Are you looking for a new hobby with tremendous mental and health benefits that is also fun? If yes, this blog post is for you. WAIT! Before you scroll to the next article tell me if this sounds good. You can engage in a fun activity that helps with anxiety and depression, is culturally diverse, helps improve your memory, retards the aging process, helps you improve balance and agility, raises good cholesterol and lowers your bad cholesterol (diabetics pay attention), increases lung capacity, aids in the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis, helps to keep the joints lubricated which prevents arthritis, and helps to create a social life while affording the opportunity to make new friends.[i]
Can it be true that dancing has that many health benefits? Absolutely! Per the American Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, …” dancing can strengthen the bones of legs and hips, help people manage their weight, decrease blood pressure, and lower the risk of coronary heart disease. Social dancing is a unique exercise because it provides the heart-healthy bonuses of an aerobic exercise while allowing the dancers to engage in social activities.”[ii] And if you are a calorie cruncher, one study showed that salsa dancing is one of the best cardiovascular exercises you can imagine. Salsa dancing burns about 10 calories per minute and 420 calories in an hour which is the equivalent to a hard-played tennis match. That is an incredible amount of benefits packed into one dance. [iii] [iv]
For me, it was my bruised ego that first introduced me to taking salsa dance seriously. Let me explain. Moving to Rochester wasn’t the easiest transition for me. I was overwhelmed with work and had some trouble fitting in and finding friends. That was until I stumbled upon the small but vibrant Latin American dance community here in Rochester. Now, I am hooked.
After a work event last summer I was out with some colleagues and they were salsa dancing. I bragged that as a musician I had a good sense of rhythm and thought because my mom was from Latin America that I could pick up the dance easily. I jumped on the floor with them and was thoroughly embarrassed by my inability to quickly learn the dance. With my tail between my legs I decided that night that I would learn how to salsa dance.
After doing some research I started taking lessons at Inikori dance studio off University Ave and realized that I loved salsa dancing. My instructor, Katie, then invited me to other events they had and through that I met others who danced at Tango café on Friday, Inikori dance studio on Saturday, Tapas 177 on Thursday and Saturday and about a half dozen other places and times. Some offer regular personal or group classes for a very reasonable price and others offer free group dance lessons on certain nights. Within a 10-mile radius of downtown there are so many places to do salsa dancing and people have formed a thriving Latin American dance community.
When you show up at a dance you will see a range of people from the beginners to those who have danced professionally. A mostly Millennial crowd but a mix of ages, races, ethnicities and culture connected by their love for dance and music. After you learn the basic steps you develop your own style and feel and then create with your body how you interact with the world. You can’t help but smile, laugh and feel good out there stepping, swaying and shaking your body to the beat. But also people are friendly and eager to help you even if you are a relative beginner.
In addition to making new friends, group salsa dancing is also very healthy for your physical and mental well-being. Dancing has a “triple benefit on the brain: it increases the blood flow to the brain, increases social aspects such as less stress and depression, and helps with mental challenges to the brain by remembering dance steps,” according to Joe Verghese, a neurologist at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. This has been shown to be so effective that authors of a meta-analysis of 27 studies on the effectiveness of dance movement therapy, published in Arts of Psychotherapy, “concluded that dancing should be encouraged as part of treatment for people with depression and anxiety.”[v]
If you are one of those people like me who start exercising at the beginning of each year with lofty goals in mind but eventually decrease then quit on your exercise schedule, then dancing may be the solution for you too. Some people enjoy lifting weights or running endlessly around a track, but I can’t dredge up a more depressing way to spend my time. If this is you, then you should try salsa dancing. You are much less likely to quit your exercise if you think it’s fun. And if nothing else, salsa dancing is FUN!
As a musician, I have performed in bands, choirs, a cappella groups, musicals and operas. And as a singer I’ve enjoyed the solos and spotlight. Unlike singing where you are either in a group and expected to blend in or you have a solo where you can showcase your individual talent, dancing is a completely different beast. When you are out salsa dancing, you have the feeling of doing your own solo as you move with your partner while also sharing the joys of being in a group choir because you have people all around you moving, twirling and stepping to the same beat. To experience salsa dancing is to experience a joy and ecstasy that is hard to explain – your dopamine levels are sure to start peaking.
Take on a new challenge this year and learn how to salsa dance. Spend some time getting to know the exciting Latin American dance scene here in Rochester by taking some easy group classes. As we get older it gets harder to find outlets for pure fun where you can develop platonic relationships with strangers and genuinely enjoy yourself with them. See you on the dance floor!