Rumba Latina: a hidden organization unveiled

Saturday, Sept. 24, Latin Student Organization (LSO) hosted a Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration in the Pine Grove. There was food, games, a mechanical bull, and even a special performance put on by Rumba Latina. Rumba Latina also partnered with LSO on Wednesday, Sept. 28th, to host a Merengue Dance Lesson in front of Keppel House. 

The Birth of Rumba Latina

In her freshman year, director and founder of Rumba Latina, Mary Urdaneta (‘22) participated in Images, a multicultural showcase hosted by the Center for Global Engagement. She participated through a native assistant in the Spanish Department, who hosted an exchange student from Mexico who wanted to dance. Urdaneta and her friends joined the group only a week before Images, so it was a vigorous process of trying to learn the dance. 

But, they must have had fun, because the next year, Urdaneta and her friend Carmen Rodriguez (‘22), decided that they were going to put together a group to perform at Images for the second time. This was the first time that they had performed under the title of Rumba Latina. Reminiscently. Urdaneta added, “Rumba Latina was the name that we used on stage; it just happened.” But it stuck because after that performance, they realized how much interest they had generated. People walked up to them and told them that they’d love to get involved. 

From these interactions, Urdaneta realized that “it’s not something that only I want to do. It’s something that the entire campus could benefit from because they want it. So, that’s how I started actually pulling together Rumba Latina, which was already functioning as an entity, but was not recognized yet as a student organization.” 

From that first year, the organization has grown exponentially, starting at around 10 members, they have climbed to 27 members this year. 

Rumba Latina performing. Credit: Mary Urdaneta

Common Myths Debunked  

First, you don’t have to be Latinx to be a part of Rumba Latina, and you don’t have to be an international student either. Urdaneta told me that there are many members of the group that are not Latinx at all. Urdaneta said, “In that scenario, it’s more to connect, by teaching them about our culture.” You just have to be “respectful and interested in learning about the Latino culture.” 

In reference to international students and domestic students that are Latinx, she said, “There’s a lot of people that can benefit from [Latin Dance], because there’s a lot of Latinos in general who are either from abroad, but also domestic students, and most people from abroad do it like me– to be still connected to their culture, because they like it. But, I’ve realized that a lot of the people who are born here and do it, that have that heritage, they were a little bit disconnected and they were trying to find where their roots are from.”

Second, people think that the group is your typical faculty sponsored dance company. Associate director, Monty Diaz (‘25) explained that this is not the case, “People think that we’re this serious dance company, and we’re not. We’re just trying to have fun with everyone. It’s really not that serious.” The group’s stylist, Alegria Guzman’s (‘25) favorite thing about Rumba Latina is that, “Rehearsals don’t feel like rehearsal, it’s just having fun.”

You also don’t have to be female-identifying to be in Rumba Latina. Urandeta commented on the lack of guys in Rumba Latina, saying, “I wish more guys would be up to doing it… Right now we have 6. I think that guys usually are stressed or they just think about it too much. When in reality, (if there’s any guys reading this), guys, you barely do anything. You just move and help the girls show off.” So, if you were looking for a sign to join, do it. 

You don’t have to be female-identifying to find a home in Rumba Latina. Do what you are passionate about. Credit: Mary Urdaneta

Hopes and Dreams

One thing that the members of Rumba Latina are looking forward to is, one, being involved in Images again, but they are also putting on a performance of their own near the end of the semester. 

This is exciting for them because they are able to be free, without parameters, when it comes to expressing their culture. Urdaneta and I had a long conversation about this at other organization-sponsored events: “There is a very bad stigma around Latino dancing, that maybe we do some moves that are not inherently bad– they’re not supposed to be overly sexy… it’s just a pretty way of showing our culture,” she says. “Honestly, everything that we do on stage is tamed down a lot. We’ve had encounters before where we’re told at the last minute, like the day of tech, if we can change some dance moves because they’re ‘provocative.’ So, hosting our own event allows us to have the opportunity to say ‘this is it.’ This is not supposed to be something that you’re uncomfortable with. This is not supposed to be something that you deem that your kids should not be watching. This is just culture.”

On top of this, Sydney Clements (‘23) said that one thing that they wished about the club was that more people came to watch or be a part of the organization. 

They say, “I think I just wish that it had more support, whether that’s being involved or just coming to performances, because a lot of members are international students. Or me, I don’t get to visit my family a lot– like it’s a culture that I am not connected to as often, and a lot of us tend to find Rumba because we don’t tend to find a space in LSO, which is one of the only spaces that Hope College has made for us.” They add on top of this, “It’s because of that, and it’s showing our culture in a way that we feel proud of, and we put in the work, and we want people to see the performances for a reason. I kind of just wish that people could appreciate that for what it is, and go out and show it support, because it’s where we feel we belong and we want to show that… A lot of us, our parents can’t come, our friends are busy. We want to show it to somebody and we want to show it to somebody that cares or that might care after watching us.” 

At Rumba rehearsal. Credit: Mary Urdaneta

On that note, make sure that you are looking out for their performance dates. This group has worked tirelessly to make sure that their culture is shared with Hope’s campus in an enlightening way. Also, make sure to check out their Instagram @hope_rumbalatina for more information about dates and getting involved. 

Abby Doonan ('24) is the Arts Editor for The Anchor and was previously a staff writer. She is a theatre and communication double major from Kalamazoo, Michigan. Abby loves acting, any music that makes her dance or sing, hula hooping, romcom movies, and all things Marvel. She is passionate about arts journalism and strives to publish content that keeps you updated on all the artsy things!

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