The steps to mambo are done all across the nation at nightclubs to dark pulsing Latin rhythms. One of the rumba-based dances, it is rooted in a simple back and forth basic step which is the root of all of the fancier gyrating turns. However, getting the basic step right can be a bit more of a challenge than it first looks.
Breaking Down the Steps to Mambo
Forward Basic (Forward Break)
Lead - the lead starts by putting the left foot forward (as in most dances) and shifting the weight onto it. The right foot stays in place, the leg lengthening. Then the lead rocks back onto the right foot, waiting until full weight has been transferred to it before sliding the left foot back next to the the right.The dancer then transfers the weight back to the left foot in preparation for stepping over on the right, taking weight on that foot and dragging the left over to close the step. All of these steps are done with the feet staying flat on the ground. In fact, often in dance studios teachers will have the students dance with paper towels under their feet, sliding around the floor in the patterns.
Follow - To a great extent, the partner mirrors the steps of the lead. Starting with the weight on the left foot, the right slides forward, and the full weight of the body comes onto it in a rocking forward motion. Stepping back, the weight shift results in a step to the left, the right foot coming to close at the end of the basic next to the left. Weight shifts onto the right then in preparation for the Back Basic.
Note: these are both of the "forward" steps- these are not done at the same time, as that would result in the two people colliding! The Lead's Forward Basic is combined with the Follow's Back Basic, and vice versa.
Backward Basic (Rock Back)
Lead - The lead puts the right foot back, bending the left knee as the weight comes to rest on that foot. The left foot shouldn't move. After the weight has rocked back onto it, push forward again onto the left leg. Step forward and close, changing weight onto the right leg, in preparation for going back into the forward basic (or whatever other move is planned).Follow - Extending the left foot back, the right knee bends and there is a rocking motion back as the body shifts onto the left foot. The right should never leave the floor, however the shift is subtle. Rocking forward, weight comes back onto the right and as the left comes back to close the dancer has completed the most basic of the steps to mambo.
Jazzing It Up
While the basic step is fun, the true magic of the Mambo comes in the fast and intricate permutations created by the dancers as they move together. The best thing is that since this is a Latin dance, many of the same moves that applied in Salsa, Rumba, and other Latin dances work very well.
The Cross-Body Lead
Especially useful in tight situations, the cross-body lead is a tool used by the lead to guide the follow into a new place on the dance floor, facing directly opposite of the original position. In other words, if the lead starts facing a wall, at the end of the move the follow will be facing the wall. Affectionately known by some dance instructors as "Drag-Her-Around," the cross body lead is three steps that shift weight on the same feet as the basic step, with the variation of a 180 degree pivot turn being performed after the first weight shift. The follow simply takes the steps forward and across the lead's left side, performing the same kind of 180 degree turn but in the form of two 90 degree turns in the second and closing step.
The Crossover Break
A stylistic variation, the crossover break occurs when both the lead and follow keep their hands connected but let their feet turn one-quarter turn away from each other, moving back into what is called (in ballroom) "fifth position." This should not be confused with fifth position in ballet; the foot is behind and slightly to the side of the other. However, most important is that weight should be entirely shifted onto the rear foot. A common error is to simply "tap" the foot, which dilutes the full effect of the break.
These are only two examples of simple moves, and they can be combined to create a move called the "curved forward basic." Ideally, though, mambo dance steps should be learned first in a ballroom dance studio and then out in the clubs. The dance is alive there for all to learn and enjoy.