The power of the mirada

Translated, using tango terminology the same sentence is:

“The mirada is more powerful than the cabeceo.”

Somehow a lot of tango dancers seem to think that the cabeceo (the nod of the head) is what the man does and the woman, the mirada (the look). I never understood the concept of these two terms having anything to do with one’s gender. I don’t want to be left out. I want to use the magical power of the the mirada too!
“Magical power?”
You think I am kidding, right? Pediatric developmental research has long indicated the importance of a lot of eye contact with children in order for them to develop normally. Very negative things happen in our development when our caretakers give us little or no eye contact. More recently, the New York Times reported on the new “flurry” of research on eye contact. The latest new study was from Cornell University in the journal Environment and Behavior.

“Researchers . . . manipulated the gaze of the cartoon rabbit on Trix cereal boxes and found that adult subjects were more likely to choose Trix over competing brands if the rabbit was looking at them rather than away. In a creepy corollary, the researchers found that the eyes of characters on boxes of cereal marketed to kids were directed downward, and can meet the upward gaze of children in grocery store aisles.”

In tango terminology, the sugary Trix Rabbit gives the mirada, and the adults (or children) give the cabeceo, buying a product that is not good for them or their children. If a the Trix rabbit, the Quaker Oats man, Mr. Proper (or “Clean” in the US), Uncle Ben, Aunt Jemima, Chef Boyardee, Cap’n Crunch and the Gerber baby can all get you to nod your head (cabeceo) to their product, how powerful is an actual mirada?

The Times reporter said that patients, who had doctors, achieved better medical outcomes, recommending no laptops while being with a patient.
“Only actual eye contact fully activates those parts of the brain that allow us to more acutely and accurately process another person’s feelings and intentions. Think of it as a cognitive jump-start that occurs whenever you lock eyes with another person, whether in front of you or across a crowded room.”

Even the sense that a person is looking directly at you has a powerful effect. The Times goes on to report:
“The brains of legally blind people have been shown to light up when someone looks them in the eye. It’s a sort of primal awareness and why you sometimes feel someone is looking at you before you turn and see them. This has obvious evolutionary benefits for detecting and discerning potential mates and predators.”

But dancers at a milonga have long known the rewards of la mirada. What we are not clear on is that somehow the mirada is submissive and the cabeceo has all the power. Not according to the research! Not according to my experience and many others with whom I have spoken.
The Power
This is how it works for dancers: The music starts, leading both my prospective partner and me to look around the room. I wasn’t looking for her, but I come across her smiling gaze. She is fully in charge of my next steps now. I follow her lead with a returned smile. I nod my head (cabeceando) to her mirada lead. Now we are on the dance floor, and I “prose” a friendly embrace, she “disposes” of that, and leads with a better proposal: A wonderful, melting embrace. I like following her lead.

“El hombre propone; la mujer dispone”

A common saying to describe the dynamic of tango in Spanish is, “The man proposes and the woman disposes” (propne / dispone)”

With one man this means, “I propose that you do the dishes,” and then she washes them. With another man, he proposes that they do the dishes. For the first woman, she does the dishes. Another woman might have indeed disposed of the dishes, breaking them for a dramatic effect. “El hombre propone; la mujer dispone,” is not an indication of leader/follower roles but only an indication of different roles.

In Sufi wisdom, a common saying is: “Humanity proposes and God disposes”

Who is leading whom in this interaction of proposing and disposing? Sufi wisdom indicates that Divinity listens. Dancing divinely requires both partners to listen. I like following la Música (the true leader), and I like following a woman’s lead with a powerful mirada. I very much indeed like following her better proposal about the embrace. I like sensing her desire to wait in that embrace a bit longer through the intro before taking a step. I like sensing the pause she desires for the ornamento, and how she led me to dance differently because I sense that she really listens to the music. And, too, I like how she leads me to hold her longer as the music stops.

Leader One, La Música, leads. Those on the dance floor follow her voice. The best so-called “leaders” start by following.

I propose we say “leader” only for the music. Follower One, traditionally the “leader”, has to do too much listening to be called “leader.” And I propose “Follower Two” for the person traditionally named “follower.” Doesn’t it make sense to call the rol feminino, “Follower Two”? “She” has too often had to follow and mediate the argument “he” is having with Leader One! 😉

Let’s dispose of the idea that there are two leaders. My guess is we’ll all do better at following La Música’s voice.

Story posted by: Mark Word

About the author: Event Organiser from

Published: 30 May 2014 @ 06:48

Last modified: 22 Apr 2019 @ 05:45

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