Just like any other passionate activity, magic happens when two people come together on the dance floor. In fact, only a small space is required to dance the Rumba because it is, after all, meant to express true passion.
Rumba originally meant “party” for Africans. It took a life of its own and separated into two distinct camps: music and dance. Now here’s where things get a bit muddled: Rumba aside from confusing us with its spelling (Rumba and Rhumba are both accepted) can also mean a group of dances performed in the Afro-Cuban music genre like Columbia, Yambu, and Guaguanco. It was brought into Cuba from Africa, and the dance features pronounced side-to-side hip movements with a basic pattern of two quick side steps and a slow forward step. The dance is sexually aggressive and suggestive, which caused discomfort for much middle-class Cubans during their time.
This kind of Rumba isn’t the topic of our discussion here. What we’re referring to is the other kind of Rumba: Ballroom Rumba. Its origin can be traced to the Cuban rhythm and dance called the Son. As we’ve mentioned earlier, the original Rumba that the African slaves introduced in the early days scandalized many of Cuba’s conservative, middle class. This ‘Son’ was created to add more subtlety to the dance. It emphasized sensuality and flirtation in its movements instead of overt sexual gestures.
When beginners ask me to teach Rumba, I often suggest that they first learn the American style before transitioning to International style. Whatever the case, we like to begin our lessons by focusing on the three most important elements of teaching ballroom dance: (1) Footwork (2) Timing, Rhythm and Refinement, and (3) Variation.