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Cabaceo in a small tango scene

I originally wrote this a couple of years ago and decided that it needed a refresh, based on a conversation with a newbie a couple of nights ago.

New Dancers
My new dancer said that two men from her class had gone to their first milonga recently and had been turned down by women because they had asked the ladies rather than using cabeceo. They were new and they were being brave at their first milonga, but they simply didn't know about it.

Our local scene is not so large that we can afford to greet new dancers with disdain. More grace on the part of the ladies might have made these newbies feel more welcome and encourage them to come back!

Some might say that it's their teachers' responsibility to ensure that they have all the tools necessary for the milonga. However, good manners cost nothing and a kind word could easily help ease new dancers into this new world.

Lighting at milongas is THE critical element for cabeceo and whereas Argentine milongas have ALL the lights on to encourage it, the usual standard outside Argentina is romantic, atmospheric, 'mood' lighting.

Mood lighting is often expected by dancers or desired by organisers so while it's a fact of life outside Argentina, and often so dark that it's just ridiculous, here are some tips to help you have a more enjoyable evening:

- Check your surroundings. If you have a light behind you, even if off to one side, then the chances are that you are in silhouette and no one can see your face, let alone your eyes.

- Cabeceo is intended to be discreet in order to protect egos from rejection or from feeling forced to dance when you really don't want to. If you need to do more than nod your head slightly to confirm a dance then cabeceo becomes a joke. If the other person has to move their body in order to make the invitation obvious then it's stupidly dark and consider having a word with the organiser.

- Check your seating location from somewhere else in the room. If you can't see the eyes of people near your seat then...move!

Finally, if all else fails and you still want to rely on cabeceo and  don't want to ask or be asked, stand by the buffet table. You never know, you might get lucky, there might be macaroons and home baking, and the lighting is usually better.

A Brief History
Cabaceo, or catching the eye of a prospective partner as opposed to asking them to dance, was not an easy cultural fit for Wellington in the past when the scene was much smaller. Friends and acquaintances had been using it for years but visitors or new dancers were usually asked as in days of yore.

However, when a local teacher (who has since moved on) required that his students only use cabeceo to arrange dances it uncovered divisions within the small tango scene that had been wallpapered over until then by good manners.

It became very obvious that some people really didn't like dancing with particular people. Not an issue with 30-100 people in the room but quite glaring when there's only 15!

This didn't do anything to help grow the scene and acted as a handbrake when those new to the scene would arrive at a milonga and find a cold, cliquey atmosphere.

One could say in these peoples' defence that they were seeking quality over quantity, however that leads to a sometimes uncomfortable discussion over why people dance with each other. That is, quality for whom? The leader? The follower? Are both parties really enjoying it or is one just waiting for it to be over?

The reality of social dancing is that we can't all be tango stars all the time, but we can try to enjoy our time on the dancefloor together. Grace and manners go a long way towards a great evening.

Ladies' Choice
Cabeceo won't prevent sleazy men or chronically bad dancers walking up and asking attractive women to dance. Cabeceo is a subtlety that doesn't come easily to those people and this kind of thing happens in BA as well.


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