Published online by Cambridge University Press: 22 July 2014
In contemporary Cuba, a previously marginal cultural expression now publicizes new paradigms in a complex process of social change. Within institutional strategies of cultural preservation and re-education, rumba, a dance of predominantly lower class black-skinned Cubans in the nineteenth century, has emerged as a national symbol of twentieth-century Cuban society. The national status of rumba has been enhanced and institutionalized through a series of monthly public activities organized by the Castro government through the Ministry of Culture. Cuba has chosen to promote a new national and international image and it has done so through rumba more than through any other folkloric dance. Before the Revolution of 1959, Cuban ballet and modern dance received national acclaim while folkloric dances were not particularly encouraged to flourish. Since the Revolution, a shift of support and interest has occurred in Cuban cultural policies. Rumba, a dance and a dance complex, as I will discuss later, is now promoted to express identification with African-derived elements that permeate Cuban culture. It is supported to represent the interests of the working masses and to solidify participation of the artistic community in the social advancement of a new political system. Despite the appropriation of this important cultural expression of the masses by the socialist revolution, rumba is not common within all segments of the Cuban population. It remains a dance primarily performed by dark-skinned Cubans with relatively little direct participation from other segments of Cuban society.
Since 1979, rumba in Cuba has been promoted in ways that other dances have not. Other dances, such as conga and son, are easier to perform and involve the participation of a larger cross section of the total population. As rumba has been appropriated and formalized in its presentation to a national and international public, it has shifted from a spontaneous, improvisational dance to a prepared, manipulated dance. Yet, rumba continues to forcefully embody a significant aspect of national culture for the Cuban people. The goal of this paper is to deconstruct the meaning of rumba and its role in the forging of a new Cuban national identity.