Chances are, if you live outside of Cuba, you were introduced to the dance of casino through a plethora of names. The instructors teaching you casino may have called it Cuban salsa or salsa cubana, casino salsa or salsa casino, salsa rueda, or Cuban-style salsa. The list could go on.
My point: the common denominator in all these pseudonyms is “salsa.” Salsa is what binds them together. Salsa is the word that gets your attention, picks your interest, and makes you go and take a lesson.
Why? Because if they said casino, and you lived outside of Cuba, you would not associate it with a dance, much less a Cuban one (at least that’s the argument that many people make).
But that is the name of the dance: Casino. So why do people refer to it as “salsa”?
The question was, in a way, answered above: because “salsa” is what people know. And because the dance of salsa (L.A., N.Y styles) and the dance of casino are danced to the same music: son. That is, if you were to play “Llorarás” by Oscar D’León, you could dance casino or salsa to it. The same thing could not be said about salsa and, say, bachata. Two different musical genres, requiring two different dances. But when it comes to casino and salsa, they are both danced to the same music; so, for marketing purposes, it makes sense for instructors and promoters to use the term “salsa” when referring to casino.
The question remains, however, is casino salsa, or a style thereof?
The short answer is: No.
The long—but not too long—answer?
Well, since you insist:
Casino is not salsa for three main reasons. (These are my reasons, mind you, but I’ve found them to be infallible.)
- Casino predates salsa.
- Casino can be danced to more than “salsa” music.
- Casino is choreographically different than salsa.
Let me explain.
Casino is a dance which was developed in the mid-50s. Any book, article, or Wikipedia page on this matter will tell you that the word “salsa,” as it pertains to the music, was not used until the 70s—and outside of Cuba, to boot. Casino, historically, is older than salsa, or salsa dancing, for that matter. In other words, before there was even such thing as “salsa music,” there was casino.
So. Casino predates salsa. Therefore referring to it as “salsa” would constitute an anachronism.
Reason 2: Because casino predates salsa, this means that people were dancing casino in Cuba, back in the 1950s, to something else. And that “something else” was son music.
Indeed, the dance of casino cannot be confined, musically, to “salsa” music because, when it was developed, salsa did not exist. And now, with the takeover of the “timba” movement, the musical association to salsa is even less substantial. In fact, nowadays, when it comes to casino and the music it should be danced to, it’s all about “timba.”
And last, but definitely not least, casino is choreographically different than salsa. This requires a much more in-depth explanation, and I will be dedicating a whole blog post to just that. For now, suffice to say that, when it comes to salsa dancing, we all know it is linear, danced on the slot. When it comes to casino, however, we dance around the partner. This makes a tremendous difference between the two dances.
So, with all this said, why do people refer to casino as salsa? Again, it’s a marketing strategy to lure you in and get your attention, get you to come to classes.
It’s a strategy that, so far, has worked. You have gone to classes. You have been introduced to the dance. You dance it.
But a small, yet very important price has been paid: the dance has lost its essence.
First, by calling it “salsa,” casino was stripped of all its cultural meaning, of its rich history and tradition (because, let’s face it, if instructors who market this dance as “salsa” were to tell you that casino was developed in the 50s, the salsa “fantasy” of this dance would fall apart once you did the math about casino and salsa).
Second, because casino is being referred to as salsa, it opens the door for it to be danced like salsa. More and more, nowadays, you will see people dancing casino and applying salsa concepts; for instance, the back-step would be very prevalent (future blog post about this), or the dance could turn into something very linear (future post about this as well). In fact, looking at the way casino is taught nowadays by many instructors who simply scratch the surface of the dance and then decide they have the necessary knowledge to teach it, “casino-style salsa” has become a linear dance, with some Afro-Cuban body movement thrown in. (I’m given to understand they are calling this “timba dance” now; look it up on YouTube; you’ll see.)
And third, the current story on casino—and its emphasis on “timba”—does not permit us to fully explore Cuban music, and all that it has to offer. Confining oneself to casino, as it is marketed today, will be to forget a deeply-rich musical heritage that, regrettably, is not being passed down as it should. In my case, it was not until I began listening to the music produced in the first half of this century that I understood the richness of the dance, what one could truly do with it. Only by going back to son music, and son dancing, was I fully able to experience what a beautiful—and rewarding—dance casino could be.
If casino is not a style of salsa, then don’t refer to it as such. Don’t call it casino salsa or salsa casino, Cuban salsa, or Cuban-style salsa. It is not. And it never was. Use the name it was given: casino.
You might say, “But if I do, if I do use casino, no one would understand me. No one would know what I’m talking about.” No, they won’t. But if you use salsa they won’t understand, either. If you were to use salsa, you non-dancing friends would instantly think about any salsa dancing they have seen on television or movies, which I assure you is not casino. You would still be giving them the wrong idea of what it is you dance.
Tell them you dance casino. Their brows would furrow in confusion. But if they are interested—and they will be—they will ask. And once they do, all you’ve got to say, more or less, is: “Casino is a Cuban dance developed in the 50s.”
That’s it! Again, would they know what you’re talking about? No. But at least now they would know there is a Cuban dance called casino. And, if they are further interested, they will look it up, or ask you to show them.
I get a ton of people who always tell me it’s hard for them, when they have to tell their friends that they dance casino, not to use the word “salsa.” “It’s what they’ll understand,” they tell me. My response to that is always the same:
“When you tell your friends that you dance bachata, do you use any other name for it? Do you call it, perhaps, “Dominican dry-humping”? That’s certainly something they could relate to! If they are not dancers, they won’t understand what bachata is. And yet you take this for granted, and throw the name here and there without an explanation, and expect your friends to know. (Same thing with the Kizomba craze going rampant nowadays.) So why the double standard with casino?”
Other people tell me: “I call casino ‘salsa’ because Cubans themselves call it salsa.”
To them, I say: Yes, Cuban call it ‘salsa’, too. And there are two reasons for this. One, they are trying to market the dance to you (an outsider) in terms that you will understand and will make you go to their classes. Once outside of Cuba, they see that there is a market already created with the label ‘salsa’ for their dance. For them, it is easier to be part of that market than to create a new one from scratch, under the label ‘casino.’ It is a very lazy stance, and as a Cuban myself, I don´t participate in it, nor do I condone it. I may get fewer people in my classes, but those I do get, they go in knowing fully well what they are getting themselves into, when it comes to the dance.
The other reason Cubans themselves may call it salsa is because they, like most of us, are misinformed. They don’t know the history. And because they may also refer to the music they listen to as “salsa” (again, lack of information), calling casino “salsa” fits perfectly.
But then you have the biggest casino dance show produced in Cuban television history, which ran from 2004 to 2006, which was called Para Bailar Casino, not Para Bailar Salsa. The name has always been casino. Anything else is a misinformed label.
At any rate, why are we so stuck with the name “salsa,” anyway? Isn’t the music that people have been primed to believe casino is danced to called “timba”? When you go to a Cuban-themed event is all about “timba.” When we dance, it is to “timba” music, not to mention that many a number of people go to great lengths to stress to others that “timba” is not salsa music. So, why do we keep using “salsa”?
Perhaps because that is the fantasy people want to believe. Most people outside of Cuba do not set out to dance casino. They set out to dance salsa. That’s what they want to tell their friends they dance. That’s what their friends will envy them for, because “salsa” is the label their friends understand.
But it is just that: a fantasy. You want the real deal? Then let me formally welcome you to the Matrix. Here, take the red pill:
It’s called casino.
Many people tell me, “I’ll just wait until the name becomes popular.” But here is a reality check: it won’t. Not unless you start using it yourself. Not unless you start saying, “I dance casino.” Not “I dance Cuban salsa,” or “I dance Cuba-style salsa.”
I dance casino.
If you don’t, no one else will do it for you. If you don’t, no one will eventually understand what it is you are talking about.
Let us call the dance of casino by its name, shall we?
Nice post. Let’s think about this…
•All of the figures, steps, and elements are different.
•One is non-directional; the other is linear.
•In salsa, there exists a concept of a “correct style.” In Cuba, you need to create your own style if you want respect.
•In Cuba, the man shows off and dominates. In salsa, the woman gets more limelight.
•Salseros prefer a light touch, casineros like strong connection and physicality.
•Cuban woman hold the time and keep it steady. In salsa, I’m going to say that the woman adjusts herself to how the man is interpreting the music.
•In casino, improvisations come largely from rumba and some AfroCuban. In salsa, footwork and improv comes more from jazz dance and other places.
•Attitudes are different. The way you carry yourself is different.
•Even the music is different…
I guess they’re the same!
You’re correct about most things here, and I think that the main reason for using the name is plain ignorance, fueled by commercialism.
One thing, though, you got wrong;
It’s not that “we all know salsa is danced on a line”.
It is not.
Boricua, Colombians, Venezuelans or any other people from the Caribbean or South America… do they dance “on a line”?
Just because some ignorant gringos dance swing to salsa music doesn’t make it something “we all know” or something correct.
You are right. Not all salsa is danced on a line, and I make that very clear in my piece “Is Salsa Really a Latin Dance?” But I am assuming that is the salsa that most people reading my blog have been exposed to or have watched–because, really, they have. I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the marketing power of the U.S. in how it has shaped, worldwide, how salsa should be danced. Thanks for reading the piece!
My pleasure, and it sure is a pleasure reading your blog!
True, there’s lots of marketing involved, and that’s the reason they started using “salsa” as an umbrella term in the first place.
I really like the article once again. I totally agree with you. Just differ in the opinion that calling salsa to casino is a anacronism Just because of the years they were created. Casino music and dance, Son and so on are part irrefutable of the creation of salsa nusic and therfore its dance, so calling salsa cubana or any other term to it, doesnt represent an anacronism since one gave geneticaly big part and influence to the birth of the other. Casino is part of Salsa so naming Salsa as an event created by itself would be wrong. Therefore if you say Salsa you are saying casino already cos you cant separate them. You can say casino without saying salsa but you can not say salsa without having casino in it.
I don’t think you can “totally agree” with me and then tell me that casino can be called salsa, given that the point of the article is to say that it should not. So I’m sorry, but I disagree completely with what you are saying. The fact that something may have influenced something else does not mean that they are the same. For instance, you have your father’s DNA. He certainly influenced your birth. Yet you’re not your father, nor do you go by your father’s name. You and your father are two different entities. And so are salsa and casino as dances.
And yes: calling casino “salsa” is certainly an anachronism because saying that casino is salsa would imply that, because casino is from the 50s, salsa is from the 50s, too—which it isn’t. (Remember that an anachronism something or someone that is not in its correct historical or chronological time.)
When Cubans call casino “salsa” it may not seem like a big deal. And it isn’t in Cuba, because the only point of reference Cubans have is casino. So casino and salsa are used interchangeably and they can mean the same thing. However, outside of Cuba, this is certainly NOT the case. There are other points of reference. There’s linear salsa (on1 and on2), which means that when you use “salsa” for casino you are running the risk of people thinking that “Cuban salsa” is just salsa danced in a line, but with Cuban flavor. Or start incorporating salsa dancing concepts to a dance like casino, which really has a different set of principles. So one has to be very careful when using these labels outside of Cuba.
Regards, and thanks for reading.
What people in the US call “salsa” is actually slotted dances of the swing, hustle and disco “family”, while Casino is of the Son family.
Also, what people dance in the US was created during the 1970’s and 1990’s, while Casino is from the 1950’s.
All the things you said may be right, but dont forget that the world doesnt work like that. Things will be named by agreement and if all agree searching in the internet is named “to google”, it will be like this, even it its not completely right or totally wrong.
Where I live there is a dance called salsa cubana and there are salsa cubana parties and cuban salsa festivals … even if you explain them, that there is son, casino, timba, guaguanco, arara, palo and so on it will be called it salsa cubana. But good luck anyway.
I’m not trying to change the world. I’m just trying to get people who read this to realize that even though they claim to like Cuban products such as its dance and music, they do so under labels that they are imposing so that they can maximize profit. That’s not respecting a culture; that’s taking advantage of a globalization process where Third World counties like Cuba have very little say in how they’re perceived.
Congratulations on your realistic attitude and intentions. I agree with you 100% and I subscribe to sonycasino because although I already know the truth of what you say, I want to learn even more. All we can do is try to educate people who are on the same journey. My pet dislike is seeing couples dancing Casino moves to a Colombian Boogalu, or LA / West Coast Swing dancers who use that style when the song is an obvious Timba. For me the music is king and we should always listen to it and follow its energy and instructions. To do so is the mark of a true aficionado.
Thank you for your comments! I´m glad the blog is helping. 🙂
As a preface, please note, that I am a fan of Daybert’s work, and have learnt a lot from his blog. My disagreeing is not personal, it is intellectual. My objections are said respectfully.
The article is titled “DISSIPATING MISCONCEPTIONS: IS CASINO A “STYLE” OF SALSA DANCING?”. But there is also another (related) subject involved in the article, which is the one I’m interested in. That is: should Casino be called “Salsa”, “Cuban Salsa”, “Casino Salsa” etc.?
And you, Daybert, think that it should not. You think it should be called “Casino”. Let me consider what I take to be the 3 mains reasons which directly address why. You say, calling Casino by the above names:
(1) …strips casino “of all its cultural meaning, of its rich history and tradition”.
(2) …“opens the door for [casino] to be danced like salsa.”
And, you say:
(3) If casino is not a style of salsa, then it shouldn’t be referred to as such.
I am unconvinced by these reasons. Let me address each of these: (Forgive my if my comments are terse, but the discussion is philosophical, and difficult.)
(1) How could a mere name carry the power to strip something of all its cultural meaning, history and tradition? Cultural meaning, history, etc. are things distinct from any name they have. Knowledge is not contingent on its name. So how could a mere different name cause these things to be lost? The name is just a means of referring to the knowledge.
(2) (Assuming) The temptation to dance Casino like Salsa is an error. An error which people would be lead to believe if they came from a particular context (having experienced american dancing, say). But, distinguishing errors is a teaching problem, not a naming problem. It’s up to a teacher and his knowledge to emphasise that such-and-such is the way to dance Casino, it is not down to the name to transmit such knowledge: furthermore, a name does not serve to do this.
(3) Calling the dance “Cuban Salsa” doesn’t imply that it is a version of that dance they do in America. True enough, when people come from the American dance context, they may forgivably think this. But it’s up to a teacher to correct this error. Its up to the teacher to say, by “Cuban Salsa”,”Salsa”, etc. we mean THIS (then show them). The answer to this problem does not lie in the changing name, but in correcting mistaken inferences from students.
Since I think the reasons given don’t imply that Casino should not be called “Cuban Salsa” etc, I remain unconvinced that there is any illegitimacy to using these names.
Moreover, as it stands, since the controversial terms have done so much to promote our dance, I think using them is a good thing.
But the floor is open if you wish to convince me otherwise…
An excerpt from Chapter 13 of my book “¡Dale Mambo! A Perspective on Salsa Dancing”:
While I understand and respect the logic being used here, I don’t completely agree with this assessment. What follows is my perspective on the subject which I hope will make sense to you. To me, it doesn’t make sense to differentiate the term “Salsa” from the Cuban Son as if they are two separate things. As explained in chapter two of this book, “Salsa” is simply a term which collectively refers to the entire family of Afro-Caribbean rhythms, a family which includes the Cuban Son. Salsa isn’t a new genre of music. Rather, it is simply a new, more inclusive way of referring to a slightly upgraded collection of pre-existing musical rhythms.
If you liken Salsa music and dance to a house, then the Cuban Son is the foundation on which that house is built. Without the Cuban Son, there would probably be no Salsa music as we currently know it. You really can’t remove the Cuban Son from Salsa music since it forms the basis for both the music and the dance. In fact, to do so would kind of be like going back in time and erasing your great-grandfather from existence. Based on the hypothetical rules of time travel that are sometimes used in works of fiction, you would probably cease to exist yourself since you never would have been born.
Even though the cross-body styles of Salsa have incorporated other North American elements like Swing and Latin Hustle, they are still fundamentally derived from the dance of the Cuban Son as is Casino. Therefore, it’s very possible that Casino may have a stronger link to Son dancing. However, the fact that it was developed before the heyday of the “Salsa” era in the 1970s doesn’t necessarily exclude it from being a member of the Salsa family. The individual rhythms that compose modern-day Salsa music were also created before the heyday of the Salsa era. However, that doesn’t exclude them from being members of the Salsa family. Therefore, while I tend to differentiate Casino from the cross-body styles of Salsa dancing somewhat, I don’t necessarily consider it to be a completely different category of dancing.
As for the assertion that Casino can be danced to “something other” than Salsa music, the same reasoning applies. Again, the Cuban Son is not“something other than Salsa music”. It is a member of the Salsa family, and the most important member at that. As explained earlier, it can be considered as a key ancestor and major component of modern Salsa music. It is true that the term “Salsa” may not have been commonly used when Casino dancing was developed in the late 1950s. However, despite any musical upgrades and modifications, the family of rhythms that it refers to was definitely in existence at that time. In fact, this family of rhythms pre-dates the creation of Casino dancing by several decades. Therefore, the term “Salsa” refers to something with roots that were laid down long before Casino dancing came into existence.
In addition, remember that many at New York’s Palladium ballroom and elsewhere were already dancing Mambo as early as the late 1940s, nearly a full decade before the reported development of Casino dancing in Cuba. The modern “New York 2” style has strong roots in the Palladium-era Mambo style of dancing which,in turn,was based on the dance of the Cuban Son. Yet does that mean that the “New York 2” style of dancing shouldn’t be referred to as “Salsa” simply because it has roots in a form of dancing that pre-dates the “Salsa” era? I don’t think so.
For the same reason, I don’t think that Casino dancing and Salsa dancing are inherently two distinct things. This doesn’t mean, however, that musical style isn’t a factor that can potentially distinguish Casino from other styles of Salsa dancing. This is a topic that I will explore further in the next chapter.
Admittedly, it is also true that the Casino style of dance has a different structure than the cross-body styles of Salsa dancing. While that still doesn’t necessarily mean that Casino is somehow in a different category compared to these North American styles of Salsa dancing, it is a valid point. As mentioned earlier in this chapter, there are differences in the way Casino is danced when compared with the cross-body styles of Salsa dancing. The leading and following techniques are noticeably different. The turning style is different. Casino is danced in a circular pattern rather than the linear slot that cross-body style Salsa dancers utilize. However, these differences are not so great that they force Casino into a completely separate genre from other styles of Salsa dancing. It’s not like you are comparing the Merengue and Tango styles of dancing. It’s more like a comparison of two dialects of the same language.
Clarification: When I wrote that the term “Salsa” refers to the entire family of Afro-Caribbean rhythmic styles, I was referring specifically to the clave-based mostly-Cuban and Puerto Rican styles that comprise Salsa music.
Thanks for the great article.
I dance casino myself, and was unaware of the history here.
Its important to appreciate the distinctions and the history, but I’m not sure I would have ended up dancing casino if it were not marketed as salsa. Its a strategy that has worked well and opened up the dance to a massive audience.
Ben, your thoughtful comment has similarities to what I said to my Afro-Cuban friend, Airagdin Pavon More (El Moro) only yesterday – i.e. the importance of choosing a relevant title for a YouTube video. I now see Cuban Casino viideos that include salsa in the title for exactly the reason you’ve given. I recommended to Moro that he announce (with grace) to his students to be mindful when they upload a video of him. Here’s one of my favourite examples of Rumba Cubana by Maykel Fonts and Adrian Medina. It’s so artistic and includes an encore from 6:18 when Maykel invites Moro to join them. (All three were judges at the Brisbane Salsa Festival in Australia in 2012 and the event included a wide range of latin dance styles.) Here it is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=79OCYAyBIXM Yet how could anyone discover it as “Salsa Solo 2012 Friday HDV 15601”? It was an unproductive title! The last moment when these three Cubans hugged each other simply emanated pride and emotion that was palpable. I think of the word “Compadres” every time I watch it. I also think that it encapsulates the intention of the son y casino website.