Cuban Salsa: The Cuban Vuelta (Habanero)

The Cuban Vuelta (Habanero) is the twin sister of Vacilala. The steps are like for Vacilala except that the two half counts of eight are flipped: the Follow steps forward on “1”, she continues forward on “2-3” and turns, still walking forward, most often on a curved line, on “5-6-7”.

The Cuban Vuelta is not as prominent as Vacilala (hand-held and hand-free), because we also have the uniquely Cuban Exhibela-Sácala sideways right turn on “5-6-7”. Many dancers just call the Cuban Vuelta for an “extra turn” if done as the last part of Vacilala or simply a right turn on “5-6-7”. Other dancers like the look and feel of the Cuban Vuelta (Habanero), especially when done right-to-right handed, as in several of the following video clips. That is: this unique right turn deserves its own name.

Video Clip #1 is from “Son De Habana”, Bogotá, Colombia, 2015, featuring Alexander Barreto and Susana Osorio. The move starts with the right-to-right handed Habanero, the Cuban Vuelta. Note the Lead’s left hand on the Follow’s right arm (elbow in this case). Next we see one more Cuban Vuelta, the Lead pushes the Follow into the turn.

Original Columbian video on YouTube

Giro Habanero = Cuban Vuelta

I like the name Cuban Vuelta in order to distinguish it from the classic back-rocking “salsa” Vuelta on “5-6-7” with “silly” hand-prepping on “1-2-3”. The arm movement in the Cuban Vuelta might start within “1-2-3” but is more like a continuing movement culminating in the turn on “5-6-7” or the arm movement might start late, just in time for the turn.

Video Clip #2 is from a “” video, Poznan, Poland, 2013, featuring Piotr Agassi Chajkowski and Agata. Stepping forward on “1”, no hand prepping on “1-2-3”, very different from the back-rocking Salsa Vuelta. Agata uses the spiral turn technique and turns a full 360 on “5-6”, keeping step “7” free for positioning and pivoting around adding another 180 degrees.

Original Agassi video on YouTube

Many dancers inspired my MCC call the Cuban Vuelta for Giro Habanero. This name is coined by Yoel Marrero the creator of MCC, and I have asked him what it means or alludes too: nothing. It is just a name like “Setenta”. But before I knew better, I thought it had something to do with the stylish left hand on the Follow’s shoulder or elbow/overarm when Habanero is done right-to-right handed.

The Cuban Vuelta (Habanero) can, as we have just seen, stand alone in its own right, but should mostly be regarded as an optional add-on to the second half of some other move: like adding it to the last part of Vacilala giving us two turns, or as the last part of the Rodeo basic figure or as the finale of the Ola (wave) basic figure.

Except when done right-to-right handed, the Cuban Vuelta should only as an exception to the rule start moves like the Hammerlock of Setenta. The Hammerlock should be made with Vacilala steps: the Follow needs to practice to turn already on “1-2-3” until it becomes her second nature. The Follow’s ability to turn on “1-2-3” is one of the defining features of Cuban Salsa.

Hand-free Habanero

Just like we can do a hand-free Vacilala, leading the Follow forward on “1” and let go of her hand as soon as the Vacilala motion is started, we can do exactly the same for Habanero. The Follow is lead forward on “1”, continues forward on “2-3”, and the Lead starts the turn motion on “5” and let go of the Follow’s hand. In Video Clip 1 from Columbia above, we see an example (the second Vuelta) where the Follow is “pushed” into the turn on “5”.

Also: when a Follow is lead into a hand-free Vacilala and wasn’t fast enough to start the turn already on “1”, or misunderstood a weak lead, or if she notice that some situation on the dance floor makes it necessary to delay the turning, or if she simply feels like it, she can change the Vacilala into a Habanero, walking on “1-2-3” and turning on “5-6-7”.

Vacilala con Habanero

When the Vacilala turn on “1-2-3” is followed by a turn on “5-6-7”, this turn is a “Cuban Vuelta” also called Giro Habanero. Video Clip #3, from “”, Poznan, Poland, 2014, features Piotr Agassi Chajkowski and Agata. They do Vacilala con Habanero with normal handhold:

Original Agassi video on YouTube

Ola (wave) con Habanero

The Ola basic figure is a genuine Cuban classic. It is part of the “¡Salsa a la Cubana!” DVDs (#1) from Santiago de Cuba, published 1999. Ola con Habanero is just used here as an example of how the “Cuban Vuelta” often replaces the second half of other moves.

Video Clip #4 is from “DC Casineros”, Washington DC, USA, 2015, featuring Adrian Valdivia as instructor.

Original DC Casinos video on YouTube

Cuban Vuelta and turn technique

Very little attention has been paid to the fact that the three most common ways of turning in Cuban Salsa, “Pivot Turns”, the “Latin Three Steps Turn” (Châné) and the bonkers “Cuban Four Steps Turn”, make the Cuban Vuelta difficult in some situations or impossible (the Four Steps Turn).

The challenge is that the “Pivot Turn” method, using two Pivot turns of 180 degree, on “5-6” and on “6-7”, and similar for the “Latin Three Steps Turn”, make the Follow exit the turn on step “7” in forward facing position. That is of cause just perfect if the Follow is to continue forward on the partner circle.

But very often the Follow is lead into the Dile Que No start position after the Cuban Vuelta, that is on step “7” she must not only finish the turn but must at the same time pivot around on the foot for another 180 degrees! It can be done but it is a little difficult to turn not only 360 degrees on “5-6-7” but 540 degrees.

There is a reason why so few Follows add a hand-free Cuban Vuelta turn to their hand-free Vacilala turn, turning both on “1-2-3” and on “5-6-7”: It is difficult to turn 540 degrees on “5-6-7” and exit perfectly positioned exactly by the Lead’s right side ready for Dile Que No or some other continuation.

The bonkers “Cuban Four Steps Turn” works only for Vacilala turns on “1-2-3-5” (!) Using four steps to turn 360 degrees (!) makes it of cause impossible to add a Cuban Vuelta. Even when the Cuban Vuelta is done alone, the “Four Steps Turn” doesn’t work because the Follow will need to use the first step of the next count of eight to finish the turn.

Cuban Vuelta and the Spiral Turn

I believe that the “Latin Spiral Turn”, adapted to Cuban Salsa, is the future of Cuban Salsa. It is versatile, that is, it can be used for almost all turn situations, left as well as right, on the partner circle as wells as instantly from walkabouts. For Vacilala the 360 degrees spiral turn takes place between “2-3” giving the Follow one more step to prepare for the turn. For Habanero the 360 degrees spiral turn takes place on “5-6” giving the Follow a free step “7” for positioning and pivoting around.

In Video Clip #5, is from “”, Poznan, Poland, 2013, featuring Piotr Agassi Chajkowski and Agata. Note that Agata uses the spiral turn technique for the two turns. For the Vacilala she starts it a little early doing 90 degrees on “1-2”, but the Habanero is timed exactly on “5-6”. Also note that Agata has a free step “7” for positioning and for pivoting around into the start position of Dile Que No also called the Caida start position.

Original Agassi video on YouTube

Cuban Vuelta and classic “salsa” Vuelta

The difference between the Cuban Vuelta (Habanero) and the back-rocking Salsa Vuelta:

  1. For the Cuban Vuelta the Follow steps forward on “1”, the Follow’s default step in the style of Cuban Salsa, I recommend. In the back-rocking Salsa Vuelta the Follow steps back on “1”, loosing two steps for nothing.
  2. The “Cuban Vuelta” has no or little explicit prepping. The arm motion starts within “1-2-3” and culminates in the turn, as one long movement, or starts as late as on “5”. The Salsa Vuelta starts with explicit hand prepping on “1-2-3”, like a waving hand signal.
  3. The Cuban Vuelta is mostly (but not only) a “secondary” turn added to the other half of Vacilala, Rodeo, Ola, etc, or started from within walkabouts. In American X-Body Salsa, the back-rocking Vuelta is a “primary” figure often starting combinations, the same role as Vacilala has in Cuban Salsa.
  4. The Cuban Vuelta is often done with right-to-right handhold with the Lead’s left hand on the Follow’s shoulder or elbue/overarm made possible by the turning motion. It gives the turn a unique look and feel difficult to replicate in the “forward-and-back” rectangular slut of X-Body Salsa.
  5. Because of the partner circle, the Cuban Vuelta is often not just 360 degrees but 540 degrees because on “7” the Follow often needs to pivot around adding an additional 180 degrees in order to get into the start position of Dile Que No also called the Caida start position.

For comparison see my blog post: Cuban Salsa: The back-rocking Vuelta right turn.


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  • Great writeup / analysis of Habanero, I learnt quite a bit from this, thanks.

    What you are call the ‘Salsa Vuelta’ I do feel has a place in Casino alongside the other turns *if* it is done with the correct context and execution. Depending on the start of the music and what is happening musically in it, I may start my Casino using a restricted set of ‘Son-on-1’ moves before opening up the dance to Open position etc as the music progresses. Similar to what you see in some Cuban Casino videos.

    During this phase I will start in closed position, do some Son Basicos, Laterales, Arriba, Son Saludos, Adios, Saloneos -> restrict the moves to a Son only moves etc. Creates a district impression from the fancy pretzel arms stuff later 😉 During this phase I may do an Apertura (as done by Silvio from Casa del Son). After the Apertura it is an ideal time to what I call a ‘Son Vuelta’, it is what you are calling a ‘Salsa Vuelta’, but the move when done properly actually originates from Son. you will see it done in many good Son dancers . Example of Silvio doing this:, he is doing Son on 2 but you can just map the timing of it to Casino on 1.

    I do agree with you though, I have seen this type of move used as a bad substitute for Vacilila. Often done by leads that I call ‘lazy steppers’ -> they do 70’s without moving their feet and expect the follower to do all the movement!


    • Yes, apart from what I call the back-rocking “salsa” Vuelta (“LA style”), and the Cuban Vuelta (Habanero) stepping forward on “1” on the “Partner Circle”, that is from start position of open position also called Guapea position, we have all sorts of on “5-6-7” Vueltas on the spot or from closed position to closed position, and from closed position to Cásate, etc, Son style, and we have difficult to define “5-6-7” right turns as part of walks and free styling.

      To keep it simple, I will suggest to call all these right turns on “5-6-7” for variations of the Cuban Vuelta (Habanero), but in some situations they deserve their own name. At least, they are all very different from what we see in LA style and New York style type of dancing.

      On top of it we also have the sideways Exhibela/Sacala right turn with walking on 1-2-3 and turning on 5-6-7. Even this turn can be done the Cuban Way using Paseala steps and stepping forward on one or with back-rocking LA “salsa” style. Both methods are common in Cuba but only the first is uniquely Cuban and makes Cuban Salsa stand out completely different from all other salsa styles like a fascinating miracle.

      The dividing line is between “forward and back” salsa Vuelta, with distinct hand prepping on 1-2-3 (LA style) and the rest. The back-rocking Salsa Vuelta should only by used as an exception to the rule in Cuban Salsa.

      Not that there is anything wrong with the classic “salsa” Vuelta, and of cause it is common also in Cuba, but it legitimises back-rocking all over the place, and takes the genuine Cuban out of Cuban Salsa reducing it to a bland fusion style.

      • I do agree with the avoidance of back stepping when dancing Casino and doing pure Casino moves. But Son itself has some back-stepping in it, and it’s common practice to include Son moves transitioned to on-1 in casino.

        So the question I pose is: how does a follower know from an open position whether to do an in place Son Basico back-rock as the lead wants them to do an in-place Son Vuelta, versus the lead expects them to step forward on-1 as the intent it to do a Vacilila and/or Habanero? Assuming the follower you are with understands both these moves and the context they came from (Casino vs Son).

        Given we’re dancing Casino, the follower should ideally assume a “must step forward” philosophy. But if the context of the moves before are clearly Son they can use this as a hint to do the Son Vuelta. Here is a sequence: Closed-position -> Son Basicos -> Apertura -> open position -> Son clearly is implied -> lead does Son basico on 1-3 -> leadlifts left hand (follower’s right) on 3 to signal Son Vuelta turn -> lead can go directly to a closed position or a Son Rodeo (Follower steps around lead more slowly than Casino) or something like a Casate… i.e. still keeping a Son context to the dance.

        Or instead the following is a sequence with clearly a Casino context Exhibela -> DQN (from Caida) -> Open position -> follower by default steps forward -> Vacilila / Habanero.

        Often Son moves can just fit into Casino without a problem, but the Vuelta needs the dance “context’ so the follower knows what is intended. Another is the Rodeo: with a Casino Rodeo the follower walks clockwise around the lead on a 1-8 count ending up in Caida. Son Rodeo is much more leisurely, often taken 2 counts of 8 to get around. Only way a follower knows which to do is the context of the moves before.

        At worst if the follower is not accustomed to using the context they will step forward after an Apentura (you can’t do Son Vuelta), or they go around your Rodeo in a count of 8 and you just keep dancing, no big deal just a missed opportunity.


      • Hi Asmo

        Instead of trying to answer your specific questions directly, let me elaborate on my thinking about the back-rocking “problem” in Cuban Salsa, and I will certainly return to this subject again and again:

        1. Any Follow, no matter her level, and no matter how she wants to step by default, is forced to do a lot of back steps when dancing with less experienced Leads pulling and pushing them around, simply in order not to loose their balance.

        2. Any Follow when dancing with less experienced Leads, trying to remember the few moves they know in Guapea position, is very likely forced to step back on one in Guapea, and can only counteract it by doing as short a back step as possible.

        3. Any Follow dancing with Leads having learned their DQN from the dominant way to dance Rueda de Casino, will very likely be forced to step back on one in DQN as the Lead steps forward with an enormous goose step.

        4. Any Follow will often experience the back-rocking Vuelta right turn, on its own or for the start of Setenta moves and also used for Exhibela instead of proper Paseala steps.

        5. Any Follow will on top of it often experience moves like Abajo, normally done with back-rocking, “forward and back” salsa basic steps, and even some Son figures where back-steps are build in as part of the moves.

        6. Most Follows at least outside of Cuba have learned to dance in dance school telling them to step back on one.

        Summa Summarum.

        When a Lead, who strongly believes that forward stepping should be the default of a Follow, asks a Follow for a dance, this Follow, generally speaking, starts the dance with a body memory that almost spells back-rocking all over the place as her second nature! Quite a challenge to overcome!

        The Lead will completely ruin the dance, if all he focus on is to make the Follow avoid back-rocking. It is pretty tiresome to have to lead, push and pull the Follow forward all the time against the will of her body memory, and it is also stupid because the Follow doesn’t like it.

        It is pretty safe to conclude, that almost anywhere in the world, where they dance Cuban Salsa, also in Cuba, most couples will dance with a lot of back-rocking. It is more a question of how much back-rocking: all the time even when not necessary, half the time or only as an exception to the rule.

        The few exceptions.

        I sometimes see dance videos from Cuba where a couple clearly step forward whenever possible, I sometimes see videos from Cuba where a whole Rueda is danced that way. And I say to myself: how is this possible, where is this coming from? It is a miracle because a lot of back-rocking is much more “natural” because it is easier, and salsa is laid-back by nature, everything is allowed even bad taste and bad habits.

        Then we have a completely different category of dance videos where a couple clearly have “step forward by default” as philosophy. These couples are either Cubans that somehow dance that way by “miracle”, or they are from anywhere in the world often but not always inspired by or former or present students of Yoel Marrero and MCC.

        These dancers have somehow decided that it benefits their dance to reduce back stepping to the moves where they are build-in, that “always forward” has the potential of creating a unique walking flow making Cuban Salsa sensationally different from other salsa styles with a fantastic look and feel. They have decided to dance that way because they find it far superior to the “know nothing”, “who really cares about anything” type of dancing. They have learned this alternative more genuine way of Cuban Salsa mostly by themselves, hard, hard work, and it has often been necessary first to unlearn how they used to dance.

        I have heard of Cuban dance schools in Cuban insisting on stepping forward by default, but I have not been able to identify just one by name so far! Such dance schools do exist all over the world but they are few. I probably know the names of twenty like DC Casineros in USA and I know of at least three more in the USA. There are at least three in Poland, and at least one in Sweden (Stockholm), just to give a handful of examples.

        That is, the “stepping forward by default” philosophy, which I 100% adhere to, is more for partner dancing than social dancing, in the sense that it is a style you can only use with Follows you have trained it with at Practica training sessions, except when you happen to live in a neighbourhood where the local dance school by chance adhere to the same philosophy.

        Of cause there is something a “forward mostly” Lead can do, even when dancing with a born back-rocker at a social dance:

        1. From the start position of open position, start all traditional figures and moves by leading the Follow forward on step “1”.

        2. Don’t use the back-rocking Vuelta right turn and especially not for Setenta figures.

        3. Reduce the use of Guapea to zero and if you feel a need to use it, don’t use a back-rocking Guapea.

        4. Fokus on DQN. Never use the Goose Step DQN forcing the Follow to step back. Don’t let the Follow rest in the start position of DQN for as much as a split second. Lead her forward before she has a chance to step back.

        5. Make sure to use Paseala steps for Exhibela/Sacala, leading the Follow forward on one.

        6. Use a lot of walks where forward stepping is natural.

        7. Prevent her from side crabbing and from backing into moves. Such junk always results in back-rocking.

        8. Make sure the Follow pivots right on “7” into DQN position and left on “6” into open position.

        9. During the dance, tell the Follow to be on the move, Vamos, Vamos, let’s go.

        10. The Lead must take charge and create the magic: he must create the forward walking flow and keep the momentum going.

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