The dance known in the United States as the Rumba is a composite of several dances popular in Cuba, including the guaracha, the Cuban bolero, the Cuban son, and the rural rumba. 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 labor 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 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.
As early as the second world war, the Rumba was modified to a slower and more refined version for the Cuban middle class, this was called the "son". The American Rumba is a modified version of this dance which first came to this country in 1913. Ten years later band leader Emil Coleman imported Rumba musicians and dancers to New York but no interest developed. Real interest in Latin music began about 1929 as a result of increased American tourism to Latin America. In 1935 George Raft appeared with Carole Lombard in a movie called "Rumba" in which he played a suave dancer who wins the lady through dancing. Rumba's unique styling and unusual musical rhythms immediately captured the fancy of ballroom dance enthusiasts, and it has retained its popularity to the present time.
The Cuban style is characterized by forward and backward steps. The American version is done in a box pattern with "Cuban motion" as it's chief characteristic. "Cuban motion" is a discreet, expressive hip motion achieved by bending and straightening the legs and carefully timed weight changes. American Rumba is one of the most popular ballroom dances today.
Reprinted with permission of Ron & Rebecca Kellen & Bogie of the Mile High Ballroom of Prescott, AZ