In the mid-1940s, bandleader Dámaso Pérez Prado devised a dance for a new form of music known as mambo, taking its name from the 1938 song "Mambo" by Arcaño y sus Maravillas
From Havana, Pérez Prado moved his music to Mexico, where his music and the dance was adopted. The original mambo dance was characterized by freedom and complicated foot-steps. The mambo dance that was spearheaded by Pérez Prado and was popular in the 1940s and '50s in Cuba, Mexico, and New York is completely different from the modern dance that New Yorkers now call "mambo" and which is also known as salsa "on 2". The original mambo dance contains no breaking steps or basic steps at all. The Cuban dance was not accepted by many professional dance teachers. Cuban dancers would describe mambo as "feeling the music", in which sound and movement were merged through the body. Professional dance teachers in the US saw this approach to dancing as "extreme", "undisciplined", and thus deemed it necessary to standardize the dance to present it as a salable commodity for the social and ballroom market.
he modern mambo dance from New York was popularised in the late 1960s into the 1970s by George Vascones, president of a dance group known as the Latin Symbolics, from the Bronx, New York. This style is sometimes danced to mambo music, but more often to salsa dura (old-school salsa). It is termed "mambo on 2" because the break, or direction change, in the basic step occurs on count 2. The Eddie Torres and Razz M'Tazz schools each have different basic steps, even though they share this same basic feature. Eddie Torres describes his version as a "street" style he developed out of what he saw on the Bronx streets.
Mambo is a genre of Cuban dance music pioneered by the charanga Arcaño y sus Maravillas in the late 1930s and later popularized in the big band style by Pérez Prado. It originated as a syncopated form of the danzón, known as danzón-mambo, with a final, improvised section, which incorporated the guajeos typical of son cubano (also known as montunos). These guajeos became the essence of the genre when it was played by big bands, which did not perform the traditional sections of the danzón and instead leaned towards swing and jazz. By the late 1940s and early 1950s, mambo had become a "dance craze" in the United States as its associated dance took over the East Coast thanks to Pérez Prado, Tito Puente, Tito Rodríguez and others. In the mid-1950s, a slower ballroom style, also derived from the danzón, cha-cha-cha, replaced mambo as the most popular dance genre in North America. Nonetheless, mambo continued to enjoy some degree of popularity into the 1960s and new derivative styles appeared, such as dengue; by the 1970s it had been largely incorporated into salsa.
Partners hold each other in a closed position. The leader holds the follower's waist with the leader's right hand, while holding the follower's right hand with the leader's left hand at the follower's eye level. Partners bend their knees slightly left and right, thus making the hips move left and right. The hips of the leader and follower move in the same direction throughout the song.
Partners may walk sideways or circle each other, in small steps. They can switch to an open position and do separate turns without letting go each other's hands or momentarily releasing one hand. During these turns they may twist and tie their handhold into intricate pretzels. Other choreographies are possible.
Although the tempo of the music may be frenetic, the upper body is kept majestic and turns are slow, typically four beats/steps per complete turn.