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    Yambu - Dance as a Sexual Pantomime
    The Native African Folk Rumbas

    It may not be obvious but most of the Latin Dances are meant to be a sexual pantomime. The idea is that you are trying to seduce the lady but she is coy, encouraging you but at the same time refusing you. Understanding dance origins helps a lot in interpreting the music and choreographing your moves.

    The Native African Folk Rumbas use double-entendre to convey an ever present moral. These traits are remarkably present in the yambu dances such as the one described below. Multiple levels of interpretation are afforded by the seemingly common storylines. Simplicity of the action allows for children to receive messages directed at them, while the deeper interpretation conveys sexual warnings directed at adult audiences. More importantly, both meanings comment on acceptable and non-acceptable behaviors within the Afro-Cuban community. This is illustrated by the following yambu.

    "Laila" is a yambu about a housekeeper. The female dancer starts by moving around making cleaning motions with her hands. The male dancer enters, pretending to drop a paper or something on the floor. As Laila bends over to pick it up the male dancer begins to rub his groin, preparing to vacuna. She stands up at the very last moment, and politely hands him whatever he dropped. Foiled, he tries this move several times, and every time she moves before he can thrust. Finally, she excuses herself from him and pretends to be scrubbing the floor on the other side of the dance area. She is down on her hands and knees, vigorously moving her body to the rhythm of the scrubbing. His eyes light up and he prepares for vacuna, but she slides out of the way and onto her feet, beginning to rumba. When the rumba is at it's height and the male thinks he has prepared her for his thrust once again, another woman comes onto the floor and chases him away.

    This story mimics the relations between slaves and masters in colonial Cuba. It's message is that the master's wife would often prevent the master from having closer relations with the African women. From the Afro-Cuban point of view this story ridicules the master, but it still portrays Laila as passive and sexually accessible.

    It will help your dance expression and interpretation if you think of Mambo and the other Latin dances as being a sexual pantomime. The thought to hold, is that you are trying to seduce the lady but she is trying to refuse your advances. You push forward and she pushes you away. As you seem to have lost the battle, she titillates you with moves that suggest, you might get what you want but as in the real world, you probably won't get it! When you are dancing, look at your partner. Guys, you are the slave master, seduce her with your eyes. You want this girl! Girls, you're a slave girl, you can't deny the master but you can't demure to his wishes, you must resist him. Look him in the eye, defy him, make him accept your humanity, make him love you!

    "...A little bit of Jessica, in my life..." (Mambo No5)

    The Rumba, Mambo, Cha Cha and Salsa have a group of basic steps that are common to all four dances. The man steps forward left, rocks back onto his right foot and then moves the left foot side back or back close (the lady mirrors the man). The variations which give each dance its uniqueness occur on the fourth (eighth) beat and on the following beat (fifth/first). These steps can be used to tell a story that is reminiscent of the Yambus found in Native African folk Rumba. The man attempts to seduce the woman but she pushes him away. He backs off but she encourages him and so he tries again and again and again.

    Rumba, Mamba, Salsa, Cha Cha are Clave based dances. In the clave a sense of excitement is built and then subdued by a quickening and then a slowing of the beat pattern. Suspense is built by playing two beats in quick succession in the middle of one bar and then allowing the drama to ebb away through a pause, two longish beats, one short beat and another pause.

    In the dance, the dancers express this excitement with the man, contemplating the promise of vacuma, moving forward left on the 2 count. His partner resists him pushing him back (right rock back on count 3). He backs off (step back left on count 4) and pauses to think what to do next. He steps away from her on count 6 (back right) but she encourages him by stepping forward. He rocks forward but she plays coy and rocks back. He steps forward but she steps back. He pauses, thinks to himself "Is she just playing with me?" but he thinks he sees a glimmer in her eye and he decides to try again. And so the cycle begins!

    Mainly because of the tempo of the music, this story is more evident in Rumba than its descendants but despite the increased tempo of the music for the other dances, the feel in their basics makes the imagery still valid.


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    This page was last updated November 2000
    copyright Paul F Clifford (2000)