Tango and the Cabeceo

Dancing at milongas in Buenos Aires requires knowledge and respect of the codigos that keep the tradition alive and pure. I am at the most beginning level of dancing–just starting lessons here. When I do get on the floor, I plan to use the cabeceo in the hopes of initiating a dance.

The cabeceo, or the eye contact and nod that tells another dancer you are interested, is the code of tango dancer. It is not only an easy way to initiate a dance, but it is also a way to be considerate of the choice of others.

At the start of a tanda, or group of four songs, dancers look around for the partner of their choice. This is usually based on the proven talent of the dancer. Also, if a dancer knows a person dances a type of song well, then he or she might seek out the glance of that person. In any rate, when the couple’s glance meets and they nod in accordance, the tanda starts. The man crosses the floor to meet the seated tanguera, and he escorts her to the floor.

It’s important to use the cabeceo because it saves people from visible rejection on both sides. If a dancer approaches my table and I don’t like his style or I plan to dance with someone else, it would be ugly for me to turn him down. The physical approach puts the dancer in a bad situation. The person approaching has virtually made the decision for the other because, if a dancer is turned down in person, everyone at the dance floor sees the denial. The cabeceo keeps the floor polite.

The milonguera at “Tango in her Eyes” has an excellent list of expectations of the cabeceo.

This week I got to experience the strength of the cabeceo when I took to the milonga floor before I was ready. After a few dances, I did not get a look in my direction. It was a powerful sign–and warranted!



Filed under Tango

8 responses to “Tango and the Cabeceo

  1. Fabulous! You are learning quickly! 🙂

  2. Wonderful insight! I congratulate you for truly absorbing this experience. Un abrazo!

  3. Fascinating. I didn’t even know about this until I read your entry. Thanks for educating me. I’ll never think of eye contact the same way. And ps, I REALLY think you should consider putting my blog in one of your categories. But you know, no pressure or anything.

    You and your girlfriend will have to dance when you come.

  4. I wrote about this subject on my blog. Take a look at invitation to the dance.


  5. It’s great you’re learning tango. I keep promising to take some classes, but end up hanging out in the folclore places more. Guess I haven’t really left Louisiana 🙂

    The cabeceo thing has always intrigued me. When I go to a milonga (I’m there just to watch), I like watching what goes on off the dance floor almost as much as the dancing. There’s such an amazing amount of protocol.

    I kind of like that it forces a dancer to take charge of his or her own night.

  6. I promise to take Erika to more than one milonga. After I’ve read your entry a couple more times. But already she’s telling me to stop staring at her. I guess I’m not looking at the floor correctly. Thanks for adding my blog by the way. You’re awesome.

    Perhaps you’re not raising your eyebrow just so?

  7. Interesting! To me the tango was always just an exotic dance done by professionals, but your entries about the dance make it seem more approachable. And what courage you have to learn! Thanks for sharing!

    Thanks for your entry! I may be on the dance floor, but my form is not technically correct yet. I’m learning a little more each time and taking classes.

  8. Pingback: Tango Through My Eyes « Still Life in South America

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