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 time 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 haven’t received “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. 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.
Not covered, joining a rueda without a partner & when this is acceptable (class, practice rueda) when this is not acceptable. In s. California there are roughly 3-5 follows for every lead at most events, leading to many follows joining a rueda alone. This makes a very uncomfortable rueda, when you only have a partner every 3rd dame, and limits or complicated many moves. One or two extra follows is typically ok, but still not ideal, but when the number of excess follows climbs it sucks. I drop out, and resent those follows who joined without a partner, ruining the experience. Some local callers will call these joiners out and ask them to leave, which is super awkward also. Bottom line, join a rueda with a partner (unless it’s a class, teaching or practice rueda, where the caller or teacher is inviting single follows or leads to join). Teachers should also instruct students on when to join a rueda without a partner and when to wait for the next song.
Very good point! Thanks for the input.
I see it as a compliment that people that I don’t know join my rueda. I also have a lot of fun with simple moves even after teaching and dancing rueda for more than 10 years. It does not matter really. In most cases I even have to conclude: the more complicated the move the less you really feel. Many people think: complicated is better. As regards to feeling and interaction with your partner complexity certainly adds nothing. So I just wait for another opportunity to do the less well known moves. Also I think by having this discussion the”problem” will not go away. 99% of people just don’t read about dancing. I just accept this reality and make the best out of it. For me personally that is a more easy approach and keeps me happier.
I appreciate your input. Our definition of happiness is certainly different. I’m not willing to accept a reality that I don’t like. I’m not willing to settle and go for the easier approach. That’s just not who I am.
While I do believe that the problem will not go away, I do believe in raising awareness (and that’s all one can really do). That’s why I write about these things. That’s what this blog is about.
Again, thank you for your input.
Yes, I agree, you are exactly right, the only thing you can do is raise awareness. And time will tell in what way reality subsequently changes. Also I agree with different definitions of happiness. What you think is important does not have to be the same as what I think is important or what other dancers think is important and I think what you will agree upon is that you don’t want to be told what ought to be important for you, isn’t it?
I’m not telling anybody what ought to be important for them. I’m telling people what is important for me and to others who think like me so that people understand and respect our choices.
I see what you’re saying, but I slightly disagree. Most of us can’t even agree on what the “standard” moves are. The more complex the patterns get, the less likely they are to be universally known. We (the experienced/the teachers) can’t even agree on whether to step forward or back, or what to call a pattern, and how many counts there are in setenta, but somehow the onus is on an individual to know whether or not to join a rueda? Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for learning complex formations and all. But to me, rueda is about community and working together as a team. The more exclusive we become, the less of a community we will have because people will go where they’re welcome.
Yes, there’s a lot of disagreement about what the standard is, how to step, etc. But that’s not an issue with people that come from the same school and have their own moves. That’s what I’m saying. If a group of people that know each other well because they go to classes together or are part of the same performance team, etc. want to do a rueda the way they want to, there should be room for them to do that. I’m not advocating for exclusivity for all casino ruedas. I’m just saying, Respect the ones that want to be. Community building doesn’t have one facet. Indeed, those people who try to be exclusive? They’re building a community of their own, strengthening. And that’s fine. That doesn’t mean they’re not part of a bigger community.
This article and you yourself as the writer constitutes the reason for which many people do not want to learn to dance. If you do not want people to join your rueda, get your rueda going in your sitting room. This will solve the problem. The fact that this is a significant issue for you (and others I’m sure) gives credence to the concept that dancing salsa is for the elite and only for those who are knowledgable enough. As already previously mentioned, many professional dancers debate the finer intricacies of rueda moves, so that argument is difficult to process. As a passionate preservationist of Cuban culture and dance I feel we should welcome all those who wish to partake in the magic of Cuban dance, welcome them, and teach all we can. So to no end, by all means, enjoy your private rueda sessions; preferably from the comfort of your private home dance studio.
For someone who calls themselves a “preservationist of Cuban culture and dance”, you sure don’t know much about Cuban dance. For starters, there is well-documented evidence that ruedas in Cuba, from the beginning, were exclusive. In fact, La Rueda del Oso (I hope you know who that is since you’re so passionate about Cuban dance), was known for kicking people out when they messed up a move.
You should also know that ruedas were a way to separate one neighborhood from another. Indeed, one neighborhood would have their set of moves, while the other would have their own respective sets. And you couldn’t get into the rueda because you didn’t know the moves. And if you attempted to, you’d have been kicked out. Again, all of this is common knowledge for those who know about rueda de casino IN CUBA.
Lastly, please stop being so exclusive. You criticize that I am not welcoming, but all I am doing is actually being more comprehensive than you are. I am arguing for different types of ruedas to happen AT THE SAME TIME, but you only want one. So why do you want to exclude people? Why should the way you view rueda–which is certainly not based on Cuban tradition–be the ONLY way to view rueda? Be more accepting, will you?
Also, this blog is called Son y CASINO. I don’t give “credence to the concept that dancing salsa is for the elite” because this is NOT a salsa blog.
Thanks for reading! 😀
Thank you very much for dedicating this webpage to this topic. My experience is exactly the same, and most often I find it very annoying, too. There are two more aspects that I’d like to add in this regard:
From my personal perspective, I find it also increasingly difficult to sing in a growing rueda in a manner loud enough so that everyone understands my calls. The more couples join in, the bigger the circle grows, the greater the distances become, but the music remains loud as always.
Secondly, from the perspective of the couples wanting to join the rueda, I know that most rueda dancers don’t know how to sing a rueda, or they don’t know the calls (only passively when called, but not actively for calling), or they are too shy to try it outside of the ‘safe’ dance class. So participating in a spontaneous rueda in a public place is probably the only chance they get to rueda dancing.