The Origins of Casino Rueda
by Nicole DaSilva, Soles Dance Studio
I should probably explain my perspective on the word "style" when referenced to dance before I offer my thoughts on this subject. By definition, the word style would indicate one's approach, technique, philosophy, one's way or fashion. The word "genre" however would be indicative of a genus, species, classification or type such as modern, jazz, ballet, salsa etc It is these two definitions that I hope could shed some light on the subject and generate a more liberal idea on dance and expression.
Rueda should not be mistaken or considered as a "style" or
"genre" as it is neither. In ballet, for example, a dancer
may dance solo or pas de deux (with a partner). This however would have
no direct bearing or relevance to the genre (ballet) or the style (i.e
Balanchine). The word "rueda" is simply a name chosen by Cubans
to describe or reference the concept of this type of "group dance".
This idea of a group dance has been adopted by and given various other
names by different dance genres yet the characteristics remain virtually
the same. The characteristics of this dance requires the dancers in
the group to follow the cue of a caller through a series of short, choreographed
steps, some of which can lead to a change of partners mid-dance. If
L.A., New York or Miami style salsa dancers also do the same why would
they receive less recognition than the Cuban style? Is it the use of
the name "rueda" that raises these questions about it's authenticity?
It seems appropriate for any latin dance genre that uses this same concept
to call it rueda as it is the Spanish reference for the word "round".
Country & Western dancers utilize the exact same characteristics
for a group dance they chose to call "Square" or "Round"
dancing. The fact that this idea is appreciated by various salsa dance
styles is something to appreciate not criticize.
The idea of this group dance, in any other genre, does not seem to provoke the kind of controversy that seems to have resulted when this concept is enjoyed in salsa dance. Perhaps it is because the Cuban style may have been the first to adapt it into salsa dance and as a result there is a certain claim to it's authenticity. Although Cuban's may have been the first it is certainly not unique to them. Ironically, one of the earliest versions of this dance dates back to Spain. The first recordings of a dance called Basse (La Danse Basse) appeared in a poem called La Danza de la Muerte written in the 1400's. The Minuet, perhaps one of the more familiar historical dances, was believed to be a descendant of the Basse. Then there was the Allemande (aka Alman or Almain) that originated in Germany in the 16th century. The Allemande could be danced by a couple or group and consisted of charming turn patterns as well as steps that would lead to a change of partners. There was also another dance called The Quadrille de Contre Danse which originated in the mid 1700's. This particular dance was the forerunner of Country Square dancing. It was originally danced with two couples and at a later period danced by four couples. There was the Virginia Reel danced in sets of six or eight couples and was very popular between 1830-1890. The formation in this dance was linear and not round, as in the rueda, but the basic characteristics of the dance were the same. There are many more dances throughout history that possessed similar characteristics to Casino Rueda. As a result of the creativity of dance masters some of these dances went on to be the predecessors of more current dances. These dance masters introduced different elements and altered figures to keep these dances alive and prevent societies from tiring of them. Other dances, unfortunately, did not have a chance to evolve as codes or rules of conduct were imposed and resulted in significant changes and the banishment of what was considered to be exuberant, spirited or just too different.
Dancers are creative people. They are always inventing, creating, recreating and are forever influenced by anything that inspires greater expression. As a result all dance genres are subject to change in some way or another. Even the Casino Rueda danced in Cuba today is very different from the way in which it was danced 50 years ago. As long as there are dancers who have passion and vision to create or recreate fresh, new and innovative ideas this art form we call dance will be ever changing. If dance did not advance and evolve we would all still be dancing the Minuet to this day. Imagine that? There is no "grand daddy" of dance that sets all the rules and imposes a list of limitations. Creativity is the birth right of all those who have vision, desire and moxie.
The authenticity of the Cuban Casino calls should not even be an issue. You don't have to be Cuban to create a great call that dancers love to dance. Patterns are merely a vehicle for expression, like the puppet and the puppeteer. The puppet has no character until the puppeteer brings it to life. One of the emails received was from a reader who commented that cross body leads originated in Cuba. The concept of a cross body lead, although called different names by different genres has been around long before Casino style salsa or Casino Rueda. I'm sure of this just as sure as I am that the Cubans did not call it a "cross body lead" either, as they are a Spanish speaking people. There are a vast amount of basic dance steps and actions that are not unique to any one genre. Dance steps are interchangeable and cross over from one genre to another. They are put together in a variety of ways to various types of music to express a sentiment or convey a message.
There was another comment from a reader regarding the use or lack of use of the Cuban calls. I'm inclined to assume that this reader does not have an extensive knowledge of Cuban calls and/or cannot recognize these patterns when they see them. Our studio, Soles, incorporates a variety of original Cuban patterns such as Dedo, Setenta etc... We also teach more intricate variations of these patterns that originated in Miami. It doesn't matter whether a call was created by a Cuban born and raised in Cuba or a Cuban born and raised in Miami or anyone else born or raised anywhere else. It has no impact on the significance and enjoyment of dancing a good pattern. There are some original Cuban calls that we choose not to incorporate in our studio's syllabus for some very basic reasons. A number of the calls typical of Cuban Ruedas have cultural humour, significance or history associated with them. There are some calls that would be considered silly, sexist or difficult to relate to for no other reason than Cuba and North America are culturally very different places. For example, there are some moves named after local Cuban musicians/singers. These highly animated moves imitate a particular gesture or characteristic of the musician. For most of our students this call would not have the same meaning or significance and may be considered foolish as they would not know of this singer. The execution of this action would be basically meaningless to them and as a result lack the expression that would be necessary to pull off such an animated gesture. There are other calls that have lewd gestures associated with them that I'm sure our female students would not appreciate and our male students would not feel at ease in executing. These calls can be very amusing for people who know each other well but very offensive if you do not. There isn't anything wrong with these calls but we have to be selective about what we choose to teach students. We would rather select patterns that we know students will enjoy and have a greater opportunity for expression with than those they may never dance.
I have had the opportunity to see and dance in a variety of different ruedas from Miami to Havana and Toronto to L.A. At no point did any of them rank higher because of the style in which they were danced. The most unforgettable ruedas however were the ones that were really "on". Regardless of the style, the name it's called or where it originated, it is an exhilarating experience to dance with a group of people who are highly responsive, with a caller that stimulates both your mind and body, and a light hearted group of dancers that want nothing more than to have a great time to great music.