Once is enough

An invitation to dance with a head movement by the man to a woman isn’t common in tango communities around the world as in Buenos Aires since the 1940s.  It’s the tourist season in the milongas, and those who don’t practice the cabeceo regularly at home are using it here.

Milongueros have years of practice inviting women to dance with a subtle movement of the head.  They choose a partner depending on the orquesta and nod when the woman looks in their direction.  Once is enough.  If a woman looks away (indicating she’s not interested), there is no aggression or obligation.

A newcomer from Europe tried to invite a friend (also a newcomer to Buenos Aires) at my table with the cabeceo.  She did not want to accept his invitation, so she looked away.  She came to Buenos Aires to dance with Argentines, not foreigners.  He didn’t understand her negative response and kept trying to invite her.  An invitation by cabeceo has two possibilities — yes and no.  No means no.  The newcomer thought she didn’t see him, so he approached our table.  She already told me that she didn’t want to dance with him, but acquiesced.  He said he wanted to dance a tanda with me, knowing she would share that information with me.

The milongueros dance with women of the same height.  It’s rare to see a very tall milonguero dancing with a very short woman.  This newcomer from Europe is more than six feet tall, and I am petite.  I had no interest in dancing with him.

He was relentless with the cabeceo.  I couldn’t walk across the floor and speak with him.  The only way I could get my message across to him was with body language.  I extended my arm, pointed my index finger, and moved it emphatically in his direction.  He got the message.

Foreign women have more practice with the cabeceo in Buenos Aires than foreign men.  The women wait for an invitation.  Once is enough.

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3 Responses to “Once is enough”

  1. Alan Jones Says:

    I don’t see it changing in our country,England,it is awkward. Women/men expect you dance with them,especially if you see them regularly at a milonga. I think the saddest thing is that people take it personally,and it isn’t,often resulting in a ‘cold shoulder’.

  2. jantango Says:

    Tango is a social dance, and it’s the most intimate one. We aren’t obligated to dance with every person who invites us. Fragile egos take it personally. That’s why the nod works in Buenos Aires.

  3. Chris Says:

    Alan wrote: “I don’t see it changing in our country, England, it is awkward. Women/men expect you dance with them

    “All dance with all” is a deeply rooted codigo of English tango class culture, widely taught to newcomers and openly declared by clubs with e.g. “everyone dances together and there is a ‘say yes’ policy ie no-one refuses a dance“. This is the natural outcome of the particular circumstance. Teachers are acutely aware that freedom of partnering choice is bad for (class) business.

    Reluctant women find this reinforced by the actions of the disrespectful guys thereby encouraged, and even by advice from some women themselves that e.g. women do not have the power to prevent bad treatment by saying No and those who do say No suffer ‘repercussions’.

    But class codigos are largely confined to places where people learn more in classes than milongas, so if Alan’s talking about the wider social tango scene in England, then I disagree with his suggestion things aren’t changing. Over the last fifteen years there’s been a big increase in the number of milongas. Milongas where dancers, not teachers, determine the norms of acceptable behaviour. Here, traditional customs prevail, freedom of partnering choice is respected, and, as Janis reminds us “No means no”. What respectful guy would have it any other way? 🙂

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