History of the Modern Latin Rhythms
by Sandi &
The latin rhythms
dance in round dancing were developed by the English within our
lifetime, but they date back to folk dances evolving over centuries
in their countries of origin. They came to us by way of political
upheaval that sent Cuban, Brazilian, as well as Argentine immigrants
to Paris in the 1920s and 1930s, where they danced as at home to
bands of their contemporaries in dance halls of the day. And as fate
would have it, a French ballroom teacher saw it, liked it, and took a
demonstration of this new dance craze to London. His show consisted
of Argentine tango, paso doble, samba, and rumba.
His name was
Jean Phillipe Zurcher Margolie, known only as Pierre, who had been
blinded in one eye after being struck by a tennis ball. Pierre and
his student and partner Doris Lavelle traveled to Cuba in the 1950s
to learn the Cuban style (see A Concise History of Latin American
Dancing in the United Kingdom by Irene Evans).
Blame him for
rumba and cha cha on the “2” beat. It wasn’t originally that
way. He first saw the rumba in Paris in 1931, according to the
Concise History. He codified it, and his work was adopted
the Imperial Society, but he was dissatisfied with it. He had to wait
until WW II ended and he could travel to Cuba, the home of the rumba,
to take lessons with the then Cuban champions Suzy and Pepe Riviera.
They told him he was “out of time” by starting on the “1”
beat, as the Cuban way of dancing rumba starts on the “2” beat,
“to capture the essence of latin music,” according to the Concise
History. In 1948, he introduced the “Cuban system of ballroom
rumba” to England. From then until Castro became dictator of Cuba,
they traveled regularly to Cuba and to South American to study. It
was during that period that they discovered Cuban bands were adding
extra beats to rumba music, that dancers marked these with their
feet, and the cha cha cha was born. In 1955, his technique book of
latin dancing was adopted in England, the first attempt to
standardize it and the basis of today’s Imperial Society syllabus.
danced with no partner contact, portraying the pursuit of the hen by
the rooster, who never caught her, according to the History.
Its provocative movements were toned down as it moved onto the dance
floor, and contact became desirable.
Brazil but has few figure names in Portugese, the native language,
mostly because Pierre had little command of that language. Most names
are French, except bota fogo, derived from any number of Brazilian
sources, and corta jaca, meaning “cutting the apple.”
to England from the Dominican Republic by another dance teacher but
never caught on there. The History carries a story that the
dance arose from the disability of a war-wounded general who dragged
his right foot, and out of respect for a national hero, the people
copied his action in their folk dancing.
and Sandi host two weekly
Carousel Clubs and teach a weekly figure clinic on advanced basics in
Southern California. This
article comes from their club newsletter,
March 2013, and
was reprinted in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC)
Newsletter, February 2014.