When you hear the word “rumba”, typically the vision that comes to mind is a romantic, slow dance–a rendezvous of two lovers on the dance floor. But, there are actually three dance styles that can fit into the general category of “rumbas”, in the ballroom sense.

rumba bolero

Two share the same name, the International Rumba and the American Rumba. The International Rumba is part of the Latin American style of dancing, whereas the American Rumba fits into the American Rhythm division. The third dance is the Bolero, another dance in the American Rhythm division.

Here we’ll take a look at the similarities and differences of these “3 rumbas” and see the unique traits that make all of them a pleasure to dance.



Dance: Pro/Am Tempo* Professional
& Amateur Tempo *
Song Sample
Int. Rumba 108 (beats per minute) 104 (beats per minute) “Oyeme”
by Monica Naranjo
Am. Rumba 128-144 120-128 “Ice el Hielo”
by La Santa Cecilia
Bolero 96-104 96  “Mas Alla (Beyond)”
by Gloria Estefan

*approved tempi information gathered from the NDCA rule book

The chart above shows that the American rumba is the fastest of the 3 rumbas, and bolero is the slowest. As we’ll discuss later, the music style and tempo influences both the technique and characterization of the individual dances.

From a musical standpoint, Am. rumba music is accented on count 1.  Int. rumba is accented on count 4.

Song selections are sometimes interchangeable for the Int. rumba and bolero because their tempos are closer, but like the Am. rumba, bolero music is more strongly accented on count 1.



Although the Int. and Am. Rumbas share the same name, they look distinctly different on the floor.


The Int. Rumba basic moves in a forward and back pattern.  In contrast, the Am. Rumba (the basic step is the classic box step) makes a square pattern on the floor.

Leg Action

Another clear difference is the style of hip action used. The Int. rumba utilizes technique where each step lands with a straight leg with the hip then swinging over that standing leg.

For the Am. Rumba, ultimately the same action happens, but it comes about a bit slower, because each step is first landed with a slightly bent knee. After landing on the bent knee, the dancer proceeds to straighten it and then swing the hip over that standing leg.

Through the past years, this distinction has become less noticeable, as many European trained dancers competing in the American rhythm category have influenced a more obvious use of the straight leg action technique. Nevertheless, most judges agree that a certain amount of bent knee action is desirable to maintain the authentic “American” style.


Being the slowest of the three rumbas, the bolero technique is quite different. Because the depth of the knee action is more accentuated in this dance, there can be a waltz-like feel of rise and fall, although using actual footrise in the basic has become an outmoded technique. There is strong use of bodyrise (through the knees) and because of the slow intense music, bolero is also characterized with suspended stretching and the creation of beautiful lines.


The Flirty American Rumba

American Rhythm World finalists, Daly & Daly, execute a clear vision of the true American style technique in this clip.

Watch the beginning of their routine to see the use of bent knee action, that distinguishes this rumba from the Int. Rumba.  Also note the faster tempo allows for a more fun tone in the feeling of the dance, less serious than the Int. or Bolero.

Jason Daly & Sveta Daly


“I’m Forrest…Forrest Gump”

by Alan Silvestri



Maybe the biggest difference in the two rumbas with the same name, is their characterization. Because the tempo of the American rumba is so much quicker, the music itself doesn’t always portray such a romantic, loving feeling.  Rather, it can be interpreted more like a flirtatious affair, or the dating period of a relationship.

With it’s slower tempo, the Int. rumba is often danced in the feeling of a more mature relationship, with levels of passion that come from familiarity. Sometimes in the Int. rumba, dancers also portray both highs and lows that are experienced in relationships, even moments of rejection, followed by reconciliation and intimacy.


The Dimensional International Rumba

Here is a beautiful Int. Rumba showcased by International Latin world finalists, Kryklyvvyy & Melnikova.  This rendition showcases the stages of a relationship wonderfully.

In their portrayal, you can see moments of separation mixed with reconciliation. Also note the exceptional use of the straight leg action.

Slavik Kryklyvyy & Anna Melnikova


“Always on my Mind”

by Michael Buble

If the American Rumba can be described as the dating period, and the International Rumba the more mature stage of a relationship, the bolero can be thought of as the most intimate, passionate moments of a romance. As it’s been said, this dance characterizes what happens “behind closed doors”.


The Intimate Bolero

This clip shows the World and U.S. American Rhythm champs, DeCamps & Zacharewicz, showcasing a gorgeous bolero. Notice the smooth use of the basic movement and how the rise and fall action is created through the knees.

The characterization of the dance is brought to life here, as you feel like you are watching a beautiful love story unfold. Technically, fantastic connections by this couple make difficult choreography come off seamlessly.

Jose Decamps & Joanna Zacharewicz


“Contigo en la Distancia”

by Christina Aguilera


Three Rumbas, Three Stories:

These three dances do share similarities in their technique and feeling, but the differences between them are what allows dancers to explore and create distinct contrasts, making dancing each of them unique and exciting.

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