When Salsa was popularized in the 1970s, in Cuba a popular dance known as “Casino” was marketed as Cuban-style salsa or Salsa Cubana abroad, to distinguish it from other Salsa styles.
Salsa Casino is popular in many places around the world, including in Europe, Latin America, North America, and even in some countries in the Middle East such as Israel. Dancing Casino is an expression of popular social culture; Cubans consider Casino as part of social and cultural activities, centering on their popular music. The name Casino is derived from the Spanish term for the dance halls, “Casinos Deportivos”, where much social dancing was done among the better-off, white Cubans during the mid-20th century and onward.
Historically, Casino traces its origin as a partner dance from the music styles Cuban Son, Cha-Cha-Cha, Danzón and Guaracha. Traditionally, Casino is danced “a contratiempo”. This means that, distinct from subsequent forms of salsa, no step is taken on the first and fifth beats in each clave pattern and the fourth and eighth beat are emphasized. In this way, rather than following a beat, the dancers themselves contribute in their movement, to the polyrythmic pattern of the music. At the same time, it is often danced “a tiempo”, although both “on3” (originally) and “on1” (nowadays).
What gives the dance its life, however, is not its mechanical technique, but understanding and spontaneous use of the rich Afro-Cuban dance vocabulary within a “Casino” dance. In the same way that a “sonero” (lead singer in Son and salsa bands) will “quote” other, older songs in their own, a “casino” dancer will frequently improvise references to other dances, integrating movements, gestures and extended passages from the folkloric and popular heritage. This is particularly true of African descended Cubans. Such improvisations might include extracts of rumba, dances for African deities, the older popular dances such as Cha Cha Chá and Danzon as well as anything the dancer may feel.