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Rumba Reflections

by Roy & Phyllis Stier
June, 1988

The rumba (formerly rhumba in more formal terms) did actually originate in Cuba as most people suspect. It started as a native dance, which was often performed in bare feet and sometimes on muddy ground, hence the appearance of performing this rhythm with particular affinity for the floor. 

The early music was faster and a little heavier in beat than we now use. We sometimes refer to this type as the "fast Cuban rumba" which can vary from 33 to 36 measures per minute. In any event, they were the ones who used the 2nd beat of the music as their first step in dancing rumba, so we cannot lay the blame at the doorstep of the International ballroom buffs. If you listen to our present day rumba music, that which is pure does have a telltale tendency toward beat 2. Much of what we dance to has a first beat accent and is really bolero music. Bolero is a slower rhythm that adapts completely to rumba but is characterized by more side passes, hand movements, dramatic interludes, etc. 

Cuban rumba develops from a box basic which is very much like our 2-step routines. In fact, we can substitute the rumba basics in many 2-step sections if not played too fast (not possible in foxtrot). As far as body mechanics is concerned, Cuban rumba is distinguished by the rolling up of body weight after the foot is placed, as contrasted to the International style of the weight going on to the foot early. Of course, the basic figures differ greatly also: i.e., Side, Close, Forward, in Cuban — Forward, Recover, Side, in International. The Cuban variety is pretty much a 1st beat dance nowadays, whereas International has retained the 2nd beat lead. The latter stresses the feeling for the 3rd beat of the measure in order to preserve the proper body mechanics.

A little more about International rumba in order to acquaint the round dancer with some of its mysteries … There is a hip motion on count 1 which is the carry-over from the 2nd half of the slow (4 & 1). In a sense, there is a motion on every beat, even though only 3 weight changes occur. We see a distinct disassociation of the top and bottom half of the body that is not present in waltz, foxtrot, quickstep, and tango. There is a straightening of the leg before the weight is placed on it and then a softening action in preparation for the next step. Good rumba movement requires being over the supporting leg for each change — in other words, we move over the ball of the foot (really the big toe) to the flat or heel. The hip movement is not a forced thing but a following through as a matter of body mechanics. The best way to think of this movement is that the hip weight is going down through the knees and ankles. In stepping back, there is a toe/heel action, but pressure is retained through the ball of the foot. International buffs emphasize everything by lifting the body while thinking of the diaphragm as the center of all action.

This column comes from a series published in Cue Sheet Magazine between 1987 and 1992, and is reprinted with permission. The full series is collected in an 86-pg booklet, available for $30.00 plus postage. E-mail Fran Kropf at This article was published in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC)  Newsletter, October 2008.


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