From Ceroc to Argentine Tango

I started dancing several years ago with Ceroc/Modern Jive. While I never did win any competitions or reach a really really high level, I can handle myself on the social dancefloor. A popular measure for skill in Modern Jive was how cool or how many moves you know. After a couple of years, I had memorised enough moves to last a dance or maybe two without too much repetition.

But then I didn’t know where to go – I could learn more flashy moves but there’s a chance that your partner may need to know that move too. Some people move to other styles, usually west coast swing or tango. I’ve not known a lot of people who move from modern jive to salsa or ballroom but there are some that do.

When I first started learning tango, my modern jive mindset was still around. I wanted to learn more moves – fast. I looked different classes of different levels and tried to find out what move they were teaching. Some schools advertise a timetable and let us know that on this date they’ll be teaching a sacada or gancho if I hit the jackpot, a volcada or colgada.

Often I wrote down a description of the ‘move’ I learnt and if I could do the move on the other side I’ve learnt another move. And maybe if I could do it in both parallel and cross system I’m getting my money’s worth of moves. I also watched youtube for new moves.

Memorising tango moves were easy compared to modern jive where every night you would also do four intermediate moves so I thought it was only a matter of time before I learnt enough moves to dance with anyone and enjoy tango.

But then the music was annoying me. Modern jive nights played popular music. Stuff I grew up listening to, stuff I could listen to on the radio and stuff my friends listened to. What were these tango venues playing? All this horrible scratchy stuff. Then I found neuvo tango music like Gotan project and it got better. At least it was modern cool and easy listening music.
Its not stuff I would normally listen to but at least if I played it at home when my friends came over I won’t feel embarrassed. There was little chance I was playing the really old stuff to my friends. How could anyone dance to that stuff? Even the teachers at the school I was going to didn’t like the golden age stuff. They were into neuvo.

After about 6 months, I wasn’t learning any new moves so I changed schools. Immediately I was corrected on my posture, musicality, leading and other basic elements of the dance. Stage, the old school didn’t really spend a lot of time teaching these things. I wasn’t taught moves anymore but I felt that this time round everything was much harder. I was doing more things in close embrace and the teachers liked the music. Eventually I developed a similar liking for the traditional tango music. I didn’t learn any new moves though. In fact, I stopped using a lot of ones I learnt in my old school and even some I picked up off youtube. They just didn’t fit into the music or they made me look silly doing them.

A year after starting tango, I had enjoyed it a lot more than modern jive and now I might visit a Ceroc event once every couple of months. But it hasn’t been an easy journey and its far from over. I still get a lot of refusals when I ask a lady to dance. This never happens in Ceroc unless the lady is geniuely tired.

The music is much more important to be now – I used to dance to any song – Ceroc or Tango, but now, I only dance if the music is decent. I wish there were better Tango DJs here.


Tags: , ,

29 Responses to “From Ceroc to Argentine Tango”

  1. jantango Says:

    I enjoyed reading how your path changed, and you found what you had been missing–those beautiful tangos that inspire you to dance.

    If this happened to you, there is hope for many others who are step collectors trying to dance tango to other music. The dance is named for the music.

    May I suggest that you try making eye contact from across the room to invite someone to dance. You don’t need to collect anymore refusals. The cabeceo avoids the problem.

    • yabotil Says:

      Thanks Jantango – there was once a Modern Jive workshop where the guest teacher was advertised as the Walking Encyclopedia of Moves. Imagine how tango would screw with that guy’s mind!

  2. David Bailey Says:

    Jantango – the cabaceo doesn’t really work well – at least in it’s traditional form – in London venues, in my experience.

    Yaboutil, do I know you? Email me… ๐Ÿ™‚


    • yabotil Says:

      Hi David, we don’t know each other yet – I don’t go to Negracha that often so we wouldn’t have crossed paths and currently I’m more into traditional tango music so I rarely venture downstairs. Maybe I’ll give it a try next time LGTN is on and say hi ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. David Bailey Says:

    Oh, and as for
    “I still get a lot of refusals when I ask a lady to dance. This never happens in Ceroc unless the lady is geniuely tired.”

    – It may well be that there’s a better way to do these things; whilst there’s no formal cabaceo, there’s definitely a different way to approach women to dance, especially if you don’t know them. The commitment to dance with someone in AT is much more of a serious matter…

  4. yabotil Says:

    In my experience the cabaceo doesn’t always work in London. I once made eye contact with a friend and walked up to her. Instead of getting up to dance, she started chatting to me and not too long later a man interrupted us and invited her to dance which she accepted. And she is someone I know knows the cabaceo.

    Often I would try to obtain eye contact with who I want to invite to dance but often the lady would not move or take it as an invite until I ask.

    David, have you experimented with other ways to invite a lady to dance in AT?

    One of the problems in London is that not everyone knows what a cabaceo is – in fact, not everyone in a milonga know alot about tango or how it differs to a practica either.

    • David Bailey Says:

      I just tend to drag them up, kicking and screaming. It works for me ๐Ÿ™‚

      Ghost has tried some cabaceo-ing in MJ venues – e.g.:

      “One of the problems in London is that not everyone knows what a cabaceo is โ€“ in fact, not everyone in a milonga know alot about tango or how it differs to a practica either.”
      Nail. Head.

      In fact, the key problem in London social tango dancing is that there are no practicas. Not really. What “practicas” there are, are just milongas with the lights on, from what I can tell. So people treat practicas like milongas, and milongas like practicas…

  5. jantango Says:

    Tango has been in London for at least 15 years. If dancers haven’t heard about the cabeceo, they haven’t been listening or reading. It’s no big deal.

    The lights should be on at the milongas and practicas. Without lights, the cabeceo can’t be done, and dancers collide on the floor. Everyone has to keep their eyes open, including women, to see other dancers and avoid collisions.

    Milongas are for those who know how to dance. Practicas are for those who want to practice.

    • David Bailey Says:

      Jan, I agree.

      But you’re describing what _should_ be. I’m describing what _is_.

      If no teachers tell you about the cabaceo, and if it’s a foreign cultural concept, how are you supposed to find out about it? If the cabaceo is not used – and, by and large, it’s not – then what’s the point of trying to use it in isolation?

      And if there are few or no practicas, how are people supposed to distinguish between practicas and milongas?

      A few months ago, I set up a Tango Practice Group in London, with the aim of a few of us getting together to practice tango in a structured and supportive environment. Recently, a similar group has been created in Southampton. And a few other teachers are doing the same, creating specific practica environments.

      But, mostly, there’s not such a clear distinction between a practica and a milonga in London.

  6. jantango Says:

    When the men decide to band together and wait for women to make eye contact in order to dance, the cabeceo will be used. Women want to dance. Men can let them know they are waiting for an indication with eye contact. Women have the control, but they don’t know it.

    Teachers have the responsibility to find out about the culture of tango if they are teaching tango. All they have to do is read on the internet.

    In Buenos Aires, practicas are where no codes are observed, there are no tandas, and steps are practiced repeatedly. A milonga is where the codes are respected and tandas are played with a cortina.

    If dancers can’t tell the difference between a practice session that is guided by a teacher and a milonga that is for the purpose of dancing, you need serious help in London.

  7. David Bailey Says:

    Jan, you’re trying to apply a set of standards and assumptions which simply don’t work in the culture here. If you’re really that interested, why not simply come over and see for yourself, rather than commenting from afar? I mean, I don’t presume to comment on the BsAs scene, you know?

    And funnily enough, almost none of the many many visiting teachers from BsAs that I’ve taken classes with here have said _anything_ about floorcraft, etiquette and so on.

    I agree that the London tango scene needs work. I agree that we need to define codes and to stick with them – although I’m not convinced we need to port the codigos wholesale from BsAs.

    • yabotil Says:

      I think some visiting teachers do say a little about etiquette (although they may just be giving it a bit of lip service rather than meaning it).

      For example (not brilliant examples but I dont go to a lot of visiting teachers classes these days), in a recent Zotto class, he told people to stop taking super long steps and just walk normal sized steps. He said they were for the stage. He also taught boleos but when his partner’s feet never left the floor – they were very tiny rather than the huge kicks that everyone was used to.

      Even if everyone in London just accepted these two tiny hints, things would get a lot better.

    • jantango Says:


      Dancers in London want to dance the tango that originated in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The culture is part of it–language, music, customs, etc. You call your local event a “milonga,” you play “tandas” of recording of orchestras from Buenos Aires, and you take classes from teachers from Buenos Aires. Part of the package is learning and practicing the codes and customs that have been a part of the milongas for decades, i.e., cabeceo. There are standard ballroom rules that have been in place for a very long time and which apply to tango. Teachers should be talking about them in classes. It’s unfortunate that they don’t. I taught ballroom classes in Chicago and always talked about dance floor rules, inviting, line of dance, etc. How can you expect people to know them if they aren’t presented in classes? That’s a big problem with many of those who travel to teach. They sell steps and leave with the money. Those who teach don’t go to the milongas in BsAs, so they forget that codes are an integral part of classes. Organizers should tell the teachers to talk about them.

  8. yabotil Says:

    A friend of mine had been learning tango for a couple of months before she decided to go to a milonga. In her first couple of dances, she only danced one dance with the man. I told her that she’s supposed to dance a tanda with the man, otherwise its a rejection and it would make the man look bad – or if she kept on doing it, make her look bad and she was surprised.

    Unfortunately she was taught that tango was just a set of steps or moves stringed together like other forms of dancing she’s done. There’s still a lot of beginners like her who needs more practicas where these concepts can be introduced?

    David, are you aware of practica listings? I’m only aware of milonga listings in London.

  9. Arlene Says:

    ok boys. if you were to see someone that you liked the look of, usually you would give her the eye to see if she was interested. No different in Tango. Over here in the UK, if anyone ever does use it, they generally look at you and nod their head to the dance floor. Women understand what that means whether you call it cabeceo or something else. If a woman sees you looking at her and she doesn’t want to dance with you, she won’t make eye contact. Cabeceo is not exclusive to Tango or a Latin culture. It is used successfully in dating. How else can you get the attention of someone in a crowded bar in New York or anywhere else for that matter. Especially the barman!

    People do use cabeceo and some don’t. I use it all the time in Salsa, Ceroc and Tango. Salsa and Ceroc are one dance deals where Tango is a tanda of 3-4 songs. People learn this eventually. The teachers don’t always mention it. I have danced only one dance with men when it has been REALLY bad and that is because I hadn’t seen them dance first. It is not a big deal in Ceroc or Salsa as it is only one dance anyway.

    As for practica listings, I may start putting them on my blog, but there are a few people that offer it. The Dome and The Tango Club and Tango @ The Welsh for starters.

  10. David Bailey Says:

    There are no practicas in London.

    Arlene, I think I’ve probably been dancing both salsa and ceroc a lot longer than most people, so I’m perfectly aware of the social conventions. And I know for a fact that the BsAs cabaceo, as described, does not really happen at most London milongas. It simply doesn’t. You may use it, but most dancers don’t.

    And you only have to look at the amount of resentment and annoyance a refusal generates, to realise that London ain’t BsAs.

    I’ve got a very long article about this in the pipeline, so I’ll leave this for now.

  11. Arlene Says:

    @David Baily
    I am not going to argue with you about Practicas in London, jeeze. I have already mentioned a few.

    Frankly, I don’t really care about the amount of annoyance or resentment that a refusal generates. I am not interested in stroking egos. You would know that from reading my blog and we don’t need to get into that here.

    I have been using cabeceo all of my life and I’m American. I am an observer and like to watch people. I have always been good with eye contact. Not many people are. If more people were sensitive to their surroundings and the people arround them, it wouldn’t be an issue. I only get annoyed when the waiters/waitresses aren’t paying attention when I am ready to pay the bill.

  12. jantango Says:

    The cabeceo avoids public rejection that results in resentment when an invitation to dance isn’t accepted. A dance is always a ladies’ choice.

    It’s true that London isn’t Buenos Aires. No city in the world is like Buenos Aires as far as tango goes. However, that doesn’t prevent anyone in London from using the cabeceo which has always been the means of inviting to dance in Buenos Aires.

    It only takes ONE who uses the cabeceo. Then others will catch on and start using it. The women will find they like it. It’s nice to be looking around for someone to dance and catch his eye from across a crowded room. It’s effortless, but it takes patience.

  13. David Bailey Says:

    To be honest, I’m not really bothered that much about the cabaceo. I manage to somehow get as many dances as I want, stumbling along, so it’s not really that important to me.

    But I guess what strikes me – and others – in London as plain rude is a no-explanation refusal, or even ignoring a request to dance. Sure, this behaviour makes perfect sense in an all-cabaceo environment. that’s the culture. But in a minority-cabaceo situation, it just offends a lot of people.

    So I guess the lesson is, by all means use the cabaceo, but don’t expect others to abide by it. If you’re asked – directly and verbally – to dance in London, then many / most people will consider it rude if you refuse with no reason, or if you ignore them.

    When in London, be a London-uero.

  14. jantango Says:

    Well, finally we are getting to the truth. You complain that no one uses it in London, including yourself. What not give it a try? What have you got to lose? The cabeceo is a tango tradition. You aren’t going to get an explanation from women. It’s not rude behavior; they don’t want to dance so they ignore verbal invitations at the table. They may be used to the cabeceo in Buenos Aires where 99% of the time it is the norm. The 1% who go to the table to tap a woman on the shoulder do so until they get a “yes.” They don’t care about all the refusals. When a man approaches my table in a BsAs milonga, I ignore him. Once I do so, he will never bother me again.

    Too bad if men are offended when women ignore their invitations. They have to figure out what to do. Would you rather hear the truth behind the rejection or refusal to dance with you?

    Yes, the lesson is start using the cabeceo and don’t worry about what others do.

    When dancing tango, do as they do in Buenos Aires!

  15. David Bailey Says:

    “You complain that no one uses it in London, including yourself.” – no I don’t…

    “Too bad if men are offended when women ignore their invitations.” – you [… edited]

  16. Arlene Says:

    @ David Baily,

    There is really no reason to be offended when someone does not accept your (one’s) invitation to dance. It is a personal choice. Like in dating. Jan is not being rude by being honest and direct. She is merely telling you how things are where she lives and why they do things the way they do. It saves face and embarrassment. Frankly, it really annoys me when men don’t read the signs or accept a no thank you. The men need to get over it. What about the woman’s feelings? How do you think she might feel when she refuses a man a dance and the man gets snarky with her?

    @ Jan
    We have had this conversation before. If I am not dancing so much, now you know why.

  17. Simba Says:

    Arlene got some really good points here, I think. Really, it’s not that hard. Just a little awareness to your surroundings.

    I always teach beginners about the cabeceo, and sometimes they will say: So? That’s how we always asked girls to dance. Others need to be told, or they miss out on the fun.

    I have used the cabeceo successfully in many places in Europe and the US (though never in London). Nowhere is it honored by everybody, but I am more concerned with dancing with those who want to dance with me, than dancing all the time. And in general, the ones I want to dance with, know the cabeceo.

  18. David Bailey Says:

    “I have used the cabeceo successfully in many places in Europe and the US (though never in London)” – Ummm, we’re _talking_ about London. The whole discussion is London-based. That is, in short, the topic.

    Stuff-done-elsewhere is of less relevance.

  19. Simba Says:

    It was to point out that it is widely used, also outside of Buenos Aires. It would probably work in London, too.

    All it takes is to catch the eye of another dancer and then a slight nod. Not exactly rocket science.

  20. David Bailey Says:

    Sure. That’s what most of us do after all.

    But what I mainly disagree with is the purist approach people like Jan take to this sort of thing – they literally ignore people who come up and ask them. Which, to me, in London, is rude.

    And God knows, if there’s one thing the London Tango scene can do without, it’s yet _more_ rudeness…

  21. Simba Says:

    Just ignoring someone coming over to your table would probably be rude i lots of places, even in Bs As I think, but there it can be seen as a proper way to answer one rudeness with another, I guess.

    ‘No, thank you’, should be enough everywhere, no explanations needed. With explanations you just end up with plain lies which is rude everywhere. See the recent discussion at Tangopilgims blog.

    Like Arlene pointed out earlier, reading people’s body language will give you a good idea if they are interested in dancing or not, ‘cabeceo’ or not. If you are insisting on going up to someone clearly not interested to ask her, you put her in an awkward position, and I prefer to avoid that. Hence the advocacy of the cabeceo. Better missing out on a couple of tandas, IMHO.

  22. Some experiences with the Cabeceo « Yabotil’s Blog Says:

    […] experiences with the Cabeceo By yabotil Following the advice from a previous post, I’ve decided to try the cabeceo and here are some of my experiences over a period of several […]

  23. Chris, UK Says:

    > If no teachers tell you about the cabaceo, and if itโ€™s a
    > foreign cultural concept, how are you supposed to find out about it?

    It is not foriegn. It is natural guy-girl stuff all over the world.

    If everyone waited for a teacher to give them each thing they needed, life would grind to a stop. Dance too.

Leave a Reply to jantango Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: