Make room for rumba! The Cuban dance form is coming for Harlem Week!

NADINE MATTHEWS | 8/15/2019, 12:02 p.m.
“One of the things that kids in Cuba do,” London-based artist Jessica Angel explains, “is that within the school system, ...

Historically speaking, what Angel finds most intriguing about rumba is its roots in blue-collar Cuba. “Rumba emerged from the docks, a kind of working-class environment in the late 19th and early 20th centuries,” Angel says. “It has the cajón, which is a Spanish instrument. It has the African congas, batá and percussion and a choral singing structure from Spain.”

At its foundation, Angel explains, “Rumba is an improvised and highly creative dance with the element of surprise at its core. The aim of the dance is for a guy to surprise the woman and the woman to protect herself.”

There is also a communal aspect to rumba. “Underneath all that context, it’s a dance about community and communion. It’s about the past as well as the present. And it’s all about rooting, and spirit and drawing the spirit down.”

Capturing movement on film in general is very tricky and rumba which combines movement with all-important emotion, pushes those stakes even higher. Says Angel, “The hardest part of capturing rumba on film is there’s no choreography, so you can’t anticipate a thing and nothing is repeated. The dancers are improvising continuously, you have to have a kind of feel for when the action might happen. And when you’re with a camera, you’re only looking through the lens and you haven’t really got the peripheral vision that you have when you’re sitting normally. So being able to anticipate and capture the key sense of movement was challenging.”