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Mambo developed in Cuba in the late   1930’s and early 1940’s and was initially a section added to the danzon.   Several musicians (Arsenio Rodriguez, Orestes Lopez, Israel “Cachao” Lopez and Bebo Valdes) have been credited with the  development of mambo.  One of the earliest examples of mambo is derived from a 1938 danzon composition by Orestes Lopez which he called “Mambo”.  Damasio Perez Prado, prolific composer and talented bandleader was a dominant force in the promoting the mambo, during this period.  Prado brought mambo to the Cuban dance scene in 1947 at  La Tropicana , the premiere nightclub in Havana.  The mambo fever quickly spread to U.S. and inspired dancers to new heights of improvisation and frenzy at renowned nightclubs in New York such as the Plaza Ballroom, Paladium and Birdland. During the golden days of  mambo in the 1940’and 1950’s, huge jazz band ensembles with large, driving horn sections serenaded the dancers in New York.  For over 50 years, Tito Puente carried the torch of this musical tradition and many popular mambo songs can be heard on this 100th album entitled “The Mambo King”

Mambo is alive and well on dance floors today largely due to the energy and dedication of Eddie Torres.  Eddie Torres, from New York, is an internationally known professional dancer and teacher.  He has inspired today’s dancers by reintroducing to them to night-club style mambo through his school, performances, workshops and videos.  “The Eddie Torres Dancers” have become a favorite group at the Bacardi International Salsa Congress held for the past three years in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Mambo is deeply rooted in African drum rhythms  and spiritual practices brought to Cuba by the slaves.  Historians suggest that mambo maybe derived from Congolese sacred music and means “conversation with the gods”.   Over the years, mambo was transformed by fusion with  Bantu, Yoruba, Spanish and Afro-American jazz musicians.

The backbone of the dance is a simple alternating step with the left followed by touching the floor with the right toe.  This pattern is then repeated by stepping on the right and touching with the floor with the left toe.  At the same time the dancers are also performing pelvic thrusts backwards and forwards in double time.   Mambo begins with 3 dance steps to 4 beats of music, but the rhythm is uneven and causes the dance to be more unpredictable and exciting.  Mambo is very fast, with a very bright lively sound.   There is a great deal of free-style improvisation and fancy footwork between the man and woman since they often are dancing separately, face to face and not restricted by the closed position embrace of son and danzon.

According to Mike Bello (http://planetsalsa.com), New York dancers developed a distinctive version of mambo that featured  more fluid, body styling and movement of the hips and shoulders.  
Mambo lesson in Havana Cuba taught by Isiais Roja of Ban Rarra

 Legendary dancers  from Mambo's heyday and included New Yorkers like Killer Joe Piro, Cuban Pete and Millie and Charlie (Cha-Cha Aces) and the Mambo Aces.   Dancers in New York also fused mambo with other dance forms such as ballet, jazz, tap, etc., adding extra dimension to the dance genre. Mambo continues to evolve and inspire whole new generations of dancers.   In 1999  Edward Villella, of the Miami Ballet Company, collaborated legendary Latin dancer Cuban Pete in the production of a mambo-spiced ballet called “Mambo 2AM”. 

For more information on the today's mambo scene, check out Southern California based site www.mambofello.com and for the East Coast perspective www.salsanewyork.com.


 Isabelle Leymare, Mambo Mania

Salsa Con Sabor, History of Salsa

Rebecca Mauleon, The Salsa Guidebook

Frank Figueroa, Encyclopedia of Latin Music

Vernon Boggs, Salsiology

Email and feedback can be directed to: rita@salsacrazy.com

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