Salsa Dancing Offered an Unexpected Boost to My Health

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by Allison Ross |

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One evening last week, I reluctantly agreed to meet a friend at a dance studio. I had no intention of joining in. Me — a salsa dancer? Don’t be ridiculous! I’m a former soccer player with minimal dancing experience who often trips down the stairs.

Confident that I could enter the building undetected, I found the room location and stepped around the corner, where 20 couples immediately turned to stare at me.

Oh, no, I realized with a nervous jolt, I can’t sneak into this one. 

“Are you here for the salsa class?” the instructor asked. I panicked.

“No,” I responded hastily, “I’m only here to watch.”

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That’s when everyone else in the class smiled and beckoned me in. If they could do it, I could, too, one of them whispered. Ten different arms stretched out and waved me toward them. I was petrified, but I joined the circle and faked my way through the class for the next 45 minutes.

Last week I shared my thoughts on exercise, and particularly the weight training I’ve built into my daily routine. Over the years, I’ve tried all forms of movement — yoga, pilates, jogging, cardio kickboxing, and even indoor rock climbing. Nothing suited me so well as lifting weights, so that’s what I stuck with. These days I alternate it with several miles of walking or hiking each day, an activity much more fun with a canine companion.

But if you’d told me when I began weightlifting that I would be salsa dancing seven years later, I wouldn’t have believed you.

The Latin styles of dancing feel totally foreign to me, and as a beginner, they also appear complicated. Counting on a pattern to keep track of where you are should be simple, right? Especially for a professional musician like me. I only wished my feet were as coordinated as the subdivided numbers tracking in my head.

Despite my misgivings, I acclimated quickly to the steps. Plus, the social aspect to salsa is thrilling. There’s someone new to connect with every few minutes, with all of their personality quirks and different body language. I realize this type of interface isn’t for everyone, but for an extrovert like me, it was intoxicating.

I ended up dancing three nights that week. More than just a fun diversion, I started to notice the effects on my physical and mental health. The next day after dancing I felt lighter, freer, and had a positive outlook on the day — even though my schedule was loaded with obligations that had been causing me anxiety just a few days before.

Having lived with vasculitis half of my life, I was definitely concerned about hygiene. So many hands and bodies coming into close contact sometimes makes me nervous. I compensated with frequent hand-washing, and I drank lots of water to rehydrate. I know this type of high-energy activity isn’t possible for all patients, and I’m grateful that remission allows me to do it. There have been years when treatment or fatigue would have been significant barriers.

In a life filled with medicines, doctor appointments, and health concerns, it’s invigorating to enjoy a night of fun, energy, and connection. We can’t get so burdened with the details of illness that we forget to experience life, with all the excitement and joy it offers if we keep an open mind.

I certainly reached that point dancing last week. Even when I was unsure of my steps, the room’s lively energy was infectious. A live DJ and percussionist created Latin ambiance, and professionals showed off their skills in stunning performances. Newbies like me observed from a distance and then cautiously crept onto the floor, following an invitation from one of the more experienced dancers.

With a room full of partners available, some can help you — and some you may need to help — but ultimately the goal is for everyone to enjoy themselves. A night of salsa is a treat to the senses, where you can take in all the sights and sounds and groove to the rhythm.

Don’t we occasionally need distractions like that, to remember that we are not wholly our illness? The hard days are easier to navigate if we have something to look forward to. Hope is a powerful concept. And I want my quality of life to improve with each year that passes, regardless of an autoimmune condition.

After many years of thinking I was “bad” at dancing, it was a relief to find out that that doesn’t matter at all. The thrill of salsa makes me feel alive. The next event is Friday, and I can’t wait to go. Even though I’m still discovering how it works, the boost to my health — and all the fun involved — is well worth overcoming my fear.

Note: ANCA Vasculitis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of ANCA Vasculitis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to ANCA vasculitis.


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