Do you have your own experience of dancing with SWS to share? Submit it here and your testimonial can be included on the page below.

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To watch a video testimonial from Cpl. Darryl Charles, USMC (Ret.) who went from hesitant to enthusiastic about our program in San Diego, please click here


To watch a video from our May 16, 2015 fundraiser, the most up-to-date account of our programs and successes so far, please click here


I was in rehab for ptsd and other issues. Soldier's Who Salsa was part of the downtime recreational activity and I didnt go right right away but when I did, it was one of the best things I could have done for my recovery. It helped me with socializing, getting out of the shell I had closed myself in to. It helped me in so many ways. Keep up the good work and keep all those Soldiers dancing. Thank You All VERY VERY MUCH!!?

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I'm retired SSG Gabriel Olivas. I have always enjoyed dancing with my wife recreationally. In July of 2014 I was in a bad motorcycle wreck and my right arm was amputated along with many other injuries. I thought I would never dance with my wife again. Along with the the physical, I had a lot of psychological problems. When I heard of the salsa clinic I was very hesitant to let people touch my broken body. The instructors were very supportive and helped me through my insecurities. I may have been one of the first if not the first arm amputee and a lot of the moves I could not do. The instructors taught me that everything didn't have to be 1,2,3 sometimes it can be 1,3,4 or 1,2,b. Since joining back in Jan of 15, my wife and I have learned several different dances and how to execute the moves like they were made for us. I'm very grateful to Soldiers Who Salsa, without them I don't think I would be walking around with as much confidence as I do now.

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I have communicated with mulitple service members and veterans throughout the San Diego community who have benefitted greatly from participation in programs with Soldiers who Salsa. Not only are people discovering a potentially new lifelong hobby, but they are also feeling connected to other people and most importantly to themselves. The arts are a powerful tool for healing, and should be held at the center of patient centered care. Soldiers who Salsa is exemplary not just in their ability to run great programs, but their expansiveness into communties throughout the country. As a music therapist working with military populations, Soldiers who Salsa is an organization that values it's participants, providing them so much more than simply learning to dance.

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I'm retired SSG Gabriel Olivas. I have always enjoyed dancing with my wife recreationally. In July of 2014 I was in a bad motorcycle reck and my right arm was amputated along with many other injuries. I together I would never dance with my wife again. Along with the the physical, I had a lot of psychological problems. When I heard of the salsa clinic I was very hesitant to let people touch my broken body. The instructors were very supportive and helped me through my insecurities. I may have been one of the first if not the first arm amputee and a lot of the moves I could not do. The instructors taught me that everything didn't have to be 1,2,3 sometimes it can be 1,3,4 or 1,2,b. Since joining back in Jan of 15, my wife and I have learned several different dances and how to execute the moves like they were made for us. I'm very grateful to soldiers who salsa, without them I don't think I would be walking around with as much confidence as I do now.

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Throughout my recovery all the adaptive sports consisted of ME trying them out, liking them, and my family being spectators when I practiced or competed. When I found out about Soldiers Who Salsa I wanted to see if I could do it because my wife “Nita” loves to dance. I went to my first salsa class, to watch, I went alone and was afraid due to being an amputee and having a weak right leg of what I could do if I had to get up and try it. Once I showed up, Jennifer Ables and Joe had such a contagious enthusiasm and energy that it was impossible for me to sit, watch and not try it out. I couldn’t wait until the next week to come back with Nita. I knew she would be excited to learn that we could dance once again.

Soldiers Who Salsa gave life in an aspect of my marriage that I thought was gone! With their weekly classes and monthly outings they gave us, and not only us, everybody involved in class the confidence to get out there, interact with others and enjoy life once again dancing.

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April 2011, I became a victim of Military Sexual Trauma while on deployment to the Middle East. My assailant knocked me unconscious and I sustained a Traumatic Brain Injury as well. I continued my service in the Middle East and was involved in combat on multiple occasions and sustained another brain injury. By the time I returned home, I had severe PTSD and was having significant problems with my TBI, including migraines, balance and vertigo issues. When I began the Soldiers Who Salsa Therapy at NMCSD, I was hesitant to try dance therapy because of my PTSD. I was having such a horrible experience attempting to get help for the MST and PTSD and I just couldn't see how dance would help. I kept attending the therapy due to my doctors' prodding and eventually became confident that the dance was helping my TBI symptoms. I began friendships with the other students which improved my mood and confidence around strangers. I was having less vertigo and was able to walk with an even gait. The Salsa Therapy worked for me and was an important part of my PTSD and TBI therapy to reintegrate me back into society. I'm very thankful I had that resource available to me.


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Being able to volunteer with an organization like this has benefitted me in more ways than I could have imagined. Coming to a place where our time is valued, getting to meet new people, increasing dance skills, and getting to be a part of a patient's journey iin recovery?! It's as much of a therapeutic and satisfying experience for the volunteers as it is for the patients, and so wonderful to be a part of.

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Soldiers Who Salsa is a great organization! My husband is a Marine Corps. veteran and heard about it through the veterans center at his school. We've been taking the classes ever since, and we greatly enjoy it! It has allowed us to connect with other people with similar backgrounds and gave us both a boost of confidence in our salsa skills. The instructors a super friendly and helpful! We cannot thank them enough! We love you guys!!! Keep up the great work!!!

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I started with Soldiers who Salsa while going through treatment at Camp Pendleton a year ago. Daily life as a full time patient is rigorous, and can be taxing. This program provided an amazing reprieve. Not only was I able to have fun again, it was therapy!

I have mobility issues due to hip problems, and the program still found a way to work around this. Prior to attending class, I had never danced salsa, but was able to learn quickly, and found I was able to socialize more as well. I also deal with fairly severe PTSD, and am currently a full time patient again, this time as a part of the Wounded Warrior Battalion at Balboa Hospital. Again, this program provides the reprieve I need to get through my week of therapies and monotony, while allowing me to slowly come out of my shell.

This program has been an amazing part of my recovery, and it will continue to be for as long as I'm here.

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As a victim of MST it was very hard for me to even be in the same room as a male service member. This program helped boost my confidence, and helped sooth my PTSD. I finally got to the point where I could dance with a member of the opposite sex and be ok. Soldiers who salsa help wounded service members feel like normal people again. I could finally talk to people with my head held high and without being afraid of what their intent was.

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I am an OIF veteran who served for the 82nd Airborne Division. During my time in Iraq, I was scared, alone, and super bored. I met a Marine who said do you dance salsa not knowing that that conversation would lead to me managing salsa nights once a week to help soldier, airman, marines, and sailors cope with the hardships. I've never felt so good about helping my brothers and sisters in arm. When I transition out of the military, i fell under depression and anxiety. When I started to feel those same symptoms while deployed. Alone, sad, scared, and super overwhelmed by feeling bored, I joined a local salsa group which helped me get my mind off what I was feeling. I looked forward every week to the dance class. And to this day I realize that "salsa" made me happier. Kept me in shape and made me feel confident.

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Soldiers Who Salsa Changed My Life for the better. I always wanted to dance but never could. I lacked the self confidence and motivation to try it. In 2014 at the La Jolla VA, I attended my first Soldiers Who Salsa class with Jennifer Ables and Joe. I am glad I did. They both make learning Salsa fun with their sense of humor and willingness to be patient. If it takes the whole time to learn the steps so be it. I want to stress both Jennifer and Joe ability to crack jokes while teaching is key to my success. Dance steps are better learned when laughing. I have been going back to the Wednesday class at La Jolla VA for almost a year. I am amazed at myself that I could dance Salsa, Merengue and the Waltz. Thanks to Soldiers Who Salsa, My wife and I danced the Sweet Heart Move at our wedding last year. This excellent program is more than teaching dance and counting the Salsa count 1.2.3..5.6.7. And as Jennifer Ables always says,"Dance Within a Medium Size Pizza Box." It is a powerful program where friendships are made for life. Everyone that I met in this excellent program has had a positive impact on my life. Best Part is I Love Dancing. I highly recommend this program. It helped me have a positive outlook on myself. I hope to see you on the dance floor!

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Super fun! It gets me out of my room. They are really nice and fun and make smile and laugh.

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Salsa has built my confidence in my dancing skills.

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I absolutely love this class! It is so much fun. I've become a lot more confident and stronger mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. I've developed more willingness to try new things. I used to doubt that I can dance again because of my chronic pain issues but taking these classes have proved me different! This class is so therapeutic! I'd totally recommend this salsa class to everyone. It's very beneficial on all levels. I'm a whole new person - I discovered I'm still fun and more!

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It's very interactive, lots of fun. Instructors are very inviting and polite.

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My name is Luke, an OIF/OEF veteran. I have been in a deep depression for years, and became anti-social. The last place you would find me would've been dancing. I recently found help at the VA ASPIRE Center in San Diego, CA. For the past couple months Jen Ables and Sharon have given the veterans at The ASPIRE Center one hour each Wednesday night. I am now open to attending Salsa clubs and for the first time in a while I feel out going. Thanks to Jen and her fun personality and randomness, I can be myself!

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In September of 2013, we were notified that due to the government shutdown and lack of available funds for any “non-essential” programs, classes at one of our contracted locations would have to be put “on hold” indefinitely. Our Executive Director, Jennifer Ables, is the teacher at that location and below is an unedited email she recently received from one of the patients who was an active participant at the time of the shutdown, and remains hopeful that we will be allowed back on base again soon. As you will see, our program is making a huge difference for her and many others like her. It shows that we are going way beyond “right foot forward, left food back” and how she has been able to relate dancing to life itself.

So, I have been struggling…

Struggling to understand why in the world such a good rec therapy with such a great instructor could be considered not important enough to fund. Do you need a picture, a video, a guideline, an explanation – an argument on how and why I am so enraged? Or how and why this salsa program has been/is so great, so exhilarating, so helpful to people, to a person – to a girl like me?

I am shy. I just have been, especially after going through my traumatic experience. I was raped, and in so many perspectives my life had and has shifted. I am still going through the aftermath, still in the aftermath with how I deal with life day to day and with the case alone. Interacting with people has not exactly been my calm cup of tea – it feels more like chugging down flaming hot tea… kind of painful. Expressing myself? By far, it has not been the easiest thing, at least not as easy as I would like it to be. But it is something about salsa – something about being on a dance floor, with a community of understanding people, that I find exhilarating. It is where I have found the hope in being able to be happy and truly alive and still being capable of interacting with people. It is something about the learning environment – definitely about the personality input of the instructor, as well – that no matter how long you have been dancing or how well you are at the moment of entering that class, that you realize how you can obtain so much more with just a little practice, just a little hope, just a little faith. Jen has helped in the restoration of all that, and all those skills can be applied to life!

Being a Hispanic girl in San Diego does not sound too bad in the perspective that I am in an environment with Mexicans, but it is not home for one and it is not the race that makes the difference in comfort all the time. What’s comforting about a community is the culture associated with it, and that is the part of home that I have missed and hadn’t thought I could find. It reminds me of the young days when my mother would try to help take me out of my shell and have me dance with her at parties. Heck, the concept of that action is what I miss, and why I have been slowly (but surely) getting from salsa rec therapy! Being free to express a little you without words! Breaking out of the quietness and being loud with your body in the most beautiful and appropriate way possible! And yes, it was scary at first, but Jen’s class makes it so easy to overcome the fear – we all have an understanding that we are not professionals, so we are all free from judgment and are able to have fun in such an atmosphere, which is beneficial mentally, emotionally, and physically. Isn’t that amazing?

Why? Why break away from the arts? It is as if we are diverting away from expressions, from the whole “mind, body, and soul” concept. But who are we without it? We military people can get lost – anyone can – indulged in work, in technology, in poisonous distractions that do not get syringed out, that do not solve a problem but rather suppress it from caring’s existence (i.e. video games, gambling, drinking). I, from experience, have gotten lost in such acts, but I have become aware that being fully indulged and lost is not a life well lived. It is not fulfilling. But in music, in salsa alone (and of course in my opinion, but should nevertheless be taken seriously for I am being nothing but true in this writing) it is not just a distraction, it is not just a thing for the moment, it is not just dancing – no, it is much more! It is a form of expression. It is an outlet of my anxiety. It is a play on words, if you will. It is a reminder of the human being I am. We all make mistakes, miss a step from time to time, do more steps than necessary, miss a beat, BUT we can learn from it! We can correct it, we can practice, and carry on the lesson learned to continue growing and evolving. Could this taught concept and/or reminder not be carried on throughout life in various perspectives?

Sometimes, words just cannot grasp or completely express a concept, but I find that music sometimes can alone or as an add-on to words. For me, I know I feel like I have heard it all, and honestly words have lost a bit of feeling for me, especially when my naïve-self realized that people are capable of lying. But with salsa rec therapy, I feel like there is no hidden negative notion. We are taught to follow (girls) but to enjoy the formality of reaction for another’s action and to learn how to add a little of ourselves, a little of our own style to our reaction. And the same concept applies to the guys who lead, to help create a show for a girl to enjoy herself and feel comfortable with her form of expression as well as understanding and appreciation for the level of concentration guys put their efforts into planning the next leading move. I have led and followed and that is how I feel about it.

It's just… the passion I have for salsa is like no other I have found. You know, dancing like an idiot can make you vulnerable to being ridiculed or made fun of, but the way it has worked out in Jen’s group… I mean, that is why it is so amazing! She has faith in us, and this faith seems to seed, plant, grow, and blossom within all of us so we can share the uplifting experience together and with others. So, why take away such a well-constructed class for people looking for that kind of inspiration?

- USMC Veteran

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The Soldiers Who Salsa program is such an amazing program. I started attending the classes as a ‘volunteer' female because there was not acceptable female to male ratio for the male attendees. In the process of helping out Jen and learning some fun dancing, I was able to watch the patients become more confident meeting new people, improving their eye contact, starting to laugh and learn a new skill - dancing!

While attending the community dancing outings to practice my new dancing skills, I started to have a connection with one of the patients. It was wonderful to watch the smiles on all the patients' faces, especially this new guy that I was getting to know. He was laughing and attempting to try new steps. Dancing was an activity that was out of his comfort zone. To make a long story short - We continued to attend the classes and dated, got engaged and then married. Jen even taught us our first wedding dance.

Over the past year we have been unable to participate in the organized classes, but we will start dancing in the kitchen on a rare occasion. We now have a little daughter. I'm hoping when she's old enough, my husband will dust off his dancing shoes and share his dancing skills with her too. I have Soldiers Who Salsa to thank for helping me create my little family and a develop a greater bond with my husband. I'm so excited for this program to grow and give other service members and their spouses their own amazing experiences!

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My name is XXXXX and I discovered Soldiers Who Salsa through the Balboa Warrior Athlete Program. (BWAP). As part of my re-socialization I started taking Salsa classes with Jen in the Spring of 2011, and since then I've gained a new appreciation of myself, a sense of accomplishment that I thought I'd lost,and a bunch of new friends.

When I returned from Afghanistan I was (unbeknownst to me) suffering from early symptoms of PTSD. Left untreated, these symptoms developed at such a rate that within one year of my return I felt unable to cope with the day-to-day chores of life, and completely incapable of performing my military duties. When I finally did reach out for help, my treatment was delayed by almost a year, and I feared going out in public, going to the gym (even on-base), meeting new people, or trying new things. It was a challenge to drive because of my hyper-vigilance and when I was confronted with challenges at work I would often cry because I felt incapable of success.

However, when my Psychological Health Pathways case worker suggested that I look into BWAP, I didn't really understand how going to Tai-chi and Salsa classes would help me with my PTSD. But my Psychiatrist and Psychologist assured me that it would and I pursued the bevy of opportunities that BWAP offered.

Salsa, in particular, has helped me with my balance and coordination, as well as my foundering self-esteem issues. I've made a BUNCH of new friends who--like me--have certain mental/emotional triggers that they know and respect. So when I don't feel I can participate, they don't press me, but encourage me to give it a try anyway. Their compassion and enthusiasm as well as understanding has helped me redevelop social skills that eroded under the weight of my PTSD. I feel confident in my abilities to interact with strangers, and I feel safer in my day-to-day life.

Jen is a wonderful teacher, and everyone she brings to assist her are kind, compassionate people. Aside from the obvious health benefits (I sweat like crazy and did not expect that!), Salsa is a fun, interactive activity that doesn't feel like "work," it's not a chore I do once a week, but a class that I anticipate. If not for Salsa, I believe that I would still feel very awkward in social situations, and I am grateful that through Jen's instruction I feel worthwhile, successful, and that others want to be around me (instead of me feeling like a stranger on the outside looking in).

In short, I believe that Salsa has a lot of benefits that (on the outside) might seem trivial, but to someone suffering from the alienation of PTSD, it's a wonderful way to re-socialize, re-acculturate, and regain a sense of self and belonging that might otherwise go unnoticed.

Thank you,

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