Cuban Salsa: Vacilala steps
Vacilala steps are the signature steps of Cuban Salsa. The basic hand free Vacilala move is the favorite move of many salsa dancers. In almost every social dance, Vacilala is used at least one or two times as the most elegant way to get into free style mode. Hand held Vacilala is used as the beginning of more than 100 popular moves.
Vacilala steps are two walking right turns in a count of eight. The Follow must step forward on one, turn 360 degrees on 1-2-3 and then continue stepping forward in a circular motion back to her Lead on 5-6-7, turning another almost 180 degrees. As the Follow position herself to be picked up again, she will normally turn another 90 degree on seven. Vacilala is the only common move in Cuban Salsa a Follow must know in advance. When the move is started stepping forward on one, the Follow must walk the rest of the eight count on her own with no leading.
1 What does Vacilala mean?
Some prefer the word without the double “la” at the end, but the meaning is exactly the same and rather obscure. The dictionary lists many meanings like “hesitate” and “tease” but none of them catches the actual meaning in the context of Rueda de Casino and Cuban Salsa. We are talking about colloquial Cuban Spanish in a specific context.
Most casino dancers will say that it means “show her off”, “check her out”, “enjoy her”. Since these options don’t have much is common, we really have to decide for ourselves, what we like the best. I go for the last one.
2 Vacilala is a telltale move
Some women have the courage to sneak into Cuban Salsa socials without formal dance education. They have not taken any classes. Even when talented they are busted right away when they fail the first Vacilala just turning around randomly without proper Vacilala steps.
The following video from “Dance Papi” has great instructions for how to do the Vacilala steps.
3 Vacilala variations
Vacilala can be done without hands, with left to left hand, right to left hand or two handed, or with both the Follow’s hands in just one hand of the Lead (I use that a lot). Below we will list most of the variations. It is often forgotten how common Vacilala steps are.
The basic figure of Vacilala, the hand free one, can also be done in many ways. To open up and tap on 8, making sure that the Follow steps forward on one, is a common “dance school” way, as shown in the video above. In Rueda de Casino, where both Lead and Follow hear the call of “Vacilala”, the figure can be done in a more nonchalant manner with less explicit prepping.
For a strong Follow almost anything could work to start Vacilala like just pushing her left arm on one, if experience and instinct tells her that in this context the proper thing do do must be to step forward and do Vacilala steps.
The following video featuring “Fabian & Nicolina” shows the “push arm” way of starting Vacilala and it also shows the standard way (open up and tap on 8).
4 Dile Que Si (Vacilala steps)
Dile Que Si (Say Yes to Her) is the natural contrast to Dile Que No (Say no to Her) but it is not used as often. As a stand alone figure, Dile Que Si is a hand held Vacilala with the purpose of bringing the Follow into closed position.
The following video from “Pepe Puerto Vs Rueda Cubana”, 2016, is pretty much the standard way to do Dile Que Si in Rueda de Casino:
In the next video, this time from “Salsafición”, Dile Que Si is also regarded as a hand held Vacilala:
Whenever a Follow is turned to the right, 360 degress, on 1-2-3, it could be considered the start of a Dile Que Si turn even if only Giro steps are used. It is important that we have a name for a right turn on 1-2-3, because it is very common. That is why we should insist that Dile Que Si is a hand held Vacilala and not just any move that brings the Follow into closed position.
5 Hammerlock done with Vacilala steps
When Dile Que Si is done with two hands, the Lead’s right hand kept low, it becomes the “hammerlock”, the first eight count of the Setenta family of moves. The hammerlock can also be done as a Vuelta right turn, as I explain in this blogpost: Hammerlock and Setenta
6 Bad Dile Que Si videos
In surprisingly many videos on YouTube Dile Que Si is just used as a name for almost any move that brings a Follow back into closed position. Like using a right turn, Enchufla, Adios (Prima). I have even seen videos calling Guapea for Dile Que Si: Yes, yes, yes, by clapping hands they are really saying yes to one another!
7 Sombrero (Vacilala steps)
One can do Sombrero many times without realizing that the figure uses a compact version of Vacilala steps. Sombrero is used as the start of very many figures, and it is even used as the end of many figures. But most often when we say about a figure that it ends with Sombrero, we just mean that it ends like the end of Sombrero, putting the hat on.
The following video from “Dance Papi” is a good guide to the Sombrero figure:
8 Sombrero in X-Body Salsa
Sombrero is a two handed move and since Vacilala steps are done using a full eight count, the same goes for Sombrero. In X-Body Salsa they don’t have Vacilala steps or the Vacilala figure. They have a Sombrero figure, but it is a two handed walking right turn on 5-6-7 and then the hat is put on more like two hair combs, one to the Lead and one to the Follow, on the next 1-2-3! The figure names are the same, but the two figures have almost nothing in common.
For those of you interested in the differences between X-Body Salsa on One and Cuban Salsa, I include a great video by “Salsa by Deacher” showing Sombrero as part of Cross Body Lead, done as a walking right turn:
9 Medio Sombrero (Vacilala steps)
Medio means middle or half. Medio Sombrero means a half Sombrero that is a Sombrero done with one hand, Lead’s right to Follow’s left. Medio Sombrero is a very elegant one eight-count move, often used as the start of a longer combination. It is well known from the start of the A Bayamo family of moves.
In the video from Mexican “Salsaficion”, the start of A Bayamo is not called Medio Sombrero but Vuelta al Hombro (turn to the shoulder). The Vacilala steps are just perfect:
In the next video from BailamosSalsaRueda, featuring Kirsten and Gilberto, Medio Sombrero is shown first. At the end they show a full Sombrero, a hand held Vacilala (Dile Que Si) and Vacilala all using the same Vacilala steps.
10 El Dedo (Vacilala Steps)
El Dedo is a common figure, starting with a hand held Vacilala, normaly right to left hand, followed by Enchufla and a hook turn and some ending like another Enchufla and another hook turn switching hands held low. When the Vacilala is done left hand to left hand, the start is like Dile Que Si except that the Follow is not brought into closed position.
The following video from “Dance Papi”, featuring Nicholas Van Eyck and Serena Wong, is an excellent version of El Dedo. Especially I like the Paseala handhold when going into the last Dile Que No.
11 Vacilala rules the waves
The important thing is to realize that we use Vacilala steps not just in Vacilala but in all sorts of Vacilala variations at the start of very many moves, Sombrero, Dile Que Si, Medio Sombrero and El Dedo. We need to prep all those figures more or less the same.
In Vacilala the Follow walks freely and turns 1.5 times. When we hold hands, the Lead can lead the Follow to walk on a smaller or bigger circle as appropriate, making the steps more or less compact, and the Lead can make her turn more or less.
The first 1-2-3 count of Vacilala can be done as a double turn. I often do that in i figure like El Dedo.