Tango is not only a fascinating dance but also a fascinating philosophy, culture and lifestyle. The search of tango is the search 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 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, 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 are seated 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 challenging task. 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 so 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 as I was walking towards her and I ended up danced with the woman sat next to her because the latter kept her eye on me. Two times I walked to someone only to find that they had accepted other's invitation. There were also occasions two women stood up in front of me, 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 aware that a subtle cabeceo is difficult to detect from a distance. I should make all involved parties know exactly whom I am inviting. I should stand up to do cabeceo with the woman who is sitting behind other women. I should look around to make sure that the woman is communicating with me and not with someone else. I should move closer to the woman who is too far away from me before I do cabeceo with her. When walking towards the woman I am inviting I should stare at her exclusively and avoid making eye contact with another woman to avoid confusing both.

There are also issues on the women's part. I must say that in Buenos Aires portena women behave quiet differently from the women in this country. Instead of chatting with each other and paying no attention to men as most women in this country do, they participate in the 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 make gestures such as tilting their head, leaning sideways, or standing 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. An Argentine woman does not look at you with a blank face as many women in this country do, but uses facial expression and body language to convey her feelings. She will accept your cabeceo with a joyful smile, nod, wink, bow or other expressions to let you know she is delighted to dance with you. She will stare at you intently when you walk towards her so you know you have an unmistakable agreement with her. In other words, an Argentine woman is much more proactive and expressive, which makes a huge difference because it can prevent errors not only by the two involved parties but also by the third party who may be involved as well. 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 and Femininity and Feminism in Tango (I).) We tend to be aloof, cold, indifferent and even hostile towards others. Many of us are not willing to show that we need others or that we are begging for a dance. Our self-esteem is too strong and easily hurt when we do not get the expected response. In contrast, the Argentinians are much more friendly, approachable and sociable. In Buenos Aires, for example, portena women often take the trouble to walk to my seat during the cortina to tell me they have been trying to make eye contact with me so I could pay attention to them later. Obviously, dancing tango becomes a much more enjoyable experience in a friendly culture like that, which I hope may become the culture in our milongas as well someday. 

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