Looking for a place to go dancing and a way to impart their love of dance onto others, Finley and Carmen Walker stepped in to create a community for Salsa and Swing in Lakeland. In partnership with the City of Lakeland’s Parks & Rec., The Walkers teach group and private social dance lessons with their company, Lakeland Salsa & Swing.
A high school Spanish teacher who would teach Fin and his classmates Salsa, and a Swing-dance-themed senior prom were Walker’s foray into dance. He enjoyed it so much that in college he connected with different groups and would go dancing every week. After about a year of social dancing – mainly Salsa and Swing – Walker was offered the opportunity to teach some basic classes. That grew into a weekly Friday night social in downtown Lynchburg, Virginia that attracted over 200 people each weekend.
Fin participated in styles from Waltz and Tango to Foxtrot, Cha-Cha, Rumba, Merengue, and Bachata though his passion has remained Salsa and Swing. When Fin and Carmen met, naturally the two spent time on the dance floor. They would periodically go out dancing and do private lessons. The pair lived in Miami for a time and Durham, North Carolina. The pursuit of Fin’s doctorate in Organizational Leadership at Southeastern University and Lakeland’s “awesome community vibe” brought the couple here to stay.
Finding the Rhythm
“We wanted to have something to go to in Lakeland. We were looking for a place to go dancing,” said Fin. Lakeland does have dance studios for formal lessons but seemed to be lacking what they were looking for – informal, low-pressure, social dancing that was fun and accessible to both novices and professionals alike. So, in March they created it themselves with Lakeland Salsa & Swing.
Every Tuesday evening in the Lake Mirror Auditorium, for $5 per person, folks of all ages and skill levels, with and without partners gather to learn from the Walkers and socialize with fellow dancers. “Most of our students that come are beginners,” said Walker. For this reason, they’ve created lessons comfortable for everyone. Each week, they cover a basic step along with the foundational basics of moving to the music and dancing with a partner. They marry that with a combination, turn, or another maneuver. The Walkers switch it up each week to make the class accessible to newcomers and not repetitive for those who attend regularly.
“What we’re looking to do now is build more of a culture and a community,” said Fin. He explained that bigger cities like Orlando or Tampa have these types of dance events regularly. Instead of having a studio, they rely on a different restaurant or business to host. This is the model he’d like to create here, partnering with Lakeland business owners.
Both the accessibility and the ubiquity of the dances were the reason he wanted to bring Salsa and Swing to Lakeland. “It’s kind of like a gateway to the other partner dances. The steps are a little more accommodating to beginners,” he said. “They’re kind of these evolving dances because they’re more social dances and less of the traditional formal styles. They’re constantly evolving, changing, adapting with different music that’s coming out.”
Periodically they change formats from their usual class and host Salsa social. The last one was at LKLD Live with another scheduled this month at Haus 820. The social is typically longer than a normal class and draws in more people. The Walkers are hoping to have upwards of 100 people at their upcoming Haus 820 social on October 11.
Try something new, you might just fall in love
If you’re on the fence about stepping into your dancin’ shoes, Fin had a story that might change your mind about trying something new. In college, Walker would ask his roommate to go out dancing with him as a way to meet new people, unwind, and build confidence. “Dancing helped build my self-esteem,” Fin said. “It also taught me a lot about relationships.”For an entire semester, his roommate declined. Finally, at the end of that semester, he gave in and went dancing. Walker said, “He loved it after that first time. He was hooked!” His roommate went dancing every week from then on. He moved back to Los Angeles where he was from and began working with a professional dance group. Now, he competes professionally and teaches at a prestigious dance studio in L.A. The roommate even met his wife through dance.
“Dance, it brings people together,” said Walker. “Everyone should give it a shot at least once and you never know, it might be your new favorite thing.” Walker says he and Carmen would love to add another day of the week to their dance schedule – one day for Salsa and another for Swing. At the moment, the family’s schedule won’t allow it as Carmen works full-time in the mental health field and Fin will soon start a position teaching 5th grade English. Oh, and they’re expecting a baby!
They look to add that extra day in the future and potentially try out a “Dancing with the Stars” event with Polk County celebs. In the meantime, the duo will keep using dance as a conduit for community, confidence building, and fun. “I love teaching – with dancing or teaching English and Social Studies – I love seeing the lightbulb moments in people’s eyes when they get it,” said Fin Walker. “The moment when they self-discover what they’re capable of, that’s an awesome feeling. For me and my wife, that’s the reason we love to teach dance.”
Lakeland Salsa and Swing
When: Tuesday 6:30pm - 9pm
Where: Lake Mirror Auditorium
121 South Lake Ave., Lakeland
$5 per person