So that we are all on the same page, I will dedicate this post exclusively to casino and its history. This is information that I believe every casinero (Spanish for “casino dancer”) should have. (In later posts, I will address other issues concerning the dance of casino, such as why it is referred to as a style or form of “salsa,” and the misconception that it can only be danced in a rueda, or circle, formation.)
Simply put, casino is a Cuban partner dance which developed in the 1950s. Bárbara Balbuena, who has written the only definitive book on casino as of now and from which I will be citing, El casino y la salsa en Cuba, tells us about casino’s gestation:
The primary locations where the dance of casino was configured were Recreational Societies (Sociedades de Recreo), los Clubes, and Ballrooms (also known in Cuba as ¨Casinos”), where a great number of attended with the intention of having fun and dance national musical genres and the latest international music. (p. 28; my translation)
According to Balbuena and many others who have studied the history of Cuban dances, taking advantage of the popular dances and music of the time, especially chachachá and son, people began to form ruedas (dance circles) in which partners performed dance figures in unison while exchanging partners in dynamic and creative ways. Balbuena fixes the year of this new dance phenomenon to 1956 (p. 36) while attributing exclusively to El Club Casino Deportivo the place where, conceptually, casino began to identify itself as a new dance style, as people would exhort each other to form a rueda and dance “like in the casino” (p. 36). The name stuck, and eventually people began to tell each other, “Let’s dance casino.” It is not known, however, when casino began to be danced outside of the rueda format, for no one exactly remembers (p. 43).
Precursors of casino
Although casino is seen as mostly having been influenced by son dance, we can also trace it back to danzón and the already mentioned chachachá. I will now proceed to show you videos of these dances, culminating with a video of casino dance, so that you might see the choreographic heritage for yourself.
The reason you do not see any of these dances done is the rueda format is because, since casino’s inception in the dance scene, casino has been the preferred dance when it comes to dancing in this format. I have yet to see a chachachá rueda, or a son rueda video. If you find one, please do pass it along!
It should also be pointed out that the dance of mambo, contrary to what some people may believe or say, did not influence the dance of casino. Mambo was a dance made out of a few choreographed steps which was short-lived in Cuba and never really made stuck with to the masses. The only thing that has remained of mambo is the basic mambo step. Dance begins at 2:33. (Also, this should not be confused with what people refer to as “mambo” in the United States.)
So, to recap, the three dances led to the dance of casino were danzón and chachachá, but mainly son. Said choreographic heritage left us with this: casino:
That last video is the partner dance between only two people. The “1-on-1,” so to speak. The following video is of casino in its rueda—and original—format.
There you go. In a nutshell, that is casino, Cuba’s most popular partner dance to date.
I should add that this little piece of history is no substitute for reading the book from which I borrow this information, which I recommend you get your hands on, as it contains a more detailed history of the dance of casino, the music under which it developed, and traces a progression of the dance from its conception until very recently, all accompanied by pictures and explanations of basic steps.
Here is a link to the book:
I really do appreciate your explanations and descriptions of this form of dance. I also wished that more so-called salseros and salseras explored the root history of this dance. While I enjoy getting mad, wild with some intricate salsa twists and turns, SON and all that goes with it, is the most intimate. Sometimes, a salsa girl wants to be held close other than in Bachata. Thanks.
I’ve read & reread Ned’s book & would love to read this one as well. Has it been translated? The link goes to a Spanish version Regards David
PS love reading your blog
Thanks! I am glad you enjoy the blog and find it helpful. The link does take you to the English translation, though why they didn’t see a need to translate the title is beyond me. And yes, Ned’s book is an excellent, comprehensive work on Cuban music. One of the better ones.
Sorry just went back & realize that is the English version
This history of casino is incomplete and somewhat biased because it is based mostly on books and includes no references to the first-hand accounts of those who were directly part of the beginnings of casino. Those who were teenagers at the Club Casino Deportivo when casino dancing was in its beginnings are still alive and have provided accounts of how casino dancing came to be, and it has a key addition to what is written here: the role that rock’n’roll played in the development of casino dancing. One of them actually calls the beginnings of Casino as “the Cuban way of dancing rock’n’roll”.
Here is the story of casino straight from those who lived through it all: http://www.metamovements.net//details/1106-the-revolution-of-casino-y-rueda
“Social clubs, like Casino Deportivo, that were once attended only by high-class Cubans, were now attracting a new group of intellectual and educated people who also lived to breathe the richness of dance and music. At 12 years old, Juanito made his mark at Casino Deportivo, and became a part of this group. “It was here that a new way of dancing was started. As Cubans added their style playing off of the influences of rock ‘n’ roll, this word ‘Casino’ caught on and then even more so, when everyone started dancing Rueda (in a circle or wheel). People would go to different clubs and even cities and would say ‘look at how the people from THE CASINO are dancing,’ not saying that it’s a dance CALLED Casino.
As this Cuban innovation on rock ‘n’ roll quickly caught on as a new style of dance, it became fashionable and popular among the youth in Havana’s social clubs, who enjoyed not only the social aspect of dancing, but truly had a passion and love for it. What is most interesting about the considerations of how Casino evolved into Rueda de Casino is that it also mirrored what was going on in the country on a political level and the idea of collectivism. “Three things were happening,” says Juanito. “First, the infusion of rock ‘n’ roll, then the Cuban way of dancing it and then this idea of putting it into a collective group.” “
Thanks for your comments and suggestions. I agree that what I wrote is biased and incomplete because I’m only using a book as a source. and this book I used did not incorporate explicitly the personal narratives of the people who were dancing at the time.
That’s where the work at Metamovements comes in. I think it’s much needed, and very valuable. I’d be remiss, however, if I did not point out that personal accounts are, too, biased and incomplete stories, as they only deal with the personal and often do not delve into other factors which fall outside of the personal because the person giving this account might not have noticed them. Then you also have the disagreements on what actually happened among those who were there–as I know there are because I heard Anara acknowledge this during a presentation she did on the Founders–making the story further unreliable and difficult to put together.
On the other hand, saying that casino is the Cuban-way of dancing rock’n’roll based on the account of one person only (when he is only one of the many people who were there) and then telling the story of casino dancing based on one person’s version alone is a very biased approach which merits further research. I will not deny that there are American influences in the dance of casino, but casino is far from being only a Cuban version of an American dance, as the link you posted suggests.
What I am trying to say is that both ways of looking at casino have their pros and cons. I would further posit that a much more un-biased and “complete” narrative on casino dancing could be achieved through the combination of both approaches. To that end, I’d like to extend an invitation to write for this blog on this topic when or if you have the time.
Thanks for reading.
The “Cuban way of dancing rock and roll” is perhaps an exaggeration, but that Jive was an integral part of Casino at its inception and a core ingredient, is not the view of any one individual. It’s historically verifiable from multiple unrelated sources and one of the first things i learned back in the early ’90’s.
There is circle dancing of the ChaCha Cha in the musical video called Nostalgia Cubana-Historia de ChaCha Cha- on U-tube ,if you are still looking for that. Thanks for this informative Page -Cuba and her Dancing People !!