Son y Casino

A blog for reflecting on son music and the dance of casino.

What’s Been Written So Far

Here is a list of all the pieces–with a short description for each one–which, up until now, have been published on this blog. They are ordered alphabetically. Click on any one to be taken to its page.

A Clarification About the Dance of Son: The Beat on Which We Dance Doesn’t Make It Son; Its Structure Does

The post stems from my experience teaching the dance of son at different places and the questions that people have asked me during these lessons, and the overall (mis)conceptions that I perceive as existing when it comes to son dancing.

Against Clave: Why This Instrument May Not Be the Best One in Helping You Keep the Beat

Description: Many instructors use the clave as the instrument that every one learning casino or salsa should know, and they are not wrong. You should. But at the beginning levels, learning how this instrument works may not be of much use when helping you keep a beat, especially when in the majority of songs nowadays you cannot hear the clave pattern. Introducing, the conga.

An Interview with Jorge Luna Roque, Director of the All Stars from Santiago de Cuba

If you’d those who would like to know more the All Stars from Santiago de Cuba, this is your chance. In this interview, Jorge Luna talks about the mission of the group, how the group itself got started, and how he sees the state of casino both inside and outside of the island.

Are Artists Destroying Casino as a Social Dance?

Many professional dancers have turned into teachers of casino outside of Cuba. In doing so, they bring their artistic background and practices to a social dance that, unlike chachachá or mambo, in Cuba has very much remained with the people and not so much with artists. So what happens when art meets casino? Well, the effects could be quite disastrous for this social dance. Read more to find out why.

Choosing Songs for Ruedas: Which Are “Good” and “Bad” Songs?

Is there such thing as a ¨bad” or “good” song for dancing rueda de casino? Many people seem to think so. Otherwise, you’d hear music from different countries—not just from Cuba—at Cuban dance events. The logic here being that “good” songs for doing ruedas are Cuban ones, while international songs are inherently “bad” for this. This post argues that even when a song is Cuban, it does not necessarily mean it will be good for a rueda if we are dancing it a certain way. Read more to find out why!

Clave: 3-2 or 2-3? Understanding the Difference and Its Applications

Description: Many have heard about this difference of clave (some people actually say this difference does not exist). This piece attempts to throw some light into this topic.

Cuban Son Through the 20th Century: A Playlist

Description: An outstanding list of how the Cuban popular dance music genre of son has evolved through the last century. Compiled by Son y Casino contributor, Jarryd Randolph. Take a listen.

Dissipating Misconceptions: Is Casino a “Style” of Salsa Dancing?

Description: You’ve heard of Cuban salsa, salsa cubana, salsa casino, casino salsa, casino style salsa, Cuban style salsa. But is the dance of casino really a “style” of salsa dancing, or is it a marketing strategy designed to get you interested by appealing to you with terms with which you are already familiar (e.g. “salsa”)?. Read to find out.

Don’t Be a Dance Class Parasite!

Dance classes exist because people want to learn, to receive instruction, to be taught, to advance together. If you sign up for dance classes, you are entering into an agreement with the teacher and other students in which you commit to learning. But if your prime reason for attending dance classes is another, you might just be a “dance class parasite”! In this (at times humorous) essay/rant, first-time contributor, Richard Lindsay, discusses the repercussions of those who attend dance classes for the wrong reasons.

Forget Complicated Turn Patterns. Let’s Get at What Will Really Make You a Good Casino Dancer

Description: Should being able to execute complicated turn patterns be the only mark of a good casino dancer? Many people think so. In fact, the syllabi of many academies and groups all around the globe are built on this premise. It’s time to reassess what being a good casinero/a means.

How to Improve Your Casino Dancing Experience: Overcoming Turnpatternitis

Description: When it comes to dancing, for most people it all seems to be about how many different turn patterns they can do and learn. Little do they know that some turn patterns really do not fit within certain sections of a song. This piece attempts to explain why this is.

International Dance Festivals in Cuba: They Are for Everybody…Except Cubans

International dance festivals in Cuba: they are everything you ever asked for in a festival, and then some more–except if you asked for a lot of Cubans to dance with at the festival. Then no. You can’t have that. Here’s why.

Is It Possible to Market Casino as Anything Other Than “Salsa”?

Most people are 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,” can we even get away from using this label?

Is Salsa Really a Latin Dance?

Description: You’d think the answer to that question would be obvious. But it’s a bit more complicated than that. Read to find out why!

Musicality: How to Tell When (Some) Songs Are About to End

Description: Every find yourself in the middle of a turn pattern when the song ends? I used to. A lot. And then I learned about what to listen to in the music in order to figure out when a song is about to end. Problem solved.

Musicality: Let the Mambo Section Guide When You Do Your “Paseos”

Not to be confused with the music genre of mambo originally created by Cuban musician, Perez Prado, the “mambo” talked about here refers to a section of the songs in which wind and brass instruments take center stage. In yet another installment of musicality-oriented posts that this blog is so known for, this article helps us keep exploring the inner workings of the son montuno so that we can use this knowledge of the music to transform the way we dance casino.

Musicality: Tornillos, and When to Do Them

Description: Tornillos. They are hard to do, but really cool-looking, and a very rewarding feeling of accomplishment usally follows when you do them. But they also have to be done in the right place during the song. Read to find out more.

Musicality: When Son and Chachachá Come Together; or “The Basics of Son Montuno Dancing”

Developed by Arsenio Rodriguez in the 1940s, the music of son montuno is the backbone of what we understand today as “salsa” or “timba.” With an accompanying dance which is almost lost to the Cuban people, in this piece, I explain what a son montuno is, how it is structured, and how to dance it, at the very basic level.

Musicality: When to Incorporate Rumba Guaguancó During a Casino Dance

People mix casino and rumba guaguancó indiscriminately nowadays. There’s nothing wrong with mixing dances, but at least let’s do it when the song calls for it.

On “MCC” and the Dance of Casino: A Perspective 

What is the Método del Cuadro del Casino (MCC), or Casino’s Square Method (in English). By taking a look at the Cuban dance scene before and after MCC became available to the public, this post seeks to shed some light into the appeal this method might have on some people. This is not a “review” of the method.

On Rueda de Casino: When Did It Become Just “Rueda,” Anyway? 

Description: Is rueda a dance? Many people seem to–erroneously–think so. In this piece I attempt to rectify this common misconception about rueda de casino.

On Rueda de Casino (II): How We Percieve the Rueda Outside of Cuba vs. How It Is actually Percieved in Cuba

Description: If you have ever been to the island, you probably noticed that rueda de casino is danced outside of Cuba very differently than it is in the island. This piece attempts to explain why.

On Styling for Women in Casino

Are you having trouble trying to style when dancing casino? Given that most of the time your hands are being “held hostage” by the leader when doing turn patterns, finding the right time to do some styling might actually turn out to be pretty difficult. But it shouldn’t be. All you have to do is apply casino concepts to your styling. Read more to find out.

On the Discrepancy Between DJs and Dance Workshops at Cuban Dance Events in the U.S. (and Probably in Europe)

Description: There is a pattern which keeps happening at Cuban dance events in the U.S.: workshops are offered on a variety of styles (e.g. casino, rumba, chachachá, son), yet during the social dancing at night, the music that gets played does not quite happen to be in synch with the music from the workshops. This article is an attempt at trying to suggest ways in which this situation could be improved.

On the Importance of Song Choice for Beginner Dancers During Lessons 

Description: Figuring out what songs to play during lessons is as important as figuring out what turn patterns are more adequate for different levels of dancers. Here are some reasons why.

On the Need for Afro-Cuban Dance Instruction to be More Specific and Less Panoramic

Do you want to learn an Afro-Cuban dance like guaguancó? Well, given that many Afro-Cuban dances are being taught as add-ons to casino, chances are you will only be able to scratch the surface of any one dance. This post invites you to reflect on why we should take another look at the way these classes are being taught, and the content you’re receiving.

Overcoming Rueda Disillusionment: How Do We Get Ruedas to Be Fun Again?

When was the last time you joined a rueda and did NOT hear the following calls: sombrero, sententa, dedo, dame, dame dos, dame dos con dos, Coca-Cola, Kentucky, montaña, por arriba, enchufa doble, un tarro, adios, vacila, un fly, suénala? These calls can get repetitive and ultimately boring. Here’s how to fix that.

Q&A with Eric Johnson and Sarita Streng, Co-Directors of the Documentary “La Salsa Cubana”

A dance group from the outskirts of Havana strives to win the Cuban national dance competition. It is a story and event that engrosses the country. The group comes from the Guanabacoa neighborhood and their passion is casino. Along with the group’s journey, we hear about the fabulous Cuban music, delve into the dancers’ personal lives, and find out how casino started, as recalled by the old school dancers who were there at the time. This is an authentic and rare view of Cuba today and the dancing that lifts the national spirit.

Salsa Music: Toward a Definition (with a Little Help from Musicians)

Description: Salsa has forever remained an elusive term, sparking countless debates over a “right” defition. Everybody has their own version of what it is, from musicologists to musicians, from music aficionados to dancers, to any person who has ever listened to the music. This post, rather than being another attempt at defining salsa, explores the many (contradicting) definitions which some of the most renowned musicians–including Juan Formell, Johnny Pacheco, Tito Puente, Papo Lucca–have given to the term.

Salsa or Timba? The Case for Son

Description: Are salsa and timba really that different? If so, why can we dance casino, or salsa, to both? The argument that I try to make here, by using the help of ethnomusicologists taking a closer look at the music that has been produced since the 1930s, is that son music might just be the missing piece in this puzzle.

Should Ruedas be Used to Introduce People to the Dance of Casino?

Description: This thought-provoking piece invites us to think about (and question) the primacy of the rueda as a way to get beginner dancers to get familiarized with the dance of casino by examining some of the problems that might arise for partner dancing, given the current parameters used to dance inside a rueda.

Something to Consider When Taking a Workshop on a Dance You Don’t Know at a Cuban Dance Event

What is the point of taking a workshop about a dance that you’re not going to be able to practice later, outside of the workshop? Let’s examine the workshop structure of Cuban dance events that is typically offered today and what it means for you, the attendee.

Stop Asking Salsa DJs to Play Timba. Start Asking Them to Play This, Instead

Description: Casino dancers often complain that “timba” music, which they have come to associate with casino dancing, does not get played at salsa dancing events. Stories abound of casino dancers asking salsa DJs–successfully or not–to play timba. But what about the other Cuban music that we are not asking DJs to play? This piece invites you to ponder a bit more deeply on this.

Ten Things You Can Do to Get the Best Out of a Casino Workshop During a Cuban Dance Congress

Description: A (I think good) list of what to do and what not to do in order to get the best bang for your buck during workshops.

The Afro-Cuban Turn of the Dance of Casino

Description: The dance of casino did not develop from the Afro-Cuban dance tradition. Yet, at many Cuban dance events you will find workshops which seek to combine casino with Afro-Cuban dancing. This piece explores why.

The Dance of Casino: A Brief History and Definition

Description: Just in case you want to know, very briefly, how casino was developed, its precursors, and where the name of the dance comes from.

The Fallacy of Learning to Dance Casino the “Cuban Way”

Aren’t there many ways of speaking English? Why should there by only one “Cuban way” of dancing casino?

The Fate of Cuban Songs at Salsa Events: “Play the (Non-Cuban) Cover, Forget the (Cuban) Original”

Desciption: A list consisting of more than four hundreds Cuban songs, most of them belonging to the genre of son, and their international (non-Cuban) covers, many of which are staples at salsa congresses and socials. Next time someone asks you why they should play Cuban music, show them this list.

The One Error Many Casino Instructors Are Probably Making When They Teach

Casino classes generally follow this format: The instructors spend most of the class going over a new turn pattern. At the end, music plays, you all get with a partner, and the instructor calls out the move so that everybody does it at the same time. But should this be the way? By factoring in some aspects of human behavior and cognition, this post invites you to question this practice while at the same time suggesting ways to provide better lessons.

The Problem with Most People Who Try to Prove Salsa is Cuban Music

What is the point of starting this discussion about salsa and Cuban music? Most people in the Cuban dance community are not willing to dance to anything other than “timba” (or the occasional traditional son, but that’s mostly for performances).That’s a problem. A big one. At least I see it as one.

This is Also Cuban Music!: Ten Songs that Will Make You Question What You Know About Cuba and Its Music

Description: There is not a lot of writing on this one, but there is a lot of listening. The current story on Cuban music is a dichotomous one. On the one hand, there is timba; on the other, there is Buena Vista Social Club. Take a listen and be amazed by these songs which do not fall so clearly into this reductive binary. What’s more: try dancing to these songs!

To Step Forward, or to Step Back in Casino Dancing: Attempting to Shed Some Light Into this Dilemma

Description: This topic is a very highly-debated one among many dancers of casino. In this piece, I attempt to make a case as to why you should try to step forward more when dancing casino.

“Unleadable” and “Unfollowable” Turn Patterns: Advice for When You Attend a Casino Workshop

Description: Not all turn patterns that you are taught at workshops can actually be replicated on the dance floor. However, it is not because they are hard to replicate. Rather, it is because, literally, there is no way any dancer could lead–or follow–the turn pattern. This piece offers suggestions as to how to spot–so that you can save your time and money–and avoid these types of workshops that are not really that beneficial to you, the social dancer.

What Does the Dance of Casino Look Like? Stage vs. Social Dancing

Description: Contrary to the popular belief of many dance aficionados who just like to be entertained by the sight of dancing, what happens on a dance show like “Dancing with the Stars” is very far from what actually happens on the social dance floor. This is my attempt to de-exotizice the dance of casino and ground it a bit more in the reality of the social dancer.

What I’ve Learned About Casino Communities from Living in Both the U.S. and Europe

What makes a casino community? Contributor Slava Pashchenko explores the different aspects of community building that he has experienced while living in both the U.S. and Europe.

What is the Difference Between Son and On2 Salsa Timing?

The dances of son and salsa on 2 are different. No one is contesting that. But is there a difference between the timing of the steps of on 2 salsa dancers and son dancers? After all, they are both danced on the 2. Read more to find out.

Why Are We not Dancing Chachachá? Here’s an Attempt to Change That

Chachachá in Cuba had its moment of glory, its “fever period,” if you will. It was the 50s. After that, it slowly died down. And with it, the social aspect of the dance, too. Here is an attempt to revive this dance, with a guide in the form of a personal journey, as to how you can go about learning it.

Why Calling Casino “Salsa” Makes It Harder to Get Better at It

If, for you, the dance of casino falls under the category of “salsa,” chances are you probably are missing out on a lot of technique, concepts and dance principles without which you will probably never get to an advanced level in the dance. I blame the market, and here is how to change it.

Why Casino Dancers Should Stop Trying to Make Salsa Dancers Dance Casino with Them

Description: Ever felt frustrated because you could not make a salsa dancer quite follow or lead you when you try dancing casino with them? Well, there is a reason for that, and it is not you. (Spoiler alert: it is the dance.)

Why Cubans Calling Casino “Salsa” Is Not a Good Reason for You to Do It, Too

Why should others do what Cubans themselves do not do? What’s the point of “staying true” to the name of casino when the Cubans themselves do not? And if Cubans themselves call casino “salsa,” isn’t calling casino “salsa,” just like Cubans do, showing respect for the culture? These are the questions I always get. And this is why these are the wrong questions to ask.

Why Every Casino Dancer Should Learn to Dance Son, Too

Son dancing. Enough said.

Why I Don’t Incorporate the Orishas Into my Casino Dancing

Description: It has become the norm, lately, to start incorporating rumba and Orisha dancing into casino. In this piece I explain why I refuse to jump into this bandwagon.

Why I Use Music by Non-Cuban Musicians During my Casino Lessons (and Why You Should, Too)

Description: Not all Cuban popular dance music is timba. A lot of good dance music was made before the 90s. And a lot of it sounded like “salsa”–or rather, salsa sounded a lot like older Cuban music. The argument here is playing only Cuban musicians at workshops reinforces the divide that’s been created between Cuba and the rest of Latin America. By playing non-Cuban musicians alongside Cuban one, we can see that the music, before timba, is actually not that different.

Why Is There an Argument About Stepping Back or Stepping Forward in Casino?

Back step, forward step. Why do people get so worked up about this? This post examines why some people are predominantly stepping back when they dance casino while others are arguing that the opposite—stepping forward predominantly—should be the norm. This post is not intended as a way of making a case for one way or the other, but rather it seeks to explain WHY this is even an argument that people are having.

Why the “Club Setting” Might not Be the Best Place to Practice Your Dance Moves (Especially if You’re a Beginner)

Description: Most of us go to a club to practice what we learned during lessons, but is this really the best place to do so? Here are some reasons as to why it may not be so.

Why You Will Never Dance Like a Cuban, and Why That is Completely Okay

It isn’t about getting people to dance “like a Cuban” when they dance. It’s about getting people to dance a Cuban dance like themselves themselves, and them being okay with that.

Will Traveling to Cuba Actually Help Your Casino Dancing?

Is traveling to Cuba really that beneficial to a person who wants to improve their casino dancing skills? Well, it turns out it has everything to do with what the person does on that trip. Read further to find out what you need to do to really make the best out of your dance trip to Cuba.

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