TORONTO – Canada’s first-ever pride month may be over, but its impact continues to be felt across the country. In Toronto, one dance school is leveraging the momentum to challenge the gender roles that still dominate the dance floor.

Toronto Dance Salsa Instructor Lily Ma is the first to admit that dance isn’t the first place you would look to see gender barriers breaking down, but that’s exactly what she wants to do.

“Salsa is traditionally danced by a man leading a woman, but we shouldn’t let tradition dictate what’s right or wrong,” says Ma. “Our school is all about inclusivity and family – whatever that may look like. We want to create a place where everyone feels at home.”

Ma, who identifies herself as a straight ally who stands for LGBTQ rights, is on a mission to support more fluid dance roles in her classes at TDS, and throughout the dancing community.

“I want my best friend and her girlfriend to feel comfortable showing up to dance wherever they go, but especially at our school,” she says. “After speaking to people, I realized that misconception about gender identity and sexual orientation, and misuse of the appropriate terms, were two of the biggest challenges. So that’s what we’re addressing.”

To that end, Ma has begun following guidelines from The 519 and Rainbow Health Ontario, which outlines proper and respectful labeling of trans and gender-diverse people.

“I believe in addressing people by the terms and labels that they themselves have chosen to identify with,” says Ma. “For most of us, it doesn’t mean much, but for folks who have been mislabeled all their lives, this is a huge movement.”

TDS also allows students to choose the dance role – leader or follower – that suits them best.

Owner Evan Carmichael supports Ma’s mission, and encourages others to do the same.

“Any school, organization or company that doesn’t open its doors to diversity, or promote inclusivity is losing out on so much richness,” he says. “Change will take time, but the more we can knock down walls, the faster we’ll get there.”

About Toronto Dance Salsa

Toronto Dance Salsa is Canada’s largest salsa dance school. It specializes in turning absolute beginners into dancers. It introduces students to the fundamentals of salsa, bachata, merengue, kizomba, and tango, and also offers workout classes like Zumba. Its new semester of classes is beginning now.