Newcastle is becoming a real hub for salsa fans from all walks of life. BROOKE CHANDLER meets the converts who say once you try it, you’ll never look back.
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.”