We had the good fortune of connecting with Tom Lev and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Tom, can you talk to us a bit about the social impact of your business?
Honestly, this is something that I remind myself often, because it’s easy to forget – quality of life and happiness come from communication. Dancing isn’t considered an essential thing, at least in most of modern societies, but everyone can agree that communication and empathy are extremely important for success and well-being in every aspect of life. This applies to our work lives, personal lives, relationships, and more – but we don’t really get to practice those things. We are kind of thrown into life and are forced to learn as we go, sometimes not in the safest environments.
We teach dance, specifically Brazilian Zouk which is super fun – but more than anything, we use it as a tool to build communities and grow emotional awareness, empathy, and communication in people.
We cultivate a safe environment with a lot of open communication, teaching people to have a growth mindset, be kind to each other, give feedback to each other respectfully, communicate boundaries, and more. This can inspire them to take it to other areas in life, making their lives, and the lives of those around them, better.

Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
We are in the business of fun, and people – in my opinion, two of the most complex subjects to manage. A dance school is a scary business, and as the team running it, we face some interesting challenges.

Dance teachers usually choose it for the passion they have for teaching and dance, yet in order to grow a community and run a successful school, they must treat it as a business, alongside their passion.
This line becomes muddy – can I just do what I want as a dancer, and model having fun to my students, or do I have to be “cordial” and put a professional mask on, in order to match people’s expectations of what a professional business looks like?
These dilemmas, and others, are things we encounter every day and are constantly learning to find a balance.

I learned that in order to create a fun experience, it’s not enough to say “just have fun” – fun comes from feeling safe and included, and it took a lot of research on psychology, group dynamics, and empathy to figure out how to do that for students! So we think of everything in the student’s experience, from how they hear about us, to the experience they have walking into the studio, in class, right after class, and back at home.
The guiding question is always: How can we make people feel they belong?

I think we differ from other dance schools in how we define our product – we don’t sell dance, we sell a human experience, and hopefully a great one. My life purpose (and the school’s purpose) is to make an impact on people’s lives, spread the gospel of fun, take things less seriously, and learn dance on the way.

I’ve always had a hard time with communication and understanding people, including myself, and dance was a way to understand myself and others better. That’s what brought me to start Sotaki, as a school for dance and using dance as a tool to teach empathy and better communication.

If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Oh, I’m still so new here, I haven’t explored much at all! I would recommend NASA for my nerdy friends, the Coffee Shop at West End for a nice place to hang (with a rooftop), Laredo Taqueria for authentic tacos, and walking/running/biking down Buffalo Bayou when it’s nice outside!

Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Ah…there were so many people along the road, each with their own little nudge. The people who impacted me the most were my mom, Vered, who lives far away in Israel but supported me in achieving my dreams, and was the best person to lean on in hard times – even from the other side of the world, and my dear partner and team member Taylor, who has helped me grow the scope of my research, gave me perspective and inspired me to grow as a person and a teacher. Recently though, it is the wonderful team I’m working with right now at Sotaki, specifically Annie Liu and Ashleigh Colby who helped me get things started smoothly, Maravilla Photography and Dauntless Dance Studio – they deserve all the praise!

Website: www.sotaki.dance

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sotaki.dance/

Facebook: faceboom.com/sotakihouston

Yelp: https://www.yelp.com/biz/sotaki-dance-school-houston-2?osq=sotaki

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GSksYon4CU4

Other: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rcs0WzxzwWU

Image Credits
Image credits: Aaron Bayles – Maravilla Photography, Charles Ogar

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