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About Us

Our classes are open to all military personnel and their families, and are provided at no cost to patients thanks to our generous donors. We currently hold classes at various military facilities and VA locations across the United States. To find a class near you, please click here.

Mission Statement

To enhance and enrich the lives of wounded, ill and injured active duty and veteran service members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families through a unique program incorporating therapeutic social dancing with a variety of music and professional instruction.

Who We Serve

Soldiers Who Salsa serves wounded, ill, and injured military service members in locations where they may already be receiving treatment or therapy. Our locations are set up at military medical facilities, and are often coordinated with Physical Therapy, Psychiatry, and Recreational Therapy. Depending on the location, our classes are typically provided through a therapy program though some may be offered on an ongoing drop in basis. Check the calendar for the classes being offered in your area.

When we first began offering classes, our focus was with patients working on balance on coordination with their prosthetic limbs. Therapists quickly saw that the benefits these patients were receiving could also apply to those with traumatic brain injuries (TBI). In addition to balance and coordination, memory recall and multi-function activities became important visible results.

Because salsa dancing is such a social activity, it has also been invaluable to patients with post-traumatic stress (PTS) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Common symptoms of PTS/PTSD include an aversion to close contact, avoidance of new activities and new surroundings, and reluctance to meet new people. Our classes provide a safe place for patients to not only learn a new activity, but also work on several of the most common symptoms. It is not uncommon to see patients laughing, smiling, and engaging with new people each week

Board

The Board of Directors for Soldiers Who Salsa is comprised a variety of professionals ranging from military officers, medical professionals, business leaders, and dance experts. Each one brings a unique set of skills and experience, and we are united with our common goal of enhancing and enriching the lives of our service members and their families.

President: Marilyn Halder

After growing up in a military family with multiple deployments to the Philippines, Marilyn pursued her passion of becoming a professional dancer. She appeared with many Broadway and Hollywood stars and began her TV and film career which spanned from soaps to feature length films. In 1978 she married a Navy Physician and enjoyed several exciting duty stations including Naples, Italy. In 2003 Marilyn and her husband moved to Formia, Italy where she mastered the language, travelled extensively, and devoted considerable time to the Naples US Navy League. Until her return to the US in 2010, she ensured that Service members and their families living in Naples received exceptional support. Since 2003 Marilyn has provided ongoing guidance to the North County Warriors Support which she and her husband helped co-found. The NCWS has provided over $300k of free auto repairs to E-5 and below families in the greater San Diego area. In 2011, she accepted the position as Board President of Soldiers Who Salsa.

1st Vice President: Richard Ridenour, MD RADM USN (Ret), and Board Member Leslie Ridenour

Rear Admiral Dick and Leslie Ridenour, with a philosophy which embraces the motto " when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade, or as they have done, retire to Arizona with a lemon tree in their backyard! After 39 years of marriage with 25 years of active duty in the Navy, including two Naval Medical Center Commands and nearly 9 years at the helm of a midwestern college, retirement early followed a serious medical change of plans. "Soldiers Who Salsa" and its relationship with the Physical Therapy Program for Wounded Warriors at The Naval Medical Center, San Diego brought them back home to others with major life changes related to medical issues. It has reminded them again that healing comes about in many ways. Second chances and life lived to the fullest possible extent are what it is all about ! They invite you to come join us in helping to make our wounded warriors healthier "one dance step at a time"!

2nd Vice President: Robert Halder, MD RADM USN (Ret)

Bob Halder, M.D. is a retired Medical Corps, Rear Admiral in the United States Navy. He is the Executive Medical Consultant for Novaces. From 1988 to 1992 he led the quality transformation at the Navy’s largest hospital. As a member of the Harvard National Demonstration Project, this hospital received international recognition for the success of its quality initiatives. Upon retirement from the Navy, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal, the nation’s highest peace-time award. Dr. Halder joined Juran Institute in 1992 as the Senior Vice President and for the next several years worked with healthcare systems world-wide assisting in the deployment of their strategic initiatives for improved quality. During this time, he was the lead clinical consultant to the Mayo Clinic, Rochester Minnesota, for their continuous quality improvement endeavors. In addition, he worked at the JCAHO headquarters in Oakbrook Illinois in developing their continuous quality improvement-related accreditation standards. Dr. Halder has been a member of the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Ophthalmology, in which he is Boarded. He is an author of numerous publications in the field of clinical CPI. He was the founder of the 24-hospital Southern California Coalition for Improving Healthcare Quality. More recently, in 2003 he co-founded the North County Warrior Support Group in Southern California which provides free automotive services and repairs to enlisted Marines and Wounded Warriors. 

Secretary: Larry Hagenbuch

Larry lives in Dallas with his wife and their four children. He serves as the Secretary for Soldiers Who Salsa. He served on active duty in the US Navy for four years in the Pacific Fleet onboard the USS Reuben James (FFG-57). His brother, Lance, was a US Navy aviator also in the Pacific Fleet. His stepfather served in the Army Air Corp during World War II as a bomber gunner (B-17s) in the European Theater. Larry’s father-in-law (deceased) served as a Lieutenant in the US Army during the Korean War. Larry holds an undergraduate degree in engineering (Vanderbilt University) and an MBA in finance (University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School). He is currently the Chief Operating Officer of J Hilburn and also serves on the board of directors of Remy International.

Treasurer: Stephanie Anderson

Stephanie serves as the Treasurer for Soldiers Who Salsa. During her childhood, Stephanie's father served as a Captain, pilot and aviation trainer in the US Air Force. She was an avid student of dance and currently lives in Dallas with her husband and their three children. Stephanie is a Managing Director of AlixPartners, LLP and a Certified Public Accountant She holds an undergraduate degree in accounting from Texas State University and an MBA from Texas A&M University. She also serves as the Audit Committee Chair for Promise House and on the Revenue Committee for March of Dimes Dallas.

Board Member: Maryann Grodin

Maryann Lawrence Grodin has served as the Senior Level Service General Counsel to the U.S. NRC Inspector General since 1991. Prior to assuming this position, she was a Supervisory Attorney and Associate Command Counsel with the Navy Office of the General Counsel. She served on active duty and as a reserve officer in the Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps and retired as a Captain.In addition to authoring agency publications, her writing has been published in the Federal Bar Journal, the Judge Advocate General Journal, the Federal Ethics Report, as well as the Journal of Public Inquiry, where she served as an Editor. She has served as a faculty instructor and is a frequent public speaker. She has appeared at venues including the Office of Government Ethics Conference, the Association of Inspectors General Conference and the American Bar Association Administrative Law Division Meeting. A current member and former President of the Rhode Island State Chapter of the Federal Bar Association, Ms. Grodin is also a member, and former Chairman, of the Council of Counsels to the Inspectors General, where she was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award. 

Board Member: Jeffrey Moore

Jeff has over 15 years of Strategic Planning and M&A Experience across a broad array of industries including Consumer Electronics, Consumer Financial Services, Construction, Ecommerce, Industrial, Medical, Transportation and Wholesale Distribution. Jeff currently serves as the Vice President of Strategic Planning for Sodexo’s North American Corporate Services Market. Sodexo is an $18Bn Global Outsource Solutions Company. Jeff also served in the U.S. Marine Corps for six years where he achieved the rank of Captain and served in Operation Desert Storm/Desert Shield. Jeff received his Bachelors degree in Economics from Auburn University and his Masters in Business Administration from Duke University. 

DoD Liaison: Mike Podlenski, PTA, ATC

Mike has over 27 years of orthopedic physical therapy and sports medicine experience as a Physical Therapy Assistant and Certified Athletic Trainer. He specializes in manual therapy, functional exercise progression, gait and postural analysis as well as Pilates for rehabilitation. In the past two and one half years, he has been working extensively with amputees and polytrauma patients. Personally, he has an extensive background in running and ballroom/latin dance and has enjoyed working with professional dance company, Malashock Dance for 20 years. 

Executive Director: Jennifer A. Ables

Born on Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha, NE, Jennifer fell in love with dancing at the age of three. She began in ballet, and through the years added pointe, tap, Middle Eastern, Broadway, and hip hop. After graduating from Temple University with a degree in Risk Management, she added ballroom and Latin dance to her repertoire, eventually teaching for Arthur Murray in 1998. Jennifer remained with Arthur Murray as a teacher, competitor and manager until December of 2009 when her heart called her to San Diego, CA and to Mary Murphy's Champion Ballroom Academy. Jennifer began teaching salsa classes at Naval Medical Center San Diego in the spring of 2010, and together with Mike Podlenski and Mary Murphy turned this one class into a nationwide non-profit. She also enjoys solving the sartorial needs of gentlemen's wardrobes as a Stylist for J. Hilburn Men’s Clothier.

Advisory Board Chair: Mary Murphy

Mary Murphy is best known as the "Queen of Scream" on Fox TV's "So You Think You Can Dance". Shortly after graduating from Ohio University with a degree in Physical Education and a minor in modern dance, Mary moved to Washington, D.C. where, looking for a summer job, she answered an ad in the newspaper; a local studio was recruiting trainees to become instructors. The turning point came when the owner of the dance studio invited her to attend the United States Ballroom Championships in New York City. At that moment Mary realized that ballroom dancing was more than just job for her - she no longer felt the desire to spend the rest of her life as a modern dancer, performing alone. While continuing to teach for the studio, she sought out the best instructors in the area and began her competitive dance training. Her search for a suitable dance partner lead her across the country to Southern California. Although the partnership ultimately did not prove to be viable, she decided to make California her home.
Currently, Mary runs her dance studio, the Champion Ballroom Academy, and organizes a successful dance competition, the Holiday Dance Classic in Las Vegas. She frequently serves as a judge in some of ballroom's most reputable competitions, including the U.S. National Ballroom Championships, and can still be found on Champion Ballroom Academy's expansive floor passing on her enthusiasm and love of dance to her students.

 

History

The program began when a dedicated physical therapist at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego, Mike Podlenski, began teaching patients salsa at lunchtime in the clinic. He knew how much dance could help patients from both a physical standpoint, as well as socially and mentally. As the class size grew, Mike contacted celebrity dance professional, Mary Murphy, about bringing in a professional instructor to expand upon his idea of using dance as a component of physical therapy for service members and veterans learning to use their new prosthetic limbs. Within weeks of starting, the physical therapists recognized the potential for other patients with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) to benefit, and the program was expanded to include them and work in conjunction with both Physical and Recreational Therapy.

With the success of the program at NMCSD, we took the idea about an hour north to Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton (NHCP) in late 2011, and then to the opposite coast in 2012 at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) in Bethesda, MD. Since then, we have expanded nationwide and continue to take our programs to new locations at both military facilities and VA centers.

FAQs

Who can attend classes with Soldiers Who Salsa?

In general, classes are open to any patient in any branch of service at each location.
Some classes may require that you be medically cleared in order to participate. As with any physical activity, you are encouraged to check with your doctor or therapist before starting dance class. Patients are also encouraged to bring their spouse, significant other, a family member, or a friend with them.

Where are classes held?

Please click on the Find a Class link to find the time and location of the class in your
area.

Do I have to have dance experience?

No experience is required, as each class is taught from a beginner level

Do I have to have a partner?

You are always welcome to bring a partner (a spouse, significant other, family member,
friend) but it is not required. We rely on volunteers to fill in as dance partners each week.

Can my spouse attend with me?

Absolutely! We encourage those who can to bring their spouse with them - this is a fun
activity to learn together!

Do I need any special attire for class?

While no special attire or footwear is required, some participants feel it’s easier to move
in shoes with a smooth sole. Feel free to bring a pair of shoes to change into if you’d like.

How can I volunteer as a dance partner for class?

Each location has it’s own rules regarding base access. For those with military ID, you
are welcome to drop in to class whenever you are able. For those without military ID, you would need to go through that location’s specific procedure to become a registered volunteer. This process is typically done through the Red Cross or the Armed Services YMCA and will involve a health screening and a background check for security purposes. Please email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more specific information

I have an injury and I’m worried that I may not be able to do all the steps. Can I just watch?

You are always welcome to come watch a session. We also encourage you to speak to
the instructor before class starts and they will be able to modify the steps to accommodate you. We have specially selected our instructors based on their experience and knowledge and ability to adapt any step to any person.

Is my donation tax-deductible?

Soldiers Who Salsa is an official 501(c)(3) charity, and your donation is tax-deductible in accordance with all IRS policies.  Our Federal Tax ID is 27-4091893

There aren’t any classes in my area. How can I get one started?

To get a class started, we need three key ingredients: (1) a qualified dance instructor, (2)
a medical facility willing to allow us the use of their space, and (3) five or more persons committed to attending a 6 week session. When we receive a request for a certain city, we utilize our vast connection of resources to interview and hire the best instructor who has an interest in working with our military veterans. If you would like to see Soldiers Who Salsa come to your city, please email our Executive Director at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

What is the cost for classes?

There is no cost to attend any of our classes.  We are funded completely by donations.

Can there be a class anywhere?

As a non-profit organization focused on working with the wounded, ill, and injured, our
locations will always be tied to a military medical facility.

Do you do other dances besides salsa?

Yes! Our focus is on partner-style dancing, so just let your instructor know what dance
you are interested in learning. It is not uncommon to see a class learning merengue, bachata, cha cha, swing, foxtrot, tango, or country two step!