Hong Kong's Mambomania

Excerpt from HK Salsa Magazine: Sonando, November/December 1999, Vol.6 by Cliff Hall

It takes "2" to Mambo. Since the summer there has not only been a marked improvement in the level of Salsa dancing in Hong Kong, but a major shift in the way we dance too. In a nutshell, Mambo has entered the local dance vocabulary and more and more people are combining Salsa with a Mambo 'twist'. This is largely due to the arrival of Winsome Lee and her success in encouraging everyone to try dancing on "2". If you observe the dancers in any of the clubs in Hong Kong, it is now obvious that people feel a lot more comfortable dancing independently of their partner and practicing their fancy footwork (Shines).

They are also more comfortable dancing to straight Mambo music, which (shock/horror) has more in common with Jazz than pop! This is a big deal, as the music produced by people like Tito Puente, Benny Moré and Mongo Santamaria is THE original dance music. It's therefore great to see people here finally appreciating this and dancing to it naturally. This was not the case six months ago.

Back in June, I remember playing Tito Puente's Ran Kan Kan at one Salsa party and watching everyone leave the floor. Today, the same track has the opposite effect. So, what's changed? Well, for one thing, even if people still feel more comfortable dancing on the "1", they at least know what the "2" is. Winsome has done a fine job in initiating us and encouraging us to experiment on "2" - hopefully, this is something that will continue. There are now lots of couples who continue Salsa on "1" with Mambo shines.

What is equally important though is that people seem to have a less restricted view of the music, and now feel almost as comfortable dancing to Tito Puente as they do to Victor Manuel. As I said before, this is quite a big deal for Hong Kong Salseros as not long ago they couldn't dance to anything that didn't have the words 'Mi Corazon' repeated 1000 times. It marks a huge shift in the type of music that is seen as 'danceable' and allow DJs to play Mambo tracks they would never have dared play previously. Many traditional Cuban musicians claim they don't understand the term 'Salsa' at all, since they haven't changed the music they've always played, and the music they've always played has been called Mambo.

Mambo has some great shine steps, which you can also do when dancing to that Victor Manuel track, and one of the nice things about Salsa in Hong Kong, is watching people mix-it-up naturally on the dance floor. Maybe this is the best compromise after all. Though Mambo originated in Cuba, a lot of the new generation of Club dancers in the States and other countries don't really know how to dance to it. Instead, they have taken Salsa on "1" to an exciting level and developed fantastic styles and great moves.

But are they missing something? If they haven't tried dancing on "2", then probably the answer is yes. As most of us now realize, on "2", you hear the music differently, move differently, and ultimately dance differently. As Winsome has explained many times, the "2" opens up all kinds of possibilities which may not come that easily on the "1". So all things considered, I think we've made a lot of progress in the last 6 months, not only have we got to know the "2", we are finally listening to the really great Salsa musicians, and having a good laugh at people who think that Ricky Martin has got anything to do with 'Salsa'.