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The beauty of Latin dancing for mind and body

Dance troupe Baila Tulsa offers salsa and bachata classes

Article by Louann Buhlinger

Photography by Michael McRuiz and provided

Originally published in Tulsa Lifestyle

Can you hear the beat? Pa– pa– pa–, pa pa. It’s the “son clave” beat that gives Latin music pulsating style with building and releasing musical tension. When you hear it, your hips start to move, and your feet are soon to follow. You’re dancing … and exercising. Salsa and bachata is a sure way to spice up your health and wellness routine while adding a lot of stress-relieving fun to your workout.

“I enjoy dancing so much that it is my happy place,” says Baila Tulsa founder and director, Jahaziel Hiriart, better known as “Jazi.” Dancing is one of the only times when I can focus on my body’s movement and take my mind off everything else. Dancing helped me get out of a funk when I was depressed, and it allowed me to connect with other people who became lifelong friends.”

Dancing is one of the only times when I can focus on my body’s movement and take my mind off everything else. - Jazi Hiriart

Baila literally means “dance” in Spanish. The Baila Tulsa dance team, made up of 15-20 women of all ages and levels of experience, dance at special events, schools and festivals throughout the year. Baila Tulsa is currently in its eighth season and performs as an act of community outreach and engagement. They don’t have a set fee for their performances since they take any donations to offset team costs. “I believe it is important to have women uplifting each other,” said Jazi. “Latin dancing is a great cardio workout and a way to stay active and fit. It has helped me maintain my weight and improve coordination, agility and confidence.”

Each year, Baila Tulsa recruits new dancers in January and July from the community. Those who attend the free Latin Thursdays, 8-9 p.m. at Miami Nights, a Cuban restaurant in Tulsa at 21st and Sheridan know all about their team. The good news is that there is no experience required and you can participate in the free class on Thursdays and get comfortable before considering joining the team. More than 70 women have been a part of Baila Tulsa with ages ranging from 13 years of age to 63. Jazi credits Philip and Carla Poitras of TulSalseros Dance Company, pioneers of the Tulsa Latin dance community, for helping her start Baila Tulsa.

Latin and salsa dancing exercises virtually all major muscle groups including the heart, glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, calves and core in order to perform the various step sequences. The upper body and arms must maintain specific positions, so they will receive a workout as well, but to a lesser degree. This type of dancing will improve flexibility, balance and coordination.

Latin dancing postures to try at home

Body position: The body (center) should be very "lifted" and "up." In Latin dances, weight is held more forward on balls of the feet. This allows more free movement in the hips.

Basic arm posture: Bring your forearms up to your elbow height. Palms down as if playing the piano. No drop-dead elbows. Imagine a balloon under arms. Move elbows to the right and the left creating a pendulum swing motion

Basic leg position: The leg motion is the result of bending and straightening the knees. Practice this movement by alternating legs. Notice how your hips and shoulders naturally move. Practice this move along with the arm pendulum.

Jazi is the founder and director of Baila Tulsa. By day, she is the manager of social & emotional wellbeing at The Opportunity Project. She also volunteers for TYPros Foundation, Tulsa Honor Academy and Tulsa Global Alliance. This year, Jazi’s co-directors are Meriah Pasag who is a barber at Tonsorial Barbershop and Autumn Worten who is an ESL (English as a second language) teacher at VIPKid.

Learn more about Baila Tulsa and Miami Nights Restaurant and Lounge on Facebook @BailaTulsa and @MiamiNights.Tulsa, where you will find weekly posts on Latin dance events in the community. 

Latin Dancing Starter Guide

Free Latin Dance Lessons and Dance Party – Thursdays at Miami Nights from 8-9pm; dancing until midnight, 6510 East 21st Street, Tulsa, OK 74129. A host of experienced dancers lead this session and rotate each week. Free.

OSU’s OLLI Course on Latin Dancing – Jazi Hiriart teaches those 50 and older. Spring schedule to be announced online at education.okstate.edu/olli/. Check site for fees.

Latin Dance Lessons at The Dance Place – Mondays-salsa and Tuesdays-bachata at 6 p.m., 3310 West 42nd Place, Tulsa, OK 74107. TDPTulsa.com. $20 per class.

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