In one of my earlier pieces, I talked about the Afro-Cuban turn of the dance of casino. In it, I reflected on the recent incorporation of Afro-Cuban dances (mainly rumba) into the dance of casino that is seen, time and again, in workshops all around the globe—and a growing number of YouTube videos. I argued that this mixing of rumba with casino was the result of the market rather than an accurate representation of how casino is danced in Cuba. That is, Cuban instructors trained in the Afro-Cuban dances at the National School of Arts (ENA) would leave the island and, when attempting to teach outside of Cuba, they would find that the only viable way to really teach Afro-Cuban dance would be through what people already danced, with music they were already comfortable dancing: casino and son, respectively. Therefore casino lessons, mixed with rumba and other Afro-Cuban dances, began to be taught, as a way of introducing people to Afro-Cuban dancing. But again, this did not reflect how casino was danced in the island. In other words, this was some sort of exotic fantasy of Cuban dance—and I say ‘exotic’ due to what is being sold to whom; that is, Afro-Cuban dance to a white, European public.
(Before I continue, let me say that some people in the island do mix casino with rumba—in the sense that they stop dancing casino to dance rumba—but there are very few who do this. In fact, if you were to watch clips from the show Para bailar casino you will not find a single dancer breaking off their casino to dance rumba. But what’s happened is that many instructors teach this casino mixed with rumba as if everybody in the island danced like that—and the students just eat this up unquestioningly.)
All of this said, let us now turn to the about Orisha dances, which is also part of the Afro-Cuban dance tradition.
Recently I wrote a piece for the Latin Dance Community blog. It was a piece which essentially summarized what casino was and condensed—very heavily—a lot of the things I say here. The reason I bring this up is because in this blog there was an article that I found interesting for reasons I will explain below. It was called “An Introduction to the Orishas” and it was written by someone who started noticing that the Orishas (African gods) were being mentioned, time and again, in many of the songs which he listened to. So he set out to explain, very briefly, the Yoruba religion and give a very small list of the deities, following this with songs in which they were named. After doing this, he concluded the following:
The next time you are listening to salsa music, see if you can identify when the Orishas are mentioned or if you are up for a challenge, looks up some of the dance movements that are associated with the various Orishas and incorporate them into your dancing. Doing so will help you to increase your appreciation for salsa music and dance. (My emphasis.)
First, it was interesting to me that someone from the salsa community was taking an interest in Afro-Cuban dancing, especially considering that no other dances from Cuba get taught at salsa congresses/events. But I was not surprised. For some time now, I have noticed a trend in the salsa community: they want “Afro-Cuban body movement” lessons. (I guess they got tired of doing shines when they break off from partner dancing, and now are looking for the next cool thing to do. Whatever the case, the interest is there.)
Of course, the other thing that was interesting was his advice: incorporate Orisha dancing into salsa dancing when you hear them called out in the song, he suggests. In the Cuban dance community, similar advice is given, I believe, again, as a way of making it relevant to the dancers who are having the very logical question: “Why is learning this important?”
So why is it important to learn Orisha dances? Well, unless you have a genuine interest in the Yoruba religion and actually believe in these gods, I wouldn’t know how to begin to tell you how this is important to your casino dancing—because it really isn’t.
Let me explain what I mean. Unlike rumba, which is secular, Orisha dances are religious manifestations of the Regla de Ocha (also known as Regla Lucumí/LuKumí). The dances embody the personalities and role of each Orisha. That means that, when you’re dancing an Orisha dance, you’re embodying an Orisha god.
Now, this piece is titled “Why I Don’t Incorporate the Orishas into My Casino Dancing” so I am not going to tell you why you shouldn’t. I’m simply going to tell you why I don’t. Then you’ll do with that information whatever you want.
First, let’s get something out of the way: I’m an atheist. I don’t believe in the Orishas, and I don’t believe in God. So for me doing any sort of religious dance would be hypocritical. In other words, I can imagine myself impersonating Changó as much as I can imagine myself doing “The Jesus Dance”—if such thing existed.
The other reason I do not do Orisha dances, or incorporate them into my casino, would be more practical: the case is rare when a song actually has an Orisha section, with the instrumentation and everything. Let me give you an example. Listen to the song below, which is a song for Changó, the god of dance, among other things. Can you recall a song you were dancing casino to that even remotely sounded like this? I’m sure the answer for most of you—if not all—would be not—though if you can think of examples, please let me know in the comment section below:
Going back to what the article on the Orishas I mentioned above was saying, yes, it is true that every now and then the Orishas get mentioned in the songs. The best example of this would be Adalberto Álvarez’s “’¿Y qué tú quieres que te den?” which essentially tells the story of a religious gathering and then does a run-through of the Orisha pantheon. But even then, the song does not change into what you just heard above, which means that even though Orishas are being called, based on the instrumentation of the song, I do not have to start dancing an Orisha dance. I can still dance casino. In fact. the following video makes my point just perfectly. This Elio Revé song, “Agua pa Yemayá” (Water for Yemayá) is essentially a song about said goddess. But look at the dancers (many of them black). What are they doing? I´ll tell you what they are not doing: they are not doing any Orisha dancing. Why? Because people in Cuba know a religious dance has its place in society, and a context, and neither its place nor context is the dance of casino (unless it is a song like this one, where dancing Orisha would make sense, though I would personally sit out the section).
My third reason as to why I don’t incorporate Orisha dancing into my casino has to do with respect. I just consider it disrespectful, doing Orisha dances, to those who actually believe in the religious sanctity of these dances. I don’t know about you, but if I believed in Jesus Christ, for example, and there was a “Jesus Dance” that had a religious purpose, and I saw people doing it, and I knew these people were doing it because it was the “cool thing to do” even though they did not believe in Jesus Christ—if that was my case, I would feel pretty offended.
I know some of you reading this may be saying, “But a lot of Cuban instructors who believe in the Orishas teach the Orisha dances at dance congresses/events. They do not feel offended. Why?”
That’s a good question, and it really comes down to how you feel personally about the matter. Many Cuban instructors do teach the Orishas as their own dance–that is, without mixing with casino. But why they would teach people who do not believe in the Orishas how to impersonate an Orisha god, I do not know the answer to that. Maybe if one of them reads this, they can tell me down below in the comment section why it is okay to teach a religious dance to the general public who does not believe in said religion. (I want to make clear that I am not opposed to instructors teaching Orisha dances. There should be a space for people who believe in the Yoruba religion to learn these dances.)
Then there are instructors who teach to incorporate Orisha dancing into the dance of casino, like these two who–surprise, surprise (or not really)–are graduates from…that’s right: the National School of Arts (ENA). Take a look, and pay special attention to their Orisha breaks (0:20-0:27; 0:42-0:50; 2:24-2:30):
With these two, anything goes, essentially. From rumba breaks to Orisha ones. And their Orisha breaks are decontextualized–that is, the song itself is not even calling for Orishas, and then they are doing three different Orisha dances, just because. Watching this, I don’t get what is happening in the dancing. All I can think of is that these two decided that the best way to let the public know that they teach Afro-Cuban dancing, too–because this is a promotional video of sorts, just look at the description of the video and the comment section–was to do every Afro-Cuban thing they could think of when dancing casino. Again, we should see this for what it is: a marketing strategy, not a representation of how casino is danced in the island, either by blacks or whites.
Don’t believe me? I have tons of videos to show you, then. The link will take you to another page, where I compiled videos of people in Cuba dancing casino. Mind you, these are not instructors in a workshop/promotional video setting. These are regular Cuban people (most of them black) dancing casino. Let me know if you see any Orisha break in their dancing.
And speaking of marketing strategies, here is something else to think about: Why is it that you never see Orisha dancing done in any son performance/dancing? And it’s not for lack of reference. Even the earliest son recordings from the 1930s done by Sexteto Habanero had percussive elements of the Abakuá tradition in the way they played the bongo, and they’ve been singing to the Orishas in son music for a long time, too. So why don’t we see Orisha dancing in son dancing? Could it be that this is just simply a marketing strategy to get people interested in dancing these dances by inserting them into the mainstream (casino, rueda de casino)–and by extent sell lessons? In my experience, I have found that, when it comes to Cuban dancing, most roads lead to Money.
The other day I saw a video on Facebook. It was a shot from afar of a group of women at the beach shore, dressed in white and dancing to Yemayá, the goddess of the sea. That really put a smile on my face. Seeing that, I thought, “That is what Orisha dancing should be.”
And then I thought of the countless times I have seen people do Orisha moves on the dance floor, without a context, just because someone taught it to them as something they could add to their casino dancing. Because someone told them that when an Orisha is called in a song—because those who are singing actually believe in the Orishas—they should do the corresponding Orisha dance, no matter whether or not they believe in the Orishas. To those who do this, I say, “Dance to the song above. See if you like dancing to that music.” (Most people won’t, as they only do this because it’s the cool, exotic thing to do on the dance floor that can go along with music they already like. But once you really put some real “Afro” into it, once you take out the European musical tradition–the piano, guitars, trumpets–and it’s just the batá drums, let’s see how much they like dancing to it.)
Perhaps then they’ll realize this is not a “cool” thing to do, but something that should be respected for what it is: a religious dance.
Man I have been witnessing it more and more. In my area where afro-cuban dances are not common somehow they make there way to the dancers who msy not know what they are doing. There was a afro-cuban instructor in my area for a little while but it wasn’t really hitting the scene at all. There were a few performances but that was it. Another dance companies’ instructors was doing workshops at different festivals on afro-cuban but, in my opinion, they don’t have FULL knowledge of the dances. What struck me was a YouTube video that I saw. (So there’s evidence this person doesn’t know what they are doing.) Then there was a guy who did a afro-cuban movements workshop, who I wasn’t sure was worthy of such things but that’s just me. I never found anything on the Internet in a bio about having being under instruction or have taken classes with any real afro-cuban instructors in Cuba or from Cuba. It’s funny that now afro-cuban dance is a trend for some of these instructors but not taken seriously when it comes to learning what it is, what it means to the people who practice the religions, and how the dance should be done. It seems as if it is stripped of its natural state like other dances. And then there are the performances where the dance is completely off. Oh boy! Some companies just don’t seem to get it right at all. Some do but that’s because of the training they undergo to satisfy the dance in its entirety. Again this was a great article! Thanks again Daybert!!
Thanks, Jarryd! In regards to your comments, I’ve often found that there is more interest in “Afro-Cuban body movement”, specially as it pertains to the Orishas, than in the actual religion. Again, a lot of it has to with finding the “next cool thing” to do. It’s just sad, in my opinion, that these dances are getting desecrated in such a manner. For in the right context, they are beautiful to watch.
Hmmmm. Interesting article; I am not sure how to comment on this but I want to comment. I can see your point about only teaching the Orisha dance to market or make money. This tends to happen with all types of African inspired dances or music for that case. Do you think that they are teaching the dances out of pride for their culture or religion? Is the Orisha religion popular in Cuban (I ask this solely out of ignorance, because I don’t know if this particular religion is dying out)? Maybe teaching the dance is a way to keep the religion and culture alive? However, if these dances are being taught, their origin must be taught as well. Here in the low country, we have the McIntosh Shouters. They keep the tradition of religion and dance going by touring performing around the southeast and beyond. They also invite people to learn. This is a religious dance/culture that is no longer popular in African American churches. Here is a link if you would like to to check them out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uxPU5517u8c
Thanks for taking the time to read the piece and provide your thoughts on it. As a way of clarification, let me start by saying that in this piece I am not arguing that instructors are teaching Orisha dances as a way to make money (though that does happen), but rather that the teaching of incorporating Orisha dances INTO casino, where it has never belonged (because one is religious, the other one secular) certainly LOOKS like a money-making scheme. I’m not an instructor of Afro-Cuban dances, so I cannot speak as to why instructors would teach a religious dance to people who do not believe in said religion, whether as part of casino dancing, or as its own dance. I can only comment on what I see, and invite them to share their thoughts and clarify things for all of us—and certainly for me. But one thing is for certain, these dances are not being taught for fear of the religion dying out. In Cuba the Yoruba religion is alive and well, and in fact, many would argue, stronger than ever. Thanks for the link. I will check them out when I get a chance!
It is a long article, and it is kind of hard to get the point straight what frustrates you – the fact that it is incorporated in casino, or the fact that people who don’t believe in it still dance it mindlessly? As for the last part I must agree – but that is a sad destiny of the most african/carribbean dances (not only rumba, you have similar examples when it comes to dancehall, kizomba etc.) – there will always be people who misunderstand it, and, even worse, teach it that way.
On the other side, there are several ones who try and do understand Orishas religion and respect it. If you admire those Gods, if you know what they represent and in some way identify – I don’t see why not responding to it, when heard in music. The reason you don’t put those things in son dancing is because you can’t hear it – therefore it’s the problem of the musicians who bring up such things in their salsa (or should I say timba) lyrics.
So let me ask – how do you think people should dance casino – without really listening the music, reproducing figures when there is obvious rumba/music break? I think that is ignorance – and that is the way salsa was mainly sold in American area, other called LA Salsa.
Just from a logical point of view, the Jesus dance reference and all, if you wouldn’t do something just because it hurts somebody’s religious feelings, you’d end up doing nothing. Nobody should eat pork just because Islam forbids it? Or if you go to church or a monastery as an atheist, just for the cultural value of it, are you offending religious people? If you’re an atheist this should have come natural to you. I think it bothers you because you’re identifying cultural and religious aspect of it. Do you have to be a believer to visit Jerusalem? Or Mecca? And should believers be offended if you do? I see nothing wrong with dancing Orishas to any music you want to, rock music if you feel like it, you’re not taking any value from it because you dance it. I’m an atheist as well, but given I was religious, and you being an atheist offends me, should you stop being an atheist? Religion is for the home, it’s personal and individual and everyone should respect it as they see fit. The dance part, the way I see it, is more cultural, and I just find it wrong that I’d have to start believing in Orishas in order to be able to dance and enjoy the cultural aspect of it. This would mean I’d have to change religion every time I want to engage in any custom that has arisen from religion throughout human history. Wouldn’t that be odd? Just a point of view of a fellow atheist.
There is a difference between the examples you are giving, and the ones I am. For instance, I eat pork, regardless of whether or not it hurts anyone who subscribes to the Islam religion. The difference being, as I am eating said pork, I am NOT doing so within the parameters of any Islamic belief, since I am not subscribing to them. In other words, I am not saying, “I am Islamic,” and then going ahead and eating pork. Then again, pork eating (or not) is not defined by Islam.
But Orisha dancing IS defined by Yoruba religion. And when you’re doing an Orisha dance, in which you HAVE to impersonate an Orisha god (whether or not you know that that is what you’re doing, that IS what you’re doing in that context), the implied message is that you believe in the Yoruba pantheon.
Now, if you don’t find it wrong, doing a Changó—in other words, impersonating a Yoruba god—while you do not believe in him, that is your prerogative, and you are, of course, entitled to that. I made it very clear from the title that this piece was about why I, personally, do not incorporate Orishas into my secular dancing. I am not trying to impose anything on anybody. You can interpret these reasons in any way you want.
Thanks for taking the time to read the piece and commenting on it.
Very interesting article. If a person were to do a Changó or any other Orisha dance in hopes of spreading awareness about the roots of contemporary Cuban music, or even the existence of the religion regardless of whether they believe in it or not, what would you think? It is somewhat of a marvel to see a tradition such as this having been preserved for such a long time despite slavery and attempts to oppress African traditions viewed as subversive to ruling powers. Do you think a person who is a non-believer teach or perform these dances, within the context of batá music and not the dance of casino, respectfully as a method of displaying pride for its survival, resistance to blanqueamiento of African peoples and cultures, as well as its significance to Cuban culture? I recognize that many people think this is a “cool thing to do” but for me, personally, I see the survival of Afro-Cuban tradition as a source of racial pride, as a person who is Afro but not Cuban, because it signifies a resilience and the strength that African traditions can posses even through hardships such as slavery and racism.
Again, very good article.
Thanks for reading the piece. I believe in spreading awareness about the Afro-Cuban dance tradition, and in particular about Orisha dancing, through the appropriate context. These dances need a space to be taught and be learned by those who want to delve into the Orishas. But given the way Orisha dances are being taught–that is, as an “add-on” to casino–not a lot of awareness is actually being created. If you were to ask someone who just came out of an “Afro-Cuban body movement class” the gods whose dance steps they learned, most of them would not be able to tell you (and some would even outright ask you, “We were doing a religious dance?”). That is sad, and a total product of the market which seeks to make easy money by teaching people something exotic (to them) without providing them with context and glossing–if at all– over a rich cultural history. We certainly need more people who want to do this because they want to create awareness, and not because they want to make money.
I quite strongly disagree, but then I believe that social dance evolves and that we should distinguish between keeping the tradition alive (CNF, ENA,..) and what happens on our social dancefloors, where dance is about partner communication and having FUN, and not primarily about tradition keeping.
One of the main strenghts of Casino is in the powerful dictionary of meanings and messages that partners can use – many of its moves have cultural backgrounds that speak volumes when you dance.
Yoruba gives us twenty-odd stereotypes of human personalities, which you can use to “speak” to your partner, or your audience: when a man wants to present his macho side (especially when the music/lyrics involve manhood, sex, musicianship), he can “invoke” Changó. If there’s a brainy subject in the lyrics, call on Obatalá to help you tell the story of the song. If the music breaks into a elegant or romatic setting, use some of your Son vocabulary and posture. I have absolutely no problem with that, and do not feel it in any way offends the traditions, or the “island way” of dancing, and in my experience, expanding your vocabulary like this in Cuba results in nods, not frowns.
As for incorporating rumba into your Casino: apart from the obvious cases (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LX0SXQwEQTw), most of modern timba music is based on rumba clave, and that itself strongly implies rumba in my book (a good, easy-to-hear, well-known example is https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wIOihbD-CFY). Casino itself was born when guaracha and son were prevalent styles, based on son clave, and therefore less syncopated than rumba. Therefore, dancing rumba inside your Casino *at that time* would indeed be weird. Additionally, Son tradicional is all about elegance, and rumba all about partying, so the two would not mix very graciously 🙂
Also remember that Casino is originally a white-man’s dance (Casino Deportivo was white-only if I remember correctly) 🙂 and rumba/Orishas/Arara/Abakua are totally Afro. Perhaps with the modern evolution of Casino we are witnessing a new amalgamation of white and black cultures, not unlike Son and afrocubanismo one hundred years ago 🙂
All your points are well taken. I am aware of the history of casino and how it began, and how it was, in its inception, a dance for white-colored individuals who had access to places black people in Cuba did not. I am also aware that there are strong rumba sections in more of the modern songs (in which case I have no problem incorporating rumba myself), and even in modern renditions traditional son (stuff from Septeto Nacional comes to mind).
All of that said, I will, of course, disagree with you on your comment about us witnessing a new amalgamation of white and black culture, simply because that is not happening in Cuba. (I’m disagreeing with the “new” part. Cuba has always been an amalgamation of white and black, starting with its syncretic religion, where the African Changó is also the Catholic (Spanish) Santa Bárbara.)
Watch videos from “Para Bailar Casino”; you will not see a single Orisha break done anywhere. Or watch regular people from Cuba actually dancing in Cuba (but not in a workshop setting or demo for foreigners); watch them at their house, at a party, on the street dancing casino, and I assure you you will not find them doing Orisha breaks. Why? Because religious dances have their place in Cuban society, and it certainly is not in secular dances like casino. And here are ten videos to show you just that (note: black Cubans dance in seven of them): https://sonycasino.wordpress.com/2014/11/25/what-does-the-dance-of-casino-look-like-stage-vs-social-dancing/
People in Cuba know this. But people outside don’t. And it’s the easiest thing for those seeking to make money on people’s ignorance to entice them to do Orishas into their casino with talks of dance as a way for black culture to subvert white culture in Cuba (if we go with the argument that casino was a “white dance” at first)—and really taking paradigms from other countries which do not so neatly fit Cuban culture (for instance, the term “Afro-Cuban”, for various reasons, has not really been taken up by black Cubans). It’s a win-win for both non-Cuban blacks and whites. Whites get to learn some exotic dance about African gods they don’t really believe in. And blacks get to connect to their African roots, something that was denied to them, specially so in the States. In both cases Cuba becomes a way to experience Africa by proxy. And in both cases, actual Cuban culture sort of gets passed over. So you’ll have to excuse me if I have my reservations as to why it has all of sudden become the norm to do a Changó in the middle of a song like “Para bailar casino.”
At the end of the day, people outside of Cuba are going to do whatever they want with Cuban dance. I’m just pointing out what’s actually happening in the island.
Hi there Daybert!
I’m new to your blog, but I must say that I’m loving most of what I have seen and read here yet.
Also, I love your style of writing and your passion to share your knowledge with others.
I can very much sympathize with that.
First I wish to say that personally I sometimes incorporate Yoruba and other Afro Cuban movements and steps into my Casino dancing, but these are only secondary, and are not the main thing I usually do when dancing.
It all depends on the music, of course.
Well, let’s get to the subject at hand.
1. IMO dance is an expression of the feeling which the music invokes in a dancer, so you I can’t say that you “have to” or “must not” do Afro steps in your dance.
If you feel that the music calls for, do whatever that is that helps you express the feelings which that part of the music invokes in your heart.
2. Still, personally I think that when dancing one must let the music guide them, and do what the music “dictates”, or at least, calls for.
3. Continuing the previous point, I attended the wonderful Guaguanco festival in Spain this year, which had plenty of Afro Cuban workshops.
In one of them the teacher, Yoannis Tamayo, said that if in a song the band starts playing bata rhythms a\o the singers start singing about a specific Orisha, ignoring this is being unmusical.
He said something like “if the singers start singing about Chango and you keep doing turn patterns as though nothing changed in the song, you’re just ignoring the music”.
And Yoannis is an initiated santero.
4. Another teacher, Hector Oviedo, who taught (among others) an Abakkua workshop, said that he finds it disturbing that people do various movements (from Yoruba, Abakkua, Colombia, Guaguanco) when the music doesn’t call for it or when it is “just plain wrong”, for example during the “cuerpo” parts of songs, while romantic songs are playing or doing movements from one Afro Cuban dance to rhythms and lyrics of another type of dance (for example, doing Elegua steps on Guaguanco music).
I agree with him completely.
5. About people getting offended by religious dances being danced out of their religious context.
I suppose that such people would also be offended by institutions like the ENA teaching those at all.
Still, I know some teachers who are Santeros, Abakkua or even Babalao who are glad to teach Afro Cuban dances, religious and secular, and are a bit surprised by the interest, but are proud and happy to teach parts of their culture to those who take interest in it.
6. Yoruba dances are religious and some people believe in it (I do not, as I’m an atheist), but besides that they are also Folklore, and are being taught, presented, and thus preserved for generations to come by people who are non believers and do that as a part of their profession or just as a field of interest.
This is true to any folklore from any culture, I believe, so I don’t think that there’s something wrong with the concept of dancing, teaching and showcasing these dances without their religious context, as long as people are aware of what they are doing and are doing the steps properly and with good intentions.
7. I think that the main problem is not with people who have a genuine interest in this part of the Cuban culture or in folklore in general, are aware of the context, the history, the practices etc., .
I think that is the “educated minority”, unfortunately.
I, for example, am really interested in this culture, read books and material online about the Yoruba and other Afro Cuban cultures and folklore (a friend recently brought me a fascinating book on the Orishas in Cuba from La Habana).
I like folklore and ethnography in general, BTW, so for me it’s a “win-win situation”, as I get to explore a rich and fascinating culture and do some of the stuff myself dancing.
Oh, and I am very much fond of the toques and Bata music, and gladly dance to it when I have enough steps to practice for a specific toque.
The problem is with the “uneducated majority”, those described in the article as “looking for the next cool thing to do”.
I call such people “fadohpiles”… they care just about the “cool new fad” and doing steps and movements which are “hip” and “in”, but don’t care about the culture behind it.
If in a year or 2 some new fad arrives, they will abandon the Afro Cuban dancing in a blink of an eye, and stampede over to those teaching the next “hip new thing”.
Those people also do the movements with no regard for the music, neither rhythms or lyrics.
This group is the problematic one, and unfortunately I see many such people around me.
8. A note about teaching these movements and steps.
A thing I very much like about the Guaguanco festival (which I attended for the 2nd time this year) is that all the Afro Cuban workshops are taught with live music, whether it’s Rumba, Guaguanco, Columbia, Abakkua, Palo, Yoruba or anything else.
The musicians are also very talented and know all these rhythms by heart.
Furthermore, when teaching “mixed” workshops (for example “rumba-son” or “afro-son”), the musicians and the teachers are in sync.
Meaning, when the teacher teaches a movement from Yoruba, the musicians play Bata, and when the teacher teaches a Son based movement the band plays Son, etc.
9. From what I know, using Afro Cuban movements in Casino is not something new, and has been around for several decades now.
One of my teachers, a Cuban in his early 30’s who left Santiago de Cuba only 2.5 years ago has been teaching and performing since he was 15, and has spent several years in Folklore dance troupes in the city in the last 15 years.
Another teacher of mine is a professional dancer and dance teacher from Camaguey, now in her late 40’s.
We talked on the topic a few times, and she told me that she has been dancing Casino with various Afro movements (especially torso movements, for example subtle “waves” in the torso, ondulaciones…) since her youth, growing up in the 1980’s.
So it’s not something that novel, although it has never enjoyed such widespread popularity as it does now.
10. Why some people do not incorporate Yoruba movements, and didn’t do so in decades past.
I don’t know for sure, so I can just speculate.
First, as I mentioned above, some did and do, at least from what I have been told.
Second, if those dances are being taught at dance academies, maybe they are just not available for many people to learn, or people are just not interested in this folklore for a variety of reasons.
Why didn’t they dance that to Son music or Son Montuno, Mambo, Guaracha etc.?
I suppose because most songs in these genres don’t have the appropriate musical context for it, as they are mostly based on Son, and Son has a whole different mecanica, style, context with an accent on elegance and fluidity of motion.
Songo and Timba, on the other hand, have lots of Afro Cuban musical elements in them.
Third, if talking about pre-revolutionary times in Cuba, African culture was very much suppressed due to the segregation that the Americans enforced when ruling the island, and black or mixed race people were considered to be “of inferior class”.
So if you wanted to incorporate something of Afro Cuban origin (like what many musicians ingeniously did), you had to be very subtle about it.
Afro Cuban movements in any of the dances, whether Yoruba, palo, Rumba etc. are everything but subtle, so they couldn’t really do that even if they wanted.
Here are some songs with Bata playing in them, right off the bat;
If I go over my collection I can easily find some more…
Elio Reve y Su Charangon – Papa Eleggua
(also some other Reve songs from the 1980’s)
Alexander Batte y Su Kabiocile – Ache Yemaya
Miguel Enriquez – Cubano Soy
And here’s even one from outside Cuba, but very well made in the Cuban tradition:
La Sonora Poncena – Ahora Si
In my understanding, orisha dancing is not ‘religious’ thing. It takes its idea from religious, yes, but at the and it is a idea for stage/show..so, it is cultural..I use them when rhythm changes to them or lyrics mentions on them…and I advise to wacth this documentary about how the orisha ‘show’ began with Teatro Nacional… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M91q1AsjLRQ
The very name–Orisha–is religious. You’re personifying a god(dess) when you do Orisha steps. The stage lends intself to an artistic interpretation of the dance, but the dance itself cannot be denied its religious connotations. At any rate, and as I’ve said before in previous comments on this article, these are my reasons. I’m not saying you shouldn’t. I’m just saying I don’t.
I love the way you express your opinion, very thoughtful and academic without so much emotion and more on facts.
I am in two minds when I dance Orishas, I agree with many of the points you make.
But then I go back to being a student of dance and trying to look as good as a natural Cuban Dancer. How is it they have so much flavour and technique?
The answer isn’t because of they just dance Casino…its because they have years of academy training in Orishas and obviously sometimes ballet.
That’s why I like Orishas it’s a method on how to learn how Cubans move to the music as a first reason.
The second is that I think it’s a good thing to learn to Culture and the Mindset.
Obviously we are learning to dance just for Hedonistic pleasure not for spiritual.
They have a strong character so you can try imitate it for dancing which will make you a better dancer.
Hello, Pedro. Thanks for reading the blog. The reason we are not meeting 100% on our opinions is because you are thinking casino danced by DANCERS, and I am thinking of casino danced by dancers.
Let me explain.
In your argument, you talk about trying to look like a natural “Cuban Dancer” and then you add the years of training they have had. So you are thinking about artists, people who went to school for dancing.
This blog sees casino as a dance of the people, as it has always been. That is, casino has always been for social dancers. In fact, no art institution in Cuba has a curriculum to teach casino that I know of. So, in my view, casino belongs to the social dancer, not to the artists. And social dancers do not have any training. A lot of them have never taken ballet, nor have they learned Orisha dancing. Does that make them any less “Cuban” in their dancing? Of course not. Moreover, I don’t dance Orishas, never have I taken ballet. Arguably, anyone who watches me dance says that I have flavor. This flavor clearly didn’t come from those things you mentioned. So there are other ways of getting there, ways that create less misinformation about casino, such as the idea that it should be combined with Orisha dancing for no reason.
I am going to go out on a limb here and assume that artists are, for the most part, the people who have taught you casino. That has of course shaped your view of what casino should look like, the kind of movements it should have, etc.
But again, casino is a dance of the people, not of the artists, Watch videos of Cubans dancing casino. Search on YouTube “Para bailar casino” and see for yourself. Or go to this link: https://sonycasino.com/casino-dancing-videos-from-cuba/
See for yourself.
Again, thanks for reading.
Daybert! Here’s another instance of you posting a video as evidence for your point, and then the video actually seems to contradict your point.
In this post, you included a YouTube video of a recorded TV performance of the song “Agua pa Yemaya”, and you say that the dancers “are not doing any Orisha dancing”. But they are!
Three out of the four couples can be seen stopping their casino dancing to dance Orishas! You can see this at 2:21, 4:24, 4:28, 5:19, and 5:25: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XsavU8Qq4O8
Additionally, there’s also rumba dancing (3:42, 4:40) and mozambique (2:14) mixed in by the casino dancers. And many of the singers also dance Orishas and/or rumba throughout almost the entire song. Maybe it’s not quite as random as the “anything goes” approach you are criticizing, but it does have some degree of randomness/playfulness in how the different dances are included.
I know I’m just picking out one piece of evidence from your post, but that’s mostly because I think other replies in the comments section have done a sufficient job of addressing your larger points. I’m adding this little piece simply as additional evidence in support of the constructive criticisms in the other comments.
Gosh. This article has me confused. I came across it because I have recently started learning Casino and I have been frustrated that not a lot of info about the culture or history is incorporated into my classes.
As background, I’m a black American. I grew up in Ohio doing modern and contemporary dance and my instructors were professional dancers in a black company whose founder was from the same era as Alvin Ailey. The company celebrated the experiences of people of the african diaspora and was influenced by icons like Katherine Dunham who brought traditional/folkloric dance from Haiti to the American concert stage.
As an adult, living in california, I’ve also spent a lot of time learning traditional dances from west and central Africa. I’ve been lucky enough that the African dance classes I’ve taken have been very good. There are always live drummers. The dancers are taught to recognize and name each rhythm, because each rhythm has specific steps associated with them. They are taught the songs/lyrics that go with each rhythm, what ethnic groups they’re associated with, and the meanings and significance of each dance.
Learning casino (also in california) has been a very different experience. There is much less emphasis on history and culture. I was originally drawn to casino rather than salsa linea because I was under the impression that there was more influence from African culture in the music and the steps. I’m personally without a religion, but I do believe in a higher power and I deeply interested in pre-colonial spirituality of all people of the African diaspora. Like many black Americans, I don’t know the specific origin of my ancestors because they were enslaved for many years.
It sounds to me like maybe the reason you don’t dance orishas is because you don’t want to contribute to cultural appropriation?
I DEFINITELY do not want to contribute to cultural appropriation and that’s exactly why I have been trying to do research outside of the casino classes I’m taking (which they call “salsa rueda”) to better understand what I’m doing.
It’s been a very tricky endeavor! How do I learn?
I went to a salsa party just yesterday and it was all folks that do salsa en linea. I waited and waited for the DJ to play some son or timba (which was a challenge in and of itself for me to be able to recognize the differences in the music) and when they finally did play a few, everyone was still dancing linear salsa. Was that wrong of them?
What I had found a leader among that crowd that knew casino. Would it be wrong of us to dance casino to a salsa song?
Back to the subject of orishas. Is spirituality not one of the many elements that makes casino different from salsa linea? Right along with incorporation of son and rumba?
And clearly as a west african dancer, I LOVE those examples of Bata drums you gave and I actually want to dance to that…I want more of that.
Any resources to help me understand all of this more would be appreciated.
To be clear, what I want to understand more is:
1 – how to recognize different types of music so that I know what type of dance is appropriate
2 – how to do dances from cultures different than my own culture (black american) in a respectful manner
3 – what really is the difference between casino and salsa. I’m interested in the african influences, including the spirituality.
Hope this is all clear despite some typos in my original comment. Looking for resources. Thanks!