Trying Salsa As A Fitness Regimen

THE unfamiliar sound of sensuous music fills our small living room, where my partner is clutching the hip of a voluptuous woman in tight glittery black trousers and a plunging red sweater. He is sweating. She is smiling, but keeping a watchful eye on his feet. After all, it’s not every day a girl gets to dance with a 6ft 4 Aussie bloke put together like a series of uncontrol-lable paperclips, whose notorious clumsiness resulted in him being banished to a corner of the room to sit still in a chair during the birth of our child. This is the man who wouldn’t even dance at our wedding. Yet here he is, concentrating like his life depended on it, as he shuffles — slinks, for God’s sake — into a sexy slow-step samba. Welcome to the world of salsa. It’s a dance exercise trend that is sweeping the country and combines fitness, fun and even socialising. Most dancers are between 25-35 and single, but plenty of couples and older people are into it too. “A few couples meet at our classes — one couple are getting married and having the reception in a tapas bar, with salsa music of course,” says Hilary, our instructor. Hilary fell in love with salsa during a holiday to Italy 10 years ago, and became a qualified dance teacher. She now runs classes in Dublin five nights a week, with numbers ranging from 20, at her Salsa Fit sessions, to 100 at the traditional Thursday night gig held at the Garda Club. Although the starting level is slow, when you get skilled and confident enough to go to a club, you’re likely to be dancing for up to four hours. “Now that’s a good workout,” says Hilary, “and fun too.” She’s designed a special cardio-salsa class for those signing up to improve their fitness. The format is more like an aerobics session — we stand in line, with no partner required. But it still has the sensual body movements, great music and stimulating steps of salsa, and it’s a good cardiovascular workout. And you don’t need to have great Latin rhythm to take part. “The most common opening sentence I hear is: ‘I’ve got two left feet’,” says Hilary (35). But before I can lure my other half into a public class, he insists on a private lesson. Hilary instructs him to loosen his hands a little on my waist. They’re white at the knuckles where we’re linked in the centre between our feet, with thumbs raised. Our five-year-old hoots with laughter as Hilary instructs us in a “one, two, three, pause, five, six, seven, pause” mambo shuffle forward and back. “Do you want to join in?” she asks him. “Only if I can dance with you,” he simpers. Smart kid. As for the adult male, he’s starting to look like he’s enjoying himself. He perked up considerably after being told he gets to lead: “This is good domestic role reversal,” he mutters feelingly. By the end of the hour, we realise the dancing looks and feels better with smaller movements, instead of our start-out gambit of exaggerated clomping. To my astonishment, we are now going to group classes to try it out in public, where men often outnumber the women. “I wonder why that is,” I ask my bloke. “It’s got a lot going for it,” he says. “Good music, simple steps, and the chance to call the shots with your wife — and she can’t answer back.” We’ll see about that.