Cuban Salsa: How to modify Rueda moves for social dancing

It’s a big misunderstanding to believe that so-called “Casino” moves used in Rueda de Casino actually comes from social 1-on-1 couple dancing. As a rule of thumb but with many exceptions, they don’t! On the contrary: “Casino” moves used in Rueda de Casino were made to be used in Rueda de Casino. The exceptions include basic figures like Enchufla and Vacilala.

Since most Cuban Salsa dance schools focus almost entirely on teaching Rueda de Casino and on “Casino” moves in the context of Rueda de Casino, most dancers are on their own when it comes to social dancing. Many dance schools only pay lip service to social dancing: “Use the “Casino” moves from Rueda de Casino and remember to start in closed position”!

The fact that most dancers, by and large are on their own, and have to teach themselves social dancing with very little help from dance schools, poses a lot of challenges. How to become a better social dancer? This is a huge subject. In this blogpost we will look at how Leads can take “Casino” moves from Rueda de Casino and modify them for use in social dancing.

1 “Casino” moves in Rueda

We have many types of calls and moves specific to Rueda de Casino and completely irrelevant to social dancing like Dame Una, Doble Play and Tumba Fracesca. But we also have two categories of moves that also make sense in social dancing:

  1. Basic figures like Dile Que No, Enchufla, Exhibela, Vacilala and Coca-Cola. They come from social dancing and work the same in Rueda.
  2. Named “Casino” moves being sequences of basic figures like Setenta, Ochenta y Quatro, Dedo, Bayamo and Montaña.

It is a common misunderstanding that this second category, the hundreds of so-called “Casino” moves used in Rueda de Casino come from social dancing. Sometimes they do but with a lot of caveats.

How were most of these “Casino” moves made up in the first place? What is the basic recipe for how to construct a “Casino” move for Rueda de Casino?

2 A recipe for a Rueda move

  1. Take some interesting sequence of basic figures from social dancing. Often just a sequence of a couple of counts of eight.
  2. Add to the beginning of this sequence one of the many classic “start” figures that normally start a move in Rueda de Casino e.g. Setenta, Enchufla, Sombrero, Siete.
  3. Add to the end of the sequence, one of the many classic “end” figures that normally end a move in Rueda de Casino, e.g. Enchufla or Sombrero.
  4. If the sequence contains counts of eight mostly there to make it realistic to lead in social dancing, drop that count of eight because leading/following is not an issue in Rueda de Casino: both Lead and Follow hear the Rueda calls and know exactly what to do.
  5. Add one or more count of Eight to make the sequence fit the “mini dance” format of Rueda moves.
  6. Make sure that the turning and walking add up. The couple must be positioned to go into Dile Que No or Dame at the end of the move.

This is how most so-called “Casino” moves were and are still made for Rueda de Casino. They have never ever been used that way in social dancing in the first place. Only the core of these moves comes from social dancing. The moves, by and large, are choreographed mini dances made for the Rueda format. They were never intended for social dancing!

3 The one couple Rueda!

Since most dancers have never learned anything or only very little about social dancing, they end up recreating the Rueda model when they go social dancing. Their social dance pretty much looks like a one couple Rueda with the Lead as caller! The Lead calls his best 10 moves on a string, small mini dances terminated with Dile Que No and back into Guapea and ready for the next Rueda call!

What a pity, what a parody, the most mediocre concept imaginable for a social dance!

4 Social flow dancing

Good social dancers use surprisingly few moves of the so-called “Casino” type from Rueda de Casino. Instead we see endless combinations of basic figures. These combinations are not random but based on experience and body memory from many years of training and social dancing.

Often we see longer sequences of basic figures that the Lead has used many times before, and sometimes they might even look like moves with a beginning and an ending. But most often they are constantly in the making and are seldom exactly the same, more like a theme with endless variations.

In an ideal dance world, a social dance should progress naturally based on basic figures of mostly one count of eight, one at a time, with no preplanned moves. For each step, what comes next should be determined by many factors: like on how well the Lead and Follow did the previous step, on what momentum and expectations were created, on how the music is developing, skill level of Lead and Follow, and on what has already happened in the dance, and on what type of dancing the ever changing dance floor makes possible (direction, closed/open position, walks).

At each step of a dance, just to continue with some preplanned move, despite all the factors determining the best way to proceed, is meaningless, destructive and contrary to the nature of social dancing.

5 From Rueda to Social

How can we modify the Rueda moves we already know, and the new Rueda moves we see on YouTube and other social media, in order to make them useful in social dancing?

  1. For many of the Rueda moves, skip the “Rueda” beginning. E.g.: Almost all Setenta figures exit the Hammerlock with Enchufla. That is, one can just as well start them directly from Enchufla.
  2. For many of the Rueda moves skip the “Rueda” ending like Sombrero. Instead of ending the move and go into Dile Que No and Guapea, continue the move into other sequences of basic figures.
  3. If the moves are difficult to lead because leading/following is not an issue in Rueda, change them in order to make them easier to lead.
  4. Make the move more relaxed and easygoing. In Rueda, moves are divided with Dile Que No and with Guapea often continuing for several count of eight, in order for the Rueda couples to recover and synchronise. For that reason, moves in Rueda can be more hectic, chaotic and action oriented than what we would like in social dancing.

6 Montaña as example

For a long time, early in my social dance career, I used the classic “Casino” move Montaña at least once in every social dance, and it was exactly the same version as in Rueda de Casino. Then one day I realised that I hadn’t used Montaña for months, but somehow I used the essence of it anyway, several times during a dance.

The core of the Montaña move, its Raison d’être, is the crossed handed Enchufla with the Lead’s left hand on top on “1-2-3” followed by a hook turn and the arms over the Lead’s head on “5-6-7”. The normal cross handed Sombrero handhold, right hands on top, turns the Follow in order for the left hands to end up on top. And the Sombrero at the end of the move is just one of many options for how to end or continue the move.

That is: I hardly ever use the great Montaña move anymore. Instead I just use the cross handed Enchufla with the left hands on top. That is, the main purpose of using a good move in your social dance is to learn it well enough to own its most interesting combination of basic figures and to use that combination instead in all sorts of ways and situations where it fits in.

7 A new look at moves

A named “Casino” move is just an interesting sequence of basic figures modified to fit the “mini dance” format of “Casino” moves in Rueda de Casino. Moves have the additional purpose of being one method to learn something new, often just a combination of two basic figures or some detail.

You need to work with a move a lot in Practica and social dancing, where you can play with it, modify it, cut it short, prolong it, replace start and ending with other options, try out alternatives and variations.

“Casino” moves are the opposite of what we are looking for in social dancing. But we need to test them out over a long period in order to find the juice. And the more moves you know, train and modify to your own liking, the more gold you will find.

I like to keep a huge repertoire of “Casino” moves alive, that is at the forefront of my body memory, ready for action, including lesser known moves. And I often flip the stack. I might have overlooked something that can be modified to fit into how I dance today.

In any given social dance, apart from basic figures, I might not even use a couple of recognisable moves and I replace them all the time. In the middle of a dance I sometimes like to throw in some move, I haven’t used for ages, just to see if I still remember it or like a joker or wildcard that might find a new path for my dance.

Just think about it:

In Rueda de Casino, we don’t need to bother about leading and following. The Rueda Caller tells both the Lead and the Follow exactly what to do. For that reason many moves might be difficult to lead in social dancing.

And In Rueda, we don’t need to think about how to optimised the move for the best possible positioning and continuation into the next move!

Why? Because in Rueda we always end up with Dame, Dile Que No and/or Guapea after a move, and we often stay in Guapea for several counts of eight in order for the couples to recover from too much action and to get synchronised.

Many moves from Rueda de Casino can be made to work in social dancing right a way with little or no modification. But Rueda moves are more often than most people realize far from optimised for social dancing.

The requirements for a good “move” in social dancing have little in common with the requirements for a good move in Rueda de Casino!

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