Salsa > Mambo versus Salsa

Discussion in 'Salsa' started by Dennis Simmons, Jul 28, 2003.

  1. Dennis Simmons

    Dennis Simmons New Member

    Hello Dancers!
    Please, bear with me as I make my points of clarification:

    Whether or not salsa actually does suck is still somewhat open to question. Having conducted a mambo workshop, I can say for a certainty that anyone who learns the dance timings of rumba (that is to say, dancing on the claves of rumba) will find salsa dance timing a far less satisfying experience. Mambo and its sister form of rumba, the Cuban son, are more elegant, both in look and feel, than salsa. Even today, when I see young Puerto Ricans in the island, good dancers, dancing salsa, I can’t help but think what a shame it is that they will most likely never know mambo, as just a change of dance timing can transform good dancers into extraordinary dance teams.

    My introduction to latin dance came on the west coast and, accordingly, the dance timing that I learned first was salsa. Salsa, by the way, is the invention of Puerto Ricans in the Bronx, who, after the withering of Cuban musical influences in New York (late 1950s – early 1960s), dressed the rhythm of plena (pleh-nah), from the musical and dance experience of their culture, in the trappings of Cuban music. Salsa reigns supreme on the west coast, as there is very little Cuban influence there, while the population of Central and South Americans swelled beginning in the late 1960s and early 1970s. One of the most popular forms of music and dance in those south of the border areas is cumbia (koom-beeyah). While cumbia is quite different musically from the plena of Puerto Rico, it has the same rhythmic structure and, not surprisingly, the same dance timing. It is no accident that Colombianos and others with cumbia in their musical heritage have taken to salsa like fish take to water.

    The rhythms of rumba (rrroom-bah) were imported into Haiti and Cuba in the 18th and 19th centuries. They are based on African traditions of pantheistic ceremony. While African religious ceremonial dances are known, they were performed only by men. Secular or social dancing between men and women was unknown in Africa until that idea was brought there from Europe. The term “rumba”, by the way, comes from the Bantu-Congolese word “lumba”, meaning to “get down” or to affirm. Because Cubans are famous for their confusion over “Ls” and “Rs”, we are left with the term rumba. Cuba, at the turn of the 20th century witnessed the secularization of rumba in the form of the changui (chahn-gwee), a predecessor of the Cuban son (sohn) and other popular forms of Cuban music that we know today, including variations of son known as guajira (wah-hee-rrrah), guaracha (wah-rrrah-chah), and guaguanco (wah-wahn-koh), as well as mambo (mahm-boh) and its cousin, the son montuno (sohn mohn-toon-oh). The changui was the dominion of the lower-class population of former slaves. It emerged as their answer to the Cuban danzon (dahn-sohn), the popular music and dance of the European elite in Cuba. The precursor of the danson, the French contradanza (kohn-tra-dahn-sah), was brought to Cuba in the middle 19th century by French refugees fleeing from the Haitian uprising. The French got it from the English, where it was known simply as the “country dance”. Not being much given to the English language, they heard it as “contradanza” (referring to dancing in opposition or facing each other).

    In the first half of the 20th century, Cuba rapidly became a playground for the eastern seaboard of the United States. In the evenings, tourists danced to danzones played in the hotels by musical aggregations known as charangas (chah-rrrahn-gahss). The charanga was composed principally of classical instruments (violin, cello, base violin, piano, flute, clarinet, timbale, and, on occasion, saxophone) played by trained musicians, many of whom also played in the Havana symphony orchestra. By day, these same tourists were charmed by the lively rhythms of street-musician “conjuntos” (kohn-hoon-tohss) playing accordion, tres (trehss – a double-stringed guitar-like instrument tuned in thirds), trumpet, and a panoply of African percussive instruments. As you can imagine, tourists were soon requesting those more up-tempo rhythms for their evening’s entertainment. As a result of that popular social pressure for fusion of the two musical genres, a “montuno” (a sequence of repetitive up-tempo musical riffs cycling on an eight-count pattern) was tacked on at the end of the danzon. That ending musical interlude came to be known as the “mambo”, after the title of a piece composed by Orestes Lopez (the older brother of legendary Cuban bass violinist Israel “Cachao” Lopez) and first aired on Havana radio in 1939. Hence, danzon-mambo was born (although in Cuba it was generally known as danzon-moderno). In time, dancers urged musicians to drop the danzon altogether and to just play the mambo. In the late 1930s – early 1940s, the leading exponent of mambo was the legendary charanga of flautist Antonio Arcano (Ahrrr-kahn-yoh), which he dubbed “La Primera Maravilla del Siglo” (the first marvel of the century), more generally known by Cubans as simply Arcano y sus Maravillas (Arcano and his marvels). And marvelous they were, arguably the greatest assemblage of musicians on the planet – ever. Included in that group were the brothers Lopez, Orestes and Israel. In that same era, the undisputed leader of the conjunto style of music was the legendary band leader, composer, and master of the Cuban tres, Arsenio Rodriguez. He, too, incorporated the montuno into a musical style that he made famous, the son montuno (with the same rhythmic structure as mambo played by a charanga). Because what was happening in New York in the 1940s was big band sound, with its emphasis on horns and percussion, it was the son montuno of Arsenio Rodriguez that exploded onto the latin music and dance scene in that place and time. It is this musical genre that is today known in the United States as mambo. Thus, only the name “mambo” made the 90-mile crossing from Cuba. The original mambo (which I prefer for its amazing rhythmic syncopations) stayed behind.

    The four principal latin dance timings are mambo (including son montuno), son (including guaguanco, guajira, and guaracha), salsa, and cha cha. While there are six claves (clah-vehss – drum syncopations based on an eight-count musical refrain composed of two measures of music in 4/4 time) associated with the pantheistic ceremonial music of Africa known generally as rumba, there are only two dance timings that are used for dancing to the popular music that has come to us from that religious ceremonial tradition. In the parlance of ballroom dance, those two dance timings are the “quick quick slow” version of rumba (the dance timing used for dancing to a mambo or to a son montuno) and the “slow quick quick” version of rumba (the dance timing used for dancing to a son, guaguanco, guajira, or guaracha). I like to refer to these two dance timings simply as mambo and son, respectively. The dance timing for cha cha is only a minor variation of mambo dance timing, wherein two quick steps (the “cha cha”) replace the mambo transitions of counts 4 and 8 of the eight-count (two-measure) musical refrain. Those of you who are interested in a detailed explanation of each of the four principal latin dance timings can bring up my thread “Latin Dance Timings” in this forum, or, if you let me know of your interest, I can send to you, as an e-mail attachment, a convenient chart in Word 6.0 format.

    Yes, as you can see from the foregoing discussion, mambo and salsa have completely different musical origins, as well as distinct dance timings. I would also point out that the “pause” to which you refer is not really a pause (that is to say, where motion stops), but a transition between musical counts, wherein the foot is moving to step on the musical count immediately following the transition count. This transition is necessitated by the fact that three steps are taken in each four counts of music and it applies to all of the principal latin dance timings except cha cha, in which two quick steps ( the “cha cha”) replace the transition. You are correct in stating that that the transition counts for both salsa and mambo are counts 4 and 8 of the 8-count musical refrain. Again, regardless of dance timing, if the motion of dance is stopped during transition counts, the dance takes on a markedly choppy, awkward and generally unaesthetic appearance. This is most noticeable among novice dancers of salsa, owing to the structure of that particular dance timing.

    Yes, Art brought this simplified “two steps in four musical counts” version of mambo from Cuba to New York, either because he did not understand the dance himself, or because he felt that he could not easily teach it to his students (I don’t know which). At any rate, as a club dancer, I have always regarded as tragedy the fact that this completely contrived artifact has been proffered as “mambo” within ballroom dance circles over the past 50 years. I can assure you that Art’s “mambo” has never been seen in Cuba! The real thing (three steps in four musical counts), in the parlance of ballroom dance, is nothing more (or less) than a high octane version of “quick quick slow” rumba.

    I also learned salsa dance timing first. However, I was fortunate to learn mambo from Eddie Torres in New York. I tell salsa-literate newcomers to mambo that their salsa background might put them at a disadvantage, as it is not an uncommon experience to have to “unlearn” salsa in order to learn mambo (I know I did). Anyway, it appears that you are exactly the person I need to translate salsa routines to mambo.
  2. DanceMentor

    DanceMentor Administrator

    I'm a little curious about the third step on beat 4 (and 8) of the Mambo. In my experience, it's more of a side step in Mambo, while in LA style salsa it's more of a progressive forward and back step. Could we say that Mambo has more of a sideward motion than salsa? Or are there other salsa styles that incorporate this side step?
  3. SDsalsaguy

    SDsalsaguy Administrator Staff Member

    :shock: That's almost like saying that everyone who's tried cherries won’t find blueberries as satisfying!

    I'm sorry, but "are more elegant"? Honestly, that's an aesthetic judgment…and you are certainly entitled to your own tastes and preferences, but just as with anything in life, there is never just one way that is the "right" one. Indeed, there will always be personal taste and preference….and that’s part of what makes club/street style dancing so rich!
  4. Black Sheep

    Black Sheep New Member

    Mambobo vs,. Salsa

    Dennis Simmons,
    I just had to congratulate you on your excellent Commentary on 'Mambo vs. Salsa', and thank you for the education. It is refreshing to read informative, well stated dissertations.
    My Commentary of July 1st may not add anything except that my love for the Mambo music and dance motivated me to recall my less erudite treatment of the subject. It is reproduced here:
    "Music has a strong influence on dance moods and styles. Most of today's popular Swing music does not grab me as a good Lindy Hop mood. And today's Salsa music does not create the mood for my old time Mambo, but I did not know why until one of my students, Venus Arabayan, who has been studying Ballroom dancing as my protégé for only three months, gave me the solution to this Salsa Mambo confusion that has been buzzing in my mind since 1999 when I first experienced Salsa music and dancing for the first time in my life at Jim Myron's Grand Ballroom in L.A. At that time, I witnessed some 1,500 Salsa dancers gyrating to what sounded to me at the time like Mambo music, but there was something significantly different that I couldn't put my finger on until just last week, 4 years later, when I was introducing Venus and Mundo Arabayan to the Mambo.
    I had bought a Salsa CD for the lesson, and within an hour after showing this couple the difference styles of both Mambo and Salsa, they individually kept having trouble holding 4&1 beats and breaking on 2 in the Mambo style. This went on for a couple of records. Finally this 16 year old who had started dancing only three months ago, turns to me and says,"Mr. Joe, this Salsa music is too fast for us to hold the 4&1." I stopped, looked at her and listened to the music for a phrase or two and suddenly it dawned on me and I replied, "Venus you are right!" That is why even I was even having trouble holding 4&1 and breaking on 2. The tempo was so fast, all I had time for was to count 1, 2, 3 before the next measure of music came up.
    Then I realized how significantly music influenced the style of dancing, thanks to Venus' astute musical sense. 'Words of wisdom from the mouths of babes often come'. Venus is 16 years old, definitly a babe! and definitely a lady, but I thought that adage kind of fit the situation. After listening to some Salsa CD's and some Tito Puente and Cal Tjader Mambos, I realized it was not only the tempo (speed) of the music but also the different instrumentation of the Mambo music that was different. And so I more clearly understood why Swing dancers are not dancing the smooth style of the Savoy Lindy of the 1950's, and the Salsa dancers are not dancing the innovative style of the Puerto Rican Mambo of the 1950's.
    It is the Tempo and Instrumentation that is the Key to producing that sound that grabs a dancer. That's why Glenn Miller was so successful; he knew exactly the Tempo and Instruments he needed to produce that smooth harmonious sound to grab the dancers.
    Mambo Instruments: piano, vibes, congas, bass, bongos, timbales, sax.
    Salsa Instruments: I admit I do not know enough about Salsa music to designate the instruments that give Salsa that Salsa sound. Maybe some of you Salsa musicians can give us the musical tools that make the Salsa swing."

    Black Sheep
  5. Dennis Simmons

    Dennis Simmons New Member

    Counts 4 and 8 are the mambo transitions, so that no step is taken on them. On count 4 the man's right foot is moving forward (in the air) to step on count 5 (the woman's left foot is, of course, moving backward on that count). The basic step pattern of all four principal latin dances that I have described is forward / back (no step to the side). Now, you can dance all four to the left or to the right, using the same basic step pattern (except, of course, the steps are then taken to the side rather than forward and back).
    It occurs to me that perhaps you are thinking of the classical rumba step patterns for both the "quick quick slow" (breaking counts 2 and 6) and "slow quick quick" (breaking counts 3 and 7) versions of rumba, wherein the man does step to the side with his right foot on count 5. The tempo of early rumba pieces was leisurely and conducive to this lilting side to side motion. The tempo of modern-day mambo does not allow that luxury.
  6. Dennis Simmons

    Dennis Simmons New Member

    Well, try those cherries. I know that you will like them! And, you have only to gain and nothing to lose by doing so, right? If Eddie still has his mambo workshop happening in New York, that would be the one. For my money, he is the leading exponent of mambo in the world today.
  7. Dennis Simmons

    Dennis Simmons New Member

    Re: Mambobo vs,. Salsa

    Well, thanks for that! I have had a long love affair with cuban music and dance.

    I think I know what you mean. Dance is the means by which I give expression to what I am feeling in the music. Therefore, my emphasis has always been on teaching rhythm, with step patterns secondary. While the ability to use a variety of routines does keep it interesting, if memorizing steps were the main thing, I never would have bothered.
  8. Black Sheep

    Black Sheep New Member

    Mambo & Savoy Lindy

    What you are espousing for Mambo, I am trying to do for the Lindy. Only when you have been on both sides of the tracks can you make an empirical judgment! Without that background your decisions are metaphysical, based on faith supported by nebulous concepts espoused by meaningful wannabees but nonetheless metaphyisicists.
    Black Sheep
  9. Black Sheep

    Black Sheep New Member

    Mambo side steps

    When first learning the Mambo, it is easier to use that side step on the 'One count.
    In Cha Cha which has the same rhythmic breaks as in Mambo, the three side steps are executed on the 4 & 1 counts, counted 'Cha Cha Cha and with the break forward or backward on the Two count.
    Eventually those side steps in Mambo can be substituted for many variations of foot or body moves.
    By the way, When I said , " Salsa Sucks when compared to Mambo", I could have used a more moderate word...but then who would have noticed!

    Black Sheep
  10. salsarhythms

    salsarhythms New Member

    I hope no one gets offended here, but here goes

    This topic always gets me...Izzy Sanabria (known as
    "Mr. Salsa") said it best...there will always be so-called
    "experts" preaching about what salsa is and where
    it came from...

    Bottom line is this:

    This whole mambo vs. salsa makes NO SENSE WHATSOEVER...

    Why do I say this?

    Well, instead of being like the rest of the crowd
    and giving you second-hand information, I'll give you
    the chance to get it straight from the source...

    Mr. Salsa himself, Izzy Sanabria who was in the middle
    of this entire thing...

    Mr. Salsa says the following: (Chances are you had no idea
    about what you're about to read...)

    Click here to see what Mr. Salsa himself, Izzy Sanabria has to say...
  11. youngsta

    youngsta Active Member

    I swear if I hear someone try to make the argument again I'm gonna just scream! They're both great. I love them both. One fits my style more, but doesn't keep me from dancing the other. Just Dance!
  12. salsarhythms

    salsarhythms New Member

    Hey Youngsta...

    Check out the article I referenced'll see that
    in reality the following statement is true:


    They do not come from different musical roots...they
    are one and the's just a term that was coined
    to produce interest...

    Same music, same artists playing it, just a different
    name for it...

    Mambo Vs. Salsa does not make sense because there's
    no such thing!! =)

    The dances may vary now, but that's because like any
    other art form, it is constantly evolving...however, mambo
    salsa = same thing...
  13. borikensalsero

    borikensalsero Moderator


    Can't help but to noticed that ever since I got into the dance scene and began meeting California dancers they all refered to salsa and mambo dancing as different dances. I was like whattt? Until I learned what they meant. Today as I read posts I can't help but to notice how we refer to salsa and mambo as two different dances still, although the moves, the steps, the counts, the dips, and so on are all the same for each, something of which we in NYCity care very little to do. BTW... We don't step on the 4 nor the 8. We skip over them in our way to 1 and 5... We dance 1,2,3 5,6,7 as opposed to the old 2,3,4 6,7,8 style.

    After a few years of research and countless hours of talks with Nydia Ocasio amongst many in NY City I began to comprehend why people mention salsa and mambo distinctively...

    Looking back in History, mambo, from day one was danced on1. The cowbell was so easily audible that people would step on it to dance. Not until dancers began to notice that the Son Montuno tempo of dancing on2 could be applied to mambo did they begin to dance Mambo on2. Although mambo was danced to some extent on2, its wide spread popularity only caused it to be danced on1 until NY City dancers made the on2 very popular for dancing mambo then salsa. When the music genus known as salsa took off, alot of NY City dancers began using the on2 style to dance Salsa. Salsa is a street beat, with wild descargas and usually socio-political issues from el barrio lifestyle. Mambo is more of a montuno music, as well as more reserved, fancier to a sense and a bit more "classy".

    Dancing is all about taste, it doesn't matter what beat you dance to as long as you love it. Regardless of what I like or how much I like it, I doesn't mean that you will too. I can only speak of my expiriences and feelings not yours....
  14. borikensalsero

    borikensalsero Moderator

    Hello SalsaSkills... Willie Colon, Johnny Pacheco, Hector Lavoe, etc can stand as witness that Mambo and Salsa although from the same tree they are not the same branch...
  15. borikensalsero

    borikensalsero Moderator

    So sorry... Meant to say they are not the same branch instead of from the same branch... my appologies
  16. salsarhythms

    salsarhythms New Member

    One thing to note in the article is that many artists were
    against this term "Salsa".

    It's understandable of course, no one likes to see their
    art form being categorized as something else...

    Yes there are many different ways to dance to the
    music, and I usually like to leave that up to interpretation.

    I was raised in the bronx, so to me I never even knew
    that these types of arguments were going on...however
    in my opinion there is no was simply a
    term that was used to create a buzz by a very creative
  17. salsarhythms

    salsarhythms New Member

    By the way borinken, where in NY are you from?

    And yes, we skip 4 and 8...

    1,2,3 5,6,7
  18. youngsta

    youngsta Active Member

    I know this salsarhythms, but I've seen this argument before and usually in this case the person equates salsa=on1 and mambo=on2 (la clave). The same on1/on2 argument dressed in different clothes. Maybe I'm wrong, but that's what I thought he was doing.
  19. salsarhythms

    salsarhythms New Member

    Hey Youngsta...

    I think there are two things we're mixing here...

    On 1, On 2, rueda...those are just styles of dance...
    as far as the music is concerned there is no distinction...

    I see your point, to me, what I got from Izzy was that
    it was basically the same music, he just promoted it
    as Salsa through the Fania label so that it would get
    more recognition from the press...

    I just think that there is no difference...yes different styles
    evolve in different ways, but it still has the same foundation.

    My thing with referencing this article was that...=)

    Know what I mean?? Or is this becoming too crazy... :D

    I know it is for me simply because of the sheer volume
    of thoughts and opinions on the subject...
  20. Dennis Simmons

    Dennis Simmons New Member

    What a difference a dance makes

    What salsa is and where it came from are well-documented facts about which “preaching” is hardly relevant. You might want to take a look at Vernon Boggs interview of Izzy conducted August 22, 1991 and printed in the November 1991 issue of Latin Beat magazine. You will also find in that issue my article entitled “Mambo versus Salsa”. In the course of his interview, Mr. Boggs asked: “Are we justified, Mr. Sanabria, in referring to Los Van Van, Irakere, Adalberto (Alvarez) y su Son, Roberto Faz, Aragon, etc. . . as playing salsa music?” Izzy’s reply: “It might be an insult to do that.”

    Let me state the matter more clearly. Ignorance of other cultures is no license to trash them, regardless of one’s propensity for making a buck. The musical and dance heritage of Cuba is unquestionably the richest of any culture throughout history. Puertorriquenos and others of non-Cuban extraction are notoriously lacking in their knowledge and appreciation of that heritage, with the notable exception of people like Tito Puente, Larry Harlow, Henry Fiol, musicologists Max Salazar and Vernon Boggs, and, more recently, Ry Cooder, who are among the relatively few that have troubled to educate themselves about it.

    Perhaps it makes no sense to the uninformed, but let me assure you that musical forms based on the claves of rumba are entirely different from the music originated by Puertorriquenos living in the Bronx in the late 1960s within the musical void created by a fabulously enlightened policy toward Cuba that is still with us today, as are the dance timings used to dance to those very distinct musical genres.

    Cuban musicians of that era, like Machito and Mongo Santamaria, were quick to point out that distinction. Unfortunately, in stating that many of Fania’s finest were playing their interpretation of Cuban music “badly”, they failed to succinctly explain the distinction, which is that salsa has its rhythmic emphasis on counts 1 and 5 of the 8-count musical refrain, just as does the plena of Puerto Rico and, completely coincidentally, the cumbia of central and south America. It should not come as too much of a surprise that, left to their own devices, Puertorriquenos in New York fell back on their musical heritage, dressing it in the trappings of Cuban music, but without the musical essence of that music.

    As I have detailed in my thread “Latin Dance Timings” in this forum, the dance timings for mambo and son Cubano (“son”, by the way, is Cuban shorthand for baile del salon, i.e., parlor dance) are quite distinct from the dance timing for salsa and they have an entirely different look and feel.

    Of course, my different take on this matter might simply come down to the difference in perspective of one who has an abiding appreciation for latin music and dance as opposed to the perspective of someone who wants to sell something.

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