(Two disclaimers, before I begin the article. The first one is that article is mostly for people who pay for classes in order to improve their casino dancing skills. People whose main goal when they pay for casino dancing classes is to socialize and meet new people are not the intended audience of this article. The second one is that the focus of this article is casino partner-work, not rueda de casino; however, there is still a section for rueda de casino classes. If you’re looking for how this article connects to your rueda de casino classes, you can scroll down to the section “But What About Rueda de Casino?”.)
The above said, let’s get to the essential question that drives the writing of this piece:
When should you stop paying for casino dancing lessons?
If we are going to talk about classes, let’s talk about school first, since that is the setting where we typically receive classes. A school education does not last forever. At some point, you graduate and go out into the world, and apply the skills/knowledge that you have acquired throughout the years of education.
Now, we could come back to school later for other degrees, sure. But school is not endless. There is a period of time in our lives in which we go to school, and a period of time in which we do not. There is a reason for that: school is supposed to give us the necessary tools to be successful outside of it. School teaches us how to be autonomous, independent.
And sure, people can argue that we never stop learning; that we can always learn something new. And I would agree. I would also add that it was precisely school that gives us the tools to learn something new on our own without having to go back to school to learn it.
Much like the classes we take in school, dance classes are not endless. And likewise, the goal of dance classes should be aligned to the goal of any educational enterprise: to push the learner toward autonomy. In other words, dance classes should have as their goal—at least this is how I see it—to teach students the necessary skills to eventually go out into the “real world” and dance with people of all levels. Additionally, dance classes should give us the tools to learn something new on our own so without needing to “go back to school”—specially if that “new thing” happens to be a turn pattern.
So, to summarize, dance classes should:
- Teach you enough so that you can go out and dance socially on your own.
- Give you the necessary tools in order to later learn new material on your own.
(Any instructor who is not doing these things is probably trying to squeeze as much money from you as possible by selling you classes that you do not need—because at the end of the day, it is a business, and businesses need money to survive.)
So when should you stop paying for casino dancing lessons?
Based on what I mentioned above, you should stop paying for casino dance lessons when you become an autonomous casino dancer; that is, you can dance casino socially on your own, and you can learn new moves/concepts on your own.
All of this is too broad, however, and very important nuances can get lost in generalizations. So let’s explore the nuances.
Becoming an autonomous casino dancer requires three things, a Holy Trinity, if you will:
- Knowing the basic figures of casino
- Knowing how to combine the basic figures of casino
- Knowing how to lead and follow the basic figures of casino
You may have noticed that I kept referring to “the basic figures of casino.” Some of you may be wondering how in the world you can become an autonomous casino dancer by only knowing the basic figures of casino—specially when the curricula of most dance schools/classes are built on categories such as “Beginner,” “Intermediate,” and “Advanced.”
First, let’s acknowledge that these so-called “levels” are arbitrary. If you ask instructors why certain figures are in one level and not in another, most will give you a very general answer, such as, “They are harder to do.” Then you ask them what makes them “harder to do,” and most will not have a concrete answer (again, because this whole thing is arbitrary). What I have personally found is that most of these “harder” figures are not necessarily more complicated than other figures, but rather longer (i.e. the entire figures requires 7 eight-counts rather than 5). In my opinion, the nomenclature of “Beginner,” “Intermediate,” and “Advanced” is just another marketing strategy that instructors use to explain why they are taking your money to teach you—yet again—another turn pattern. Because actually…
- To dance casino, all you really need to learn is the basic figures of casino.
But what is a basic figure in casino?
A basic figure in casino refers to any figure that only takes 1 eight-count to perform. (By “eight-count” I mean you counting from 1 to 8 as you dance.)
Now, everybody has got a list of what constitutes a “basic figure”. Ask different people, and you’ll most likely get different lists, ranging from the number of basic figures on the list, to the different names the same basic figure can have. As such, I will not provide a list of basic figures here because I don’t want to send you looking for figures that you think you don’t know, only to find that you knew them all along, but it just so happened that I had used a different name for them. But I will give you two that I am sure you will recognize, just so that we are on the same page: Enchufla and Dile que no. Both of these figures only take 1 eight-count. (Enchufla in itself does not include a Dile que no. The figure Enchufla ends when you are about to do a Dile que no.)
The other reason that I will not provide a list of basic figures is because, well, you already have it!
Here, it’s really easy to make it. Think of every figure that you do when you dance casino. Now break it down into eight-counts. Whatever you get in each eight-count, that’s a basic figure.
Let me give you an example: Dedo = Vacila>Enchufla (from the right, pivot is optional)>Enchufla (from the right)> Dile que no
If you were to do this with all the figures that you know in casino, you will most likely get a lot of Vacilas, Enchuflas, and Dile que nos.
And right then and there you would have most of the basic figures of casino. In fact, if you analyze, by eight-count, most of the “Beginner,” “Intermediate,” and “Advances” figures that your instructors teach you, you will most likely notice that all they are doing is combining these basic figures in ways you had not thought of. This is where point 2 above comes in. I’ll reiterate it:
2. To be an autonomous dancer of casino, you have to know how to combine the basic figures of casino.
This is, essentially, what instructors do when they teach figures other than the basic ones. As you saw above, the figure called Dedo is nothing but a combination of basic figures such as Enchufla, Vacila, and Dile que no.
Most instructors sell their classes by coming up with combinations that you have not, using the same figures that they have taught you.
But a lot of them don’t tell you that. (Again, monetary reasons.) In fact, this is the part where you figure out whether the instructor(s) actually want to teach you to become autonomous (this is what I think instructors should be doing), or they are simply trying to take your money by withholding information so that you are forced to come again.
If your instructor wants you to become an autonomous casino dancer, they will be very clear about the fact that you are now beginning to combine basic figures to create something new, and that they are simply giving you ideas, but that you are expected to eventually be able to do this on your own, and to create your own combinations.
Instructors who just want to take your money will simply teach you a turn pattern.
Instructors should spark your creativity by encouraging you to create, not suppress it by telling you to follow what they do.
And if you are to going pay to learn someone’s turn patterns, why not do it for free on the Internet?
Which brings me to the final point on our trajectory toward casino dancing autonomy:
- You have to know how to lead and follow the basic figures of casino
You can know all the basic figures you want and come up with innovative ways of combining them. If you don’t know how to lead or follow these figures, however, then it is all for nothing. For instance, let’s say that you come up with this really cool turn pattern that no one has ever seen before. It’s all in your head, but you need to execute it. Well, if you don’t know how to lead the basic figures, no one will be able to follow the combinations you do, especially if they have never seen them before. Someone who knows how to lead the basic figures will lead well whatever combination they have come up with. Similarly, someone who knows how to follow well the basic figures will be able to follow any novel combination that their partner does.
This is where I think the role of the instructor is paramount, where the instructor can really shine.
In my opinion, the role of the instructor shouldn’t be that of teaching you new figures beyond the basic ones. It’s the age of technology. You can learn new combinations online. What instructors can do that no online video can is teach you how it feels to lead or follow a new combination, and check that you are giving the necessary cues to the follower (if you are a leader), or picking up on the cues from the leader (if you are a follower). I can think of a number of times where I have led properly a combination of basic turns, and received feedback more or less like this, “So that’s what that is supposed to feel like.” And then they add that they had tried to follow that combination before unsuccessfully because the leader, though he knew what the turn pattern was supposed to look like, didn’t know how to lead it.
Again, this is where the instructors come in; if your instructors are simply telling you to follow what they do without any talk about what it feels like to lead or follow what they do, you might as well learn from YouTube videos.
So that’s it. Once you 1) know your basic casino figures, 2) how to combine them (and you will never stop learning this), and 3) how to lead or follow, you are good to go.
Literally. Go. You don’t need to be in class anymore. You have gotten everything you needed from it, and you are more than ready to go out into a social setting and dance casino with anyone.
If you know these three things and you are still taking classes, you are paying for something that you could do for free online. You have the tools to do what you are doing in class on your own now.
Thank your instructor(s), save your money, and go out to dance—which is the whole point you took lessons in the first place.
But What About Rueda de Casino?
Before I finish the article, I want to talk about casino rueda classes. It may be that you are taking casino rueda (or rueda de casino) classes, and upon reading this, you are saying, “Well, I am an autonomous casino dancer, but if I stop attending my casino rueda classes, then I’ll miss out on the new moves!”
To which I would respond inquisitively:
Is your class actually a casino rueda class?
You see, a lot of casino classes are taught in the rueda formation, but the moves that are taught most of the time are actually 1-on-1 moves done in the rueda formation. What I mean by this is that these moves do not explicitly need the rueda to be done.
Take the following video as an example. In this video, they are teaching different turn pattern. Notice that, while they end by showing how it looks like in the rueda, the first half of the video only shows you one couple doing it. This means that this turn pattern is actually part of partner-work, rather than the rueda.
On the other hand, the following turn pattern cannot be done outside of the rueda. It’s specific to rueda. In fact, notice that there is no second half showing how to do it with just one couple, like in the first video:
All of that to say this: If your casino rueda classes look more like the first video—where the moves that are taught, albeit in the rueda formation, are actually moves between you and your partner only (the rueda, in this scenario, is just a way to arrange the class, nothing more), then you are not missing out on anything because all they are really teaching is 1-on-1 combinations—and you can learn those online for free.
If your casino rueda class is one where you actually learn to do rueda-speficic turn patterns such as the one in the second video, then ask yourself this:
Do you go out to dance socially with the people with whom you are taking the class?
If you do, great! Stay. Keep practicing and learning all the new moves, and when you go out with the group, show off what you have been learning and practicing.
But if you do not go out with the group to dance, then you are both wasting your time and money.
Here is the thing: most groups that actually focus on rueda-specific turn patterns (there aren’t many) have their own signature turn patterns. That means that what you learn with them is confined to them only. If you were to try to call these moves somewhere else, chances are no one is going to know them. Likewise, if you were to join another rueda, you probably won’t hear those calls. So you are paying money to learn moves that you will never do—because outside of that rueda no one does them—and in the process you are wasting your time by learning something that you’ll never use because you never go out with the people with whom you learn these turn patterns and who are, by extent, the only ones who know them.
Again, if you are an autonomous casino dancer (and you may just be realizing this), thank your instructor(s), save your money, and go out to dance.
Your wallet will thank you.