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Afro-Cuban Traditions

Rumba & Other Folkloric Dances


There are various styles of Afro-Cuban rumba music and dance, but all have strong influences from African drumming and dance and Spanish/Gitano poetry, singing and dance. And in all rumba, the clave beat (2-3 or 3-2) plays a very important role. Afro-Cuban rumba is entirely different than ballroom rumba or the African style of pop music called rumba. Rumba developed in rural Cuba, and is still danced in Havana, Mantanzas and other Cuban cities as well as rural areas, although now it is infused with influences from jazz and hip hop.

The three basic types of rumba include:

Rumba Yambu

This is the oldest known style of rumba, sometimes called the old people's rumba because of its slower beat. It can be danced alone (especially by women) or by men and women together. Although male dancers may flirt with female dancers during the dance, they do not use the vacunao -- the symbolic, sexual "vaccination" -- used in rumba guaguanco.

Rumba Guaguanco

Rumba Guaguanco is faster than yambu, with more complex rhythms, and involves flirtatious movements between a man and a woman. The woman may both entice and "protect herself" from the man, who tries to catch the woman offguard with a vacunao -- tagging her with the flip of a hankerchief or by throwing his arm, leg or pelvis in the direction of the woman, in a symbolic attempt at touching or sexually contacting her. When a man attempts to give a woman a vacunao, she uses her skirt to protect her pelvis and then whip the sexual energy away from her body.

Rumba Columbia

In this fast and energetic style of rumba, with a 6/8 feel, solo male dancers provoke the drummers to play complex rhythms that they imitate through their creative and sometimes acrobatic movements. Men may also compete with other men to display their agility, strength, confidence and even sense of humor. Columbia incorporates many movements derived from Congo dances as well as Spanish flamenco, and more recently dancers have incorporated breakdancing and hip hop moves. Women are also beginning to dance Columbia, too.


Cuban comparsa is the dance of the street carnival -- and is more commonly known as a conga line. It is loud, flashy and fun, with dancers in colorful and flamboyant attire and musicians playing horns (trumpets, trombones, tubas, etc.), percussion instruments (maracas, bongos, congas, guiros, batas, claves, checkeres, surdos, tamborines) and whistles. In a comparsa some people hold farolas, large and elaborately decorated processional items on long sticks that are usually carried at the front of the parade and twirled or spun by their carriers, in time to the music.