The word Rumba is a generic term, covering a variety of names (i.e., Son, Danzon, Guagira, Guaracha, Naningo), for a type of West Indian music or dancing. The exact meaning varies from island to island.
There are two sources of the dances: one Spanish and the other African. Although the main growth was in Cuba, there were similar dance developments which took place in other Caribbean islands and in Latin America generally.
The "rumba influence" came in the 16th century with the black slaves imported from Africa. The native Rumba folk dance is essentially a sex pantomime danced extremely fast with exaggerated hip movements and with a sensually aggressive attitude on the part of the man and a defensive attitude on the part of the woman. The music is played with a staccato beat in keeping with the vigorous expressive movements of the dancers. Accompanying instruments include the maracas, the claves, the marimbola, and the drums.
As recently as the second world war, the "Son" was the popular dance of middle class Cuba. It is a modified slower and more refined version of the native Rumba. Still slower is the "Danzon", the dance of wealthy Cuban society. Very small steps are taken, with the women producing a very subtle tilting of the hips by alternately bending and straightening the knees.
The American Rumba is a modified version of the "Son". The first serious attempt to introduce the rumba to the United States was by Lew Quinn and Joan Sawyer in 1913. Ten years later band leader Emil Coleman imported some rumba musicians and a pair of rumba dancers to New York. In 1925 Benito Collada opened the Club El Chico in Greenwich Village and found that New Yorkers did not know what Rumba was all about.
Real interest in Latin music began about 1929. In the late 1920's, Xavier Cugat formed an orchestra that specialized in Latin American music. He opened at the Coconut Grove in Los Angeles and appeared in early sound movies such as "In Gay Madrid". Later in the 1930's, Cugat played at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York. By the end of the decade he was recognized as having the outstanding Latin orchestra of the day.
In 1935, George Raft played the part of a suave dancer in the movie "Rumba", a rather superficial musical in which the hero finally won the heiress (Carol Lombard) through the mutual love of dancing.
In Europe, the introduction of Latin American dancing (Rumba in particular) owed much to the enthusiasm and interpretive ability of Monsieur Pierre (London's leading teacher in this dance form). In the 1930's with his partner, Doris Lavelle, he demonstrated and popularized Latin American dancing in London.
Pierre and Lavelle introduced the true "Cuban Rumba" which was finally established after much argument, as the official recognized version in 1955.
Rumba is the spirit and soul of Latin American music and dance. The fascinating rhythms and bodily expressions make the Rumba one of the most popular ballroom dances.