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!