How long have you been
teaching mambo and what made you decide to teach mambo?
MB: I began
teaching very infrequently in 1989 during the Mambo Society days in
New York. But, I didn't really start teaching on a regular basis until
I came out to Los Angeles in August of 1997. I had moved to Palmdale,
California in June of '97staying with in-laws. My daughter, Julia, was
born a month later and, in August, my wife, Marisol, our older
daughter, Mariana, the baby and I settled in the San Fernando Valley.
After checking the internet and finding SalsaWeb's club listing I came
onto the salsa scene very quickly and realized that salseros in
LA did not dance like salseros in NY. I didn't really have
trouble dancing with them. In fact, I found that they could not dance
with me on 2. At that time, after trying to get my
partner-of-the-moment on 2, I had to adjust to their timing (on
1, 3 and so on) and style. This prompted me to try to get folk to
understand more about the music, rhythm and dance, you know to better
understand the reasons behind dancing on 2. I began teaching in a club
in Marina Del Rey in October 1997 and the rest is history.
What's the Salsa scene like where you
live? Is On2 popluar by you? If not, what made you decide to teach it
Well, Manny, right now dancing on 2 is catching on and
starting to build. But, I had a hard time in the beginning because I
was the only person sticking by my clave guns, so to speak. There were
maybe a handful of people where I would go dancing that could lead and
follow on 2. And, really, my main reason for teaching ws to have
people that I could dance with. That was my real agenda!
Eventually I came be teaching and spreading the word of the clave as a
mission. To give dancers of all levels an informed choice in timing
and to have a better udnerstanding of the rhythms, based on the clave,
that drive the music and dance. Now, barring the styling (what the
body is doing) I felt and still feel that anyone can dance on 2 and
feel what is going on rhythmically.
How many classes do you currently teach and what level are these
MB: Presently, I have
one beginner class and one advanced beginner/intermediate class every
Saturday followed by a three-hour salsa/mambo dance social. In fact,
it is the only dance social in L.A. I also just started three
bi-weekly, 2-hour shines classes for all levels on Mondays, Wednesdays
Do you have a performance team??? Do you plan to form one?
MB: I had a small
performance team in 1999 called the Mambo Squad. We had just one
number that we performed and was strictly a shine routine. I quickly
found that having a family and doing dance full time leaves little
time for all else. I'm also not one for performances. I get no real
thrill from perfoming. There are too many expectations and an extreme
amount of hard work. So after about 4-5 months the Mambo Squad
disbanded. I do want to form a children's dance group. Its
wonderful to see kids really get off on salsa. There's this 11 year
old boy named Tony who has been coming to my socials for almost a year
and now knows about 40 shines and in a choreographed routine. Its so
great to see others admire him do his thing. I get a charge out
of that! So I want to extend that and will be working towards that end
in the near future!
Have you performed and if so name your favorite on stage performance?
MB: I got my first taste
of performing when the Mambo Society closed its doors in the late
80's. Nydia Ocasio started the Latin Sensations in 1990 where I was a
backup dancer. In fact the first performance we did was at Brooklyn
Tech. I got to perform that night because Angel and Addie Rodriguez
had pulled out (they were just starting Razz M'Tazz). The only routine
I remember doing was Cayuco. But I have to say that the routine done
here in L.A., where only shines are done to the tune of Oscar D'Leon's
version of Que Bueno Baila Usted, is my favorite. The last time this
was performed was as a scaled down group called the Mambo Men at the
1st Annual West Coast Salsa Congress.
What is it like to learn a choreographed routine?
MB: Learning one is
great! You don't really have to create anything. You just have to put
all the pieces presented together and then just let yourself go! But
practice is very important. If I remember correctly, we rehearsed
twice a week for three hours at a stretch. Every detail has to be
explicit and done precisely on time. I had a great time back in the
early 90's because I was dancing every day and felt like I needed to
get my mambo fix constantly. Creating one is another story! There are
several ways to go about that. In the beginning of the Mambo Squad I
put together roughly 30 shines in a logical sequence, presented them
to the group and collectively we honed it down to a piece that
happened to fit the number. Because the members had to learn new
footwork it was a long process in not just the accomplishment of the
pattern but to execute them stylistically in the same manner. This,
frankly, was just a cookie cutter routine and all we could afford to
do at the time. Approximately 200 hours later we had a number that was
workable and presentable. At the time it was a good routine because no
one in L.A. was doing shines.
What did you feel when you first performed live on stage?
MB: I remember being
extremely nervous and having cotton mouth. But, after the first 10 to
20 seconds I felt good and only slightly nervous. In fact, I recall
making a mistake, laughing it off, keeping a smile on my face and just
going for it.
SNY: What advice would you give
those just getting into mambo? How can they work at getting better at
MB: Be open minded,
relaxed and don't give up! Repetition is the mother of memory so be
sure to practice as often as you can. This doesn't mean boring
yourself with basic stuff all the time yet you cannot give up on the
fundamentals. Don't get discouraged if you can't get the hang of that
one move or step. Keep at it! Do each part separately and then
together. Dancing mambo is not as simple as it seems. There are a lot
of nuances and intricacies in every aspect of salsa music and dancing.
One thing to remember, though, is that it is all attainable!
SNY: How best could you describe
your way of dancing? of teaching? and of performing?
MB: My way of dancing is
always trying to maintain a flow during the dance and using the energy
of my partner to help her look good! Because if she looks good, then I
look good. I try to maintain a fluid approach to dancing mambo.
I feel a tremendous responsibility to those who come to me for
instruction. This translates into giving as much information as the
student can bear without overload. Always be prepared to give the same
information in a different way because not everyone learns the same
way. At times I break things down to minutiae. These very specific
details, I feel and see, help the dancer reach a higher level quicker
and better. I feel that, when performing, I am looking as comfortable
as possible by smiling at all times, looking at my audience and
executing the moves and steps as effortlessly as possible while having
Do you still like to go to clubs and dance socially?
MB: Sure! I go out
dancing at least twice a week. This is also partly becuase I'm
promoting myself when I'm at a club but I'm having a blast! I also
like to watch people dance and have a good time dancing. Because
dancing on 2 is my focus and priority, I get a kick out of watching
those dancers that can dance on 2. A couple of years ago that was very
few and far between but now there a lot more dancing on 2 and I'm
just real happy to watch!
SNY: How is Mambo dancing where you
live different from mambo dancing in other parts of the world?
MB: Los Angeles has a
very aggressive style of dancing with wider dance floor space being
used as well as longer steps being accomplished. This is slowly
changing largely in part to the exposure to NY style dancers
performing and social dancing at Salsa Congresses as well as to
several on2 dancers based here. I think that every region, though, has
thier own unique approach based on what their background is
in salsa/mambo. I find, too, that when given the right
opportunity and circumstances, many dancers, novice to advanced, are
thirsty for mambo knowledge.
SNY: What would you like to see
happen to mambo within the next few years?, next decade? Within your
MB: Personally, I would
love for everyone that is serious about dancing mambo, whether it is
on 1 or 2 or whatever, to be versed enough in clave to understand the
relationship of the rhythms in salsa music in order to be in sync with
the music and free in in the dance. I'd also like to see no
division amongst dancers, whether they be individuals or groups.
SNY: Where did you learn to Dance NY
style On2??? (Where did you learn to Dance On2)????
MB: I got my styling
when I was attending Borough of Manhattan Community College back
in the 70's but I started to dance on 2 and understand the clave
during the heyday of the Mambo Society in 1989 with folks like Paula
Cournier, David Melendez, Paul Calderon, Mimi Melendez, Evelyn Negron,
Angel & Addie Rodriguez, and many more.
Where did you originally learn how to dance mambo and who was (were)
MB: There was a fellow I
went to college with by the name of George. We hung out a lot together
and I always admired the way he danced. Once he came over to the house
and showed me how to dance in the style that he used. He even played
the follower and now my styling is a direct reflection of that time.
What is it like to teach On2 Mambo where you're at?
MB: Teaching mambo here
in L.A. is a lot of fun because those in my classes seem very hungry
What do you like most about teaching?
MB: I love the fact that
people begin to execute what I'm relaying to them. Its a great sense
of accomplishment when you someone getting comfortable and relaxed in
what was, in the beginning, something that was hard to do.
Why do you think people come to learn from you?
MB: I think mainly
because of the confidence and knowledge I have in the subject and also
the style of dance. Sometimes people just come to the classes because
they may have seen an ad or an email announcement or a flyer. They
check out the class and then decide to stay because of my fun approach
with detail to specifics in fundamentals.