La Rueda

One day, this piece will feed into a longer piece on how and why I love dance. But for today, we’ll stick with the rueda.

Dile que no y la gente se tourne. Paseala y  la gente cambia. Fly y se aplauden. Agua y se mueve sus cadernas. Cada instrucción los guide en un grand flurry de movimiento. Y ya sólo es el comienzo de Casino de rueda.

Casino Rueda is a Cuban style of salsa in which partners respond to commands given by a group leader. The group turns, stops, styles, and claps in response all in keeping with the beat of the song. I’ve seen it performed in Boston where the MIT Casino group is continuously clean, dynamic, and on fire.

Casino tests your attention but adds a bit of play to it, like a moving Simon Says or Bop It. It’s incredibly fun to whip around the circle, stop shake a bit and get back into it. Sometimes you trip up, but as long as you keep dancing, you can play off anything.

As always, I am the eager beaver to dance, and finally seeing a rueda I could join almost had me jumping. The prof and rueda leader noticed my eager hesitancy to join and after having me watch a song or two, he pulled me in! Surprisingly I kept up, but as a follower, the pressure is lessened to hear and understand each command. Finally, I understood the joy the MIT Casino girls had after a rueda performance, and how this dance caught on so well in Cuba.

I spent New Years in Cuba and attended a “Panorama Show” of Metamovements Cuban team where they chronicled the history of dance in Cuba. Starting with the Orishas of Afro-Cuban and Yoruba religion, they moved through to the many modifications on salsa, touching on some antiquated dances that thrived in free Afro-Cuban societies that still influence Cuban salsa to this day.

During this performance I loved seeing some of the moves that I have seen in kizomba and semba showing the strength of African cultures to stay true to themselves through oppression and continue to flourish and thrive despite.

As in any popular widespread movement, there are discrepancies as to where exactly Casino started and where the name comes from. Most commonly accepted is Casino came from the name of a sports/recreational clubs where students and dancers would congregate to dance. Some say the influence of American rock and roll played a significant part in this. During the days of the Batista dictatorship, these clubs were only open to the privileged, the elite, the white-skinned. However, as Castro took over and opened membership of these clubs the dance spread rapidly through the capital. From there as he started the countryside teaching campaign, people from the capital began to spread the dance all around the country and those from the countryside who came to study also took the dance back with them.

Citing El Casino y la Salsa en Cuba by Balbares, Linares similarly draws the lines through Cuban and specifically Afro-Cuban heritage as it refines to form Casino de Rueda, including video and choreography to show the progression.

For someone who appreciates how generations relive similar experiences and build off of our ancestral history and memory, participating in the Casino with its long history was even more captivating. The African elements pop up consistently as it mixes with traditional European styles of movement. You’re greeted with a new face and style constantly and the game to keep up will keep you quick on your toes.

Funny enough, there was a TV crew there to film the casino and promote the Bogotá Salsa Tour . You can find me in the back of this video dancing Casino! . Now both times I’ve been to Colombia I’ve been on TV! If I find my first interview I’ll post it.

How does history influence your perception of cultural arts today? Have you ever danced Casino?


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