Cuban Salsa: Son Clásico (Son basic steps)

Cuban Salsa, “Casino”, developed as a sub style of the Cuban Social Dance Son in the late 1950ties, and the two dances have a lot in common. Two of the major differences are that Son is danced on two, and that Son has a very distinct sideways set of steps called Son Clásico or Son Basic Steps. In Cuban Salsa, basic steps is to walk forward most of the time, using Paséala steps, or just natural walking.

Son Clásico is a popular way to start not just the dance of Son but also Cuban Salsa in closed position. To start with “Son”, except that we count 1-2-3, 5-6-7, is so common that it might be the de facto standard way to start a Cuban Salsa for most dancers. The only other common good way, I can think of, is Para el Medio (for the middle). One of the most popular ways to start a Rueda de Casino, and it works equally well in a social 1-on-1 dance.

But Son basic steps is not just a good way to start a dance, for one or more counts of eight. Son Clásico can be used many times during a dance, as one of the best ways to dance in closed position, and as a launching pad for integrating other Son moves into Cuban Salsa. Son Clásico also works well in open position as a sideways Guapea.

1 Son is square and circular

One of the defining features of Cuban Salsa is its distinct circular, turning motion, mostly clock-wise. In addition, we do Paseala walks, some Leads more than others. If there is an opening on the dance floor, I love long Power Walks. Nice to have both the circular motion and walks for variation. And, by the way, those walks are adapted from Son, but in Son walks are not an option but a defining feature.

In contrast to Cuban Salsa, Son is both circular and square at its core. The basic steps of Son take place sideways in a rectangular slot, and Son has several classic walks continuing the sideways steps of Son Clásico, not just left and right but also forward and back. A common basic Son figure is called Cajón (big box), an excellent pattern for dancing in closed position. In addition Son has several turns and Cruzados that don’t fit the standard circular pattern, we know from classic Rueda moves.

In other words: Son has a versatile basic figure, Son Clásico, optimised for closed position, and a rectangular dimension often missing from Cuban Salsa, and in addition a handful of basic figures very unlike the norm in Salsa, as well as a long tradition for shorter and longer walks. Most dancers of Cuban Salsa never make use of these core features in Son, and that is a shame. Son features add elegance, style and spice to your dance, and more variation. Son figures, with a little adaption, simply fits in perfectly: It is all Cuban, and Cuban Salsa comes from Son anyway.

The challenge with Son features in Cuban Salsa is that most of them are not easy. Both Lead and Follow must have learned those basic figures. But that is more the rule than the exception in most complex social dances. Just think of dance styles like Bachata Sensual and Brazilian Zouk. Son features could be considered an extra layer at advanced level, some Leads can choose to use, just like Afro Cuban features, if they sense that the Follow knows it and is up to the task.

2 Son Clásico is a multitool

Son Clásico is the most important of all features in Son, and also the most easy. Any Salsa Lead can start using them without the need for Son classes, and any Follow will fall in line right away. As soon as a Lead gets the feel for Son basic steps, gets a feel for the powerful sideways motion, and get it into his blood, it becomes natural to switch to Son steps, at least some of the time, as one of the best ways to dance in closed position.

The basic steps of Son are of cause also the ideal way to launch other basic Son figures that work well in Salsa. Son inspired shorter and longer walks, on the other hand, can be started from anywhere in Cuban Salsa simply by breaking out of the partner circle and start walking.

Even if you have no intention of learning to dance Son as a social dance, it is a good idea to take a couple of Son classes and workshops for the sake of musicality training and in order to learn some of the basic figures that could easily be integrated into your Salsa.

3 Follows are crazy about Son

Most Follows love Son, even if they have not yet learned it or only know it a little: Son is the most elegant and romantic of Cuban Social dances. But even if they have learned the basics of the dance, they seldom get an opportunity to dance Son as a social dance. Son socials are rare most places, and even if some Son songs are played at Salsa events, which is usually the case, the setting is rarely optimised for hardcore Son dancing. For that reason, many Follows appreciate, if a Lead manages to sneak a little Son into their Cuban Salsa.

Son Clásico is likely to be used with a lot of variation in “feel”, in step length and direction, depending on where it appears in a dance and for what purpose.

  1. Use Son Clásico to start and sometimes to end the dance.
  2. Use Son Clásico for one of the better ways to dance in closed position.
  3. Use Son Clásico in open position as a sideways Guapea.
  4. Use Son Clásico as a good way to start other Son figures.

4 How to step Son Clásico

When Son Clásico is used in Cuban Salsa, I recommend to step them as Salsa like as possible. Cuban Salsa is a very grounded dance based on natural walking. One should use small steps, always keeping the feet a little apart, and for count 3 and 7 (4 and 8 in Son), the feet should be more a part, but not more than the normal distance plus the width of one foot. The side steps should only be as big as necessary to be seen as a side step. In Son the sideways motion on 4 and 8 are the basic feature of the dance, and for that reason, the dancers often “exaggerate” with relatively long steps on 4 and 8.

In Son we don’t tap on the pauses (1 and 5), but in Cuban Salsa tapping on the pauses 4 and 8 are optional. Some of us do, some of us don’t. Some of us do it occasionally or some of the time. When using Son features in Cuban Salsa we normally don’t tap.

When doing Son basic steps in Salsa, some of us would not indent the Lead’s left foot on 1, and the right foot on 5 (opposite for the Follow) in open position or in a loose closed frame. We would just step as simple and as relaxed as possible. But in closed position, and especially in a tight closed frame, indention often becomes necessary in order to avoid that Lead and Follow step on one another. At advanced level some dancers even hook behind on 1 and 5 with lifted heels.

5 Son Clásico for beginners

Video 1 is from a Son class in Cuba, 2020. The Lead is from the “Sandunga Dance School” in Santiago de Cuba, the name of the Follow is Mona, one of my dance partners in Copenhagen. The video shows a good way to step your first steps in Son, but the side steps are enormous. When adapting Son Clásico to Cuban Salsa, the side steps should be as small as possible, and I even prefer that too, as the best way for a beginner to dance Son. Note that the Lead starts the steps going right on 8 (7 in Salsa), in Havana it is just as common to start going left on 4 (3 in Salsa).

6 Son Clásico with small steps

Video 2 is also from a beginners class in Son, from a dance school in Sochi in Russia, 2018 (Школа Танцев для взрослой молодежи в Сочи). I like that they take very small steps, the first two counts of eight show Son Clásico. This is the step length we would normally use when using Son figures in Cuban Salsa. The Son video also shows several other Son figures that work well in Cuban Salsa depending on the music.

Same Sochi Video on YouTube

7 Son Clásico with indention

In the previous video we saw Son Clásico done with a little indention on step 2 and 6 in Son, on 1 and 5 had it been Salsa. In Video Clip 3, from “Bailongu Barcelona”, Spain, 2020, the indention is easier to see. First I show a small clip with the basic steps, but the full video is a good introduction to Son, and everything in the video could be used in Cuban Salsa with the right type of music.

The full bailongu video on YouTube.

8 Son Clásico with hook behind

Some Leads, especially in closed position in a tight frame, not just indent their feet on 2 and 6 (1 and 5 in Salsa), but they hook them behind the other foot. The Son Video Clip 4 is from “Sydney Cuban Salsa Congress”, 2014, featuring Eric Turro and Chantel. Note that they start without hook behind, but after a few counts of eight they hook behind.

The video clip is from a good demo of Son Cubano: Full video on YouTube.

9 Don’t hook behind by default

Video 5 is an example of how to use the basic Son figure in Casino, Cuban Salsa: Everything is the same except that we now count 1-2-3, 5-6-7. It is an excellent video showing how to use hook behind when stepping Son Clásico. The video feature Yoel Marrero and Akiko Meguro. Yoel is the creator of the MCC methodology for the reinvention of Casino on a higher level.

Not just MCC inspired dancers but many other good dancers like the hook behind feature when using Son basic steps in Casino. That is OK, especially on advanced level. But, in general, I am opposed to “hook behind” basic Son steps for the following reasons:

  1. When we start a dance, it serves most of us best, to start as safe, as relaxed, as grounded as possible. We need to get our bearing and a feel for the dance floor, for the music and for our partner. Starting with Son Clásico in a very tight, closed position frame with hook behind, is simply the most unstable of basic figures.
  2. One thing is to dance with your regular training partners and with people you dance with every time you see them. I also enjoy or even have a preference for dancing with Follows I don’t know, or with dance partners I haven’t danced with for “ages”. I am not going to intimidate them with optimised advanced stepping, they might not know or not know well enough to feel at ease.
  3. For the first counts of eight, I don’t want the Follow to worry about my stepping, about what I want her to do. I want to meet my Follow exactly on her terms, and to start from there. The first couple of steps with an unknown or little known Follow is about getting our feet wet, getting the feel for one another and get into perfect synchronisation on our common level often a far cry from the theoretical optimised ideal.
  4. The hook behind Son Clásico works for advanced Leads, when dancing with a partner that is used to them, but in general this way of stepping is simply too tight, too optimised in the wrong sense, even manneristic in its appearance, often a far cry from a more natural, laid-back walking dance style that serves most people best.

10 Yoel Marrero doubles down

Above we saw an old Yoel Marrero video, showing how he teaches the basic figure of Son in “Casino”, Cuban Salsa. In his new MCC 3.0 project, he doubles down and takes educational dance videos to a new level. One can not but admire the ambition of his project. I only have one major issue with this new Son video: it is overkill. Only a few people are going to learn to dance Cuban Salsa from videos like this.

Everything is perfect in the MCC 3.0 video featuring the excellent Polish dancers, Agata Skowrońska-Botulińska and Pawel Bugala. But most people need a more common sense approach, focusing on the needs of dancers with an average talent. Most Leads will never meet a Follow having also learned Cuban Salsa the MCC way, and they need to use the best possible compromise with the Follow at hand, if they are ever going to dance.

4 comments

  • Great write-up on Son Basico, I’ve watched / slowed down a lot of videos of Son danced by Cubans and I agree with all your points.

    I’ll add to your comments on MCC’s Son Basico, I do think when it comes to the ideal reference stepping using a ‘go forward nearly at all times philosophy’ MCC is one of the best reference points available. Of all the MCC instructional material I have seen, all the hundreds of figures, there are only 2 moves that I just do not agree on the stepping. To me they are not very reflective of how the move is widely danced by good dancers in Cuba. ‘Good dancer’ is subjective 😉

    One of these figures is the MCC Son Basico, I am not sure why YM does this i.e. put the foot so far behind for the basic Son step, it looks awkward, and takes away from the rest of his optimized stepping. Putting the right foot behind the left is very common in Son for a lot of moves (starting an Adios etc). But doing this on both sides of the Son Basico I have yet to find another video reference of a person that is not-MCC doing this when dancing Son. Maybe that video exists, but for all the Son video I have seen, no-one does this, and in my opinion it doesn’t look good compared to the classic stepping.

    The other move that I don’t agree with, (although I have see a few non-MCC people doing the move that way) is the Adios/Cedazo Inverso. Putting the leads left foot in-between the followers two feet when turning anti-clockwise is limiting. Keeping the same feet-work as standard Adios (leader’s right foot between followers 2 feet) is more versatile, it enables you to spin clockwise (Adios) do dips, then spin anti-clockwise (Adios Inverso) using the same feetwork. The Salsa a La Cubana video volume 1 has a great demo of this, probably the best technical example of fast Adios and Adios Inversos with dips I’ve seen.

    But I don’t want to take away from the good stepping of the rest of MCC.

    A.

    • Hi “Asmo”, thank you for commenting.

      I am a “dance and let dance” type of guy, that is, I can accept that people in the MCC community and a few others practice the, to me weird, hook behind Son Clásico figure.

      But I really dislike it.

      Let me share an anecdote. When I signed up for the online MCC Routine 1-6 Course a few years ago, I had to lay it aside, put it away, immediately for six month. I couldn’t have it. I was so disappointed because of the Son figure, the very first figure of Routine One.

      I didn’t like the aesthetics of it, I even found it ugly and manneristic, and I thought it was a catastrophe equal to back-rocking, to legitimize lifted heels to this extent in Casino, Cuban Salsa. I strongly believe in Cuban Salsa as a grounded, almost flatfooted, dance, based on natural walking.

      I did try to give the MCC Son a chance, many times, just to see if I could make it work but always disliked it as too odd and foreign to the look and feel of how I wanted to dance. And my Follows, not knowing if, found it intimidating and out of place.

      So I stopped using it. Too stupid to undermine the connection with the Follow in the first few counts of eight of my dance.

      I disliked the MCC Son figure so much, that I for a long time ignored Son Clásico completely, and failed to see that it could be extremely useful and versatile also in Casino, Cuban Salsa, when stepped in a more natural and laid-back fashion.

      First when I started to dance Son Cubano myself, did I see the light, and realized that Son Clásico has a major role to play not just in Son but also in Casino, as my blogpost is all about.

      MCC and Adiós Inverso

      In general, as you also seem to do, I like the optimized stepping of MCC, the focus not on moves but on basic figures as building blocks, and especially the “always forward” philosophy (relatively common in Cuba but mostly half-hearted) which to me is the genuine Cuban Salsa because it is uniquely Cuban, it makes a wonderful walking flow possible, and sets Casino apart from all the other Salsa dance styles and sub-styles.

      But MCC without a big grain of salt is an abomination. One has to have a critical mind about anything MCC just like about anything else. As you write, the MCC version of Adiós Inverso might be another basic MCC figure with major issues.

      I must admit that I have problems getting the Adiós Inverso working on the dance floor. Absolutely no Follows, I dance with, are used to it, so I am really struggling to get a good handle on it.

      My problems with Adiós Inverso might be exactly what you are alluding to, that one should not just copy the standard right turning Adiós. Thank you for the tip, as you see it, I will test it out and judge for myself.

      I hope to make a blog post and even a video one day, when I really own the Adiós and Adiós Inverso basic figures, because they are not only undervalued but simply the best of all basic figures and deserve to be used several times in each and every social dance.

  • Hi Jesper,

    Agree with everything you said above. Everyone is on their own journey regarding Casino, starting at different points (previous dance experience), at different distances along their path, and often we have different final destinations. I too do not try to follow the exact path taken by someone else, I try not to criticize the path they take (I’m not very good at that part), but there is a lot to be learnt looking at the paths others are taking.

    MCC stepping in routines 1-6 is something that I think a lot of people would benefit from by watching. But then compare it to the stepping used by dancers that you think are good, and make your own mind up if it’s something you want to incorporate.

    One of my favorite reference Casino dances is this one: https://youtu.be/WIwcSG7wb3A I believe the lead is called Papito Chango. He was a Cuban native (think he now lives in Germany). Definitely not MCC yet you will see a lot of his stepping is pretty close to what is taught in MCC, I.e. he has an nearly always move forward philosophy. The follower is really good, forward stepping and with styling IMO exceeds any MCC follower’s styling I have seen. But styling preference is a personal thing, I know.

    Papito’s style is different from MCC reference stepping, I.e. it’s a bit variable in places which looks like a styling choice but it looks more natural to me, and less clinical. I view MCC as learning how to do things in a reference way (like a musical scale), but once you master it, it makes sense to me to “loosen” some aspects of the structure (in music terms I guess it’s like Rubato). Without mastering the original structure your stepping can be a bit of a mess, but keeping the structure too fixed and rigid makes you look a bit robotic, hope that makes some sense.

    The structure of Papito’s dance is also quite typical for good Casino dancers in that he starts with some Son-like moves (but on 1 obviously) before getting into some fun Vacilila- Enchufle por la derecho moves, Setentas etc. and incorporates some Guaguancó and a Son Tornillo, all great elements that pay homage to different aspects of Cuban dance. Some would say with the addition of Guaguancó it’s not “pure Casino”, but I disagree, it’s not how Casino was danced back in late 1950s, but neither was Setenta, and it is quite representative of how a lot of Afro Cubans dance Casino, and personally I think it’s a wonderful addition.

    With Adiós Inverso unless the follower has practiced it, in Casino or Son, or in Ballroom “Rumba” they are not going to know it. Btw, Ballroom “Rumba” not to be confused with the Rumba family of dances is an interesting study, lookup “Pierre and Lavelle” for the history of it, they travelled to Cuba in the 50s and learnt Son and documented it. Cool video if you have not seen it: https://youtu.be/oLNf34fdbhw ignore the date, apparently it was filmed in the 50s, not 1947. So Ballroom Rumba is essentially a ballroom stylized version of a subset of Son moves! Funny though it does not include the Son Pasea s I believe (some ballroom person may correct me on that).

    Any way back to Inverso, best way to do that is the step known as a cross-body lead (salsa on 1 term) but the move is pure son Urbano. When you do it both lead and follower are turning anti-clockwise, you end up in closed position, with the leads right foot between the followers 2 feet. Then you use your anti-clockwise momentum to start the Inverso. Is a very smooth transition when done correctly.

    Asmo

    • If you see the Pierre and Lavelle video link I posted above, and look closely you will see a similar entrance into an Adios Inverso I described, at around 00:31 and at 00:51 and 00:58. I haven’t looked at that video in a while, and I am seeing much more in it than before.

      You see them doing a move that is pretty similar to a Botella / Coca Cola after a cross body lead around 00:24. I was never sure if that Botella from a cross body lead was a pure Son move, but that video answers that question.

      I also recall reading somewhere that Enchufle was not a Son move. But at 00:19 there is a move done by Pierre that resembles an Enchufle.

      At 01:22 there is something that looks like a Vacilila-Habanero right out of an Adios. Now that’s a big surprise, I thought those moves were Casino.

      Asmo

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