Dance Tidbits – Mambo

What comes first, the chicken or the egg? When it comes to the Mambo, it’s the question to ask, as a direct parallel to the “chicken or egg” story. You see, Mambo developed as a Latin dance of Cuba in the late 1940’s when the music dictated the dance or is it the other way around? Even the way the Cubans describe Mambo dance as “feeling the music,” leads us to believe that music and movement were intertwined from the very beginning. Mambo caught on and soon spread through Mexico and New York.

To further complicate issues, although the form of music and dance style originally developed in Cuba with enhancements in Mexico and the USA, the language that developed about the Mambo itself, was spoken by Central African people that were brought to Cuba to become slaves. The way the language evolved relating to the dance and music was completely embraced by Cubans, Mexicans and Americans alike. Mambo means “conversation with the gods” in African. The original form of Mambo has no breaks or basic steps at all. The Cubans describe it as “trying to be free.” It made sense in pertaining to the lifestyle of people of that era.

Mambo dance initially started with complicated footwork. To this day, Cuba retains the original form of the dance while in the United States (New York) it is completely different and is often called Salsa in some places. In fact, there seems to be a conflict here too. We’re back to the old “chicken or egg” story again. Professional dance teachers in the USA did not like the original form of Mambo because it was not disciplined. They looked to refine the dance steps and make them more uniform in order to present it as a sellable commodity for the social ballroom market.

For you purists out there, you may learn the Cuban style Mambo just in time to relearn the Mambo in a combination of Salsa, Rumba or even Cha-Cha-Cha. Be prepared either way. A great dancer at least knows about the different versions of a dance. Now, which is it, the “chicken or the egg” that came first?

Happy dancing,

Thought Of The Week: If you want the sun to shine on you, be prepared for a few blisters along the way. – Abigail Van Buren



Shane Meuwissen is the Media Specialist for Fordney Foundation.  He is a former dance instructor who know works with his company Slow Motion Dance Videos capture the beauty of dancing. If you would like to learn more about Shane and his video work, visit his website