The look & nod.
Mirada & Cabeceo
Time and time again, I and other ‘traditionalists’ have observed ‘Mirada & Cabeceo’ being used poorly.
I totally understand that the practice of this method of invitation can be tricky for some, and a totally alien concept for others. But I will stand by my belief that it’s the best method of invitation.
Having had conversations with many about Mirada and Cabeceo, it is apparent that there is a common myth that this is an unequal form of asking for a dance, but it is because dancers who believe this, don’t understand how to do it properly.
How to Mirada & Cabeceo.
(Ideally start off with an open mind, and open eyes)
It is very common in traditional milongas when a solo dancer arrives at the milonga, they will be given or will find a seat. They might greet people they know en route to that seat. Once seated and having put their dance shoes on, they will maybe get a drink, chat to the people next to them, and most importantly, watch the floor, observe who is dancing or sitting.
They may let 2 or 3 tandas go before getting up to dance, all the while still observing the floor, making decisions about who they might be interested in dancing with.
Then when they feel ready to dance, they will be looking around the room during the intervening cortina seeing who is sitting where (and in a perfect world, no one will be obstructing their eye line).
They will listen to the first couple of bars of the next tanda and will *mirada the dancer who they would like to dance with.
*How to mirada
The art of mirada is looking directly at the person you would like to dance with. There is an element of hedging your bets, so as your gaze sweeps across the line of dancers, you will allow your eyes to settle on the eyes of the one you want to dance with. They will be doing the same thing, if your settled eye contact is met with the same eye contact with your preferred dancer, only then does the leader cabeceo (nod). Then the follower will either consent, with a nod or smile, or will let their gaze continue onto another dancer. If you get no eye contact, you might send your gaze to the next person you considered dancing the tanda with.
The misconception is that a follower does not have a choice when a leader nods at them.
This is not true, her mirada should hold all the power she needs to make her own choices.
If she wants to dance with someone, she will look at them, if she doesn’t want to dance with them, she will look away. And leaders need to recognise, that nodding at followers does not mean that the follower has to dance with them. The leader has to wait for the agreed nod/smile/eye raise back.
There are one or two other things to point out here.
1. When a follower should look at a leader, that does not mean that she sets her laser sights on him (sometimes without blinking), she has to realise that if he doesn’t give her eye contact, then it’s because he’s chosen not to dance with her at this point.
2. When a leader gets the approval from the follower after he has nodded, he gets up and makes his way around the room, keeping eye contact with her as much as is possible, until he is standing in front of her, and then he offers her his hand to ask her to dance.
In return, the follower sits in her position, trying to keep eye contact with that leader until he is standing in front of her, only then will she stand, when she is sure that it is she who was invited.
3. If a dancer does not meet your eyes, and cabeceo you, or assent to your cabeceo, that doesn’t mean no for ever, it means no for this particular dance.
4. If a leader does not use the cabeceo properly, and approaches a follower who has not agreed with her nod or smile. The follower is completely free and within her right to politely refuse that leader.
If a follower goes up to a leader and asks him to dance, that leader is completely free and within his right to politely refuse that follower.
5. If a leader or follower comes up to another dancer and says “I’ve been trying to cabeceo you all night, it’s not working” – the best reply is, “It’s been working for me!”
Or “I’ve been cabeceo-ing you, you didn’t look, don’t you understand how to cabeceo?”
I can categorically say that, in either of these instances, the leader or follower in question does not understand how to mirada & cabeceo, and the person being asked can politely decline the invitee, and not feel bad about it.
I think because South American culture has a reputation for being, ‘how shall we say’ – a little misogynistic, many in Western Europe think that the mirada and cabeceo fits neatly into this, so some misguidedly take against this method of invitation on principle, and others use it badly because they think all the power is held by the leaders.
Latin American Machismo is not quite the same as western misogyny, and what we don’t always see from a Western European perspective, is that Latin American women, are on the whole, incredibly strong individuals who take absolutely no nonsense from anybody, including the preening tangueros who appear to hold all the cards, and the concept that they have no power or choice when it comes to who they dance with, is an anathema.
Mirada & Cabeceo is essentially a ‘face saving’ method of invitation, as it allows acceptance and declination of a dance, without anyone else seeing. The refusal is only seen by the invitee, and it avoids the embarrassment of a verbal refusal in front of others.
It might be hard to start with, but do try using this method, because when it works, it's like magic, and it is part and parcel of the whole social tango experience.