A few days ago I came across an article about the social etiquette in Argentine tango. I have never been a part of the tango community, so a lot of what I read was new to me and I found it to be so romantic, also dignified and respectful. Our dance communities seem to have many things in common, but there were a few habits I started wishing that our KBS* or zouk scene practiced as well.
1. The Cabeceo – Invitation to Dance Through Eye Contact
In tango, the invitations traditionally happen without words. A leader makes eye contact with you and does a small gesture – nodding, smiling or raising eyebrows, as an invitation to dance. This usually happens from a distance, even from across the room. You accept the invitation by keeping the eye contact, smiling and/or nodding in return. He then comes to fetch you from wherever you are sitting or standing.
If you don’t want to dance, you simply break the eye contact and spare him from the embarrassment of a verbal “no” and a walk of shame back to where he was. When you don’t want to dance at all, you avoid making eye contact with leaders – you simply watch other people dance or have a conversation with someone instead.
I love this kind of respect for subtle communication through eyes. This form of invitation is called cabeceo and accepting it means you accept to follow. Which leads me to the next point.
2. Leaders Invite Followers
Times are changing for some tango scenes as well, but I like how it’s traditionally leaders who invite followers – I’ve honestly never been comfortable asking guys to dance! The author of the article states a very good reason for why it’s better that way:
“The leader’s job is to create art. S/he needs to feel moved by the music, the follower, and the moment in order to do this. Otherwise it’s like commissioned artwork, which sours the experience of creativity and generally produces lesser work. When a follower asks a leader to dance they are commissioning work, and it’s not going to have the inspiration that the dance will have if it comes from the leader’s own vision and desire!”
I have definitely felt the lack of inspiration that was mentioned here, which is why I have stopped inviting leaders myself. However this does not mean that followers have to just sit around and wait. They still have the power of using their eye contact and smile to let a leader know that they’re open to an invitation. This is called a mirada.
3. Never Interrupt People While They Are Dancing
I wholeheartedly agree that your dance partner deserves your undivided attention. The article says it’s not even okay to say “goodbye” to your friends who are leaving the party while you’re dancing with someone – “a quick nod is the maximum”. I love how much respect it shows towards your partner.
In contrast, something I’ve experienced a few times is when I am dancing with someone and their friend passes by to say “hi” or “goodbye” – my partner then turns their head and exchanges a few sentences with them, leaving me waiting. I think it’s rude and I usually feel the urge to just dump them in the middle of the dance floor and leave.
4. It’s OK to Not Accept All Invitations
You have 100% power over whom you let physically touch you and when. This is a basic human right that we all have, no matter what style we dance or if we dance at all. Other people may make a request and you have the right to say “yes”, “no”, or negotiate (in dance it would look like “Can we dance later? I’m tired at the moment”). Tango community seems to execute this right more often, making declining invitations to dance as a normal thing, whereas in most other dance scenes you’re expected to “be nice” to everyone and accept 99,9% of invitations.
It doesn’t make much sense because kizomba, bachata or zouk can be danced very close, and it’s understandable that you don’t feel comfortable dancing like this with everybody. Especially if they’re leading you forcefully and pushing-pulling you. Using eye contact and nods, like I mentioned in the first point, would make declining invitations less painful for both parts but still respecting everyone’s right to choose who they would like to dance with.
5. The Last Dance of The Evening Belongs To Your Significant Other
How sweet is that?! This custom seems to be strongly supported in the tango community – if you accidentally haven’t realised it’s the last tanda (a set of 3–5 songs from the same orchestra) of the night and already started dancing with someone, you are encouraged to leave your partner and find your boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse for the last dances.
“There is no embarrassment in being left in this way because it is a ritual which everyone supports. The cumparsita is sacred for a reason: You don’t just come back to each other. You let go of others. You choose each other in the very face of temptation. You bring yourself back to your chosen relationship, away from spontaneous fantasies of flirtation. [..] You don’t just go home together. First you give each other the best of what you have been giving to other people.”
To be fair, there are people in our dance scene who already do all of these aforementioned things. For instance, it’s still more common for leaders to invite followers to dance. I encourage you to keep the courtesy alive! And for newcomers I hope that you adopt these lovely habits. I tend to be more traditional when it comes to manners and the feminine/masculine roles, so this is probably why these social etiquette rules in Argentine tango resonate with me. It’s totally OK if you don’t agree, in fact I’d love to hear why you think so! Leave a comment about your thoughts below and see you in my next blog post : )