story by Liza Simon
photo by Gerlinde Gorla
Rueda de Casino, the latest craze to hit Honolulu’s Latin dance scene, kicks salsa’s partnering chemistry up a notch. Picture this: a dance done in a closed circle, with a caller giving the signal to change steps—and change partners—every few musical measures. In name and feel, some of the steps abound with the drama of flirtation—for example, mirame pero no me toca (“look at me but don’t touch me”). Others memorialize the kitschy things of everyday life, such as pelota una, pelota dos (“ball one, ball two”), a reference to Cuba’s beloved national sport, baseball.
Whatever the pattern, you try it with one partner and then another and another. It’s like being part of one big wheel—which, no coincidence, is the name of the dance: Translated, rueda de casino means “casino wheel” (a name also rumored to reflect rueda’s birthplace, the gambling playgrounds of pre-Fidel Havana).
“In rueda the circle becomes your family, and you do what you can to preserve its integrity,” says Ruby Menon, a Honoluluan who has fallen in love with rueda. She’s one of a handful of local residents credited with importing rueda here; ever since her first cultural-studies excursion to Havana, she has arranged an annual workshop in Hawai‘i by acclaimed Cuban dancer Ramon Ramos-Alayo. Another rueda-ophile is Gene Horita, who studied the dance in its Cuban homeland under a special arts education visa and who for two years now has taught Friday night rueda classes at the Honolulu Dream to Dance Studio on Auahi Street. “Rueda became such a part of my life that I just had to share it with others,” he says. Like Menon, Horita studied with the master, Ramos-Alayo. And others will now have a chance to do so also, since Ramos-Alayo will be back in the Islands to do a Cuba camp at Mokule‘ia from December 15th to 19th—a camp that will include, naturally, a few spins of rueda.
Rueda de Casino