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Lessons From Everywhere: Business Tips From Salsa Dancing

Have you ever suddenly had an insight in an area completely unrelated to the activity you are currently participating in? For me, this recently happened one evening while out salsa dancing, where I had an insight about leadership. I am no pro, having only taken a few salsa classes here in Boston, and gone out social dancing a handful of times. I’m also currently working at an awesome startup, and have worked as a management consultant advising multinational businesses down to small family owned businesses. I believe some master salseros – and business veterans – would believe these points to be true.

  1. Weak leaders simply cannot be followed – In salsa, the lead is the male1 and he directs the female through dance patterns. Initially, I was so concerned with getting moves right that I would sometimes do the correct motions, but often not with any force, or in jerky motions to catch up to the beat. No woman wants to be lead by a “limp fish” handed lead2, and will have no idea where you intend for her to go. Weak leadership is bad, but the opposite is the same – being overly forceful in your guiding movements will lead to a shoulder dislocation when spinning a woman around. Exceptions aside, too heavyor too weak leadership does not lead to a happy or motivated team. In either case the followers will be looking to move elsewhere.
  2. Find people who are looking for what you are offering, and try to approach them in the proper setting – This is not always true but I must say I love salsa culture because people come to dance, not pose, as it is in many other types of clubs. Finding a dance partner is easy, and when turned away it is often ends with an “I’m sorry” or a similar response. Maybe this has more to do with the approach – respectfully approaching someone from the front with a smile and an open hand, as opposed to jumping on a woman from an angle she can’t see you in a dark club. As I look at my startup’s marketing data the same occurs – our prospect conversion rates vary greatly based on the channel and context. Try to meet people where and when they are looking for what you offer.
  3. Get your reps in – Maybe I just am a slow learner when it comes to dance. I know I have stiff hips. But I need to and do take moments out all the time to practice moves on air. In some Latin cultures, the men¬† show up early on evenings of dance socials and practice with each other so they had their moves down when the women arrived later in the evening. Often startup success stories focus only on an entrepreneur’s big hit, but that’s not the whole story – many entrepreneurs have numerous failures or smaller wins early on. Don’t believe the hype – get out there and start training so you are ready for when your moment to perform arrives.
  4. Sometimes you have to just wing it – Dance patterns will go wrong and the worse thing you can do is over-analyze it. I’ve had moments where I fail or simply forget a move within a larger pattern and I stop. Cold. Guess how awkward that is for the person following my lead? It took some time but now I’m comfortable figuring out a transition or will just break off into some solo footwork until I can catch the timing. It is a pipe dream to think you will be prepared for everything. Every business challenge (and song/partner pair) will be different. Be flexible.
  5. Have Fun – People remember how you make them feel. Some of the best song/partner pairs I’ve danced to were ones where I botched half of my patterns, but laughed at it and my partner was smiling right along with me. If you take yourself too seriously, you’ll miss out on half of the fun. Learn to take the wins and losses in stride, and have fun sharing all of the moments with others.

Photo Credit: Latino/Chicano Student Association РUniversity of Minnesota


  1. I recognize the hetero-normative statement, that’s simply the history of the the salsa culture.
  2. I made that term up, same concept as with handshakes.

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