Getting More Dances

16th February 2009

"Ask the Experienced, not the learned." ~ Richard Dimitri
"I've never invented anything in my life. I'm just a reporter" ~ Marc MacYoung.

Introduction: A Mastra's technique

Tonight I met a Maestra. I recognised the techniques she used and although it's not something I intend using, I offer if for those wanting an edge in getting dances...

Timing is key. I'd just finished a tanda with a friend, escorted her back to her seat and was heading to another room.

  • Touch the person lightly on their arm and greet them liked you've danced together before and it was a wonderful experience. You're basically going to do a cabeceo in under a second. The precise ordering is eye contact - greet - touch; but pretty much as one continuous sequence.
  • Step forward, both towards the floor, in their way and into their space
  • Accept their invitation to dance (they're probably still acting on automatic pilot at this point)
  • Make sure to end the first and second dances in close embrace (ochos and pivots are the easiest times to accomplish this for a follower) and in such a way that the leader can't make eye contact. Stay put.
  • At the end of the third dance, separate slightly, but stay in his space and ask non-threatening questions that can't be answered with a yes or a no, such as "Where do you come from?". This makes him think, you just need to kill the time till the next song starts. Again stand in a position that blocks his natural exit to the side of the room. This is particularly effective if you stand at a slight angle the way some tango embraces are taught.
  • When the music re-starts, cock your head slightly with an "ah" and move to accept the embrace (if it isn't offered, putting your left hand on his arm will probably be enough).
  • Repeat at the end of the next song. Be aware that you have to get in your question before he says "Thanks".

For those of us less gifted, here are a few other techniques, hints and tips...

People Watching

Sometime at a milonga, get a nice drink, get comfy, sit back and watch.

The question to ask yourself is how do people do things "normally" at a milonga?

For example consider going to the bar to get a drink. In general people will either take the shortest or the safest way. They will focus on the bar, or if remotely aware / courteous the dancefloor so as not to interrupt the dancers. They may be rummaging in their pockets / handbags for change or be looking "vacant".

However it can be said pretty definitely they are not looking in the general direction of the seated women (both down and across)! So what if a man is walking towards the bar, but is also looking in the general direction of the women? Odds are he's trying to cabeceo.

This is the part that took me a while to get my head around. As normally described, the cabeceo is a slow process; you look in their general direction, make eye contact, nod, wander over. It takes a while. But there's another type of cabeceo and it happens very fast indeed. What gives you time to react to it is knowing how a person should be moving / where they should be looking - and recognising when they're not. So you're ready for that when the momentary window of opportunity presents itself.

The Soft Cabeceo

Using Peripheral Vision is an elegant solution to the cabeceo.

You don't have to stare at a person. You can soft focus gaze around them. If they're doing the same, it's a very natural transition for your eyes to meet. It's also really subtle, so they can move their gaze on without anyone else realising.

This gets around the huge problem of verbally asking a woman to dance and then having the choice of either asking the woman next to her, who now feels really special at being your second choice, or walking away entirely. Soft focus will let literally you cabeceo an entire room of women one at a time as you walk around it.

Walking around the room

For what normal reason would a person walk around a room? It makes no sense.

However there's an important element that lets you do it "innocently".

No-one's watching. Sure they might see you go past them, or down one wall and along another, but people simply don't stare at milongas. There's a natural field of vision you have sitting down. To go beyond it looks obvious and out of place.

So if you want to walk around the room, go for it. To be honest though, this shouldn't be necessary. The women are there to dance after all.

Field of vision

Actually if you combine slightly twisting your torso, with slightly twisting your head it surprising how much a field of vision you can have for meeting people's gazes. Be aware of where you sit. If you sit in the corner you have a much wider field of view.


Make it easy to get to the other person. If you're behind a table sandwiched between two people you're making your life harder.


Don't! Just kidding.

You can still use the soft focus trick just fine. But be aware that if you're talking to someone you've probably restricted your field of vision, unless you've given thought to your positioning, but don't let it box you in.

Most people are understandably jumpy about asking women to dance if they're chatting with another guy. It really is going to be a split second cabeceo with a secondary cover of "I'm just going to the bar" etc..

Leaving the dance floor

Back to people watching.

Someone who's tired will generally be focused first on getting past the dancers and off the floor and then looking downward to their seat / drink. Again it's generally the shortest possible route.

As a guy if you escort the woman back to her seat, you're now at the wall with the perfect excuse to head in any direction you want soft cabeceoing. The women don't know or care where you were sitting and anyway you might be heading somewhere else, maybe you've seen a friend, blah blah woof woof.

Likewise a woman not taking the most direct route and looking more at eye level than floor / table level is most likely looking for a cabeceo.

Half-way through a dance

There's really only one drawback to this. If the person's given up on getting a dance they may be more deeply into conversation. But that'll be obvious.

Half-way through a dance, the woman's realized she's not gonna be dancing to this one and so is actually easier / more amenable to being asked. Indeed this is the point at which some women will actually ask a guy to dance figuring they have nothing to lose at this point!

But what do you do after the end of 2.5 dances? Apparently the etiquette is to express a desire to dance again later on (whether you actually do or not is largely academic. It's not unusual for tow people who actually want to dance not to be able to get a dance because neither is free at the same time). Of course if you both want to carry on and dance more, who am I to stop you?

 - Christopher O'Shea, 16th February 2009

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