Every now and then, I receive a message or comment online asking me about the name of a move I am doing. People want to know, I reckon, so that they can look up the move by name and hopefully find a video that breaks it down, so that they can learn it. I am always always baffled when people ask me about the names of the moves I do because, when I dance, I don’t necessarily think of the names of the turn patterns that I am doing but rather a) how a certain basic move connects to another basic move; and b) because I do not have a name for the patterns that come up as a result of connecting basic moves. I do not have a name for the patterns because I am making them up on the spot–and if somehow someone did come up with the same pattern at some point in the past, gave it a name, and recorded it for instructional purposes, well, good for them. I still wouldn’t know the name, neither would I care for it.
So today I want to talk about where this mentality of needing to know the names of the move to learn a move comes from, and why I, to a certain extent, do not subscribe to it–and neither should you. By the end end of the post, it is my hope that you join me in my way of thinking. Because, quite, honestly, it is liberating.
But more importantly, it will allow you to become an autonomous casino dancer, someone who not only does not need to know the name of a pattern to be able to emulate it, but also someone who can create their own patterns, based on their understanding of the structure of casino. (For a more extensive explanation about the importance of becoming an autonomous casino dancer, click here.)
In summary, these are the highlights of what I will delve into in this post.
The necessity of having names for turn patterns stems from the format of most casino classes: the rueda. It is important to know the names of the turn patterns in this format because, how would the people know what to do together if the turn pattern didn’t have a name?
Outside of this format, turn patterns are nothing but a combination of basic moves which names you do have to know. After mastering the basic moves, however, all you need to internalize is that most turn patterns are a combination of these basic moves.
If these highlights were enough for you to get the point that I will try to make below, great! I reckon you were already thinking along these lines. If you read the highlights but they confused you, intrigued you, or simply were not enough, and you still want a bit more of an explanation, well, great, too!
This post is for you.
The role of the rueda de casino
Arguably, most casino classes use the rueda as its main selling point. That is, from the moment you get to a class, you are placed into a rueda and taught a move that has a name–because it is later called so that everybody can do it in unison. As classes progress, you learn more moves, and by extent more names, etc. This has created the mentality that you need to know the name of the turn pattern for the simple reason that everything you are learning has a name.
These casino rueda classes follow the format established by the early pioneers of “Cuban salsa” videos: Salsa Lovers and Salsa Racing–and, to a lesser extent, the earlier work done by the Boogaloo Production DVDs. Salsa Lovers and Salsa Racing both focused on applying every move they taught to the rueda format. This initially created two main misconceptions, for those who did not know any better: one, that the “salsa” from Cuba could only be danced in the rueda format (I thankfully don’t see people thinking this away as often as I did ten years ago); and two, that the “salsa” from Cuba was danced with some heavy backstepping (for more about this latter point, click on this link).
Salsa Lovers had arguably the most influence online as a reference point to what people thought as “Cuban salsa.” Many YouTube channels, like Media Noche Salsa and Salsa Fuerte, to just name a couple, showed Salsa Lovers’ patterns in their own channel, exploiting the fact that due to copyright reasons, most Salsa Lovers videos were hard to find online. Here is just one example of the influence they had, as you will soon see, by the number of people who copied them. Let’s take the turn pattern “Dedo Loco.”
And here is a short list of videos of the same turn pattern, but done by other people (you of course, can find a lot more on YouTube):
The influence that these first instructional videos had was not only in the patterns that they taught, but the format in which they taught them. That is: show the turn done with a couple and later incorporate that move to the rueda format. Of course, the Dedo Loco example didn’t have this latter part (probably because it was considered advanced), but most of the beginner and intermediate turn patterns did have a rueda follow-up:
The Norwegian Rueda Standard, arguably the go-to channel for all-things rueda until they made private most of their videos (I guess they started making money off them), followed a version of this format, just inverted: they showed the move in the rueda format first, then with a couple. But it’s essentially the same idea:
To go back to my original point: the mentality of thinking that every turn pattern probably has a name originated because most “Cuban salsa” or “rueda de casino” or “salsa casino” schools in the beginning followed what they saw on the Internet–and what was on the Internet at the time were videos of either Salsa Lovers, or people who replicated what they did. And because everything that Salsa Lovers did had a name, then everybody who replicated them put names to the turn patterns. Even as people came up with their own turn patterns, the naming convention stuck.
So now when you go and watch an instructional video, the turn pattern has a name. The cycle continues.
Now, before I continue, let me say that I understand why these turn patterns originally had names. Because they were intended for the rueda format, they had to have names. Otherwise, how was someone going to call them in the rueda?
So, yes, I agree that you should know the names of turn patterns so that you can participate in a casino rueda.
But how many names should you actually know?
Well, consider this: how many different turn patterns do you actually do every time you join a rueda. Forget the format (i.e. llanta, switch, etc.). I am talking about the patterns themselves. Most of the stuff you hear nowadays when you join a casino rueda are simple calls such as Enchufla, Vacila, Dedo, Exhibe, Dames, and some combination of clapping, stomping, shouting, and sometimes jumping. When was the last time you did in a rueda turn patterns like Montaña Rusa, Ahórcala, Avioneta, Camagüey, Tijera, El Sordo, Mona Lisa, or even Dedo Loco? These are all turn patterns from the Salsa Lovers videos, by the way.
So, you have, on the one had, seven DVDs-worth of turn patterns–plus whatever else other schools have come up with–and on the other, probably like a dozen or so simple moves that actually get called in a rueda.
Things do not add up here, folks.
And of course they do not. How do you expect to remember that many turn patterns?! How does anybody, for that matter?
Hence the Enchufla, Vacila, Dedo, Exhibe, Dames, and the combination of clapping, stomping, shouting, and sometimes jumping until the song ends that characterize most social casino ruedas today.
Which brings me to this: Having to know the names of the turn patterns is a fiction, folks. It’s a fiction created by the instructors that people who do not know any better keep coming to classes to learn a cool new turn patter that they will soon forget because they will never use. It’s just too much information.
Like I said, there are turn patterns that you should know because they get called in the rueda often. Learn the names of those. Just don’t waste your time learning something that will never get called.
As I have argued extensively in another post, the rueda is not necessarily the best tool to actually learn casino. Casino should be learned as its own dance. Once someone has mastered the basic moves, and basic concepts of leading and following, then they can transition to learning the most common calls that are used in the rueda. (Read that article by clicking here.)
The Importance of Knowing your Basic Moves
The truth is, you do not need to know the name of the turn pattern if you have mastered the basic moves in casino. Indeed, if you have really mastered the basic moves, you will be able to replicate the turn pattern on your own without needing to know what it is called because you will understand what the basic moves the turn pattern is made of.
(An important distinction before you read further: I refer to a turn pattern as any pattern that extends past a basic 8-count, like Setenta); basic moves are patterns spanning only 8 counts, like Dile que no.)
Consider the following. Some of you may be reading this and saying, “OK. I understand the main argument against learning names because most of those names won’t be used in the rueda anyway. But what if I want learn the name of the turn pattern because I saw someone do it, and I want to use it outside of the rueda, like the person I saw doing it?”
The first thing you have to understand is that if you are fixated on knowing the name is because you want to use that name in order to find a video that shows you how to do the turn pattern in more detail, or perhaps mention it to an instructor so that they can teach you. There is no other reason.
The second thing is that even if the turn pattern has a name, there is no guarantee that you will find a video for it. And even if you find a video for it, there is no guarantee that they will actually break it down into smaller parts–in which case that video and the original video where you found the turn patter are no different. And even if they break it down, there is no guarantee that they will show you how to lead and follow the move, specially if it involves basic moves that you have never done; so you will later try it without really knowing how to lead it, and then get frustrated when the other person cannot follow it.
All of this can be avoided. It just requires some readjustment in the way you think about learning new information.
First, you have to understand that every turn pattern is made up of a series of basic moves. So, if you really know your basic casino moves, and you see a new turn pattern, what your mind will do is not see a completely different thing that you have never done, but rather it will think about how the basic moves are applied together to create the novel turn pattern you are watching.
In other words, your mindset has to stop being one of emulation–in which you repeat what you see, without really understanding, as many classes have consistently drilled into you already–and start being one of application–in which you understand the ways in which things connect.
For instance, take the turn pattern Sombrero. If you break it down into its basic moves, you will find that Sombrero is a Vacila followed by a Dile que No. Sure, the hands and arms move differently than a Vacila, but the steps are the same.
Isn’t Setenta a Vacila, followed by an Enchufla, followed by another Enchufla, followed by a Dile que No? Again, the hand and arms may be moving differently, but the footwork is the same.
So, when you understand that turn patterns are all made of basic moves, and when you master how to lead or follow these basic moves, there is no new turn pattern that you will not be able to learn.
And most importantly, you won’t need to know the name.
Instead of asking, “What is the name of this move?” you will be thinking, “Oh, that’s interesting. They connected a vacila to an enchufla in this way. That other part looks like he’s just doing an enchufla with two hands instead of one.” And the most important of all realizations–the application: “Oh. I didn’t know you could do that from this position!”
What begins happening, from there on is a deepening of your understanding of the structure of casino. You start connecting things like never before. And when that happens, oh, man, when that happens, you stop copying what you see and start creating. You forget about what you were originally trying to emulate and all of sudden you are doing your own thing. The possibilities of what you create are limited to what you can think of.
The last thing you’ll be thinking of is the “name” of the move.
(An Incomplete) List of Basic Casino Moves
This list is by no means finished. I might be forgetting some moves (let me know in the comment section if I am), or I might not even know the move! Another caveat: some people might call some of these moves differently.
Basic Closed-Position Step (Son Step)
Dile que no
Enchufla from the Right
Entrada (the first 8 counts of what people call “Adiós)
Spin (like a Vacila, but on turn is on 567)