Is the Rumba a Latin Dance

Is the Rumba a Latin Dance

Rumba, sometimes spelled Rhumba, is one of those fundamental Latin dances that are known around the world.  Generations of kids, adults, singles and couples have enjoyed dancing to the music of Vikki Carr, Celia Cruz, Elvis, and other great musicians who have sung about the love of this person for the love of that person, all the while doing it in a language that sounds sexy even if you don’t understand a word they are saying.

And, maybe that is the problem.  Being in a language the Ballroom Dancing, and now Dancesport “elite” did not understand, they neglected to ask anybody who ever really danced this dance to real live Latin music, played by people who actually knew this stuff, why and or how they did any of the moves and steps.  After all normal men just wanted to impress a lady for truly lascivious reasons, which have nothing to do with dancesport.  Instead in true colonial fashion, our experts survey and according to some even watch native dancers do the dance and then proceeded to tell them what they are doing; explain to them why they are doing it wrong; write down the (according to them) definitive way of doing it right; show them how doing it with another accent or timing is really correct, and making sure only the truly enlightened would ever win the dance in a competition.

The latter comes from the truly non-biased decision that only people who have never actually seen this dance done in native circumstances can be qualified to judge it.  After all mere natives might be biased towards the natural and ages old traditions that helped develop the dance, music, style, and yes even costuming that do not fit the “elites” mold.  With this comes the satisfaction of knowing that the dance is now done in numerous ways, very few, if any, similar to the original.  Let us look at what we now have.  (A) Box Rumba starting with the slow on the ‘1’, (B) Box Rumba starting with the quick on the ‘1’, (C) International style Rumba with the rock step on ‘2’, and hip action (on 1), (D) International type steps while rocking on ‘1’, and (E) even occasionally on ‘3’.  Add to that we have bent legs, straight legs, hips here and hips there, circle action, side action, footwork with the ball, flat, inside edge, lots of weight and almost no weight, and a bunch of other important stuff.

Even more interesting is the music.  What used to be romantic music accentuated and according to some even dominated by percussion has evolved to big-band music.  Not to say they do not have big bands in Latin America.  The difference is they use the big bands to fill the rooms with their wonderful and authentic beats, and not to Europeanize it.  Rumba music is now played at 25, 26, or 27 (that’s technical jargon for real slow).  Some would say that this allows for the dancer to display all the intricacies of the dance including arm movements similar to a Navy seaman’s signaling course.  Others might say it gives the Judges the time necessary to properly determine if said dancer is maintaining the elbow, while projecting the la-di-da-di-da, etc.  Judges used to be able to pick their favorites without fearing retribution.  Now they often remark, I wonder how the other Judges marked, or I didn’t mark him.  I hope that it is OK.  One thing is for sure.  Most of the audience is asleep.  Some might opine that there are so many defined requirements to a “proper” Rumba step that dancing to a regular tempo (32, 33, 34 for the technocrats) is no longer possible.

It is unfortunate for the International Latin circle that all their slots are filled.  Maybe if they had a spot or two open, there would not be a rush to make Rumba the conglomeration of all the Cuban dances and styles like Rumba, Guajira, Danzõn, and Bolero, and they could dance the Bolero, with all it grace and poise instead of trying to make it part of Rumba’s style.  This leads to another problem for which there may be no easy answer.  It could not have taken competitors long to figure out that much more movement shows while moving forward and back across from each other, than sideways with each other, thus making the International style more apparent and noticed to those judging on a great big dance floor.  This is possibly the largest reason why International style has gained influence, but it is certainly not a justifiable reason to change the music, tempo and style.

Given current trends, and the apparent rush to prove we are all for the competitors, dance floors will soon be the size of football stadiums.  Judges will be issued those telescopes we remember from the top of the Empire State Building, and junior judges will be allowed to stand next to them to feed the quarters into the machines.  Finally we have a use for all those new judges.  The other advantage of the telescope is that judges will once again get a close up look at the dancers, and maybe the true expression and feeling of the dance as it should be danced will be appreciated.  Probably not, but we can hope, can’t we?  You think Rumba has issues, wait till you look at Salsa/Mambo and what we have done to them.

Michael S. Reichenbach

Published in:

Dance Week Magazine

2709 Medical Office Place

Goldsboro, NC 27534

Vol. XXVIII No. 34

August 22, 2003

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