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Round Dance Tips by Tim Eum—


The rumba is a slow, sensuous, romantic dance with much flirtation. It is said to have originated in Cuba with strong influence from the African slaves. The native rumba was essentially a sex pantomime and was danced very fast. Many figures have a “tease and run” action in which the lady first flirts with and then rejects the man. The slow Latin beat, the rhythmic body and hip action, and the steamy tease-and-run figures make for a “Dance of Love.”

Lew Quinn and Joan Sawyer are credited with introducing the first form of rumba to the United States in 1913. It continued to develop primarily in New York throughout the 1920’s and 30’s. Movies such as “In Gay Madrid” with music by Xavier Cugat did much to popularize rumba and latin music in general. In 1935 there was even a movie made called “Rumba” starring George Raft and Carol Lombard, which of course was a musical in which the hero wins the love of the heiress through their mutual love of dancing.

After much controversy, the recognized expert in rumba, Monsieur Pierre Margolie and his partner Doris Lavelle, established the “official” figures and version of doing the rumba in 1955 – at least for Europe.

It is said that rumba was the basis from which most of the other latin dances originated. You can think of bolero as a slow form of rumba. Mambo is just a fast form of rumba. Salsa is just the modern name for mambo. Cha is simply the triple form of Mambo.


When dancing the rumba, dancers have time to do the “Latin Hip Action.” This is done by smoothly taking a step and then “settling” weight onto the foot with a rolling action. Use the inside edge of the ball of your foot when taking the step and, as you take weight, straighten the knee and lower your body into the leg. Keep most weight on the ball of the foot – do not put much, if any, weight onto the heel of the foot. Another way to say this is that every step in Rumba is taken “ball-flat.” There are no “heel leads” in rumba. Note that a common mistake is to “push the hips out” instead of “settling weight into the leg.” The sure sign of doing it wrong is if your shoulders tilt. An indicator of doing it correctly is if the shoulders remain even with floor through all steps.

Many first see this Latin Hip and think it looks wonderful but then for one reason or another say it is not for them and then dance without it. Unless you have a medical limitation with your legs and or hips -- you really should add latin motion to your rumba to fully enjoy it.

Try this. Stand up straight and then simply settle all your weight onto one foot, while keeping the leg straight. Bend the knee of the free leg. Note how your hip “bulges” to the side and note that this was not the result of “pushing” or “bending” to get it there -- it simply happened because of your “settling.” Now shift your weight onto the other foot straightening that leg and bending the knee of the new free leg. Note how this hip now “bulges."

Practice shifting weight side to side and you will get the feel of your hips bulging from side to side as you settle your weight with each step. Now try getting the same action but with a forward step or a back step. You can also add a little hip “rolling” action as well, to really get a smooth feel to the latin motion.


RUMBA BASIC — Step side on the third step.

A Full Basic is a Fwd, Rec, Side, - ; Bk, Rec, Side, - ; Note that the third step of each measure is a side step. Many just step in place or move backwards or even forward but not sideways. If you correctly go sideways on those third steps you will not only be able to do the latin motion better (and thus be more sensual -- see last month), but you will flow better into many of the other figures in rumba such as New Yorkers, Fence Lines, Spot Turns, Hand to Hands, etc. -- all of which move sideways.

CRAB WALK — XIF, Side, XIF, -; but with rumba styling.

This figure most often starts with the crossing step in front and goes XIF, Side, XIF, - ; However, if the Crab Walks are extended into another measure you would continue by going Side, XIF, Side, -; In rumba, hip motion is more emphasized and so the side step here is of normal size to allow the latin motion to occur. You can "twist" a little on the crossing steps.

CUCARACHA — Step side with partial weight and a little foot rotation, recover, close (QQS).

The difference between partial weight and full weight is very very slight. In fact, if you are able (you have to be quick) you can do a cucaracha with full weight. After all, if you are going to smash that cockroach you aren't going to do it partially are you?

But partial weight is recommended because of speed. The rock side and recover must be done very quickly and some dancers tend to linger and lunge if they take full weight, which means they must rush the closing step and often are off balance for the following figure.

However, if you are taught only to "press" and take partial weight, then some dancers will take NO weight and simply point to the side and wait, and then hopefully do the closing step. That's not correct either.

The explanation I like best is not to concentrate so much on weight taking, but rather on the Latin Motion. The way that I teach Latin Motion is to lower body weight onto one leg, which results in the hip bulge, and then to shift weight to the other foot without rising and falling. Keep the weight bearing leg straight and the free knee bent. When taking steps, lead with inside edge of the foot. This should result in a "rolling of hips" action as you shift weight from one side to the other. The cucaracha then becomes a Side (shift weight), Recover (shift back), Close, -;

The Latin motion (shifting of weight causing hip movement) and timing (speed) is most important -- not so much whether you have taken partial or full weight on the side step.

CROSS BODY  — Most all of the lady’s turn is on step 5.

This is a two-measure figure of six steps (QQS; QQS;). The first measure is just the first half of a Basic except that the man turns left a little to open up. He then rocks back, then recovers turning left-face, and then steps side to finish. The lady will step forward and then again forward while turning left-face almost one-half turn, and then finishes by stepping side.

CROSS BASIC — Like doing a Shoulder to Shoulder into a Cross Body.

Start like a Shoulder to Shoulder, which means turn slightly to sidecar and rock forward, recover, and then step side with a left-face turn. The man then finishes just like the last measure of a Cross Body (XIB, recover turning left-face, side, - ;). However, the lady rocks forward into the man, and then recovers back to do her turn before finishing with a side step. Remember to do “ball flat” steps and use latin motion hips.

HIP TWISTS — There are three levels of complexity.

Open Hip Twist: Man rocks FORWARD, recover, CLOSE. Lady should step forward towards man's right foot on step 3 — man can lead this by drawing the lady into the middle of his body (i.e. the belt buckle) instead of leaving the joined lead hands to his left side. This allows the ending position to be more like an "L" instead of a "T." The Hip Twist itself should be a "hip" twist where most of the lady's turn is in the lower half of the body — not the entire body.

Closed Hip Twist: Man rocks SIDE, recover, CLOSE. As man rocks side, he must turn his upper body towards lady while she is rocking behind. The lady closes on her third step to FACE man and THEN on the "and" count twists the lower part of the body. Keep firm low lead hands to give the lady resistance to help her twist.

Advanced Hip Twist: Man rocks with a XIF, recover, XIB. As the man steps forward, crossing a little in front, he opens the lady all the way to face wall and she steps back. As the man steps back, crossing a little behind, the lady steps forward outside partner on his right side and on the "and" count does her hip twist. Steps 1 & 3 for the man are both pressing steps with the body weight not fully committed.


UNDERARM TURN — During the turn, the lady does a spot turn under the joined lead hands while man does a back basic on the diagonal

The basic Underarm Turn is a one-measure rumba figure that usually follows a forward basic (rock fwd, rec, close, - ;). The Underarm Turn is simply a spot turn for the lady under the joined lead hands. (XLIF turning right-face, rec turning right-face to face the man, side, - ;). The key point on the second measure is for the man to turn slightly to the right so that he rocks back (on his right foot) towards the diagonal (instead of straight to center of hall) and thus stays with the lady when she turns instead of pulling away.

ALEMANA — During the turn, the lady circles under with three forward steps while man does a back basic on the diagonal.

The Alemana is exactly the same as doing a forward Half Basic to an Underarm Turn except the lady uses a different technique to turn under during the second measure. Instead of doing a basketball turning action (i.e. Spot Turn), the lady will step forward and touch three times tracing a circle (or a triangle) under the joined lead hands. The lady has more control and can easily add a little more arm work and latin motion. Don’t forget eye contact with partner.

THREE ALEMANAS — This can be done in a "basic" way by simply doing a Half Basic; Underarm Turn; Reverse Underarm Turn; and Underarm Turn; but it can be more.

To make Three Alemanas more advanced, change the Underarm Turns to true Alemana's by having the lady do a step/turn with touch, step/turn with touch, step (either forward or side depending on the following figure). In an Underarm Turn the lady does more of a "basketball turn" type of action. More specifically, if the lady considers the man as the "12 o'clock position", then she should step first to "1 o'clock" then to "7 o'clock" then to "11 o'clock". The final modification to make this a true advanced figure is to overturn the first Alemana. The man's footwork is the same but the lady turns an extra 1/2 right-face to wrap up in front of the man. Then on the third measure, the man must rock side, recover, side; while the lady crosses in front/turn with touch, side/turn with touch, forward and side (i.e. she overturns her reverse Alemana). The last measure is a normal Alemana turn ending.

THREE THREES — Think of the lady’s last four steps as similar to overturning the last four steps of an Alemana Turn from a fan position.

Briefly, Three Threes is like doing an Open Hip Twist overturned to tandem; swivel, swivel, lady spin left full; then a Sweetheart; and finally the man does a back basic while lady does a step/turn, step/turn, forward.

The real problem is in the last four steps of the figure --- the last step of the third measure and the three steps of the fourth measure. Starting in tandem position to the wall with ladies' right foot free, the lady must do the following:

  • Step forward right swiveling RF to face COH, (the last step of measure 3)

  • Step forward left swiveling RF to face Wall, (first step of measure 4)

  • Step forward right swiveling RF to face COH,

  • Step forward left back to partner.

Each swivel is a one half turn and is done in one quick beat. That’s a lot of swiveling done one after the other very quickly. No wonder many lose their balance, timing, or patience.

You can get practice with the body mechanics of this by doing the last steps of the phase 4 Alemana From a Fan, a two-measure figure. Look at what the lady does here:

  • Step forward right swiveling RF to face DLC, (last step of measure 1)

  • Step forward left swiveling RF to face DRW, (first step of measure 2)

  • Step forward right swiveling RF to face COH,

  • Step side left with partner.

Except for the very last step, the last four steps of these two figures are very similar. In the Alemana the lady can use the joined lead hands as a reference point to help with balance. If the lady can learn to do this part of the Alemana independently, without that hand, then doing the last steps of Three Threes becomes easier.

Or try this: When swiveling on the right foot, thrust the left foot forward and keep it pointed to the wall as you turn. This gives you a balance and reference point. When swiveling on the left foot, collect the right foot in a brushing action.

For the man, the last four steps of Three Threes are close left, rock back on right, recover left, forward right (sqqs), which are relatively easy. Men do not touch the lady in any way till the very end. The lady is totally free and on her own for the quick swivels, and when she does well she is a wonder to behold.

Tim Eum originally prepared these Tips for Calls 'n' Cues, (WASCA); reprinted in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, October 2010 thru February 2011.

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