The following article appeared in Barry Durand's "5,6,7,8 Swing" magazine in March/April 2002.
For more information on this swing magazine, click here.

CASINO-STYLE SALSA: THE PLAYFUL, PARTY DANCE

By Barbara Bernstein

I was delighted when I checked my messages and heard my friend Stacy's high-pitched voice chirping, "Barbie, do you want to come out and play?" By which, as every dancer knows, she meant "go dancing." Of course I wanted to come out and play---the only question was whether I had time! In a life filled with work, chores, and responsibilities, dance is the perfect antidote.

And that is especially true when the dancing is a festive, "group-dance" such as Casino Rueda. This dance originated in Cuba where it became wildly popular in the middle of the twentieth century. It was later exported to Miami via Cuban exiles where it became popular again. In Miami, most of the salsa dancing that you see involves the unique style and moves that are found in Casino Rueda. In casino rueda salsa, two or more couples form a circle and do steps in synchrony that are called by one of the dancers. The steps have a particular look that I can best describe by quoting my neighbor.

She came one day to watch and remarked, "You and your partner look like you are tieing yourselves up in knots." Indeed, the advanced moves involve being quite intertwined and twisted up together. By contrast, ordinary salsa dancing has moves that are ballroom-ish in nature. Generally speaking, salsa dancing is like a flavorful, "street" version of mambo. Nonetheless, casino rueda salsa requires a great deal of discipline because every step and hand motion must be done synchronously by all the couples. Practicing the synchrony, which gives the dance its power, is sheer delight.

And it is really the number of dancers interacting together that makes it such a thrill. This dance recently crept into the general public's consciousness with the release of the movie, "Dance With Me." The movie featured a segment of rueda dancing that was quite exciting to watch. And it is even more joyful to participate. Let me explain why this is so with an analogy. Imagine being in a movie theater with no one there but yourself. It is a flat experience. Now imagine that you can barely find two seats together in a movie for you and a friend because the place is packed. The latter experience is more lively. Other people's reactions---their gasps and laughs---make a difference in how you feel.

I noticed the same principle applied recently when I took my son out trick-or-treating. He complained that it wasn't much fun on a street with no other kids and asked me to take him to a neighborhood with lots of other trick-or-treaters. So it is with dancing. Like watching a movie, dancing is a lot of fun. But if dancing with one partner is fun, dancing with many people at the same time is even more so. And group dancing tends to foster group friendships which is a uniquely rewarding experience.