Salsa Rueda
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Rick Archer, SSQQ, August, 1999

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. Ted’s 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 let’s 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 can’t 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 didn’t click. Frustrated, Judy threw in the towel. It wasn’t like we hadn’t 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 Martin’s hit song, "Mi Vida Loca", Salsa dancing has literally exploded. It doesn’t 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 !  Let’s 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. That’s 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 group’s 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 wasn’t 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 can’t 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.

Rick Archer.

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.

Rick Archer     

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 week’s 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 they’re 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 Caller’s 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 you’re not trained at a dance school or group class given by a dance school, you’re 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. It’s 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, I’ve 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    If you’re 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 don’t know your Calls and therefore don’t feel welcome to join your Rueda circle. Likewise, you can’t really invite outsiders into your own circle… Your group may as well have stayed home.

Learn the International Standards– which are in Spanish, the Universal language of Salsa.


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