Lessons learned from Salsa Dancing

salsa_istock_000008739320xsmallThis weekend I celebrated my (muffled, sputtered number) birthday by going to a local club for salsa dancing.  My friends must truly love me as none of us had any experience whatsoever.  Fortunately, there was a one-hour basic instructional taught by Dupree.  (Dupree regularly teaches salsa to third and fourth graders during the week – which gave him the patience to deal with us.)  As I was laughing and stumbling through the lessons and dancing to follow, I thought about the real parallels to embracing the “dance” of entrepreneurship in a fast-paced marketplace.

  • Don’t Do the Salsa Shuffle. Feet must either be together and firmly planted, or moving forward.  The “salsa shuffle” is when people try to shuffle forward and back without deliberate steps.  My takeaway – move decisively (even when you are a complete newbie).  With good posture, arms at hip level and a steady gaze in your partner’s eyes, you at least give the impression of being a competent dancer.
  • Take little steps. Big strides got me into big trouble.  Spins toppled me over.  I became tangled in my partner’s legs.  I was quickly stumbling, or even falling.  Interestingly, a recent study (well summarized here by fellow blogger Rieva Lesonsky) shows that most small businesses fail by scaling too soon.  Take small steps and you unlikely to be part of that sobering statistic.
  • Don’t look at your feet. If you look at your feet, you are not looking where you are going.  The point here seems to be to focus more on the dance (or bigger picture) and your next steps — and less on every little step you make.
  • Listen for the Clave before moving. Salsa music is all based on the clave rhythm.  You first need to listen and feel this rhythm before daring a simple step.  Always be listening for the beat of the market, technology trends so you’re dancing in step.  If you can’t always hear the rhythm (it was tough for us at first) – search for an expert to count it out for you.
  • If you are out of synch, stop. Go back to the basic step.  Ask for help.  Get the basic steps right with practice – then add on fancy turns and dips.
  • Dance with different partners to discover whom best fits your style. It was wonderful to watch the experienced salsa dancers, who regularly changed partners with each song.  Interestingly, two individually talented dancers didn’t always make a great salsa couple.  They had to try a dance and see if their movements could flow with the music and if each partner could bring out the best in the other.  In business I find it helpful to rate my partners and dance more with those that are easy to move with.
  • Know how to switch partners. (This was my favorite part.)  If your partner is getting too close for comfort or making some uncomfortable moves, you can take your left thumb on your partner’s shoulder and press hard on the nerve just below the clavicle.  Your partner’s left arm immediately goes numb and you are released from the grip.  The lesson here – always have an escape clause to every partnership agreement, be it with clients, partners or vendors.

While I did not end the evening looking as smooth as the salsa regulars, I did learn a lot, test my limits and have a truly joyful (muffled, sputtered number) birthday.  Viva la salsa!

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