I love it when serendipitous events occur, even when they are not pleasant. It reminds me that I can’t control what happens, but I can control my response. When the events are pleasant, however, it just adds to the enjoyment of life.
Recently, an Israeli friend, knowing I live in Ecuador, sent me an article from Time Magazine explaining that people who took dance classes improved their health significantly more than people who didn’t take dance classes. The part of the article that made her think to send it to me was that the study at the University of Illinois at Chicago said that it particularly applied to older people, and that the findings were probably not novel to the South American Latino community — who dance often. I hope she thought I would be interested because of the note about the Latino community in South America rather than the part about “older” people! In either case, I enjoyed the article.
The researchers wanted to find a kind of exercise attractive to older Latinos in the United States, who are generally less physically active and have higher rates of chronic diseases, like diabetes and hypertension, compared to non-Hispanics. They settled on dancing. And, the results of the study were impressive.
The serendipitous part was that right after reading the article, I ran into a friend here in Cuenca who teaches dance, Carlos Colmenares. Carlos was born in Venezuela. His mother is Venezuelan and his father is from the Dominican Republic. I say that to explain that, while Carlos dances a multitude of dances, and has choreographed many events, he primarily teaches salsa and merengue here in Cuenca. He explained to me that salsa originated in Venezuela and the merengue is from the Dominican Republic, and his mother and father taught him those dances about as soon as he learned to walk.
Carlos has been offering dance classes for the six months since he moved to Cuenca. He said that he has had a wide age-range of students in his classes here in Cuenca, from people in their 20s to an 85 year old woman visiting from the United States. He explained that he evaluates each new student for ability, strength and balance, and then designs an individualized program that lets them learn and progress at their own pace.
When I started to discuss the article further, Carlos agreed with the findings. He said that he finds that people in his classes get a number of benefits. “There are the health benefits, of course,” he said, “no matter what their level when they start, after they are dancing, the heart and circulation improves, their balance maintains at its current level or improves, and students start to have better respiration, or ‘wind’ as the athletes call it. The students also maintain or gain strength in their body core and their legs.”
Carlos said that the benefits of participating in dance classes go beyond the physical, however. Carlos further explained that, when a person is dancing, it is impossible to worry about things that happened during the days before the dance class. “People come into the room before class and they look preoccupied and worried. But, once they start dancing, their faces relax, their bodies relax, and they start to smile.”
There are also mental and social benefits to taking a dance class, Carlos explained. Just by working to learn a new skill, mental faculties remain engaged in the present world. Especially for older students, he thinks, learning about different types of music and learning new dance steps “keeps the mind active” and reduces the opportunities for depression.”
Learning dances from a culture different from your own helps you learn about that culture and helps you understand other cultures, too. That is especially true if students later go to a venue offering salsa dancing, merengue, or other dances in their indigenous environment and sample the food and drink from that country.
Carlos also spoke of the social benefits of the dance classes. He explained that many of the students get to meet people from other cultures and make new friends. “It’s a lot better than sitting alone in your room wondering what there is to do,” he said. “Why not make some new friends and find new ways to enjoy your life?”
Carlos isn’t the only dance teacher in Cuenca, but after talking with some of his students, I found that they think he is the best one!
Anyone who wants more information about his classes can contact him directly. His e-mail is: CarlosAlfredoColmenares@yahoo.es. His phone number is (00593) 983474665. He is currently offering classes at a location in El Centro, and says the classes are priced so that everyone can afford to participate.
Whether you are new to dancing, and believe you have two left-feet, or are an accomplished dancer who wants to add a new style of dance to your repertoire, there are dancing instructors and dance classes for you in Cuenca.
Who knows, you just might find that dancing is a form of exercise that you enjoy — and one that you can enjoy through the years!