A Modern Jive Cabeceo

7th April 2009

(Part of the Tango Fusion collection of articles.)

"As we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns -- the ones we don't know we don't know." - Donald Rumsfeld


Following a discussion with Little Jon, I went to a MJ venue that I haven't been to before. The questions were "how do I actually get dances" and "is the cabeceo applicable?". Hopefully by considering this I (and you) might be able to get an insight into how to get the cabeceo to work in a tango venue.

The long version

I turned up after the classes for the freestyle with a female friend. We were greeted at the door by the only two women we actually knew. Then we wandered down to the other end of the hall (the only remaining free space for bags). We changed into dancing shoes and had a look at the people dancing; what was the floorcraft like? Was it all bouncy-bouncy etc? Then had a look at the people around the edges. In this venue there's actually only two edges. The bar and the stage fill the other two and you're not supposed to loiter by the bar (there's a sign and everything!).

We wandered back down to the stage to grab the two ladies and in doing so I avoided making any real eye contact with the women I passed, made it obvious I was going to dance with my friend, but also paid attention using soft focus as to how much potential cabeceoing was going on. Having gotten near the stage our two friends had decided to dance with each other. I'm always willing to watch two women dance, so we watched for a bit and then started dancing ourselves.

We were dancing fairly near them, so when the dance finished we were able to pounce on them for the next dance (hey they are friends). One of them decided to lead "double trouble" instead, so I was given my friend's jumper and the pleasure of watching three women dance together. I then wandered back to our bags and left our jumpers there. That gave me time to consider the angles. I'd come around the back of one table. By going around the other side I'd attract the attention of a woman who was visibly leaning forward towards the dance-floor. So I did that and that was my second dance.

When that dance finished I was maybe 10 feet from the edge of the dancefloor with various women walking past me back to their seats. By watching who was looking down / towards their seats and who was looking up and around I was able to walk into the line of sight of a woman's caebeceo.

After that I wanted to start heading towards my friends again, so I drifted along the edge, but still technically on the dancefloor as people were still getting on and off it. This made for an easier angle to cabeceo the next lady and also made it clearer that I still wanted to dance. There's definitely a short window for this, though I suspect cortinas would make it much easier.

Repeated the same strategy with another woman

Then I headed back down to have another dance with the lady I came with, who was leaning against a table facing my direction slightly so it was a simple matter of a walking into her personal space and smiling. Chatted for a bit, then danced.

At the end of the dance we noticed our two friends were going to dance together. We then decided to steal the other two women we knew back and forth.

Then I had a dance with one of the women I'd just been stealing.

Retreated back to my seat to have a drink.

I saw the woman I had the third dance with standing by the edge, cut the corner of the dancefloor (no-one in it) it walk towards her, giving her time to see me and turn to accept my cabeceo.

After that I wanted to start heading towards my friends again, so I drifted along the edge, but again still on the dancefloor as people were still getting on and off it. Saw a lady sitting down who looked like she'd been sitting down all night and didn't expect things to change, but really would quite like a go at this dancing lark. I did have to verbally ask her to dance though and then confirm that yes I wanted to dance and that yes her being a beginner was fine.

After that I continued heading back down to have another dance with my friend and was soft cabecoed by a lady who was also not quite of the dance floor, which I happily accepted.

Finished by the edge. As I turned around to consider my position, I was immediately cabeceoed by a lady walking directly towards me.

For the last three dances I'd been near the stage. There were a couple of taxis I wanted to dance with so as I finished the last three dances I was aware of their relative lines of sight / body language. As I finished this dance one of them was thanking a guy with a look of "please don't ask me to dance again or for my phone no". It was remarkably easy to cabeceo her to provide her with an escape route.

After that dance as I walked her back to the edge I was able to meet the other taxi's gaze with a cabeceo

After her I danced with the woman I came with again.

After her I wanted to dance with one of my friends but she had her back to me and so I gave up on the whole cabeceo thing and gently nudged her in the ribs from behind instead.

Back down the other end of the hall for a rest for two dances and a drink

Again repeated the strategy of heading back towards my friends but cabeceoing the woman I had the third dance with

Followed by heading down a bit further and cabeceoing the woman I had the 4th dance with

At this point I was now near enough to the stage to cabeceo the first taxi again as she finished a dance

Finished by having the Last dance with one of my friends (long-standing tradition, though again by cabeceo)

The short version

  • 1st dance - get me onto the floor was with the person I came with.
  • 2nd dance - cabeceo from close range, off the floor.
  • 3rd dance - cabeceo from dancefloor.
  • 4th dance - cabeceo from edge of dancefloor.
  • 5th dance - cabeceo from edge of dancefloor.
  • 6th dance - with the person I came with
  • 7th dance - started by continuing with the person I was dancing with
  • 8th dance - with the person I'd stolen in the previous dance
  • 9th dance - cabeceo from edge of dancefloor
  • 10th dance - cabeceo from edge of dancefloor.
  • 11th dance - cabeceo from edge of dancefloor.
  • 12th dance - I was cabeceoed.
  • 13th cabeceo - from edge of dancefloor.
  • 14th dance - cabeceo from edge of dancefloor.
  • 15th dance - with the person I came with
  • 16th dance - nudging
  • 17th dance - cabeceo from edge of dancefloor
  • 18th dance - cabeceo from edge of dancefloor
  • 19th - cabeceo on dance floor
  • Last dance - cabeceo with a friend who was expecting the last dance.

Lessons learned

So what does this tell me? Well for a start one thing that makes cabeceoing easier in MJ is simply because the woman are more likely to be standing up if they want to dance.

Also I'm using a variety of strategies, so it's probably best to think of "Cabeceo" as encompassing a multitude of techniques, rather than a single method.

Having people there that I knew certainly helped. Also by having them at one end and my drink at the other, I had a perfectly good reason to walk the length of the hall twice (which I didn't actually need to do in the end) and it stopped me coming straight off the dance for a drink, instead causing me to cabeceo more.

The music was very good. I enjoyed dancing to it and was less wary about listening to a tune before asking someone to dance to it.

Walking on the actual dance floor and slanting towards the women around the edge definitely works well. Though obviously it wasn't a crowded venue and this was at the beginning / end of songs.

You can definitely get "repeat business" in MJ (provided she enjoys it) which makes cabecoing easier as you've gotten rid of (or at least significantly reduced) the risk of her having a bad dance with you.

The Swimming pool effect is also more evident at MJ venues. There's a "deep end", usually by the stage / DJ where the more experienced dancers hang out. There's a shallow end, usually at the opposite end of the hall. And a "middle bit" for everyone else. This effect is definitely more subtle at tango venues, if it exists at all. Possibly because there isn't usually a "stage". More experienced dancers were more aware of the concept of making eyes contact with specific people. Beginners were torn between making eye contact with anyone and making eye contact with no-one.

The quest continues...

 - Christopher O'Shea, 2009

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