Salsa Dance: The Whole Body Challenge

I started taking Salsa classes: You know, one of those activities that I have always wanted to do, but never had the time, money or courage.

I was finding myself feeling pretty stagnant with day-to-day activities: Eat. Sleep. Work. Read. Watch my shows. Go to the gym. So on.

I was not challenging my mind or my body with something new. Not challenging the nature of myself. For most of my life I have always had a goal in mind; something I was working hard for and focusing on. Lately I haven’t had that. And it is difficult. Being around yourself is not always the easiest of activities. If you have never spent long periods of time with yourself, you should (But that is another blog post entirely).

So a few weeks ago, I found myself in a room of about 20 other people, all of whom have taken at least a few salsa classes in their lifetime. I had NEVER done any type of salsa dancing EVER.

Lesson 1: Zumba salsa is not the same as traditional salsa.

Lesson 2: Salsa is a sensual partnering dance where the ladies get to wear fancy high-heeled shoes, skinny jeans and blouses. What was I wearing? Sneakers, yoga pants and a workout top. Sexy….

Lesson 3: Ladies do not get to control this partner dance, which is probably the hardest part. I have always danced solo. I teach Zumba classes. I tell you what to do! Of course, I am not this ego-tistical, but seriously, if you have never been a follower in a partnering dance situation, it is not easy. And of course, every time I sub-consciously try to control the sequence of movements, I find myself in the absolute wrong position.

Needless to say, salsa puts me totally out of my comfort zone on many levels every week:

At the most basic level, I get a physical workout for my entire body.

My leg muscles are sore. My back is sore. In salsa, you are forced you to stand up straight, engaging the back muscles constantly. I build endurance. Dancers perform moves repeatedly, forcing muscles to continue moving after they are fatigued, building endurance. So, dancing has benefits for various athletes as well! And my favorite, I am burning calories! Dancing can burn anywhere from 150-500 calories each hour. And it is much more fun than resembling a hamster on the elliptical! All this activity helps lower bad cholesterol levels too! Your cardiologist will love you!

My self-esteem gets a workout.

Any type of physical activity reduces stress. Activity causes a release of endorphins, or feel-good hormones. So we get a chemical “high” so to speak. But long term, we feel good about ourselves, mentally and physically, because we are active.

In a social dance setting, we are forced to interact with others. This is especially beneficial for people like myself who are shy, or live in a new area. I have an introverted personality and rather than starting a conversation with a stranger, I tend to avoid them. In my salsa class, I don’t have a choice.

I work a lot and my profession allows me to interact with patients all day, but it is not the same. As humans, we crave social time. Being social increases communication skills. In a setting like this one, interacting builds self-confidence too! I have been able to meet a wide variety of people: students, moms, dads, retirees. The energy created in something like a salsa class cannot be put into words. Everyone is on common ground. No one is judging. Everyone is there to have fun and learn to dance. It is pretty amazing.

My brain gets a workout.

Some research has been done to demonstrate the benefits of dancing on the mind. We have all heard that using your brain with activities like reading or doing crosswords can help prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Add social dancing to that list. Salsa, for example, challenges the brain constantly. As women, we have to follow cues; really pay attention to the signals we are getting from our partner and think on our feet. For men, you constantly have to think ahead to the next place you will lead your partner. In this manner, we are constantly creating new neurological pathways.

I watched a video in nursing school that discussed this same concept. Neurons die a lot faster than they can be created. That is when our critical thinking and memory start to give way. We have to continue challenging our brain for it to create new pathways. Of course, this post promotes using dance as a way to do that, but trying any new activity will accomplish a similar effect. I feel this during class. As silly as it sounds, my brain physically hurts sometimes. I have danced for 20 years, but have never done ballroom. It is a technique than I am not used to and my brain is constantly working. It is never on autopilot and that is a great feeling.

Taking salsa classes challenges me in so many ways. I am trying to get everyone else on board too! You can be single or in a relationship. Go alone or with a friend. In my class of 20 people, there are no couples. All singles. It is not a requirement for the class, but simply happened. You will make friends there, if simply out of necessity.

And BONUS: I paid only $70 for 8 dance sessions. Not too shabby on my bank account!\

So take the bull by the horns and just try it!


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