Unlocking the Milonga: Friendly

What makes a "friendly" or "unfriendly" venue? You do.

Friendly? No such thing

I often hear people talking about a particular venue being "friendly" or "unfriendly"; I've used the term myself on many an occasion. It's a common term in dancer conversation; there's an implicit assumption that some venues are objectively and measurably more friendly than others.

Well, I've thought about this for a while, and I've finally decided that there's not really any such beast as an unfriendly venue. Or a friendly one, for that matter. It's all about you. Well, most of it is.

So what is "friendly"?

"Friendly" is not about people welcoming you in, slapping you on the back and offering to buy you a drink. (Although that would be nice...)

Typically, "friendly" is used in relation to whether the person describing the place has been asked to dance (for followers) or has felt comfortable asking to dance (for leaders). "Unfriendly" is usually linked with "cliquey", often with mutterings of "bloody Argentine mafia, coming over here and taking our women / men, mutter mutter mutter...".

It's all about you

I believe that much (most) of this feeling is internal, and depends on your state of mind; your confidence, your familiarity with the place, your experience, and so on. So much so, in fact, that the other people are almost irrelevant.

For example, I've been to the same venue, on different occasions, with the same people, the same class, the same layout and so on, and I've found it either "massively unfriendly" or "lovely and welcoming". Obviously, the external factors haven't changed, so logically my perceptions were largely or entirely based on how I felt at the time.

Don't worry, be happy

People pick up so much on body signals, it's really quite scary when you realise how much interaction goes on between us, without our knowledge or control. Body language is especially important within the context of a physical environment such as a dance venue - and of course, we're in an environment where we're all supposed explicitly to react to our partner's movements.

If you feel happy, if you feel confident, if you feel relaxed, then you're likely to both generate those feelings to others, and receive them in return. Most (99%) people are friendly and approachable - be good to them, they'll be good to you. This is true in life and in Tango of course - Tango being life, according to some people.

Conversely, if you're unsure, nervous, and reserved, you're likely to come over as aloof yourself, and you're likely to perceive everyone around you as acting similarly - because they are reacting to your signals.

So it's not at all surprising that a perception of a venue varies widely between different people, or different times. With familiarity, all venues become "friendly" - I don't know many people who'd describe their local venues as unfriendly, for example. And this has nothing to do with the venue, and everything to do with the way you perceive and react to the people in that venue.

Making a venue more friendly

OK, that all said, there are actually some objective ways to help people mingle; to allow them to express their natural friendliness. So, here's a couple:

  • The teachers:
    Teachers can emphasise that it's good to dance with everyone. More than that, they can lead by example, "working the floor" and explicitly asking new people to dance. You see this a lot in MJ venues. Unfortunately, you don't see it at all in AT venues; most teachers seem to think that when they've finished teaching, that's it, they're off-duty and they can dance with whoever they want to. Unfortunately.

  • The venue layout:
    If you have to walk across a room to ask someone to dance, you'd better be damned sure she'll say yes. No-one wants to do the Walk Of Shame back to their seat. (Yes, OK, I know the whole cabaceo thing is supposed to address this. Big news. In the UK, it doesn't really work.) However, if you only have to move a few feet, if there are opportunities to meet and ask people more easily, that makes it all more relaxing.

At the end of the day...

... it's time to go home.

I would like to finish this article with a Deep Thought. Something profound, or failing that something in Spanish.

But the best I can do is to say, to quote Hannah Montana, that "Life's What You Make It". And so is Tango.

- David Bailey