“In salsa, you can be totally spontaneous. It’s a chance to let go and express whatever the music makes you feel.” —Katia Carranza

Katia Carranza heard salsa music constantly while growing up in Mexico. But it wasn’t until she began dating Luis Serrano, a Cuban dancer who now directs Ballet de Monterrey, that she actually learned to dance salsa. “When Luis and I first started hanging out, we’d go out on dates to salsa clubs,” says Carranza, a principal with Miami City Ballet and Ballet de Monterrey. “I loved the rhythm and how different it was from ballet.”

Now the couple, who have since married, salsa most weekends. “Every party, every get-together, and out at clubs: we salsa,” she says. “Even if we just throw a barbecue at home, by an hour into it everybody’s dancing.”

Carranza says learning salsa has given her ballet technique more musicality and spice. “Salsa helps you feel rhythms of the music all through your body,” she says. “And it helps you find your hips and shoulders. You barely move them in classical ballet, but many choreographers today want you to be able use them.”

She’s also learned from salsa’s approach to partnering. “In salsa, you have to let the guy move you and lead you. In a ballet pas de deux, it’s the same thing—it’s very important that the girl wait for her partner to guide her. As ballet dancers we want to be in control all the time, but we have to learn to trust our partners completely.”

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