Cuban Salsa: right and wrong
Some dancers don’t care about keeping different dance styles apart, pure and original. They like to mix it all together and make up their own unique fusion style of anything they find interesting. Such “cherry picking” is ok and a valid approach for anyone to follow but I don’t like that approach personally. It is nice that we have both a tiger and a lion, a Grand Danois and a bulldog, many species of birds and flowers. I love a world full of uniqueness and optimized different solutions.
In other words, I like the idea that Cuban Salsa is something special, something apart and unique, something we can discuss, analyze, refine, improve on and make better in its own right, based on a long dance tradition.
I am not a fundamentalista. Any dance is likely to evolve and change over time, for better or worse. There is nothing to do about it except that we, the social dancers, are all part of and contribute to an ongoing evolution and transition to how a social dance is danced today.
1 Weakly defined social dances
In non-Cuban Salsa like in most other social dance styles, there is no higher authority, no rule of law, no standard textbook or answer book that can tell us what is right and what is wrong.
Every dance school, every instructor, any dancer has a wide margin for exactly how to dance and still call it the same name. Often there are alternative ways to do things more or less equally good.
There is no dance police out there to fine you if you do anything wrong or to give you a thumbs up when you dance close to somebody’s perceived norm.
In most social dance styles, it really is up to each individual to set up your own rules or to make your own interpretation of a dance tradition.
2 Cuban Salsa is well defined
In Cuban Salsa we have an authority, a mathematical system and framework called Rueda de Casino that organizes and determines how we dance and from which we can derive a lot of guidance and rules of thumbs also for dancing socially without the Rueda.
For that reason Cuban Salsa really is unique and special among social dances. It depends much less on the interpretation of individual dance schools, dance gurus and instructors.
But even in Cuban Salsa there is plenty of room for interpretation and alternative approaches. Rueda de Casino is not one and the same everywhere but has many local variations and in social dancing we like to brake loose of the constraints of the Rueda and strike out on our own, chasing the inspiration of the moment.
But and this is important: even in social dancing Cuban Salsa dancers cannot but be heavily influenced by Rueda de Casino. If we are used to stepping forward in the Rueda in a circular clock wise motion, we are likely to do the same in social dancing. If not all of the time, at least some of the time.
3 How is Rueda an authority?
The most common form of Rueda de Casino is several couples dancing on each their own partner circle inside a bigger Rueda circle. A Rueda caller, typically a dance instructor or just one of the better dancers, calls the moves.
The idea is that all the couples execute the move in unison, as one body of dancers completely syncronized. A move is typically done walking the small partner circle. At the end of a move the Leads are normally called to walk to the next Follow in the next partner circle.
Everything must be done 100% synchronized. That is why the Rueda becomes a mathematical framework, the big authority that is missing in other styles of social dancing.
The Rueda teaches us how to walk, how long our steps must be, how many degrees we must walk on the partner circles for each count for all of the dancers to move the same and be exactly back at start for doing Dile Que No or Dame (walk to the next partner circle).
Also, in order to call a move, there must be many well known moves having a name. In Cuban Salsa there is a relatively uniform body of more than 100 moves, developed and tested in Ruedas all over the world over a long time.
In social dancing a Lead is supposed to make up his own moves but, and this is unique for Cuban Salsa, he has a huge archive of the very best moves from DVDs and YouTube, he can use for training and inspiration.
4 When we teach Cuban Salsa
In Cuban Salsa we care about our dance. We believe it is unique and special. I am going to elaborate on that in many coming blog posts. We want to protect it from corruption and bad influence from other Salsa styles and Latin Ball Room.
How you dance socially is no one else’s business. What you do on your own is always fine, if it works for you and your partner and you have a good time.
When we teach Cuban Salsa other rules apply. It is like handing someone a cup of coffee. If it is not coffee you must accept that someone calls you out.
If you teach Cuban Salsa you must be prepared to defend what you are doing, to come up with arguments for the choices you have made, for why you are within the natural wide variation of what is Cuban Salsa.
There should be some logic and consistency to what you are doing, some system and overall picture that could be called Cuban Salsa.
5 Cuban Salsa yes or no
When I don’t like what a dance instructor is doing, let us say in some video promoted as Cuban Salsa, I use it as an opportunity to question and rethink why I do it differently and I try to analyze why I don’t like what I see.
Most often I conclude, no big surprise, that there are many more or less equally good approaches and ways to do a lot of things, like how to hold hands or exactly how to do certain moves, or how to style yourself. Most arguments are a matter of preferences and personal taste.
The rule of thumb is that diversity is natural, unavoidable and even desirable.
As an exception to the rule, “if one opinion is good then two opinions must be even better”, all of us have the right to fight for what we believe is best practice.
Especially if the issue is something we really care about, or if we feel it is a matter of vital importance for the future of our beloved Cuban Salsa.