The Food Chain

19th October 2010

"It was the Law of the Sea, they said. Civilization ends at the waterline. Beyond that, we all enter the food chain, and not always right at the top." ~ Hunter S. Thompson


"The greatest thing about man is his ability to transcend himself, his ancestry and his environment and to become what he dreams of being." ~ Tully C. Knoles

There's kind of a food chain in milongas when it comes to the cabeceo. First let's consider the people near the top and the people near the bottom.

Obviously being a good dancer helps immensely, but another factor is how often you go to a place.

Known knowns and unknown knowns

There are two extremes. People who are known at a venue and people who aren't.

Take people who are known at a venue. They're on the whole more relaxed about getting dances. Simply because they know people, they're going to get dances. As an added bonus they'll have a good idea of what dancing with the other regulars entails. While this isn't quite so useful in scenes such as Modern Jive, where anyone can ask anyone and expect a "yes", in tango it's quite powerful.

Go to a venue where there's enough people you enjoy dancing with and you're going to be dancing all night and you won't have to risk bad dances with strangers. Likewise you're probably much more relaxed about chatting to friends if you don't particularly like a tanda of songs. It also probably means you've got more time to watch people who are new to the venue and decide whether you'd like to dance with them or not, or indeed ask other people you know what they think. In fact it's not unusual to get warnings or recommendations from friends, and if they dance multiple tandas, that's usually a good sign.

So again when you do decide to cabeceo someone who's new, you're in a relaxed place. Even if they say "no" there's plenty of people you know who will say "yes".

(Interestingly, being "known" and being "a regular" aren't quite the same thing. Someone who's known at a venue but doesn't go there much may actually find themselves in greater demand because of that.)

Fresh meat

Mike Traceur: You know what confuses me?
K.I.T.T.: There are not enough hours in the day to list all the things that confuse you.

Now consider someone who's new to a venue. They don't have the above to fall back on. They're probably going to have a harder time getting dances with the regulars. And even if they are a good dancer, they still need to dance with someone else who's a good dancer to show that - it's a vicious circle.

This was something that puzzled me about the BAs idea. How did someone who's new to a milonga ever get that first dance? "Taxi" dancers seem to be the current solution to both showcase you and introduce you. But surely there must be another way?

I've heard the idea of going to the class before the milonga to get to know people, but that's only going to work up to a certain point and often isn't practical anyway.

A solution is to look around and work out who else is there who's new too. And start with them. Hopefully that'll then let you work your way up the Food Chain and get dances with everyone else.

Expanding this idea somewhat, when you go to a venue, have an idea of where you sit on the Food Chain. If you're new to a venue it's natural to look around and see if there's anyone you know - tango dancers tend to migrate quite a bit. But if there isn't, it's worth while sitting down for a bit and working out who the regulars are and who else is new. Once you've got that figured out, you now need to divide them into two groups. Those who want to dance and those who are more cautious. So if you're new to a venue, start with those who are also new and want to dance and work your way up the food chain.

The Food Chain

The Food Chain is as follows:

(for simplicity I've left out how good they are)

  1. Known (and liked) at venue - cautious about who they dance with
  2. Unknown at venue - cautious about who they dance with
  3. Known (and liked) at venue - dances with anyone
  4. Unknown at venue - dances with anyone

What I think often goes wrong is that people who are new to a venue try to choose people almost at random, or with criteria that will give you random results on the food chain (for example, their shoes, or how pretty they are). So the amount of dances you get varies wildly and is largely a matter of luck. Using this method, you drastically improve the odds in your favour.

Be friendly!

K.I.T.T.: I am still learning about the complexities of friendship, but I would be honored to count you as mine.
Mike Traceur: Every cowboy needs a sidekick.
K.I.T.T.: I would not sell yourself short Michael. You are much more than a horse
Mike Traceur: Hey, sense of humor. That's new.

It's often possible to circumvent this through socializing, but it depends on a lot on the milonga and on the whole, the food chain is still a good representation of how easy it is to do this.

~ Christopher O' Shea, 19th October 2010

Related Articles

maverick.jpg no_pass.jpg