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.