How to Improve Your Casino Dancing Experience: Overcoming Turnpatternitis
Think of the very first casino—or rueda de casino—class you took. Imagine that day. Chances are, you came in, you partnered up with someone, and then you were taught how to do a basic turn pattern as you kept switching form partner to partner and meeting new people. Then the music began playing, and all of sudden you were practicing the turn patterns, again and again, as the song progressed. That was your first day.
Then, when you came in for a second time, the same thing happened: you paired up with someone, you were taught a turn pattern—or turn patterns—, the music played, and you danced.
When you came in for the third time, it was no different than the second or third. Nor was it any different on the forth, or any other time after that. In fact, as long as you kept coming, the same thing kept happening. Every week, you learned a new turn pattern. Eventually, your repertoire of moves grew, and soon you found the confidence to go out to a club and try out what you had learned.
So you went to a club—or it could have been a dance social—and you mustered up the courage to dance with someone. And when you did, you either instantly forgot everything you had been taught; or you attempted to remember all the moves you had been taught as you went from one turn pattern to the next.
The song played, and you danced until it ended. When it did, you took a deep breath, let out a sigh of relief. You had done it. You had danced. You had remembered enough moves to last you a whole song.
The first time was the hardest. After that, you accepted or asked people to dance with more ease. The songs would play, and you would dance. You would do turn pattern after turn pattern. Yet as you danced, as you enjoyed yourself on the dance floor with this newfound dance, as you moved from turn pattern to turn pattern, as you went from “Enchufla” to “Adios,” from “Dedo” to “Abajo”, you probably never thought about the music itself. And why should you have? The music was playing, and that’s all you needed to be able to dance. Indeed, you were dancing because the music was playing.
You were not, however, dancing to the music. Oh, no. Instead, you were victim of an infectious dance virus: Turnpatternitis.
Turnpatternitis is a dance virus which makes the host execute a consecutive number of turn patterns without regard for what is happening, musically, in the song. This virus is found most commonly in dance classes, and spread with ease by instructors who—consciously or not—disregard the importance of a basic musical foundation to impart their lessons.
This is a good example.
The virus is difficult to spot at first. Right now, you may be wondering, “What’s wrong with the dancing in this video?” It’s a very common question to those unaware of Turnpatternitis’ existence. I assure you, however, that when you’re done reading this, and you come back to this video, it will be very obvious to see. (Don’t get me wrong, these are a couple of really good casineros, and they are marvelous in their execution of the turn patterns. But musically speaking, that’s another story. And that’s what I’ll talk about.)
The good news is, this dance virus is easily curable. All one simply needs to assess it and overcome it is a rudimentary understanding of the music they dance to —and I do mean rudimentary; you don’t have to be a musician to understand how to combat this virus.
To that end, let us talk first about structure (some people like to use the word form). The music that we listen to, most of the time, follows a certain structure. It’s not unlike the formula for a story, in this sense. Think of this: most stories follow this format:
Now, take any romantic movie, for example. The story is always this: it begins; two people meet and get to know each other and fall in love (Rising Action); eventually there is some type of problem, and they have to break up (Climax); but before the end, they realize they belong together (Resolution). Then the movie ends.
No matter the plot, most romantic movies follow this structure.
Likewise, most songs that we dance casino to follow a certain structure. Normally, they would begin with what is called a largo. This section is characterized by a slower-tempo, and the singer singing unaccompanied by a chorus. In this song, for example, you can hear the largo section up until 2:25, when you suddenly hear the instrumentation picking up.
At 2:35, the chorus comes in, and it engages the singer in a call-and-response pattern. You will also notice that the slower tempo characteristic in the beginning is now replaced by a much faster tempo.
This is what is called the montuno.
Likewise, in this song, the largo occurs up until minute 1:22. After that, the pace of the instrumentation picks up, and you hear the chorus come in at 1:44. That’s the montuno.
Therefore, when it comes to this music, we can summarize its structure thus:
So. Largo, montuno. What does that have to do with the dancer?
I say: everything. The musicians understand that there is a difference in how they play their instruments in each section, and they adjust accordingly. Yet, the dancer who suffers from Turnpatternitis does the same thing in the largo and in the montuno.
Here is how to overcome it (I must clarify that this pertains to casino dancing only):
Use the largo to “get to know your partner” first, before doing any complicated turn pattern. Begin in close position, and simply play with the basic steps. Move around the dance floor. That is one of the beauties of Cuban dance: we are not confined to a line. Remain in close position as much as you can, and when you do break off from close position, keep it simple: besides your basic steps and walking around the room, do Abajo, Saloneo, Adios, Paseo, Rodeo, Exhibe.
To reiterate: keep it simple, because that’s what the music is doing.
Then, when the montuno comes in (and you will know because of the chorus), it’s time to “throw down.” Try and do all the other turn patterns which you already know how to do: Setenta, Sombrero, Montaña, Dedo, etc.
Here is a video to exemplify all the aforementioned points. Musically, the change to montuno will begin at 2:06. You will see the change in the dancing and the turn patterns that are being executed.
If you follow this simple advice, you will find that you are able to dance to any music which follows the largo, montuno structure (that is, son music; see my blog post “Salsa or Timba? The Case for Son” for a more in-depth explanation of all of this). Whether it is Cuban, Puerto Rican, Venezuelan, or Colombian, you will be able to dance to it and you will notice that it will feel good to dance it.
I often hear people complaining that they cannot dance casino to “salsa music” because it’s too slow, and doing the moves that they were taught to do just doesn’t feel right. Well, of course not. You are not paying attention to what is happening in the music. If you were, you would not be throwing Setentas around in the beginning of the song. Despite what many people would have you believe, casino is not about going crazy with the music and shaking your body uncontrollably. There is a lot more to it than that, as I’ve argued in this other post.
Turnpatternitis can be overcome. Once you begin the healing process, you’ll see how much more rewarding your dancing experience will be.
P.S. Re-watch the first video. Do you detect the Turnpatternitis now?