Rumba is a popular ballroom dance taught in many dance studios. According to ballroom dancers and dance historians, the rumba is considered to be “the grandfather of Latin dancing”. It can be, however, confusing as rumba encompasses two different and distinct dance styles. The dance that is taught in ballroom dance studios and ballroom dance students’ focus is on the ballroom style rumba. Ballroom style rumba is a social partner dance that originated in Cuba and was brought to European dance studios through the famous dance instructor Monsieur Pierre. The “other” rumba is an Afro-Cuban dance with its own movements and style. The two dances are entirely different and should not be mixed up with one another!
Monsieur Pierre visited pre-revolution Cuba during the early 1950’s to study their dancing. What he took back to Europe would change the course of dance history and greatly affect modern ballroom dancing. Pierre is widely known for his introducing Latin dancing styles to Europe. One of these dances that Pierre introduced was rumba.
Upon his return to Europe, Pierre decided to call the dance Rumba. However, the dance’s movements and its music are derived from a dance style called son. Son, meaning rhythm in Spanish, is a type of dance and music with its origins in Cuba. Son is one of the most influential forms of dance and music in the world. Interestingly, salsa is another dance that is heavily influenced by son. On an early son music recording, the dance was incorrectly written as the rumba and the name stuck ever since. Another theory is that rumba was an easier word for English speaking audience to understand than son. Pierre was very successful teaching the rumba to his students and the dance took flight ever since. The height of the rumba craze peaked in 1930s as it was danced all over dance clubs and dance studios. However, that early form of rumba from the 1930s was different from Pierre’s variation and the rumba most know today in ballroom dancing.
Modern rumba, in the context of ballroom dancing, is closer to Monsieur Pierre’s study of Cuban music in the late 1940s and early 1950s than it is to Afro-Cuban rumba or early American rumba from the 1930s. Ballroom rumba is characterized by a slower tempo of 120 beats per minute. Early American rumba was performed at much higher tempos and was a fast dance.
The archetype of social dances in Cuba, the swaying of the hips, is noticeable in the ballroom version of the rumba, especially due to the slow tempo of the dance. These hip movements are very important in the dance and a created by bending and then straightening the knees. Watch the video to learn more about the rumba and how to perform some basic steps.