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Rumba Character

by Dwain & Judy Sechrist

As we watch a highly accomplished couple dance the Rumba, we're usually so thoroughly impressed by their appearance that we're not able to analyze what it is that makes the couple look so good. For most of us, it would take the playback of a video, again and again, in order to see the many things that are involved to "fill out" the whole picture.

Rumba has a character all its own. It's romantic, it's sensual, it's a "body" dance, it's even referred to as "earthy." It's all these things and then some! What does it all mean? Well, the "romantic and sensual" experience is seen as the couple work to each other as if to embrace but then move on. Or as they appear to wrap their arms about each other before continuing to the next movement; even as they look at each other as they progress through the routine. We see the "body" dance aspect as the hips move either to the left or to the right on each of the slow beats and to a lesser degree on each of the quick beats. We also see the body curves or shaping (generally performed by the man), which occur in many figures as the lady continues to perform her steps. The combined picture is a continual movement of the hips throughout most of the dance combined with body shaping to accommodate or even accentuate the figures being performed. The "earthy" aspect generally refers to the fact that the Rumba is danced "into the floor," i.e., a moving foot appears to have an affinity for the floor -- hesitating to leave the floor before taking a step -- and when the step is taken, the weight is transferred fully onto the stepping foot.

Following are a few of the more common "ailments" that may be preventing many of us from achieving this desired "picture" and some cures for these ailments.

Ailment 1: Steps are too large --

One of the most commonly seen problems is taking too large a step. The result will be a step taken too flat -- in its most severe case, on the heel. Evidence of having taken too large a step will be that the heel of the un-weighted foot is forced to leave the floor prematurely, i.e., as the step is taken. Other evidence of having taken too large a step will be the inability to achieve full weight transfer to the stepping foot. The couple may even lose the connection in their joined hands or have to over-extend the joined hands in order to retain the connection.

Cure: Take smaller steps --

Although the cure sounds only too obvious, smaller steps will be achieved naturally only by practicing a proper forward or backward walk technique.

  • The Forward Walk -- Prior to taking a forward step, take full weight onto the supporting foot and allow the body to settle (as if waiting impatiently).

  • Initiate the step by moving the upper body forward. Just before the point of imbalance, flex the knee to pull the toe of the stepping foot forward until the ball of the foot is in contact with the floor with some pressure (toed out slightly). The heel of the trailing foot remains in contact with the floor.

  • To complete the step, move the body fully over the stepping foot as the leg is straightened. At the end of the step, the leg of the trailing foot should be straight with the toe turned out slightly (the heel may be released from the floor.

  • To initiate the next step, the knee of the trailing foot will flex as the heel is lifted to pull the toe forward and the action is repeated as described previously. The rate at which weight is transferred to the stepping foot is strictly dependent upon whether a quick or slow step is being taken.

  • The Backward Walk -- Prior to taking a backward step, take full weight onto the supporting foot and allow the body to settle (again, as if waiting impatiently).

  • Initiate the step by flexing the knee in order to push the ball of the stepping foot back until only the toe of the foot is in contact with the floor with some pressure (toed out slightly). The initial body poise remains unaffected until full weight is transferred.

  • To complete the step, immediately straighten the leg of the stepping foot, lowering the heel, and transfer full weight. There should be the sensation of slightly more pressure on the heel in order that the upper part of the body is fully "back," that is, no forward poise! At the end of the step, the leg of the forward foot will be straight, the heel may be released slightly from the floor.

  • To initiate the next step, the knee of the forward foot will flex as the heel is lifted in order to push the ball of the foot back and the action is continued as described above. The rate of weight transfer is dependent upon whether a quick or slow step is being taken, to end with the body fully over the weighted foot.

Convalescence --

It can be seen, if you count the words necessary to describe but a single step, that comfortable forward and backward steps can only be achieved by repeated practice. Through repetition, the many nuances will begin to occur automatically, without hesitation, and in time, with the tempo of the music. A good practice package would be six progressive forward walks and then six progressive backward walks.

Ailment 2: Turns are out of control (possibly even forced to take the next step early) --

Generally speaking, the only turns that cause most of us to have problems involve 3/8 or more turn on a single beat. Examples of typical problem turns are: (1) a forward step ending back as in the Fan, (2) a forward step ending back as in the Hockey Stick, and (3) the Spiral.

Cure: Make sure that the weight is over the ball of the foot that is to execute the turn, lowering to the heel (flat) only at the end of the turn --

It is important to keep in mind that all turns that are not accomplished through the turning of the body will be accomplished on the weighted foot, i.e., weight must have been taken to the foot that is to execute the turn.

  • The Fan -- When preceded by steps 1 - 3 of an Open or Closed Hip Twist to Fan, the lady's most common turning problem is on the fifth step, a forward step on the right foot turning left-face to end right foot back and to the side. Again, it is important that the lady's weight be over the ball of the right foot before attempting the left-face turn. The turn to the left will be assisted through tension in the joined hands (man's left and lady's right) only if danced to a reasonable extension of the joined hands. Too great a distance between the couple on this step will cause the turn to be initiated early, i.e., before weight is taken well onto the right foot. To avoid this problem, the couple should ensure that the lady's first step to the left side of the man (the fourth step of the figure) is a small step forward on the left foot.

  • The Hockey Stick -- When preceded by steps 1 - 3 of a basic movement from Fan position, the lady's most common turning problem is again on the fifth step, a forward step on the right foot turning left-face to end right foot back and to the side. If danced to a reasonable extension of the joined hands (in this case raised over the lady's right shoulder) as the lady's fifth step is taken the lead hand is brought down briefly in front of the lady, and the turn to the left is assisted through tension in the joined hands. As in the previous case, it is important that the lady's weight be over the ball of the right foot before attempting the left-face turn. Too great a distance between the couple on this step will cause the turn to be initiated early, before weight is taken to the right foot. Again, to avoid this problem, the couple should make it a point to assure that the lady's fourth step of the figure (turning 1/8 left-face under the raised hands) is a small step forward on the left foot.

  • The Spiral -- The standard spiral will be executed by the lady on the right foot stepping forward on the slow count (QQS - RLR). On the first beat of the slow count, the initial step is taken to the right foot; the spiral is executed on the second beat of the slow count. The spiral action is performed on the ball of the right foot using a quick swivel action turning strongly to the left (up to 7/8 turn) ending with the left foot crossed (without weight) in front of the right foot. In order to execute the spiral comfortably, the weight should be well onto the ball of the right foot (heel pressed down and nearly on the floor) with the body directly over the foot.

  • The Spiral entry to a Rope Spin -- Unlike the standard spiral, this spiral will be executed by the lady on the left foot stepping forward on the slow count (QQS - LRL). On the first beat of the slow count, the initial step is taken to the left foot; the spiral is executed on the second beat of the slow count. The spiral action is performed on the ball of the left foot using a quick swivel action turning strongly to the right (up to 7/8 turn) ending with the right foot crossed (without weight) in front of the left foot. In order to execute the spiral comfortably, the wight should be well onto the ball of the left foot (heel pressed down and nearly on the floor) with the body directly over the foot.

  • The man should take care that the lead hand is well above and slightly forward of the lady's right shoulder as the spiral is executed. If necessary, the man may need to add an upper body sway toward the lady to aid in the proper positioning of the raised lead hands. The lead could be described as quickly circling the man's left hand clockwise over the lady's right shoulder.

  • It should be noted that a Spiral may be performed as a solo action by either the man or the lady or both. The spiral action may be performed on the left foot turning right-face or on the right foot turning left-face. Regardless, the technique remains the same. If performed on a single quick count, take care not to overturn the figure -- 3/4 to 7/8 turn is sufficient. The remainder of any turn, as necessitated by the figure being danced, should be accomplished on the following step.

  • At this point, the ladies may reasonably ask, what's the difference between a Spiral and a Curl? Simply put, the only difference is that the Curl is a slow Spiral. The Curl (in its standard form) is also executed on the right foot on the slow count. The only difference is that the turn takes the full two counts rather than the single count as is the case for the Spiral. The left foot ends in the Spiral Cross position, and the degree of turn is also 3/4 to 7/8, as in the Spiral.

These have been just a few examples, of many that could be chosen. We hope that they will help you to develop a better feel for the "character" of the Rumba.


From clinic notes prepared for the URDC annual convention, Denver, 1996; published in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, December 2012.


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