In Flagstaff, we create and practice art in the spaces we can find. Take The Foundry, Aerial Arts or recording spaces like MOCAF. Most of these take place in warehouses, pushing people to interact and create a community with those who want to appreciate something together. A lot of Latin dancing, too, finds its space in unconventional places as it stems from a need to tell a story or distract from quotidian lifestyles.
Paul and Nadine Geissler recognize the way in which dance, specifically Latin dance, has the ability to teach us new languages and create community. The Geisslers have been fostering the Latin dance community since the early 2000s, and are known for bringing Casino Rueda to the fore.
“Casino Rueda is danced to salsa music, very quick, and called. A caller, the Cantante, calls out the moves and everyone does the same thing at the same time. Lots of stamping feet, clapping and shouting,” Paul says. “It creates its own community as you switch partners and listen to one another. No one was doing Casino Rueda when we arrived here, and so we decided to spread it.”
Rueda asks its dancers to listen not only to their partner’s movements and the music, but to a new language. Latin dance has become increasingly popular around the world. The Geissler’s learned to dance Rueda in Italy before arriving in Flagstaff and now host Dancing in the Square at Heritage Square. They also participate in the Grand Canyon Salsa Festival and teach Friday nights at Tranzend.
“The origin of a dance is usually to tell a story about the culture, like any folk dance,” Nadine says. “In learning and teaching this sort of dancing from another culture, I’ve learned a lot. It’s about family, community and being in your body. It’s also multigenerational.”
“We learned Spanish to be able to understand the calls. I translate lyrics from Spanish so I know what’s being said,” Paul adds. “I’ve considered moving to the Dominican Republic because the people are so vibrant and alive.”
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Latin dance comes out of a history of indigenous ritual, a communal experience in which people shared something special prior to the 20th century. As time progressed, European and African influences altered these storytelling rituals to focus more on the social nature and appreciation of music. Latin dancing has many different forms, Rueda, Bachata, Mambo, Salsa, Cumbia and others each representing the social norms of their place of origin.
“Latin dancing is pretty macho still, but it means that a real etiquette exists because of this complexity. It’s asking permission to dance with someone else’s partner and bringing them back to their original partner. It’s hard when you come from a culture that believes in so much independence, but that’s how I became a good follower,” Nadine says.
Nadine suggests that one should practice alone at home until they’re comfortable enough just moving to the music. When you move away from counting, you’ve got it.
“It’s what the individuals bring to the group structure. All the little nuances and different flourishes are spontaneous and that’s part of the art of it. In Rueda, the moves are called, and when I am calling I envision what the calls will look like together. Even though the dancing can go in any direction, myself or callers have this opportunity to choreograph the dancing that way it’s more diverse,” Nadine says.
“As a lead, when my partner can take everything I throw at them I marvel that this person is an artist. If a total stranger is able to follow my lead, then I know they’re an artist,” Paul says.
Rueda, only one of many varieties of Latin dancing, allows us to participate and appreciate a culture that may not be our own. When we recognize this dance allows for both structure and fun it reveals something fundamental about the ways in which humans evolve and create from the very basis of who we are. In dancing Rueda, in moving your hips, one is celebrating culture.