Posted By: Anya on December 09, 2015
TANGO TIDBITS, Jan. 26, 2016
Once you get involved with tango, it doesn't take long before you realize there is more to it than just learning a new dance. You are entering a fully developed culture, rich in its own traditions. Some of these traditions are quirky, but some are quite sensible. The way in which a man asks a woman to dance is one of the sensible ones. It is called CABACEO, or "nod."
For a man to walk up to a woman, ask her to dance, and be refused is hard on his ego. It's even harder if all of his friends see a public refusal. Early in tango's history a better way developed. Music is played in sets, or tandas. After each tanda there is a short bit of non dancing music called a cortina, or curtain. It is customary for everyone to leave the dance floor, sit down, and find a new partner. To ask a woman to dance, a man looks directly at the woman and attempts to make eye contact. If she wants to dance, she returns the eye contact. He makes a slight nod, then walks to her table knowing the answer will be yes. If she doesn't want to dance with him she averts eye contact. She fiddles with her shoe, continues talking with the person next to her, or gets up to go to the ladies room. It's clear to the man that he needs to look for someone else. While at traditional milongas it is not considered proper for a woman to ask a man to dance, women have the MIRADA to fall back on. They just fix their gaze on the person they want to dance with, he notices, and if he wants to dance he will ask her as above. This fixing of gaze on one another is a powerful human trait that goes all the way back to infancy. Tiny babies can do it. It is a powerful bonding force between mother and infant.
CABACEO usually works well. Sometimes it doesn't. Some followers wonder why they rarely get asked to dance. One reason is failure to pay attention to the possibility of CABECEO. Two followers may be sitting out a dance and having a nice conversation. The tango music stops and the cortina music starts. They don't notice and continue their conversation. A leader tries to cabeceo one of them. It is not returned because it is not noticed. The leader, however, interprets this as a rejection. If it happens a few times, he decides this follower doesn't ever care to dance with him, and from that time forward he never asks her to dance again. If afollower wants to dance the next tanda, no matter how interesting the conversation, she should pause and pay attention to the dance floor. The person she is talking with will fully understand.
I hope you will practice using CABECEO. You will be amazed that it can work all the way across a crowded room. And be aware that direct asking by standing in front of someone is considered rude behavior by many people.