The art of Salsa dancing: Michael’s unpredictable pursuit of a passion turned thriving business

The Block Advisors’ Small Business Resilience Series celebrates small business owners who have persevered through challenging times to find success. In this spotlight we feature Michael Cahn.

Michael Cahn instructing a dancer in his Salsa studio.
Michael Cahn, owner of Suenos de Salsa, overcame pandemic challenges to turn his passion for authentic Latin partner dancing into a thriving business.

Meet Michael: a believer in dance as a universal language

Michael Cahn - Salsa Studio Owner

Raised in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Michael Cahn grew up listening to his father’s flamenco troupe. He discovered salsa dance while studying Spanish in Cuzco, Peru. Cahn followed his newfound passion to Havana, Cuba, where he studied salsa with dance teachers from the Caribbean Islands. He traveled to Ecuador, Mexico, and all over the U.S. while studying and performing with world champion salsa dancers.

Michael’s accomplishments include finishing in the top five at the 2011 and 2012 Gemini Salsa championships and winning multiple partner contests in Seattle. He opened his studio, Suenos de Salsa, in 2012 and eventually expanded four years later. The studio exclusively offers salsa, bachata, and kizomba classes — some of the most popular partner dances in the world. Michael’s studio is the only one in Seattle that offers a specialized focus of teaching called “On2”. This method ensures instructors are experts in their specific style of dance and students are learning an authentic dance form.

Never losing his rhythm even when the music stopped

In his words

Michael - Small Business Owner and dance instructor

My business completely stopped during the worst part of the pandemic. When the vaccinations first came out (thank goodness!), we were able to start again. Things blew up because everyone had been sitting indoors waiting for more than a year to go dancing and take classes. It was crazy because we had the best month we had ever had, and if that isn’t thrilling, I don’t know what is. And then the Delta variant came out and everything went completely flat again and just emptied out. The whiplash was real.

It’s a very difficult business during a pandemic because you’re dancing with somebody right in front of your face. And typically, you change partners every few minutes. So, we had to be really strict on making sure people were vaccinated and very strict on masks. We have been really lucky so far, but these were real problems we were dealing with.

I have a few employees who are contractors and teach several classes for me. Generally, most of them were cut until we started to get a little bit busier. Recently, it was mostly me and my girlfriend, who is my manager, that were teaching the vast majority of the classes. There was a bit of a misunderstanding with my previous landlord who told me I only had to pay half the rent during the pandemic. After I paid half the rent for a year, they told me that they only meant for a month. All of sudden I owed six months of rent and COVID restrictions meant I couldn’t open my doors and do business. I worked my whole life to build my credit and I wasn’t going to listen to others who told me to just ignore the restrictions.

Suenos de Salsa sign

Things that got us through were a couple of small grants, and the Seattle dance community stepped up with a GoFundMe that was really helpful. The GoFundMe and the Paycheck Protection Program loan allowed me to pay off most of the rent and helped allow me to stay in business. All but two other salsa dance schools in the Seattle Metropolitan area went under. It really knocked a lot of people out, and it was a really tough time for our community and for me.

During the pandemic, crime went up by 40 percent in Seattle. I got robbed three times (you read that right) and my insurance cut us, so we had to move studios. This was the lowest point for my business, and it was really rough. The biggest lesson that I learned was that you’re going to need friends out there in the world that are going to want to support you. If I hadn’t had a support base, then it wouldn’t have worked. I just kept on going and just kept on hoping. You can’t lose hope. There were some dark days where I thought, “I don’t know if I can do this.” Don’t be afraid to take assistance and let your friends help you. It’s hard to do that sometimes because you want to do it all on your own. And that there is resilience, isn’t it?

People come to us to escape reality through dancing. They’re not thinking about their jobs, COVID or anything else. They come in, enjoy the space, and feel comfortable. We all need to dance and that’s why I have confidence in my business.

Moving and grooving with Block Advisors

Michael Cahn teaches a student to Salsa dance

Michael has been a Block Advisors and H&R Block customer for about 10 years. Although he’s worked with several advisors across various locations over the last decade, his trust in the small-business-certified tax pros remains consistent.

Recently, he always goes to the same office in Seattle at 113 First Avenue, because he knows any pros there will take care of him – it’s his “home office.” Michael explained, “Even though I’ve worked with several advisors, they have all made an effort to do their best by me and that’s what keeps me coming back.”

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