EVERY Tuesday evening in the heart of Newcastle you’ll find people of all ages, nationalities and backgrounds injecting some Latin flare into their week by salsa dancing the night away.
Against a backdrop of Latin beats, the room where Chris Pentland runs his SalSeduce class, is alive with chat and above all laughter.
This lively and exhilarating form of exercise not only boosts your mental health – releasing stress and boosting self-esteem – but it also has health benefits such as reducing blood pressure and the risk of heart disease. For some, the fun and social aspects of dancing can be a lifeline too.
Brenda Newton, 65, from Chapel House, Newcastle, has been attending the classes for a year and says they’ve given her a new lease of life.
“I love the dancing and the exercise,” she says. “And I so enjoy the company. Everyone is very friendly and I’ve made loads of new friends that I never thought I would at my age. I lost my husband about three years ago and until then I didn’t really leave the house very much.
“ Since I started doing the salsa dancing I’m out at least three times a week and I could be out a lot more if I wanted to. It’s brilliant. Even the young people at the classes are very friendly and get to know those of us who are a bit older. They don’t mind getting somebody like me who’s 65 up to dance. There aren’t any barriers.
“I go out during the day with friends I’ve made and we have little dinner parties, so it’s not just about the health benefits for me.”
Brenda says dancing has also helped her manage a pre-existing ailment. She adds: “I don’t do any other kinds of exercise, mainly because I have arthritis in my spine so this is ideal for me. It’s not too strenuous and I find that if I’ve had a bad day with the pain in my back and I dance, the following day the pain has eased, and it loosens me up a bit more.”
The classes have had an enormous impact on Brenda’s confidence. She says: “I’m a lot more outgoing and confident now, just because I’m getting out more. I used to get quite depressed in the winter and with having arthritis I couldn’t get out very often. I used to be frightened if it was icy outside but now I don’t let that stop me.”
Nigel Griffiths, 25, a medical student at Newcastle University, has been attending the class for five months and noticed a calming effect that Salsa dancing has had, despite it’s fast and passionate nature.
“Obviously there are physical benefits, but the biggest effect I’ve noticed has been on my mental health,” says Nigel, who’s originally from Hartlepool. “It’s really good for relieving stress throughout the week which can build up when you’re studying hard at university.”
For Nigel, the health benefits involved are just an added bonus. “The main reason I stick at it is just because I really enjoy it,” he says. “I recommend the classes to everybody all of the time because I enjoy it so much. It’s definitely not something I would have seen myself doing before but I’m so glad I went along with my housemate when she invited me.
“Being at university I’ve already found that the student population of Newcastle is very diverse, but the group of people who come along to the salsa classes is even more so. There are people from all over the world, countries like Africa, South America and Asia, but there are also a lot of locals at classes too. Not only that but the age ranges from about 18 to one lady I danced with in January who was 85.”
Musician and model Luke Harrison, 26, from South Shields, has also noticed a boost in his confidence as a result of joining the class eight months ago. “I never used to dance before I started the classes, even in nightclubs,” he laughs.
“So the main thing I enjoy about the salsa is the confidence it’s given me. For the past 10 years I’ve participated in sports like Thai Boxing and Mixed Martial Arts but I fancied doing something different where I could meet new people.”
Luke says the teachers have helped him learn how to dance. “They explain everything in simple terms and make sure you understand everything whether you’re a beginner or an experienced dancer,” he says. “The steps are broken down into blocks so that they’re easier to put together as a whole.”
As a fitness enthusiast Luke sees salsa as the ideal stepping-stone into keeping fit for those of us who aren’t used to regular exercise. He says: “I do all different kinds of exercise myself, like boxing and weight lifting.
“I’ve trained for years, but it’s probably the most enjoyable form of exercise I do. I train five days a week and I still come out of there sweating! It’s a great workout, even going at your pace.”
The Latin music played in the sessions is a far cry from the music Luke makes with his heavy metal band, proving that people with different tastes can enjoy what the classes have to offer.
“I’ve met people from all over the world like Russia, Bulgaria, and Scandinavia and love that there’s such room for culture and diversity,” he adds. “Without a doubt I would recommend salsa dancing to absolutely anyone.”
June Robinson, a sports massage therapist in her 40s from Rowlands Gill, Gateshead, says the classes are good for any age or level of fitness.
“You can go along on your own, you don’t need to take a partner with you and everyone is extremely friendly, so it’s very good on a social level – everybody mixes and makes you feel welcome,” she explains. “It’s like one big party where everyone knows everybody.
“Because it’s dancing you don’t feel like you’re exercising. You can be dancing for a few hours with different people and not realise. On a cardiovascular level it works extremely well. It’s good for weight loss and it’s non-load bearing so you aren’t jumping up and down or doing step exercise so there’s no pressure on your joints.”
June says she’s also lost a stone in weight and toned up too.
“The dancing makes you more aware of what you’re eating because as your fitness levels become better, I’ve found that better eating habits seem to follow. In the winter I eat lots of chocolate and even though in the past I’ve been a fitness instructor, I hate exercise. Now I’ve started the salsa dancing a few nights a week and it’s absolutely amazing.”
Salsa teacher Chris Pentland, 31, from Forest Hall, North Tyneside, says people travel from Middlesbrough, Carlisle and even Edinburgh to come to his SalSeduce class and that salsa crosses all boundaries, language barriers, religions and cultures.
“In the North East the salsa community is typical of our region,” he says. “It’s an inclusive, friendly environment, giving people a brilliant social alternative, lots of new friends and a whole boat load of new confidence. We have groups, couples and lots of people by themselves turn up to SalSeduce on a Tuesday.
“It’s packed to the rafters and has a great atmosphere. Afterwards there is also the chance to practise what you’ve learned as the DJ kicks in for a couple of hours.”
Although Chris admits salsa started as “just a bit of fun ... I kept secret from the lads for a while”, it soon turned into a passion. He adds: “When the night starts and seeing all the people come through the doors and join in the classes gives me my weekly buzz, and it definitely beats sitting in and watching Emmerdale!”
The health benefits of salsa
:: Heart-healthy aerobic exercise.
:: Builds stamina and endurance.
:: Burns approximately 420-plus calories an hour, so can aid weight loss; can burn more calories than riding a bike or swimming.
:: Relieves stress.
:: Releases toxins through sweat.
:: Over time can lead to a reduced heart rate.
:: Increases energy, strength, muscle tone and co-ordination.
:: Lowers risk of coronary heart disease.
:: Strengthens leg and hip bones.
:: May improve cholesterol levels.
:: Can lower blood pressure.
Join the salsa fun
THE SalSeduce class is in Newcastle city centre (new venue to be announced soon) every Tuesday night from 7pm. Email email@example.com or call 0786 224 9846.
Chris runs another class on Thursdays called Viva La Duce at Jalou, Central Station, Newcastle, from 8pm. Dancers can learn salsa and kizomba, a kind of African-style tango. There’s a live salsa band every month and there’s always an international party night to end the evening. Both sessions are £6 or £5 for students and OAPs.