Salsa isn’t just the tortilla chip’s partner in crime— this spicy tomato sauce shares its name with a fusion style of dance originating from Latin America. And while this hip swingin’ dance tests rhythm n’ swing, it might also pave the way to good health.

Mild, Medium, or Hot? — The Need-to-Know

The exact birthplace and date of Salsa dancing is up for debate, yet we know it sidestepped thousands of miles (we’re talkin’ Africa, the Caribbean, and Latin America) to the U.S. in the late 1960s. Traditionally a partner dance, Salsa brings on the heat with fast footwork, sexy hip sways, and syncopated rhythms. And don’t forget the tunes. Rhythmic, clave-driven Salsa music keeps every dancer on their toes. But as with its edible counterpart, there’s not just one type of Salsa. L.A. style is known for its flashy flips and dips, whereas New York style is all about controlled, highly technical footwork. Cuban style is prevalent in well, Cuba, and consists of male-dominated moves with complex hip movement and arm work. When it comes to breaking a sweat, Salsa’s known to do the trick. Some dancers believe the fast-paced movements can help keep off excess pounds, reduce stress, and (of course) boost confidence. In fact, one study found moderately intense aerobic dance can improve overall physical fitness and increase the presence of cancer-fighting antioxidants Six weeks of aerobic dance exercise improves blood oxidative stress status and increases interleukin-2 in previously sedentary women. Leelarungrayub D, Saidee K, Pothongsunsun P et al. Oxidative Stress and Exercise Biochemistry Laboratory, Chiang Mai University, Chiang Mai, Thailand. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, 2011 Jul;15(3):355-62. . Dance is also exercise for the mind: Processing all that choreography sharpens muscle memory and might even make us smarter (Salsa study session, anyone?).

Drop It Like It’s Hot — Your Action Plan

Ready to embrace those shakes and shimmies? Here are some tips to get started with Salsa, and maybe get one step closer to starring on So You Think You Can Dance:

  • Pick a style. First thing’s first: Salsa comes in a variety of flavors, so find out which class matches that personality and is offered nearby.
  • Surf the net. There are tons of Salsa dancing videos online, making it easy to get acquainted with some basic moves before hitting the dance floor.
  • Take a friend. Salsa is traditionally a social, partner dance, so bring a friend along, and be open to making new ones, too!
  • Don’t overdo it. Most dancing injuries occur from overuse of the legs, ankles, and feet. Make sure to wear the proper shoes (watch out ladies, they’re heels!), and take it nice and slow to ensure all the moves feel comfortable.

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