THE HISTORY AND DEVELOPMENT OF SALSA AND RUEDA DANCING

Below is a brief history that describes the development of Salsa and Casino Rueda dancing.

Salsa

Salsa is one of the most dynamic and important musical phenomena of the 1900's. In many Hispanic communities, it remains today the most popular style of dance music. Salsa represents a mix of Latin musical genres, but its primary component is Cuban dance music. The roots of salsa originated in Eastern Cuba early in the l900s. There, Spanish and Afro-Cuban musical elements were combined, both in terms of rhythm and the instruments used.











             



By mid-century, this music came to Havana where foreign influences were absorbed, particularly American jazz and popular music heard on the radio. By the end of the l950s, many Cuban and Puerto Rican people including musicians had settled in the U.S., especially in New York. This created the environment where Salsa music completed its development. "El Barrio" (Spanish Harlem) was the main place where this occurred. Many bands were formed; immigrants continued to make Afro-Caribbean music, but they adpated the sound to their new world. They were influenced especially by American jazz.

Gradually in the 50s and 60s, Salsa as we know it today was emerging. The most famous musicians of that time were Tito Puente and Celia Cruz. The rise of Salsa music is also tied cloely to Fania Records which was founded in l964 by the musician Johnny Pacheco and an Italian-American lawyer, Jerry Masucci. The two met at a party in a NY hotel. They struck a deal to launch what became the most influential record label in Latin music's history.

Fania was known as "the Latin Motown," with one huge hit after another becoming popular all over Latin America. Many artists became very famous with the promotion they received from the record label "La Fania." Fania Records remolded Cuban music into a sound more appropriate to Latin New York, and they called the sound "Salsa."

By the l970s Salsa was becoming so popular that Fania's bands and artists were touring all over Latin America. This decade was the real "heyday" of salsa. The type of salsa music that Fania promoted came to be referred to as "hard salsa."

Then in the 80s, a slower style of Salsa was born, with artists like Gilberto Santa Rosa. Around this time, Latin musicians began to have an impact on mainstream U.S. music. Latin music was becoming trendy here and beginning to intrigue the rest of the world as well. Both types of Salsa remain popular today and with the popularity of the music, came the popularity of the dance.

Salsa refers both to the music and the dance done to that music. The rhythm for Salsa dancing is quick-quick-slow. To dancers, a "quick" is a step that lasts for one musical beat and a "slow" lasts for two beats. 

Casino Rueda, Group Salsa Dancing

During the 1950s, a dance craze called Casino Rueda became popular in Cuba.  The word "Casino" comes from the name of the social club where the dance began. That club was called El Casino Deportivo. "Rueda" means wheel or circle. This is a type of Salsa dancing done by a group in a circle, with partners being passed around. This wildly popular dance was done everywhere in Cuba---in the streets, in parking lots, in clubs, in homes.

The dance is done by members of the circle doing the same moves in synchrony. A member of the circle calls the moves for everyone to execute. Each move has a name and most have hand signals since it is hard to hear in noisy nightclubs. Moves can be called in quick succession, and along with frequent partner exchanges.  This creates a very dynamic and exciting atmosphere for everyone involved.

The group nature of the dance is unique and makes it quite social. A group consciousness develops to make the Rueda work well---with everyone watching the leader for the calls. Dancers have to open up their sphere of awareness far beyond what is necessary for ordinary dancing. Whether you are dancing or watching, it is thrilling when a Rueda circle works well and flows smoothly!!

This festive dance was brought to Miami by Cuban immigrants and took hold there in the l970s and l980s. From Miami, it spread first to major U.S. metropolitan centers with large Hispanic populations and eventually to other cities as well.

In recent years, Casino Rueda has swept the world. The joyful spirit of this dance has made it popular just about everywhere--from Israel to Alaska, from North and South America to Europe, Australia, and beyond. Groups of Salsa dancers assemble in classes, clubs, and conventions all over the globe to teach, practice, and perform beautiful Casino Rueda moves done in a circle!  What began simply in a Cuban social club, quickly became a world-wide dance phenomenon!

Casino Rueda can be done to any Salsa music. It is best danced to music with a driving beat and no "rhythm breaks" (i.e. alterations in the rhythm). The timing of the dance is "quick, quick, slow"----exactly the same as Salsa. The "slow" beat is twice as long as the "quicks." Hence there are 4 beats to a measure and the dancer steps on 3 of them.
     And we should consider
     Every day lost on which
       We have not danced
            At least once.

  Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche
Copyright 2003 by Barbara Bernstein


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