Mambo arose from a fusion of Cuban and jazz music characterized by a stirring Afro-Cuban beat. Mambo is an exciting earthy dance, similar in its basic structure to Salsa, with more highly staccato styling and more “grounding” into the floor. Good Mambo dancers are always popular and in demand as partners. The exciting music and rhythmical body movements make the Mambo irresistible.

Teaching Elements:

  • Mambo Breaks–Combinations and variations of rock steps
  • Shine (Open) Positions–Appearance, self-expression
  • Footwork–Staccato footwork, kicks & controlled movement
    Turns–Develop momentum control, weight off heels
  • Interrelation–Variety of figures adapted from other dances
    Amalgamations–Combining steps and patterns together
  • Compare/Contrast–Salsa, Rumba, Cha Cha


The Mambo has a long and twisting history beginning with an unlikely lineage leading back to both African Tribal Dancing and English Country Dancing. English Country Dancing was taken up by the Spanish, where it was called Contradanza. From there it was brought to Cuba by Spanish colonists as early as the 1700’s.

During that same period African slaves were making their way to Cuba as well, many via Haiti bringing with them their own musical traditions. Fusion of some African rhythms into the Spanish Contradanza resulted in the Danza, Cuba’s national dance at the time. From there it evolved by the late 1800’s into the Danzon, a musically similar but freer dance form with more spontaneous movements of the couples. Around the same time a lively music known as Son using percussion alone arose among the black working class population in Cuba’s Oriente province.

Danzon went on to incorporate spontaneous improvisation segments by musicians and by the 1920’s was incorporating varied musical instruments such as cello, violin, piano and brass instruments as well. The music was among the first latin rhythms to be played in North America along with the Rumba and the Beguine.

The earliest reference to Mambo as a specific music doesn’t really appear until the 1930’s when the cellist Oresta Lopez composed a new Danzon using elements of the Son rhythm and other South American rhythms popular with Cuban street muscians at the time. He called his new music “Mambo” after the African word for “drum”. His friend and fellow bandleader Perez Prado helped to popularize Mambo music. By the early 1950’s after touring the United States Prado established himself as the king of Mambo music. Many of the dance bands took up the popular new rhythm, the dance craze siezed the western world, and Arthur Murray Studios became famous for turning out some of the best Mambo dancers of the era.

Mambo spawned other dances notably Cha Cha and Salsa. By the late 1950’s/early 60’s Mambo had become so mainstream that the dance began to be toned down by most instructors to appeal to the conservative American mores of that era. As the youth-culture of the 1960’s progressed it began to clash with this conservative “no hip action” method of Mambo dancing. It is in this dichotomous culture that “Salsa” as a term began to replace Mambo as a name for the latin music as it continued to evolve (mainly due to the New York Puerto Rican influence). It is in this turmoiled time that the movie “Dirty Dancing” is set.

Since that time Mambo and Salsa as dances have developed on parallel tracks to each other, Mambo in the dance studios and Salsa in the latin clubs and street dancing, each borrowing from the other as they continue to develop. The Mambo of today bears little resemblence in styling to its toned down late 50’s version and is more likely to be danced to current upbeat Salsa music than it is to traditional Mambo music.

Despite (and perhaps partly in defiance of) its somewhat purified period of development the modern Mambo dancing tends to (ironically) have a more overtly sexual and raw nature than Salsa itself. Mambo is currently a professional competition dance in the American Rhythm division.
Mambo music is written in 4/4 time with each measure divided into four beats with the important musical accents occurring on the first and third beats. Mambo music resulted from the fusion of the music forms noted above from the 1930’s to the 1950’s.

The recommended tempo for Mambo for is 48 to 51 bpm (bars per minute) to maintain its unique character and for competitions.

More musical detail is included in the Salsa section, as this is the term used to describe the modern form of the music.


The components of Mambo are rock steps and side steps and foot styling includes points, kicks, or flicks. Mambo has a characteristically strong “grounded” feeling into the floor with staccatto leg action and forward connection between the partners allowing him to lead lots of swivelling actions. The latin hip movement in Mambo is also an important aspect of the dance. Its overall flavour is contained in a translation of the word Mambo which means “shake it” or “say it”.

It is danced in a series of three steps over the 4 counts and counted QQS (Quick, Quick, Slow) starting with the first step on count 2 in the music, a musical interpretation that it shares with Cha Cha and International Style Rumba. Mambo usually rotates mostly leftward especially in the earlier stages of learning, opposite to what is usually initially taught in Salsa.

Today Mambo is most often danced to upbeat Salsa music and is sharply styled and strongly grounded latin dance that is an incredible amount of fun once it is mastered.  At higher competition levels it is lightning fast with strong timing punctuation and has blossomed into a very exciting and fast paced dance that never fails in audience appeal.

Mambo songs and artists include:

  • Tequila – The Champs
  • Mambo #5 – Perez “Prez” Prado
  • Cherry Cherry – Neil Diamond
  • Livin’ La Vida Loca – Ricky Martin