Probably the most frequently disputed topic on the tango web is the cabeceo. On Google, you’ll find over 60,000 search results on the subject. On Facebook, this cartoon will make its rounds ever few months: tango-spain-tr-cabeceo

Photo Credit: Véronique Paquette

After living in Buenos Aires for the past 8 months, and attending local milongas weekly, I have learned a few tips from milongueras about how to excel at the cabeceo.

5 Tips For Followers to Improve the Cabeceo

  1. Stop stressing so much about the cabeceo. Milongas are a time for friends to get together and socialize, so make that your priority. If you’re new at a milonga, take the time to meet people. Introduce yourself to the organizer and share that you’re from out of town. She or he may introduce you to some of the locals. For the most part, friends dance with friends at the local milongas.
  2. If you’re sitting at a table perched like a squirrel about to cross a busy highway, good leaders may interpret this cabeceo as too desperate. The best followers appear relaxed, confident, and graceful. The same logic applies to leaders. If you’re feeling stressed and anxious, sit and relax with a glass of wine and watch the pista. After a while, you may strike up some conversations at your table.
  3. If you’re at a table of followers, and you are ready to start dancing, use the cortinas as the time to mirada leaders that you’re interested in. You’re letting them know where you’re sitting for the night. If they want to dance with you later, they will look for you. If they never cabeceo you, don’t stress about it. There could be a 100 different reasons for why certain dances never take place. I was once rejected by one popular dancer at a festival. Later, he volunteered some information about why he avoided my glance. At that moment, he simply needed to wash his hands. It had nothing to do with me.
  4. Make it clear to leaders that you want to dance. Don’t be texting on your phone, fixing your shoes, changing your clothes, socializing with a friend, facing your back to the wall of leaders, eating a meal, or timidly averting a mirada by a dancer you admire. Coincidently, doing any of the aforementioned actions means that a follower DOES NOT WANT to dance right then and there. Leaders, if you observe any of those behaviors, that means the cabeceo WORKS just fine. The follower is simply letting you know that they don’t feel like dancing, and if the follower chooses to sit out the entire night, that’s the follower’s choice. It’s their bodies and they can choose to dance, socialize, or watch the pista. The same rule applies to leaders.
  5. Wait! If you’re at a crowded milonga, wait for the leader to come to your table or spot and extend their hand. Maintain eye contact the whole time so that the both of you know that you have chosen each other. If the leader does not walk to your table or spot, and a follower has stood up and walked to the leader to snag this leader, then you have probably spared yourself a bad tanda.

If you are still struggling to cabeceo, ask a close friend for honest feedback. I witness dozens of women struggle to cabeceo correctly. For instance, I’ve seen women sitting in the dark corners of the milonga, arms crossed, and a slight scowl on their faces. Leaders will hesitate to invite you if they can’t see you or if you appear disappointed or unpleasant. A milonga is a communion of connection, passion, play, and joy, so we must express these elements on and off the dance floor. Leaders should also ask for feedback from close friends about their cabeceo skills. If particular leaders have the reputation for tango stalking or creeping out followers, seasoned leaders may want to offer some friendly advice to these leaders, who may feel embarrassed or attacked hearing that same advice from followers. Also, tango teachers should spend some class time talking about the codigos de tango and allocate class time for dancers to practice the cabeceo.


2 thoughts on “How Followers Cabeceo at the Local Milongas in Buenos Aires

  1. What about a new starting leader who is cabeceoded by a good follower ….” sorry you are going to spend. An awful tanda” because you will have to guide my confidence.?

    1. We mustn’t assign judgment to a tanda when we have chosen to accept an invitation. For 12 minutes, we are going to listen to each other listening to the music. That’s our focus. A parent will listen to their child differently than the way they listen to their boss or priest but it doesn’t mean they care less for these people or that the dialogue is less valuable or profound. It’s just different. When I play with my niece I know she doesn’t have the motor skills to protect my eyes or joints. She doesn’t want to hurt me but she can’t help herself yet. When I dance with beginner leaders I have to protect my back and ribs as leaders will often tense up in these areas but playing with my niece can be quite fun as so can dancing with a beginner leader. Some dancers aren’t advanced enough to protect their bodies or don’t want to worry about getting hurt so they don’t bother and reject the cabeceo. So don’t take it personally when advanced followers don’t want to dance with you. In term you’ll build confidence in your body and all dancers will see the results of your hard work with time.

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