I love Dancing With The Stars because (1) I love dancing, (2) I love music and (3) I love watching D-list, has-been stars making spectacles of themselves. What I DON'T like about the show is how horribly they interpret the sublime dances that originated in Cuba. Neither would my grandfather. He would roll around in his grave if he knew what ballroom dancers have done with his beloved mambo, rumba and cha-cha-cha.
Each style has its own magical appeal. The mambo is a rhythmic dance fueled by drums, trumpets and horns. It's a melding of the traditional Cuban danzón with African syncopated beats. Not everyone can dance the mambo. It's tough to do it. In my opinion, only those with a fine-tuned sense of rhythm will pick it up, internalize it and interpret it properly in the form of dance. As wonderful as the professional ballroom dancers are on DWTS, none of them can dance the mambo worth a dime. Sorry, but it's the truth. If you want to know what a real mambo sounds like and looks like (minus the addition of Mexican film star and comedian 'Resortes' in the clip), take a look at this video of Perez Prado, the king of mambo, performing Que Rico El Mambo, one of his greatest hits.
The rumba is probably the most egregiously butchered Cuban dance style. What you see on DWTS is NOTHING like the true Cuban rumba. I feel like gouging my eyes out every time I have to see a rumba performed by ballroom dancers. It's a hack job if ever I saw one. The musical styling of the rumba varies from a more sedate 'son' like The Peanut Vendor (El Manisero) to the more rhythmic and fast-paced 'guaguanco' like Celia Cruz's Quimbara. As you'll derive from watching both videos, the ballroom version of rumba is a result of slowing down a fun, musical dance to something that resembles catatonia. Ugh!!!
Last but certainly not least is the cha-cha-cha. This dance is basically a danzón with a very specific set of steps. It's the simplest of all Cuban dances, but the music that inspired the dance is anything but. I grew up hearing cha-cha-cha in my home. The tell-tale sounds of soft percussion and a heavenly flute would send me into a trance of cha-cha-cha dancing. My grandfather's favorite piece was El Bodeguero by Orchestra Aragón, arguably the most accomplished cha-cha-cha band in the world. When I close my eyes and listen to this song, I can picture my grandfather dancing and smiling at me as he sang the clever song. I still tear up everytime I hear it.
If you'd like to know more about these Cuban dances and musical styles, please, don't take notes from an episode of Dancing With The Stars. You'll only be wasting your time.