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Jenny and Toby


American Style Rhythm

Today, salsa is a generic term for various kinds of Latin music and dance. To understand the origins of the dance, it's important to start out with the history of one of its forerunners, the mambo. Cuban musicians such as !srael "Cachao" Lopez and his brother Orestes are credited with inventing the mambo in late 1930s. When the rhythm reached the U.S., it was picked up and changed by the big band ensembles of the day.

A mania for mambo surfaced in New York in the late 1940s and '50s. Bands led by Tito Puente and Tito Rodiguez packed the famed Palladium Dance Hall with their powerful horns and Afro-Cuban percussion sections. Perez Prado drew thousands to concerts on the West Coast. Dancers were known as "mambonicks", and dance teachers did a good business explaining the new rhythm. "Rumba with jitterbug", is how one magazine of the period described it.

The term salsa (which also means "hot sauce") was coined in the late '60s to describe the Latin music then evolving in New York, a fusion of Cuban, Puerto Rican, American and other styles. But musicians often use a more specific term when describing Latin styles, such as son or mambo. As a dance, salsa is characterized by relahvely small steps, a noticeable pause on the "slow." Cuban motion, and a more compact hold than other Latin dances because of its greater speed. Because of crowded dance floors and the sensual, intimate nature of the dance, authentic salsa is danced comfortably within a four to five foot square radius.

In the ballroom, the salsa basic begins on the first count of the music, while mambo begins on the second count. In the nightclub, dancers may start on either count, depending on their preference and the "feel" of the music. The music is generally in 4/4 time, with approximately 36 beats to the bar.

Dance histories supplied by Diane Jarmolow of the Ballroom Dance Teachers College and reprinted with permission.