Back in the summer of 1997, I received an article in the mail from Ted
Weisgal. Ted is
the owner of Leisure Learning Unlimited, the adult education program with which SSQQ has
been affiliated for nearly 20 years. Teds article was a New York Times excerpt
covering a dance phenomenon known as "Salsa Rueda", also known as "Casino
Rueda". The word "Rueda" is Spanish for "Circle".
Salsa is an extremely sexy, flowing dance used to Latin Salsa music. Unlike Swing
dances that change rhythms from 6 to 8 beats all the time, Salsa sticks to a standard
"Quick Quick Slow". The dance is fast, so rhythm variations would be difficult
for the lady to pick up in time to follow. As a result, Salsa is a dance where you can
reliably get that "QQS" cadence rolling in your head like a dance mantra and
stick to it.
Unlike Western dancing which travels, Salsa stays put in one spot on the floor. I might
add some floors get so crowded, you barely have room to dance, much less move, but
fortunately Salsa is very "space-economical". Even on crowded floors most
couples can work in quite a few patterns. These four factors : standardized rhythm,
flowing nature, space economy, and stick-to-one-spot, all combine to make it easy to flow
from one partner to another. What certainly started as two couples swapping partners in
the middle of the floor eventually grew to three couples, four, and five until gradually
enormous circles with as many as 100 people began to form. This style of dancing was named
"Rueda", "Salsa Rueda", and "Casino Rueda".
Now lets be adults here. I am about to say a word that may offend some of you,
but I want you to be mature about it. Okay, here goes : Square Dancing. There, I said it.
Of all the dances I have learned over my career, in many ways Rueda is very similar to
Square Dancing. For one thing, you have a Caller, someone who signals the next move. For
another thing, you have an equal number of men and women who perform a complex interweave
of patterns. Finally you have to be an experienced dancer to make a Rueda work just like
in Square Dancing. A beginner cant just get out there and make it work. You have to
bring a high level of skill to the party. Rueda is different from Square Dancing in that
it is done in a "Circle" as opposed to "Squares". Hence the name.
The NY Times article said the two major spots on the Planet where Rueda was popular
were Miami and Los Angeles. No mention was made of Houston. My curiosity aroused by the
Times article, I did some research. I found a series of Rueda videos advertised in a
national dance magazine, so Judy and I ordered the tapes. The lady who made the tapes was
from Miami. Her name was Luz Pinto. Shortly after reading the advertisement I corresponded
with her and received the tapes. Then a month later she called from Miami to say by
coincidence she would be in Houston soon to visit her aunt. We set up a workshop with Luz
involving the SSQQ Staff in the fall of 1997.
Frankly speaking, I thought Rueda was great. It was quick, it was sexy, it was
challenging, and I liked the music. Just as people enjoy the John-Paul-Jones circles at
SSQQ where people switch partners constantly, Rueda was partner switching at its ultimate.
I fell in love with the dance.
Unfortunately, SSQQ was more than "a little" ahead of its time. Maybe two
years ! We offered a Rueda Crash Course in February, 1998. Despite a
widely-distributed writeup, no one showed up for the Crash Course. Disappointed, we
offered a four-week class. Only four or five people showed up. Then we made Rueda part of
the Intermediate Salsa class. The students resisted it, so we dropped it. I offered the
Crash Course again in August of 1998, the same month as the Salsa movie "Dance With
Me" came out. Still no luck. Then Judy took a stab at organizing her Latin staff to
learn the Rueda. The spirit was there, but the dance still didnt click. Frustrated,
Judy threw in the towel. It wasnt like we hadnt tried !
Lately however our Salsa classes at SSQQ have grown to "Swing" proportions,
"Swing" being a synonym for monster classes. Although our Salsa classes have
grown steadily in attendance for the past three years, recently Salsa dancing has grown to
a level of popularity Houston has never seen before. Triggered in part by Ricky
Martins hit song, "Mi Vida Loca", Salsa dancing has literally exploded. It
doesnt hurt that Salsa dancing is really a lot of fun ! Quick footwork, sexy
hip motion, hot music, and clever patterns make Salsa an exciting dance. There is
something to be said for any dance that has hot, beautiful women moving their bodies and
shaking their hips to pulsating music in a man's arms ! Now this is a lot of fun as
far as I am concerned ! And judging from the smiles on the ladies' faces, they are
clearly getting something good out of this too !
I figured with this much interest in Salsa, maybe we could finally get an SSQQ Rueda
started. Despite feeling a little like Charlie Brown getting ready to have the football
pulled away at the last instant for the millionth time, I scheduled another Salsa Rueda
Crash Course for our August Latin party. This time, however, I had a new weapon : Email !
I asked anyone interested in learning the Rueda to email me first. I needed two
essential things : a group of talented Salsa Dancers and an equal number of men and women.
In other words, I needed a core group to get things started.
My first break came when Rodrigo Aranda emailed me to say he was interested. He knew a
group of Salsa dancers. He quickly got his friend Albert Navarro interested. Albert and
Rodrigo both said they would "talk it up" among their friends. Next a lady named
Shammi Venkatachalam emailed to say she had a group. Lupe Tamayo also said she was
interested in coming. However no one bothered to tell me they all knew each other. All I
knew Saturday was a bunch of people said they were interested in coming. So bravely I sat
there on Saturday, August 14, at 7 pm to see what developed. I still was not sure what was
going to happen. Nor was I sure I knew enough to pull it off even if they did come.
Slowly but surely some people began to show up. First came Rodrigo. Then came Albert.
Then came Samantha Sharp. Then Tina Parker appeared. Then four men in a row showed up :
Larry Cordosa, Chuck Kastner, Tarkan Bozkurt, and Larry K.
Now we had seven men and two ladies. Oh Great. I was pretty skeptical that the numbers
were going to balance out, but Rodrigo kept assuring me more ladies were coming.
"Trust me !", he said. So I did. As if I had a wide range of options. Then came
Aliene Rickard followed by a dry spell of 10 minutes. It was nearly 7 pm. In the meantime
I had about a dozen people ask to join the group, most of whom were in Beginner Salsa or
had never taken Salsa. I did not enjoy turning them away, but I knew the dancers had to be
very experienced or we were doomed. A lady named Jeri Wilson showed up next. She asked to
join. With seven men and three ladies at this point I was pretty happy to have her, so I
said, "Yes, please join us." Then suddenly three more ladies magically appeared.
Shammi Venkatachalam and Nancy Bruenig came together with Lupe Tamayo right behind. Now we
had seven men and seven women. Game Time ! Lets start !
Now for our next problem. I was the Leader, yet my sum total of Rueda experience was
limited to a 2 hour workshop two years ago. As I confessed this horrible truth, I could
see 13 pairs of eyes roll in perfect harmony. Thats when I knew this group had the
ability to work as a Team !
We watched a brief Rueda clip on TV. This gave everyone a rough idea what the Rueda was
supposed to look like. I saw a couple smiles, always a good sign. So we learned our first
pattern, "Exito". We added "Rueda". Then we added "Adios".
Then we put them all together. Disaster ! Once two women literally crashed into each
other, almost knocking themselves down. Many times two women would end up with one guy and
two guys would end up with each other. Judging by their frowns, these guys didn't appear
open minded about the experience either. Tina Parker, bless her heart, had slippery shoes
on. During one mixup she lost her balance and went flying on her backside across the floor
! She got up, shook it off, and got right back in the circle. Several ladies got
stepped on. No one had warned them Rueda could be this Dangerous !
Further slowing down the process was my inexperience. I explained that although I knew
several patterns, I was unable to choreograph how the moves connected in advance since I
was never able to find enough people who knew what they were doing to practice ahead of
time. To the groups credit, they nodded and extended me a little more time than the
average instructor deserved. That tacit vote of confidence helped me greatly.
We were clearly not "In Sync" yet. Complicating matters even further, about
10 minutes after we started, an eighth lady named Willa Wou showed up to join us. Willa
was quickly identified by the others as an original member of the group. I decided to try
alternating the ladies. One lady would step out for a while and let the extra lady join
in. I was secretly hoping another man would show up. No such luck.
In the meantime, having the ladies alternate was very confusing. We barely knew what we
were doing and each time we brought in another lady, we got even more confused. Our worst
mistakes occurred during this "Alternating Ladies" period. After fifteen
minutes, I made a decision that I wasnt very happy about. I asked Jeri to step aside
for the good of the group.
Bless her, Jeri was a good sport about it. Jeri sat and watched for a while, then
eventually left at the break. My heart ached for her, but as far as the making the Circle
work it was the right decision. Once we had an established rotation, our patterns got
sharper. Slowly but surely we got our calls down and our moves synchronized. It was
starting to work. We danced to a Gloria Estefan song called "Ayer". It worked !
Sort of. First we could do the pattern right three times in a row before someone messed up
(usually me). Then we could do it six times in a row before another mixup. Nevertheless we
were clearly getting somewhere !
After the break, we added two more patterns, "Amigo" and "Dame".
Although I had four more patterns in my bag, with 20 minutes left, I thought the best
thing to do was simply work on coordination. Five patterns done well is far better than
six or seven done sloppy. So we practiced. And practiced. And practiced again. This was
starting to be fun ! In rapid-fire succession, seven beautiful, graceful women moved
quickly into my arms, danced for the briefest of moments, then spun sharply to their next
partner. Although we never said anything, there was always time for one smile and one
chance at eye contact, then she was gone to her next partner. The music was terrific, the
timing was excellent, and the Rueda snapped into sharp focus. After two years of trying, I
finally managed to get an SSQQ Rueda off the ground. And now we were flying ! And
let me tell you, it was a lot of fun !
Two hours later at the Latin Party, 10 of the original group decided the floor was
clear enough to try again. I do not know who the new leader was, but as I walked through
the room a big smile crossed my face as I watched the 10 dancers expertly perform the
Rueda. I cant begin to express just how proud I was of the group !
Thank you again to Rodrigo and Albert for organizing the group, to all the Rueda
pioneers for their hard work and their patience with me, and especially to Jeri Wilson for
making a big sacrifice that finally enabled us to get the dance off the ground.
This article on Salsa Rueda does an excellent job of describing the dance. I thought SSQQ
readers might be interested in learning more about the background of Rueda. I do not have
the original web address as it was sent to me via email, but the lady who wrote the
article listed her email address.
|Dancing Salsa in
Miami... The Fascination and the Challenges...
By Edie, The Salsa FREAK August, 1999
Raul and I gave a free "mini-workshop" at Club Mystique in Miami Florida.
Over 200 people showed up to see our strange and different, "L.A. Hollywood
Style" Salsa they've been hearing so much about recently. With only one weeks
notice, we were shocked that so many curious Miami Salseros actually showed up! Thanks to
Luis and his group of Miami mavericks who put this whole thing together, we were able to
hold a special "free" workshop to those interested in trying different steps and
a style that theyre not at all accustomed to. Special thanks as well to Jacira
Castro, Miami's World Correspondent for Salsaweb Magazine, for working hard at getting
names and emails at the door for future events and workshops like this one.
Luis told us that during the workshop, he recognized top instructors and dancers from
virtually every dance school in Miami. Most of them were... "curious" to see
what the whole ordeal was. Luis went on to say that it's not normal for Salseros from out
of town to come into Miami and do workshops - in fact, he's never seen it happen before.
Miami has their own way of dancing Salsa. It is different from anywhere in the world.
The only thing that comes close is Cuban style, but even native Cubans move and dance
differently than Miami - trained Salseros.
Miami Salseros are very heavy into Casino Rueda, which is what the majority of the
Salsa schools teach. Casino Rueda is partner dancing with a group of Salseros in a circle.
The men trade off the women during the dance, while a designated Caller (man or woman)
yells out each consecutive move. It is fun to do, and fascinating to watch. The calls are
names of moves that can range from a single count of four, to several measures of the
music (Side Note for the Analytics: A four-count is half a measure of music, and an
eight-count is a full measure of music). The Caller is usually wearing a microphone, but
often times must yell out or hand signal each move. The dancers must never look their
partners in the eyes. They are trained to watch and listen carefully to the Caller, and in
louder clubs, the Callers hand signals. There are hundreds of turn patterns.
Each school in Miami teaches the basics, then develops their own calls as the students
advance. If youre not trained at a dance school or group class given by a dance
school, youre left in the dust to watch. At virtually every club in town, a Casino
Rueda starts off the evening. The circles get so huge, that they form circles within the
circles. Having over 100 people in a typical Rueda is very normal for Miami. It's their
tradition. It's what they're good at. The Rueda formations in Miami are some of the most
complex I've ever seen. The speed is incredible. When performing, nothing is
choreographed. I took note at the International Salsaweb Convention last May, that even
during the performance, each move was called out by the caller. Nothing was rehearsed. It
is amazing to watch that many people in sync with each other. Dancing Rueda in Miami is a
blast! It's fun to watch, but twice as fun actually doing it.
Learning to Call is an art in itself. Indira, an instructor from the Salsa Lovers Dance
Studios showed me the hand calls. Its like learning how to speak with your hands to
a deaf person! It was fascinating watching her lead a group of fifty or more people simply
by watching her hand signals. Miami is the Mecca of Casino Rueda. People from all over the
world come here to learn the standard calls. Salsa Lovers Dance Studios and Dance Dreams
have excellent videos ranging from beginning to advanced on most of the Internationally
Standard calls taught at each school in Miami. Throughout my travels, Ive noticed
that in different parts of the world, every city varies in its Rueda calls, but the basics
are pretty much the same. What is frustrating (especially for the man) is trying to
participate in a Rueda in a different city or country, and not understanding the calls or
knowing the moves. Salsa Lovers Dance Studios alone has trained over 18,000 Salseros on
the Universal standards. Their excellent video series is available at http://www.salsaweb.com/ruedavideo/
If youre from a different country, we highly recommend learning and
mastering the Internationally Standard Rueda calls so you can understand and participate
in virtually any basic to intermediate Rueda you are a part of. This is the only way we
can unite and dance Rueda with each other to the same language so-to-speak.
There are Italian Ruedas, German Ruedas, and even New York Ruedas. Each one is
beautiful, but the down side is that each country has its own language which
isolates groups only to their indigenous regions. Having your own isolated Rueda Calling
language is sad and very limiting during World events like the International Salsaweb
Convention and Congresses. Your group ends up only dancing with each other. Outsiders
dont know your Calls and therefore dont feel welcome to join your Rueda
circle. Likewise, you cant really invite outsiders into your own circle
group may as well have stayed home.
Learn the International Standards which are in Spanish, the Universal language of