Cuban Salsa: Why Spiral Turns are the future of Casino

There are surprisingly many ways to turn in social dancing. I just saw a video presenting 14 common types of turns in social dancing in the USA: Pivot Turn, Chaîné Turn, Swing and Sway Turn, Heel Turn, Spin Turn, Fan Turn, Spiral Turn, Twist Turn, Paddle Turn, Pirouette Turn, Monterey Turn, Pique Turn, Platform or Pensel Turn, Tuck Turn. There are many more ways to turn if we include social dances from all over the world.

Only a handful of the classic ways to turn are relevant for Cuban Salsa, except that almost any type of turn can be used in free styling sections and when “dancing apart but together”. In this tutorial we focus on the Follow and the most common ways to turn for Vacilala, right, on “1-2-3”, and for the “Cuban Vuelta”, right, on “5-6-7”. Most of the turn techniques work as well for left turns but they are rare in Cuban Salsa except for the quick so-called Coca-Cola left turns on “6-7” and on “1-2” using the Spiral turn technique.

Turn techniques for the Follow’s right and left turns:

  1. The Spiral Turn, two steps (as if invented for Cuban Salsa)
  2. The Latin Three Step Turn (“social” Chaîné turns)
  3. The Pivot Turn technique (the natural way to turn)
  4. The “Four Step Turn” (Cuban specialty, only for Vacilala)

Vacilala Steps everywhere

The steps used in the hand-free Vacilala is part of the foundation of Cuban Salsa and is often referred to as “Vacilala Steps”. They are used in the hand-free Vacilala, and in all the one and two handed variations of Vacilala: the handheld Vacilala (called Hecho 20 years ago), El Dedo (right-to-left handed Vacilala), in cross-handed Vacilala figures like Sombrero and Balsero, in half Sombrero moves like the beginning of Bayamo figures, and for the Hammerlock in Setenta moves and other two handed Vacilala moves.

The reason why Vacilala Steps are more or less the definition of Cuban Salsa is obvious. In all other salsa styles it is considered almost impossible for the Follow to turn on “1-2-3” at the beginning of moves. Instead they use “1-2-3” for prepping the Follow to turn on “5-6-7”. The ability to turn on “1-2-3”, not just as an exception to the rule, but as the most common turn of 360 degrees, is uniquely Cuban.

Turning already on “1-2-3”, especially out of the blue, requires not only to step forward on “1” but that the Follow has forward stepping as default! If a Follow steps back on “1” some of the time, the uncertainty of how to step on “1” in the next move puts her at a disadvantage that might make her miss a proper Vacilala turn. She is simply not fast enough. A Lead is not even going to try. He senses right away that this Follow is not capable of turning the “Cuban” way unless she hears a Rueda Call or she is lead into it with very explicit prepping to slow music, almost hard-wired.

Before we continue, let us remind ourselves that we also have other common turns in Cuban Salsa, like the sideways Exhibela turn (and Exhibela Inverso), the Enchufla half left turn, the “square”, on the spot, Panqué turn, the Padle Turn (Adiós) and the Lead’s Hook Turn.

The Spiral Turn

I highly recommend to use the 2-step Spiral Turn in Cuban Salsa as much as possible. Spiral Turns are not yet that common for right turns in Cuban Salsa (has always been used for Coca-Cola but mostly with homegrown stepping), but they pop up more and more often for a simple reason. If a Follow is serious about using the best techniques for her turns, the Spiral Turn is as invented for Cuban Salsa.

The Spiral Turn is as invented for Cuban Salsa for the following reasons:

  1. Since the Spiral right turn on “1-2-3” falls between “2-3”, the Follow has one more step before the turn starts, making it much easier to do a full 360 degree turn with little or only implicit prepping.
  2. Since the Spiral right turn on “5-6-7” falls between “5-6”, it is very easy to make double turns, and there is still a step left for positioning herself at the side of her Leader in Caída position (same as DQN start position).
  3. The Spiral turn works as well for the Coca-Cola left turn on “6-7” and for the Coca-Cola left turn on “1-2”. That is for a double left turn one should start with the “6-7” turn because then we only get the “8”, the pause, in between the two turns.
  4. The Spiral Turn, exactly because it is a two steps turn, and a human has two legs, works as a charm as part of all sorts of walks like Paseo, Saloneo, Paseala, Caminala, Caminando (walks and their names are not well-defined).
  5. The Spiral Turn technique makes the Follow exit the turn with both feet perfectly grounded, much more stable and with a much higher success rate than other turn techniques.
  6. The Spiral Turn is as made for a walking dance, because the Follow walks into the turn with her front and turns fast. That is, the Follow’s back is only forward in a split second.
  7. If the Follow needs to protect her knees or want a less fast Spiral Turn in some situations, she can begin it early. For Vacilala she can start it already between “1-2”, by angling her foot e.g. 45 degrees on step two, making it a “2 and 1/4” steps Turn, as long as she uses the twisting spiral technique.

In Video Clip #1 from “DC Casineros”, Washington DC, USA, 2014, Amanda Gill shows us the technique for the Latin Two Step Spiral Turn. Anything better?

The original “DC Casineros” video on YouTube

The Spiral Turn only has two problems:

  1. Spiral Turns almost look too good and elegant. Because they are not yet that common for right turns, there is not much “Cuban look and feel” over it. They might look too professional, too “educated dancer” until the day they are more common.
  2. The Spiral Turn can be hard on the knees. It requires good dance shoes and a good dance floor, except that strong Follows develop compensating techniques for less optimal shoe/floor conditions.

The Latin Three Step Turn

The Latin Three Step Turn is one of the classic ways of doing a 360 degrees turn. It is basically a “social” adaption of the Chaîné turn from Ballet. It is a turn technique many Cuban Salsa dance schools have been teaching for a very long time, and it is the method found in many instructional videos on YouTube, from “DancePapi” to good old “Salsa Lovers”.

For the Latin Three Step Turn, the Follow starts the first half of the turn with her back to the walking direction on 1-2, collecting her feet, doing 180 degrees, and then she steps around on “3” for another 180 degrees. There are many variations, often the Follow almost spin around on the collected feet on “2” to make it easer to step forward on “3” or the Follow collects her feet and steps forward on three in a continuing motion.

Video Clip #2 is from a “DancePapi” video, San Francisco, USA, 2016, featuring Nick and Serena. “DancePapi” makes great videos about musicality, Cuban and LA style Salsa.

The original “DancePapi” video on YouTube

The main challenge in Cuban Salsa for the Vacilala turn using three steps, Latin Three Step Turn and the Three Step Pivot Turn (two 180 degrees turns), is that it must start on “1” often with little or only implicit prepping. That is, in very many situations a Follow is simply too late for a Three Step Turn, especially if she doesn’t step forward by default, and the Follow only survives them with recovery techniques like using the bonkers Cuban Four Step Turn instead.

Video Clip #3 is from “BailarCasino.pl” – Poznańska Szkoła Casino, Poznań, Poland, 2014, featuring the marvellous Agassi dance couple. They show us how two do a double right turn, Vacilala followed by a “Cuban Vuelta” (Habanero). The Follow uses her own perfect version of the Latin Three Step Turn technique. I have added a slow motion section.

The original Agassi video on YouTube

The Latin Three Step Turn is not that suitable for turns as part of walks like Paseo and Saloneo walks: it takes a strong Follow to avoid instability, and the Follow must be quick to start the turns and to continue after the exit. The Spiral turns, on the other hand, start one step later for Vacilala and ends one step sooner for the “Cuban Vuelta” making them very easy to integrate into walks.

Even though I recommend to use the Latin Two Step Spiral Turns as much as possible, the Latin Three Step Turn is just as good or better in many situations, especially if the Follow is a good dancer, and depending on what look and feel the Lead wants for his dance. Video Clip #4 is from the same excellent Polish video, again I have added a slow motion section:

The original Agassi video on YouTube

Three Step Pivot Turn

The Three Step Pivot Turn is how a not dance educated person will turn if asked to turn 360 degrees and walk forward at the same time. The Pivot Turn is somehow the natural way to turn: rolling over the floor doing a chain of 180 degree half turns, like a barrel being rolled on its rim. The two halves of a 360 degrees turn are identical making it easy to do many turns in a row. For that reason Pivot turns are often a useful technique in more loose, free-styling sections of a dance with a lot of turning, right or left.

Video Clip #5 is from “Association Salsa Loca”, Strasbourg, 2011. I have added a slow motion section. Even on a bad dance floor, Sophie has no problems stepping a double turn, first Vacilala on “1-2-3”, next the Cuban Vuelta on “5-6-7” using natural Pivot turns, four turns of 180 degrees.

The original “Salsa Loca” video on YouTube.

Video Clip #6 is with the same people showing a hand-free Vacilala double turn (Vacilala and Cuban Vuelta). I have added a slow motion section.

The original hand-free “Salsa Loca” video on YouTube

The Four Step Turn (bonkers)

The Cuban “Four Step Turn” was probably invented by Cuban Follows in order to recover from failed Three Step Turns. Often bad shoes or poor dance floors are used as an excuse for using the most mediocre of all 360 degrees turns ever invented, the least versatile of all turn techniques, the turn technique with the least potential for anything advanced.

Never the less, because Cuban Salsa (Casino) in Cuba is mostly danced by amateurs with no formal dance education, the completely bonkers “Four Step Turn” is probably by far the most common way to do Vacilala Steps in Cuban Salsa in social dancing as well as in Rueda de Casino, and it is almost as common when Cuban Salsa is danced outside of Cuba. This is surprising considering that almost no dance schools could dream of teaching the Four Step Turn as a textbook turn. It is simply too obvious that a Four Step Turn is just a way to rescue a 360 degrees Three Step turn gone wrong.

The “Four Step Turn” can be made to look surprisingly good, and even charming: “I know that I can’t turn but I do it anyway”! But in any serious analysis, the Four Step Turn is just junk, an outdated turn techniques from the neolithic past of Cuban Salsa.

Video Clip #7 are from “SalsaNor”, “The Norwegian Rueda Standard”, today just called “Rueda.Casino”. It shows probably the most common way to do Vacila using the Cuban Four Steps Turn! I have added a slow-motion section.

The original “Rueda.Casino” video at on YouTube

The problems with the Four Step Turn are obvious:

  1. It makes it impossible to do double turns, turning 360 degrees both on “1-2-3” and on “5-6-7”.
  2. The Four Step Turn doesn’t work for right or left turns on “5-6-7”, since it would first finish on the first count of the next move.
  3. The Four Step Turn doesn’t work as part of “walkabouts”: Paseala walks, Paseo walks, Caminando walks, Caminala walks, Saloneo walks.
  4. And not the least: the Four Step Turn creates a mismatch between leading and following. The Lead expects and leads turns within “1-2-3” or within “5-6-7”: The Follow obstructs intention and leading by doing a “long” turn of four steps first finishing it on “5”.

Video Clip #8 is another Cuban example taken from the legendary Instructional DVD #1, ¡Salsa a la Cubana!, featuring Sunny Soriano Malo de Molina and Ibert Vázquez Moreno, Santiago de Cuba, published by “Salsaville.com”, 1999. The five ¡Salsa a la Cubana! DVDs are fantastic as inspiration and as documentation of old school Casino. This is just to show how common the “Cuban Four Step Turn” is for Vacilala.

Cuban Four Step Turn: A social disaster

Most Leads have no clue about how Follows turn. Leads apply dance school theory, logic and common sense when they lead a Follow. Leads expect Follows to turn on “1-2-3” and on “5-6-7” because anything else doesn’t make sense, and Leads lead the Follow to turn on “1-2-3” and or on “5-6-7”.

If the Follow in reality turns on “1-2-3-5”, that is, she needs count 1-2-3 just to do a 180 degree turn, most Leads will experience such a Follow as “heavy”, “she is too late in her turns”, “there is sand in the machinery”, she must almost be forced around in order to complete the turn.

The Cuban Four Step Turn creates a mismatch between what the Leads expect/lead and how the Follows actually turns. The Lead can not but conclude that he must lower his expectations, that this Follow can’t turn, that he will be better off skipping anything advanced and only serve this Follow easy stuff.

Video Clip #9 is a promotional video, 2014, from the Hungarian “Salsa Steps” App. I like this APP a lot for inspiration despite that most of their hundreds of figures have major issues from my Cuban Salsa sub-style point of view. They use the Cuban “Four Step Turn” for Vacilala.

The original “Rueda.Casino” video at on YouTube

Video Clip #10 is from “www.sofian-salsa.de”, Vilshofen an der Donau, Germany, 2020. Just one of hundreds of videos showing Vacilala done with the Cuban Four Step Turn.

The same original “sofian-salsa” video on YouTube

The Four Step turn is that bad!

For a long time I believed that the Cuban Four Step Turn was just something the Follow did in the hand-free Vacilala, that it was some kind of anomaly and that she would turn in a more dance-educated way in other situations. But no! If a Follow uses the Four Step Turn for the hand-free Vacilala, one can be pretty sure, with a few exceptions, that this is her default way to turn. She turns exactly the same for a handheld Vacilala for Dedo moves, for Sombrero, Balsero, etc. And it is simply out of the question for her to do double turns, to turn both on “1-2-3” and “5-6-7”.

The Cuban Four Step Turn is a huge disservice to the Follow. It put a lid on her, and condemn her to the eternal plateau as a dancer. She can not develop because she has no solid foundation for her dance.

Four Step Turns as the exception to the rule

There is only one valid argument for ever using a Four Step Turn: when the protection of the Follow’s knees have top priority, and she haven’t jet learned how to use compensating techniques when doing Spiral Turns or Three Step Turns in bad dance shoes and/or on a bad dance surface.

The only other argument I can think of, especially for the hand-free Vacilala, where the Follow is free to do exactly what she wants, she could sometimes use the Four Step Turn for fun, for relaxation, for variation or in order to pay tribute to the plight of Cuban women having had to invent this completely bonkers, “going all mediocre” type of turn out of necessity.

I highly recommend to use the Two Step Spiral Turn as much as possible but not exclusively.

Both Leads and Follows must know and be able to use all the common turn techniques, for obvious reasons, and we can boil it down to Two Steps Spiral Turns, Latin Three Step Turns and Three Step Pivot turns.

The Follow should own these three common types because if she senses that the Lead lead her into one or the other, she must use that type of turn.

The Lead should own all the three types for variation and in order to serve the best one in the situation and if he senses that a Follow cannot do one of the techniques he can just skip it.

The bonkers Cuban Four Step Turn could even be useful for a very tired Follow or a Follow that must protect her knees, or if the dance floor is terrible, or even just for fun or nostalgia, and especially for the hand-free Vacilala.

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