Survival in Cabeceo-Free Zones

Terpsichoral:  Like Spider Woman, no one
really knows who she is behind her mask.

Below is a well thought out email from Terpsichoral Tangoaddict.   Her message to me is too good not to share!  She lives in Buenos Aires and London; so she sees perspectives of the world of tango most of us will never know.  At times she is in places where people have no exposure to tango etiquette; so the cabeceo is difficult to practice in these "cabeceo-free zones."  She also is skeptical about carrying on traditions which perhaps were never very enlightened.  Her essay gives balance to my general belief that tango etiquette is mostly helpful when given a chance to be understood and valued.  I still maintain that stance, but respect other opinions.

Because Resource Pages do not have comment sections, Tango Etiquette has had no option to leave comments; so Terpisoral Tangoaddict's words can give some balance to my ideas.  The etiquette page has lots of links to many resources, and at the very bottom, I will add links on the subject of the cabeceo, which has many comments with interesting perspectives.  Just like religion, you will see that Los Códigos may be like "Orthodox Tango Culture."  Are you a "believer" or an "iconoclast."   It is funny that all my life I have been an iconoclast, and here I am like a Greek Orthodox Priest,  giving out ideas for the True Way to Tango Culture!  In other words, be aware of these cults and sects, but come back to the True Way after you have studied these heresies!  :-)

This is her view of the cabeceo, and perhaps in certain respects the emancipated woman's view.

---------------------------------Survival in Cabeceo-Free Zones------------------------------------


I like the cabeceo system very much. But I think it only works optimally under certain circumstances: when there are chairs around the dance floor, when men and women sit separately, when everyone is clearly visible (the space is not too large, too dark or L-shaped) and when people are accustomed to the convention. While it's common in BA, it's by no means a universal practice and there are milongas at which it is not used -- milongas where I very much enjoy dancing.

I personally, therefore, have no problems with supplementing the cabeceo with a simple system in which both men and women can ask each other to dance directly. Of course, if you ask someone to dance directly, you need to be prepared to hear -- and graciously accept -- the answer "no, thanks." But I do not see this should be a problem. We all have heard "no thanks" in situations where a lot more was at stake than a tanda (for example, when asking someone out or after a job interview). You cannot get what you want all the time. That applies to tango as well as life. As I see it, why not apply a simple rule. When someone asks you to dance, there are three options:

  • you want to dance with them -- in which case, get up and do soyou don't want to dance with them because you believe you would not enjoy dancing with them -- in which case, give a simple "no, thanks" without any excuses
  • you would like to dance with them, but not right at that moment (you don't like the music, are too tired, there is someone you are waiting to dance with, etc.) -- in which case, tell them "no, thanks", maybe tell them why and be clear that you *would* like to dance with them later on in the evening or on another occasion. 
  • you would like to dance with them, but not right at that moment (you don't like the music, are too tired, there is someone you are waiting to dance with, etc.) -- in which case, tell them "no, thanks", maybe tell them why and be clear that you *would* like to dance with them later on in the evening or on another occasion. 

If you get a rejection, just accept it, but don't bear any grudges. If the person should ask you to dance on a future occasion (maybe circumstances have changed, there are fewer good dancers around, or your dancing has improved) and you still think it would be fun to dance with them, why not accept? It's more fun than 'taking revenge' by sulking at the edge of the floor. Would you have thought the same if you were interviewed for a job and rejected and then, later, they called you to tell you that the chosen candidate had turned down the position, your dream job was now free and they were offering it to you? Would you really, in that situation, say "no, thanks. Anyone who rejects me never gets a second chance!"??


I would add a couple of tips. If you are not sure whether someone would enjoy dancing with you, or suspect that they are a better dancer than you, but want to ask them to dance, ask them when the last song of the tanda begins. They are much more likely to take a chance on your dancing if they know that, at worst, they will only have to dance one song with you. Then, if they like your dancing, they will happily dance another tanda with you, then or later.

Part II:
I have never understood why men should feel so awkward about women asking them to dance. If someone asks you to dance, it is a compliment. They are saying that they would enjoy dancing with you. If you don't feel the same way, simply say "no, thanks." This is something where in Europe (and the US too, I suppose) we have an opportunity to do things differently -- and perhaps better -- than the Argentines. We don't have such strict gender roles. So why should we feel it is a tabu for women to ask men to dance?

One final situation in which I think cabeceo is difficult: when you want to dance with someone of your own sex. If as a woman I want to lead, it's almost impossible for me to cabeceo another woman: it's too confusing. So there I just ask directly. Although it does make me feel a trifle nervous! But I don't take offence if I hear a refusal; I just see it as an incentive to improve my leading.








For more opinion on the cabeceo, please visit the comment section on the cabeco here.