Mambo / Salsa

Salsa means different things to different people – both in the kitchen and on the dance floor. Salsa is the Spanish word for sauce – and implies a “mixture” of ingredients and spicy flavor (or “sabor”).

Salsa as music and dance was created by Spanish-speaking people from the Caribbean and their immigrant communities in the United States. New York created the term “Salsa”, but it did not create the dance. The term became popular as nickname to refer to a variety of different music, from several countries of Hispanic influence: Rhumba, Són Montuno, Guaracha, Mambo, Cha cha cha, Danzón, Són, Guaguanco, Cubop, Guajira, Charanga, Cumbia, Plena, Bomba, Festejo, Merengue, among others. Many of these have maintained their individuality and many were mixed creating “Salsa”. Salsa is one of the main dances in both Cuba and Puerto Rico and is known world-wide.

Salsa is normally a partner dance, although there are recognized solo forms, line dancing (suelta), and Rueda de Casino where groups of couples exchange partners in a circle. Salsa can be improvised or performed with a set routine. Standardized styles of salsa dancing include: New York style (On 2), Palladium (On 2), LA style (On 1), Miami style, casino, Cuban salsa, Puerto Rican salsa, Colombian salsa, and ballroom style mambo.

History of Salsa Dance and Music
Salsa is not easily defined. Salsa is a distillation of many Latin and Afro-Caribbean dances. There is debate as to whether the dance we call “salsa” today originated in Cuba or Puerto Rico. The roots of salsa include: Son, Guaguancó, Rumba, Boogaloo, Pachanga, Guaracha, Plena, and Bomba. Although few would disagree that the music and dance forms originate largely in Cuban Son, most agree that Salsa as we know it today is a North American interpretation of the older forms.

Origin of the salsa steps
The dance steps currently being danced to salsa music come from the son, but were influenced by many other Cuban dances such as Mambo, Cha cha cha, Guaracha, Changüí, Palo Monte, Rumba, Abakuá, Comparsa and sometimes even Mozambique. Solo salsa steps are called “Shines”, a term taken from Tap dancing. It also often borrows and integrates steps from other popular dance styles – like swing, jazz, and tango. Salsa can be a heavily improvised dance.

Salsa is similar to Mambo in that both have a pattern of six steps danced over eight counts of music. The dances share many of the same moves. In Salsa, turns have become an important feature, so the overall look and feel are quite different form those of Mambo. Mambo moves generally forward and backward, whereas, Salsa has more of a side to side feel.

The Contra-Danze (Country Dance) of England/France, later called Danzón, was brought by the French who fled from Haiti to Cuba, where it mixed with Rhumbas of African origin (Guaguanco, Colombia, Yambú) and the Són of the Cuban people – which was already a mixture of the Spanish troubadour (sonero) and the African drumbeats. The flavora and a partner dance flowered to the beat of the clave.

Similar musical mixing occurred in smaller degrees and with variations in other countries like the Dominican Republic, Colombia, and Puerto Rico.

In today’s Salsa, we find the base of són, Cumbia, and Guaracha. We also hear some old Merengue, built-in the rhythm of different songs. We hear many of the old styles somewhere within the modern beats. Salsa varies from place to place. In New York, for example, new instrumentalization and extra percussion were added to some Colombian songs so that New Yorkers – that dance mambo “on the two” – can feel comfortable dancing to the rhythm and beat of the song, because the original arrangement is not one they easily recognize.

Salsa is played throughout the Hispanic world and has incorporated many influences and evolved into many styles. Like a tree, Salsa has many roots and many branches, but one trunk that unites it all.

Royal Elegance Perfomance

Mambo is a Latin dance of Cuban origin that corresponds to mambo music. Mambo music was invented in 1930s Havana by Cachao and his contemporaries and made popular around the world by Perez Prado and Beny Moré. Mambo music developed from Danzon and was heavily influenced by the Jazz musicians that the Italian-American gangsters, who controlled Havana’s casinos, brought to entertain their American customers.

In the late 1940s, Perez Prado came up with the dance for the mambo music and became the first person to market his music as “mambo”. After Havana, Prado moved his music to Mexico when the reactionary dictatorship at the time did not like his non-traditional style of music and expelled him. From there he moved to New York City. Along the way, his style became increasingly homogenized in order to appeal to mainstream American listeners.

Modern Confusion About What Is or Isn’t Dancing Mambo
The Mambo dance that was invented by Perez Prado and was popular in the 1940s and 50s Cuba, New York and right around the US and latin America is completely different to the modern dance that New Yorkers now call ‘Mambo’ or ‘breaking on 2’. The original and pure form of the mambo dance contains no breaking steps at all, whether on 1 or 2. To see the real mambo dance, have a look at the dance scene in ‘The Motorcycle Diaries’. This form of dance matched mambo music very well. The modern dance from New York they call ‘Mambo’ or dancing ‘on 2’ whilst a very attractive dance is not Mambo. This dance was invented in the 70s by Eddie Torres and his contemporaries who were 1st or 2nd generation Puerto Rican immigrants. This dance they called ‘Mambo’ (for lack of another name) has nothing to do with the original form of the dance. The Eddie Torres dance is not danced to Mambo music, for which it is poorly suited, but instead to Salsa music or some forms of early Son music.

The original form of the dance and music are alive and well in Cuba and some ballroom variations of the original dance are taught in dance studios.

Films such the ‘Dirty Dancing 2: Havana Nights’ being an American movie filmed in Puerto Rico show the post 1970 New York invented ‘on 2’ dance. The reason for this? The film contacted none of the original New York Mambo dancers of the 40s and 50s or Cuban choreographers but some of the new generation of ‘Mambo’ dancers from post 70s New York.

The origin of the confusion
Although Tito Puente has been billed as ‘The King of Mambo’, he never actually recorded Mambo. Most of the music he recorded were variations on Son and Cha Cha Cha and fusion type rhythms. Eddie Torres and Tito Puente were great friends and as the music Puente was recording was billed as ‘Mambo’, Torres probably legitimately believed his dance, which matched Puente’s style of music well, was Mambo. However, both are Puerto Rican (not Cuban) and as a result of the U.S. cutting itself off from Cuba since 1959, where the real Mambo (music and dance) is alive and well, these distortions can easily happen.

Majesty In Motion Pro Performance

Although many salseros think that dancing “On 1 or “On 2” refers to which beat of music they rock forward, few seem to realize that the best match for the music is the man breaking forward either “On 5” or “On 6”.
Dancing “On 1” emphasizes the downbeats of the music. Dancing “On 2” emphasizes the upbeats. The beat of the Clave may be a 2-3 or 3-2 rhythm and hits and breaks occur either on the “1” or “6-7” of the 8-count.