Dancing Casino to non-Timba would be like having sex with a condom: it can still be fun, but it just doesn’t feel as good. While it’s widely accepted to use the term “Salsa” to describe Casino (the dance) and Timba (the music), I like to keep those terms separate. “Salsa” is used to describe Casino and Timba so their artists can market themselves to dancers and musicians, respectively, and that’s it. Can a Casino dancer dance with a salsa dancer who isn’t familiar with Casino? Yes; however, there must be excellent communication between the leader and follower for it to work. The lead must be able to read what the follower is familiar with, while the follower must be more focused to be able to tell what is a turn, what is (or is not) an arm lock, or be able to execute two or three (or more) spins.
Additionally, Casino gets a bad rap in general. Is it as popular as LA- or New York-style salsa? In the United States, it is not; it is grossly in the minority. One reason why is because the quality of teaching is not as high as it should be. There are some teachers in the past and present who were/are not qualified whatsoever to teach Casino; they haven’t had the extensive time to train; they were not taught by the right people; or quite simply, they think they can teach, but they just can’t cut the mustard. The other reason? Public lack of knowledge of the dance and its music.
The common misconceptions about Casino (Cuban-style dance) and Timba (the music you generally dance Casino to) is what I’d like to help clarify. While this dance is usually associated with salsa, Casino is not quite salsa.
With the above established, let’s go into a bit more detail:
1. Casino started in the late 1940s-early 1950s in Havana.
The dance was first done in ballrooms which were called Casinos (hence the name of the dance), the most notable being Casino Deportivo. Casino is not a style of Salsa, since salsa dancing and salsa music wasn’t called “salsa” to begin with until approximately the mid-1970s in New York. In reality, “Salsa” is a widely-recognized marketing term created to be able to market Cuban music and dance to non-Cubans. To the uninitiated, saying, “I dance Casino” can be confusing; the natural reaction is to look for a deck of cards and some poker chips. When a new student sees classes advertised as “Salsa Casino” or “Cuban Salsa,” it will be easier to understand what is being offered, and to know that it is different from other forms of the dance.
2. The dance was originally danced as a group, i.e., Rueda de Casino. Later, it became more common to do it as an independent partner dance (Gutieres, 2008, p. 34). (NOTE: There are conflicting accounts to this; some say both were developed simultaneously.)
Think of Rueda de Casino as a form of square dancing, where one person in the circle of dancers calls out the moves for each couple in the Rueda to perform. There are universal calls common throughout all regions of the globe that form the foundation of Casino; after that, many calls vary by region. There’s been some efforts to standardize all the calls for the Rueda, but doing that would ruin the flavor of Ruedas you find yourself dancing in from region to region. FOR THE BEGINNER: When first starting to learn Rueda de Casino, don’t get caught up in the sheer number of calls you may be shown; instead, think of the fundamental movements behind them (namely the footwork), and relate each call within the context of those fundamental movements.
Some like to think of Rueda calls in different regions as different accents of the same language. Ask a native Texan to say the words “Car” and “You all,” then ask a native Bostonian to say the same words. The same concept applies to Rueda calls of the same name being slightly different between regions, as well. The common calls in the Rueda form the parameters or foundation of how you can dance Casino as a partner dance. A Casinero/Casinera will interpret the dance within the parameters/foundations set.
Go to any Casino-specific dancing event, and you’ll see maybe one or two Ruedas called that night. For many Casino dancers, they were introduced to the dance via Rueda de Casino. Obviously, there is nothing wrong with learning to dance first in the Rueda (it’s how I and millions of others started learning). I like to think of the Rueda as your training wheels. You’re guided through a song and are told what turns to execute; eventually, those training wheels will have to come off. Does this mean you don’t need to know how to dance in the Rueda? Of course not. Rueda de Casino is another excellent way of socializing and learning Casino. Additionally, high-level Rueda de Casino is still alive and well; here’s one example.
3. Casino is fundamentally different from salsa.
Time to expand on point #1 (Casino is not a style of Salsa). Casino is a descendant of and most updated version of Son (pronounced with a long “O” sound), a formal ballroom dance which started in the early 1900s (going into the finer details of Son is another rabbit hole to go down that is beyond the scope of this post). In general, there is specific footwork that is unique to the Casino style. Additionally, spinning is not very common in Casino; its circular movements and promenades characteristic to Casino (i.e., the lead and follow circling each other) come from Son. I’ve received feedback that Casino and Rueda de Casino is “too easy.” This is a load of B.S.! While you can call Casino “basic” in the beginning stages, Casino in its most advanced stages includes some of the most complex pretzels/arm locks you’ll ever see. The pretzels and arm locks in Casino didn’t become more common until (relatively) more recently; my personal estimation is the late 1990s-early 2000s. I’ll add an addendum to this when I find out for sure.
It’s important to mention the importance of folkloric dances – Guaguanco Rumba, in particular - in Casino, as well. It’s a recent trend to incorporate Guaguanco into Casino. Is it necessary to know Guaguanco in order to dance Casino? No, but when done correctly, Guagaunco can add even more flavor to Casino. Here’s an example of Guanguanco incorporated during a Casino dance (starts around the 0:08 mark; Daybert goes back into Casino at the 0:52 mark). Want to learn more about Guaguanco (which is actually only one of three forms of Rumba)? Ned Sublette’s Cuba and its Music is a good place to start (Chapter 17).
4. Timba music is fundamentally different from salsa music.
FOR CLARIFICATION: Casino is the name of the style of dance; Timba is the genre of music Casino is usually danced to. Don’t get caught saying, “I dance Timba." The word “Timba,” according to Ned Sublette’s Cuba and its Music, “is an old word that, in the Spanish army, meant a group of gamblers, and for decades in the city of Matanzas would mean a rumba party.” (Sublette, 2004, p. 272). Based off of Cuban Son (there is Son the dance, as mentioned above; and Cuban Son, the style of music as mentioned here), Timba started around the late-1980s or early-1990s; some make the argument that some music from the 1970s or early 1980s might fit the label of Timba, as well. Timba is known for its musical complexity, and can consist of many layers which can be unnerving at first. While salsa music usually consists of the congas, timbales, and bongo, Timba will also include a full drum set and eliminate the bongo; it can vary from band to band. Additionally, some rhythms will drop and/or change during the song. All this said, its influences from funk, R&B, Hip Hop, and Afro-Cuban arrangements leads to very energetic and hard-hitting music!
Examples of Salsa vs. Timba
La vida es un Carnaval
Social influences: As with other genres of music, many would sing about their overall quality of life, which often included the lack of food, transportation, and so on. It was a way of getting things off their chests; in other words, singing about the everyday hardships and playing the music with high energy helped Cuban citizens process what they were going through at the time. It was a cathartic process for many. Two good examples of this are Los Van Van’s “Agua,” which talked about the lack of water in some areas of Cuba, and NG La Banda’s “Picadillo de Soya,” which talked about new types of food introduced into Cuban cuisine.
It should be obvious we’re just scratching the surface here. There are many rabbit holes to go down.
Want to listen to more Timba? Here’s a list of artists to look up on Spotify/Apple Music/etc.:
DJs who specialize in Timba:
Interested in getting into Casino dance? Here are some classes to try out:
Interested in the folkloric/Afro-Cuban dances? Donna “DonnaMation” Oefinger is one of the true gems of the Pacific Northwest. She is also well-versed in Hustle, Popping, House, and many other dance forms.
A big thank you to everyone who’s helped me with getting this info put together, Ryan Mead and Tony Gonzalez, in particular.
DISCLAIMER: In all seriousness, by no means am I bashing LA- or NY-style salsa. It's popular for a reason, and I realize and respect that. Additionally, this is not the definitive description of what Casino is. I’m recounting what I’ve researched through literature, one-on-one lessons, interviews, and personal experience to help the new student and/or those unfamiliar with Casino dance and its music. In addition, this is meant to be an introductory piece, rather than a complete article.
Written by Rob Hilario
Sublette, N. (2004). Cuba and its Music. Chicago, IL. Chicago Review Press.
Gutieres, B. (2008). El Casino y la Salsa en Cuba. Norderstedt, Germany. Books on Demand GmbH.
Diaz, Daybert Linares. (2014, July 20). Dissipating Misconceptions: Is Casino a “Style” of Salsa Dancing? [Web log post]. Retrieved March 28, 2019, from https://sonycasino.com/2014/07/20/dissipating-misconceptions-is-casino-a-style-of-salsa-dancing/
Diaz, Daybert Linares (2016, March 30). Musicality: When to Incorporate Rumba Guaguanco During a Casino Dance. [Web log post]. Retrieved April 14, 2019, from https://sonycasino.com/2016/03/30/musicality-when-to-incorporate-guaguanco-during-a-casino-dance/
Mead, R. (2018, February 16). Personal Interview.
Gonzalez, T. (2019, March 18). Personal Interview.
That’s the question I asked myself when I first heard about this dance. Actually, I didn’t hear about it, I read something about Zouk in a social network picture, back in 2006. The description of my friend's picture was: “Dancing with my friend all night long. The best feeling ever after having a Zouk night!”
When I read it, I asked myself what is Zouk? It really made me curious. By that time, I was taking Brazilian Ballroom Dance classes like Forró, Samba de Gafieira, Samba-rock and Bolero. I asked my beloved teacher Gisele Souza if she knew what Zouk was. She opened a big smile before she started talking about it: “Off course I know. I go Zouk dancing every Thursday at Carioca Club. It is so good! I love that place!” I asked her if she could start teaching it and lucky for me she said yes.
I remember my first Zouk class. Just listening to the warm up song made me fall in love. It was literally love at first sight, when someone sees something and feels their heart beat faster, a feeling of contentment and a craving for more and more of that music and body movement.
It wasn’t easy to learn Zouk. I remember when I just couldn’t get how to do the head movements. But I didn’t care, I was so in love that I just wanted to keep learning it.
Unfortunately it was a series class so after one month my teacher switched the dance style and I couldn't find a place to take private lessons or classes. By this time, I was married, my ex partner didn’t like dancing Zouk and I couldn’t go out dancing by myself. Therefore, I had to take a break from dancing Zouk
Every once in a while I would take Zouk classes and dance with other students during socials/practicas, but I never went out to practice in a Zouk nightclub. I was used to learning and dancing only Traditional Zouk so there was much more out there for me to discover and learn.
In 2012 I finally went to Carioca Club, a very famous club to dance Zouk in São Paulo. It was one of the best nights of my life. Seeing that entire crowd of around 700 people, dancing so connected and beautifully, made me to learn even more. I wanted to dance like them.
I started taking private classes and going out to dance Zouk probably 3 nights a week. It became my addiction. My family and friends would make fun of me, saying that I was crazy. They never really understood my passion.
That’s when I truly started to understand the different Zouk styles. It was really challenging to follow different leaders and their own style on the dance floor. It was tricky and hard but it never discouraged me, it actually made me persistent and focused on learning it.
When I moved to Los Angeles in 2013, I was lucky to find Ivo and Shani so I could keep learning and practicing. My husband who never danced before started taking lessons with me and he got hooked.
By the end of 2014 I moved to Portland and to my dismay, there was absolutely no Zouk in the entire state of Oregon. For 4 months I couldn’t dance and it was driving me nuts. I missed Zouk so much. There was only one night that I was able to dance Zouk and that was when Ivo and Shani were in Portland. Ivo and Shani came to Portland to teach Kizomba Workshops and I finally could dance with them. That’s when I met Carolina and Jamal.
By the end of January 2015 I decided I had to do something and bring Zouk to Portland. I contacted Carolina asking if she knew someone who could be my dance partner because I wanted to practice and eventually start teaching Zouk in Portland. To my surprise, she told me she was about to open a studio and invited me to teach there, which I will always be grateful for.
Since February I have been teaching Zouk in Portland. I am so happy to be able to relate to my students and see their smile and eyes shining every time they execute a movement. I feel a great connection with students that come to talk to me to express how much they love the Zouk music and dance. I always say “I feel you, I know exactly what you mean”.
I am also supportive and I make sure to tell them that I have been in their place before and I know how hard it can be to learn Zouk. There is a lot of body and mind preparation, things that will come with practice and time. It is a process that every student goes through when they start learning a new dance style. I am myself a student and I know that there is a lot more to be learned.
Today, Portland has a Zouk scene, we made it! Now it is time to make it grow and hopefully we will have a big Zouk community here. I’m 100% focused on continuing to learn and progress as dance instructor. My first goal which I have already accomplished was to spread my passion for Zouk and make people feel that same incredible feeling.
If you had never heard about Zouk before reading this post and would like to know more about this dance style, I would be more than happy to introduce you to this beautiful world.
Thank you to everybody that has been part of my Zouk journey and as I always say, let’s keep Zouking!
Written by Nathalia Carbajal
She teaches Zouk at VMAC every Saturday at 4:30pm
Let’s start by discussing some of the attributes often ascribed to a “bad lead.” Some of the attributes of a “bad lead” are; “they were rough,” “they were completely off time,” “they didn’t smile,” or “they didn’t even look at me,” “they led me into other dancers and I got stepped on,” and “I couldn’t tell what they wanted me to do.” I am sure there are other complaints but this will be a good starting point.
So what are some common attributes of a “good lead?” “They were a smooth or a soft lead,” “they were really fun to dance with,” “the floor was really crowded but they made sure I didn’t get stepped on” or “they were really musical.”
What lessons can we learn from these attributes on how to improve as a salsa lead?
1. Connect with your dance partner – this is the easiest thing you can do to improve the dance for both you and your dance partner. Regardless of skill level, if you make eye contact with your partner, smile, and look like you’re actually having fun dancing with them, you will automatically be more fun to dance with than someone who is looking at the floor, or at their friends to show off how “good” they are. Also don’t take yourself too seriously, if you’re less experienced and you mess up just laugh about it and keep going.
2. Be conscious of your space and surroundings – this should go without saying but unfortunately a lot of teachers don’t teach or give tips about dancing in the “real world.” In the classroom setting you may have plenty of space but if you go out dancing and the floor is crowded with other dancers you will need to adjust the way you dance i.e. keeping your dancing tighter and more compact, and being very careful to not send your dance partner into dangerous situations where they can get stepped on. It might take a little practice to develop this habit but always look and make sure the coast is clear before sending your dance partner across in a cross body lead .
3. Adjust to your dance partner – each new person you dance with is going to feel slightly different. For example some are going to be “heavy follows,” while others are going to be “light follows.” You may have to lead a little stronger for a heavy follow than for a light follow. If you can tell they likes doing footwork or shines let them do it instead of picking them up right away for more turn patterns, conversely if you see they are uncomfortable being on their own and doing shines pick them up instead of showing off and doing every shine you know. Also if they are more of a beginner or not a good spinner do not lead them into 10 spins! Actually don’t lead anybody into 10 spins on the dance floor, there is no need for this on the social dance floor, multiple spins like this are purely a choreography wow factor or trick and should only ever be done while performing.
4. Don’t stop moving – when you stop moving your feet while you are spinning or turning the follow you are not dancing anymore. This is not just a problem for beginners, there are plenty of “higher level or professional salsa dancers’ with this really bad habit. If dancing is moving to music and you stop moving while the music is still playing then you are no longer dancing. For beginners, try to avoid creating this bad habit of stopping your movement while spinning your partner which will make it much easier to mark the timing of the music and keep you on time. For more intermediate and higher dancers this will make you a smoother dancer as you will be able to conserve momentum instead of starting and stopping your movements.
5. How you lead your partner is very important – as has been mentioned above you don’t want to be a rough lead. The biggest tip to improve this problem is to learn about frame and leading with your body as opposed to your arms. This takes some practice but a good teacher can take a lot of the mystery out of it for you. While we’re on the subject of how to lead your dance partner the most important quality is to be clear in your lead. Yes you want to be a “soft lead” but some leads get overly concerned with this goal to the point where their lead becomes ambiguous to the follow and she can’t figure out what they want her to do. So find a balance; be soft, but also clear and direct in your lead.
6. Listen to the music! – Yes your fancy turn patterns are cool but if you are off time or not respecting the mood or musicality of what you’re supposed to be dancing to then what’s the point. If you have trouble with timing practice listening and counting to the music or better yet seek out help to make sure you understand what you should be listening for. Dance differently to different songs….if the song is slow and romantic don’t dance the same as you would for a really fast energetic song. For slow songs take longer steps and movements to fill out the music and use simple partner work such as cross body leads, back spot turns, whips and wraps. For fast songs take shorter steps and use more sharp turn patterns and movements such as copas and reverse copas, as well as the same movements for slow songs, just do them tighter and sharper.
7. Don’t get stuck dancing in patterns – most classes teach shines and partnerwork in long patterns. This is a great way to teach a lot of material but it also puts people in a box that many can’t find their way out of. When learning partner work make sure to understand the separate pieces and how they go together so you can dissect them later and mix and match. For example a turn pattern might have some kind of cross body lead that is followed by a prep turn, followed by some kind of copa and so on. Understanding the separate components will make it easier for you to dissect these patterns and make up your own, and with practice you can get to the point where you are truly dancing freestyle and the next step you lead you make up on the spot depending on the music. The same principle should be applied to solo footwork/shines.
Work on developing what for this article we’ll call “tactile sensitivity” or “responsiveness.” Sometimes you’re dancing and the follow might know the song really well and wants to play with the music/or hit a break. You will usually be able to feel that your partner wants to do something. They may give you a little squeeze to make sure that you are there for them as counterbalance or you may feel them trying to create some space so they can do some footwork. It takes some practice but learn to be flexible and responsive so that you don’t stop them from expressing themselves too.
Want to improve your leading and dancing come and check out our classes Vitalidad Movement Arts Center.
Written by Jamal Rahima
Following is not easy. It requires patience, technique, frame, and balance. Unfortunately for follows, most classes are setup in a way that teaches leads new patterns every week but they do not teach follows the technique on how to follow. Following is very different from leading in that the follow should not memorize patterns and should only focus on dancing and feeling their partner's lead. Here are a few tips on how to accomplish this:
1) Your basic is your default! The lead's job is to redirect your energy in different directions but you will continue to step onto your 1 and 5 or 2 and 6 depending if you're dancing on1 or on2.
2) Do not try to figure out what your partner's going to do, instead feel. This is why we never teach patterns to follows. Instead of trying so hard to figure out what they are going to do next, relax and feel to see which direction they are sending your energy. If you don't feel it on time, it's probably because it was lead incorrectly or...
3) Do not brake your frame! Frame is what helps us communicate with our partner. If you brake your frame then you break the communication line and there's no easy way for your partner to redirect your energy.
4) Dance! Move! Don't stand still! Don't forget to dance and have fun. Keep moving, don't just stand there waiting for them to make the next move.
5) Always keep your hands available. Do not release their hand unless they release yours, do not give them a hand if they did not request it.
6) Do not rely on your partner for balance or strength. Follows, you want to BE INDEPENDENT, well here is your chance. Learn the proper technique so you can spin on your own and move on your own. Don't rely on your partner to keep you balanced or to push you around. You'll become a much lighter follow if you don't rely on your partner. Also, you'll have more fun because now you'll be dancing instead of always waiting for them to move you.
7) And similarly to #6... Keep your own timing. Don't rely on your partner to keep you on time. You should be listening to the music as well, and you should be stepping on the right count. This is a tricky one because sometimes your partner is not on time. If that happens you have the option of putting your partner back into time without them realizing it (that's another topic on it's own) or following whatever timing they're using. HOWEVER, this does not mean you shouldn't know where the correct timing is and you should always attempt to stay on time on your own.
Want to improve your following and dancing come and check out our classes Vitalidad Movement Arts Center.
Written by Carolina Rahima