How to dance cuban rumba

Rumba NYC (Cuban) | New York Latin Culture Magazine

New York Rumba is the root of much of what we call “Latin Music” today. Rumba means “party.” It is an Afro-Cuban drum, song and dance tradition that is one step removed from the sacred traditions of the African Diaspora and Mother Africa. It’s how the community gathers to express family, faith, community and love.

There isn’t much traditional Cuban Rumba in New York City. As far as we know, Central Park Rumba or Prospect Park Rumba are closest to the tradition. There is probably some in Union City, New Jersey, the heart of Cuban NYC. New York Cuban percussionist and leader Pedrito Martínez is the world’s 1st call Rumbero. Really!

Ballroom Rumba and the 1950s Rumba dance craze are not Cuban Rumba. New York Salsa on 2 is closer to Rumba clave. The core of Rumba is the syncopation of clave rhythm (pa-pa-pa, ta-ta OR pa-pa, ta-ta-ta). Rumba further syncopates the 3-side of Son Clave, so it’s pa-pa-UGH-pa. Ya.

Most of what artists play today is Rumba Fusion. In Puerto Rico, we say: Rumba, Bomba, Plena, Salsa. That’s really how Salsa developed.

  • Celia Cruz
  • Chano Pozo
  • Daymé Arocena
  • Eddie Bobè
  • Los Muñequitos de Matanzas
  • Miguelito Valdés
  • Mongo Santamaría
  • Raíces Habaneras

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Rumba NYC News

Friday, December 30, 2022
East Village, NYC

Continue Reading Pedrito Martinez, the World’s 1st-Call Rumbero, Plays a Timba Pre-New Year’s Eve Show at Drom

Saturday, October 21, 2023

Friday, June 3, 2022
Upper West Side

Thursday, November 11, 2021
Greenwich Village, Manhattan

Rumba nyc Archive

December 2022

Pedrito Martinez plays a Cuban Rumba and Timba Holiday Show at Drom in Manhattan’s East Village on Thursday, December 15, 2022 at 7pm. From $30. 🇨🇺

Pedrito Martinez plays a Cuban rumba and timba Pre-New Year’s Eve Party at Drom in NYC’s East Village on Friday, December 30, 2022 at 9pm. Party starts with a Shani Talmor salsa dance class at 7pm. From $25. 🇨🇺

September 2022

Pedrito Martinez‘ Spring Rumba Con Fundamento concert, is streaming from Harlem Stage from September 24 – October 3, 2022 for just $5. 🇨🇺

Roman Díaz, one of NYC’s top rumberos, plays Cuban Rumba at Mi Salsa Kitchen in the Lower East Side on Wednesday, September 28, 2022 from 8:30-11pm. 🇨🇺

Xiomara Laugart, the Nueva Trova star, sings Cuban Rumba on Friday, September 30, 2022 from 9-11pm. A DJ spins until 2am. 🇨🇺

Let’s Dance

When Africans first arrived in Cuba, the first thing they probably did was pray. Sacred drums made by the hands of Africans from Africa are still preserved in Cuba. The second thing they probably did was Rumba which means “party.” It is how we turn sorrow into joy, and we’ve had to do a lot of that.

In Cuba, Rumba evolved into Son (Cuban Salsa) and then Timba. In Puerto Rico, we say “Rumba, Bomba, Plena, Salsa.” That is a fair description of how Salsa developed in New York City.

There are many similar traditions around the Latin world: Bomba in Puerto Rico, Cumbia in Colombia, Tambor in Venezuela, Samba in Brazil, Festejo in Peru, Rumba Flamenco in Spain and France, and others. All are different branches of the same root, the Fon, Kongo and Yoruba traditions that grew in the Americas. Nowadays, what we call Lucumí or Yoruba, is actually a blend of these traditions.

To our hearts, Rumba is spiritual. If you are open to La Rumba, it can change your life. It changed ours.

Rumba is a party, but in African Diaspora tradition, singing, drumming and dancing together is how we pray. We sing about the saints a lot, but it’s no different from Europeans singing the “Ave Maria.” Cuban Rumba still feels spiritual, but Puerto Rican Rumba is just a party.

Traditional Rumba is voice and chorus; or voice, chorus and percussion from Matanzas, Cuba. Call and response singing and clave rhythms are essential. If you find yourself in a Rumba, stand near the drummers or in the middle of the singers, and sing along with the chorus. It’s a transcendental experience. We become one. This is the Rumba.

In 2016, UNESCO named Rumba part of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity.

Our Rumba Roots

Los Muñequitos de Matanzas does a Rumba in the community. There is great Rumba Columbia dancing later in the video.

Rumba is an Afro-Cuban drum, chorus and dance tradition that is one of the roots of Latin music. Rumba means “party.”

The three Rumba dances are Guaguancó (a playful courting dance in Cuba), Yambú (a sensual dance where the dancers pretend to be elders), and Columbia (a showy challenge between the dancer and lead drummer).

In Havana, Rumba from the west blends with Changüi from the east into Cuban Son dance music. In New York City Son Cubano mixes with 1940s Bebop and Swing into Latin Jazz (Cub0p). That evolves into Salsa in 1970s New York City. In Puerto Rico, Guaguancó is just another name for Salsa.

Cuban Rumba is the root. In fact, the core of Rumba, Clave, is the root of most Latin music in the Spanish language frame. It’s also the root of American Gospel music. You can take the Rumba all the way to Reggaeton and Latin Trap, and the social traditions are similar throughout. It’s been said that if you are not in trance, it’s not Rumba. Ashé.

Some of the best Salsa dancers dance on clave (1-2-3, 1-2 or 1-2, 1-2-3) – instead of in Salsa rhythm. We noticed the kids in Puerto Rico dancing this way. It is easier, slows down the movement and turns every measure of the music into a game. It Africanizes your motion (flatter, more grounded step), provides beautiful natural accents, and gives room for much more. It encourages upper-lower body separation. We noticed that Hip-Hop pop-locking flows naturally out of Rumba clave. It gets you. It moves you.

Pedrito Martínez and Roman Díaz are among NYC’s leading Rumberos.

In Cuba, Jennyselt Galata is a guardian of Rumba social traditions. Her home is a famous reservoir of African Diaspora religious traditions. She runs a beautiful school that is growing the next generation of Rumba dancers. Instagram @jennygalata

PS: The American Rumba ballroom dance has nothing to do with this.

The Deepest Roots

Colonizers claim everything as their own, but rumba doesn’t come from Spain. It’s easy to say that rumba is African, but it is one step removed from Mother Africa. The oldest drums in Cuba were indeed made by Africans, but rumba is the music of their children. It is Cuban.

A lot of human culture originates at home in traditions of faith, family, community and love. Rumba derives from beautiful Afro-Cuban religions such as Santería, but is purely secular. Many rumba musicians are also priests, but a rumba is just a party. Watch though, many drummers pray in private before they perform, and even secular dancers consider the dance circle (the “batey” in Puerto Rico) to be sacred space.

Today we associate congas (tumbadores) with rumba and Latin music, but rumba was originally played on boxes (cajones) or whatever was at hand, including the wall. The tradition appears in the 1880s after the end of human slavery, but before it was done at home in secret. Congas only appear in the early 1900s.

Cuban rumba has many traditions, but the three main arcs are guaguancó, yambú and columbia.

Guaguancó is a playful couples dance in which the man tries to “vacunao” (inject) the woman with his movements, while she avoids him. He mesmerizes her with slick dancing to provide cover for a hip thrust, flick of his hand or pointing of his toe. She jumps out of the way or covers herself with her hands or clothes. It’s good natured fun.

Yambú is a gentle couples dance that is very sensual, but danced with the slow moves of old people. You may see the man dancing with a cane.

Columbia is a dancer’s competition. There is a lot of shoulder movement and the dancer challenges the quinto, the lead drum, to match their movements. Dancers can get very expressive. Bomba Puertorriqueña is similar and somehow related.

This excellent series by Havana Cultura explains the many aspects of Cuban rumba. Watch all 6 episodes.

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Learn Basic Rumba Steps

Rumba, or sometimes 'rhumba', is a slow and flirtatious dance. Some say it is the spirit and soul of Latin American dance. It's certainly a dance of romance and always a good choice for weddings.

  • Basic steps
  • Instructions & Diagrams
  • Video
  • Recommended Video Lessons »

Quick intro

Rumba is generally regarded as the "dance of romance", but also known as the "Latin waltz" or the "waltz with a wiggle". Due to its slow rhythm and sensual movements, some call it the most intimate and passionate dance there is.

Learning rumba is not difficult. The ease of learning is actually one of the main reasons why it's more popular today than most other Latin dances (except perhaps salsa). Once you learn the simple steps, the music does the rest.

Rumba can be danced to a variety of music, from contemporary to traditional. Here are a few popular songs to give you an idea:

  • And I Love Her - The Beetles
  • It's Now or Never - Elvis Presley
  • I'm Not Giving You Up - Gloria Estefan
  • Besame Mucho - Xavier Cugat
  • Falling Into You - Celine Dion
  • Neon Moon - Brooks and Dunn
  • Under the Boardwalk - The Drifters
  • Kokomo - Beach Boys
  • Girl from Ipanema - Frank Sinatra

Basic steps

Rumba is usually danced to music written in 4/4 time, with four beats to each measure. The basic step is a very simple box step. It consist of three basic steps - two quick side steps and a slow forward or backward step.

The rhythm of the steps is slow, quick, quick. A slow step is danced over two counts of music, while a quick step is danced over one count.

Rumba is a spot dance which means the couple does not travel around the dance floor like in many other dances, but rather stays in one location. It is done to music with slow tempo and emphasizes on hip movements (what we call Cuban motion).

Instructions & Diagrams:

You start dancing in a closed dance position. The man's left hand is holding the lady's right hand with the elbows almost touching. The man's right hand is placed underneath the lady's shoulder blade. The lady's left hand is placed right behind the man's shoulder, flat on his back.

Basic Steps for Men

The gentleman starts with his left foot stepping forward. The man's steps are as follows:

  1. Step forward with your left foot
  2. Sidestep to the right with your right foot
  3. Move your left foot to your right foot
  4. Step back with your right foot
  5. Sidestep to the left with your left foot
  6. Move your right foot to your left foot

Basic Steps for Women

The lady starts with her right foot stepping backward. The woman's steps are as follows:

  1. Step back with your right foot
  2. Sidestep to the left with your left foot
  3. Move your right foot to your left foot
  4. Step forward with your left foot
  5. Sidestep to the right with your right foot
  6. Move your left foot to your right foot


OK, Leon and Kim will now show you how it all comes together. Don't forget to move your hips and when you're doing side steps first pull your leg in and then step to the side. The video will explain everything in detail:

more videos »

This was an introductory video lesson from Passion4Dancing online dance course. Here is why we recommend them.

Rumba - Cuban dance, saturated with the spirit of freedom

Rumba - Cuban dance, saturated with the spirit of freedom

Rumba attracts attention with original movements filled with flirtation and passion. But did the unbridled emotions of two lovers really form the basis of this dance? The history of style is fraught with interesting moments, which we offer to learn about right now.

What is rumba, distinctive features of dance

Rumba is a multicultural phenomenon. Speaking in modern language, this is a separate subculture like dudes, hippies, etc. This is a conversation about the unity of music and dance, while the melody sets the rhythm for the dancers.

Those who are barely familiar with this dance style may get the impression that this is a dance of love and passion. But it's not. A real Cuban rumba is a celebration, joy and desire to enjoy life. The lyrics of the songs revolve around two themes: politics and social order. There is little love here, but a lot of energetic movements and a frantic rhythm set by African drums. nine0005

Where did the distorted perception of dance come from then? Thanks to the assignment of international status to the style. The ballroom rumba is distinguished by a calmer, more romantic musical accompaniment, as well as more graceful choreography. Watching the dancers flirt on the stage, one involuntarily has a feeling of sadness and longing for the departed love.

But the features of the rumba do not end there. The Cuban direction is divided into three types, each of which is endowed with specific features. nine0005

  • Guaguanco is the most common rumba. It resembles flirting between two partners. At the same time, the man tries to touch his partner with a handkerchief, and she effectively defends herself, performing beautiful movements with her hips.

  • Yambu is the oldest rumba, where the flirting of a partner with his partner also comes to the fore. But everything flows much softer and not as bold as in guaguanco.

  • nine0016 Columbia. Unlike previous varieties, this rumba originated in rural Cuba. The style stands out for its fast pace, energy and the obligatory presence of a male dancer-soloist.

Rumba in general terms is:

  • pair dance;

  • spectacular movements of the hips, trunk and arms;

  • the special atmosphere of the tropics, conducive to relaxation and bliss on the ocean. nine0005

The history of rumba

Cuba is considered the birthplace of this dance genre. Under the hot rays of the sun, scorching the island of Freedom, a rumba appeared, which was destined to win the hearts of millions around the world.

It all started in the 60s of the XIX century, when the streams of blacks, freed from slavery, poured from the eastern outskirts of Cuba into the big cities: Havana and Matanzas. Thousands of Africans, brought to the lands of Liberty Island two centuries earlier, began to spread their culture among the local population. Former slaves settled in the working-class neighborhoods in the neighborhood with immigrants from Europe and filled the life around with African rhythms and dances. nine0005

It is noteworthy that the rumba is based not just on African traditions, but on the culture of individual peoples of Africa. To be more precise, these are the Bantu tribes. It was they who settled Havana and became the progenitors of the dance. Interestingly, Bantu dances are secular, that is, they were performed at various holidays. Ritual roots can be traced in them, but they are not fundamental.

Europeans, most of whom were Spaniards, and Africans - two cultures, at the junction of which the birth of the rumba took place. From the Spaniards, the style inherited the meter and vocal style of singing songs, from the Africans - the drum sound and energy. nine0005

The abolition of slavery in Cuba did not mean a peaceful life for the Negroes. Hard work hasn't gone away, and neither has discrimination. Unlike the United States, the life of the black population on Liberty Island was easier: Africans were endowed with the rights of whites. But at the same time, they were forbidden to hold the position of an engineer or a doctor, and also ... to play the national instruments - drums. If the police saw musicians playing tumbadors or cajons in crowded places, they immediately confiscated them. nine0005

It is impossible to force people filled with rumba rhythms to live without music and dances. Witty Cubans came up with the idea to perform "rumba de bemba" on the lips. In fact, they made sounds with the help of their mouths and lips, driving the authorities into confusion. So, the style continued to live at the beginning of the 20th century.

In the 1950s, rumba performances could only be seen in city solares. They were living quarters that surrounded courtyards. Also, the energy of the dance accompanied the workers at the sugar processing factories and in local taverns. These places usually gathered people who knew each other well. Therefore, they gave themselves up to music and dance with pleasure in order to forget about the hard everyday life. nine0005

It turns out that rumba was originally a genre inherent in the poor sections of the population of Cuba. But around 1952, the style begins to emerge from the "underground", from the backyards of Solares to the theater stages. His appearance among intellectuals is associated with a group of friends who decided to form a rumba ensemble "Guaguanco Matancero". The inspiration for them was the rumba recordings that accompanied the gatherings of the local population in the tavern "Rooster".

The newly-created team began to actively perform at various holidays, participate in various television and radio broadcasts. After 2 years, Guaguanco Matancero released the first record with the recording of "Dolls" ("Los Muñequitos"), which became a national hit and is still perceived as a characteristic rumba style born in the province of Matanzas. nine0005

Closer to the 60s, the government of Cuba "takes up" the rumba. Style becomes politicized. The Ministry of Culture begins to create organizations dedicated to teaching dance, to take part in the development of "folk" and professional dancers, and to actively promote the style at various events.

What caused such interest on the part of the ruling officials? Desire to change the values ​​of the people. After all, the history of rumba is primarily the history of dark-skinned Cubans. If the government is loyal to this dance, then all racial prejudice is a thing of the past. The politicization of the rumba is an attempt to change social prejudices. nine0005

What is happening with rumba today? The dance hasn't disappeared. Moreover, the direction is included in the program of Latin American ballroom dancing, along with samba, cha-cha-cha, paso doble and jive.

Outside of Cuba

In the United States, people were talking about the rumba as early as 1914. But no one was particularly enthusiastic about the dance. It took about 20 years for the style to take on a new form called "American Rumba". A kind of rebirth of the genre occurred under the influence of jazz - the choreography was filled with simpler figures and a clear rhythm of steps. nine0005

Europeans owe the appearance of the rumba in their homeland to the dance teacher Pierre Lavelle. Traveling around Cuba, he was so inspired by the dance culture of the country that he could not leave it without the attention of his students in London. The style caused heated debate among the prim English, but this did not stop it from being standardized in 1955. By the way, in addition to rumba, Lavell enriched the culture of the Old World and cha-cha-cha.

Interesting facts

  • The main instruments that are used to play rumba are tumbadors, clave and cajon. All of them are percussion. But for Cubans, the history of the appearance of cajon is especially noteworthy. In its modern form, this instrument is a wooden box on which the musician sits. In the past, the role of the cajon was played by large wooden boxes used to transport fish from Spain to Cuba. As soon as the boxes were freed, they were taken by local music lovers to extract the low sounds of the rumba. nine0005

  • Rumba was the latest foreign style to be included in the ballroom dance program by Soviet choreographers. Teachers of the times of the USSR were confused by the provocative nature of the style.

  • You can admire the performance of rumba in the cinema thanks to the popular film "Mask" (1994). It is impossible to look at the incendiary movements of Jim Carrey in the scene with the police, while remaining still. The shoulders begin to move on their own. nine0005

  • There are several versions about the origin of the style name. The first says that the term "rumboso orquestra" is the basis. At the beginning of the 19th century, this was the name given to musicians performing dance melodies. The second is closely related to Spain, where the word "rumbo" is used in the sense of "way".

Best Rumba Melodies

  • nine0016 "Guantanamera" is one of the most popular songs created in the rumba genre. The exact date of its appearance is unknown. The poems were written by José Marti around 1891. Musical accompaniment appeared almost 40 years later thanks to José Fernandez Diaz. What is the song about? About a girl from Guantanamo who leaves the main character after a romantic relationship.

"Guantanamera" (listen)

  • "La Paloma" or "Dove". It's hard to believe, but this composition is over 150 years old. Despite her advanced age, she is recognizable from the first chords. It was written by Sebastian Iradier, a Spanish composer. What else is special about this song? The fact that at the moment the number of her records exceeds 2000. Among the famous performers who sang "La Paloma" are Elvis Presley, Julio Iglesias and Mireille Mathieu.

"La Paloma" (listen)

  • nine0016 "Paxi Ni Ngongo" is a sensual and soulful song performed by Bonga, an Angolan composer. And although this singer was born far from the island of Freedom, African motifs and the struggle for independence can also be traced in his work. After all, Angola, located in South Africa, fought for freedom from the Portuguese.

"Paxi Ni Ngongo" (listen)

  • "Cantinero de Cuba" performed by Cuban singer Velfo Gutiérrez. The song is literally saturated with the history of the Cuban people, who loved to relax in taverns. "Tavern in Cuba" - this is how the song is translated, which is remembered for its light and beautiful melody. nine0005

"Cantinero de Cuba" (listen)

Rumba will always be associated with Cuba and the spirit of freedom that the first dancers of African and Spanish origin filled it with. This spirit still lives in the streets of Havana, where dark-skinned Cubans dance with pleasure to the disturbing sounds of African drums.

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ShallWeDance: Cuban Rumba

Rumba is a dance of African blacks brought to Cuba at the end of the last century. The dance emphasizes the movements of the body, not the legs. Complex, overlapping rhythms, tapped by pots, spoons, bottles... were more important to the dance than the melody. Rumba appeared in Havana in the 19th century in combination with the European Contradanza. The name "Rumba" probably comes from the name of the dance groups in 1807 - "rumboso orquestra", although in Spain the word "rumbo" means "way" (in Russian, the marine equivalent is "rumba", that is, direction), and "rumba "" - "a bunch of small", and "rhum" is a type of liquor popular in the Caribbean, and any of these words could be used to describe this dance. The original meaning of the name, in my opinion, is "the path of the soul." The dance has two sources - Spanish and African: Spanish melodies and African rhythms. Although the basis of the dance is Cuban, many of the movements originated in other Caribbean islands and in Latin America in general. Initially, rumba is a sexual pantomime performed in a fast rhythm with exaggerated hip movements in the nature of sexually aggressive harassment by a man and defensive movements by a woman. Accompanying musical instruments are maracas, claves, marimbola, and drums. nine0005

The rural form of rumba in Cuba is a kind of mating dance of domestic animals, more of a performance than a dance. The movement of the shoulders and the contraction of the sides in the dance are the movements of slaves under a heavy load in their hands. The movement "Cucaracha" (cucaracha) is an imitation of crushing cockroaches. The Spot Turn in the Cuban countryside danced wildly around the rim of a wagon wheel! The popular rumba tune "La Paloma" has been known in Cuba since 1866. A variant of the rumba, similar to the one danced today, appeared in the USA at 19In the 30s, as a connection of this rural rumba with Guaracha, Cuban Bolero (nothing related to the Spanish Bolero), Son and Danzon were later added. After the First World War came the Son dance, a dance of the Cuban middle class, with a slower rhythm and more decent movements. Even slower is “Danzon”, a dance of a wealthy, respectable Cuban society with very small steps, when the partners almost do not move their hips, but carefully bend and unbend their legs, showing their harmony, grace and length. The American Rumba is a modified version of the Son dance. The first serious attempt to popularize rumba in the United States was in 1913 (Lew Quinn and Joan Sawyer). Ten years later, the bandleader Emile Coleman specifically invited rumba players and a couple of rumba dancers. In 1925 Benito Collada opened the El Chico Club in Greenwich. It turned out that no one in New York can dance the rumba yet!

Real interest in Latin music began around 1929. In the late 1920s, Xavier Cugat formed an orchestra that played only Latin American music at the Coconut Grove in Los Angeles and played in early sound films such as In Gay Madrid. Later at 19In the 30s, Cugat played at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York. By the end of the decade, his orchestra was recognized as the best Latin American orchestra of the decade. In 1935, George Raft played the role of a suave dancer in Rumba, the first film in which the hero is rewarded with the heroine because of their shared love of dancing. After 52 years - the film "Dirty Dancing", when an experienced teacher seduces a beginner, then "Strictly Ballroom" with a similar plot, and two films with reverse plots, when partners are almost beginners - "Dance with me" 98 years and "Let`s it be me". In Europe, the rumba was born thanks to the enthusiasm and brilliant interpretations of Pierre Lavelle, the leading English teacher of Latin American dance. He visited Havana in 1947, it turned out that the rumba in Cuba is performed with an emphasis on the count of "two", and not on "one", as in the American rumba. This technique, with the names of the main figures received from Pepe Rivera from Havana, he began to teach in England.

In the 1950s he and his partner and wife Doris Lavelle performed extensively with demonstrations and Latin dance lessons in London. With the innovation of only shifting the weight to the "one" count, without the actual step, the dance took on a very sensual and romantic character. The “one” count is the strongest count in rumba, without taking a step on this count, we emphasize the active movement of the hips with music. Together with the slow tempo of the music and the musical emphasis on the work of the hips, the dance takes on a lyrical and erotic character. Steps are taken on counts of 2, 3 and 4. The knees are straightened and bent at each step, turns are made between counts. The weight of the body is in front, all steps are taken from the toe. Pierre Lavelle introduced the true "Cuban rumba", which, after much debate, was officially recognized and standardized in 1955.

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