The art of the cabeceo

The following is an email discussion prompted by Modern Tanguera‘s post.  Others may have the same questions he does if they haven’t danced in Buenos Aires and are interested in using the head movement.   

What seems to be the preferred timing in its use?  I imagine that experienced users would allow the first few bars of music to start in order to identify the orchestra/singer/dance genre/tempo before using it? 

Correct.  First the dance, then the orchestra, and then the decision whether you want to dance the tanda.  That’s what goes on in my head.  Then looking around to see if one of my favorites is still seated and if I get his attention my way.

Do you have the impression that there is a cabeceo “window”- for example the 30 seconds into each tanda?

Not at all. The milongueros aren’t in any hurry.  The first ones on the floor are the WORST male dancers in the room.  One can wait as long as the beginning of the second dance for the cabeceo; that depends on how full the floor is and your place.  Those who aren’t paying attention get to the floor during the last half of the fourth dance of a tanda — so they get less than a minute to dance. 

Are the majority of cabeceo invitations made in the first tango/vals/milonga of each tanda? Or are they spread out evenly between the first and the last? In other words, does the cabeceo get used throughout the tanda or predominantly in the first bars of the first tango/vals/milonga?

Yes, most are during the first dance.  When everyone is standing still on the floor after the first dance, it’s a good time to extend the cabeceo and get across the floor while no one is moving.  Invitations are rarely made during third and last dance of a tanda.  The exception is when a milonguero has wants to dance with someone new and doesn’t want to get stuck for the entire tanda if it turns out she can’t dance.  Two dances are a trial run, but she doesn’t know it.  Usually, if a milonguero hears his favorite orchestra, he wants to dance the entire tanda.

Is a cabeceo for the last tango in a tanda considered rather bad form?

I answered this before.  It happens when a man hasn’t been listening and keeping track of how many dances so far in the tanda.  Only the very desperate try it and stay close by for the next tanda by not allowing her to return to her seat.

You mention in your blog that the cabeceo is “directed to women seated directly in front or to the side”.  But as the floor gets more and more occupied, doesn’t it become almost impossible to use the cabeceo to invite someone sitting directly or diagonally opposite on the other side of the dance floor?  In this case, I suppose its range of effectiveness would be limited to the side and side walls?  You also say that “a milonguero never does a turnaround to invite a woman”.  I imagine this means anything more than a 90° turn, correct?

Men have a 180 degree range in front and to the sides.  Those who follow the custom NEVER do a 180 turn to invite a woman in the rear.  There is always another day and plenty of other women in full view.  There is no distance too far for the cabeceo in any milonga with perfect timing.  The limit is a 90 degree head turn to the left or the right.

Where a cabeceo invitation has been accepted with a nod/smile, the practice is for the man to approach the woman’s table where she is seated-  What route does he take if the floor is occupied with other dancers- I imagine moving along behind the tables either CW or CCW where an aisle between the tables exists? Elsewhere, I saw you comment thus “A man crosses the floor making eye contact with the woman and waits for her to meet him on the floor”.  I am surprised by the idea of crossing the floor but I suppose the timing of such a crossing is important.  Once the dancing has started, surely it would not be right?

All of these nuances will be clear to you once you get to see them up close in Buenos Aires.  During the first dance, the floor is almost clear and men may cross it, paying attention to avoid other dancers.  Some walk along the outside edge of the floor; others go down the aisle between the second and third row of tables.

Yes, timing is important.  He wants to keep eye contact with the woman with whom he is going to dance, although there are women who like to intercept him.  When he arrives at the spot where they will begin to dance, she gets up and enters the floor in front of him during the first dance of the tanda.  The crossing continues as long as a man gets confirmation from a woman for the tanda.

You mention in answering someone’s comment that “it is best to stay seated until he approaches” to avoid awkward misunderstandings where someone else had actually been invited.  But how near is “until he approaches”?

I don’t get up front my chair until the man reaches the spot where we will embrace.  I know by his gaze that he is waiting for me.  I don’t hurry or scurry.  I take my time, and so does my partner.  There is no rush to embrace and start dancing.  

I would imagine that once eye contact is established the woman gets up as the man is with a yard or so her and not wait till he is right in front of her?   You commented elsewhere, “He doesn’t approach her table.” so this would imply a “safe” distance which minimizes the risk of embarrassment through misunderstanding or misinterpreted acceptance.

I sit in the second row.  It takes five seconds to get up and join him in the corner of the floor where I enter.  Women seated in the front row wait for men to arrive right in front of them where he blocks oncoming traffic for her to enter.  Many don’t wait long enough, and the result is the man isn’t in a good place to begin dancing.  He has to change places with her to dance.  If he approaches from the left side of the room, this works fine.  If he approaches from her right side, she should wait until he passes just to the left of where she enters the floor from the front row.

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