Tag Archives: Cabeceo

How We Teach & Promote Argentine Tango

... Tango Awareness, that is.

1. We play only traditional Argentine Tango music AND we only dance to this music.

2. We teach our students to dance counter-clockwise, in one lane, and to not pass other couples (unless absolutely necessary – and NEVER on the right side of a couple) AND we dance with these proper floor skills.

3. We teach our students to keep their feet on the ground as much as possible AND we keep our feet on the ground as much as possible.

4. We do not teach ganchos or other unnecessary movements AND we don’t dance with these kinds of movements.

5. We teach social and improvised Tango that is conducive to dancing on a milonga floor AND we dance a social and improvised Tango.

6. We teach the “cabeceo” (reminding our students that it is done from your seat and not at the corner of the woman’s table) AND we actually use it.

7. As teachers, when we go to Buenos Aires, we go as students ready to learn more. We take classes, we learn more about the music, we dance socially, and we live Tango.

8. We teach our students about the music and the importance of it. We tell them which orchestra/singer/era will be playing during the class. We even remind our students that they should not embrace until the song has begun in order to develop a feeling for what is being played.

9. We teach our students that a “cortina” is a small piece of non-Tango music used to CLEAR the floor between “tandas” and no one should dance to the “cortina” or remain on the floor during this time.

10. We tell our students to go out dancing, to dance with various partners… but we also let our students know that they are allowed to decline dances for whatever reason.

*Although we teach and promote these concepts (and more) with the hope that we’re positively influencing our students, we are often reminded that people will eventually make their own choices – for better or for worse.

Tango Victims: Charity Dances, Pity Dances, and Being “Nice” Dances

*I vant to suck your Tango blood!

We overheard two women over the span of five minutes ask a young tanguero to dance with them later in the night.  We know this tanguero and his inability to say no; the same inability that still creeps up on Jorge sometimes.  Heck, K has even been caught off guard lately.  Women abuse this knowledge and are often asking said tanguero for dances.  Although we’ve written about the lack of a consistently used “cabeceo” in our community and how we believe that women and men have equal rights to ask for dances, there’s something that people should understand about Tango: Tango and Tango dancers are to be respected.

This is what we overheard: “I was his partner in the class so he should be nice and dance with me in the milonga.”  This is not so different from the common rumblings of how tango teachers should dance with their students in a milonga.  Or how friends should dance with friends.  Or how better dancers should be “generous” with their dances and dance with beginners.  These types of statements are very frustrating.  To begin with, most people go to a milonga to have a good time, enjoy dancing, and get away from the “real world”.  Then why are people being expected to do something that may include not having a good time or enjoying their dance?  Practicas can be used for this. That said, Toronto has, in the past, been virtually void of any real practicas.  Either everyone has already “perfected” their Tango or they think practicing means dancing a whole song or tanda without stopping, without giving feedback, and in general, without improving one’s dance.

What gets to us more than this is the complete disregard for what Tango is and what it means to dance Tango with someone you don’t want to.  Tango is an extremely intimate dance.  You are putting your chests together, wrapping your arms around one another, touching heads/faces and sharing approximately 12 minutes of your life this way.  Forget Tango for a second and ask yourself how you would like it if a stranger came up to you and asked/demanded a 12 minute hug from you (simply because you had a chat with them at the corner store)?

If you want to dance with a visiting/local teacher, take privates with them.  When your dancing is enjoyable for the both of you, the teacher will ask you to dance or let you know they would like to dance with you in a milonga.  Teachers are people too and they dance Tango because they love it (or at least we do).   No one should have to sacrifice their love of the dance to dance with students, potential students, friends, or just to be “nice”?

As in all facets of life, there are exceptions,  but these should not be expectations.  In order to avoid making any assumptions, please use the cabeceo.  Use it from your seat.  Don’t come and stand around the person you want to dance with in a stalker-like fashion.  This, by definition, turns the potential dance partner into a Tango victim.

Mopping The Floor

We assume in all communities there exists certain men who are known to approach almost all women for a dance.  They will not even attempt to pick up on any non-verbal cues including a shake of the head in the negative.  In fact, they will even ignore verbal cues such as “not now”, “I’m tired”, and “maybe later”.  At times, these men will practically drag the women onto the dance floor.  All of this should make it perfectly clear to these women what kind of dancing will ensue.   These men proceed to mop the floor clean with their partner for the duration of the tanda.  It is embarrassing and torturous, and some women quickly learn from this experience and will never again say yes to these men.  Others can’t find it in themselves to say no and allow themselves to be tortured over and over again (because “mopping men” tend to be Leading Cheaters).

You never have to dance with a man you do not want to.  Please don’t believe otherwise. Use the cabeceo, but if you don’t, remember that this does not negate the fact that women can make choices.  We live in a country that tries to provide women with equal rights.  Women should grab this equal right by the horns and JUST SAY NO.  Stop dancing with the “mopping men” because they do not respect you or your Tango.

Wham Bam Thank You Ma’am!

Regardless of the city and customs, it is safe to say that in every Tango community, the man appears in front of the woman for a dance.  Whether it be by cabeceo – where the woman waits at her seat until the man arrives in front of her in order to avoid any mistaken acceptances – or by direct verbal invitation at the woman’s seat, the man has made the trek to the woman’s location.  How nice and brave of him to have done so!

Fred Astaire the gentleman

What ensues may or may not be a delightful dance.  Perhaps both of you cannot wait for the songs to be over.  On the other hand, you may be experiencing a wonderful embrace while moving delightfully to the music.  The last song of the tanda will end, you will thank each other, and then the leader will leave the follower high and dry on the dance floor to find her own way back to her seat.  What?!

How has the simple tradition of  walking a woman back to her seat after a dance – which exists in many countries around the world – not made its way into North American Tango culture?  Although we assume it did exist in the past with other dances, it no longer exists in our ultra modern society (sarcasm).  Being from Finland, Jorge has never known to do any differently until we began Tango in Canada.  Besides observing how men leave their partner from any place on the dance floor, Jorge has actually had difficulty bringing women back to their seats.  Some women are so used to the complete lack of gentlemanly courtesy that they are virtually running off the dance floor after the tanda, leaving Jorge to follow in their wake.  The expression “Wham bam thank you ma’am” feels very appropriate here.

Men, after sharing your body, mind, and spirit with your Tango partner, have the decency to walk women back to their seats.  If you haven’t already been practicing this concept or it doesn’t exist in your community, now is the time to start!

Women, after sharing your body, mind, and spirit with your Tango partner, have the decency to allow men to walk you back to your seats.

Old School… “May I Have This Dance?”

After spending 8 months in Buenos Aires and experiencing the intelligently invented “cabeceo“, returning to Toronto’s way of requesting dances was quite difficult… to say the least.  One lovely milonga here in TO is encouraging it’s attendees to use the “cabeceo”.  We’re keeping our fingers crossed that our community will “accept this dance” and be transformed.

Without the “cabeceo”, the somewhat accepted norm is that men ask women to dance.  Not surprisingly, as a feminist, K never hesitated to ask men to dance in the past (this was before the term “cabeceo” had entered the vocabulary of the Toronto Tango community).  We are not in the 1950′s.  These are modern times and IF a community does not want to fully incorporate all the codes and traditions of Argentine Tango, then we do believe that both men and women should be asking for dances.  That said, men have a harder job in the dance (with leading and floorcraft).  For that reason, we are tempted to say women shouldn’t ask men to dance.  Either way, women and men must both learn how to say “no” AND how to be ready for and accept rejection.

We both have difficulties saying no.  The ability to say “no” truly says a lot about one’s personality.  K needs to mentally prepare herself to do so.  After surveying the dance floor and its dancers, and making personal I-will-NOT-dance-with-him notes in her head, she is more prepared to say no if any of those men approach her.  K is the list-maker… the organizer.

Meanwhile Jorge keeps repeating to himself and to K that he will NOT dance with such-and-such a dancer, but when that dancer comes and asks him, “yes” is out of his mouth with barely a hesitation.  Jorge is a people-pleaser (something he hates about himself) and has difficulties dealing with conflict.

What an absolutely ridiculous situation to deal with when the “cabeceo” exists.  However there have been comments in our community that the “cabeceo” is archaic.  Sorry… what?!  Archaic is the idea that women are supposed to sit in a milonga looking pretty while they wait for a man to come and ask them to dance!  That or they can stalk men, corner them, and practically force them into a dance (unfortunately, that tends to be the extreme that women who do the asking choose).

The point is, IF individuals or communities do not want to use the “cabeceo”, and women and men are asking one another for dances, remember this one simple rule: Never NEVER stalk your potential dance partner.  Both of us have been the victim of this.  K’s stalker sat only a few seats away and attempted to “cabeceo” her.  Instead of understanding that she did not want to dance with him when she ignored him, the stalker continued to sit and stare through 2 tandas and only stopped for the third tanda when she got up to dance with Jorge.  However, upon her return, stalker decided that since the “cabeceo” didn’t work (that girl must be stupid or blind!?), he would just go straight up to K and ask for a dance!?  K politely declined, but was left to wonder if it was the stalker that was stupid or blind.

Jorge dealt with a similar situation when a female dancer, rather than coming directly up to him to ask for a dance, sat down a couple chairs away (twice) to “cabeceo” him.  Obviously there is a huge misunderstanding of how the “cabeceo” is used if the situation is still causing discomfort and awkwardness for one or both parties.

This may be Toronto, but we are dancing Argentine Tango.  There is enough difficulty in our Tango community embracing our partners and so the least we could do is embrace the culture of Tango.

Tango in Buenos Aires (Part II)


We have only been to 4 different milongas so far… and they have been quite the rollercoaster ride.  The first milonga was OK although it was full of mostly tourists.  We sat together, observed mostly, and danced together a bit.  We were surprised that men were trying to cabeceo K. even though we were sitting together.  There wasn’t anyone worth dancing with (especially since we didn’t come all the way to Buenos Aires to dance with a bunch of tourists), however, at the end of the night, a young Argentinean man was doing all he could to get K’s attention for a dance.  K accepted his dance and enjoyed his embrace – the embrace that cannot be found in Toronto (more on this later).

Our second visited milonga was amazing.  We were the youngest there by oh… 20-30 years. We sat together again so we could observe and chat about what we saw.  At this milonga, it mattered that we sat together and we were not asked to dance by anyone.  We danced together a couple times and although crowded, it wasn’t completely crazy. Jorge’s navigation/dancing was really good. We were given positive feedback and told at the end of the night that our dancing is “muy elegante”.  It was fascinating to see every old man there being able to dance Tango AND with musicality.

One of the most lovely dancers there sat right in front of us.  We were watching him dance with smiles on our faces and when he noticed this, he started showing off!  He had the moves! And he knew the songs inside out. He was winking at us and started chatting with us… He informed us that he’s been dancing since he was 18 and that he’s 88 now!?!? He danced like he was the youngest guy there – with his hearing aid and all!

We were scared shitless dancing there :) but we ended up being quite well received.  Jorge’s floor navigation was good… now he would like to learn the very rounded way they dance here socially on a crowded floor… so much to learn!!!

Our third visited milonga was a nightmare.  We went to the guided practica beforehand.  The teacher/organizer is such a sweetheart and she was teaching us all these old-school moves (not that we wanted to learn moves, but it was cool).  What a sight –leading K when she only reached K’s bellybutton ;)  But the milonga that followed… eek.  Choose one of your city’s worst milongas and this was it.  There was one lovely couple dancing (only together) and that was it.  K danced with one man who had nice musicality… otherwise… eek!  The men led roughly with too much right arm.  Many of them didn’t even follow any of the “codes”.  No cabeceo from some of the men – although they were reminded by the organizer during a little announcement to do so.  Most didn’t follow the line of dance and there weren’t that many people, although apparently that was one of their busier nights.

We re-visited milonga number two to restore our faith in beautiful tango.  People were happy to see us there again – which was really nice. We chose to sit apart this time and even though everyone knew we were together, we had given the sign that we were willing to dance with others. The staff there is incredible and the young man who seats people is awesome.  He was kindly offering us advice throughout the night and this was very much appreciated. He gave K. a front row seat which she was shocked by (even though he had seen us dance last time… it was odd). He sat Jorge more in the back though.  There’s less space for the men and all the men seem to be really good regulars. However, a man that wasn’t there last time told Jorge to come and sit with him at his table! He kept quizzing Jorge on the orchestras playing and was surprised over and over again when Jorge would answer correctly :)

K. danced with 5 men that night (not counting Jorge).  It is definitely difficult to find men who are not a foot shorter than her with heels on. Let’s get to the truth of the matter. Many of these men CAN dance and DO have really good musicality… but the majority of them feel like crap (sometimes even crappier then the men back home!?). They know the dance, they know the music… but they don’t have the embrace or the feeling. Just like in Toronto, they are used to leading unleadable women – women who don’t wait and have to be forced into their steps. Jorge danced with 4 different women – he could have had more dances but was too scared ;) Of the women he danced with, two were foreigners and 2 were portenas. All of them were better than dancers found back home (with about 4 exceptions in Toronto). Jorge had to really lead them/contain them all though.

We were both given lots of compliments from everyone – muy lindo/a, you really can dance, etc! It was so nice to hear and made us feel more confident. Yes, we do need positive reinforcement and we do know we have so much to learn here.  The mother of all dances happened at this milonga and will be spoken about in “The Elusive Embrace.”

After dancing with “The Elusive Embrace”, a man showed up in front of K as though he had been cabeceoed… which he hadn’t. Actually, it was virtually impossible that K. had even suggested it by mistake because she was looking at a man at the tables on the other side of the room. Of course K. got up and pretended she had asked him for a dance and luckily it was pretty good… but it was no Elusive Embrace :)

The fourth visited milonga was good in a very different way.  We trekked it out all the way across town.  It took us an eternity to figure out which bus would get us there and back. There are many different private bus companies and the way to figure out the buses is by looking at a gridded map and corresponding the bus number in the grid you are starting from with the bus number in the grid you want to go to. You find out which bus shows up in both grids and then look up that bus number at the back of the bus guide. There, you are told which streets the bus travels down. It’s quite the hellish process – especially when you don’t know the names of the streets and where they’re located on a map!?

Anyway, we made it to the milonga and decided to sit apart. We were given tables that were beside each other though. What we quickly realized was that everyone arrives there as couples or big groups. There are no single tables… So after quite a while apart (and feeling a little embarrassed by the whole ordeal) we moved together :)

There was no dancing with other people for us at this milonga and in general, people are dancing with the person they showed up with or with their friends at that table. There were many tourists which is surprising since they’re saying that tango tourism is really down. There was a group of women with their very obvious taxi dancers – blah!

To describe the dancing at this milonga: it is completely different.  Once you look past all the stupid tourists (yes, including us), you see how the dancing there does have a completely different embrace – more of a “V” and definitely a more flexible embrace. The steps are more intricate and not as predictable as what we saw at the last milonga.  There is a very specific style of dancing that happens there.

More to come in Part III.

Read more about our experiences in our previous posts Tango in Buenos Aires (Part I).