Mambo Dance Steps and Timing
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    Timing - Mambo


    In my opinion there is a lot of North American popular music that begs you to do the Mambo. In contrast, the majority of modern Latin music screams for you to Salsa. Though the two dances are related and similiar enough for some commentators to say they are the same dance, there is a difference in the tempo and structure of the music and therefore there is a difference between the two dances in terms of technique and timing. In our dance survival guides we discuss the timing and basic steps for both dances.

    Like most modern music, Mambo is written in 4/4 time (4 beats to a bar of music), and therefore four dance steps to a bar of music. In Mambo you don't move on the first beat but by not moving, its still counted as a step.

    Most teachers count the Mambo movement as quick-quick-slow but this can be confusing to the beginner. Its probably better to think of the movement as Step, Rock, Close and Pause.

    The one thing that particularly characterises Latin StreetDance and therefore Mambo, is the hip movement that occur as you swap weight between feet. When you read the section on the basic movements, you will notice that there are only two movements where the foot actually moves (on count 2 and 4) but three changes of weight (in the rock step on count 3, you are simply changing weight onto the other foot). Some teachers have replaced the Rock Step with a step in place to make it more intuitive for you to change weight. Don't let that confuse you, it is just a matter of styling.


    Footwork for the Forward movement
    If the Man moves Forward the Lady moves Back

    Toe first, slide your Left foot Forward and change weight onto the Left leg. Right foot doesn't move!

    Right Rock Back. Change weight onto the Right leg. Don't move your Left foot.

    Step Back and Close. Slide your Left foot Back and change weight onto the Left leg. Don't move your Right foot!

    Pause. Either do nothing or start to drag your right foot ready to step back on the next step.

    You are now ready to do the back movement.


    In most Rumba based dances, you commence your steps on the 2nd beat of the music and change weight from one leg to another between the beats. In Mambo your feet only move on the second, and fourth beats, the change of weight which gives the dance its look and feel occurs half way through the second, third and fourth beats. On the third beat you are simply rocking back/forward before the change of weight, so while there shouldn't be any foot movement, this is still referred to as a step. Counting from the 2nd beat of the music, my preferred count is 2 & 3, 4 & 1 - check out the section on the basic movements and this will become meaningful.

    The competition rule, set by the International Dance Organisation, about the beat, of mambo music is 46-48 measures in a minute. There is a lot of North American (popular) music in the 1990's that suggest a Mambo beat, so the beat measures might vary a bit. Hey! Unless you intend to compete, who cares. First rule of dance is to have fun!

    Mambo, Cha Cha, Salsa and Rumba have a common heritage and to some extent similiar step patterns. If your curious about the relationship between the dances have a look at my article on the Emergence of the Clave Based Dances. This article and others in our Clave Theory series will help you understand the timing used in Mambo.
    Emergence of the Clave Based Dances

    It will also help your timing to understand how the dancers created Mambo by modifing the steps from the Rumba to match the music as it was invented and reinvented. Therefore, I recommend you also read
    Arthur Greenburg's History of Rumba, Mambo & Cha Cha





    Dance Survial Guides...

    Basic Dance Steps - Mambo


    Throughout the world there are variations on how the basic movements are performed. In the USA there is the American Ballroom method and the New York Hustle/West Coast Method (NY Mambo/Salsa). Below we present the international method which is derived from Rumba.

    There are two basic movements to the Mambo - the Forward Basic Movement and the Back Basic Movement. Variously coupled or combined and often with small variations in body position, these two movements create the Mambo moves. A move is loosely defined as any sequence of eight steps. When you combine the two basic movements, they make up the eight steps of the first move, the Forward Basic.

    The Lady facing the man, will perform steps complimenting his. So if the man moves his left foot forward, the lady will move her right foot back and visa versa. This is very sensible. Otherwise, the man would probably tread on her!

    Footwork for the Forward movement
    If the Man moves Forward the Lady moves Back

    Toe first, slide your Left foot Forward and change weight onto the Left leg. Right foot doesn't move!

    Right Rock Back. Change weight onto the Right leg. Don't move your Left foot.

    Step Back and Close. Slide your Left foot Back and change weight onto the Left leg. Don't move your Right foot!

    Pause. Either do nothing or start to drag your right foot ready to step back on the next step.

    You are now ready to do the back movement.


    In the Forward Basic Move, the man will perform the Forward Basic Movement, followed by the Back Basic Movement. Whereas, the Lady will do the exact opposite. She will perform the Back Basic Movement, followed by the Forward Basic.

    Footwork for the Back movement
    If the Man moves Back the Lady moves Forward

    Toe first, slide your Right foot Back and change weight onto the Right leg. Left foot doesn't move!

    Left Rock Back. Change weight onto the Left leg. Don't move your Right foot.

    Step Forward and Close. Slide your Right foot Forward and change weight onto the Right leg. Don't move your Left foot!

    Pause. Either do nothing or start to drag your left foot ready to step forward on the next step.

    You are now ready to do the forward movement.


    Another important move is the Back Basic. All the fancy moves originate from it! Basically it is the performance of the Back Basic Movement twice. On the first step, the man steps back onto his left foot mirroring the woman's movements. After completing the first movement, both the man and woman step back. The man needs to push away from the Lady to stop her from stepping forward.

    The one thing that particularly characterises Latin StreetDance and therefore Mambo, is the hip movement that occur as you swap weight between feet. Notice that there are only two foot movements (on count 2 and 4) but three changes of weight (in the rock step on count 3, you are simply changing weight onto the other foot). Some teachers have replaced the Rock Step with a step in place to make it more intuitive for you to change weight. Don't let that confuse you, it is just a matter of styling.

    The diagram below is provided so whether you are male or female you can compare the basic steps being performed by your partner as you perform your steps. Remember, in the Forward Basic Move, the man will perform the Forward Basic Movement, followed by the Back Basic Movement. Whereas, the Lady will do the exact opposite. She will perform the Back Basic Movement, followed by the Forward Basic. Pretty simple when you think about it!


    Back Basic Movement The Mambo Forward Basic Movement
    Right Rock Back, on the 2nd beat of the music. Slide your Right foot Back and change weight onto the Right leg. Don't move your Left foot!

    Left Rock Forward. Change weight onto the Left leg. Right foot doesn't move!

    Step Forward and Close. Toe first, slide your Right foot forward and change weight onto the Right leg. Don't move your Left foot!

    Pause. Do nothing!
    Don't move either foot.

    You are now ready to do the forward movement.
    Left Rock Forward, on the 2nd beat of the music. Toe first, slide your Left foot Forward and change weight onto the Left leg. Right foot doesn't move!

    Right Rock Back. Change weight onto the Right leg. Don't move your Left foot.

    Step Back and Close. Slide your Left foot Back and change weight onto the Left leg. Don't move your Right foot!

    Pause. Do nothing!
    Don't move either foot.

    You are now ready to do the back movement.







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    This page was last updated November 2000
    copyright Paul F Clifford (2000)


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