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The Documentary Release – TSP: Model for a City in the Making

DOCUMENTARY RELEASE: TSP: MODEL FOR A CITY IN THE MAKING

The Toronto Salsa Practice: Model for a City in the Making, is the short story of a salsa practice that holds within it the story of a community transcending boundaries, immigrants finding belonging and diversity realizing its innovative and creative potential. All in all, it is the story of a city coming into its own, told not from hindsight but as its currently unfolding.

Toronto is a city of immense potential and in breaking down the model of the Toronto Salsa Practice (TSP), the documentary sheds light on how its magic could be applied to the city as a whole. It holds the key to realizing the globally rich and incredibly potent innovative power Toronoto holds and our best future forward.

*** WHAT ITS ALL ABOUT – The Documentary Breakdown ***      

FIRST WE START WITH – THE CITY

Toronto is a city of immense potential.  A young city, barely 200 yrs old, its a blank canvas free to be who and whatever it wants to be only it hasn’t quite figured out what that is.  As one of the most multicultural cities in the world, with over half the population born outside the country, Toronto’s diversity is its strength.  When you add the incredible wealth of resources, talent, space and stability to this diversity, what you get is a recipe for immense opportunity.  Problem is, we have yet to come together in ways that truly access and see this potential through.  What we risk in not doing so, is squandering the rare opportunity to create a city of our making and failing to become a model for global diversity the world over.  Such are the stakes!

NEXT IS – THE POTENTIAL

Many would argue we’ve made it, reached the pinnacle of our multicultural makeup with people from every part of the world living together in relative harmony. To call Toronto multicultural and stop there however, is to miss the point completely.  Multiculturalism is great as a concept, policy and first step towards pluralism, but our potential is about much more than any mosaic or tolerant form of co-existence. 

THEN – BEYOND MULTICULTURALISM

We are so much more than the sum of our parts and although the cultural festivals and ethnic restaurants in the city provide a sampling of our diversity, they’re passive in experience and only scratch the surface of our deeper potential. Our true potential lies in the creative and innovative power of our diversity which requires tapping into, deeply engaging and stepping across lines into the spaces that exist in between you and me, in order for the best of our differences to be brought out.  It requires going outside our comfort zone and connecting with something larger than ourselves.  Its not a process that respects the boundaries of political correctness, it steps right through them and challenges politeness with a genuine curiosity for what lies beyond.

Luckily for this city, there is a place where the true tolerance and potential of our diversity is being tested.  It is a salsa practice where the power of dance is combining with other key innovation ingredients to realize the potential our diversity holds.  In doing so its modelling a way forward to our best future.

THE TORONTO SALSA PRACTICE – MODEL FOR A CITY

What started out as a gathering of only 4 people coming together to practice a few salsa moves back in 2001, quickly grew into something much more than the organizers ever imagined.  From its humble beginnings, the Toronto Salsa Practice has since grown into a weekly event attracting hundreds of people from across the city, with over 10,000 admissions sold last year alone.  Known as the TSP for short, it is a relaxed, friendly place where a microcosm of Toronto’s diversity gathers every Saturday afternoon, for over 14yrs now, in a beautiful church, in the Annex, to dance to the Latin beat of salsa.

There in the middle of the dance floor bridges are being built, barriers broken and a community of incredibly diverse people is forming across race, religion and a myriad of other differences. Purely by accident, the TSP has given rise to the most critical and intangible pieces that make a city desirable; community, place and belonging.  A collective sense of self as a city is forming, something people can feel apart of.  This collective sense of self is fueling a complex identity of Toronto’s very own and one that’s critically important to us as a  city of  immigrants.  In fact, it can make all the difference between Toronto’s future as a transient city, a spot along the way to somewhere else for many, or a place to call home, invest in and help build.

TORONTO’S IDENTITY AND SYMBOLISM – IT MATTERS

A city’s identity forms a symbol for the people that call it home to look to and relate to.  Without this, people struggle to  navigate the culture and find their way into the collective, without which they can’t integrate or fully contribute.  In a city whose culture is open but also vague and unclear, Toronto’s symbolism and navigability is lacking and as such leaves new comes at a disadvantage.  Can it be overcome and are people not finding their way despite this?  Yes, however the process could be made much easier and result in far greater cohesive success if our symbolism better developed.  And that’s just what’s happening on the dance floor of the TSP.

Our global makeup is finding home in something new here on the dancefloor of the TSP.  Given this city’s newness and lack of otherwise strong carved out cultural identity , there’s space for a collective sense of self to emerge that spans our diversity while also incorporating, making room for and building upon our differences. Its a global identity that’s taking root in new behaviours and values emerging on the dancefloor of the TSP, adding back in a local dimension to our emerging identity.

How exactly is this taking place?  For these answers we have to look to the power of dance itself.

 THE DANCE – CULTURE AND IDENTITY DEVELOPMENT

The power of dance is something subtle but penetrating in its ability to raise us above ourselves and join us at the level of our common humanity.  In the case of salsa, its ability to transcend the differences that separate us and deeply engage us at our core is almost magical.  United here, there is space for our likeness and differences to co-exist, become one and yet still maintain the distinctiveness of our many parts. A united diversity is emerging, a collective sense of self that’s lending form and definition to who we are and could be as a people and a city.

Underlying all of this are the values and behaviours being cultivated and given form to on the dancefloor.  A culture of respect, open curiosity and bolder interactions are coming to define the collective at the TSP and Toronto’s differences are flowing more freely as a result.  There is a spirit alive at the TSP and it is our spirit as a city waking up to its own sense of self and its innovative potential.

THE RECIPE – ADDING INGREDIENTS TO THE MIX

When the elements of space, structure and safety are added to a diverse community that’s united by a deeply engaging and animating force such as dance, what you get is innovation and our city’s creative potential harnessed.  In the case of the TSP, the element of SPACE refers to the physical space itself.  For our diversity to come together as it does at the TSP, its takes an open, easy to access, functional as well as inspiring space to house the people forming the community.  Housed in a large, sun lit, high ceiling room, the TSP takes place in an inspiring, creative and community supportive space.  The fact that the location is easy to access, either by foot, subway, bicycle or car is key to its functionality as well.  The fact that admission to the Practice is highly affordability also contributes to its accessibility.  For the price of a fancy coffee, anyone can get in without income barriers standing in the way of their participation.

Once the space is in place, STRUCTURE kicks in.  There is a governing structure of simple rules, do’s and don’ts that keep things moving along smoothly and fairly.  These rules are underlined by a clear set of values that the LEADERSHIP, specifically Jim Gronau the TSP’s Director, embodies and consistently upholds.  Respect, kindness and equality are primary and can be found in everything from the simple greeting at the door to the basic etiquette policies that structure the practice.  As an example, Jim put an affirmative action policy in place to ensure women feel confident asking men to dance with the requirement that the men have to say yes to help tip the traditional scales back into balance. The VALUES of the TSP are critical to the strong structure its formed over the years and the Practice’s over 14yrs of success.  From the leadership, these values are translated by the community and carried onto the dance floor where they’re taking shape as an emerging and collective sense of self.

Next comes SAFETY. With a values based structure in place and an inspiring and functional space to come together in, the element of a safety comes into play.  At the TSP, people are free to come out and play, express themselves, mess up, have fun, learn and take risks without judgement or prejudice.   Within this play there’s a very important coming together taking place that’s giving rise to the mixing, mingling and meshing of our diverse strengths that’s realizing our city’s true potential.  Engaged at the level of our core and moved into deeper connection by the dance itself, safety then allows the best of who we are to emerge and meet itself as a collective in the protected space provided.

Its a collaboration and partnership expressed through salsa moves that takes us into a deeper experience of our diversity.  There on the dancefloor, we’re EXPERIMENTING, exploring and creating across boundaries and in this space, INNOVATION is taking place.  Each dance is a new experience, an improvisation that brings with it something slightly different. Sometimes the experiment goes far outside the box of the ordinary into new moves and developing personal styles and at other times its the collaboration itself an innovative experience.  On the dance floor, Toronto is tapping into and building upon what each individual brings to the dance floor and moving together from there.

AND FINALLY – THE TSP AS A MODEL 

These are the key ingredients that make the TSP a model for our city in the making. Whether it’s Toronto’s approach to building the city, the way in which we approach social challenges or encourage entrepreneurship, the TSP stands as model of how to take more risks, value play and embrace diversity more fully to realize our innovative potential as a city.  Our emerging identity and forming culture is one defined by both our sameness and differences to produce more than the sum of our parts and its here that our true potential lies and its here that the TSP has much learning to offer. 

In a world, not just a city, in need of more inventive and considerate ways forward, its high time we danced this model off the salsa floor and on to the streets of this city and others.  Toronto has the people, the space, the safety and little history to hold us back, all we’re missing is the desire and commitment to see this model and the potential it holds through.  Its starts with salsa but ends with a city of our own making if we take up the challenge.   Our economic, social and cultural future depends on it.  So what are we waiting for?  Its times we danced the model awake as the innovative means of achieving our city’s greatest potential.

If you have thoughts, ideas or comments to add – Please come and join the CONVERSATION here!  We’d love to hear from you.

See also: 

The TSP: Model for a City in the Making Trailer

Background to the Documentary

Further writing on Toronto’s Real Potential – Innovation as Our Culture and Identity

The TSP as a Microcosm of Toronto’s Diversity

More on the History of the TSP

More on the TSP’s Director – Leadership Embodied

 

 

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