It's the spiciest of partner dances, where chest shimmies, body rolling and exceptionally tight sequin-encrusted tank tops are all part of the business. The provenance of the 'salsa' name is unsettled; some say it was created by record labels as a ploy to sell music, while others hold the chunky tomato dip in high regard given the blend of different dancing styles (or ingredients). Eitherway, it's an Afro-Cuban social dance combining moves from the cha-cha- cha, mambo and rumba, among several others.
GIVING IT A BASH
Wondering what to wear to a salsa lesson? Same. Though one look around the room and I'm not sure that anyone really knows; it's a wardrobe explosion charging jeans and business shirts, sparkly stilettos and pleather trackpants. Don whatever feels best, as long as you don't mind it getting a little sweaty.
Our tutors for this lesson had 20 years experience between them. While you may think salsa is all about the hips, the tutors explain that for this introductory lesson we'd be focussing purely on the legs. The basic salsa rhythm comes in eight beats, though it's only the 1, 2, 3 and 5, 6, 7 that are counted — the 4 and 8 are considered rests.
We were split into genders down two sides of the room before the tutors revealed that they were going to trick us into learning the basic salsa walking rhythm. They began the exercise with five steps forward and five steps back with a tiny pause at each end. It was then cut down to three in each direction, effectively creating the foundation salsa step. If feeling comfortable enough with the rhythm, some shimmying and shoulder humping could be introduced. Next came a sidestep, an enhanced sidestep with crossed legs and 90 degree turnouts with the same timing. It took a few attempts to nail the footwork of the basic step off the back of the flashy moves.
For the final section of the class we'd be trialling our newfound skills in a social dance situation, moving between partners in a circle. There were hellos, obligatory admissions about whether you've danced before, then awkward silence, sweaty hands and floundering eye contact. As the designated leader, my task was to guide my partners through the basic step, the sidestep and the turnout. The first stranger dance was an absolute washout with a lot of apologising — not being able to look at the instructor's feet saw my rhythm fly out the window. It improved from partner to partner and as soon as music was introduced the whole thing came together. I left with a rapid heart rate and a light sheen.
WHY YOU SHOULD TRY IT
Salsa is an incredibly social activity. There's no better way to combat your fear of meeting new people than by throwing yourself in the deep end with strangers and attempting a body roll. The fast pace makes it great form of aerobic exercise, the technical and rhythmic elements can improve the coordination of the brain and body, and the flirtatious nature is said to work wonders for tired relationships.
Unless you've recently undergone hip surgery, the act of salsa dancing doesn't really present much of a risk. Though, it's recommended those with known heart and back conditions consult a medical professional before hitting the dance floor.
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