La Workout Loca
Swivel and Sweat With Salsa

By Marian Jones   Fox News
NEW YORK — Ricardo is my partner. He wears a tight, short-sleeved blue velour pullover and black polyester bell bottoms as he strides across the studio floor to pull me close.

AP/Wide World
Dancers move to the salsa beat at the jam-packed Jazz Kitchen in Indianapolis

Suddenly, I am spinning across the slick wood beneath me, led by the assertive hand of my partner, who is also our instructor. My heart is beating with the music. I forget I am wearing sweatpants and glasses. For a moment, before I trip over my shoe, I feel as if I am really living La Vida Loca.

Unlike a slow waltz, the red-hot liquid swivel of salsa quickly gets your blood pumping. Even the beginner class I took was almost as physically challenging as a beginning step aerobics class. And it was much more fun, so I didnít notice I was working.

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The leader telegraphs moves to the follower with the right hand, placed on the follower's left shoulder

"Dance is a very good way to keep in shape, and salsa is more aerobic than many other forms of dance," said Dr. Lillie Rosenthal, a dancer and director of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the Miller Health Care Institute for Performing Artists in New York.

And when salsa is taught in a friendly, non-threatening setting such as the studio we visited, You Should Be Dancing in midtown Manhattan, itís something anyone — old, young, fat or thin — can learn to do.

A Dance, Not a Dip

Lynsey Addario/AP
Ricky Martin's popularity has sparked interest in Salsa and other forms of Latin dancing

This type of dancing, Rosenthal noted, works the pelvic muscles, the lumbar (lower back) muscles and the gluteal muscles along with the quadriceps, hamstrings and knees.

When we started out, Ricardo counted one-two-threeeee, back-two-threeee as we followed his steps. Then he turned on the music. The room heated up as we stepped faster and faster with the frenetic beat. Ricardo told the class to keep our upper bodies facing forward while our lower bodies move, and I could feel my abdominal muscles burning and my hips getting loose.

Salsa is "the next big wave" in terms of popular dance trends, says Tammy Halaburda, who opened You Should Be Dancing this fall.

A lot of Latin Americans born in the United States are taking it, Halaburda has found, because they did not learn salsa at home. And now, with the mainstream popularity of Latin singer-dancers such as Ricky Martin and Marc Antony, many non-Latinos are getting into the moves.

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For salsa dancing, it's important to have shoes that allow your feet move--and look good on the dance floor

Salsa began in the 1950s in Puerto Rico. Other Latin dances include the merengue, which is from the Dominican Republic and samba, which is from Brazil. Merengue is a little more quick and jerky and quick than salsa, and samba incorporates Brazilian music.

The Swivel and Spin

When we partner up, I am a follower. I learn to listen to my leaderís right hand, which rests just below my shoulder blade. A slight push will tell me to spin to my right, draw in, go forward or back.

We learn how to step gracefully forwards and backwards with just a few inches between our bodies. I am to be slightly to the left of my partner, so we donít step on each otherís toes. Then we learn the turn. One, two, three, spin spin spin. Like any skilled leader, Ricardo telegraphs the moves to me with his hand, so I barely have to do anything.

Next, my partner opens up and I step forward, then turns around. For that one, the leader does all the work.

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It takes a few tries to learn to spin without stepping on your partner's toes!

Finally, we combine the basic move, the spin, and the turn. We are listening to the beat of the music, receiving or giving signals, moving, balancing, and preparing the next move all at the same time. This is where dancing becomes a total mind-body exercise.

Learn the Moves, Then Go to the Copacabana

Itís a good idea to take a few salsa lessons before going out on the town, doctors recommend.

"A lot of people who come into my office with neck pain or lower back pain [from salsa dancing] have not taken a class, they've just tried it at a club," said Dr. Joseph Kansao, a Manhattan sports medicine chiropractor who treats many professional dancers.

Kansao also recommends stretching the quadriceps, hamstrings and lower back muscles before beginning to dance.

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The top of the body stays forward as the lower body and hips move

As with any new movement youíre introducing into your fitness routine, Rosenthal recommends you start slow and give yourself a day or so between classes so your body can recover.

But the great thing about salsa, Ricardo tells me after class, is that you can pick up the basics in four or five lessons, especially if you practice at su casa. Then, he says, you can take the advanced class — and learn moves that will make you look like Ricky Martin or Gloria Estefan on the dancefloor.