After eleven years living, dancing, teaching tango, and writing in Buenos Aires, I came home to L.A. in 2014, where I'm reconstructing my life.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

El Cabeceo

Because of my post on The Dark Side, and perhaps because of some of my Tanguera Tales, and some other bloggers posting of some realistic dangers to consider on trips to BuenosAires, some of my readers are freaking out. "Where is the beauty, the soul-lifting, the transport that most people write about tango in Buenos Aires?"

Well it's there. You just have to have both eyes open, even when they are closed in bliss while you're dancing, and accept the dark along with the bright. Don't be naive, but look for the joy, because it is definitely there. And perhaps more so because of the underlying dark side.

The Cabeceo is when you need to keep both eyes open, even putting on your long-distance glasses to search across the room for your next partner. You are sitting alone with your same-sex on one side of the salon, and your future partners are together across the dance floor. You both, man and woman, havc to first choose each other with your eyes. What this means to the woman, is that she stares at the man she wants to dance with, not always easy for a North American because it feels so aggressive. But you have to do it if you want to dance with the best.

The man, for his part, is doing the same thing, and if your eyes lock, and he gives a nod, well then the woman nods back and doesn't take her eyes from his as he crosses the dance floor toward her table. She stays seated until he is in front of her. This avoids the common confusion of a mistake in the object of the invitation; perhaps it's the woman in front or behind you. So like so often in tango, you wait. And be sure before you stand up and meet him on the dance floor.

It was almost two years ago that I began staring at Ruben, in Lo De Celia, Club Espanol, and Los Consegrados. I stared and stared at him dancing, and I knew I just had to dance with that man, that he danced the way I wanted to dance. So I kept staring; when he was seated, when he was dancing. And he stared back, but didn't give me the Cabeceo. So I waited. I waited for two months!! And then in March of 2005, he gave me the Cabeceo, and the rest is history.

Here's what I wrote on Tango-L two years ago:

I am a foreign woman living in BsAs. I learned to dance tango here 8 years ago. When I lived in L.A. and danced around the U.S., I found the custom of inviting people to dance absolutely barbaric compared to the Codigo [social codes] here. In the U.S. men may come to you to ask you to dance and even if you don't want to, you usually accept, because we are trained not to be rude. I used to give many "mercy" dances during any given milonga. And it's true, if a man walks all the way across the floor to offer himself to you for 7 minutes, it's very embarrassing for him to walk back, rejected. Also in the States and in Europe, it is very common for the woman to run around the room, inviting men to dance. I find it difficult and distasteful to be aggressive in making a man lead me, in fact, I find it impossible.

I LOVE the Codigos here! I feel so empowered. Nobody knows if I refuse someone. I give no mercy dances. I dance with whom I want to, to the music I want to. I feel in control: no man can approach my table without permission. There is none of the sitting down with you and monopolizing that often occurs in the U.S. I LOVE IT!

Of course I'm speaking about the traditional formal milongas here. There are many places for young people which have no codigo—and where I feel vulnerable and with less control. Practicas and milongas like La Viruta, for example, are informal and anyone can grab anyone else. For me, in these situations, it's a free-for-all and I feel invaded.

And as we all know here, and explain to newcomers, if a man comes to your table to invite you and you don't know him, say, Gracias, and nothing more, turning your head away. For sure, he is a bad dancer who hopes to get a new tourist who doesn't know 1) the cabeceo; and, 2) that he is a bad dancer and can't get a partner with the cabeceo. Don't feel bad to just say no, gracias.


Elizabeth said...

O.K. I am trying to get up my courage here. The eye contact thing is amazingly makes me wonder how we got so screwed up! And we think we are liberated. The cabeceo is being encouraged here in Seattle by the Argentines who run a beautiful milonga twice monthly. At first I was a bit put off because they really are insistent about it. I think I had better get over to their event and practice!

Hey Cherie, that is a lovely picture of you and Ruben at the top of your blog today.

tangocherie said...

I'm glad you like the picture!

The cabeceo does take practice, so get over there and try it out so it'll be easy when you get here. It takes energy, but after a while, it becomes fun!

tangobaby said...

This is such a great post.

One of the things I miss most about the milongas in BA. The codigo is everything. It makes you feel like you can decide who and when you dance, and the added sublety of communication makes the dance even more tantalizing. I was so heartbroken coming back to SF and realizing that only a portion of the people at the milongas truly appreciate the codigo.

lanuitblanche said...

AMEN! :)