Archive for the ‘Codigos’ Category

Cachirulo and the codigos

October 8, 2015

Tango Angeles in Los Angeles, California, did a live radio interview in July with Hector Pellozo and Norma Zugasti, organizers of the milonga Cachirulo in Buenos Aires.  They are known for enforcing traditional codes in their milongas.  Hector gives out penalty cards like a referee: green for the first offense, yellow for the second, and a red for the third. If you get a red card, you cannot return to their milonga.

Do blonds have more fun?

February 7, 2015


In the days of the confiterias bailables, the young milongueros had reserved tables in each one.  No one sat at someone else’s table.  For them, it was like having the same seat at the dinner table with family.  If they didn’t show up for dinner, the seat remained empty.

I observed this seating hierarchy at Club Almagro during my first visit in 1996, where the milongueros viejos earned the right to their tables at the edge of the dance floor.  And so did milongueras.  I sat against the wall where I could see and learn the codes of the milonga.

There are milongas that are very popular with foreigners.  Now that foreigners come all year, there are milongas with a regular rotation of new faces for the local dancers.

Those who are regulars today at milongas have reserved tables.  They don’t have to call for a reservation.  The policy at Lo de Celia is to call when one is not going to attend or arrive by 7:00.

Emilia has a reserved seat in the first row center on the left side in Lo de Celia on Wednesday, the only day she dances.  She arrived one Wednesday as usual before 7:00pm, only to find that her reserved seat had been given to a foreigner who came for the first time.  Emilia had a smile and acted calmly about the situation, but she was very upset.  She is short, dark and older than the foreigner,  a tall blond.  Her partners had to look for her at another table to dance.  Jimena decides where people sit in Lo de Celia.  She doesn’t know the codes of the milongas and the importance of seating.  The beautiful people get preferential seating in other milongas.  The following Wednesday, Emilia sent a text message that she was coming, to ensure that her seat would be reserved for her.

The tall blond didn’t dance many tandas.  She was only passing time at Lo de Celia before going down the street to Salon Leonesa.  When she wasn’t dancing, she checking her cellphone.  I noticed that one man invited her for four tandas in two hours, another for two tandas. I gave her until 8:30pm, but she stayed a little past 9:00 before going to another milonga where I imagine she dances every tanda.  She doesn’t know that the men are selective at Lo de Celia.  They prefer dancing with their regular partners each week than the newcomers who disappear.

Cabeceo confusion

January 2, 2015

This is a controversial topic of social tango.  I begin with my comment published on another blog.

The cabeceo is not foolproof, but when practiced regularly, it is the only way to dance in Buenos Aires. The cabeceo is an agreement to enjoy ten minutes in the embrace of another.

It is the man who initiates the invitation with a movement of the head while he waits for the woman’s acceptance with a head movement as well. If she isn’t interested in dancing with him, she merely turns her head and looks in another direction. No one is the wiser, and the man doesn’t suffer public embarrassment as he does when inviting a woman at her table.

Once the invitation is accepted/confirmed by the woman, she waits at her table until the man reaches a spot on the floor for her to join him. He will be making eye contact with her at this point. That is her confirmation that he invited her and not the woman seated next to or behind her. A woman should not go to the floor until the man is there. The man doesn’t escort her to the floor, but merely waits for her.

After dancing the tanda, the man escorts the woman to the edge of the floor where she can conveniently return to her table; he doesn’t go to her table…ever.

Argentine women know that it is the man who invites them to dance, but they let the men know by glancing at them from across the room. If a woman never looks at a man, he can never invite her. That’s the way it has been in the milongas for decades. Those who respect the codes continue using the cabeceo. 

* * * * *

 Cabeceo – In Buenos Aires, it is only the men who ask for a dance.  Most big cities follow the Buenos Aires custom.  The accepted way to invite a person to dance is to catch someone’s eye, smile and nod, perhaps raising your eyebrows in an inquiring expression or directing a nod towards the dance floor. The response, if the invitation is accepted, is to smile and nod back, whereupon both people walk to the dance floor and dance.  The purpose of the cabeceo, is to make the invitation to dance less stressful and the possibility to decline more discreet. Essentially you can avoid receiving or having to say a harsh verbal “No”. It spares everybody’s feelings.  It is also acceptable for a gentleman to “walk-up” and ask someone to dance, but be sensitive to that person’s body language/eye contact in case they don’t want to dance.  If you don’t succeed in catching a person’s eye and eliciting a smile, please don’t resort to  positioning yourself squarely in front of a person so they can’t avoid looking at you. It is considered very rude. In short, Ladies, Don’t Ask.

* * * * *

Invitation to dance: It is customary for only the men to invite ladies to dance, not the other way round. The invitation and acceptance/rejection to dance are only made through eye contact – known as cabeceo. At the conclusion of the dance, the men should accompany the ladies to their tables.

Comment: Cabaceo is a good approach to invite, but not widely practiced in Singapore, or many parts around the world outside of Buenos Aires, largely due to familiarity of the community. It is perfectly fine in Singapore for ladies to invite men to dance.

 * * * * *

The cabeceo is perhaps one of the most important codes of all. It is the way that people invite and agree to dance together. It is a system of mutual respect and delicacy. Gentlemen invite the ladies from a relative distance by catching her eye and nodding. If she would like to accept the invitation she will nod back. If the woman does not want to be invited to dance, she must subtly look the other way or not look his way in the first place. This system ensures that women are not dancing out of obligation and men are not having to have their advances rejected or feelings hurt. In the traditional milongas in Argentina, inviting a follower verbally at her table is considered an encroachment and often rejected out of hand. Advancing toward a lady and nodding aggressively at her defies the whole reason and mutual consideration that is at the heart of the cabeceo. Make sure from a distance that you are requesting, not demanding and that there is truly a mutual desire on her part. Likewise, ladies, you can make your desire known by looking at the gentlemen you may like to dance with, but staring intensely or incessantly can feel invasive and defeats your purpose – again make sure you are checking in and requesting, not demanding. Once the agreement has been sealed, he will come to meet her at the edge of the floor closest to her table and the couple will dance the tanda together. At the end of the tanda, the leader will accompany her back to her chair or to the edge of the floor where they met. Leaving her in the middle of the floor is considered bad form.

* * * * *

And from in Dubai, UAE:

The most appropriate way to ask a lady to dance is the use of cabeceo. This is an art and is to be mastered.  It involves catching the attention of the lady you want to dance with by the way you are looking at her.  If the lady wants to dance with you, she will acknowledge you by the way she looks at you.  You will then nod towards the dance floor and she will indicate her consent by subtly nodding back.  When that happens you walk towards her, extend your hand and guide her to the dance floor.  There, you will enter the line of dance without disrupting its flow and begin dancing.   If the lady does not want to dance with you, she will simply look away when you try to catch her attention.

And then I came across this:

3. “Since either the leader or the follower can initiate it, cabeceo actually allows women to invite men, without having to break the social taboos.”
This is the best argument so far in favor of cabeceo. I’ve always found it to be deeply unfair that men get all the initiative when it comes to deciding who dances with whom. Cabeceo makes the process of invitations symmetric — either the woman or the man can initiate the contact. In fact, I’ll speculate that this is the major (unstated) reason why many ladies prefer cabeceo. But then — wouldn’t it be much, MUCH simpler to altogether abandon the antiquated patriarchal taboo that bans women from inviting? Wouldn’t _that_ be a step up! It’s 2012 you know, not 1912!

* * * * *

And the most surprising text appears on the site for the Denver Tango Marathon which claims to hold milongas like Buenos Aires:

The “Cabeceo” or, How to Get a Dance.

A particularly charming aspect of tango is that the women get to ask the men to dance by looking for their favorite partner, and “giving him the nod”. Across a crowded room, this feels electrifying! He has accepted my glance! She has chosen ME to dance with! Now, the man can saunter confidently across the floor, knowing that as he approaches, the woman will rise from her seat, and let me take her hand for a dance.

The feminist approach probably appeals to those who want to win popularity contests, show off their repertoire of embellishments, and new shoes on the dance floor, but I imagine there are men hiding in corners to avoid them.

I scan the room when the tanda begins if I’m interested in dancing.  If a man is looking in my direction, and I want to dance, I hold my gaze, wait a split second for his invitation (either with a tilt of his head and/or lip movement: bailas?) and then I respond.  He has chosen me for the tanda.  And that’s the way I like it.

Once is enough

November 4, 2014

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.

How to leave the dance floor

July 3, 2014

I’ve written about this before in a previous post, and here are some examples of how to leave the dance floor (thanks to Jamie Lin and Thyne Kong from Hong Kong, who posed for this series of photos in my apartment).


There are men who like to make a quick get-away by returning to their table without guiding the woman to the edge of the dance floor where she entered it.  If he’s not returning to his table, he may stop to greet a woman who he wants to line up for the next tanda.  There is no courtesy in this behavior.  The tanda is over, and he’s done his job, or so he thinks.  Gentlemen complete this simple gesture during the cortina music.


This looks awkward, and it is.  When the man doesn’t release the woman from his embrace by lowering his arm, this is the result.  It forces her to either raise her left arm over his or leave it hanging behind as in the photo above.


If it was a first tanda, a man is trying to let the woman know he’d like to get to know her better and dance again.  Action speaks louder than words.


It’s like walking down the street with a friend in Buenos Aires.  This is appropriate and very common between regular dance partners and couples.


Handholding is a part of daily life in Buenos Aires where it’s normal to see parents holding their children’s hands while walking them to and from school.  When it comes to a man and a woman, this action speaks clearly — we are a couple.  A dance partner held my hand while we walked off the floor yesterday.  He was sending a nonverbal message — let’s get together.  If a woman isn’t comfortable walking off the floor this way, all she has to do is release her hand from his.


Although more common among couples, this double embrace is used by regular dance partners who have something to talk about while walking off the floor.  It also gives others something to talk about.


Oh well, what can I say?  It’s inappropriate for the milonga, but it happens when no one is watching.


This is how the milongueros viejos guide their partners to the edge of the floor at the end of a tanda.  They may give a gentle squeeze to her arm before releasing the hand.


And another is forearm contact around her waist.  The woman feels accompanied this way.  It completes the tanda.



Multiple tandas

February 23, 2014

Tango Immigrant wrote about the multiple tanda custom in Norway although she herself prefers one tanda with partners.  Her country is too far away for any influence from Buenos Aires to reach them about the codes and customs, so they make their own.  That’s fair.  The Norwegians don’t understand the significance of two consecutive tandas with the same partner in Buenos Aires milongas.  That code gets lost in translation to another culture.  It’s an important one to understand when visiting the milongas in Buenos Aires.

If multiple tandas prevail at Norwegian milongas, how do dancers refresh themselves if they continue dancing?  How do they have a drink? Or take a break to bask in the feeling? take a few minutes to rest? Is it about  meeting a quota for the night?  Is tango their substitute for exercise at the gym?

This my theory on why the multiple tanda custom is popular there.  The winters are long and cold up north.  Staying in a warm, comfortable embrace is nice, so for many changing partners is not an option.

My versions of the evaluation system:

One tanda — it could feel like a one-night stand without emotional commitment or future involvement.

Two tandas — getting to know you, getting to know all about you, getting to like you, getting to hope you like me.

Three tandas — would you like to have coffee?  I doubt Norwegians know what this means in Buenos Aires.

The most important question is — do they have multiple tangasms with multiple tandas?

School days

February 10, 2014

I remember going to Friday night dances during my high school years in Chicago.  I knew how to dance because my parents were social dancers, and I watched American Bandstand on television.  There were no dance lessons for teenagers in those days, so the boys didn’t know how to dance.  Shuffling their feet around while they held a girl close was all they wanted or could do.  They were shy about inviting the girls to dance, which meant the girls had to wait for them to get up the courage to walk over and invite them for a dance.


The boys watched the girls, and the girls watched the boys.  They waited for the right moment and music when they hoped the girls would accept their invitations.  Two boys might even decide together who they wanted to invite.  The more courageous boy volunteered to walk over and invite a girl for his friend at the same time he invited one for himself.  Then, if successful, he signaled to his friend that she had accepted his invitation.  The other boy then could cross the floor to meet the girl for the dance.  Their game plan worked, and both boys got to dance with the girls they wanted.

Much to my amazement, I observed this scene last week at Lo de Celia Tango Club where an invitation is done by head movement.

Small talk

February 7, 2014

Brief chat between dances

I read the following in milonga etiquette article on a North American web site:

In between songs, talking is fine (in fact some would say small talk is almost obligatory).

Hold your horses!  Those who believe small talk is obligatory on the dance floor aren’t really interested in the music, which is the reason we dance.

obligatory:  required by a law or rule;  always or often included as a familiar and expected part of something.

A friend told me about a woman who dances every tanda for hours without fail.  Between dances she tells every partner the details of her life.  Her private life is common knowledge among the men of the milonga.  One man was overheard telling another that he should make his move when she didn’t have a boyfriend.  Those who have many years of experience in the milongas know that one’s life is left at the door, and a private exchange between dances is about the music.

Another web site offered a better suggestion:

Save the conversation for when the music stops.

When does the music stop? At the end of the milonga.  That’s the time for conversation in another place.

Let’s stop the small talk and listen to the music.

Hey everybody, I’m here

January 29, 2014

I’ve listened to the milongueros viejos talk about the codes and customs in the confiterias bailables along Corrientes during the 1950s.  They described it like going to the theater.  Everyone dressed well.  Each had a reserved table.  They greeted others with a nod.

Hugging and kissing has gone overboard in the milongas.  It started about ten years ago when professionals wanted to impress everyone by showing how many people they knew at a milonga, so they made the rounds hugging and kissing all their students and anybody else they knew.  I remember a milonguero viejo commented that “it takes them twenty minutes to greet everyone before they’re seated at their table.”

A section for men is inside the entrance at Lo de Celia.  I watch women touch the shoulder of the men so they will turn around to greet them — as if to say, just wanted you to know I’m here so you can invite me for a tanda .  The men couldn’t care less.  They choose with whom and when they want to dance.  A milonga isn’t a social gathering of friends, it’s a place where men and women go to dance.  

The women do the same when leaving the milonga.  There is no obligation for a hug or kiss good-bye to anyone, let alone with all of one’s dance partners at a milonga.  You can imagine how long it could take if dancers had to say goodbye to everyone with whom they danced.  It’s not done, because it’s not necessary.

The custom of entering a salon and going to the table quietly is lost in the milongas.

Private property

January 27, 2014

When a couple sits together in a milonga, the assumption is they are there to dance exclusively with each other.  There is a long-standing code which milongueros viejos respect.  There was a time when fights broke out when a man danced with another man’s woman.  Today most milongas have tables designated for couples only in one section or the back row of tables.  It’s one way of designating one’s partner as “private property.”

Foreign couples often sit together at milongas and expect to dance with others.  They find themselves at a disadvantage in that case.  They sit among other couples.  Those who respect the code do not look their way because they are a couple.

Foreign couples who arrive at the same time and sit separately usually dance the first tanda together.  That is confirmation to the regulars that they are a couple.  There is nothing that goes unnoticed at a milonga.  All are watching who is dancing with whom, which tandas, and how many tandas.

Women, who don’t want the label of “private property” in the milonga, sit in the women’s section to dance with others, including their partners.  It’s easy to tell who is with whom by the number of tandas they dance — three or four is a dead giveaway — that is, if one is paying attention.