Toward a Rueda de Casino Etiquette: Knowing When and When Not to Join a Rueda

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It’s happened to me countless of times: during a Cuban dance social, I get a group of people that I know together, tell them, Hey, let’s make a rueda. I want to do some cool stuff with the people I know have the level and know the calls I’m going to be making. So we get into the rueda. It’s a small rueda. Maybe four couples. I know everybody, and everybody knows each other. Before I have called the third move, however, people I don’t know have joined the rueda. Then people keep joining, and joining…and joining. Soon, the whole room is participating in the rueda.

The rueda that I wanted to do to practice all these cool moves that only I and the people I originally sought knew…well, those moves are out the door now. We cannot do them because the other people—who we don’t know—don’t know the moves.

So we’re reduced to calling the basic moves that everybody knows: dame, setenta, sombrero, adios, enchufla, etc.

Every this happens, I ask myself: Why does this keep happening? Why do people keep joining the rueda when the people who were originally in the rueda were not inviting anybody? There was no sign anywhere that said, “We welcome more people.” On the contrary, we already were in the formation, already dancing, already making the calls. And in come these random couples who feel entitled to join what we are doing, and disrupt it. Why do people think that this is an okay thing to do?

Now, before you mark me as a “snob,” consider this: if you’re hanging out with your close friends, having a conversation that is personal and meaningful to the group, and that it could only be had with this group of people because you know each other well and are comfortable with each other to talk about the topic, and all of sudden a stranger comes in, sits down uninvited, and asks, “Hey, so what are ya’ll talking about?” What would you do?

There are two feasible options at this point: a) Kick the stranger out of the group; or b) Welcome the stranger, but given the personal nature of the conversation, change the topic to something that the stranger can participate in.

I don’t think I would be wrong in assuming that, in this scenario (personal, private conversation joined by a stranger) most people would kick the stranger out and actually get pretty upset that this person had the audacity to interrupt a conversation between people he/she didn’t know.

So again I ask myself: if this is not okay in any other social setting, why do people think it’s okay to do the same when they see others doing a rueda de casino? Why do people think they can join the rueda when the people who are already dancing in it are not looking to the sides, searching for more people, waving people to join, or any other kind of body language that says, “Join us”?

I don’t know what people think, so I’m not going to try to be a mind reader.

But what I can do is address the lack of basic rueda de casino etiquette that seems to be a problem in a lot of places, so that these scenarios do not keep occurring.

This is not an issue that only bothers me, by the way. I’ve heard the same complaint from other instructors/dancers. In fact, I got the idea to write about this from someone else who shared his frustration with me when this scenario kept happening to him (shout out to Vidal).

To this end, I will offer suggestions as to how this can be remedied, first at the dance school/academy level, which is where we get our first taste for rueda de casino; and then at the personal level—that is, when you are in a dance social and you see a rueda de casino and you are thinking about joining it.

With this, I hope to offer concrete and helpful advice that will allow people to recognize the different ruedas that they may encounter when they go out to dance—those which are open to everybody and everybody is welcomed to join, and those which are not—and subsequently respect the wishes of the people dancing in them.

So let’s get to it.


 

First, let’s talk about what happens in the casino dance class. More often than not, a casino dance class is done in a rueda formation. It’s very rare to see people learning casino by forming rows, like they do in the salsa classes. This already sets the idea in the learner that the preferred form of dancing casino is in the rueda formation (it’s not). In fact, the rueda can become so ubiquitous that some people may incorrectly assume that “rueda” is a dance (the dance is casino; rueda is the formation), and that what they are doing in the rueda cannot be done outside of it (if we’re talking about 1-on-1 moves like setenta, sombrero, enchufla, yes it can).

To add to this, as far as I’ve seen, most instructors do not specifically address the fact that the moves that they are teaching in that class may not be done in the same way in another dance academy/school; nor that other dance academies/schools may have a different name for the same move (i.e. exhíbela vs. sácala; dame vs. bota). What I’ve seen are instructors saying, “Today we’re going to learn this move,” and that’s it. Because the nuances of the rueda de casino that I mentioned above are not explicitly mentioned, this can create the idea that rueda de casino is danced the same way everywhere (it isn’t) and that the same moves are called (they aren’t) and have the same names (they don’t).

Rueda de casino etiquette has to begin with instructors. It is instructors who need to need to begin to educate learners about rueda de casino beyond the moves that they are teaching. It is instructors who need to tell their students that the moves that they are teaching are not necessarily the moves that other people somewhere else are learning, and that because of this, not all casino ruedas are done the same way. And that, given these differences, it would be rude and inconsiderate to join a rueda de casino made of people we don’t know because we may not know the moves that are called, and therefore, we’ll mess up the rueda.

The silver lining here is that it doesn’t all have to be exclusive. There are moves that most people do now and because of this, casino ruedas can bring people who do not know each other together. And, in fact, more often that not, that is what ends up happening. This should also be pointed out by instructors.

I repeat: there should be explicit talk about the nuances of a rueda de casino and the etiquette in regards to when it’s okay to join a rueda, and when it’s not. That way, we lower the number of people jumping into the rueda without being welcomed, and don’t place the people already in the rueda in a position where, if they want to do the rueda they originally intended, they would essentially have to tell you to get out of the rueda. Again, these things should not happen if these scenarios are covered and discussed in class before you go out to dance socially. All this begins with the instructors, in the classes.


 

But barring that you don’t get “the talk” in class, here is what I’d tell you, were you my student.

How do we know which casino ruedas to join, and which ones to not?

For people looking to join, the first thing you need to do is watch. Watch the rueda first. Watch what the people inside the rueda are doing. And watch for at least thirty to forty seconds, and look for the following:

  • Are they calling moves you don’t know? If so, don’t join.
  • If you cannot hear the moves they are calling, are they doing moves that you don’t recognize? If so, don’t join.
  • Are there moves that you do recognize and some that you don’t? If so, don’t join.
  • Are they inviting people in by waving at people and encouraging them to enter the rueda? If not, don’t join.
  • Are you by yourself? If so, don’t join. (This one is specially important because one person joining, as opposed to a couple, disrupts the even numbered couples, which adds insult to injury.)

Take your time to watch the rueda, assess what’s happening rather than see the rueda and think, “Oh, let me join the fun.”

Not all casino ruedas are for you. And if this is the first time you are hearing this, and you think I’m a snob or elitist, I’m sorry. I’m really not. I’m simply telling you what your instructor should have told you from the very first time he/she taught you in a rueda de casino formation.

So I’ll repeat it again: not all casino ruedas are for you.

That said, there are some that are for everybody. And again, more often than not, these more inclusive casino ruedas are the ruedas that get formed—although in my experience this happens mostly because the people who put the rueda together know that other people will join anyway, so they keep the level down.

So, how do we know which casino ruedas are for everybody? How do we know we can join a rueda even though we don’t know the people dancing in it?

Well, this part relies mostly on the people dancing inside the rueda, not on the people looking to join it. The former are the ones that should be making the attempt to get people to join, if that is the kind of rueda that they want to make.

To that end, the people who are doing the rueda and are looking to make it more inclusive should:

  • Announce the rueda. Let people know that you want to make a rueda de casino. It’s as easy as screaming, “Rueda!” in the room.
  • When you begin the rueda, stay in Guapea or basic closed position for longer and wave to the people outside, letting them know that you’d like them to join the rueda.
  • Keep the moves to calls everybody knows. I’m talking about enchufla, sombrero, vacila, dame. Things like that. Don’t call “Vacílala y dale helado” and expect everybody people to know that. That’s what the more exclusive rueda—with people that you know, and that you know for sure know these calls—is for. (By the way, I just made that call up, just to prove my point.)

You see, if the people looking to join a rueda and the people putting a rueda together know and follow these basic aspects of the etiquette, there wouldn’t be issues about people joining and “messing up” the rueda, as I’ve often heard more advanced dancers complain about. There wouldn’t be beginner dancers, or even intermediate ones, frustrated because they don’t know the calls and they cannot keep up.

And the great thing is, this opens the door for many ruedas to be done at the same time, rather than one gigantic rueda that includes everyone because everyone decided to join. Indeed, this way, you can have ruedas made up of the people that want to try their own exclusive moves that only they know, and then there can be casino ruedas which are more inclusive and welcoming, and with moves everybody recognizes and can do. These different ruedas can happen in the same space and at the same time, folks.


 

So let’s be mindful—and respectful—of the type of rueda that people we don’t know want to make, whether that includes or excludes us.

It shouldn’t be a big deal that some people want a rueda to be exclusive. These people have worked hard on these moves, and they want to do them together on a social setting. In my opinion, these people are the ones who will elevate rueda de casino to a higher standard as a social dance, because right now casino ruedas are seen as very basic, socially speaking (again, because people from different levels join indiscriminately and the level has to come down to a common denominator: beginner). We should respect the hard work that people have put into their ruedas.

I’ll repeat it for a third time: not all casino ruedas are for you. And that is completely okay. If you are watching a rueda and it looks too advanced, look for the ones that are more to your level—because the idea is that there should be more than one rueda in a casino dance social or event—just like there are different levels in your classes.

And if there aren’t, that’s fine, too. Make one yourself. Announce to the dance floor, “Rueda!”

Trust me, people will come.

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