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What is the Rumba?

Most rumba dances are meant to infer the sexual relationship between partners.
Rumba is a ballroom dance with roots deep in Cuban music.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 01 August 2014
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The rumba refers to several Latin dance forms, which differ greatly. Almost all rumba dances are meant to infer the sexual relationship between partners. The moves can be subtle or quite obvious, depending on the type of form danced.

The Cuban rumba is very different than what one would see in a ballroom dancing competition. The dance is highly energetic and was thought to have derived directly from the dancing of African slaves from around the West Indies and the Caribbean. Dance historians date performance of this form of rumba back as early as the late 19th century. Some of the moves are so suggestive and frank, that the dance was often considered unacceptable in the countries it was performed, and was prohibited.

The Cuban rumba requires a high degree of athleticism, as it is very fast. The dance represents a seduction attempt on the part of the male, with the female standing resistant to the man’s charms. This form of rumba frequently includes acrobatic moves, like handstands, flips and cartwheels, usually performed by the male. In order to achieve sexual gratification, he must impress his female partner.

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The second part of the Cuban rumba usually brings the dancers close together, and the movements are easily indicative of sexual longing. There is much what one might deem “inappropriate” body contact when the couples connect, and many moves indicate various sexual positions with the male clearly dominant. The partners are often hip to hip in dance connections. This type of form is rarely seen except in exhibitions since it requires a great deal of space to perform it properly. The dancers are mostly apart, and utilize a significant amount of floor space while performing very different acrobatic moves far apart from each other.

Since the Cuban rumba was considered improper, a new dance, called the son rumba, was developed. This dance is much slower in tempo and has been the traditional dance adapted for Ballroom dancing competitions. A third rumba, the danzon is extremely slow, and is sometimes seen in West Coast Swing variants.

The son rumba is meant to feature the female, a distinct difference from the Cuban rumba. It is considered the bedroom dance, or the “dance of love.” The female’s moves are deliberate and seductive, as she woos her lover to the bedroom, but not too quickly. The dance is in essence a tease until its final moments, so the male acts either appreciatively or aggressively. However, when the male’s movements become hurried, the female gently repels him. In the final moment or two, the female and male dance closely together, representing fulfillment.

Son rumba was introduced to the US in the 1920s and was for a time, quite popular. However, the introduction of the mambo caused the rumba to be relatively ignored until it was reintroduced in Ballroom Dance competitions featuring Latin Dance. It now is considered both an important and exciting dance to learn, and is particularly noted for featuring the skill of the female dancer.

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