I remember the first time I saw Yanek Revilla dance. I was preparing for a Cuban salsa dance competition in Miami with my partner and we were roaming YouTube for moves, styles, etc. We landed on this video of this man and woman dancing. I had never seen dancing like that before and could not stop watching. Over the next few weeks, I would watch that video over and over. And since that time (almost five years ago), I still watch the video often.
That video cemented my love of salsa casino. Before that, I danced rueda and would dance casino style if someone lead it, but, I didn’t give it a second thought. After that video, slowly and surely I would develop my skills as a ‘casinera’.
As you can imagine, I was thrilled when Yanek agreed to do an interview with me. Not being able to go to Cuba myself, the Internet has allowed us to communicate and needless to say, I am overjoyed at being able to present to you the thoughts of this great dancer. (Please note that all quotes are from Yanek although I may have edited for clarity although his English is better than my Spanish)
Many consider Yanek to be the greatest Cuban salsa dancer in the world. Granted, he has won that title in the past and when asked about how it felt to have that title, he answered with, “It’s an honor if some people think that, but there are many good dancers in Cuba. I prefer them to call me ‘The most Cuban of the Dancers'”. At the age of 23 is when he fully realized that dance was important to him. He says his first and only teacher was his brother and “the Cuban music” which makes him the strong dancer that he is.
Through the world of Rueda de Casino, Yanek’s choreographies are thought of as ‘the best’.
He is the director of Salseros DKY (formerally Casino.com) – Cuba’s renowned salsa group located in Santiago, Cuba. They travel Europe presenting workshops and performances at many of the biggest salsa festivals. Their routines not only focus on salsa but include AfroCuban dances, reggaeton, and Son. I asked Yanek about his process on developing moves. His reply made me smile as I imagine it is this way with the best of choreographers. “It’s very strange, I just “see” the moves, I think about any move and I imagine my dancers doing it, then depending on how it “looks” I teach it or not.” He also has specific thoughts on how rueda should be danced or choreographed:
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
Knowing that Yanek travels the world sharing his knowledge, his style, his moves I asked him what he wants to teach others about Cuban dance and culture. He answered, “First thing: this is a dance to enjoy your partner, make friends, [and to dance] with a lot of sensuality. Also there are no levels in the disco [club] – dancing good is not a status. It’s a feeling and it must be shared with everybody. It doesn’t matter the level. And the last thing is that in Cuba we [just] dance – doesn’t matter the floor, the customs, or nice shoes…This is dancing Salsa in Cuba.” I think that this quote is very important as it seems that so often we all get caught up in thinking we can’t keep up with those great dancers or we elevate certain dancers to the point where they are more important than those just learning how to dance.
Often here in the United States, salsa rueda is taught by itself without including any other Cuban-style of dance. I asked Yanek if he thought AfroCuban dance was important to salsa dancing and he said, “I really think that it’s important to dance not only AfroCuban dances, but also rumba, because it gives you the skills for isolating the different parts of the body which makes your dance more complete. Even though I know a lot of good salsa dancers who have never danced any other thing.” As one of the best salsa dancers in the world, I wondered what advice he may give to others developing their skills. Men take note of his suggestions to be a great dancer: 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:
- 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.
- Turning around each other clockwise. The Cuban combinations are created to be danced in [a] circle and it makes [dancing] easier.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Women, he had the following suggestions: [Learn to] improvise before and during “dile que no”, after “vacílala” and during the figures. Styling lessons are more interesting if somebody teaches you how to do the combinations when you are dancing with your partners.
For us in the United States, salsa casino is just starting to pick up steam. As events in Atlanta, New York, Washington DC, and San Francisco increase so does the awareness of salsa casino, rueda, and AfroCuban dance. We are seeing more and more people have a desire to fine tune their salsa dancing with these styles. 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.”
I wanted to know what music moves Yanek to dance. He mentioned, “For dancing all night I prefer the strongest Cuban band of the moment, Elio Revé y Su Charangón.” He also mentioned Los Van Van and for slower movements and listening, Manolito y Su Trabuco and Aldaberto Alvarez. His favorite singer is Mayito Rivera.
From his responses, I found Yanek to be a humble man who loves his culture, the dance, the music and enjoys sharing it around the world. When I asked him if he realized that women everywhere want to dance with him he responded with, “I’m surprised about that. I didn’t know it. I would like to dance with all of them.” I know that for me, having him come to the United States to teach and dance would be a dream for many people – men and women alike. When not dancing, Yanek likes to read and follow sports (he used to play baseball) and be involved in the lives of his friends and family. As he said, he is 250% Cuban and I have no doubt about that.
He said in closing, “Thanks for giving me the chance to send this message to the salseros in the US.” It is I, who thanks Yanek, for taking time out of his busy schedule to send me his answers and thoughts from Cuba. I hope, one day, to have the opportunity to meet Yanek and to, of course, dance with him.
To find out more about Yanek and his group, Casino.com, please visit his website: http://salsayanek.com/