Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Leading a Merry Dance

IF like me you have already abandoned the diet inflicted after the Christmas excesses, you are probably, also like me, wondering how to shed the excess pounds.
Well fear not because in the interests of public information journalism, I may have the answer.
It comes in the shape of a dance class. Salsa to be precise.
Salsa originated in New York in the 1970s and evolved from earlier dance forms such as Cuban Son, Cha cha cha and Mambo. It incorporates elements of Swing and Hustle and has strong influences from Latin America particular Cuba and Puerto Rico.
Combining catchy, lively and rhythmic music with intricate sexy moves it is very much a dance designed to raise a smile and make you feel happy. It also has the added bonus of potentially burning a considerable number of calories, making it a fun way to lose a few inches.
However, its happy vibe also makes it a great social activity and these days it is popular everywhere, nowhere more so than in Brixton.
Indeed, every Wednesday night at the Prince of Wales pub in Brixton Road people of all ages and abilities strut their stuff at a special Salsa night designed to get even the most two left footed of people into the groove.
Billed as the Real Salsa Sound of Colombia, Cuba, Puerto Rico and New York in the heart of Brixton, the hour-long classes cost £9 a time and feature expert tuition from Elder Sanchez and fellow dance teacher Gabriella.
I have to admit at the outset, I love dancing and religiously sat down with my nine-year-old daughter on Saturday nights last autumn to watch the nimble footed antics of the likes of Susannah Reid, Abbey Clancey and Sophie Ellis Bextor on the BBC's hit TV show Strictly Come Dancing.
However, I acknowledge I am not the world's best and my contact with the dance floor is intermittent - the last was many moons ago.
But persuaded by my natural curiosity, and still buoyed by the infectious enthusiasm generated by the celebs on Strictly, I decided to give it a try and ventured to Brixton to see what it was all about.
Although many had clearly been before, and knew the drill, I was pleased to see I wasn't the only nervous first timer.
Once we were all assembled, the music was switched on and we were welcomed by the main man, Elder.
"Brixton was the birth place of the UK Latin scene in the 80s, specifically in La Crypta underneath St Matthews Church across the road, so we are delighted to be bringing some classes back to the area," he enthuses.
"We've been teaching here since October and normally we have between about 30 and 50 which is fantastic but we are always keen to welcome new people - whether they've danced before or not."
With more than 20 years experience teaching Salsa in the capital, Elder knows what he's about and with the more experienced members of the group dispatched to tackle some more advanced routines, he and Gabriella wasted no time in showing us beginners the first moves.
It starts with listening to the rhythm of the music and learning the basic steps - how to go sideways and then forwards and backwards, shifting weight from our toes to our heels.
Next it was mastering how to twist and swivel our hips and finally they showed us how to incorporate arm and upper body movements.
Once they were convinced we had mastered these individual steps and had gained some confidence they encouraged us to move faster before showing us how to combine everything we'd learned into an entire routine - definitely not as easy as it looks!
Although the classes are divided into beginners, intermediate and advanced, whatever your level, it requires a huge amount of concentration.
While the bottom half is going one way, your top half will invariably be going the opposite direction and by the end of the lesson I was utterly exhausted.
However, although it requires remembering which way to move, which foot goes where and quick reactions, it's great fun and very sociable. And afterwards there is a clubnight til midnight where you can practise what you have learned.
The real beauty is you don't need any special equipment - just a comfortable pair of shoes, a sense of humour and bags of enthusiasm.
And at £9 a pop it's not bad value for five hours of dancing, right in the heart of Brixton. Fantastic.

Salsa & Latin Dance Classes & Clubnight takes place upstairs at The Prince Of Wales on the corner of Brixton Road and Coldharbour Lane every Wednesday night from 7pm.

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