The art of the invitation

Strangers in the night exchanging glances . . . something in your eyes was so inviting . . . .

This song describes how two total strangers communicate with the eyes. It’s the same every night at the milongas.  It’s simple, but not easy.  It takes practice and lots of patience.

Anyone who has attended a tango class has probably heard others mention that the invitation to dance is by cabeceo.  What does that mean?  One definition of cabecear is to nod while sleeping.  It’s the term used by tango dancers that refers to how a man invites a woman to dance a tanda without any verbal communication and without anyone knowing whom he is inviting.  

There are as many variations as there are dancers.  Every man finds the way that works best for him.  There is no rule that says that one makes the invitation in any particular way.  Men are free to improvise, preferably while he is seated at the table.  Timing is crucial.

I sat at a table near the dance floor at El Arranque and was in no hurry to dance.  I didn’t know most of the men and wanted to see them dancing first.  While scanning the room as the next tanda began, a man was waving his arms at me to get my attention.  He didn’t know that I was looking at another man in the same line of direction.  The one I wanted to dance with didn’t invite me, so I waited.  In the meantime, another man approached me at the table for the next tanda.  I had seen him dancing with no connection to the music, so it was easy to refuse him.  He continued walking and sat down at a table nearby while I accepted another man’s invitation for the tanda–he used the cabeceo.

I’ve spent years observing and accepting invitations to dance.  It’s a matter of learning who is interested in dancing a tanda (tango, vals or milonga) and what orchestras.  Some invite with a subtle movement of the head, others with a wink or a smile, or raising an eyebrow.  The milongueros have many years of practice.  They wait for the orchestra that inspires them and the right partner for it.

Antonio looks in my direction to his left, tilts his head to the right, and moves his lips to say vamos.   When Anibal knows he has my attention, he tilts his head backward.  Carlos smiles, and I confirm with a smile.  Roberto smiles and moves his lips.  Hector raises his left eyebrow and no head movement whatsoever.  Each one has his own manner of inviting me for a tanda.  They may do it differently with others, but it works for me.

As more and more foreigners take up tango and make their way to Buenos Aires, they practice and gain confidence exchanging glances with inviting eyes.



2 Responses to “The art of the invitation”

  1. Claudia Says:

    Hi, I like your blog, especially the tips on the codigos en BsAs. I am curious about one thing – is there some rules on compliments? It feels strange not to utter a word at the end of a beautiful tanda, and I always find myself using a bow of the head or some other body language to indicate appreciation / pleasure at the tanda. If the man then says something, I say something back. But I am sure that there are some unwritten guidelines of what to say and not to say at the end of a tanda…in a previous post you said that you don’t say thank you after sex, but really, if its good you do end up saying gosh that was good or whatever…so maybe this question calls for a survey! Should you compliment someone if you enjoyed the tanda?! Thanks! PS: I am interested specifically in the BsAs milongas.

  2. jantango Says:


    If the tanda was beautiful for you, it was the same for him. Nothing really needs to be said; your face says it all. I got this information first-hand from Miguel Angel Balbi, a milonguero of many years. The man might ask you after the first dance, “bien?” That’s all he wants to know.

    Do or say whatever comes from the heart at that moment.

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