'50s Cuban Dancing Comes to NOLA

01:00 January 01, 1970

Bookoo Rueda is a dance group hoping to build a community of dancers in New Orleans who can dance Casino and, in particular, Rueda de Casino. The group is manned by two New Orleanians, Chaille Mount and Kevin Braxton. Classes have been taking place on Wednesdays from 7:15 to 8:45 pm at the Ashé Cultural Arts Center (1712 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd.) and on Sundays from 7:30 to 9 pm at the First Presbyterian Church of New Orleans (5401 S Claiborne Ave.).


What is Casino and Rueda de Casino?

Casino is a dance that became popular in Cuba in the 1950s and ’60s. The name Casino comes from casino deportivos, which are the famous dance halls where Casino was most commonly danced in Cuba. Casino is not based on any move or particular technique to differentiate itself. It allows people to improvise and use their knowledge of other dance moves to incorporate them as it fits with the music. When dancing Casino, you can see bits of Rumba, Cha-Cha, Danzon, Salsa, etc. 

Casino can be danced soltero (solo), pajeras (with partners), as well as in larger groups. Rueda de Casino is another style of this dance, which is what Bookoo Rueda wants to teach. In Rueda de Casino, pairs of partners make a circle (a circular version of a Salsa square) to be danced in. One person, “un cantante” (the caller), calls out dance moves. Many dance moves have accompanying hand signals as well, which helps when Casino is being danced in a particularly loud venue. 

Many of Rueda de Casino’s moves have participants change dance partners throughout the song. The differing degrees and interpretations of moves, along with the interplay that everyone in the Rueda can have with everyone else, create a spectacle that is great to see from the outside and partake in on the inside. 


Cuba and New Orleans

Bookoo Rueda is hoping to bring this beautiful style of dance to New Orleans. Cuba and New Orleans have a very rich and old history. While it is easy (and common) to point out the similarities in cuisine and music, currently New Orleans has fewer Cuban dance troupes and references in popular culture. Chaille says that when talking to her mother about dancing Casino, her mom mentioned how it made sense, since her family used to hang out with a bunch of Cubans in New Orleans before the embargo. 

Casino was the first style of dance that Kevin learned. Chaille said that she started dancing Casino while living in Seattle. She was shocked that there wasn’t a Casino community in New Orleans when she returned. 

Chaille told me, “The connection between Cuba and here...there’s so much culturally and music-wise that’s similar.” She tells a story of a Cuban instructor who clapped out the Cuban clave in a second line, and a woman turned around and told him, “If you’re going to do it, do it right.” She then went on to clap the New Orleans clave. The passion for music in both of these cultures is so great, and their rhythms are so close to each other, we are sister communities listening to the same song, but hearing a different beat. 


Bookoo Rueda

Bookoo Rueda strives to build a community of dancers that can partake in the various moves and styles of Casino in and around New Orleans. Chaille jokes that she and Kevin started the group because they were “tired of dancing with each other.” The idea is to build a community that can dance and play, and have a good time, with each other. As Chaille told me, “Rueda de Casino lends itself to that [building a community]. I see different personality traits attracted to Salsa; for a lot of people, Salsa is more about performance, style and showing off. In Rueda de Casino, there’s still styling, but it’s playful, more of a game.” 

Bookoo Rueda is creating an online database with dance moves as well as teaching moves in classes. The idea is to eventually create New Orleans–centric dance moves as well, named after and incorporating different gestures relevant to the city. Kevin says he hopes to “build a community by throwing a bunch of parties. Lots of energy, a lot of people having fun, and build it from there…I like to give away a lot of stuff; that’s why I don’t mind teaching the classes for free. I do a lot of stuff for free to entice people to come.”  

Rueda de Casino seems like it was meant for New Orleans in so many ways. It’s flexible enough to be a work of art, seductive, and loose in ways that provide an infinite number of possibilities for what can happen on the dance floor. In anachronistic cities such as New Orleans and Havana, these features are extremely prevalent, and a part of the character of both great cities. 

Bookoo Rueda hopes that the dance can take hold here. Kevin told me, “I don’t see how Rueda de Casino won’t fit in New Orleans. There’s a bunch of stuff there—there’s tango, there’s swing, there’s actually square dancing. Rueda has its place here.” 

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