As a former Division 1 sprinter, I know a lot about how to train for running and have done everything from fartleks to speed workouts to Olympic lifting. But now, in the golden years of my running retirement, I’ve been wondering What else is there? In the coming months, I’m going to find out by attending different classes at the NYRR RUNCENTER and seeing what they offer for athletes of all kinds.
This month I decided to box step my way out of my comfort zone and went to the RUNCENTER’s Live Salsa Dancing Workshop with Carlos Mateu. Based on Cuban styles, this class uses traditional Latin dancing to get you moving.
I was a little nervous going into this class. I’m blessed with two left feet, and my coordination has never been all that good (in high school I was banned from doing field events), but I was curious to see what this approach to exercise could offer.
The setup was similar to a Zumba® class: The instructor stood at the front with his back to the class while the students stood in rows copying his movements. The instructor, Carlos, was full of energy.
This class targeted beginners, so it was relatively simple, but still challenging. There were some steps I got the hang of immediately, and others I never managed to wrap my feet around. I knew, however, if I practiced regularly, I would get it. We were encouraged to be elegant, to embrace the story of the dance, and to have fun.
Not ready to be front and center, I chose a spot in the back that still gave me a clear view of the instructor. I'm pictured here second from the right.
For a runner, the class offered a lot that was helpful. Although it was not high intensity, it worked out a lot of muscles that running does not directly target, and everyone in the class worked up a nice sweat by the end of it.
Salsa dancing uses the entire body, from your toes to the tips of your fingers and everything in between—core, legs, arms, and even neck! Yet as a full-body workout, salsa dancing is fun and gentle.
Salsa also requires you to coordinate your feet with your arms and with each other, so that you don’t trip over yourself—all while looking good at the same time! For me, this was a struggle, but I just laughed off my failures and focused on enjoying what I was doing.
"Don't fall over. Don't fall over."
What surprised me the most, however, was the balance aspect. Several moves demanded it, and I discovered that this is an area where I could use some work. Balance requires core, ankle, and leg strength as well upper-body control. No matter who you are, runner or not, working on your balance has great overall health benefits.
Pictured above (right) is me realizing I totally messed up that move, but no one else noticed, so it's fine.
If you’re worried about getting the steps wrong or embarrassing yourself, don’t! I really only maybe got 60% of the moves right (maybe) and bumped into people occasionally, but it didn’t matter. Everyone is focusing on what they are doing, not watching your every move. Just loosen up and have fun!
Ultimately, I had a wonderful time at this class, and got a great workout in on a night I otherwise would have gone home after work and done nothing. For people of any fitness level and background, there is something to be gained from trying salsa.