He looks at her. She looks at him. They catch each other’s eyes. They want to dance with each other, so they nod to each other. The agreement is done. He stands up, walks to her table. She stands up and they dance. *
That is cabeceo – an invitation done by eye contact. That is the way people do here in Buenos Aires, at least still in some traditional milongas that I know. It sounds rather easy and simple. But I think it’s not so easy (especially to those who has never done that before or to those who is lack of self-confident) and it’s quite complex. To have a cabeceo happened so easy and simple as I described above, most of the time the two dancers must already know each other or have danced together before. If one is new to the milonga/community, cabeceo is never that simple and easy, especially if he/she wants to dance with some popular milongueros or milongueras. By the way, there are always some easy-going dancers in the milonga – either they like dancing with newcomers, or they are not as good as other dancers so they would get whoever is available. With these dancers, cabeceo is rather simple, you look at them and if they catch your eyes, usually they would love to dance with you.
* Cabeceo is not only limited to man inviting woman to dance. Woman also invites man to dance. Woman can also nods to the man to ask for a dance. Both work and are completely acceptable.
The fact is, little things or tricks are done before a real cabeceo. These kind of tricks or tips are just means of communication. The purpose is to make a person looks at you so that you can carry out your invitation by cabeceo. The followings are few that I experienced or used myself, or I heard from other dancers.
A hello to the person that you want to dance with
To make a person alerts your existence in the milonga, nothing is better than making a first step by saying hello to that person. Usually people won’t specially go in front of a person to do so, they would do it when they pass by that person’s table, or after the tanda when they come across with the targeted person. It could be as simple as “hola! Como estas?” (Hello! How are you doing?) Or it could be a bit more aggressive “hola! Me llamo ___. Quiero bailar contigo.” (Hello! My name is ____. I would like to dance with you.) Or before you leave the milonga, go and say goodbye to that person. Usually the message is just to make that person notice you, so that you hope that he/she will look at you. The message should not be a mean to force the person to dance with you.
A smile or a blink
I do it and people do it to me very often, no matter we know each other or not. A smile or a blink can be sent at anytime. When you are dancing, you can send it when you pass in front of that person; or when you are sitting, that person passes in front of you. When both of you are on the dance floor, in between the songs, again, give that person a smile or a blink. And when you know the person and he/she is not far from you, a kiss or a hello. Anyway, this is something people do a lot here. It is a friendly gesture, and also a means to make your potential partner know that you are there.
Dance with the person next to that person
People gossip in the milonga, and it’s especially true when you’re dancing in a milonga where almost everybody knows each other. And milongueros/milongueras like to share information about other dancers, no matter they are good or bad. So another means to let a person knows about you is to dance with the people around him/her. And if you know who are his/her good friends in the milonga (usually they sit together), dance with his/her friends. By doing so you hope that the good things about you will reach him/her so that he/she will look at you afterwards. The effect can be very obvious, especially when people spread good words about you.
I know people doing that in the milonga but I’m a bit shy to do so. Mirada is to look at a person regularly and constantly (almost every tanda and with a focus on that person), just to make him/her understands that you want to dance with him/her. The way of looking shouldn’t be offensive or aggressive. You don’t have to worry that the person might not notice you. If someone “mirada” you, you might not feel it right away, but after a while, you would notice that pair of eyes keep looking at you all the time. So actually it’s very effective to draw people’s attention.
A “trial” cabeceo
It happens to me once in a while. A person would look at me regularly, I would look back to him, but then he would not have any further action. Only after several times of looking back and forth in an evening, then finally he would finally make a real invitation. I take it as a trial or a test – a way for the man to confirm whether the lady would really like to dance with him or not. However, it might not be the way I think. Maybe the man would expect me to initiate the cabeceo first, but since I didn’t take the move, so he has to look back to me again and again. Or it could be a pure misunderstanding from my side, maybe he was looking at the lady next to me. Mis-cabeceo happens very often in a milonga, I will write about it in my next post.