Tango is not only a fascinating dance but also a fascinating philosophy, culture and lifestyle. The search of tango is the search of humanity, connection, love, unity, harmony and beauty, 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 team, community and people. 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, accommodation, reconciliation and compromise. It is a dance that teaches the world to love.
October 1, 2017
The Issues on Cabeceo
Last week I attended En Tu Abrazo - Encuentro at Grand Geneva, Wisconsin, a mesmeric tango event with experienced and like-minded dancers, a friendly environment governed by the milonga codes, excellent DJs, golden age music, and a high level of dancing, all reminiscent of a Buenos Aires milonga.
The event is held in a rectangular room with fixed seats. Men and women sit separately on the opposite sides of the room, so they have to use cabeceo to find the partner. This arrangement created a coherent atmosphere since the participants must pay attention to each other and be emotionally engaged even before the dance starts.
Doing cabeceo from a distance, however, is proven to be a challenge. First, the woman you try to invite is sitting among other women who may also want to dance with you. Second, when two or more women respond to your cabeceo, how do you make them know whom exactly you are 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 too subtle that it could be overlooked.
Because cabeceo is a relatively new practice in our milongas, 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 tried to cabeceo me, but I failed to recognize. In one occasion I walked to a woman who did not respond to my cabeceo but I thought she did. In another occasion the woman who accepted my cabeceo did not look at me when I was walking towards her and I ended up danced with the woman sat next to her who kept her eye on me. Two times I walked to someone only to find that she had accepted other's invitation. There were also occasions two women stood up in front of me when I arrived their table, both thought they were the one I was inviting.
In retrospect, I believe I should be more aware that cabeceo is difficult to detect from a distance and should be made more clear and less ambiguous. I should not only let the woman with whom I want to dance but also the women sitting next to her know exactly whom I am inviting. I should stand up to do cabeceo with the woman sitting behind other women. I should look around to make sure that she is communicating with me and not someone behind me or next to me. I should move closer to the woman sitting far away from me before I cabeceo her. I should gaze at the woman who accepted my cabeceo when waking towards her and avoid making eye contact with any other woman to avoid confusing both.
There are also issues on the women's part. I must mention that, in the miongas of Buenos Aires, portena women behave very differently from women in this country. Unlike our women who often talk to each other and pay no attention to men, Argentine women all participate in the invitation process by actively making eye contact with men and being responsive to men's cabeceo. If they are not sure about your cabeceo, they will tilt their head, lean sideways or stand up to let you see them more clearly. They will point at themselves with a questioning facial expression, look around to see if someone else is responding to your cabeceo, or use lip or sign language to communicate with you. Argentine women do not wear a blank face, as our women often do. They will smile, nod or wink at you to let you know they are delighted to dance with you. They will gaze at you intently when you walk towards them so you know the two of you have an unmistakable agreement. In other words, Argentine women are much more expressive and proactive, which makes a huge difference because that can prevent errors not only by the two parties in question but also by the third party who may also be involved. Also, such enthusiasm will lead to a more intimate and satisfying dance.
Here again we see the influence of culture on tango. (See Tango: Historical and Cultural Impacts.) The American culture puts too much emphasis on the self. (See Tango and Individualism.) We tend to be aloof, cold, indifferent and hostile towards others. Many of us have a strong ego and do not like to show that we need others or beg others for a dance, and we are easily hurt when we do not get the expected response. In contrast, the Argentinians are much more friendly and approachable. Portena women often find the chance to let me know they want to dance with me and where their seats are, so I could cabeceo them. Obviously, in a culture like that dancing tango becomes much more enjoyable.