Tango is not only a fascinating dance, but also a fascinating philosophy, culture, and lifestyle. The pursuit of tango is the pursuit of connection, love, unity, beauty, harmony and humanity, i.e., an idealism that is not consistent with the dehumanizing reality of the modern world. The world divides us as individuals, but tango unites us as a people and species. In tango we are not individualists, feminists, nationalists, liberals, conservatives, Democrats, Republicans, etc., but interconnected and interdependent members of the human family. Tango calls us to tear down the walls, to build bridges, and to regain humanity through connection, cooperation, reconciliation and compromise. It is a dance that teaches the world to love.




October 1, 2017

The Issues on Cabeceo


Last week I went to En Tu Abrazo - Encuentro at Grand Geneva, Wisconsin, a mesmeric event through which the organizers, Ray Barbosa and Richard Miller, pushed the Midwest tango to a new height. The event was well organized, with an intimate and friendly environment governed by milonga codes, experienced and like-minded dancers, excellent DJs, golden age music, close embrace, and high quality dancing, all reminiscent of a Buenos Aires milonga.

The venue is a rectangular room with fixed seats. Seventy-five Men and seventy-five women are seated separately on the opposite sides of the room, so they have to use cabeceo to invite partners. This arrangement created a coherent atmosphere as the participants must pay attention to each other and be emotionally engaged even before the dance started.

But, using cabeceo from a distance is proven to be a challenging task. First, the woman I try to invite is sitting among other women who may also want to dance with me. Second, when two or more women respond to my cabeceo, how do I make them know whom exactly I am inviting? Third, if two men nod at the same woman, how can either man tell that she is responding to him and not the other? Finally, her response may be so subtle that it could be overlooked.

Perhaps due to that cabeceo is still a relatively new skill to a lot of us, I made more mistakes in this event than I have ever made in Buenos Aires, even with such an experienced crowd. I learned later that some women had tried to cabeceo me, but I failed to recognize. In one case I walked to a woman who did not respond to my cabeceo, but I thought she did. There was also a case in which the woman who accepted my cabeceo did not look at me as I was walking towards her, and I ended up danced with the woman next to her who kept her eyes on me. Two times I walked to someone only to find that they had accepted other's invitations. There were also occasions two women stood up when I reached their table, both thought they were the one I was inviting.

In retrospect, I believe I should make my cabeceo more conspicuous and less ambiguous. I should be more aware that a subtle cabeceo is difficult to detect from a distance. When there could be confusions, I should make sure that all involved parties knew exactly whom I was inviting. I should look around to see if there were others communicating with the same woman. I should stand up to make eye contact with the woman sitting behind other women. I should move closer to the woman sitting far away from me before I cabeceo her. When walking towards a woman who has accepted my cabeceo, I should stare at her exclusively and avoid making eye contact with another woman to avoid confusing both.

On the women's part there were also problems. I must say in Buenos Aires portena women respond to cabeceo quiet differently from most women in this country. Their facial expression is more clear and unmistakable. If they are not sure about my cabeceo, they would make gestures to let me know they need more information, such as tilting their head, leaning sideways to let me see them more clearly, standing up if they are behind others, looking around to see if someone else is responding to me, pointing at themselves with a questioning facial expression, or using lip or sign language to communicate with me, etc. An Argentine woman would not look at me with a blank face, as many women in this country do, but would use facial expression and body language to convey her feelings. She would accept my cabeceo with joyful smile, nod, wink, bow, or other expressions to let me know she is delighted to dance with me. She would also stare at me intently when I walk towards her, so I know there is an unmistakable agreement between us. In other words, an Argentine woman is more proactive, which makes a huge difference because such expressiveness could prevent errors not only by the two involved, but by the third party who may also be involved as well. Also, such enthusiasm would lead to a more intimate and satisfying dance. 

Here again we see the impact of culture on tango. (See Tango: Historical and Cultural Impacts.) We Americans have an exaggerated ego due to our individualistic and feminist culture, which puts too much emphasis on self-interests, personal rights, liberty, individuality and independence. (See Tango and Individualism and  Femininity and Feminism in Tango (I).) Many don't want to show dependence on others, or let people know that they need others, or feel obliged by others, or beg others for a dance, etc., which could make them seem aloof, cold, indifferent, arrogant, or even rude. When doing cabeceo, we tend to show less spontaneity and more self awareness, especially if we did not get the expected attention or response, whereas in Argentina people would take a totally different approach in the same situation. For example, in Buenos Aires, a portena woman took the trouble to walk to my seat during the cortina to tell me she had been trying to make eye contact with me, and she pointed to where she sat so I could pay attention to her later. In short, the Argentinians are more social, open, friendly and approachable, while the Americans tend to be more reserved, rejective, defiant and hostile. I hope tango and cabeceo will help us change that attitude.