Rueda salsa; or, as it should be called “Casino de rueda”; is a multi-partner’s dance form that originated from Cuba at the beginning of the 20th century. A very social style of dancing, it predates what we currently know as salsa.
One of its key features is that it’s danced in circle (rueda). As dancers evolve both clockwise and anticlockwise, they form a pattern that is identical to the wheels of a casino’s roulette game.
1. What is rueda salsa?
Cuban people, at the beginning of the 20th century, would gather in big dancing halls and start dancing in group. The dance moves they executed would borrow from other dance styles such as Son which was very popular at the start of that century. As rueda gained in popularity, people from different regions of Cuba formed dance groups that in turn took part in competition.
■ One note about the term “rueda salsa”
The dance should really be called casino rueda, as salsa is more of a dance style from New-York (in the 60’s) that postdates Cuban Son, mambo and casino de rueda. The term salsa was associated with rueda to fit into a dance category that could be marketed and accepted abroad. Since it resembled salsa, many people call it rueda salsa (groups) or casino salsa (one couple). However, Casino is an ever-evolving dance type that does not really like to be categorised. Indeed, unlike the North American salsa, people can dance casino on salsa songs, Timba or Son. I will use the term rueda salsa in this post for simplicity.
1.1. Particularities of Rueda salsa
The best way to describe rueda salsa, to someone who never got exposed to that dance style, is to imagine a game of musical chairs. As dancers evolve around an imaginary circle, they must stay alert to any changes that occur during the dance patterns. Indeed, one of the particularities of rueda salsa is the constant change of partners, directions (forward or backward or sideways), and dance moves. In order to coordinate the dancers, a “maestro” initiates improvisation and changes by calling different dance moves. This implies that the dancers have a name code for the moves they will execute. And beware if you forget the steps, the whole circle might break. You can take a look here at how rueda salsa is danced here “Rueda de Casino show“.
1.2. Differences between rueda salsa and U.S. salsa
The two main forms of salsa in the US are from New York and Los Angeles. While the former is danced on 2 (dancer break on the second beat); the latter is danced on 1. These two dance styles are pretty linear in their execution with backward and forward moves. Casino on the other hand includes tones of dance styles. From the Afro-Cuban dances (Rumba or Chango) to the Cuban ballroom style of Son, Chachacha. The circular motion is another difference in casino that is directly inherited from rueda. Additionally, the grip is stronger in casino than in the other two forms of salsa mentioned. Lastly, there are more improvisations from a casino dancer than a L.A or N.Y one. In fact the whole concept is based on dancing to the rhythm, constant games of seduction and element of surprise.
2. Basic moves of rueda salsa
2.1. Typical circular motion
Rueda salsa always has a circular motion associated with it. One of the most common move consists of both partners executing a 360° angle around an imaginary axis. As the man moves sideways to the right then backward; he comes back sideways to the left and forward. The lady follows him doing the opposite. This move itself is a very popular move used in Son dancing, testimony of the inclusive nature of rueda salsa.
2.2. Walking dance steps
These dance steps are also borrowed from Son. They are great when the group is just getting started as it makes sure everyone dances on beat. Unlike typical salsa moves that goes halfway forward then halfway back, this steps goes all the way to the completion of the salsa 8 counts. The sideway steps are executed at the beginning of the choreography as the maestro make sure everyone is on beat. He then transitions to the forward and backward walking moves as the group takes its circular shape.
2.3. Classical of rueda salsa
Once dancers have taken their position, the maestro might still go with another form of basic steps. On this move both partners break backward on the first beat. They then move back to the centre on the 5th beat. If you want to know more about how to count/dance on beat , discover my easy and proven step-by-step guide that will guarantee you see results and that you dance on beat.
2.4. Turn in rueda salsa
■ Men’s initiating turns
This is one of the most common steps used in rueda salsa. Here the man signal to the partner that she will have a turn pattern on the beats 5-6-7.
■ Ladies turn
As the lady breaks back on the first beat, she moves to her right on the third one (helped by the man’s signal). She then walks on the fifth beat, turns to her left on (6). Finally, she completes the move by joining her feet together, after completing this half turn (7&8). Note that this can also be 1 and half turn or more.
2.5. Rumba in rueda salsa
As mentioned previously, rueda uses many dance styles from Cuba. One of them is rumba. Rumba is the flagship of traditional dances in Cuba. Unlike Son, Rumba is more physical and playful, and requires that both dancers have a certain level of fitness.
■ How is it danced?
This dance step is typical of the Afro-Cuban dance called Rumba. And it’s the perfect move to learn for those dancers who struggle to find the beats of salsa. On the first beat, the dancers goes to one side; while they goes to the other side on the fifth one. Once again, if you struggle with the beats and how to count in salsa discover my clave for salsa post.
When you move to the side, you bend your knees while you make sure your hips move in the direction of the lead leg. After which, you use the opposite shoulder to create maximum impact and form.
3. Discover some of these steps in Practice
4. Discover new, untapped materials
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