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The Mambo King

The Mambo King

7 April 2011

A look at the influence of Eddie Torres on the Club Dance scene

Recognized as ‘The Mambo King’, Eddie Torres has received many Lifetime Achievement awards. He has come a long way, from his first steps trying to impress a girl on the dance floor, performing at the Ford Theatre for George Bush, the former president of the United States, to touring with the legendary Tito Puente, his career was and still is one of the most inspired stories in the dance world.

Despite coming from a Puerto Rican family, Eddie Torres did not start dancing until he was 16 years old. He was attracted to a young lady at the time; however, she knew how to dance and he didn’t. Compelled to prove to himself and probably to her that he could learn to dance well, Eddie Torres embarked on a dance mission that has now spanned over 35 years. Helped by his sister; Eddie became a recognised dancer and made a name for himself. Many people influenced him but his biggest inspiration was the legendary musician, Tito Puente, to the point that he has dedicated his life to choreograph to his music. From the Mambo King of music to the Mambo King of dance – the best partnership you could think of.

I believe Tito was destined to be a musician and I believe Eddie was destined to be a dancer. But when Eddie Torres was young, he wanted to be a musician, a pianist. His mum bought him an organ and he would sit there for hours just playing and making up melodies. Just like Tito wanted to become a professional dancer. But funny enough Tito fractured an ankle and Eddie broke a finger so they both had to change their career. It is amazing how life can change, and how things happen for a reason – I believe that they were both destined to work together.

He was also destined to somebody else, his wife Maria. Eddie trained her and danced with her for years, and sometimes still does on the stage. She connects with him because she comes directly from everything that he taught her. They have an amazing chemistry; they are still together after more than 30 years. You don’t see that very often in the dance world.

Eddie always wanted to bring Mambo back to life. He knew that the traditional Palladium style will never be back the same way but he believes in it. Eddie said to me once: “Traditional Mambo is a beautiful form of dance on its own. It is just a guy and girl on the dance floor, conversing together and having a really good time. The way people interpret the Mambo nowadays is a bit different. Palladium dancers used to do a lot of open work. The new generation do a lot of partner work. This sometimes makes me wonder if, in the future, you won’t see the traditional form of the dance anymore. My concern is that it might get to the point where you see less and less of the traditional form of Mambo and they will eventually turn it into something you won’t be able to recognize.” I can see his concern but I am also sure that this will never happen. Salsa has already gone through many changes and we always come back to the origins, to the roots, in any style, call it Mambo, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Colombian. With teachers and dancers like him, it will always survive.

His commitment, his love for the dance, his natural talent for choreography and his perseverance over the years, has catapulted him to be recognized as ‘The Mambo King.’ When everybody believed that the Mambo was a dance of the past, Mr. Torres not only brought it to life but he made it current and more importantly, necessary.

In a time when Salsa was becoming increasingly popular, many people starting teaching and the technique was getting lost in that popularity. He brought that technique back, which in my opinion took Salsa to its highest standard and professionalism so far. Without his perseverance, attention to detail, perfectionism and passion we would not have Salsa as we know it today. He has influenced thousands of people and I was very privileged to get his approval on the New York style Salsa syllabus that we will be using in our Salsa examinations here at the ISTD.

Eddie has not only given us the technical aspects of the dance but also its soul. Eddie has positively touched many lives through the art of dance. Every time I take one of his lessons I feel like I can do anything, I feel so inspired that I want to start practicing straight away, I want to do a new choreography or anything really. As a teacher I do not always have time to take lessons but Eddie’s is one of the lessons I would not miss for anything in the world.

I remember perfectly how I met him. It was in La Finca, it used to be one of the hottest Salsa venues in London. As soon as I walked in, I saw him. I had been thinking about this day for weeks. I cannot remember how I found out that he was coming to London but I definitely remember how I felt. The man himself was coming to the UK, unbelievable! I heard so much about him that I could not believe that I was going to meet him in real life. You need to understand that 15 years ago the internet was not so accessible and I had only seen one of his instructional Mambo video tapes. Now you can find everything you want about him, and everybody else for that matter, mainly through the internet – about his shows, lessons, interviews, everything, but back then, news used to travel by word of mouth which made him a real legend.

So, I had just walked into the club and there he was. I quickly tried to make my way up to the DJ box area hoping to see him closer and maybe be introduced. It felt like the longest walk ever. I could not believe it but everybody decided to talk to me that night for some reason, not just the formal hello and how are you, but a proper conversation. It took me forever to cover the distance. When I finally reached the DJ area I saw him talking to one of the promoters. I remember I was taking my coat off when I saw the promoter pointing at me. My heart stopped and I am pretty sure that I went white as Eddie Torres looked straight at me. What happened then I do not know, everything happened really fast. I cannot remember what I said, I do not know what he said, all I know is that a second later he was dancing with me. I was so nervous, so focussed on trying not to make any mistakes, so concentrated, but one minute into the dance he made me forget all of that and I had real fun. I will never forget that dance. He is not what people say he is; he is so much more.

14 years ago I had admiration for him, now I have respect and recognition. He is not only an extremely talented dancer but the best teacher I have ever learned from in the Salsa world. The most respected and recognised dancers and teachers in the international Salsa scene have, at some point in their lives, learned from him. I am not saying that to be a good Mambo or Salsa dancer/teacher you need to be trained by Eddie Torres, but if you have the chance to take a lesson with him you will understand what I am trying to say. Sometimes I wish I lived in New York.

I know that he is human and probably not perfect, but I will always see him as the best dancer, teacher and choreographer; the Mambo King. I have learned technique from him but also the importance of the music and timing. He has showed me how to bring the best out of me in my dancing. We all have the flavour and the Latin passion inside us but it takes somebody like Mr Eddie Torres to bring it out of you – a true maestro.

Susana Montero

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