The subject of whether the Cuban dance casino should or should not be called Cuban 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 off its original roots, labeling it with a name that is a commercial invention.
To a certain 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 or advertising 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 promote or advertise the dance form I teach, since the line “Learn Casino with Julio Montero” would probably attract the wrong crowd. I figured that even “Cuban Casino” would be controversial or confusing, given the notoriety of Cuban mafia characters like Scarface. I was very shocked to realize how huge the movie Scarface is in this society. 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 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 very 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. The Casino dance was not even created to be sold! If it had been created as a commercial dance product, it would have probably been given a VERY different, catchier, hotter 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.
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. If you live in a society where the word casino carries a gambling connotation, you can advertise your classes as Cuban Salsa, but once your students are registered, you can (1) make them aware of the fact that the dance is actually called casino. In addition to that, (2) you must use the term regularly in class and among people who are practising the dance. Wherever possible, (3) 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 events catered to people who are already immersed in the Cuban dance community, especially where these communities of dancers are large, 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 oasis of genuine Cuban cultural manifestations.
There’s the case of a great dance school in the United States that operates under the name DC Casineros (not DC Casino; two completely different words). Nowhere on their website you’ll find the word Cuban Salsa, however, the question remains: how successful and far-reaching in their work would this school be if in their advertising campaigns they used the word Cuban Salsa? As a person who has dedicated many years of his life to promote and advertise in the anglophone world, I can assure you that they’d be 10 times the size they curently are.
In conclusion, we must 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 are when you advertise your courses and your work, but whatever you do, bear in mind that once you hit the dance 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?”