The World Will Say You are Crazy
“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” Nelson Mandela
When I first became director of Toronto Dance Salsa, it was a very different school. There were no high fives, there were no name tags, and there were no questions. People came in, learned to dance and left. They didn’t feel judged, but it was much more of a transaction. I had a different vision. Dance helped me feel calmer. I felt better about myself and my body. Dance helped me find the family that I’ve always wanted. And at the same time, the work I did outside of dance, reading and learning and growing and understanding myself also transformed my life. So when I figured out my one word – #belong, I wanted everyone to have the same experience.
I sent out an email to the 45-50 Helpers and 8-10 Instructors and said “We are going to meet at the studio in a couple of weeks and we are going to do some personal work. You will all figure out your core value. Mine is #belong. If your thing is #love, #caring, #kindness, #acceptance, #sparkle or whatever, then I want to build a studio where we can champion those words.” I was completely unprepared for the response.
The Helpers and Instructors were incredibly uncomfortable. Both in person and through emails I got responses like; “This is weird. This is just a dance school. Why do I have to look inside myself? This is a cult!” And I remember receiving the backlash and feeling crushed. I had taken a risk and was already struggling to believe in myself, so I did what I often do, I ran to my mentor. I told him “I quit. I’m done.” He calmly asked why. “Nobody wants what I want. They are all saying I’m crazy. They’re saying that this is not what they want Toronto Dance Salsa to be. What am I supposed to do? I’m not a one-man army. I quit.”
He told me I couldn’t quit but I had two options. “The first option is to accept that they’re gonna be uncomfortable and they will leave sooner or later as you make these changes. So maybe this is the time to have a conversation that if they feel uncomfortable, they need to step back now. It makes your life easier, it makes their life easier. If the school comes down to being just you as an instructor with five students, then you’re going to rebuild Toronto Dance Salsa into the vision that you want.”
That terrified me. “But everybody belongs. I can’t do that. I can’t. What’s the other option?”
“The second option is you send out another email taking everything back and you wait. They will all leave eventually as you slowly implement the changes. You will be taking the longer road but it will be less painful right now.”
So I sent out the email taking everything back. As I was composing the email I was sobbing. Have you ever had that moment where the things you’re saying out loud, you don’t believe in? It is soul-crushing, but it was the option I chose. This time only four or five people replied. And most of the answers were “cool”.
Time went on, and as I started to focus more on the stories, and the questions and build my vision, more volunteers started to step back. My mentor was right. But I stuck with it. And here’s something beautiful. This Halloween, we had our social and there were tons of people in beautiful costumes. One of my students was wearing a costume that was lit up in neon. He came up to me in the dark and opened his coat. On his chest was a flashing neon sign that said: “Belong”. I was immediately teary-eyed because I couldn’t believe it. I asked him why he would want to do this. He replied, “To make you happy.”
Seven years ago, people said I was crazy. Today people are proudly wearing neon belong signs. And so what I learned was don’t let the world convince you that you are crazy. At first, the world, your family, your friends or maybe even your inner doubts will say you are crazy. “You are crazy to do this. Crazy to try this.” But you stick with it. And then the world will go silent. And you will feel lonely because they may no longer say it, but you haven’t seen the results yet. It is awkward and it doesn’t make sense or feel right. But you stick with it. And suddenly you find the people who support you. They are quiet but they are like you. You still stick with it. Then the world changes. Because now they are asking “Hasn’t it always been like this? Haven’t you done this your whole life?” And you smile. Because you know the work and sacrifices involved. When most people quit, you didn’t. You stuck with it. All along it was the world that was crazy. So don’t stop until you get your neon sign.
I can’t wait to welcome you to our big family, have you come in every week, have fun, socialize, and let loose to amazing Latin songs. Click here for our current schedule.
If you have any questions you would like me to answer, here are some ways you can contact me: message me on Instagram (torontodancesalsa), on Twitter (#torontodancesalsa), on Facebook (Toronto Dance Salsa) or email me at [email protected].