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The Beat Goes On: Cumbia Dance and Its Connection to Juneteenth

The Beat Goes On: Cumbia Dance and Its Connection to Juneteenth


There are so many reasons why I love Zumba. First, it’s a fantastic workout. Each class is HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) structured to incredible music, where most of the routines are fast paced, making it a brilliant workout for your heart that never gets boring. In fact, the average person can burn around 400 to 600 calories per class. Second, I have connected with so many amazing people and I get to groove with a diverse community every week. But the most phenomenal reason for why I love Zumba is how I get to literally dance the rhythms of my ancestors. One of Zumba’s four core rhythms, Cumbia – with its infectious beat using traditional drums, flutes, and later the accordion – has a unique and powerful tie to the history of slavery. And it is those very roots in slavery that show the strength, resilience, and fortitude of the enslaved in the face of unfathomable horror. How so? A little history please!

Cumbia is more than just a catchy beat or an iconic dance – it’s a beautiful cultural expression that celebrates diversity and freedom. The dance originates from Africans brought to Colombia through the slave trade, with many of the movements mimicking the shuffling movement of slaves dancing in shackles, as observed by the shifting of weight onto one foot and the small steps in the dance representing the ball and chain worn on the ankles of slaves. Slavery was abolished in Colombia in 1852, and as Cumbia evolved and fused with other Latin American cultures, it became representative of celebration and courtship, where the man attempts to woo a woman, integrating long colorful dresses and sombreros. Now let’s journey up North…

On Freedom’s Eve, December 31, 1862, the first Watch Night services took place in the United States where enslaved African Americans gathered in churches and homes all across the country, many in secret, awaiting news of their freedom. Just a few months earlier, on September 22, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring that enslaved people in the rebelling Confederate states legally free. However, the decree would not take effect until the clock struck midnight at the start of the new year.

But not everyone would be immediately free. The Emancipation Proclamation wasn’t implemented in territories still under Confederate control and as a result, slaves in the westernmost parts of Texas would not be free until years later.

That freedom finally came on June 19th, 1865, when over 2,000 Union troops arrived at Galveston Bay, Texas and pronounced that the more than 250,000 enslaved black people were free by executive decree. The news was met with outbursts of joy and even though it continued to be perilous for former slaves, African Americans continued commemorating Juneteenth through defiance, food, music, jubilee, and DANCE!

Today, Juneteenth is still celebrated with traditional cumbia moves accompanied by upbeat rhythms and soulful melodies. So, get a piece of African heritage and celebrate freedom through an amazing dance that just makes the holiday even sweeter; mark the date on your calendar and get ready to shake it up on Juneteenth!

Happy cumbia-ing everyone! ✨ ‍♂️ ‍♀️

Join Keena for a fun Juneteenth Zumba class at the Fort Avenue club on Monday, June 19, 2023, 6:15pm. Contact Group Fitness Director Rose Burgamy for any inquiries at