The History and Development of the Mambo

The following essay was my final paper for the Ballroom Dancing class I took for physical education.

The History and Development of the Mambo (pdf)

More often than not, a new style of dance comes about after a new style of music is introduced. In the 1930s, Cuban composer Oresta Lopez began writing a new style of music that came to be known as the “mambo.” His new fusion of Cuban rhythms, African beats, and South American aspects set fire to the dance scene. What started in Cuba soon found its way to America under the influence of Prado Perez.

Perez was a friend of Lopez and dubbed the new sound as the “mambo.” He brought the music to American during his 1950 tour with his orchestra. Perez was the first to market the song “Mambo #5”, which became popular again in the 1990s. Originally, the mambo dance had no set steps and was described as just “feeling the music.” While the popularity of the mambo continued throughout the 1940s and 1950s, US standardized it for ballroom competition in the 1970s.

Like most Latin dances, the mambo is characterized by Cuban hip motion and complicated foot work. The steps form forward & backward movements, while the rhythm can be counted by quick-quick-slow, with breaks in the movement on beats 2 and 4. One strong characteristic of the mambo is that the dance is sensual. Some view it as one of the most difficult dances, and therefore its often only done in ballroom dance competitions by professionals. That being said, there are just three styles of the mambo: international, American, and night club.

Mambo music can be recognized by its 4/4 time signature, large variety of percussion instruments, and is closely related to the sound of a rumba or cha-cha. Tempos can vary, which causes for a variety in dance styles and movements. While Oresta Lopez and Prado Perez were the original musicians of the mambo, other singers include Desi Arnaz, Lou Bega, and Beyonce. The mambo can be seen on TV shows like Dancing With the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance. But it can also be danced at a night club as a way to impress friends, in ballroom dance clubs where you learn the basic steps, or even as a fun way to work-out.

  1. February 17th, 2013

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