I often hear, read and watch people who are rather new to the tango community get frustrated when they start going to milongas. Yes, milongas CAN be a bit difficult, if you don't know many people and don't dance very well YET. It might be difficult to get dances, to figure out who not to dance with, to infiltrate the existing groups etc. I know, I've been a beginner myself and I remember the feeling.
I remember the very first milonga I ever went to, because I left in tears. The next 10 or so milongas were highly frustrating, and then things started to pick up. After 6 months of regular attendance, I felt like the queen of the dance floor. (I wasn't of course, but it felt like it!)
Being frustrated in the beginning is not a reason not to enjoy milongas. The whole purpose of learning to dance tango is to be able to dance in milongas! What you need is a little bit of patience AND a few simple things, beside constantly continuing to improve of course, let's take a look at them.
People like people who are friendly and open. People they feel they can trust and relax with. It doesn't matter if you are a beginner or an advanced dancer, being friendly and easy-going is the key to good relationships in the tango (or any) community. And good relationships in the community are the key to dancing more.
So what do you do if you're shy, you don't know anyone and feel too intimidated to talk to people? Well first of all, you don't HAVE to talk to people to be friendly. BUT, do position yourself close to others and stay available for a chat, for a smile, for a “hello”. One of the main recommendations I usually give to my students is “when you enter a milonga, don't rush to take a seat! Take in the atmosphere, the mood of the place, and walk slowly, confidently to a place that is NOT IN A FAR AWAY CORNER! You want to be somewhere where people are. If the milonga is dark and there are only a few spotlights, be sure to be somewhere close to the ray of light and out of complete darkness, but not directly in the centre of the spotlight (because if you're in the light, you're blinded by it and you will not see into the darkness and might miss cabeceo!)
Use body language to send the message of friendliness! It might seem obvious, and so many other people write about it, but I still see so many people standing and sitting shyly, with frowns, and crossed arms in front of them. Closed arms means “I'm insecure! I'm closed up!”
Try to actively pay attention to your arms. Place them on your lap if you're sitting, or put them in your pockets if you're standing, or hold a glass of water, or do anything else to prevent your body language from saying “don't approach!”
If you feel confident enough, by all means DO say hello to a person next to you. Whether you know them or not, a hello is always a good ice-breaker! Ask them how often they come to this milonga, whether they like the DJ, whether they particularly like and watch any dancers here etc. Whatever you talk about, talk about POSITIVE THINGS and with optimism, with enthusiasm! When you send a message of trust and positivity, people open up to you! And what you want is to tell others “I am a nice person and I am open to being friends with you!
This might seem superficial, but yet it is an important factor. People do pay attention to looks. Do try to make an effort if you go to milongas. Put on a nice shirt, by all means try to invest into a nice pair of tango shoes, wear an elegant skirt. Everyone is attracted by different things, of course, but the general rule of thumb that ALWAYS works: BE ELEGANT.
Elegance means balancing wearing something special and pretty with not screaming “look at meeeee!!!” :) When in doubt, go for black or beige. If you're a beginner and your technique is not up to scratch yet, I personally would recommend to avoid bright red colour. You want your looks to say “I've got class. I am a friendly, open person with a good taste”
I think, class and elegance take you a looooong way, especially if you combine them with being friendly :)
Keep watching dancing people to notice how they move and make mental notes on things you like. If you feel like discussing any dancers with people around you, although I advise to avoid gossiping, do only say positive things! You don't want to have a reputation of a spoiled, offensive person!
Keep doing this. You might not get things right immediately, but what you want to achieve is being accepted in the community. This is your main aim! Once you're in, you will dance. Once people are relaxed with you, and think of you as a nice friendly person, they will be open to dancing with you, not the other way around!!!
And try to have PATIENCE. Almost nobody came to their first milongas as beginners and danced non-stop. And if they did, it's because they were exceptionally pleasant and positive people. When I meet a charming, funny, positive and overall wonderful person, I will be so much more open to dancing with them, even if I don't know them (yet) :)
Good luck! I believe everyone can have a great time at milongas. Sometimes it might take a little extra time, for some people it means extra effort, but it's possible. BE POSITIVE and make friends!
And then you'll dance. Trust me :)
P.S. The wonderful image used was created by Contrasto Photography (https://www.facebook.com/contrasto.ro/), taken at TangoCazino Festival in Romania, August 2017