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Cuban Salsa VS Casino

Updated: Feb 2

A Dilemma of Word Choice.

The subject of whether the Cuban dance casino should or should not be called salsa has generated plenty of heated debate in recent years. Advocates for using the term casino, which is actually how the dance is referred to in its native Cuba, argue that it is incorrect to say salsa, or even Cuban salsa, as it strips the dance of its original identity, labeling it with a name that is a commercial invention.


To a great extent, this is true. However, the issue needs to be thoroughly discussed because, in some case scenarios, forcefully applying the term casino can be controversial and confusing. In certain cultural contexts, using the term salsa, or preferably Cuban salsa, is the most reasonable way to go about promoting the dance.  For example, one uncomfortable obstacle I find when promoting my Cuban dance in the Anglophone world (Canada) is the unfortunate fact that “casino” is already an established word.  It is a word that no one would associate with a dance. Casino is a word linked to a place for gambling and vice. While some people have a positive outlook on casinos, others see it as a place of moral degradation, ruin and addiction.  A Casino is the place where more than one family person wastes away their financial resources, bringing problems and misery to themselves and their families.


Naturally, to avoid confusion, I choose the term Cuban Salsa to advertise the dance form I teach, since the line “Casino” would probably attract the wrong crowd.  I figured that even “Cuban Casino” would be controversial, given the notoriety in popular culture of Cuban mafia characters like Scarface. In this side of the world, anything promoting a Cuban Casino is more likely to bring me the attention of the police department, than that of potential dancers. Salsa is the established term out here. Salsa is what everyone thinks of when they imagine Cuba and its dances. This is simply, though unfortunately, logical.


I don’t really think that most Cubans using the term Salsa are doing it because they gave thought to the implications of using casino as an advertising term in relationship to a venue for gambling. They just see the world saying “salsa” to dance forms similar to theirs, and adopt the term because deep in their minds they are conscious that using “casino” simply won’t have the same impact.  They face the essential problem contained in the word casino: this is not a word created to sell a dance.  Casino was not even created to be sold! If it had been created as a commercial dance product, it would have been given a very different name. Thinking from the logic of commercial advertising: everything conspires against the term casino in its quest to attain recognition as the name of a Cuban dance, in this corner of the world. There's a fatalism I've identified, linked to how we've chosen to name some of our rhythms and dances. SON is a perfect example of something hard to sell in the anglophone world, as it means "male child" and requires careful contextualization to avoid confusion. My Cuban fellows of today still don't learn. They've created a really hot new rhythm which is the Cuban answer to reggaeton, but guess how they call it: REPARTO. How the hell do you expect to conquer the world of music with such a name?


Anyways, what can we do to effectively raise awareness about the correct historic name of the Cuban casino dance? Succumbing to the power of the word “salsa” can be easily countered by adding an educational component to our work as teachers. We can advertise our classes as Cuban Salsa, but once our students are registered, we can (1) make them aware of the fact that the dance is called casino, (2) use the term regularly in class and among people who are practising the dance, and (3) wherever possible, include the term casino. For example, in the description of your courses you can include a line explaining that the dance is actually called casino in its native Cuba.  (4) Special festivals and niche events catered to people who are already immersed in the Cuban dance community don’t need to be referred to as “Cuban Salsa” festivals. These events should refer to the dances by their real names, as they’re supposed to be an oasis of genuine Cuban cultural manifestations.



In conclusion, remember that denial and deliberate omission of the word casino when we teach is an act whereby we negate our culture. It defeats the whole purpose of popularizing our Cuban legacy, as we deprive people from learning about its original elements. Assess your cultural context to determine what the implications of using the word casino when you advertise your courses and your work are, but whatever you do, bear in mind that once you hit the studio, you’ll be doing a great service to your island, your students and yourself by acknowledging the word you always used back home when inviting someone to dance. Remember you never invited them to dance salsa. You always said: “¿Quieres bailar casino?

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