Cuban Salsa: Guapea Basic Steps
Guapea (Handsome) is one of the very first figures we learn at the dance school, and it is often called the basic steps of Casino, of Cuban Salsa, but that is a simplification. It is not uncommon to have a whole social dance at advanced level without a single Guapea. Compare that to Salsa basic steps in linear X-Body salsa. They use their basic steps all the time.
But it is true that Guapea is the basic steps in Rueda de Casino. Almost all moves on the partner circle starts from Guapea and ends with Dile Que No and back into Guapea. That is, Guapea is the resting position, the move where we calm down, recover and prepare for the next Rueda move to be called.
There are many ways to do the Guapea steps. I know of no other salsa move with so many variations, but the basic idea, the core of Guapea, is that Lead and Follow mirror one another as opposed to Salsa basic steps where Lead and Follow step opposite.
Guapea is unique for the mirroring, the Lead and Follow step the same, face to face. That quality makes the move great for connection and for all sorts of fun in social dancing. Guapea is one of the very few moves that can go on forever, we could have a whole dance only doing Guapea.
1 Guapea with back rocking
One of the most common ways to do Guapea is for both Lead and Follow to back rock on one, and for both to step forward on five. Doing Guapea with back rocking is problematic.
The back rocking of Guapea and the influence of Salsa basic steps have made back rocking an important feature of how many people dance Cuban Salsa. Many Cubans traditionally mostly step forward and only back rock as an exception. Instructors from Cuba often also back rock when teaching tourists in order to dance the way their customers expect or to blend into the local dance scene when teaching abroad.
I recommend never to back rock in Cuban Salsa except in an emergency, because it keeps the Lead and Follow more apart than necessary and makes a smooth, elegant flow more difficult to achieve. Always, as a general rule of thumb, step forward or in place, always get moving. Back rocking is a wasted step, a brake on your dance.
If you for some reason insist on back rocking in Guapea, or if an instructor forces you to do so, you should at least back rock with as small a back step as possible, almost on the spot. That is how they do Guapea in this excellent Video 1 from “Dance Papi” (Bay Area, San Francisco) 2015, featuring instructors Nicholas Van Eyck and Serena Wong:
2 Guapea stepping in place and forward
In Video 2 from Polish “BE THE ONE TO FEEL FREE”, 2018, they do Guapea in place on 1-2-3, and step forward on count five. In this version they open up into the center of the Rueda, which is rather common, but I find it a little odd to do the same in social partner dancing.
3 Guapea stepping in place
In Video 3 from “Palante Ithaca”, Greece 2009, Guapea is done on the spot, stepping basic steps in place. In this video the dancers add styling of their own choice, opening up, etc. and in the last half of the video, they add “Echeverria” and slides.
4 Guapea as bad as it gets
The DVD based Salsa course from “Salsa Lovers” is a great collection of Cuban Salsa moves, but don’t accept everything you see and hear. In the following Video 4 almost everything is wrong: Terrible long back step with lifted heel, and the Lead grabs the Follow’s left hand to bring her in instead of a gentle High Five. And all that nonsense about Guapea being for Rueda de Casino only. Most Leads organize their social dance around Guapea.
In the “Salsa Lovers” video above, it is interesting that the instructor reminds us: Guapea is only for Rueda de Casino, don’t use it in social dancing, one-on-one! Today, because m ost Dance School has promoted Guapea as Cuban Basic Steps, and use the Rueda format in each and every class, social dancing has degenerated into a one-on-one Rueda. Very many Leads today choreograph their social dance around Guapea.
5 Only grab the other hand with a purpose
There are two ways for the free hands of Lead and Follow to meet on five. 1) Just letting the hands meet using a “high five” with appropriate pressure and tension, or 2) the Lead grabs the Follow’s left hand. The last option should only be used with a purpose.
Guapea is the only common move in Cuban Salsa using a High Five. If we don’t use this feature in Guapea it is lost, and we have one feature less in Cuban Salsa. In my opinion the High Five is part of the “let us relax” posture, the High Five signals “calm down”, I am not going to use this hand. High Five contributes to making Guapea a unique move.
The Lead should only grab the Follow’s left hand when he is up to something, when he wants to put extra energy into the move, making it more dynamic, playing to the music. But the same can also be achieved with High Five.
6 Guapea with advanced steps
Being the basic steps of Cuban Salsa with all of what that implies, basic Guapea steps must be the most simple. Since the move is popular and versatile it is only natural that many dancers at advanced level start to use more advanced steps for Guapea. This is problematic because it requires that both Lead and Follow know them and have practiced them for a long time, and that is seldom the case. It is not in the spirit of a partner dance, that only the Lead or the Follow do advanced steps, out dancing the partner. It can easily undermine the connection.
Advanced stepping for Guapea is also problematic for another reason. Most dancers not only enjoy but need to go back to basics for relaxation. It is important that we have a safe simple Guapea move, a no brainer, where we can recover and get our bearing. The simplicity of the basic Guapea makes it excellent for fine tuning of our stepping to be exactly on the beat, and for optimizing the synchronization with our partner before we start a new Complicado. And it is excellent for flirtation and for reestablishing or strengthening a good connection.
There are many advanced ways of stepping Guapea, most of them have an ad hoc character only worthwhile in special situations as an exception to the rule, and when you dance with a partner that both knows and enjoys them. For advanced Guapea to work, it must be easy, robust and versatile. Ideally it should be just a more dynamic version of your basic Guapea, so you can change from one to the other in a split second. I will make a separate tutorial for Guapea Advanced Steps.
7 Guapea in Dance Schools
Guapea is not only the basic steps in Rueda de Casino but also in most Dance Schools, because the instructors use the Rueda format as a handy way to organize a class. Special Rueda calls add spice in between the teaching and practicing of new moves, and the Rueda makes it easy to change partners in a fun way to make up for an uneven number of Leads and Follows.
When we learn a new move we could use basic steps on the spot as point of departure or Dile Que No or closed position. But because of the dominance of the Rueda format, most Dance Schools almost always use Guapea as point of departure for learning a new move.
Just think about it. If a Dance School use Guapea for all the moves they teach, and if they teach to back rock in Guapea, and if they accept long steps when back rocking, it is almost unavoidable that back rocking becomes a bad habit in all moves, even when we leave Guapea behind and start walking on the partner circle.
8 Guapea in social dancing
Most Leads, even at advanced level, typically start a dance in closed position, then they go into Dile Que No and Guapea. They then start showing the Follow their best moves, one after the other like pearls on a string, with Dile Que No and Guapea in between. If they are good they add sections with free dancing, walks and improvisation. But showing my ten best moves from Guapea is the dominant way for most Leads to choreograph their dance.
Most Leads and Follows love Guapea. It means security, because we know it so well, and in an “emergency”, we can let it continue for ever. The mirrored stepping, face to face, makes a lot of fun possible, adding special foot work, slides, advanced body motions and styling. But somehow Cuban Salsa at advanced level is not supposed to be just “let me show you my ten best moves” from Guapea type of dancing.
9 Music driven advanced dancing
In my opinion, the ideal Cuban Salsa should be one long uninterrupted flow of moves rooted in and driven by the music. Guapea should not be the underlining structure of the dance. Guapea is likely also to be used by many good Leads in the best possible dance because the mirroring, face to face, opens up for a lot of fun, but the dance as a whole should not be organized around Guapea. In most masterclass level videos of Casino, Cuban Salsa, we don’t even see one Guapea.