Rumba dance style

History of Rumba

Rumba is a Cuban musical style rooted in the Afro-Cuban culture of this wonderful Caribbean island.

At the base of other Cuban dances such as Guaracha, Mambo or Cha Cha Cha, Rumba has three main variants: Yambu and Columbia danced in Matanzas, and Guaguanco in Havana.

Cuban Rumba should not be confused with Spanish Rumba (Rumba Flamenca and Rumba Catalana) which is different even if it comes from Cuban rhythms.

The basic instruments for playing Rumba are simple since they consist of three drums called “Quinto”, “Salidor” and “Tres Golpes”, a pair of maracas and a pair of claves.

Origins of Rumba

Etymologically, the word Rumba is an onomatopoeia that expresses a noise that vibrates and roars with a lot of power. But it is also a word of Spanish origin that refers to women with light and frivolous life, “Mujeres de rumbo”.

It is at the time of the colonization of Cuba by Spain that we must go and look for the origins of Rumba with the folk expression of the descendants of black African slaves. In the 17th century, La Rumba is mostly an Afro-Cuban folk dance that served as a fertility dance.

These slaves came from different ethnic groups such as Yoruba Lucumi, Ganga, Arará or Bantu, and performed pugilistic dances that could be considered primitive rumbas of the Columbia type. These dances were accompanied by a set of three very primitive drums.

There were also other African dances performed in couples in a very erotic way and which have undoubtedly been the basis of the Guaguanco style Rumba or Yambu style.

In black communities, dancing Rumba was synonymous with songs and songs, where alcoholic drinks were drunk to communicate with the Orishas, the Yoruba deities.

Then African rhythms mingled with Spanish melodies using native and Spanish instruments, merging with Cuban Sound to enter taverns and bars.

Evolution of the Rumba

Yambu-style Rumba is one of the oldest and its origins date back to the 19th century in the disadvantaged urban centers of Matanzas. Yambu is a rather slow dance that is characterized by strong sensual insinuations, symbolizing the work of seduction of the woman who moves her pelvis in a very erotic way.

The Columbia-style Rumba would draw its roots from Africans from Congo who live in the rural areas of Matanzas. It was at the beginning of the 20th century that this dance appeared, near the village of Unión de Reyes. At the end of their hard day’s work in the sugar cane shades, the black workers relaxed dancing to the rhythm of the Rumba.
Among the best-known artists of this musical genre is José Rosario Oviedo nicknamed “Malanga”.

The “llorao” is characteristic of the Columbia and represents a set of plaintive complaints or exclamations that the singer or “Gallo” (Rooster) throws in the middle of his performance. The Columbia type Rumba was mostly a dance in which one showed his skill and the dancers passed one by one trying to be better than the previous ones. Unlike the Yambu, the Columbia dances on a faster air and one of the drums, the Quinto, is responsible for highlighting the movements of the dancers.

Guaguanco style Rumba is the most elaborate, both in terms of music and lyrics. Guaguanco is the typical dance of the black quarters of Havana and the lyrics are entirely in Spanish while the other two styles use African or slang expressions.

The Guaguanco will get closer to the Punto Cuban taking over the improvisation inherited from the Canary and Andalusian culture. His pace is slower than Columbia and faster than Yambu. The dance of Rumba Guaguanco represents the man’s harassment of the woman with respect to the woman, wishing her to take it while she maliciously protects herself from her attacks. This harassment and leak with very erotic content will demonstrate the talents of dancers of the couple.

Very early, the Rumba began to emerge from its island since in 1913 Lew Quinn and Joan Sawyer bring Cuban percussionists to New York to play Rumba.
In 1925, Benito Coalla opened the club “El Chico” in Greenwich Village, a place that will quickly become fashionable and give the opportunity to Cuban artists to play the Rumba.

But it is a Spanish, Xavier Cugat who will really launch Cuban music in the United States playing in prestigious venues such as Coconut Grove in Los Angeles and Waldorf Astoria in New York.
Xavier Cugat is followed by other artists like Miguelito Valdés or Chano Pozo who will quickly popularize the Rumba in the 1930s.

In 1935, Xavier Cugat and his orchestra appear in the film “Rumba” (“The Last Rumba” in French version), a Marion Gering film that will unveil to the world the talents of George Raft and Carole Lombard dancing to the rhythms of this music so sensual.

In the 1940s, Rumba adopted elements of Jazz, and Cuban and American artists turned to what is known as Afro-Cuban Jazz.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Rumba is fashionable in Europe and especially in Britain and France, two countries that compete to give a standard to this kind of music during the demonstrations of dances of living room.

In the 1980s the fever of the Rumba will fall and this music will be especially played in Latin dance halls. But this musical genre continues to live in Colombia, and more particularly in Cali which is considered the capital of Rumba, even if this term more generally encompasses all Latin rhythms.

Today Rumba has even merged with newer musical styles such as Reggaeton as can be heard in the song “Rumba Rumba Rumba” by Latin Fresh singer from Panama.

Dancing the Rumba

Sensual dance par excellence, the Rumba runs on a rhythm of 4/4 with a base step on 8 times corresponding to 12 movements.

The dance steps of both partners will be mirrored, ie by moving the opposite foot to that of the other.

One moves one’s left foot forward by rotating the pelvis to hide the right leg behind the left and placing the body weight on the left leg.

The weight of the body is then placed on the right foot without moving the feet, then the left foot moves to the left bearing the weight of the body before marking a pose on the fourth beat.

For the other four times we will perform the same sequence of movement but in the opposite direction and back.

To better visualize the movements of the Rumba, watch carefully in the video below the dance steps of the dancers and practice moving the pelvis in the same way, an important element to give this dance its sensual and erotic character.


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