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Business Idea: Salsa Dancing

Even if you have two left feet, this Latin rhythm can be big biz.
February 1, 2001
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/36466

Dancers and entrepreneurs have nothing in common, right? Except that they're both passionate about what they do, devoting long hours to that passion and tasting the sweet elixir of success only after a ton of hard work. OK, perhaps they're more alike than we thought. Running a business can be similar to dancing a routine: You have to practice; it's your life's work; you have to wear special shoes...wait--bad analogy.

Thankfully, the connection between salsa dancing and entrepreneurship isn't as difficult to see. From creating salsa Web sites to producing instructional videos to managing a dance company, these salseros, as they're called, do it all.

Business In Motion

Josie Neglia, 35, has loved dance for as long as she can remember. She attended York University in Toronto to study it, but she found her niche--and her market--in teaching instead. "With [salsa] being a social dance," says Neglia, "the average person is going to be interested in taking lessons, so it's a bigger business."

Neglia started teaching at a club in Toronto before finding her way to Los Angeles and into one of the hottest salsa scenes around. "The very first night I was [in L.A.], we went out to a salsa club," recalls Neglia, "and I got into the whole salsa scene here in California. I fell in love with the style right away, and within a month, I was teaching classes here."

Neglia's smooth moves got her noticed, but her business sense won her several student clients. She'd pass out business cards and brochures at the clubs to direct people to her company, Dancexcitement, while using her dance prowess as a way to see and be seen.

Instructional salsa videos soon followed, with the first video costing about $6,000 to produce. Neglia's videos are now some of the best-selling Latin dance tapes around--she's sold over $200,000 worth since 1996. Now she has seven instructional videos available on her Web site and through distributors worldwide.

These sales, combined with Neglia's presence as an advertiser on Salsaweb.com--the place for salsa on the Net, according to most of the salseros we talked to--have greatly contributed to her success in the salsa world.

That world is a small one, say salsa veterans--everybody knows everybody. And to be truly successful, salsa-minded entrepreneurs have to immerse themselves fully in the scene. Going to International Salsa Congresses, salsa tours and, most of all, dancing in nearby clubs is the best way to locate your potential market while gaining exposure in salsa circles.

Fame And Fortune

It was on the club and competition scene that people first learned Janette Valenzuela's name. Twenty-eight-year-old Valenzuela, who appeared in the 1998 feature film Dance With Me, loved to perform, and she had always wanted to start her own business to complement her dancing, singing and acting career. "I searched all my life to find the perfect product to sell," she says. "I came across this shoe line, and when I saw it, it just clicked. I said, 'This is the perfect venue for me.'"

At first, Valenzuela purchased shoes from other designers and sold them, but in 1999, she designed her own line, Salsera Con Shoes. Now her challenge is dealing with the factories that manufacture them. "You have to acquire the materials, heels, labor and machinery," she says, "and it can get tricky because it's a specialty item."

Still, in a good month, Salsera Con Shoes sells up to 20,000 pairs of shoes, priced at $80 to $115 per pair. Valenzuela plans to market her shoes--now sold under the label Star by Janette--not only to the dance world, but to the general entertainment world as well. The line has already been worn by performers in the Cher World Tour as well as in the Broadway show Swing.

Building A Dance Empire

Entertainment is the main feature on the plate of Luis and Joby Vazquez, husband-and-wife founders of Salsa Brava Productions in Long Beach, California. They do it all, from teaching to managing their group's performance schedule and producing instructional videos.

Started in 1994, Salsa Brava Productions was one of the pioneers of the salsa dance craze. Back then, salsa was just a hobby--in fact, Luis and Joby met on the dance floor--but their salsa stylings garnered attention. "People were always asking Luis about teaching private [lessons]," says Joby, 33.

When Luis quit his job a few months later, he decided to try teaching part time. That evolved into group lessons at nightclubs in the Orange County, California, area, and a year later, Joby was able to quit her job so she and Luis could focus on their business full time.

It's safe to say that Salsa Brava is enjoying the best of both the dance and business worlds. "This is a social business," says Joby, "so you're pretty much on call 24 hours a day."

Their final advice for aspiring salsa entrepreneurs? Says Luis, "Go where the dancers are."