Cabeceo: Let’s End the Excuses

July 29, 2019

First, I want to say this is another vulnerable moment where I will share some personal experiences I don’t often discuss. However, I believe this is an important piece for me to write. I hope to influence people to have compassion and consider others’ perspectives before judging from their own perceptions. I hope to yield positive and constructive revelations as I share one more reason why proper cabeceo is so important. And the reason will come as a surprise.

By nature, I am a people pleaser. I have always had a hard time saying no to people. Cabeceo helps empower me in tango. This is why I am a strong supporter of proper cabeceo and often have no problem rejecting bad invitations or saying no to verbal requests, even when I enjoy the dancer. However, I hear many excuses for not using cabeceo:

The lights were too dim. My eyesight is poor. (S)he couldn’t see me. I really wanted to dance with him/her. I want to make sure everyone is taken care of at my event. I’m just being friendly. I am at a safe distance. (S)he has danced with me many times before. We’re friends. Some people don’t know about cabeceo. Not everyone uses cabeceo. Cabeceo is outdated. I don’t believe in cabeceo.

I’ve tried to defend the case for why there is no excuse, but find resistance. I continue to be frustrated when I’m on the receiving end of those excuses in discussions or around the floor.

Despite moments of strength, I am still caught off guard by invasive invitations. My natural reaction before I can make a conscious decision of how to handle the situation is to accept the dance, even when I don’t want to dance with that person. When I discuss these specific moments with my peers later, I am encouraged to, “just say no,” or “you should just ignore or avoid that bad cabeceo,” and finally, “it’s up to you to be in control.” I often find these comments discouraging. First, I already know this and am dumbfounded by how I accepted. Second, I find these comments are addressing the victim’s actions instead of the culprit’s. This reminds me of the feedback often given to assault and rape victims. “Why didn’t you just tell him no,” “You should have avoided the situation,” and “You shouldn’t have been wearing that outfit.” By no means am I equating the two, yet I can’t help but make a connection

Yep, extreme correlation number one, but am I really that far out of line? Just like a woman shouldn’t have to fight off unwanted physical touch, I shouldn’t have to work so hard to avoid dancing with someone I don’t want to dance with in this intimate dance. Additionally, this is not a stretch for me because of how I often find myself relating bad cabeceos to my personal life experience. After much reflection I’ve finally identified why I am so passionate about this concept. The simple, but dark, truth: In my past, I have been intimate with men just because they pressured me, even though I did not want that level of intimacy.

Do you see the parallel yet? Bear with me…

Did they rape me? No, not forcefully. Did I want to get intimate? No. They pressured me into getting what they wanted, while disregarding what I wanted. Sadly, there are a few variations; men applied pressure in different ways, though never physically. I found myself frozen and compliant, unable to even say no, despite internally not wanting to progress. When I shared these experiences with friends, I was given that similar advice, “just say no,” or “just avoid the whole situation.” Again simple answers that should be easy to execute, but so elusive for me. And why is it my fault for not saying no, instead of their fault for pressuring me? If you have a willing partner do you really need to convince them to be intimate?

So, when someone gives me an improper cabeceo, when someone pressures me into getting what they want, disregarding what I may want, subconsciously my mind has made the correlation to my past. I’ve only recently been able to connect the dots consciously. When I receive invasive invitations, one of three reactions can happen: a positive one; I’m empowered by my past and can easily stand up for my desires and reject the invitation. A negative one; the correlation cripples me into accepting. And finally the default one; my people pleasing personality reacts and accepts before I can think about it. When this happens, I am often reminded of my past and how I just complied in those situations too.

So for all the people who may have misinterpreted me for being uptight, selective, or that I’m not generous enough with my dances to promote a friendly environment… I hope this enlightens you to what I may be going through when you decide you have a good excuse not to use a proper cabeceo. Or when you think you are giving me a good cabeceo, but it’s actually invasive.

Women, although my correlations are more directly associated with men, this article does not exclude us and our behavior. Men face just as many inappropriate requests, if not more, often due to role imbalances. Men can be caught by a “gentleman” trap. If a man declines a woman it is perceived more negatively than when a woman declines a man. No person (man or woman) has the right to pressure anyone into a dance for any reason. Do you really want to dance with someone who doesn’t want to dance with you? Would you force someone to be in a relationship with you if you knew they didn’t want to be with you (or worse they wanted to be with someone else)? Extreme correlation number two, but like it or not, the analogy fits.

So again, I implore that we all reflect on how we use cabeceo and think about the nature of its true purpose. The core purpose of a cabeceo/mirada is to invite someone discreetly without pressuring him/her to dance. What a beautiful concept that cannot be out-dated. In a transforming world focusing on improving consent culture, cabeceo brings that concept to the floor. And just to be clear, I’ve been given a great non-invasive cabeceo from someone sitting right beside me. Conversely, I have been given a bad, invasive cabeceo from someone over ten feet away. It’s not about the distance, it’s about the pressure and how discrete one is being. Proper cabeceo ensures both dancers have a mutual desire to dance with each other.

This is why cabeceo is so personal and important to me.