I thought I had my cabeceo under control until someone came to the bar of our milonga to tell me our relationship was over. It was remarkable, because we hardly knew each other. It was about some code I had broken, but don’t ask me which one: when discussing inviting codes in tango, I feel quite lost. Subtlety, or etiquette, were not really the thing when growing up in my family. I notice, that women’s eyes glisten whenever they talk about the intimate eye-to-eye communication, the little nod of consent, or, the polite turning away in rejection. Men frown: to many of them this cabeceo stuff is a skill at which they may potentially fail gloriously. I am one of them, I guess.
As a milonga organiser you are supposed to have an official position on inviting codes, but, I don’t. Clearly the tango community loves to discuss these mysterious, wireless communications preceding dances. Unfortunately, I am regularly struggling. My eyesight fails me in low light, I am focusing when I should be scanning, or the other way around. At encuentros, I am usually the last man sitting. After everybody magically hooks up with a dance-partner, I have to walk to the other side inconspicuously to see who else was scanning while she should be focusing, or the other way around.
Our milonga’s lack of an explicit policy gets us into trouble. Once, during an announcement, I asked rhetorically if ‘everybody was having a good time’. A stranger got up and said loudly “You are the most arrogant, cold lot I have ever seen in tango”, his arm making a wide sweeping gesture to include everyone present. It wasn’t our finest moment. After that incident, we, the cold crowd, did some internal investigating. Our followers and leaders mingle chaotically in our bar area. Many of them are old friends, so our codigos have watered down. As a result, everybody is primarily reconnecting with people they know, which, to outsiders may appear as excluding them. I started to advise newcomers to talk to as many people as possible, a method known as chateceo, disclosed to me by women, of course. The advantages are: self- expression, clarity and discretion. The disadvantages, well, the investment in time for talking, where you could be checking your iPhone.
I recently went to an ‘invitation only’ marathon. It felt as if, on arrival, someone had thrown Harry Potter’s Invisibility Cloak over my body. I was warmly greeted at the entrance, but many of the other ‘amigos’ were mostly looking for, and seeing everyone, except, you know, me. So, it’s my turn now, I thought, this is how it feels. Their gazes crossed mine without even a blink. They saw right through me. The lay-out of the dance floor encouraged dancers to congregate in one particular corner of the room, putting short people at a distinct disadvantage. I went straight to the large, brightly-lit dining room. After a while, I was joined by another fugitive. ‘I bet you know a lot of people here’, I chatted. ‘I’m afraid I’ve been away a long time’, she chatted back. Attagirl… it’s chataceo time.