Against a Rueda-Centered Approach to Casino Dance Instruction
Some time ago, one of Son y Casino’s contributors, James Bucklew, wrote about the drawbacks of introducing people to the dance of casino through the rueda format in an article called “Should Ruedas Be Used to Introduce People to the Dance of Casino?”.
To summarize his main points, these drawbacks are:
- Because the caller calls the “1,” students do not learn how to find the 1 themselves
- Because the caller is calling the moves, everybody does the move, regardless of whether the move was correctly led. Therefore, no leading or following skills are practiced.
- The calls usually do not pay attention to any musicality (i.e. what’s happening in the song)
- The rueda imposes the idea of of “places that you need to be” by the end of a move, when this actually does not happen in partner dancing.
I strongly suggest you read that article. It’s really good. Well crafted and thought-out.
And I also happen to agree with what James said one hundred percent.
The question that arises, then, is: If the rueda format is not effective at introducing people to the dance of casino, if it does more harm than it does good to the beginner dancer, do we need to eliminate the rueda from class?
If it were my class, I would. But that is because I believe that the rueda should be relegated to those more advanced dancers who are, first and foremost, solid social dancers and understand the structure of the dance. I believe the rueda should come last in a casinero’s trajectory, not first, because a rueda—a well-executed rueda—is a complex thing that requires many factors to come together. I also believe that casino dancers who have moved past their basics will be able to pick up on their own the basic moves that people usually do in a rueda. So I would eliminate it from class, but not entirely do away with it. In fact, I would use it for performances and social outings with the people who have committed to take the rueda to the next level, outside of class. I have extensively written about this approach here.
Most people don’t share this view, however. Some people cannot conceive of a casino class without a rueda. And that’s fine.
I also have an answer for them.
First, let’s consider what we actually do when we get into a rueda socially. Most of the time, if you are dancing in a rueda with people that you do not know—and this is what is going to happen most of the time you get into a rueda at a social or dance congress—the calls are going to be very basic. You will get calls like Dame, Adiós, Dedo, Un Fly, Enchufla, Dame Dos, Arriba, El Tarro.
You get the idea.
These are not hard calls. In fact, most people who have some working knowledge of casino and can more-or-less successfully dance it socially, can get into a rueda and do these calls just fine.
If you take a moment to think about it, barring performances, ruedas serve the purposes of socializing with friends and other people; they may even get people interested in casino by watching the rueda or even participating in it.
Which means that ruedas are not really the place to showcase how much casino we know. We do that during partner dancing, when we dance with someone else.
So why are we putting so much emphasis on the rueda during class?
Put differently, if we typically use the rueda for—let’s call it—“easy stuff” because that is what you will typically end up doing when you join a rueda, why are we using it in class to learn more complicated turn patterns that will never be used in a rueda?
In fact, when you go out to dance casino, how much of that time do you actually spend it dancing in the rueda format? I bet you it doesn’t even come close to 50 percent.
So, again, why the emphasis on the rueda during casino classes?
It makes no sense.
It’s like a teacher making you learn to use a scientific calculator to solve complex mathematical equations, only to tell you later, “When you use the calculator, all you’ll pretty much end up doing is add and subtract, divide and multiply. The basic stuff. You really won’t be doing this outside of this class.”
You’re using the rueda to learn all of these complex turn patterns that later you are 99.9% likely to not do again in that format dancing socially.
That’s why I think the role of the rueda in a casino class—and its ubiquity— should be revised.
Not only does this rueda-oriented approach to learning casino come with all the shortcoming summarized above; let’s face it, if we get into a social rueda and we are not doing the things we learned in class in the rueda, it’s also pretty useless.
This is looking pretty grim for ruedas. So, with all of this said, could there be a space for ruedas to exist in the classes?
Well, if we accept that
- beginners shouldn’t begin learning casino in the rueda format; and
- social ruedas are essentially full of basic calls
then we can create a space for the rueda to exist so that it doesn’t affect beginners… while still acknowledging that people will eventually will want to learn how to do a basic social rueda.
This is my suggestion (and James’, too): dancing in a rueda should be taught, if at all, after the student has moved beyond the beginner level.
This way, the student is already acquainted with casino as a partner dance; they can dance on their own because they understand a little bit of the structure of the dance; they can keep up with a song’s beat (not necessarily how to “find the 1”) as they dance; they know how to lead and follow. These are things that you need in order to join a rueda.
Once the students have a good grasp of these things, they can be taught the basics of the rueda. Teachers would essentially teach them the calls that they are more likely to hear. Then connect them to what the students have learned already; explain the adjustments that need to be made because of the new format (i.e. in Enchufla you would switch partners instead of staying with the same person). After that—and this shouldn’t take more than one class—the student moves on to Intermediate Level and continues honing their partner-dancing skills, not in a rueda format. They already know all that there is to know about how to socially dance in a rueda.
And that’s it!
It’s a win-win situation: first, the students learn how to dance casino socially with a partner, which is what they are going to be doing most of the time, anyway. And later they learn the basic calls of the rueda that is usually called.
Of course, ruedas are perhaps what initially draw most people to casino. Their appeal is unquestionable. It is also the preferred form of doing a casino performance. So let’s not pretend that students would see a rueda and not want to do that. They are going to come up to their teachers and ask why they are not learning that. So it’s the teacher’s job to set the right expectations so that the students learn to dance socially first and then join a rueda.
To employ an overused analogy: “Before you run, you have to learn to walk.”
The other thing is, some people may be resistant to this idea because they rely on the rueda so much. In a lot of cases, the rueda is simply the format in which you teach. You can make rows. Look at salsa classes. That’s what they do. And tons of people show up and learn just the same—without being in a circle.
Folks, if you really want to improve your casino dancing, emphasizing the rueda is only going to hold you back.
Consider this: Maria dances back-to-back songs with five different people who have different ways of leading, doing different turns, and feeling the music. Then Maria goes and joins five ruedas back-to-back; they do the same calls every single time—because that’s what happens in social ruedas.
Which scenario helped Maria become a better casino dancer?