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Re: Rumba Rhythm
Posted by Waltz123
11/26/2012  3:54:00 PM
Walter Laird said beat 2 in Rumba music is still dominant. Is this right?

That depends on what he means by "dominant".

In all Western music with standard time signatures (3/4, 4/4, 6/8, etc), beat 1 is always considered the "strongest" beat, as it has in inherent, built-in implied strength known as Agogic stress. It is this natural strength that allows your ear to recognize which is the first beat, and it's always true, no matter where the accents in the music fall. There can even be no music at all on the 1 (i.e. a rest on beat 1 for the entire orchestra), and it's still considered the strongest beat.

In 4/4 music, the order of strength is as follows: 1, 3, 2, 4. You can actually extend that to any equal pair of musical durations -- two beats, two measures, two 16-bar phrases -- and the first is always considered stronger than the second. So for dancers who like to count to 8, you get the following order of strength: 1, 5, 3, 7, 2, 6, 4, 8.

All that being said, dancing is far more an artistic endeavor than it is a mathematical one, and so what you choose to follow will depend on your own sense of what sounds or feels "right". For example, one might choreograph a piece so that the dancers' feet follow the melody, or perhaps a particular instrument, such as the bass. A dancer might alternatively choose to create his own melody by dancing on time with the tempo, but following no instrument at all. In this way he is acting as a separate instrument, layering a new rhythm into the fabric of the orchestration.

That's not to say that all is fair and anything goes, however. Certain choices will be considered more "musical" or artistically preferable based on how well they complement the music. In ballroom dancing we tend to start with a repeatable and recognizable structure that follows a basic rhythmic pattern known to complement the music to which it is being danced, and add variations of timing that work as accents of their own. The most musical dancers will respond to the particular piece and adjust accordingly.

As for International Rumba, I am of the opinion that it has evolved so dramatically from its musical roots, that all justification for breaking on beat 2 has long since faded away. People are so attached to the 2,3,4,1 rhythm that their brain accepts it as correct, the same way your brain will grow attached to a particular rendition of a tune after years of listening that when you hear a different version, you are very unlikely to accept it as better or even equal. If an extremely accomplished Latin dancer were to somehow have the rhythm erased from his brain altogether, then be presented with any Rumba song from the last 50 years and asked what beat sounds the most musical for the forward break, I would expect him with absolute certainty to say either "1" or "3".

The clave to which people often refer as a justification for breaking on 2 is nothing more than a subtle background instrument in today's Rumba music. The more authentic the music, the more the rest of the band is likely to complement the clave rhythm in some ways, but it is a rare passage of music where the whole band plays a concerted clave. Typical orchestration is more disconcerted and includes sounds on every beat, such that the clave, while present, is arguably a weaker force to follow than the natural agogic stress of the basic beat structure. My conclusion, therefore, is that it takes a very authentic and clave-strong Afro Cuban piece of music before one should be inclined to follow the clave over basic agogic structure, and even then, a case could be made either way.

But -- After having said all that, factoring in what's socially acceptable, I still recommend you break on 2. It may be less musical, but since most people don't know that, the point is moot. Everybody will *think* you're more musical if you break on 2. And isn't that the point?

Isn't it?

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