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Everybody Mambo

Updated on April 24, 2008

Fun, Fun, Fun

Among the ballroom dances, Mambo is has to be one of the most fun. Perhaps only Samba and Quickstep can come close. The other dances have their virtues to be sure, but Mambo's best quality is that it is fun to do.

Mambo is a very quick, nimble dance. You dance on the balls of your feet, never settling down into your heels. Dance music is measured in Bars Per Minute (bpm). Appropriate Mambo music is 47 to 51 bpm. Compare that to 28-30 bpm for a waltz or 30-32 bpm for a cha-cha. That's fast!

You'll see a lot of fast double underarm turns, swivels, pivots, and cross-body leads in a Mambo. In fact, you'll see many of the same moves from other Latin dances, just a lot faster.

Mambo is danced to salsa music. Traditionally, salsa wasn't a dance, but rather the music with the distinctive Latin beat. You danced to salsa music, you didn't salsa.

My instructor is fond of saying that you either dance to salsa or eat it, but you don't dance it. But there are many studios making money teaching salsa. It's another revenue stream, some would say.

Traditionally, Mambo starts dancers moving on the second beat of each measure. I admit that getting started in the very beginning can be a task for many people. But once you get the rhythm down pat, it's really hard to do it another way.

If you watch Dancing With The Stars, you may have heard Len Goodman compliment Mambo dancers for starting on the second beat.

I dance with one partner who says that a Salsa dance is Mambo danced on the first beat. So when I dance with him, I dance on beat one. With others, I dance on the second beat. Yes, that does sometimes cause me a little bit of a problem. But once I relax and follow my leader, I'm just fine.

Mambo is not only fun, but it is also great exercise. Mambo for 30 minutes and feel the tingle. Of course, the difference between dancing Mambo for 30 minutes and doing plain ol' exercises is that with Mambo, you are eager for another 30 minutes. Fun makes the difference.

If you already know how to dance any other ballroom dance, you should be able to pick up enough Mambo in an hour to be able to get through a dance without trouble. If you haven't danced before, it might take two or three hours of instruction before you are ready to get out on the dance floor.

Of course, dancing Mambo is like playing chess. You can learn a few basic moves in minutes and start to play, but it can take a lifetime to master. Picking up new steps is part of the fun, though. Dancers are a bit like collectors, picking up patterns and steps from instructors, friends, new acquaintances, and videos.

Women have the advantage in Mambo. By learning a few basics and being willing (and able) to follow a lead, women can find themselves doing patterns and steps they've never learned.

Men have the advantage of never having to do a step they don't know. But they have to know it before they can even attempt it.

It is worth the investment to purchase dance shoes if you plan to Mambo frequently. Dance shoes have special soles that allow you to pivot and turn more easily on a dance floor. You won't believe the different that they make.

For men, Latin shoes have a bit of a heel to help keep them on their toes. For women, Latin shoes are typically strappy sandals. Unlike street sandals, the toes should reach all of the way to the end of the shoes, perhaps even hanging over a tiny bit. Women need to feel their toes in any type of Latin dancing and do not need to trip over a bit of shoe flapping around at the tip of the shoe.

Learn to Mambo at local community colleges, city recreation departments, area Arts organizations, at studios, and at nightclubs and dances.

If your local community college does not offer ballroom dance in its continuing education department, request it. Arts Councils and similar non-profit groups that promote the arts often offer classes at reasonable prices. If they don't offer classes in ballroom dancing, request it.

Some nightclubs and ballrooms offer dance lessons early in the evening before the regular dancing starts. These lessons are often free with admission to the event.

USA Dance chapters hold non-smoking, non-drinking dances. Before each dance, a free lesson is generally provided. Though it won't always be Mambo, you should get a Mambo lesson from time to time.

Studios are the most expensive place to take dance lessons. Some studios are notorious for signing eager students up for hundreds or thousands of dollars in lessons. Things are beginning to change a bit and some studios are not offering one-time workshops and short-term obligation lesson series. Evaluate each studio, and your needs and means thoroughly before signing anything.

I think it is impossible to Mambo and not smile. It's a joyful dance that makes you one with sassy, snappy, sexy music. If you haven't added Mambo to your repertoire of dances, what are you waiting for? And if you haven't started ballroom dancing yet, now's the time to start!

For Your Mambo Enjoyment

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    • Marisa Wright profile image

      Kate Swanson 

      10 years ago from Sydney

      "you either dance to salsa or eat it, but you don't dance it."

      thanks, I've learned something! Salsa is huge in Australia but Mambo is unheard of outside ballroom dancing circles.

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