Recommended reading: WHY CALLING CASINO “SALSA” MAKES IT HARDER TO GET BETTER AT IT
People are often introduced to the dance of casino under the label of “Cuban salsa” or simply “salsa.” Indeed, though casino is the actual name of the dance, it’s rare to see just the word “casino” used to market classes for this Cuban dance today. Even though casino is not salsa, given the popularity of the term “salsa,” as I’ve explained here, can we even get away from using this label?
I’ve been raking my brain for years, asking myself that simple question. And I’ve asked different people who I’ve seen use this substitute term—“salsa”—for casino. Why can’t they use casino when they market classes for this dance?
“I know it’s called ‘casino,’” I often hear people begin, letting me know that they are aware that there is a difference. “But the fact of the matter is, if I do use that name, I wouldn’t get people to come to classes; or people would be confused as to what I’m offering.”
So it boils down to this: casino is not a viable marketing term for this dance. Not only does it confuse people, it discourages them from coming to lessons.
And I get it. Casino means something else in English. It’s the place where people go to gamble, to spend away their savings.
Why would anyone, other than Cubans themselves, associate it with a dance?
Like I said: I get it.
Which is why I cannot, for the life of me, understand why the same thing does not happen when people try to market son classes.
I mean, when was the last time you saw a son class or workshop being marketed as anything other than “son”? I’ve yet to find one person who changes the name of the dance to something other than son to make it more understandable to audiences everywhere; so that people know it’s a dance.
This baffles me to no end. Son, as a marketing term for the dance, has the same shortcomings that casino does. “Son” means an entirely different thing in English—someone’s male progeny—and therefore people do not readily associate it with a dance, much less a Cuban one.
And while son is like casino is the sense that they do not have viable marketing terms (because of the same reasoning people use to explain why they change casino’s name to “Cuban salsa”), unlike casino, you rarely—if at all—see people changing the name of the dance to something else.
Let me give you some examples that I found upon a perfunctory search on Google.
From Salsabor a Cuba (http://www.salsaborcuba.com/):
The dance school ‘Salsabor a Cuba’ in Havana (Cuba) offers dance classes for Cuban dances like Cuban Salsa, Rumba, Son, Kizomba, Bachata, Tango, Reggaeton, Folklore Yoruba, Cha-cha-cha, Mambo, Rueda de Casino, among others.
Baila Habana, which motto is “Salsa-Son-Rumba” (http://www.baila-habana.com/en/), clearly doesn’t change names, either, for son—but it certainly does so for casino:
Learn to dance salsa in Kuba in our dance classes with our professionally qualified dance instructors. You are also welcome to learn to dance son or rumba or other dance styles such as Cha-Cha-Cha, Mambo, Bachata or Reguetton.
And the Denmark-based Mi Salsa Cubana (http://www.misalsacubana.com/) offers dance trips to Cuba to learn Cuban dances as part of a program which is described as follows:
The dances taught in this program are: Salsa, Son, Rueda de Casino, Mambo, Cha Cha Cha, Rumba and Afro Cuban dance.
Like these three, there are many more examples on the Internet. Feel free to browse.
So, son’s name, as you can read above, does not get changed. What gives? Why would those who are teaching these classes or marketing them assume that the general public doesn’t understand that casino could more than a place to gamble, but then when it comes to son—well, that label clearly refers to a Cuban dance and not a person.
Sarcasm aside, I hope that you can see the contradiction surrounding the marketing of these Cuban dances. Because that’s when you really start questioning these terms that you see used left and right and sometimes take for granted or assume that people would understand.
Now, one could argue that son’s name does not need to be changed to anything else because son is not a popular dance. I don’t think there are any academies which specialize in the dance of son alone. Most of the time, people learn son or about son after they have come into contact with the marketed-as-“salsa” casino. That is, by the time people learn son or of son, they are already in. Their attention has been already grabbed by a marketing strategy that sounded relatable and appealing—“Cuban salsa”—and made them come to classes or take a workshop. Therefore, son’s name doesn’t need to be changed because it is taught within an already-established Cuban dance context in which people would not associate it with anything else.
This is a very plausible explanation that I have myself devised here for the purposes of being my own Devil’s advocate. However, that’s all it is: an explanation. The contradiction is still occurring: casino’s name gets changed to “Cuban salsa” or “salsa” while son’s name remains unaltered.
So, how do we solve this contradiction? Or, more to the point: can it even be solved?
I’d argue that, yes, yes it can. It most certainly can. But only if you want it to be solved. Indeed, if you don’t care about the terminology because, to you, salsa and casino are the same thing (though they are not, as I’ve explained here), then what I’m about to say is going to fall on deaf ears.
But if this contradiction does bother you, too, and you haven’t figured out a way of resolving it, hear me out, see if what I have to say makes sense.
So, how do we get away from “Cuban salsa” and start calling the dance of casino by its name and get people to recognize, like they do with son, that casino is a dance?
Okay, so first, one would have to stop basing marketing strategies about Cuban dances on assumptions. A lot of what I see out there and the conversations that I have with people, as far as marketing is concerned, really boils down to this: people are extremely ready to discard ideas, without even trying them, that do not go with what they already think works.
For instance, every single one of the people who have told me that “casino” as a marketing term does not work (because of reasons explained above), when asked whether or not they have actually tried doing it, always respond that no, they haven’t.
But how do they know that it won’t work? I mean, maybe it truly doesn’t work, calling casino “casino.” But how do they know?
The fact is, they don’t—because they haven’t tried it. What they know works is to call it “Cuban salsa,” thus relying on a term that is more relatable, and wait for people to show up to class.
And, sure, that works. It has for everybody. Why is there a need to change something that is working? If it isn’t broken, why fix it, right?
Well, for starters, I’d argue that it is broken. Calling casino “salsa” creates many issues for non-Cuban dancers, as I’ve extensively explained here.
But let’s assume that it isn’t broken. Can something else work, too? Can we call casino by its name and make it work?
Again, I think it can be done.
And to do it, son is a great place from which to learn how.
If we establish that son’s name does not need to be altered because people typically learn son in a context in which it is understood that son can be nothing but a Cuban dance, then the same idea can be used for casino.
To put it in concrete terms, for casino to keep its name and not need to be changed to something else—“(Cuban) salsa”—then we need to create the context in which casino means nothing but a Cuban dance.
That’s where most of the work needs to be done. And the good news is: it’s not a lot of work, actually. All you have to do is use the following two words back-to-back:
That really is it!
Doing something as simple as marketing your classes, events, and socials as “Cuban dance” will create that context that we’re looking for. Not only is “Cuban dance” relatable to and understood by most people, but also once people come to Cuban dance classes, casino, like son, will be understood outside of the monetary context with which people are more familiar. It will create a new context for this word, and a new meaning.
It already works for son. It will also work for casino. It just requires us to be a bit more aware of what we’re saying, and how we’re saying it.
For example, a social media post marketing your classes could look like this, Come to our Cuban dance classes this week and learn some casino!
Or the name of your classes, instead of Cuban salsa (Casino) classes could be, Cuban dance classes (casino).
These are just suggestions, the first things that came to mind. This is not meant to be a template but rather to get you started thinking about how to modify the way classes are advertised. If these suggestions sound “weird” at first because it’s still unclear to you what “casino” stands for in these examples, just know that’s it’s all in your head. You’ve seen the label “Cuban salsa” to refer to casino used too many times; therefore it is difficult seeing casino without it.
So here is a quick test you can do. The Son Test, if you will. Instead of “casino,” use “son” in whatever you’re writing. Because you’re not used to seeing “son” associated with “Cuban salsa,” you’ll get an idea of what someone else (who hasn’t seen “casino” associated with “Cuban salsa”) will think when they read what you wrote. If it’s clear to you that son is a dance when you read Come to our Cuban dance classes this week and learn some son! then the same thing will apply to casino. That is, it will be clear to someone else that, when you write “casino,” you’re referring to a dance.
Alternatively, you can always go “hardcore casino” and not compromise, creating a context through sheer force of will, repeating the name enough until people understand it is a dance and not a place to gamble. That can be done, too. This blog’s title is an example of that. I specifically came up with this title so that no one could argue to me that one couldn’t reach people by using these terms. I get thousands of views every month from people looking to read more about casino (the dance), so I know it works.
Whatever path you choose, again: it’s all about creating the context.
Lastly, if you’ve been one of the people I’ve talked to about this at any point in time (and there have been many), please don’t take this personally. This post is not intended as a critique of anyone in particular or of how they are doing things. Whatever you do, and how you do it, is your business. What I seek to do here is simply open up a dialogue about the marketing terms that we use. Because, folks, that’s all these things really are. Whether it’s “Cuban salsa” or “Cuban dance,” or whatever else, these are all substitute terms for the dance that we are really learning: