Sometimes our eye-sight doesn’t serve us well, and our use
of the cabeceo suffers accordingly.There have been times when a lady has accepted my invitation from afar,
but the man in the next seat has dashed across the floor before I’ve even
risen.The lady has a choice – insist on
waiting for me to arrive and send the ‘sprinter’ away, or dance with him, and
give me a nod to indicate “next tanda”.
I have also found myself as one of two men approaching a
lady, only to find that I’ve got it wrong.This situation has often been resolved by everyone laughing it off as
part of the fun, followed by my retreat … although once, one of my regular
partners at El Maipu, sitting nearby,
fixed things by saying, “Come on Robert, let’s dance”!No retreat necessary.
However, there is another, less pleasant scenario that is
talked about in some of the milongas in Buenos Aires, and at my local ones;
this is the one involving the ‘partner poacher’.Certainly, the ‘sprinter’ above may be one of
those, and if the lady doesn’t want to dance with him, she can choose not to.
However, the talk is more about some women: they are close to the line of sight
of the cabeceo from a man to a woman nearby; as the man approaches, she jumps
up and enters the dance floor in front of the intended lady.Again, there is a choice at hand – this time
by the man.He will normally not want to
embarrass the lady on the floor, so will dance with her …. hopefully, with a
nod to the lady still seated.
Sometimes the misunderstanding is unintended, and at other
times, women talk about their partners being stolen.The ‘partner poacher’ gets her dance, but at
what cost?Clearly, there is some
ill-feeling from affected women.And for
the man? He too will be disturbed, and may end up simply ‘going through
the motions’ for the tanda, feeling resentful.All in all, not a good result.
So, what is the protocol?It’s quite simple really. Once the cabeceo has been successful, the man
will approach the woman, making frequent eye contact solely with her; she will
do the same, as confirmation that she is his intended partner.The woman should stay seated until the man is
at her table, gives her another clear nod, then she should join him on the
floor.In these circumstances the likelihood
of mistakes, while never completely eliminated, is lessened and harmony in the
milonga will prevail.
Entrega (roughly translated as surrender) is that delicious and much-sought-after experience in tango, when you can allow yourself to become one with your partner and the music. You and your partner are in a bubble, being carried along by the music. This is, in my opinion, true tango.
Trust is a prerequisite - trust in your partner, as well as trust in your fellow dancers and trust in the musical selections of the DJ.
How lightly do you grant this trust? Recent chats with a few tangueras revealed that some grant it far too lightly. How powerless they have felt in having surrendered, when instead, a response of self-preservation was called for. Men have reported similar experiences. So, when might self-preservation tactics be appropriate for men or women?
Your partner (man or woman)
is imposing movements upon you that make you feel uncomfortable (eg. leg-wraps, high boleos)
is not in control of his/her axis, and your balance is compromised
moves ahead of you, rather than with you
is moving in a way which endangers or compromises the comfort of other dancers
is stepping outside the embrace
Here, tango might be compared to sex between consenting adults. Don't do what you don't like. Preserve your comfort, safety & dignity, and enjoy the experience!
So, what are some tried & true strategies of self-preservation?
Cabeceo - it means that you have choice. If you don't like what you see, or have had a bad experience with someone, don't nod to accept their invitation. It's the best line of defence. However, we have all experienced Uh oh moments, so ...
Brace - your body is alert. You are ready to tense your muscles in order to maintain your balance or to slow down your partner
Embrace - you may change the embrace, perhaps making it much closer to limit your partner's movements
Say something - tell your partner that you don't feel comfortable
Leave - if all else fails, reserve the right to say "Thank you" perhaps at the end of a song (not tanda) and leave the dance-floor
The choice is yours: surrender or self-preservation. PP
We have written often about the power of the cabeceo - the invitation to dance. However, there’s a case to be made that the cabeceo injects other
elements into the milonga – and not necessarily explicitly.
Clearly, the cabeceo is a strategyfor engaging with other dancers, but it also shows a willingness to engage.It can be very frustrating for a dancer, accustomed
to using the cabeceo, to attend milongas where he/she is faced with dancers who
rely on the direct approach.He/she will
sit, looking around for eye-contact, willing to engage, but receive no
response.The others will chat, dance only
with their friends, or scroll through their text
messages!Going to a milonga, where
everyone who wishes to dance the tanda is actively looking, is such a relief.
…. and what about the milongas where the cabeceo has become
the norm?I would suggest that the
dancers have also adopted other codes of behaviour, typical of traditional
milongas – and this spills over into how they dance.There’s a greater likelihood that the
line-of-dance and navigation are good, there’s a respect for other couples,
movements are conservative, the atmosphere is calm, and the dancers are attentive to the
music.In other words, an engaging place