In my experience, anyone who ends up getting themselves a bit deeper into the dance of casino, beyond the classes which they are taught at their academies, being by going to Cuban dance events, participating in online forums or social media discussions on casino, generally come across the following topic: the casino backstep.
Discussion on this subject matter can be sensitive to some people for various reasons, and can get pretty heated up among those who partake on it. So, what is all the fuss about? Well, it’s about whether or not it is correct to step back in the dance of casino, as many people have been taught to do.
Usually, those who start these types of discussions are people who advocate for the forward step; that is, the complete eradication of the backstep while dancing casino, replaced by walking forward instead on all the six counts of the dance (1,2,3…5,6,7). Their argument is that forward stepping is truer to the way casino is danced in Cuba (let us remember that casino is a Cuban dance), and that the back step was created by Cuban and non-Cuban instructors trying to teach casino outside of Cuba to a public whose background (American salsa) was based off the backstep. (In American salsa, the concept of the back break on 1 or on 2 is essential to many turn patterns done in that dance, if not most of them.) Ultimately, the forward-steppers (let’s call them that for now) argue that the backstep in casino does not exist, and that if you dance casino while stepping back, you are not dancing casino.
Now, anyone who knows me personally, or anyone who has taken workshops that I have taught, knows that I also advocate for the forward-step in casino. If you are one of this people, while reading this you may be asking yourself: why am I referring to the forward-steppers in third person plural and not including myself in it? Good question. My answer is simple, short:
I don’t work with absolutes.
You see, the moment someone says, “This is casino”, or “Casino is not danced like this.” Or, “This is Cuban dance.” I cringe. Why? For the same reason that an American from the state of Georgia would cringe upon hearing a Canadian who has just visited New York say that New York is America. Or the same reason an African-American would cringe upon hearing that hip-hop is not American music. In other words, once an absolute definition of something is created, there is going to be, more often than not, people who are going to question said definition, especially when they see that the definition did not include them, or that it left them out in some way. In thinking of other examples, one may refer to the all the socials movements which members seek to be included as also an integral part of the definition of society, to which they belong (i.e. queer movement, feminist movement, civil rights movement).
What I am trying to say is that an absolutist definition such as “It’s not casino if you are not stepping forward”, in its one-way perspective, does not account for all the complexities which it seeks to encompass.
Here, take a look at this video:
This is a rueda de casino group made out of Cubans, dancing in Cuba. Naturally, if you are a forward-stepper who argues for the forward step because it is truer to how casino is danced in the island, you are going to have mixed feelings about this video for the very good reason that, during the Dames, the girls are stepping back.
Acknowledging this, then, would destroy the very core of your argument, as a forward stepper. If Cubans indeed do not step back as you say, then what is happening here? Well, you now face the very shortcomings of your absolutist definition of casino: you found an exception that contradicts what you are saying.
Now, you can go on YouTube and find videos of casineros in Cuba stepping forward the whole time as a way of refuting the above video. But the above video is not going to go away. There is conclusive visual proof that Cubans do backstep when dancing casino, and anyone who is arguing for the back-step will have a point, if they use this video as proof.
Earlier I said that I am a forward-stepper myself, and as an instructor, I argue strongly for it during my workshops. But why would I be doing that, if the above video tells me that to dance casino forward stepping is not completely necessary?
My answer—and this is what I am arguing in this post—is that, rather than the forward step being the “Cuban way,” the “real” way of dancing casino, which is creating an absolute (and we just saw the problem with that), the forward step fits better within the structure of the dance of casino. Now, whether dancers choose to use it or not, that is their choice (as is certainly the choice of the Cuban dancers in the above video); but, theoretically, stepping forward while dancing casino should feel better because you are following the parameters of the dance, rather than going against them.
Consider this: when riding a bicycle, do you push the pedals with your hands? No, right? That’s because the bicycle, structurally, was made so that you could pedal with your feet while sitting. However, could you pedal with your hands? Sure. And would the bicycle move? Sure. But it will not be as fast, and it will feel more awkward because you are not going with the logic of its structure.
The reason I bring up structure is because casino, internally, also has a structure. And that structure is a circle. Now, I am not talking about a rueda (wheel), but, literally a circle. If you were to ask most casineros, they would tell you that casino is danced not in a line (like American salsa), but in a circle. Granted, some of them may be confusing that with the rueda, because that is the only way the know how to dance casino, but others will be thinking of dancing while going in circles with their partners. And that is what I mean: at its very core, casino is a circular dance.
With that established, I want you to consider this: if you were to draw a circle around you and then walk along the circumference of said circle, do you ever take a step back? Unless a heavy gust of wind hits you when you do that, the answer should be no. Indeed, the whole time, you are walking forward.
And that is what I am trying to say here: step forward in casino, not because it is the “Cuban way”; step forward because it goes better with the internal structure of the dance: the circle.
Again, if you do not want to, that is your choice, but choose so knowing that, in stepping back, you will be that person who is pushing the pedals of the bicycle with their hands.
P.S. Also recommended reading on this topic: Why is there an argument about stepping forward or stepping back in casino?