Life lessons from Salsa dancing

I have started taking lessons in Salsa dancing. Why am I doing it? Well, it seems like fun and some of my young friends are doing it. So I thought why not. I expected to have some fun – what I did not expect was to get lessons on life from Salsa dancing.

Salsa is generally agreed to have its origins in Afro-Cuban dance. Its most common basic movements comprise three weight changes (or steps) in a four-beat measure.  The beat on which one does not step might contain a tap or kick, or weight transfer may continue with the actual step not occurring until the next beat. After six weight changes in eight beats, normally in forward/backward motion, the basic step cycle is complete. Then there are almost endless variations on the basic movements with improvisations that continue to evolve in different parts of the world.

Salsa is a partner dance

Salsa is a partner dance with the man as the leader and the woman as the follower. This leader/follower partnership is an essential part of Salsa dancing: the dance could not happen without adhering to this form of partnership. The leader uses his arms to communicate or signal to the follower either in an “open” or “close” position. The woman responds to and follows the communication of the leader’s arms: she does not anticipate or take over the lead at any time.

salsadance

I first booked an appointment with a male teacher but the appointment was cancelled and I ended up with a woman. I was initially apprehensive about having a woman teacher leading in a “macho” dance but it turned out really well. My teacher is a Harvard-trained architect who happens to love dancing above other professions. She is also the owner of the dance studio.  As another successful and professional woman, she appreciates how difficult it is for me to completely relax, let go and follow someone else.

She compares dancing, especially the Salsa, to life. It is like being in a relationship – you have to be attuned to the rhythm and plan of the your partner. To make the relationship work, there are times when it is right for you to “surrender” and just follow your partner. She says that she can tell a lot about the man from the way he dances and treats her, even whether or not he would be a good lover!

Lessons from Salsa dance

In the past I have used the metaphor of dancing to guide myself and mentor others in business. In my view every organization has a rhythm, and to be effective a leader has to feel this rhythm. It would be easier for him to lead or shift the organization if he first “dances” to the rhythm and then changes the music to whatever suits him. It is more likely that people will then follow him in dancing to the new rhythm.

What I learnt from my Salsa teacher takes that metaphor to the next level – to the level of personal relationship. Indeed we have to be aware of and in tune with the rhythm, but that alone is not sufficient. We also have to know how to interact with each of the partners dancing on that rhythm.

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