Differences between American Style Rumba & International Style Rumba

Differences between American style rumba and international rumba

American style (also called “Rhythm”) Rumba is kinda like American football – both are super popular in America and America alone.
The International style Rumba, on the other hand, is more like Soccer, super popular all over the rest of the world, especially in Europe and Asia! So, if the rest of the world don’t want to dance American style Rumba, why would you? I’ll tell you why! Because American style is easier in count and technique. Though I confess: my “more” favorite is the International style. Now, how can you differentiate and dance both styles differently?

Difference #1: Bent Vs Straight Knees

American Rumba - Bent Knee Action
International Rumba - Straight Knee Action

In the American style rumba, every step is taken with a bent knee and then straightened at the same time as the hip action. ​

In the International style rumba, every step is taken with a straight leg. (knee bends when leg is moving and straightens right before you put weight onto the leg)

Difference #2: Box Vs Forward-Back Basic

American Rumba Technique - Box Basic
International Rumba Technique - Forward Back Basic

For American Style Basic Box Step, you make a box with your footwork.
Leader footwork: Forward left, Side right, Close left to right. Back on right, Side left, Close right to left.
Follower footwork: Back right, Side left, Close right to left. Forward left, Side right, Close left to right.

With International Rumba Basic, it’s a forward and back basic (no closing step):
Leader footwork: Forward left, Replace right, Side left. Back on right, Replace left, Side right.
Follower footwork: Back right, Replace left, Side right. Forward left, Replace right, Side left.

Difference #3: Start on Count of 1 Vs 2

American Rumba - Start on Count of 1
International Rumba - Rock on Count of 2

Both styles of Rumba uses a 4/4 time; while the Americans start on 1, the Internationals start on 2! 😉

American Rumba:

The Slow step will start on the count of 1. The dance uses Slow Quick Quick Timing – Slow (1,2) Quick (3) Quick (4).
Each Slow = 2 counts and each quick = 1 count. To make a full box basic: Slow-Quick-Quick, Slow-Quick-Quick.

The Slows are often on the counts of 1 and 3.

International Rumba:

Holds the count of 1 and starts on 2. The timing for the basic step is 2, 3, 4 (hold/ nothing on 1). ​To translate into quick, quick, slow counting, that would be: Quick (2), Quick (3), Slow (4,1).

But note that the SLOW in International style is on often on the count of 4 or 2 (EVEN numbers), whereas in american rhythm, the SLOW is on the count of 1 or 3 (ODD Numbers). 

A last word about American Style Rumba Vs International Rumba:

I will leave you now, with a sampling of how American style is danced versus International style. Leave me a comment and let me know which one appeals to you more and why!


  • Jonathan Lightfoot
    April 22, 2019

    This was an interesting read. I’m from UK and have only recently learned about American Rhythm style from videos on line.
    It has been nice to see the differences between the American style and international which I dance.

    I have a quick question, from a few videos I’ve seen of American rhythm competitions the rumba seems a bit faster than what I’m used to dancing international style to. Is it usually any faster?

    Many thanks

    • User Avatar
      LiWen Ang
      April 22, 2019

      Hey Jonathon! Good question.
      American Rumba is faster than International style. Generally, Am. Rumba is around 120-140 BPM, while International is about 90-110 BPM. Different competitions/ countries will play the Rumbas at different speeds.
      Are you competing?

      • Jonathan Lightfoot
        August 15, 2019

        Thanks for the reply, I’ve only just seen it.
        At the moment I’m just dancing socially and doing a few small charity competitions. But I’m considering entering some proper competitions within the next year hopefully

  • User Avatar
    Tom Huster
    February 1, 2019

    Thanks LW, a very clear explanation. I just wanna social dance in America with my Beautiful Korean-American wife; so it’s a no brained — American style for us.
    Is there a similar issue with Cha Cha?

    • User Avatar
      LiWen Ang
      February 6, 2019

      Hello Tom! Good question. Cha Cha is actually more similar between both American and International styles – meaning the timing and patterns are all similar. The only difference is that you would use a bent knee action as you take your step. The international style is considered more advanced, so you can inter-change dancing the cha cha with straight or bent knees, really (like a stylistic choice). 😉

  • User Avatar
    May 24, 2017

    Okay, well now. I would say that the bent knee technique is allowing for more “freedom” in rotation. I see what might be perceived as a less “refined” dance style (American) when compared to the elegance and precision of the International Latin version. The costuming in the American style video could gain it some votes! 😉

    • User Avatar
      LiWen Ang
      May 25, 2017

      Karen, Good point. Bent knees do allow for greater rotations.. that’s one reason why International style is harder! The advantages of the American style, with its rhythm and bent knee action, make it a much easier dance to do socially. Less uptight? 😉

    • Lauren
      April 29, 2021

      I did not know there was so much difference.
      They don’t look like the same dance
      I dance International and think the nuance in timing in International is more sophisticated and graceful.

  • Joe Schwennesen
    May 23, 2017

    Great information. I have found that hearing (and doing) the International count is incredibly difficult after having done American for many years. Do you have any tips on this?

    • User Avatar
      LiWen Ang
      May 25, 2017

      Hello Joe! That’s a great question. Since you are used to starting on the 1 count in American style rhythm, you can still start on 1 when doing international style, but step side on the right instead. Then rock forward left on the 2 count and you are now doing international timing. Try it and let me know how it goes! 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *