking at your scenario from the woman's perspective, one could question how polite it is to put a lady on the spot, especially when her body language does not indicate interest. Surely it's preferable to dance with a willing partner rather than risk imposing oneself on a lady who at that time, for whatever reason, may not wish to dance.

    Thanks for your comment, John. This issue is often debated perhaps due to other codes of etiquette. I hear that in the ballroom dancing world ladies are expected to always accept invitations. Perhaps traditional Argentine tango is not so male-dominated after all!


  3. Hi Pat,
    You are quite right of course, I do see many men in milongas, who march around with the assumption that they only have to walk up and ask any woman, and she will accept the invitation. And most often, the ladies accept and so perpetuate the situation - they have proved the man right, and so it goes on.

    But I've been around long enough to read the body language that you so righly allude to, and I only make "cold -call" invitations if I'm pretty sure of agreement and acceptance. I'm also happy to take no for an answer, whether its by cabeceo/eye contact avoidance, body language or verbally. I can't really see much merit to the cabeceo except as a bit of fun, and a nice compact between friends!

    Regarding the "traditional BA milongas", I have used both methods, and had perfectly enjoyable times.

  4. My experience has been different to yours, John. We will just have to agree to disagree on some points.

  5. Tango commuter makes an excellent point about the value of the cabeceo for those of us who prefer dancing close embrace.



  6. At the very traditional Buenos Aires milongas, asking the woman to dance directly is not usually an option, since you can't leave your seat and go up to her. It's definitely not restricted to people who know each other. That's why people watch the floor first to see which dancers they like the look of (the more people watch the floor at a milonga, the more chance you have, in my experience, of getting dances with strangers). At the more informal milongas, you can usually use either cabeceo (in this case, you can move around and reposition yourself at optimum cabeceo-ing distance) or ask directly. But occasionally, even in Buenos Aires, I get the puzzled comment, "What are you staring at?" Even among Argentines who dance here regularly, some never use cabeceo.

    I describe my experience of what it's like to use cabeceo at a traditional milonga here:


  7. I was born in Argentina and living in the US at this point. The Argentinians used the "cabeceo" for every social dance not only tango.

    Not sure what it was invented, but for sure save me the public scorn of many rejections, be across the room or just a couple of meters from the lady. Of course, since I used all my life for any dance occasion, I would not tell you how difficult or easier it is. For me, having to approach a lady to ask her to dance it is very difficult, and some times I prefer to skip dancing a tanda if I can't eye make contact with the ladies.

  8. Thanks, Terpsichoral and Anonymous, for helping to piece together the cabeceo jigsaw.



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