The Incredible Story of how Mambo Instructor Winsome Lee created her own “New Yorktown” in Hong Kong

Originally posted on in 2000 by Edie, The Salsa FREAK

I met Winsome Lee back in 1998, and have seen her perform Mambo routines at various Salsa conventions. She is largely responsible for last year’s crowd-pleasing “Mamfu” number along with teammates Manny Siverio, Salsaweb’s New York World Correspondent, instructor Jimmy Anton and performer, Josephine Torlone.

We were talking about her hectic teaching and work schedule here in New York, and the subject moved on to when she taught in Hong Kong. “You taught in Hong Kong???” I asked her. “Yup, six months.” She replied. “YOU WERE THERE FOR SIX MONTHS?” I continued in shock. Apparently, Winsome Lee took a dance gig in Hong Kong and ended up staying there much longer than initially planned. Part of the reason was her desire to spread the mambo virus to her hometown and this seemed to be the opportunity she has been waiting for.

At the time, no one knew how to dance the “Two” over there. Most people danced the Cuban style, taught by people who had either been to Cuba, or were taught by Cubans who had visited Hong Kong.

Winsome was determined to create her own “New Yorktown” in Hong Kong. She arrived with instructor Jimmy Anton to do a series of workshops and performances, and after his departure started the uphill battle of teaching people Mambo “On Two” all alone.

It was extremely difficult for her at first. Dealing with attitudes and a new way of counting and thinking was the toughest part. With extreme patience, care, and constant persistence, both she and her students got through it. The most rewarding thing was what happened near the end of her stay, which she’ll tell you about in this interview…

Here is Winsome’s incredible story…

Ladies and Gentlemen, I am very proud to introduce to you, Mambo Instructor Winsome Lee!!

Q: How long have you been dancing?

A: If you are referring to Mambo, I’ve been doing it for over 7 years. When I was growing up in H.K., I was a dedicated ballet student for 6 years. During high school in England, I studied modern dance for 2 years. After graduating college in the U.S. I began studying Jazz.

Q: Who were some of your mentors?

A: My father(deceased), who was also my piano teacher – he made me start playing the piano since I was 17 months old, and since the age of 4 competing. You could say he introduced the love of performing arts to me.

A: My piano teacher in England Hilary Coates– who taught me how to be confident on the stage and to perform like a woman instead of a girl.

Q: Who are your favorite dancer / instructors of all time?

A: My Jazz teacher Debbie who is the most inspiring and encouraging dance teacher I know.

A: Maria Torres – her dancing best interprets how Mambo music moves me.

A: Joaquin Cortes – he is a skilled and creative dancer, and gutsy enough to put an interesting twist to the Flamenco.

Q: Do you like teaching?

A: Sometimes during the week I run out of my office during lunchtime to teach privates and then run back to work. It sounds totally insane but the hours when I’m actually teaching are the most enjoyable hours of the week.

Q: Where have you performed?

A: Salsa Congresses in Puerto Rico and New York, various events in Argentina, Italy, Hong Kong, and the U.S.

Q: What were some of the difficult issues about teaching the Mambo in Hong Kong?

A: Since I live in NY, many people were wondering if they study with me what will happen to them when I leave.

A: There were many phone calls from people requesting that I teach “On 1” at first, but I insisted to teach “On 2”. It’s NOT because I’m against the 1 at all. In fact, I always tell them it is better to know both styles, just like being bilingual. I just felt that there were good “On 1” instructors there already, and coming from NY “On 2” is my strength.

A: To launch a new product is never easy. For the most part I did not have a peer or a partner there to sell this idea with me, to show people how sensational it could be.

Q: Which did you find students having the hardest time with?

A: The timing. Most people cared more about fancy turns and dips than the rhythm, which is a crucial element in this dance. It required some ear training at the beginning.

A: It was also hard for some advanced dancers to start learning a new style. They did not want to be beginners again.

Q: When did it finally “click” for them?

A: I saw a marked improvement right after the 1st HK Salsa Championship, when 2 of my students danced a Mambo routine and took 2nd place. They were the living prove that IT COULD BE LEARNED, and IT DOES NOT TAKE 10 YEARS!!! After that event many more people were inspired, asking me to make them “look just like that couple”.

Q: What did they like most about your workshops?

A: The women loved the “ladies styling”. There are not many female instructors, and most women are yearning for examples and guidance for their body movements.

A: Mambo shines classes, to my surprise, were quite popular. I was told that since there are never enough men on the dance floor, the shines allow the women to dance without partners.

A: My sponsor liked the fact that I am fluent in both Western and Eastern cultures and could therefore draw both crowds. My students are from different ethnic backgrounds but my workshops were always fun. Sometimes I used “Chinglish” in class.

Q: What was the most rewarding thing about your experience there?

A: Watching my students finally having fun dancing Mambo, seeing them showing each other shines in a club, enjoying their performance of the routine I choreographed. All this made my long trip worthwhile and gave me the most precious memories.

Q: What was the goal of your trip and was it achieved?

A: 5 years ago I heard a legendary musician jokingly say that he had never seen a Chinese dance “On 2”, eversince it has been my dream to spread this knowledge to my hometown. My goal was to educate and inspire my people, even if they did not want to learn it they should be aware of it. When I saw the number of people dancing, trying to dance, and discussing the Mambo before I left, I knew my dream was realized.

Q: What are the disadvantages, if any, of teaching in Hong Kong?

A: Hong Kong is a very international city. The Salsa scene there is made up of Asians, Europeans, Americans etc. Many of them are expatriates – they travel all the time and live in HK temporarily. They cannot attend classes regularly, and the progress is inconsistent. Often when an instructor has trained students to dance well they have to leave for another country.

Q: What was the most memorable experience?

A: Right before I returned to NY Mr. George Watabe from Japan and I organized a “Japan meets HK” Salsa party. A group of Japanese Salseros came to HK – they performed, they took my workshop, they danced. The group I put together – “The HK Mamberos”, performed a Mambo medley. My first NY dance partner Greg, who is now teaching in Japan, also came and did a performance with me. It was a special way to end my journey.

Q: What are you plans for the future?

A: I love choreographing and intend to continue working on more entertaining projects.

A: Spreading the Mambo virus to more parts of Asia.

Q: What kind of advice would you give other instructors attempting to do the same thing you did?

A: Hmmm…I guess I can answer that by telling you what I’ve learned from this. Many instructors travel overseas and give workshops for a week or so, they impress and then they leave. Afterwards everybody goes back to the old routine. This was the biggest complain I’ve heard when I traveled Tokyo and Buenos Aires. If I left HK after 10 days as I was booked to do, the Mambo would not have stuck. It took me a full 6 months to create a substantial Mambo following, train a successor so that people won’t be “stranded” after months of hard work. Everyone works differently and I do not have “THE” solution, but maybe instructors should always keep in mind the ONGOING PROGRESS of the overseas students.

Q: If you had to live your life all over again, what would you have done differently?

A: My major in college was Italian. If I were to do it all over again I would pick Spanish, for obvious reasons.

Q: If you had the opportunity to sit yourself down, and hold a conversation with your "self," what type of advice would you give "Winsome Lee"?

A: Aim for the sky, maybe you’ll end up on top of a tree … but remember to make time for those you love, because life is short and you should live with no regrets.