Monday, November 3, 2014

Ritmo Latino Salsa Club – Outstanding Leadership!

Those who have been following for some time may have noticed that, although I named this blog “Dance Club Review,” I have only posted one review of a dance club.  This is because I only post reviews of dance clubs that I find to be truly outstanding.  There has to be something so special about them that I simply must extol their virtues to my readers.  There are times when one simply must give credit where credit is so abundantly due.

Latin dances were the next step in my journey to learn all the dances, and it was from my friends at WWU Swing Kids that I discovered the Ritmo Latino Salsa Club of Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington.  They came highly recommended by several dance friends of mine who are students at the college.  I soon found out why.  Here is a link to their Facebook page:

Due to a prior speaking engagement, I arrived late for the first day of this year’s Ritmo Latino Salsa Club.  I missed the opening welcome, announcements, and warm up drills.  I joined the class just as the leads separated off from the follows to learn the basic Salsa footwork.  I noticed right away that this club had obtained a lot of participation.  The Viking Union Multipurpose Room in which the class is held was quite full.  The leads were directed to one end of the large room.  In order for them to see the instructor’s demonstrations, they were arranged in four rows across the entire end of the floor.  These rows were rotated so everyone would get a chance to be in the front row.  I joined in off to the side on one end, whipped out my trusty notebook, and commenced writing down everything I was learning.

I instantly became aware of something significant.  The instructor clearly had the attention of this entire group of guys.  This was a positive, enthusiastic type of attention - and it was universal.  It was hard to describe exactly.  You could feel it in the air.  Keep in mind that these guys are college students and are not normally known for their Olympic attention spans.  I began to think that I must have missed something special in those opening remarks. 

As the class proceeded, I began to understand how this degree of attention had been obtained.  The dance instructor, a young man by the name of Sean Cavanagh, apparently has that very rare quality sometimes referred to as natural leadership ability.  It is not the type of leadership technique that one learns in books but is instead more of a spiritual type of thing.  Either a person has it, or he doesn’t.  An individual might not know that he has it until crisis or necessity forces it to the surface, but it was already there to begin with.  It is, in part, the ability to inspire others with a positive vision.  It produces enthusiasm and the adoption of a shared goal by others.  It quickly creates a spirit of good-hearted unity and camaraderie among the participants.

It was also immediately obvious that Sean Cavangh was not just a leader to these guys.  They perceived him as a friend, like a brother, a man who has attained both their attention and their respect.  He is what is known as “a man’s man”.

As the class proceeded, I also perceived a lot of happy noises coming from the other end of the room, where the follows were practicing their own set of basic steps.  As the two groups converged to practice their newly learned footwork together, I soon learned the reason for those happy noises.

The follows’ instructor was a young lady by the name of Anna Magidson.  When I first saw her, a number of things became immediately and strikingly apparent.  This young woman simply exudes positivity.  When she smiles (which she somehow manages to do almost all the time), she smiles with her whole being.  She is one of the less than one percent of the human population who possesses a truly spectacular smile.  Now, I admit that my ability to read people is limited, but, as I observed the follows while Anna spoke with them, I noticed that her effectiveness in explaining the dance steps was greatly leveraged by her positive aura.  She had more than just their attention.  She had their admiration.  That is what I felt I saw in their eyes.  It seemed to me that they wanted to be like her.  They too wanted to be positive, accomplished, cheerful, radiant young ladies.  One can only imagine how much happiness they will bring into the lives of others if they are successful in emulating her qualities of personality.  To these girls, Anna is more than just a dance teacher; she too is a friend, and there are few things better in this world than a good friend.

When Sean and Anna demonstrate and explain the dance moves together they present a cheerful, unified experience for the students.  They don’t second guess each other - no negativity occurs.  The result is that the nothing detracts from the students' positive learning experience - nothing dampens their enthusiasm.  Sean and Anna are not just teaching Salsa moves; they are imparting a positive vision of the dance to the entire class. The result of this is clearly noticeable - this is a very happy dance club.  In fact, the spirit of happiness is so powerful here that I was originally going to entitle this article “The Happiest Dance Club,” but I decided to focus on the power of this club’s leadership instead, as it appears to me that the universal happiness here is very much a result of the positive example set by those who direct it.

I had to ask myself: Is this particular group of college students a cut above the rest, or am I just seeing them at their best because they’ve been influenced by Sean and Anna’s positive vision.  I don’t know for sure, but I have met many of them and have observed the others over the four consecutive Monday nights on which this class has been held so far, and they all seem like good, wholesome, friendly young adults.  They certainly have been very kind and welcoming to me.

But wait, there’s more!  Sean and Anna are doing more than just imparting a positive attitude.  They are also teaching Salsa, and they are not just going through the motions.  No, they really want their students to effectively learn the dance.  Their attention to detail as they work diligently and patiently to ensure that everyone in the group truly learns the foundational steps and moves reveals a serious dedication to their craft.  It also reveals that they genuinely care about their students.  Instead of leaving struggling people behind, they assess people’s moves and provide individual attention and encouragement. 

They even accommodate students who have joined the class 1, 2, 3, and even 4 days late.  To do this, they separate the class into sections based on what stages of instruction they have already mastered.  They have assigned trained teachers who share their positive vision to instruct these separate classes.  At the beginning of each session, they take time to review what the students had learned the previous week.  This greatly helps both to solidify the previously learned move and to prepare the students to learn the next move.  Recently they have also started a number of small mentoring classes that will meet independently with an instructor to master the finer points of the dance.  These in depth salsa fundamentals lessons have proven to be very beneficial, and, judging by how the class numbers have remained high, they have also been a real hit with the students.  Recently, I learned from a friend that this outstanding program of instruction was primarily organized by Anna.  So, she is not just radiant and visionary, but very wise as well, a truly unique and specially gifted individual.

In summary, let’s look at the basic elements here and see what they add up to.  We have charismatic inspiring leadership + the imparting of that leadership vision to additional trained instructors + the adoption of that positive vision by the students + dedicated, careful, complete, and intelligent instruction in the fundamentals = one very competent, accomplished, happy, friendly, and welcoming dance club.  And that, my friends, is a beautiful thing, a very rare and beautiful thing indeed.

For me personally, it has been a real pleasure and a privilege to meet these wonderful people, to see them in action, and to witness the positive results in the lives of their students, whom it has also been my very great pleasure to meet.  They are what true leadership looks like, and they are a great credit to our entire dance community.

Keep up the very good work, and see you on the dance floor, fellow dance enthusiasts,

Wylin Tjoelker     Dance Evangelist      Dance Club Review