Cuban Moves for One-on-One Dancing

In Miami and other parts of Florida, dancers usually begin learning Salsa in a Rueda circle.  There are pros and cons to this (or any) approach, but in my opinion, the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages.  First, beginning leaders can be overwhelmed by the need to decide what moves to lead. Rueda dancing eliminates this stress.  Another more important point has to do with what students can learn in a given amount of class time. To put it bluntly, Rueda classes are a "learning theorist’s dream.”  That is, Rueda classes are perfectly designed  for long-range retention of complicated material.  Learning theory experiments have repeatedly shown that the most efficient way to memorize something is by doing many short segments of practice and drill. This is exactly what Rueda students do in class.  

It is my belief that hour for hour, students will come out with a greater “repertoire” of moves, and those moves will be longer and more complex than what they would be likely to learn in a one on one Salsa class. The constant repetition of identical moves makes this possible. 

In a one on one Salsa class, students are more likely to cover just a few moves in one hour and the teacher makes up the combination.  So each time students dance, they do a somewhat different pattern. Rueda circles are relentless in doing many, many moves over and over and reviewing the same material in every class.  As a result, people become proficient quickly and then progress to longer and more complicated steps. In short, I believe that Rueda (Cuban Salsa) instruction is a great way to become very competent at moves that can also be done in one on one dancing. 

At the same time, it is true that if someone has learned to dance in a Rueda, using the moves to dance with one partner involves some adjustments.  These will depend on the exact style of Cuban (“Casino”) moves that were learned.  Below is a summary of how this would be done for those who learn the basic step going forward and backward, and some Cuban steps starting on the 8th beat tap. (This would be called “Miami style.”)

There are two ways that (Cuban) moves begin in this style.  They can just begin with the back rock that starts the basic step or they can begin after a tap on beat 8 in the previous musical phrase.  In the former case, if the leader is doing one on one basic where he goes forward when she rocks back, he can just begin the move on beat 1 by introducing an open break then. (Open breaks are when the leader backrocks and also backrocks his follower.)  If the leader is doing a one on one (L. A. style) Salsa basic where he rocks forward on beat 1 and back on beat 5, then he can instead rock back on beat 1 to start the open break.  So he double backrocks and the second backrock enables him to start the move the way he is used to in the Rueda.   

Then he would lead the move and at the end, remain dancing with his partner (rather than changing partners). He can do the CBL or not, as he wishes.  Enchufla, adios, and pa ti pa mi are good examples of moves that start this way with the open break.  

If the move wouldn’t involve an automatic partner exchange in a Rueda circle, then he simply resumes the Salsa basic at the end of the move. Pa ti pa mi is an example of this.  To do this, the leader rocks forward for the first part of the basic step.  

If the move does involve an automatic partner exchange (e.g. adios, enchufla, etc.), then it's altered so the partners stay together. Rather than traveling to a new partner, the leader can simply rock forward towards the lady on beats 1, 2, 3 followed by an optional cross body lead. 

Remember that you must alter the Rueda circle cross body lead a bit to dance one on one. So you must come to face her squarely (instead of facing the center of the circle) before you lead her across for CBL. 

If you are starting a Cuban move after beat 8 where some groups tap, then the way to begin the move is a little different.   If you are dancing with a Cuban trained dancer who is used to tapping on the eighth beat to start moves such as sombrero, balsero, beso, setenta, etc., then you can also tap when dancing one on one.  To get her to tap, you do a cross body lead and give your partner a strong lead to tap on 8. Then you can go into the move the way you are accustomed to doing in the Rueda.  The ending would be the same as described above—just rock into your partner and finish the CBL. 

It is trickier when you dance with followers who are not be accustomed to tapping on beat 8, This can be either because they do a style of Cuban Salsa that doesn’t include taps, or because they aren’t trained in Cuban Salsa at all.  In this case the dance will work best if you simply don't do any taps yourself, and instead just go into the “body” of the move,  The tap on beat 8 isn’t part of the move and isn’t essential. So just eliminate it. 

Finally, one on one dancers generally face each other rather than facing a circle center.  So the moves may require adjusting so that you are looking at your partner.  That may alter slightly the arm positions that are possible as well.  For example, on Uno, instead of facing the center and doing a Sombrero arm position over her head at the end, the leader would face her and could make that a hair comb gesture over her head at the end.  Dancers have to get used to facing their partner to dance one on one.

The feeling of using Cuban moves in one on one may take some practice if you have done a lot of Rueda.  But many people have told me they did a little salsa, but after taking Rueda classes, their repertoire of moves really skyrocketed and they became advanced dancers. So even with these adjustments, I think people are still ahead in becoming advanced dancers as a result of Rueda training.