Toronto’s Real Potential – Innovation as Our Culture and Strength

Pico Iyer, in his book The Global Soul, hits upon the global cultural phenomena that Toronto itself is fully in the midst of.  As Iyer points out, there is a real loss and disintegration of national and cultural boundaries taking place around the world.  The globalization of people not just goods is seeing individual identities merge into a broader and more dispersed global sense of self.   This global merging is however, paradoxically and simultaneously leading to an increasing sense of fragmentation within the individual which more often than not leaves one feeling lost, disconnected and afloat in a sea of many cultures with no one place or people to fully feel apart of.

In few other places can this be seen or felt more than in Toronto where our emerging multicultural make up is global but dissconnected from a larger fabric, leaving our identity open to all things and no one at the same time. Toronto, in its relative infancy is fertile soil for a multicultural people to shape and grow and global identity rooted in the local given the peaceful and harmonious conditions we benefit from.  Iyers himself sees Toronto as an ideal global city with the potential to both imagine and create an urban, pluralistic, civil, and peaceful global heaven on earth.  I believe we’ve begun to do just that but not in the way we may think or doing all we can to support. On the dance floor of a salsa practice however, (the Toronto Salsa Practice), we are doing just that. As a model for what we could be doing city wide, our differences are being transcended and we’re coming together in the places where our sameness exists and can be tapped into; our basic humanity, global soul or oneness. Its that hard to get to place where deep connection between different people, cultures and religions takes place and judgments and superficialities fall away.  Dance is brilliant at achieving this and its this kind of space that allows the best of our diversity to emerge.  The strength of Toronto is its vastly diverse people, but tapping into the potential we hold requires an integration that both penetrates our differences while also drawing strengths from them.  A contradiction and mission impossible it would seem but not so for Toronto, as we hold the right conditions to achieve just that.

The model for this level of integration be realized and along with it our innovative potential if we translated what’s taking shape in places like the TSP, elsewhere across areas the city.  Why do so?  Because the innovative potential we hold as a people is incredible, powerful and something not to be taken for granted.  Diversity when joined together in a way that transcends differences and then allows the individual a safe space and a means of expressing themself, leads to experimentation, failure, learning and eventually creativity and invention.  This is not only Toronto’s potential, it is our way of being and who are as a city and people when we embrace our diversity for what it truly is, an incredible muscle we need to learn to flex and an identit we need to learn to embrace.  In this sense our potential is not only innovation itself, it is the realization of innovation as a culture and our own uniquely developing way of being.

The conditions that exist here are unique in many ways in the world.   We are a young country with few historical reminants or strife to hold us back from designing our own way forward and a porous cultural identity which often times acts more like an open space to be filled instead of a strong and dominant culture to overcome.  In the space that remains other more strongly defined cultures of the world have found spence to exist here.  When shaped by the right conditions, our coming together can produce behaviours and ways of relating that are specific to Toronto.  In turn, these new ways of coming together are influencing our emerging identity and grounding it back at the local level. Whereas the globalization of identity instills a sense of connection to the everything and paradoxically comes at the cost of feeling apart of nothing, parts of Toronto are finding a means of connecting to the global oneness of our makeup while also beginning to plant roots back at the local level.  The collective experience of finding connection across our global make up and the behaviours we’re developing as a means of doing so, is creating bridge between the our global identity and our developing Torontonian identification.  This is why Toronto’s search for a superseding and uniting identity is so important, it makes room for our displacing differences and allows them space to exist in a united way because they have a place to call home.  It is also why embracing our innovative nature as this bridging identity and capacity holds the key to both our future in practical (economic, business and development) terms as well emotional and spiritual city terms as well.

The individual fragmentation Pico Iyer refers to does have a remedy and its one we are developing here and now.  In unsuspecting corners of the city, like the dance floor of a salsa practice, people are able to engage as distinct individuals and citizens of a global city collective, both as subjects and creators of.  In Toronto, one can be many things at the same time but the key is to balance the global with a uniting sense of local belonging and to do that we need look no further than examples such as the Toronto Salsa Practice for the inspiration and formula to follow.

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The Strong Quiet Types – Our Unsung Community Heroes

Much of the success of the Toronto Salsa Practice (TSP) has to do with Jim Groneau, the leader, director and organizer of the TSP.  Not one to speak about himself, he embodies all the virtues that make the TSP the success it is and exemplifies what a true community leader is all about – the community itself.

Full of humility, he is stills surprised to learn of the practice’s impact on the many people it has touched over the years.  Dedicated to the Practice, he continues to man it from behind the scenes and on the front lines where he’s almost always there to greet people at the front door with a smile, hug  or handshake.  And the effort a leader makes to be present for his community, to provide for it and engage with it makes a real difference.  Jim for example has honed his photographic skills over the years by taking shots of the dancers on the floor which increases the community’s engagement and gives back to it in a way that allows it to bear witness to its own involvement.  We all feel more connected as a result.

As the best of community leaders do, he has set and consistently upheld the values that matter most to him; those of social justice, equality, fairness and respect for everyone who enters the space.  These values have come to underline the Practice and set the tone for interactions on the dance floor which is unique among most salsa practices.  The friendly and welcoming vibe that the TSP is known for and continues to garner success as a result of, is because of the values Jim continues to embody and uphold.  There is the affirmative action policy in place for example, that reverses the role of the man as the one who asks the woman to dance.  This change up has seen to it that no woman gets left behind on the sidelines and instead both genders feel free to ask who they please to dance, with a little added boost of confidence for those that need it.

Some community leaders rise to great notoriety, but many don’t despite the important impact they have on the city and the lives of those they touch.  Jim doesn’t ask for nor does he crave recognition, instead he’s in it for all the right reasons – care for the community, strong values, a love of dance and fairness for all.  He stands as an example of the hard work it takes to make a difference but also the rewards that come from that.  Hopefully what he as achieved on the dance floor of the TSP will inspire others to follow in his foot steps.  So here’s to you Jim, you are a true community leader – an unsung hero with accomplishments many want to sing about!