Some advice from Yanek Revilla – One of the World’s Best Cuban Dancers

I do quite a bit of reading and when I came across this article I thought that it was one of those that I should share.  I think that everyone who does Cuban salsa and/or rueda will get something out of reading the article at

I copied some points from it below in case you just wish to get some of the highlights.

Yanek says” I think there are basic rules for being a good dancer. I call them “The 5 Golden Rules” in salsa cubana – doesn’t matter what level you are, if something doesn’t work it’s always [because you are] breaking one of the following rules:

1.Never grab the hands, just a touch which I call full contact and always re-accommodate the hands before any change with the arms, in order to be more comfortable, faster and avoid injuries.

2. Turning around each other clockwise. The Cuban combinations are created to be danced in [a] circle and it makes [dancing] easier.

3. Distance. Dancing too far away from the partner is one of the biggest problems (in my European experience) due to cultural taboos, so the dance is too strong with a lot of tension in the arms.

4. The timing with the arms. All the moves with the arms end in 3 and 7 – defining this [detail will make] the dance be more fluid and clear. 70 (setenta) is the classic example for this rule.

5. Naturalness. Every unnatural or uncomfortable move must be fixed, natural small steps, not jumping. It’s more comfortable to dance the same way we walk.

Followers, he had the following suggestions: “[Learn to] improvise before and during “dile que no”, after “vacílala” and during the figures.”

Yanek compared salsa casino with “Bruce Lee’s Jet Kune Do. You have basic rules but then you adapt your dance to your possibilities, body work and feelings – that’s why all the people look different even if they all dance Cuban style. It’s freer because there is no choreography in the teaching process. You have to lead and improvise-doesn’t matter who you dance with. I think salsa cubana is very free and different from the other styles.”

What Yanek thinks about rueda choreography: “There is a problem with Rueda nowadays, the choreographers are including moves for couple dance into the Rueda and it’s a huge mistake. They stay too long with the same partner, and turn the choreography less dynamic. Besides that they create new long moves in which they change partners only once and I think that in a good figure you change at least twice. Good rueda choreography should include (in my opinion):
1. A figure in which you do lots of changes
2. A figure in which you mix salsa with other rhythms (Rumba, Afro or other traditional Cuban dances)
3. A figure with the hands joined
4. And a figure with lots of changes of directions or formations”


A Teaching Tuesday or a Salsa Tuesday?

Every Tuesday I co-teach salsa/rueda classes at the Oasis dance club, in Ithaca, NY.  This week it went really well.  For the salsa class I started out with a new person who showed up. Nancy, my co-teacher, came later around the same time as a couple who usually show up late, and so she worked with them.  After that was the intermediate rueda class where people were kept on task and the class moved along at a good pace. As usual I called and we had fun just doing rueda.  I also got the class to take turns calling two moves each for a song or two. We reviewed part of the setenta family and made their execution a little cleaner: setenta, setenta cubano, setenta, con alma, and setenta por abajo.   This time I showed one guy, who was ahead of the rest, setenta moderno, and at the end of class Nancy worked with another who is obsessed with ponle sabor.

The Latin night that followed, however, was the polar opposite.  The typical Latin night with the same old tired music being played. This time it was saved by the people who showed up.  There were a couple people whom I hadn’t seen in months – one who remembered I taught her bachata – plus a new Architecture professor with her friend.  It was a friend’s birthday, and she really loved the dance that I did with her

So, was it a teaching or a salsa Tuesday, or a bit of both?  Well, let’s see.  The lessons were good, the socializing was great…the music par for the course, tasting like week old food. A teaching Tuesday, for sure.  Unless the music is inspirational it never is a salsa Tuesday.

Progress on the Cuban enchufla in rueda

And so today was the weekly pre-performance rueda class composed of people interested in joining the Ithakeros rueda de casino performance group, and again we made great progress. It is exciting for me to figure out how to translate something that comes naturally, break it down and then see other people getting it.

Today I took the leaders and Nan (Nancy A.) took the followers and we worked on using the “Cuban enchufla” for the first half of the basic in al centro position. Then we came together and applied it using con las manos: first holding hands and me calling dame with basics in between, and then con las manos proper. Finally, this was applied to dame while doing rueda.

Next step? Do it with the Ithakeros performance group during our practice tomorrow – Monday night.

Choosing a song to demo casino rueda

So what goes into a song choice:

1. Does it appeal to dancers/choreographer/audience?

2. What are the dynamics of song like and what are we looking for?

– tempo variations and average tempo?

– rhythms played – salsa/reggaeton/merengue/son montuno, guajira, charanga, timba….

– breaks in the song, what is the intro like, the ending

– are there natural places in the song where we can change orientation and/or types of moves being done

– does the song match the level of the dancers – eg Agua by the group Los Van Van is a high energy fast paced song without much variation in tempo. It requires people who can match that energy, and not everyone can do so.

3. Are the lyrics relevant?

I spent a lot of time on this recently and finally tonight our group – Ithakeros – danced to several song suggestions and chose Los Compeones de la Salsa by Willy Chirino.

Keeping the flow in casino

A lot of people learn rueda and then get stuck converting it to couple dancing in a way that makes it flow. Going back to the same starting point after each move is limiting and can break up a dance. It is only when one begins to treat move combinations as made up of components that can be mixed together that flow can happen. Take the move balsero for example, which consists of [3] 8 counts. At the end of the first 8 count one can then do besito [4] 8 count combination. At the end of the 3d 8 count one is in a perfect position to do an exibe [1] 8 count next, and then one could do abanico starting from the 2nd 8 count of that move combination. I could go on for quite a bit more, but I hope that you see the pattern. And it is something that every rueda/casino dancer should learn in order to improve their dancing.

As you dance and with time you start to see patterns. Some that I have seen as well as ideas how to explore this “flow” concept:

1.Any veil where L Rh veils F at end of 8 count => next abanico starting from 2nd 8 count

2. Exhibe – dedo guarapo y bota can always be done

3. Any combinations with 2 handed R-R L-L enchufe-veil in an 8 count => next exhibe – abanico/sombreo doble/sombreo complicado/sombreo recomplicado/juana la cubana These are montana, montana bella, besito – do after penultimate 8 count

3. exhibe with L Lh-F Rh => exhibe for first half of the eight count and then transitioning into any setenta for the second half of the eight count, ending at setenta position (end of the 2nd 8 count). These are kentucky after 2nd 8 count, setenta abajo after 2nd 8 count, setenta cubano after 3rd 8 count

4. Think about possibilities using the other hand/or not switching hands. e.g. at end of 2nd 8 count of kentucky one can switch hands to do enchufe doble next. One can also do enchufe doble with a L Rh – F Rh handhold for a different feel

5. Anytime L Lh – F Rh at end of eight count- think of moves starting that way which might work: adios/enchufe, evelyn

6. Anytime L Rh – F Rh at end of eight count – think of which move combinations that start that way would work: dedo family, hecho

Move combinations:

balsero-besito-exhibe-juana la cubana-abanico-ponle sabor


juana la cubana-exhibe

setenta abajo-exhibe

dedo-enchufe doble-exhibe-dedo guarapo y bota

habana = candado-setenta

sombrero doble-exhibe