A lot is said about the cabeceo, but there’s one cabeceo that deserves more attention: the ‘cabeceo between men’: the eye contact leaders exchange before stepping onto the dance floor. And how followers can use it to feel more empowered in milongas.

The cabeceo between men is a smooth way of entering the dance floor that experienced dancers practice. It means making eye contact (the cabeceo) with the leader of the couple on the dance floor who is coming towards you, at your left. Once he’s seen you and eye contact has been made, he nods and knows he needs to give you space and time to get onto the dance floor. Experienced dancers do it all the time. Actually, it should be the first things you should learn in tango. I know no other way to enter the dance floor that is both clear, quick and respectful.

But the trick, here, is that women can do it too. If you’re about to step onto the dance floor and the man you agreed dance with shows no sign of using the cabeceo, you can be the one making eye contact with the leader coming at your left. Try it. It’s easy (most leaders are looking out for it when dancing), quick, but changes completely the way your tanda is about to unfold…

Believe me, once I started using it, it changed my dancing for ever.


1.It is a mark of respect

I shudder when I think of the days I stepped onto the dance floor blissfully unaware, without even checking if a couple was coming towards me. Even though I’m a follower, and technically it was not my role, when I think of it now it feels incredibly disrespectful for the people dancing behind me.

So now, when I see that the person I am about to dance with doesn’t do it, I make sure to clearly make eye contact with the other couple. I’d feel ashamed not to and it would ruin the tanda I am about to dance.

Usually, if a leader steps onto the dance floor without notifying the couple coming behind him, then that couple knows their dancing is going to be complicated by the probable lack of floor craft of the couple in front (zigzaging between lines, not walking enough etc.)… with my doing the cabeceo, he knows that at least someone is aware of them, even though she is only following.


2.It makes me feel empowered

What I like about this trick is that it puts me in floor craft mode from the get go. It’s always a good reminder that I am in charge of the floor craft as much as the man, in the extend of my following role: I need to go back to the line of dance when finishing a movement, watch my heels and embellishments, influence a leader if he’s not respecting basic respectful codes.… Using eye contact while stepping on the dance floor is the single most important trick to remind followers that they have an active role to play in floor craft and dancing in general.  It gives us a feeling of “I’m dancing because I want to”, which is much more wonderful than “I’m following a man who is in charge”.


3.It helps me connect beyond the partner

And even though when I dance with some of my favorite leaders I know that they will use the cabeceo between men, I love giving a brief eye contact with the leader who just allowed us to the dance floor. I want to show that I, too, value the fact that we are about to dance in front of him and that he will need to adapt his dancing to us. After all, we are sharing a small amount of space when dancing all together. And despite the strong emphasis on connecting to your partner in tango, I believe that connection goes much farther than just the man you are dancing with. We are connecting to him, obviously, but also to the music, to the people watching us, and to the people dancing with us….

Using the cabeceo before dancing creates a sense of camaraderie on the dance floor.

cabeceo floorcraft tango space

4.It puts me in the map of leaders with good floorcraft

That’s the cherry on the cake….

Now that I’ve changed countries, I’m a new dancer in a crowded scene and I’m patiently waiting to have recho de piso – awkwardly translated by “the right to step on the dance floor” – and be invited by the most experienced leaders. A good way to be noticed is to make eye contact and smile, but in crowded milongas which do not specifically create a cabeceo-friendly environment it can be difficult.

When I use the cabeceo before stepping onto the dance floor, I make eye contact with some of the leaders I want to dance with. Even though it’s a different situation from the cabeceo in-between tandas, they see I’m here. And, most importantly, those who care about floor craft (those I want to dance with), know that I care about it too.


I strongly encourage anyone to use the cabeceo before stepping on the dancefloor, and hope that this article can help women feel more empowered in milongas.

Now, we’d love to hear your thoughts. Do you have special tricks that have helped change the way you spend your milongas?

Let us know in the comments section below 🙂



12 thoughts on “The eye contact that changed my dancing for ever

  1. Alan says:

    This sounds great. I have to say I have been learning Tango for 20 months now and not once has this idea been introduced to me. I come from a ballroom background so am well aware of entering the dance floor safely,but the idea of a cabeceo with the oncoming leader sounds like an elegant solution.

  2. Tango Space says:

    Hi Alan, great to hear it’s helpful! Yes, it’s elegant and easy… and you’ll see, when people ask you for permission to enter, it feels much nicer too. Try it and let us know how it goes 🙂

  3. Trev says:

    Not sure about this- being safe and polite on the floor is, of course important, and joining moreso -but…I would think that more rules would make it harder for men to feel at ease as it will just become another ‘move’ to incorporate.
    I think men already take their role seriously in more formal dances like Tango and will automatically catch the eye of anyone moving to a space -to limit anything unexpected , at least.
    I’ve seen drunk lads breaking into a public area of dance and the serious dancers accomodate them very well before they are stared out [maybe] or get tired, due to the effort.
    I wouldn’t like Western Tango to become medieval courtly affairs – like HentyVIII do’s .

  4. Tango Space says:

    Hi Trev, thanks for your comment. True, too much formality can kill the vibe of a night (though sometimes in well-managed milongas it helps…). When the milonga is not too crowded, you might not need to ask permission to step onto the dance floor. But in a crowded milonga, in my view, it’s absolutely necessary 🙂

  5. Sam Fuller says:

    Trev’s comment is typical of the ignorant, uninformed leader who ruins the dance floor for the others. The cabeceo to enter the dance floor is as simple as looking before you cross the street, or looking in the rearview mirror before you change lanes. It’s not difficult or medieval, it’s just a common courtesy in tango. This type of leader is the same one that totally ignores the cabeceo to enter the floor, pretending that he doesn’t see the couple waiting to get on the floor.

  6. Jackie Turnbull says:

    In my experience it is just a matter of common courtesy and good manners, sorry to be so ‘blunt’ !!! and I’m pleased that Tango Space has pointed it out for ‘those’ who appear to be unaware!!!!!

  7. Freddy says:

    The cabeceo is also part of the glorious tradition and culture of tango which true tango lovers enjoy being part of.

  8. Ginger A. says:

    I arrived at the page because of an upcoming trip to Austin and The Hill Country; was reading about all the places to get Two Step lessons. Someone linked here and I followed and appreciate the lesson on the cabeceo.

  9. Pingback: Dance with partners you love: 8 milonga tips - week 2 - Tango Space

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