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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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History of the TSP – The Practice That Started It All

History of the Toronto Salsa Practice (TSP)

How It All Began – In January 2001, four people new to salsa decided to meet outside of class to practice in a space in Trinity St.Paul’s, a church in the Annex, in the heart of Toronto.  What started off as an idea to learn faster by way of helping each other out in an informal and friendly way soon became a favourite weekly event tha each found themselves looking forward to.  They continued meeting and practicing – and going out for coffee or dinner afterwards.  The cost of practicing was studio rent that they split four ways and each took turns bringing a boombox for the music.  Their salsa moves improved and soon, they started to attract attention.

Before long, people from other salsa schools were joining in and others came out until numbers started to push a hundred and the lineup to get wove down the hall and into the basement.  Within a couple of years, so many people were coming that a proper sound system had to be bought and the Toronto Salsa Practice (TSP) was formally created.  People from across the city, other parts of the province and even newcomers visiting from as far away as Israel, Holland, Germany and California, were showing up to dance.  What set this practice apart was the energy that everyone contributed to in those early days and the warmth and camaraderie that first brought people together.  In fact, its what still makes the TSP what it is today and keeps people coming back for more.

Even more to the story, the Toronto Salsa Practice was the first of its kind in the city and started a salsa movement that’s taken off in more ways than one.  Many salsa schools and salsa socials have the TSP to thank for their existence having taken inspiration from the practice itself.  Before the TSP, there were few places to dance salsa and of those most were clubs too intimidating for many to set foot in.  Learning was limited to an hour or two of salsa in a class setting each week, offered by only a number of existing salsa schools.

When the TSP entered the scene it filled the need many had for a space that bridged the gap between the dance club and the classroom with a safe place to stumble, fumble and get back up again, learning more and more salsa along the way. The number of people who now dance salsa across the city has flourished into the hundreds and while not all of salsa’s success in Toronto can be attributed to the TSP, it was precedent setting in terms of having created something new and needed in a practice and creation of  community for Torontonians and recent immigrants alike.  Since its inception, the TSP has been replicated many times over with practices taking place in almost every corner of the city and a club to dance in each night of the week.  The old Toronto is no longer without the latin flare of the South!

More on the Practice and what its achieved available here:

The Trailer 

The Documentary 

 The Toronto Salsa Practice

Toronto’s Diversity on the Dance Floor

So Just How Diverse is the Toronto Salsa Practice (TSP)?

A look at the Toronto Salsa Practice (TSP) as a microcosm of Toronto’s diversity.

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The dance floor of the TSP is one of the most multi-cultural places in all of the city of Toronto.  Home to numerous cultural festivals, Toronto is used to diversity but no where else in the city does our diversity come together so fully or completely as it does at the TSP.  And for one of the most multi-cultural cities in the world, that’s saying a lot.  From race, religion, ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation to occupation, the extent of Toronto’s diversity present on the dance floor is impressive and its what makes the TSP a microcosm of our city.  What better place to play, experiment and take chances with diversity than here!

To lend weight to the TSP as a microcosm of Toronto’s diversity, a random survey was carried out one day at the Practice and here are some of the findings:

– Of the almost 100 surveyed, 60% were born outside of Canada.

– In terms of ethnicity, only 13% identified as Canadian-Caucasian.  Other ethnicities present ranged from Asian, Filipino, Persian, Hispanic, Caribbean, European, East European and African.

– 60% spoke more than one language and of those, 40% spoke three or more different languages.

– Ages aged from 21 to 65 yrs old, with the majority in their 20’s, 30’s or 40’s.

– Occupations ranged from librarian, engineer, lawyer, florist, pension officer, retiree, student, chef, chemist, social worker, banker, advertising exec, medical technician, marketer, software developer to business owner.

Put into the broader city wide context, these numbers accurately represent the city’s ethnic, linguistic and immigrant make up, and at times surpass them.  Based 2006 national statistics for example, 50% of Toronto’s 2.79 million population, was born outside the country, and 47% identified as members of a visible minority.  Statistic show that Toronto is home to over 140 languages and dialects and just over 30 per cent of Toronto residents speak a language other than English or French at home.  Similar to the ethnic groups found on the dance floor of the TSP, the top five visible minority groups in Toronto as reported in 2006, include:

  • South Asian at 298,372 or 12 per cent of our population
  • Chinese at 283,075 or 11.4 per cent
  • Black at 208,555 or 8.4 per cent
  • Filipino at 102,555 or 4.1 per cent
  • Latin American at 64,860 or 2.6 per cent

See the City of Toronto’s website here, for these and other statistics.

A larger map of the TSP dance floor can be found here.

 

The Story Behind the Story of the TSP Documentary!

The Lure – One afternoon while walking along Bloor Street, I found myself pulled through the front doors of a church of all things, by the pulsating sound of salsa music.  Following the beat, I entered a large, sun lit room and was immediately struck by what I saw. There on the dance floor, in the middle of a church,  the most incredible collection of vastly diverse people I’d ever seen were gathered all in one place. No where else in the city had I seen so much of our diversity joined together in such a deeply engrossing and engaged way. Every shape, size, colour, age, religion and ethnicity was represented on that dance floor and the place was alive with a sense of connection, cohesion, possibility and excitement. The energy of it was absolutely infectious.

Something More – Beyond the dancing and fun being had at what I came to learn was a weekly salsa practice, there was far more going on than first met the eye and I wanted to get to the bottom of it.  I was drawn to investigate further not only because I myself hungered for the same sense of belonging and community I saw on the dance floor, but also because the place as a whole seemed to hold the answers to similar longings we as a City yearned for.  Before long it became clear to me that who we are as a city, and the potential we hold when we came together in the right way, was taking shape right on this dance floor.  In a city that holds so much promise but at times frustrates those in pursuit of it, I felt the secrets held by the TSP needed to be told and the idea for the documentary was born.

The Toronto Salsa Practice: Model for a City in the Making, is in essence the 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. It is a labour of love both in support of the Practice and the city itself.  Although short in length, it aims to inspire and spur all of us on in the pursuit of Toronto’s true and vastly dynamic potential.  We have such an amazing opportunity before us to create Toronto into the city of our own making, so let’s not waste it!  This film is rallying cry while also suggesting the means of realizing our potential by looking no further than the Toronto Salsa Practice as a model to get us there.

Premiere Screening of the documentary takes place at 4.30 pm on Saturday January 24th, at the 14th Anniversary Party of the Toronto Salsa Practice itself.  Church address is 427 Bloor Street West, Toronto (Bloor and Spadina major intersection). The documentary will be live online after the screening at www.lifelivedright.wordpress.com.

TRAILER – The Toronto Salsa Practice: A Model for a City in the Making

There is a place in the city of Toronto, where people of all races and religions, ages and abilities, come together once a week to dance salsa. What takes place while the music is playing and people are moving is touching lives and changing the very face of our city one dance move at a time.

The Toronto Salsa Practice: A Model for a City in the Making, documents the power of dance to bridge divides and bring our vast cultural diversity together in ways rarely seen before.  Diversity is Toronto’s strength but until now we haven’t truly tapped into and brought forth our full potential.  The documentary pays homage to the Practice itself, the incredible community it has built and the ability of salsa to bring us together in ways that allow Toronto to realize its immense innovative capacity. It also documents the complex identity the Practice is helping to create, giving greater definition, cohesion and connection to a city coming of age and into its own.

Part I – Toronto A City In The Making

The coming of age story of a city on the cusp of something big! DOCUMENTARY RELEASE DATE: January 24th, 2015.

There’s an attitude in the air that’s burning a hole in this city and it goes a little something like this;  “Toronto is not a city for the world’s starry-eyed dreamers.  It’s one resigned to the demands of practicality”.  Stated in a goodbye letter to the city, author Michelle Dean explains her reasons for rejecting our more fair than fine city as a place contented with a lackluster and passionless existence.  Devoid of the drive and desire to make something more of itself, Toronto is cited as not only lacking in great expectation, it suffers from a historic inability to even inspire it.  Harsh words and ones that, despite having been written some time back and published in Toronto Life , still hang heavy, the points piercing and still unaddressed.  So, although slow in coming, its time we set the record straight and put a stop to the negative persona our city has taken on and clarify what seems to be going amiss for so many.

Why is it for example, that cities like New York and many lesser known outposts are happy to toot their own horn but we Torontonians can’t muster up enough city-pride to get behind ourselves in a similar way?  Are we truly the passionless, work obsessed and complacent ridden city we’re said to be?  And if so, why on earth are more of us not protesting on the streets?  Truth be told, our lack of outrage lends weight to the criticisms laid against.  Not all is done and said for however, there is still far more to our story and we owe to ourselves to get the little ditty straight.

What we stand for, our identity and our association to it matters.  How we feel and act towards our city has the power to impact the place we live for good or bad and works to shape our future fate as either the place of our dreams or just another stop on the road to somewhere else. The answers to the questions Ms. Dean’s letter raise is what in part sparked the making of a documentary examining a very special place that breaks the mold Ms. Dean criticizes and rejects us for.  The documentary is titled; The TSP: A Model for a City in the Making, and its a tale of a city coming of age and Part II of conversation follows here.