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Learn all about the Rumba!

What is the Rumba (also occasionally spelled as “Rhumba”)?

The rumba is a slow, sexy type of ballroom dance that originated in the African slave communities in sixteenth-century Cuba. Although its original incarnation was faster and more aggressive, it remains a sizzling, passionate dance that has influenced many popular Latin American dance moves, including the cha-cha.

History of the Rumba

Although mistakenly assumed to refer to a specific type of dance, the rumba is actually a term to collectively describe a variety of dances of Afro-Cuban origin. The earliest roots of the rumba extend back to the 16th century when slaves brought into Cuba from Africa introduced the sexually aggressive moves to the local culture. The original rumba forms scandalized much of conservative, middle-class Cuba, and eventually the more refined, slower version also known as the Son evolved.

The Son made its way to the United States in the early 1900s and soon became known as the American Rumba. It wasn’t until the 1930s, however, that the rumba became popular in the mainstream when the rumba-influenced song “The Peanut Vendor” became a radio hit and launched the dance into the national consciousness. The 1935 film “Rumba,” starring George Raft and Carole Lombard, etched the dance permanently into American pop culture.

How to Dance the Rumba/Basic Dance Steps

Many modern versions of the rumba have successfully married the overt sensuality of its origins with the contemporary preference for slower, more artistic movements. Here are some basic tips for beginning rumba dancers:

  1. Always maintain solid eye contact with your partner.
  2. As is the case with many Latin dances, the hips do a lot of the work in the rumba.
  3. The rumba rhythm is slow-quick-quick.
  4. Rumba songs are typically in 4/4 time.
  5. The “leading” dance partner — usually the male — must remain confident throughout the dance.
  6. The “following” dance partner — usually the female — must carefully and appropriately respond to her partner’s movements, even if he makes a mistake. Doing so will make it much easier for the leading partner to correct his mistake without too much confusion.

The fundamental move in the American Rumba is known as the “box step,” and is similar to the waltz. Begin with both feet together, facing your partner.

  1. Step forward with your left foot.
  2. Slide your right foot to the right, opposite and about a shoulder-width length from your left foot.
  3. Slide your left foot to meet with your right foot.
  4. Step back with your right foot.
  5. Slide your left foot back and to the left, opposite and about a shoulder-width length from your right foot.
  6. Step your right foot to meet with your left foot.

Great Rumba Dance Songs

  • “Bella Maria de Mi Alma”, Mambo Kings soundtrack
  • “Wonderful Tonight,” Eric Clapton
  • “Falling into You,” Celine Dion
  • “Let’s Stay Together,” Al Green
  • “When You Say Nothing At All,” Alison Krause

Rumba in the Movies

  • “Flying Down to Rio” (1933)
  • “Rumba” (1935)
  • “Dance with Me” (1998)
  • “Shall We Dance” (Original Japanese film, 1996; U.S. remake, 2004)
  • “Marilyn Hotchkiss’ Ballroom Dancing & Charm School” (2005)
  • “Rumba” (2008)
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