Tango Topics | Exploring Your Dance


You’re more than likely familiar with the idea of Cabeceo. You’ve heard the word and sort of understand that it’s a way of asking someone for a dance. It is the ideal and preferred method for a Lead to ask a Follower for a dance. There is also it’s kissin’ cousin, ‘Mirada’ which is the Follower’s method of indicating that they’re available for a dance. Note the distinction there. The Follower is indicating, not asking, for a dance. This entire practice is lumped under the heading of “Cabeceo”. However, there is another variation on this idea of Cabeceo that is almost never talked about and quite literally has come about via the Marathon and more directly the Encuentro scene of dancing in Europe.

A Little Back Story: Frequently what happens at Milongas around the world is there’s a queue up to the line of dance where couples will haphazardly insert themselves into the line of dance. What this does is disrupts the flow of the line of dance for the oncoming couples. An oncoming lead has to essentially ‘hit the breaks‘ as it were, and immediately readjust their vocabulary choices and what they’re doing to avoid a collision because a new couple has just entered the floor. This happens over and over and over until the queue has emptied from the dance entry portal (assuming one exists, which it frequently does not…tsk, tsk, tsk organizers) to the line of dance. As it happens the queue also disrupts the line of dance because the oncoming dancers have to wait until the queue finishes. Sometimes what occurs is the oncoming couples, just move around the newly inserted dancers thereby creating a further disruption and bottleneck.

Uuuuuugh! It’s messy, awful, and rude. There is another way to handle this.

What is a Lead Cabeceo ? This is where a Lead Cabeceos comes in. Now before you get all gender-bendy here, they’re not asking another Lead for a dance, they’re asking to enter into the line of dance!

Why Do This ? The simplest answer is to alleviate the bottleneck described above. Not to mention it also gives the oncoming Lead a ‘heads up’ as to what’s about to happen and also gives them a choice to either acknowledge the Lead entering the line and lane of dance or not acknowledge them! Both can and do happen for a variety of reasons.

Another reason why we want to do this is so that it keeps an orderly way of queuing up the couples and allows for the oncoming ronda to handle the all the transitions without disturbing the line and lane of dance of the ronda.

notions of tango

Where Is A Lead Cabeceo Encouraged ? Really, EVERYWHERE! This practice, and it is a practice, can be invoked at any milonga anywhere. Where it really shines is busy or really crowded Milongas, and Festivals where floorcraft and codigos are at a premium and in short supply. More than likely you’ll find this practice in three places where it is actively encouraged:

1.) El Corte! Because of the size of El Corte, it’s entry portal to its dance floor is very narrow. As that is the case while you could rush the floor, and this does happen, the organizers of El Corte (Commonly Pron: El Cohr-Tah) introduced the common Lead Cabeceo as a way to alleviate the bottle neck. As it happened this was a happy accident that sort of caught on with the rest of the Marathon and Encuentro universe.

2.) Thames Valley Tango events in the UK – Eastonathon, Sueños Milonga, Eton Milonga, and Junction 8 Milongas. These events are run by Charles Long and his wife (and baker extraordeniare) Sarah Stribley. While they’re not Nazis about the whole Lead Cabeceo thing, most if not all of their participants understand this unwritten nicety that they’d like to have happen at their Milongas. They teach this in their classes to their own students.

3.) An Encuentro. These types of events boasts refined Social Tango at it’s highest level without being snooty about it. The organizers reinforce this idea from the moment you walk in the door and during each milonga during the day. You see it on the floor, you are party to it with every Lead that does it, and you start to see that this is the normal way of entering the line of dance.

There is a 4th, 5th, and 6th, not place, but series of teachers that talk about this practice in their classes, weekend seminars, and actual dancing. Detlef Engel & Melina Sedó for one. The current progenitors of the practice and art of “Social Tango” (Please follow the links for these listings). Still another is Murat Erdemsel. And still one more is Miles Tangos (the author of this site). There are others but these people stand out for a variety of reasons. Most notably because they have either actively demonstrated this practice over a long period of time, and/or have actively advocated AND demonstrated it not just in classes, but on the dance floor as well. Or have written about it, talked about it, and/or video’d it (Murat, and Miles).

There are other teachers that have or do advocate this practice, there are milongas where this practice is strictly and rigidly enforced, there are also loads of dancers that have been doing this for years without anyone having told them to do it.

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The Tango Topics Opinion: Do it. Don’t do it. That’s entirely up to you. However, it’s a nicety that allows the line of dance to flow in a much more orderly fashion. It keeps the ronda moving in an orderly way. And that’s what we’re really talking about ‘order’. As much as we would like to believe that we don’t like being dictated to, or told what to do, sometimes….sometimes (and this is one of those times) it’s nice to have a bit of order, a bit of structure, or a procedure that creates an orderly experience that doesn’t feel like a free for all. And that’s what this simple practice does. It creates a series or chain of events that alleviates the bottle neck of a queue at the dance portal. By removing that bottleneck it also creates an almost egalitarian respect for each couple entering the dance floor. It also has the added benefit of making the dancers feel somewhat refined in their entrance but that’s a horse of a different color for a different time. YMMV.

The reality is that a good portion of you that are reading this will not read this far, will not get why this is important addition to the dance. Or you’ll only see it as a rule when in fact it’s to your benefit to make this happen at every milonga with every tanda. Once one person starts doing this the rest of the room will follow suit because they see the effect that it has on the line of dance. 

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