Lou Bega may have made Mambo No. 5 popular in 1999 but it was Cuban Dámaso who recorded the mambo and jive dance song in 1949. The song is danced to the Mambo, a Latin dance of Cuba. Mambo music, which brought about the dance form, was invented by Arsenio Rodríguez in the 1930s. It was developed in Havana by Cachao and made popular by Dámaso Pérez Prado who came up with the dance form for the music. Prado moved his music to Mexico where the dance form was adopted.
The Mambo was originally characterized by complicated footsteps but evolved over time. Rosa Carmina and Lilia Prado were among the popular Mexican entertainers to adopt this dance form. Today, it is one of the most sensual Latin American Ballroom dance forms where hip and arm movements, and facial expressions are all a part of the routine. The original Mambo features no basic steps or breaking steps, which was why it wasn’t accepted by several professional dance instructors. It was more of a music that the dancers had to feel in order to merge sound and movement through the body. It was standardized by US professional dance teachers to make it more socially acceptable for the ballroom market.
For the most part, the Mambo is danced to up-tempo Latin music with a tempo between 188 – 204 beats per minute. The basic rhythm is a 2 3 4 (1), 2 3 4 (1) pattern. It uses a 4/4 beat similar to the Bolero rhythm. The word Mambo means ‘shake it’, which is what a dancer does on the floor. The feel of the Mambo is on forward and backward movements and includes rock steps and side steps. It also involves occasional kicks and flicks of the feet and a distinctive hip movement. That’s what makes it a flirtatious, passionate dance often bordering on the raunchy. It combines exaggerated hip movements with long, flowing movements and sharp quick steps. The basic step is counted as quick-quick-slow with the foot moving on the second beat. The weight then shifts to the other foot on the third beat and returns to the original foot on the fourth beat.
Some of the distinctive steps of the Mamba include La Cucuracha, El Molinito and The Liquidizer, to name a few. Variety is what gives Mambo music and dance its spice. The tempo varies between musicians from 32 to a breath stopping 56 beats per minute. Thanks to a new breed of Mambo followers, the dance has made a strong comeback to ballroom competitions.
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