Cuban Salsa: Guapea Steps

Guapea (handsome, looks good) 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 flat wrong. It is not uncommon to have a whole social dance at advanced level without a single Guapea. Compare that to the “forward and back” Salsa basic steps in linear X-Body salsa. They use their basic steps all the time, and any dance is organised around those steps.

Guapea plays a unique role in Rueda de Casino. It is used all the time, almost like the “base line” for anything else. In a standard Rueda, all moves on the partner circle starts from Guapea and ends with Dile Que No and we go 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.

But it is still wrong to call Guapea for the basic steps of Rueda de Casino. Firstly, there is at least four completely different common ways to step Guapea, so what set of steps are we talking about? And no moves, figures or turns use or are based on Guapea steps, with one exception. For Siete (Panque) moves, the Lead can decide not just to start from Guapea but also to stay in Guapea on 5-6-7 (only the Lead). Guapea and the basic Siete figure are the only standard moves in Cuban Salsa that takes place in an rectangular slot.

1 The dynamic step-in-place Guapea

There are many ways to do the Guapea steps, sideways, on the spot or with an accordion motion, the so-called back-rocking Guapea. 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 almost all other moves. That is: if the Lead steps back, the Follow also steps back, if the Lead steps forward, the Follow also steps forward.

Guapea is unique for the mirroring, the Lead and Follow step the same, face to face. That quality makes the move great for connection in the most literal sense, like small talking, and for all sorts of dynamic fun. Guapea is one of the very few moves that can go on forever or until the Rueda caller calls the next move, or the Lead decides to do something else in social dancing.

“” has, as is so often the case, made the very best beginner-intermediate video tutorial about Guapea. Video 1, San Francisco, USA, 2015, with Nicholas Van Eyck and Serena Wong:

Same Video on YouTube

I like this “old” Video 2 from “Palante Ithaca”, Greece. 2009. In the 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.

Same Video on YouTube

Video 3 is from “Paodance”, Lima, Peru, 2016, with Kazuki from Japan and Paola from Peru. The step-in-place Guapea is much more dynamic than the name implies. I like this slightly sideways version.

Same Video on YouTube

2 Guapea with back-rocking

Many Dance Schools teach a very simple Guapea, the opposite of “forward and back”, and wrongly tell the students that this is the basic steps of Cuban Salsa. That is, “forward and back” is the basic steps of American Salsa, in Cuban Salsa the Lead also steps back on one! That’s how the back-rocking Guapea was born, and it has almost diluted Cuban Salsa into some pseudo dance many places

The problem is that back-rocking only works in Guapea because it is done in an rectangular slot. Almost all other moves in Cuban Salsa are done on the partner circle with a clock-wise and counter-clockwise motion unless we are going for a walk or have broken out of the circle for some free styling session.

If we back-rock in Guapea, and if Guapea is used a hundred times in each Rueda de Casino, and if dance schools teach all new moves from Guapea instead of from Dile Que No, and if they even tell people to dance socially like a one couple Rueda, it is easy to imagine the consequences. Back-rocking becomes the default step, it sneaks into Dile Que No and becomes how to start moves on the partner circle, and pretty fast it ruins the whole idea of circular dancing.

I recommend never to back-rock in Cuban Salsa except in an emergency. 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 1-2-3, taking you nowhere, like putting a brake on your dance.

3 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. Video 4 is the “Mother of all Back-rocking” in Cuban Salsa. Long back steps with lifted heels, making it even worse!

Same Video on YouTube

4 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 move in Cuban Salsa using a High Five. If we don’t use this feature in Guapea, it is lost, and we have one unique 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.

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.

5 Guapea with advanced steps

Since Guapea is used so much in Rueda de Casino, it is only natural that we find many local variations of the move. These variations are most often sideways. The most common is what I call the classic advanced Guapea. I cover that Guapea in my “Guapea Masterclass Video”, as well as another sideways Guapea, the cross-over Guapea.

I like the idea of having a sideways Guapea, making the move even more unique, but the sideways Guapeas have a huge problem, especially the classic advanced Guapea: the Follow must also know the steps. But sideways Guapeas can be very nice to use with partners and with Follows a Lead dance with often.

6 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.

A good social dance should be one long uninterrupted flow of music driven dancing. Guapea has in principle no role to play in a social dance, because it is likely to break the flow and divide the dance into different pieces. A social dance at advanced level should not be a one couple Rueda with the Lead as his own caller. Sadly enough, most dance schools only teach Rueda de Casino not social dancing.

Good Leads should work hard at becoming Guapea free in their social dancing. When they find it easy to do a whole dance without Guapea, it is the time to put it back in. It is a unique move that can add spice to your dance, it is good for small talking, and to start Siete (Panque) figures. If regarded as any other move, and used sparingly, and if done with the right attitude and purpose, Guapea becomes a most wonderful move.

My Guapea Masterclass Video Tutorial covers the four most common ways of stepping Guapea.

  1. Step-in-place
  2. Classic Advanced
  3. Cross-over
  4. Back-Rocking


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