For a woman, styling in casino is hard.
Think about it: most of the turn patterns, or at least the more intermediate-to-advanced ones, are executed by the leader and follower connecting their hands, without breaking that connection, through the lifespan of the turn pattern. Thus, styling, as some people may think of it—arms shooting up in the air, arms extended to the side, making “pretty fingers” motions, hand caressing the hair—all of that becomes almost impossible to do when both of your hands are being held “hostage.” And the one time that a woman can do such things is, usually, when the turn pattern ends or when one of the hands is let go.
So yes: being able to style in casino is hard. However, in my opinion, styling in casino is only difficult if you think of “styling” in the terms that I described above: “arms shooting up in the air, arms extended to the side, making ‘pretty fingers’ motions, hand caressing the hair”, etc.
That is, styling in casino is hard if your conception of “styling” comes from salsa dancing.
In salsa, that is the kind of styling that you often see. And it makes sense to see it: salsa dancing does not require continued connection with both hands to execute turn patterns. The woman actually has a lot of room to play with the arms and hands—and sometimes even do some complete body motion and footwork during cross-body leads. Therefore, that kind of styling, the one which emphasizes arms and hands, becomes doable.
But casino is not salsa, as I’ve extensively explained here. And as I’ve also extensively explained here, applying salsa concepts to casino will make it harder for you to get better at this Cuban dance.
So, when it comes to styling for women in casino, we need to think outside of “salsa” and think more about what happens when we dance casino. Thus, if we can agree that most of the time the hands are “busy” when dancing casino, then casineras cannot try to emulate the predominantly hand-oriented styling of salseras. They have to look at other parts of the body with which they can style and look the way that they want.
If we go to Cuba, those parts are the hips and waist. And it makes sense: when your hands are otherwise occupied, that is, in my view, the next logical body part one could use to style. Your feet are keeping the count, so while you can do some styling with your feet, it cannot always happen because in casino one needs to walk forward most of the time and styling would take away from that. Styling with the head is a recipe for dizziness. So, again: waist and hips.
In fact, the idea of movement from the waist is so important in Cuban dancing that U.S. and European ballroom instructors, when attempting to recreate whatever Latin dance fantasy they have come up with, use the term “Cuban motion” to refer to the use of the waist when dancing.
When you watch videos of Cubans dancing casino in Cuba, it is not hard to see why the lower part of the body is emphasized. As you watch the following video, pay attention to the arms. You will notice that there is little-to-no styling happening with them, even when the hands are free. The emphasis is on the waist and hips, on that “Cuban motion” ballroom instructors attempted to recreate but miserably failed at.
Now, this type of styling is no less hard. In fact, I’d argue that it is harder. In salsa styling, anybody can use their arms and throw them up in the air or do a nice flicker of the hand. Using your hips requires you to train your body to move a certain way; some people call this “flavor,” which some then would argue is “in the blood” and all that nonsense that some people believe. (It’s not in the blood. There are a lot of Cubans in the island who cannot move their bodies to save their lives. What is really is, is practice. Practice until you get it “right,” whatever “right” may be to you.)
So, this type of styling is harder, I’d argue. But harder or easier, the idea of using your lower body for styling, rather than your hands and arms, does go better with the dance of casino. Again, it’s about applying casino concepts to casino, no salsa-derived ones.
All of this said, you can style in any way you want, and use any concepts from any dance you want. I’m not trying to impose anything on anybody. I am simply suggesting something that makes more sense to do, given the parameters and principles of the dance of casino.
Speaking as a leader, I will say this, though: however you choose to do your styling, do not, and I repeat, do not let the styling get in the way of the leading.
This happens often with beginner dancers, especially those who attempt to apply salsa styling concepts into casino because they see casino as salsa and/or are surrounded by a much bigger salsa dancing scene where that is all they see and so that becomes the norm for them. Honestly, as a leader, this is a problem. If, in casino, most of the turn patterns are executed using both hands, that means that both hands have to be more readily available, even if one of them is not being currently used. Casino is a leader and follower dance. That means that someone is leading another person; someone is in command. Therefore, the follower cannot get lost in her own world of styling while dancing with the leader. She has to keep an eye out for hand movements from the leader which may indicate that he needs a specific hand (or both) to execute a turn pattern. (By the same token, the leader cannot completely disregard the follower and make it all about himself, but that is a post for another time.)
Some could argue that dancing is about communication, not about leading and following; therefore the leaders need to be attentive to the needs of the followers, too, if they feel like styling. I’d respond: yes, you are communicating—but within a dance hierarchy that clearly delineates that there needs to be leader and a follower. It’s not about gender. A man can follow and a woman can lead. It is about acknowledging that whoever is leading is the one setting the tone for the dance. That’s the entire principle behind leading and following.
At any rate, this wouldn’t be a problem if the styling was happening from the waist down. You see, when that happens, the follower can always style. There is nothing that requires the leader to move the waist a certain way, and therefore every which way the follower moves it, it will not affect the leading.
Again, most of this styling-induced issues when it comes to trying to lead a turn pattern come from attempting to apply salsa concepts into casino, a Cuban dance which is most definitely not salsa. In my experience, when I’ve seen women complain that they cannot style enough or that they rarely have room for styling in casino, they are referring to not being able to do what they see salsa dancers do.
Finally, let us address the elephant in the room: I am a male attempting to give styling advice to followers who are, for the most part, female. Though I know how to follow pretty well, following is not, by any means, my forte. I can only speak from a leader’s perspective and also based on observations and a basic understanding of the structure of casino. So I encourage comments and suggestions on the comment section. Likewise, if a casinera would like to write a bit more extensively about what it is to follow in casino and give some advice to the leaders, that would be most welcomed. Remember that this blog is actively looking for contributors.
Styling is hard, but when done within the parameters of the dance, it is doable. Regardless of the styling that you chose to do, take it from a leader: please do not forget that you are dancing with someone else.
Casino is not Salsa.
Right, which is why casino dancers should strive to apply casino concepts when dancing casino.
Shoulders may also be used by women in Casino. İn Istanbul the situation is the same. Casino is the second dance style for the most women, so they keep asking on styling as Salseras do. I always emphasise waist twist on count 8 . And shoulder rolls or shakes…and I advice them to watch cuban Casino dancers in Cuba. Cubanas in Europe seems compete with salseras in terms of styling, using cabaret arm and hand gestures in Casino but by this, Casino dance loosing its originality . People of Cuba dance Casino more reasonable for me. Thanks maestro.
I think it’s a good point on Cubans in Europe/US cater with styling and teaching that is salsa based because that’s what the people know. The good news is that Cuban dancers are such good at moving naturally that it makes it look far better than what the salsa dancers do and is a net plus for dance. The bad news is that the line between casino and salsa becomes blurred and much of the originality of casino goes with it.
Not sure how one would be able to solve this problem though…
If I remember correctly your previous replies to others posts I’ve written, you’ve been a big proponent of maintaining the status quo, of not changing the names because that’s what people understand, or because that is the label that is used in that place, etc. Well, there you go. That’s what happens when you don’t push for the labels to be different. Indeed, “the line between casino and salsa becomes blurred and much of the originality of casino goes with it”. I came to this conclusion a long time ago. Casino, when competing with the bigger salsa scene, is never going to win. Salsa dancing was developed specifically with a white audience in mind, something which fit their ideas of what dancing should be. So salsa will always be more appealing to the masses—not to mention that there is a much bigger marketing machine pushing for this label. That’s why, even if “Cuban salsa” is the popular term, the term that people would understand, I will STILL use “casino,” and I will PUSH for casino and salsa to be different dances, and to be thought of as different dancers. Washington D.C., where I live, has done that every well. It can work. You just need to do it, and get other people to join you in doing it. Then you won’t see those problems as much.
You, Amanda, and Adrian are great ambassadors for casino and have build a critical mass in DC. I hope you guys lay out a roadmap for repeated success elsewhere. How did you guys break into the ring and get traction?
Maybe this is an inappropriate question/suggestion, but at some point you guys must have used the “Cuban salsa” brand, no? I can’t imagine gaining initial traction for it by calling it casino and nothing else.
Yes I agree about using shoulders. I’ve been taking classes from a Cuban teacher formerly in the folkloric ballet and she has us use shoulder shakes or the chest as styling options. Hands on your hips too.
Great post Daybert. Question though, how do you incorporate this into your classes though. It’s much easier to teach someone to stick an arm out than it is to teach them a complicated hip motion.
And more in general, my experience says that class followers learn a lot faster in classes despite having less instruction aimed at them. I imagine that less focus on them and being better than leaders makes classes boring for followers. How do you handle this? Or, in your opinion, is this not a problem?
Styling should always come at the END. Not at the end of class, per se, but at the end of the trajectory. That is what I’ve always said. People want to style as soon as they learn something, and what often happens is that they end up focusing so much on styling that they forget the basic steps and then they cannot follow correctly.
I’m a big believer in letting the students figure out things by themselves. So what I would do is show them what could be done, and then encourage them to implement what they saw, in any way that they can, when they practice. But I won’t necessarily emphasize styling (both for women and men) because I believe that to be extra. Indeed, you don’t need to know how to style in order to dance casino.
I hear you about the problem with followers becoming bored. In order to solve this, what I’ve done is what I outlined in a previous post called “The One Error Many Instructors Are Making…” In short, let the leads lead; that way, as you switch partners, the follower will always have to figure out how to follow leaders of all levels, because in what I propose the instructors do not dictate what gets practiced, but rather each individual leader practices as much as they remember, and so it’s always a different experience for the follower.
Personally, I much prefer the “styling” or “flavor” of casino to that of salsa. Mainly, because I take issue with the idea that “styling/flavor” is something that can be taught. I think that when people dance, their body movement should be reflective of both who they are and their connection to the music to which they are dancing. I think it’s important to have opportunities to learn how to move our bodies (in the same way that we learn how to move our feet) but what I see in salsa is a specific set of body movements that are done almost like choreo. I rarely see spontaneity or personality in women’s salsa styling, but instead I see certain hand/arm movements that always accompany specific turn patterns or leads. In the end it leaves me feeling like all salseras are just carbon copies of each other and, as an independent woman, that rubs me the wrong way. Contrast that to what you see in cuban dancing and casino where everyone is expressing who they are to the music and you get a much more interesting/flavorful way of dancing.
Now, to be fair, you will find that in any dance genre the students will usually reflect the flavor/style of their dance master/instructor. However, I still think that when you look at people who are dancing casino you will see a much broader range of styles and flavors being represented as each person moves their body in the way their body was made to move and to the specific sounds they are connecting with in the music. In contrast, the salsa “styling” technique seems to have the goal of making everyone look the same and so in the end they do mostly all look/dance the same. At least, that’s how it looks to me.
When dancing socially with, the focus ideally should be be first on the connection with the partner, and then most of the styling comes from the body movement techniques that are applied in the basic step. Any extra styling that can be added usually are when dancers have a good connection to the music, and use musicality to accentuate the accents in the music with their bodies (ie. shoulders, chest, despelote etc.). However, cuban styling for shows or performance, is much more intricate, which is focused on hands, arms, in addition to everything going on with the hips and the waist. The difference with linear style salsa is that most of the styling movements come from focus on the arms/hands without a solid connection to the body movement. The cuban styling all comes from your core body movement and is an extension of that movement in the torso, shoulders, hips etc to connect everything and look natural, with some details in the hands and fingers and elegance in the arms. In my humble opinion, which has come from experience in both training cuban dance (almost all) and popular salsa, cuban movement and styling is definitely more difficult to master.
I wholeheartedly agree with the main points about styling needing to be Casino-specific, and challenging the notions irradiating in a quasi-colonial way from Salsa, as well as with the theoretical position whereby styling is secondary and should not get in the way of what’s truly at eh core of Casino dancing.
However, I have a fundamental point of disagreement in what concerns the notion of HIERARCHY. Indeed, this is the first post of around 20 I have read here where I find a point of discrepancy so I’ll lay it out. Although, the very appropriate caveat is duly made that gender is in principle irrelevant to the issue, there is a more or less explicit claim that hierarchical transmission of energy is a necessary condition for leading and following:
“you are communicating—but within a dance hierarchy that clearly delineates that there needs to be leader and a follower […] whoever is leading is the one setting the tone for the dance. That’s the entire principle behind leading and following”
Although I am by no means an expert on Casino, nor Cuban myself, I have allowed myself to propose the notion of ROLE FLUIDITY, which I believe has the potential to make Casino a better dance, both sociologically and structurally. And both senses/applications I have proposed for FLUIDITY involve blurring the hierarchic and unidirectional nature of energy transmission (and thus leading) in Casino.
Since I already expounded the details of this notion and its potential benefits, I’ll just limit myself to challenge the two-sided assumption that:
A-That the leading-following dynamic is by necessity hierarchical.
B-There needs to be unidirectional/hierarchical leading in Casino.
Instead, I’d suggest, but not explain (see my previous comments on the blog) the two-sided hypothesis that:
A-leading can be co-agentive, dialogic and fluid.
B-Casino can do not only well but in fact better in both structural and sociological terms with approaches to leading that challenge, even if only partially, the hegemonic notion of hierarchic energy transmission in any of the multiple ways possible (as my preliminary exploration of the topic lays out).
Admittedly, fluid transmission would imply some changes in the actual experience of the dance, though I would argue mainly positive and additive/expansive rather than substractive ones.
Salud, amor y debate,
Thanks for ssharing this