A perfect dance conversation
Salsa dancing provides many benefits, including a total body workout, toned muscles, improved balance - and it can even spice up your love life.
“Every dance with someone is a conversation,” says Danny Godfrey, a salsa instructor in Halifax, Nova Scotia. “The better the conversation, the more fun you have together.”
What kind of conversations are you having with your partner? If they’re limp, frustrating, or dry, perhaps you need to give salsa (the dance, not the food!) a try.
But wait—don’t skip this article if you’re single! Salsa isn’t just for couples who want to spice up their love lives on Valentine’s Day. It’s a playful and fun dance, loaded with emotional, physical, and social benefits for both couples and singles.
What is salsa dance?
Salsa has its roots in multiple countries and cultures: Cuban, Latin, African, Caribbean—and you! Despite the fact that there are basic steps to follow, salsa dance is a creative and unique form of self-expression. The way you turn, move your hips and body, and interpret the rhythm of the music is entirely up to you and your personality.
There are eight beats to every measure of salsa music. A basic salsa step will have you moving on beats 1, 2, and 3, pause on 4, and moving again on 5, 6, and 7. Pause on 8.
“When you first learn salsa, you’re a bit of a slave to the rhythm,” says Montreal-based instructor Cheryl Williams. “You move incessantly on the counts of 1, 2, 3 (holding the 4) and 5, 6, 7 (holding the 8).
However, with time, many leaders don’t move their feet on 5, 6, 7—but still lead their partners and keep track of the beat in their heads. They may choose to stand still and do a hip roll or a shimmy, while leading and watching their partner spin.”
Yes, salsa can get complicated—but it doesn’t have to be.
The health benefits of salsa
“A lot of the large leg muscles are worked,” says Williams. “Salsa can engage the whole body—but individual style varies from person to person. Some people may incorporate shoulder shimmying, hip movements, or African abdominal contractions—but those aren’t necessary.”
Salsa music is generally fast and upbeat, which makes the dance surprisingly aerobic.
“Most people who go to Latin clubs or salsa socials are on the dance floor most of the night,” says David Erne, a salsa instructor in Calgary. “This translates into an elevated heart rate for hours. Essentially what they’re doing is the equivalent of interval training, but it doesn’t seem like exercise at all.”
Salsa not only burns calories, but also relieves stress and stimulates brain cells in ways traditional exercise can’t. Dancing requires the coordination of brain and body, which strengthens neural pathways and improves cognitive health.
Types of salsa
There are many different styles of salsa: New York Mambo (On 2 Salsa), LA Style, Columbian, Cuban, Miami, Casino Rueda, Puerto Rican Style, and more. Regardless of the style, salsa is traditionally danced in beats of eight.
“My personal favorite is Rueda, which is Cuban,” says Williams. “It’s danced in a circle, with two or more couples and a designated caller. The caller calls out the next move and the leader of each couple leads that step. Most moves end in a change of partners (with the leader handing off his partner to his left and picking up a partner from the right).”
This salsa instructor encourages followers not to think about what move to do next. Instead, focus on being responsive to the lead. “This frees you up to listen to the music,” she says.
“Though the patterns are dictated by the leader, you can stylize and inject your musical interpretation within that framework.”
You can add arm and hip movements to create your own style and accent the music, always remembering that salsa is a lightly flirtatious, playfully seductive dance.
Salsa spices up your love life
“Sharing the experience of movement and music with your significant other can be very powerful and satisfying,” says Williams. “Dancing can bring couples closer together. And since salsa is flirtatious, it can inject sensuality and romance into your relationship.”
Salsa requires teamwork, which can strengthen your relationship … but be prepared for some rough patches while you learn.
“Learning anything new can be frustrating, and it’s often easiest to take your frustrations out on those closest to you. Some partners blame one another for not doing the steps right. We ask couples to change partners throughout our classes because people are generally nicer and more patient with strangers.”
But don’t worry if you aren’t romantically involved or married—you needn’t sit this dance out.
Says Williams, “When I started salsa dancing I quickly learned that, even as a single female, I could go to a club alone and have a great time in the arms of many different partners—strangers—and enjoy one thing we have in common: the love of salsa.”
Whether or not you’re in a relationship—and even if you have two left feet—the sauciness of salsa can spice up your life.
Health and fitness benefits
Tips for beginners
“There are classes in every city,” says Cindy Davis, who co-owns a salsa studio in Halifax. “For beginners and singles, it will feel intimidating at first to go out and dance socially. The trick is to get out and do it! Your nervousness will fade and before you know it, you’re dancing up a storm.”
“If there are different types of salsa classes in your area, research the schools and their instructors,” says Danny Godfrey, a salsa instructor in Halifax. “Read their websites, talk to their current students, or ask to observe a class before making a decision. Know that you deserve to take classes from a qualified instructor in a safe and healthy environment.”
In one hour of salsa dancing, a 150 lb (68 kg) woman will burn just under 400 calories.