Rhumba is both a family of music rhythms and a dance style that originated in Africa and traveled via the slave trade to Cuba and the New World. The word Rumba is a generic term, covering a variety of names (i.e., Son, Danzon, Guagira, Guaracha, Naningo), for a type of West Indian music or dancing. The exact meaning varies from island to island.
The dance known in the United States as the Rhumba is a composite of several dances popular in Cuba, including the guaracha, the Cuban bolero, the Cuban son, and the rural rhumba. All have similar rhythms that can be traced to religious and ceremonial dances of Africa. These rhythms were remembered by the earliest black people transported unwillingly to Cuba and subjected to forced labour by the Spanish colonists. The same pulsating dance rhythms may still be found in parts of Africa, but the dances have been altered by contact with other cultures and races.
The rural rumba is a pantomimic (communication by means of gesture and facial expression) dance originating in the rural areas. It depicts the movements of various barnyard animals in an amusing manner, and is basically an exhibition, rather than a participation dance. Both the Cuban son and the Cuban bolero are moderate tempo dances in traditional ballroom form. The guaracha is distinguished by its fast, cheerful tempo. In styling, the American rumba closely resembles the Cuban son and the Cuban bolero.
The American rumba adaptation of the Cuban dances were first introduced in the United States in 1930. Its unique styling and unusual musical rhythms immediately captured the fancy of ballroom dance enthusiasts, and it has retained its popularity to the present time.
Some dancers considered rumba the most erotic and sensual Latin dance, for its relatively slow rhythm and the hip movement.
Rumba arose in Havana in the 1890s. As a sexually-charged Afro-Cuban dance, rumba was often suppressed and restricted because it was viewed as dangerous and lewd.
Later, Prohibition in the United States caused a flourishing of the relatively-tolerated cabaret rumba, as American tourists flocked to see crude sainetes (short plays) which featured racial stereotypes and generally, though not always, rumba.
Perhaps because of the mainstream and middle-class dislike for rumba, son montuno became seen as "the" national music for Cuba, and the expression of Cubanisimo. Rumberos reacted by mixing the two genres (category of artistic composition) in the 30s, 40s and 50s; by the mid-40s, the genre had regained respect, especially the guaguanco style.
In the 1990s the French group Gypsy Kings became a popular New Flamenco group by playing rumba flamenco music.
Rumba is sometimes confused with salsa, with which it shares origins and essential movements.
There are several rhythms of the Rumba family:
Rumba is thought to have contributed to the origin of the cha-cha-cha, and indeed most figures (if not all, somehow) can be reinterpreted in cha-cha-cha.
There are two sources of the dances: one Spanish and the other African. Although the main growth was in Cuba, there were similar dance developments which took place in other Caribbean islands and in Latin America generally.
The "rumba influence" came in the 16th century with the black slaves imported from Africa. The native Rumba folk dance is essentially a sex pantomime danced extremely fast with exaggerated hip movements and with a sensually aggressive attitude on the part of the man and a defensive attitude on the part of the woman. The music is played with a staccato beat in keeping with the vigorous expressive movements of the dancers. Accompanying instruments include the maracas, the claves, the marimbola, and the drums.
As recently as the second world war, the "Son" was the popular dance of middle class Cuba. It is a modified slower and more refined version of the native Rumba. Still slower is the "Danzon", the dance of wealthy Cuban society. Very small steps are taken, with the women producing a very subtle tilting of the hips by alternately bending and straightening the knees.
Real interest in Latin music began about 1929. In the late 1920's, Xavier Cugat formed an orchestra that specialized in Latin American music. He opened at the Coconut Grove in Los Angeles and appeared in early sound movies such as "In Gay Madrid". Later in the 1930's, Cugat played at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York. By the end of the decade he was recognized as having the outstanding Latin orchestra of the day.
In 1935, George Raft played the part of a suave dancer in the movie "Rumba", a rather superficial musical in which the hero finally won the heiress (Carol Lombard) through the mutual love of dancing.
In Europe, the introduction of Latin American dancing (Rumba in particular) owed much to the enthusiasm and interpretive ability of Monsieur Pierre (London's leading teacher in this dance form). In the 1930's with his partner, Doris Lavelle, he demonstrated and popularized Latin American dancing in London.
Pierre and Lavelle introduced the true "Cuban Rumba" which was finally established after much argument, as the official recognized version in 1955.
Rumba is the spirit and soul of Latin American music and dance. The fascinating rhythms and bodily expressions make the Rumba one of the most popular ballroom dances.