Many people have asked me why I started my own dance school. Good question! (I ask myself that on the discouraging days.)
Although I’ve taken various styles of dance classes for decades, they were all community centre classes in basic styles: Ballroom, East Coast Swing, Tap, Belly Dancing, Jazz, Hawaiian, Line Dancing. Whatever was available at the right time and place. I did it for fun and exercise and to spend time with my Mom.
It wasn’t until I went to Cuba for the first time three years ago that I really got excited about learning salsa. When I got home, I started taking classes.
I loved the teachers and the classes, but some things bothered me right from the start and continued to bother me. First, I noticed that the students who were already known to the teachers were treated differently. Second, I noticed that the new dancers who needed a bit more time and attention didn’t receive it. Most of the attention was awarded to the better dancers. Third, I noticed that students arrived, changed shoes, took a lesson, changed shoes, and left. There didn’t seem to be any socializing outside of the actual class. I thought of dancing, particularly partner dancing, as a social activity.
Once I tried going to social dance events, I noticed that the people there tended to dance exclusively with people they already knew. That shuts out new dancers. I noticed that the only time dancers spent more than one song together was when one good dancer was with another good dancer. New dancers, if they were lucky enough to be asked to dance, experienced the unspoken one-song rule. Leaders rarely asked new dancers to dance. The whole experience felt like a high-school sock hop where only the popular kids danced and the rest stood and watched. The dance community felt stagnant.
I decided I wanted to create something different. Sam’s Dance is inclusive, welcoming, friendly. We make everyone feel like they belong there, whether they’re good dancers wanting to learn more movements, practiced dancers wanting to learn a new style, or dancers that are just starting from scratch. We spend time with all the students before and after classes and encourage them to spend time with each other. We invite them to bring their friends and family to experience the joy of dance. When we hold events, we make sure everyone who wants to dance gets the chance to dance, even if it means we have to introduce them to each other.
All this takes time and energy, but this is what makes us different. We’re interested in our dancers—who they are, what they do, how they found us, what they want to learn. We think this is the way to build a community of diverse people, initially brought together by a common interest or curiosity, but on a journey of discovering other commonalities. A community.