The Art of Cabeceo
The most elegant way to ask a woman to dance is to use what is called the cabeceo. The cabeceo is an invitation and acceptance ritual executed entirely with the eyes. The advantage of using cabeceo is that there is less obvious embarrassment about declining a dance, or about being turned down.
A leader must first get a follow’s attention by looking at her. Generally the leader should nod or smile to invite a follow, but those experienced in cabeceo might only maintain intent eye contact. If she nods back, she has accepted your offer. She may also smile, blink or just maintain eye contact. If she looks away then she has refused your offer.
Once you have contracted a partner by cabeceo, the lady stays in her seat and waits for the man to approach her table. When he arrives, confirming the arrangement, she gets up and joins him on the dance floor.
There are some subtleties about the cabeceo. Ideally, it can be done at a great distance, such as across a crowded dance floor. Practically, with mild lighting and imperfect vision, it needs to be done as close as 10 feet. Both ideally and practically, once the invitation has been accepted, no other invitation, including a verbal one from the person sitting next to you or someone whose path you cross on the way to your partner, should be allowed to cut in front. It is completely acceptable to explain that you have already agreed to dance with someone else.
Follows are welcome to be more than usually selective in whom they chose to dance with. In addition, follows have the choice. They can express a desire to dance, by actively looking around. Or they can take a break, by not looking around at all.
If someone is clearly busy (eating, chatting with friends), they are generally not available to dance Wait until they finish before you try to cabeceo them. In addition, don’t be surprised if you are eating or chatting and don’t get asked to dance much. If you want to dance in that moment, actively seek a partner with appropriate body language that says you are ready to dance.
If you do want to dance with someone, but they won’t look at you, respect their decision not to dance with you. Do not approach them verbally and do not stare at them. The best way to get their attention is by dancing well with somebody else, then try to cabeceo them later.