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History & Technique
Specific Figures


4 beats/measure; 44 - 50 meas/min

Mambo originated in Cuba and is their national dance. It came to the United States in the '40s and became widely popular in the early '50s. Teachers promoted it and even developed three separate rhythms: the single, double, and triple Mambo, something we also see in our Jive and Swing today.

As a first approximation, Mambo is a fast Rumba. Many of the figures are the same as in Rumba or Cha, but to get them done in less time, you must take smaller, sharper steps with a somewhat tighter hold. The rhythm is down in the floor and choppy. Where Rumba is smooth, Mambo is quick and sharp.

Each figure has a staccato, rocking appearance and then a pause as though you are catching your breath before the next figure. Given the speed, the hip action is less pronounced. Take each step on the inside edge of the foot early in the beat, then shift weight to the flat at the end of the beat and straighten the leg. Taking weight and flexing the off knee draws the supporting hip in the direction of the step, so the appearance is that of stepping with the foot and then the hip. The timing would be something like "&/1" — "edge/flat." Count: &1, &2, &3, pause; but count fast.

Figure Name, Roundalab Phase Level, & Timing

q=quick, 1 beat
s=slow, 2 beats
&=1/2 beat; a=1/4 beat

Steps and Actions That Make Up the Figure

Each description focuses on the man, with the woman's footwork in parenthesis. If a woman's step is not given, it is the natural opposite or follow of the man's. Help: basic dance positions and steps, actions, directions, and abbreviations. Non-standard punctuation: a comma separates two beats of music, a semi-colon marks the end of a measure, and a slash (/) indicates a split beat, two things occurring in a single beat.

Here are some sequences to help you visualize the figure in context.


phase III

qqs; qqs;

In closed or butterfly position, step forward L (woman back R), recover, side, -; back, recover, side, -;

One might be asked to do a half basic or Forward Half Basic, the first measure of this figure; or a Back Half Basic, the second measure.

In the Kincaids' Let's Mambo Tonight, the dance begins with a cucaracha left & right;; full basic;; new yorker to reverse and kick to line; knee swivels; new yorker to reverse and kick to line; side walk to reverse; to a scallop;;
Forward Basic

phase III

In a facing position, step fwd L (W bk R), rec R, bk L -;

If partners are both facing the same direction, as in OP or LOP, then the steps for both are fwd, rec, bk, -; and may begin with either foot and with opposite or same footwork.
In Fragilidad by Suss, there is a diamond turn;;;; fwd basic; cucaracha w/ tch; scallop;;
Back Basic

phase III

In a facing position, step bk R (W fwd L), rec L, fwd R, -;

If partners are both facing the same direction, as in OP or LOP, then the steps for both are bk, rec, fwd, -; and may begin with either foot and with opposite or same footwork.

Closed Basic

qqs; qqs;

In closed or butterfly position, step forward, recover, close, -; back, recover, close, -; In Sing A Long Mambo by the Worlocks, part B begins with side walk 3 to open position facing LOD; chase turn away to face RLOD; fwd 3; patti-cake tap; back basic to butterfly; thru to serpiente with flick & knee lift;; thru side close; closed basic;; open up to a cucaracha cross check; rec sd thru to butterfly;
Progressive Basic

phase IV

qqs; qqs;

In closed, butterfly, or left open facing position, rock forward L (woman back R), recover R, back small step on L, -; rock back R, recover L, and small forward R, -;
Mambo Walks


Step fwd, fwd, fwd, -;

qqs; qqs;

Step sd, rec, cl, -; sd, rec, cl, -; These side steps are pressing steps; full weight is not taken. So in the first measure, you step to the side with your lead foot, press with the ball of the foot, but don't lower the heel and don't raise the heel of the trail foot. A little rotation of the ball of the lead foot would be appropriate, but in mambo we don't have time for much of this sort of flourish. Then recover full weight to the trail foot, and close the lead foot to the trail foot. In Mambo Loco by Pilachowski & DeLauter, there is an alemana;; shoulder to shoulder twice;; cucaracha left & right;; basic;;
Turning Cucarachas

qqs; qqs; qqs; qqs;

The cucaracha is not standard for mambo, and the turning cucaracha is even less standardized. Of course, the footwork is some number of cucarachas, but we turn either LF or RF, usually 1/4 or 1/2, on either the first or second step of each cucaracha.

So, we might begin facing partner and wall with lead feet free. Step sd L (W sd R), rec R turning 1/4 RF (W rec L turning 1/4 LF) to LOP facing RLOD, close L, -; sd R, rec L turning 1/2 LF (W 1/2 RF), cl R to OP facing LOD, -; sd L (W sd R), rec R turning 1/2 RF (W rec L turning 1/2 LF) to LOP facing RLOD, close L, -; sd R, rec L turning 1/2 LF (W 1/2 RF), cl R to OP facing LOD, -;

In Bamboozle by the Teagues, there is a diamond turn to CP wall;;;; turning cucarachas to OP LOD;;;; back break; swivel walk 6 to face;; hip rock;

In Bye Bye Mambo by the Rumbles, there is a scallop to CP wall;; two turning side breaks (which are essentially turning cucarachas), one turning 1/4 to LOP RLOD and the second turning 1/2 to OP LOD;; to a side break to rolling off the arm to face LOD;;

New Yorker

phase III


In butterfly position, both swivel on the trail foot to left open position and step through to RLOD, recover to face again, side toward LOD, -;

May begin with the trail foot free, in which case we would swivel to open position LOD and step thru to line. May be done in other dance positions and other facing directions.
In Ding Dong Mambo by the Collipis, we start with a basic;; new yorker twice;; spot turn twice;; mambo box;;
Spot Turn

phase III


In butterfly position, both swivel 1/4 and step fwd turning 1/2. Starting with lead feet, the man would turn right face, and the woman would turn left. Recover and turn 1/4 to face partner. Then both step side. In Ding Dong Mambo by the Collipis, part A starts with a basic;; new yorker twice;; spot turn twice;; mambo box;;

phase III


To break is to step back and maybe cross behind. Then you recover and step to some indicated position. The cue might be break back to open, in which case, you would cross behind with the lead foot turning LF (woman RF) to open position, recover on the trail foot, and step forward on the lead still in open position, -; Or you might be asked to break back to face, in which case, you would cross behind turning to open, recover turning back to face partner, and then step side to a facing position, -; The break can begin with either foot. In the Worlocks' Jack Is Back, you are facing wall and partner in handshake for a break and pull pass. This is simply one measure in which you break apart L (woman apart R), pull right hands passing right shoulders, and step forward (man to wall; woman toward center). The dance continues with a chase turn to left handshake; break & pull pass; chase turn to join lead hands; break & wrap to face reverse; and wheel to face line;

In Mambo With Papa by the Aurienes, there is a forward and back break;; left and right break;; side walks to line;; cross body face center;; repeat to face wall;;;;;;;;

Open Break

phase III


In a facing position holding lead hands, both rock apart on lead foot trail hands up palms out, recover, and step side, -;

Mambo is fast. It's always important to keep steps small, to keep your partnership compact. A small modification here that feels good is for the man to break not apart but to the side (small step). His steps become sd L, rec R, sd L, -; and we don't get so far from each other. The lady still breaks apart.
In 1+1 Is 2 by Worlock, in part A we dance an open break; to nat top 3; surprise check; rev top 3;
In part B we do open break lady spiral; cumbia; open break lady spiral; cumbia; both underarm turn; cross body;
Side Breaks

ss; ss;

In a facing position, step side L (woman sd R), -, sd R, -; close L (woman cl R), -, cl R, -;

This style of break is more commonly associated with jive or swing.

In Hey Mambo! by the Cibulas, the dance starts (partners 10 ft. apart) with side breaks with arms up and down;; 4 cross walks together;; and quick cucarachas left and right;;
Underarm Turn

In BFLY position trail feet free turn slightly RF and step back R (W swivel 1/4 RF step fwd L and turn 1/2 RF), recover L to face partner (W rec R turning 1/4 RF to face), both step side, -;

The lady makes a full turn RF under lead hands. There is no turn for the couple as a whole. Usually begins in left open facing position or BFLY. May begin in any facing direction.

Reverse Underarm Turn

In butterfly position, man facing wall, cross in front with lead foot (W swivel 1/4 LF step fwd R and turn 1/2 LF), recover R (W fwd L turning 1/4 LF to face ptnr), and both step side, -;

The lady makes a full turn LF under lead hands. There is no turn for the couple as a whole. Usually begins in left open facing position or BFLY. May begin in any facing direction.

Natural Top


In closed position, reverse line of dance, cross right behind left and turn in a tight circle RF, step side turning to face wall, close; Half basic to a natural top. (In such a sequence, turn the half basic 1/4 RF to prepare for the top.)

phase III

qqs; qqs; qqs; qqs;

Facing partner, step fwd L (woman back R) and turn RF 1/2, recover, fwd, -; This puts you in tandem both facing center. Step forward and both turn (man LF and woman RF), recover, fwd, -; At the end of the second measure, you are in tandem, both facing wall. Step forward she trn 1/2 LF, rec, bk, -; bk, rec, fwd, -; You end in facing position as at the start. In Mambo Istanbul by the Collipis, there is an alemana;; shoulder to shoulder twice;; slow side close twice;; chase 3/4 to face;;; aida;
Chase Full Turn

qqs; qqs;
In a facing position, fwd L trng 1/2 RF (W bk R), rec R trng 1/2 RF (W rec L), cl L to R (W cl R to L), -; bk R (W fwd L trng 1/2 RF), rec L (W rec R trng 1/2 RF), cl R to L (W cl L to R), -;

Note that the man makes a full turn during the first measure, and the woman makes a full turn during the second measure.
In Chihuahua by the Worlocks, there is a chase full turn blending to BFLY;; sd cl sd flick; behind sd cl;
Chase With Underarm Pass

phase III

qqs; qqs;
In left open facing position step fwd L comm 1/2 RF turn (W bk R), recover fwd R keeping lead hands joined, fwd L, -; back R raising lead hands (W fwd L), recover L (W fwd R turning 1/2 LF under joined lead hands to face partner), small side R, -;

Figure might begin in BFLY wall and end BFLY COH. May be done in any facing direction -- turns 1/2.

Cross Body

phase IV

qqs; qqs;

Facing partner & wall, step forward L (woman back R), rec, sd turning LF (woman steps fwd to "L position"), -; step back continuing to turn LF (woman fwd turning LF), step fwd (woman fwd turning 1/2 LF), and side to butterfly center, -; In Easterday's Jambo Mambo, there is a half basic to a cross body twice;;;; and then a vine 8;;

phase IV


Facing partner & wall trail feet free XIF stepping through to line beginning to turn in (man RF woman LF), fwd continuing turn, bk to V back-to-back position man facing rev & cntr woman facing rev & wall, -; (may begin to reverse with lead feet) half basic; aida; roll to reverse and face; cucaracha to semi; scallop;;


In aida position step fwd turn in 1/2, bk continue turn, fwd turn to face partner and wall, -; In the Easterdays' Who's Got the Mambo?, there is a forward basic facing line of dance (woman reverse); both roll RF to reverse; natural top to face wall;; and cucaracha twice;;

phase IV

qqs; qqs;

In a loose closed position, cross lead foot behind trail foot, recover, and step side, -; step thru, sd, cl, -; Keep your shoulders parallel and even hold eye-contact. Swivel at the hips but don't open your top-lines. End in butterfly or closed position.

As you take each side step, trace a curve on the floor — the Scallop is named for these "scalloped" arcs.

Again from Jambo Mambo: open break; natural top; scallop;; repeat;;;;

Or, scallop;; scallop;; scallop;; side walk 3 to bfly; fence line;

Patty Cake Tap

phase IV


In left open position facing reverse, lift trail knee swivel in to face partner pat trail hands and point trail feet thru toward line no wt, -, lift trail knee again and swivel back out again to left open and step back, -; (one weight change total) Try a cross body to left open position facing LOD;; back basic; patty cake tap; back basic; patty cake tap; back basic; kiki walk 3; new yorker to face; whip back to wall;
Diamond Turn With Hops

qqs; qqs; qqs; qqs;

This is a waltz or fox-trot figure, but if you add the hops, it becomes latin‽

In closed position wall or line, step fwd L turning LF to bjo, sd turning, bk, lift right knee and hop back a little still on left (three weight changes and a quarter turn left in each measure); bk R, sd, fwd, hop fwd; fwd, sd, bk, hop; bk, sd, fwd, hop; (end in starting position)

In the Schmidts' Mambo Tequila, the dance begins with two cucarachas;; diamond turn with hops;;;; to a full basic;; new yorker; and underarm turn;


In loose closed, step side, behind, side, in front; (really, a two step figure) Repeat for a vine 8
Arm Check

phase V

qqs; qqs;

In left open facing position, rock apart L (woman apart R), recover R, and step side and forward L toward woman's left side (woman forward R toward man's right side) release joined lead hands and take woman's left wrist in man's right hand, -; In second measure, he steps forward R turning 1/2 LF and leading woman to spin 1 & 1/2 RF in 3 steps with a little push to her L wrist, forward L, close R, -;
Tummy Check


Unlike the arm check above, this one doesn't turn.

Facing partner, check forward R toward partner's R side (W fwd L) catching partner with R arm at waist, recover, back & sd R (W bk & sd L) to face partner again, -;

In Moola Lah by the Finches, there is a basic;; open break; tummy check; open break; underarm turn;


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