Cabaceo - why and why not

The cabaceo is having a resurgence in Sydney at one or two milongas. For those who don't know what this is if you Google 'cabaceo' you will get 2 websites that offer explanations for this tango ritual. Taken from the Spanish cabeza (head) it describes a method of a man selecting the woman he would like to dance with by making eye contact, then when she reciprocates, moving his head to indicate he wants to dance with her. She can refuse by looking away.
Said to have been initiated in the days when young women were chaperoned at milongas, and described as being the best way for men to ask women to dance in a crowded milonga, it is still used in some milongas in Buenos Aires. It can work both ways, according to the experts - a woman can do it too.
Like everything the cabaceo has its place. In large, crowded milongas it is undoubtedly the best way for the best dancers to get together. It is also the best way for those who already know each other to get together. But for the newcomer or the new dancer it can be an emotionally deflating experience - whether the milonga is crowded or small.
If the woman sits waiting expectantly, casting her eyes around the room and focussing at the men she would like to dance with while avoiding conversations, she may be setting herself up for an unrewarding evening. Many is the milonga where I have sat with women friends who are bemoaning the fact that they have not had enough - or any - dances. She may start to feel that her shoes are not good enough, her dress not appropriate, her hair a mess! Nonsense generally but you can't tell a woman such a thing at such a time...! Women have given up tango because they feel unwanted.
Another problem I see with the cabaceo is that it can also be described as staring someone down. My heritage is English, with a touch of Spanish, and I was taught, and believe that staring is rude, so sitting and focussing on someone across the room is not something I can do with ease. Unless I am trying to get a waiter to come to my table I find it almost impossible to keep up the concentration. When someone stares at you, you may be able to feel it - this psychic effect is also known as scopaesthesia. It can be interpreted in many ways - from hostility to affection - and when it doesn't work it can be quite uncomfortable for both sides.
The woman needs to sit and wait. If she gets involved in a conversation then she is not casting her eyes around the room and therefore is signalling that she is unavailable! But she may just be enjoying the company of those around her and be happy to dance if someone asks her. The women whose company I enjoy at milongas will always break off a conversation when asked to dance - it is an unspoken rule that the dance is more important than the conversation, which can be taken up again later. But I also enjoy talking to my friends - I spend all day working in a solitary occupation and a milonga is a wonderful place to catch up with friends as well as to dance. So I would prefer a man to tap me on the shoulder, walk up to me or ask me - I never refuse, nor do many women I know.
If a woman has friends she has made at classes then she may be lucky because in adopting the cabaceo she will find making new friends at milongas is difficult. At milongas people mostly dance with friends. Here the cabaceo can work well in this situation, because the people know each other.
For the shortsighted the cabaceo is a nightmare. I know one man who hates it for this reason. Those who leave their glasses at home, don't have very good eyesight but don't wear glasses - or do as I have done and wear only one contact lens! will not recognise the cabaceo.
Lighting is also an issue. In Buenos Aires many milongas are well light. In Australia they are not. Many of us (myself included) like the romance and comfort of a softly preferably partly candle-lit room. It adds to the special feeling of the night.
And it is not women who can feel left out when the cabaceo is the rule. Men can sit all night, looking at the women they would like to dance with and not getting a glance!
It will be interesting to see if making the cabaceo the theme of the milonga works... I'll let you know.


Arlene said…
Ah, the cabeceo topic. I am a big fan. Sometimes the conversation is more importannt than the dance, especially if someone is asking that you don't want to dance with. These days I am preferring conversation. ;-)
Unknown said…
"Men can sit all night, looking at the women they would like to dance with and not getting a glance!"

Sit all night !!!??? Seriously, Gentlemen (insert head shake) Gentemen ...

If a women is not returning your glance it means that she doesn't want to dance with you, that's the principle of cabaceo, that's how it works.
So please gentlemen do not make a fool of yourself, and just move on.
tango.frank said…
I like the cabaceo. I wish it were used more.
I may be asking for criticism (and perhaps deserve it) but I make the following comments:
1. There are many reasons a man may not ask a woman to dance. She should not assume one of them without knowledge.
2. A man may be "shy" about approaching women with whom he would like to dance, and not build up the courage to request a dance. A cabaceo may resolve that.
3. A man may feel he is not a sufficiently good dancer to ask a woman (who seems more skilled than he) to dance. Of course, that does not seem to stop other much less skilled males.
4. A man may not wish to dance with a particular woman as the dances he has had with her were particularly unsatisfying.
5. Some women who say things like: "You never dance with me", find that to be a self fulfilling prophecy. There are much more positive things that could be said.
6. I, for one, have no problem with a woman asking to dance with me. In fact, I am flattered to be asked (except if she falls into category 4 above).

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