The Rumba is the oldest of the Latin American dances. Its name is derived from the Spanish word "rumbear," which means "to have fun" or "to go to a party." Variations of this dance are called the Son, Danzon, Guagira, Guaracha and Naningo.
Rumba music is a blend of Latin and African rhythms. In its early days, rumba was played on drums, guitars, maracas (dried gourds with seeds inside) and claves (two thick sticks). As the music evolved, piano, wind, and stringed instruments were added.
Dance historians believe that African slaves invented the dance soon after they were brought to Cuba, possibly as early as the 1500s. This early version of the dance was very sensual, with exaggerated hip movements and fast tempo of music. The movements often mimicked the courtship of barnyard animals, particularly hens and roosters. The costumes popular later in the dance's history included a long ruffled train in the woman's skirt, which represented the hen's feathered tail, and the man's ruffled shirt sleeves and chest, which represented the cock's hackled feathers.
Originally, rumba was a street dance popular among the poorer population, the slaves and laborers. The dance was so wild and overtly sexual that it shocked many in the upper classes and the government banned it. But by 1920, the dance regained its popularity and the law banning it was ignored. In 1925, President Machado reinstated the ban, claiming "this class of music and the Rumba are contrary to the good custom and public order of Cuba." However, few paid heed. Since the upper classes enjoyed dancing the slower, less sexual version, they deemed it a perfectly acceptable social dance. The ban was once again ignored and forgotten.
The ballroom Rumba we know today is really the Son or Danzon, which are slower and not as overtly sexual as the original. The Son was very popular among the Cuban middle class and the Danzon, which is still slower and more refined, was favored by the upper class.
History in the United States
Latin American music and dance became popular in the United States in the late 1920s. Xavier Cugat and his orchestra were a major influence, playing Latin music in the famous Coconut Grove in Los Angeles, California, and in early talking movies. In 1930, a new song called "The Peanut Vendor," set to the Rumba rhythm, became an instant hit. Then in 1935, a movie called Rumba, starring George Raft and Carole Lombard, was released. It was a musical about a suave dancer (Raft) who woos a rich heiress (Lombard). The movie furthered the dance's reputation for being "The Dance of Romance."
History in Europe
Pierre and Doris Lavelle are credited with bringing the dance to Europe in the 1930s. Monsieur Pierre was London's leading dance teacher at the time, and his enthusiasm for Latin dancing was infectious. The Rumba became extremely popular in London and quickly gained fans throughout Europe.
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