Making the right moves

Craze: Taking up where the `Macarena' left off, `Mambo No. 5' slinks its way onto dance floors.

October 16, 1999|By Tamara Ikenberg | Tamara Ikenberg,SUN STAFF

Last month, singer Lou Bega introduced a little bit of Monica, Erica, Rita and a cast of conquests into radio listeners' lives.

His "Mambo No. 5," currently No. 5 on Billboard's singles chart, hit radio hard.

Now, slinky moves complementing the campy hit are hitting the dance floor.

"The Electric Slide came first, then the Macarena. I think this will be equally as popular," says Leanne Gabriel, president of Fusion Productions, Ltd., a choreography company in Ellicott City, which has been teaching the dance at bar mitzvahs, corporate parties and other events.

Bega demonstrates the dance in the song's video, singing, "shake your head to the sound, put your hand on the ground ..." as babes in hot pants jiggle in the background. There's a lot of hand-clapping, hip-grabbing, hopping and side-to-side stepping.

The dance is a hybrid of "Latin, swing and hip-hop," says Joanna Marcus, 21, a Towson University student and dance team member who works for Gabriel. Marcus recognized the dance's potential when she first watched the video and immediately taught it to herself.

In the weeks she's been teaching it at functions, she's barely met anyone who's aware of it. But as soon as they learn about it, they scramble to pin down the moves.

"People get crazy when it [`Mambo No. 5'] comes on," Marcus says. "It's still so new."

So new, in fact, that it's yet to make a dent even on New York dance floors.

"The dance is still breaking ground," says Frankie Blue, program director for WKTU-FM (103.5) in New York. WKTU, the first station to play "Mambo No. 5," has been dubbed "Mambo 103.5."

Maybe it hasn't conquered the nightclub scene, but Bega is all over TV, with appearances on "The Tonight Show" and "Today." The song has even been mutated into an "Ally McBeal" promo. ("A little bit of Ally in my life.")

If and when "Mambo No. 5" does achieve dance floor domination, partyers should master the moves in no time.

This isn't the tango. It's not even the mambo.

"It's nothing like the real thing," Gabriel says. "It's a party dance. If you can do the Macarena, you can do the Mambo No. 5."

"Mambo No. 5" only has about 20 counts. But watch out for the first eight, which require some serious shimmying and lower body rhythm.

"They're a little tricky," Gabriel says. "You've got to groove a little. In the Macarena, you're just moving your arms. In this one, you have to do a little shaking and grooving."

Some dance experts are curious as to why the song is even called "Mambo No. 5."

"There's not a salsa beat to that song, there's not a mambo beat," says Pia Pinkney, a dance instructor at the Latin Palace in Fells Point.

"To me, it's more of a swing song, because you definitely can't dance mambo to it."

No matter what moves you choose, you can dance to the Latin-lite ode in practically any situation.

"Everybody likes to tap their toes when they're sitting there at work," says Greg Carpenter, a DJ at WWMX-FM (Mix 106.5). Right now, "Mambo No. 5" is the most requested song at his station, he says.

The quality of the song far surpasses "Macarena," Gabriel says.

She explains that the overplayed oldie was just a vehicle for its accompanying dance, and that the lyrics were little more than rhythmic mumbling.

"Mambo No. 5" the song has the advantage of catchiness and clarity. It even adds a personalized touch, by including names of fictional lovers that listeners might identify with.

"Everyone can remember a little `Sandra in the sun,' " Gabriel says.

But like every novelty hit before it, "Mambo No. 5" is likely to be played to death.

"Time will make it just as nauseating as the others," Carpenter says.

The dance may be just what the song needs to become more than just another trendy little tune.

"It's not the waltz, it's not a triple pirouette. It's just playing around," Gabriel says. "People can drink beer and do it."

Learning the moves

Want to get a leg up on the dance to Lou Bega's "Mambo No. 5?" Then take his lyrical lead and follow these steps:

Jump up and down and move it all around.

Shake your head to the sound, put your hands on the ground.

Take one step left and one step right.

One to the front and one to the side.

Clap your hands once and clap your hands twice.

And if it looks like this then you're doing it right.

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