The Anatomy Of Dance: The Rumba

Ballroom Rumba first took off in the 1930s and soon became one of the five main Latin competitive dances. It’s usually slower than its cousins (the Paso Doble, Cha Cha, Jive and Samba), but what it lacks in speed it more than makes up for in terms of toning.

What characterises the Rumba for you in terms of dance and fitness demands?

The Rumba is a sensuous dance with a lot of rolling hip action and flowing arms. From a dance perspective it’s one of the nicest-feeling dances to do, but I personally find it one of the hardest. From a fitness perspective it’s absolutely fantastic for your back core strength because of the rotation of the hips.

There isn’t any rise and fall; it’s more about putting pressure on both sides of the legs. You’re rotating the pressure from hip to hip, from ball of feet to heel, and it’s like a walking movement, moving forward. It’s a toning dance in my view as you’ve got to really work your shoulders and your arms at the same time. It’s great for flexibility and pretty much anyone of any fitness ability can have a go; it’s not too difficult to try.

How are specific muscle groups targeted with the different movements involved in the Rumba?

The Rumba is a great exercise both to stretch the abdomen, pelvis and hip area, and to set free the chemicals released with muscle contraction, promoting blood flow in the area, and aiding mobility and flexibility. So it’s not particularly high in heart rate but it’s the equivalent of doing lots of sit-ups on a gym machine.

It’s a great abdominal exercise but you’re also working your back, lat’s and shoulders. Because you’re raising your arms from side to side, when your shoulders contract your lat’s will extend, then lowering your arms will have the opposite effect.

What kind of heart rate would you achieve with this dance?

If you see the Rumba in a competitive ballroom environment it can be very fast, switching from side to side, but from a FitSteps perspective it’s one of the slower dances. I think you’d be quite surprised how hard you work, but it’s going to be lower than the Jive or the Quickstep. Your heart rate can be anything between 120 to 150bpm depending on your fitness level. One of the best ways to use a Rumba is to sandwich it between two fast dances, like interval training from a classical training perspective.

What if I have a a problem with my hip or hips?

Understandably, extended periods of hip action often strike fear into fitness enthusiasts with hip issues, who may shy away from a dance that exclusively focuses on that area. However, that may be all the more reason to give it a go, albeit within your personal comfort range.

Hip problems are usually caused by impact and over use, so it’s really important to strengthen and flex the muscles around the pelvis so that it can support those joints. Doing the rumba in a light movement is a great exercise both to stretch and to set free the chemicals released with muscle contraction, promoting blood flow in the area, thereby aiding mobility and flexibility.

Someone with a hip problem, working to his or her own levels, will know instinctively when it doesn’t feel right. It’s actually a really good exercise to do. To completely ignore this area is a bit like saying, “Doctor doctor, it really hurts when I do this!” with the obvious response being, “Well, don’t do that!” That means that nothing ever happens and the muscles don’t strengthen around the problem area. It’s a bit like someone coming out after a heart attack will be encouraged to do a strength test on the treadmill. You have to train it.

FitSteps recommend anyone with an existing hip complaint to consult a GP prior to undertaking any form of exercise, but all being well, the rumba is a great exercise to try in moderation.

What other health benefits come from performing this dance?

From a motivational mental health perspective, the Rumba can be good for improving your self-confidence. From a physical perspective it’s a great abdominal and core dance to tighten up your love handles!
Mark Foster
The Anatomy Of Dance: The Rumba
A Health Tip from Mark Foster



Watch Rachel and Vincent’s rumba to Paul Weller’s You Do Something To Me, which scored an almost perfect 39 in Strictly series six.