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-by Manny Siverio 
Originally published on SalsaNewYork on 4/02
Photos courtesy from Mike Bello

Mike Bello, the Mambo FelloThis month we interview LA Mambo Instructor Mike Bello. Mike was originally a mambo dancer from NYC before moving out to L.A. He is listed in our Out-Of-Town Mambo Instructors Directory and is also the producer to a mambo timing CD highly recommend by SalsaNewYork for all those new dancers learning how to "hear" the "Clave" and the "Tumbao" of Salsa Music. Its with great pleasure that we present his interview to the SalsaNewYork readership. -Manny 




Cyber-Interview: Mike Bello

SNY: How long have you been teaching mambo and what made you decide to teach mambo?
I began teaching very infrequently in 1989 during the Mambo Society days in New York. But, I didn't really start teaching on a regular basis until I came out to Los Angeles in August of 1997. I had moved to Palmdale, California in June of '97staying with in-laws. My daughter, Julia, was born a month later and, in August, my wife, Marisol, our older daughter, Mariana, the baby and I settled in the San Fernando Valley. After checking the internet and finding SalsaWeb's club listing I came onto the salsa scene very quickly and realized that salseros in LA did not dance like salseros in NY. I didn't really have trouble dancing with them. In fact, I found that they could not dance with me on 2. At that time, after trying to get my partner-of-the-moment on 2, I had to adjust to their timing (on 1, 3 and so on) and style. This prompted me to try to get folk to understand more about the music, rhythm and dance, you know to better understand the reasons behind dancing on 2. I began teaching in a club in Marina Del Rey in October 1997 and the rest is history.

SNY: What's the Salsa scene like where you live? Is On2 popluar by you? If not, what made you decide to teach it there?
MB: Well, Manny, right now dancing on 2 is catching on and starting to build. But, I had a hard time in the beginning because I was the only person sticking by my clave guns, so to speak. There were maybe a handful of people where I would go dancing that could lead and follow on 2. And, really, my main reason for teaching ws to have people that I could dance with. That was my real agenda! Eventually I came be teaching and spreading the word of the clave as a mission. To give dancers of all levels an informed choice in timing and to have a better udnerstanding of the rhythms, based on the clave, that drive the music and dance. Now, barring the styling (what the body is doing) I felt and still feel that anyone can dance on 2 and feel what is going on rhythmically.

SNY: How many classes do you currently teach and what level are these classes??
Presently, I have one beginner class and one advanced beginner/intermediate class every Saturday followed by a three-hour salsa/mambo dance social. In fact, it is the only dance social in L.A. I also just started three bi-weekly, 2-hour shines classes for all levels on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays.

SNY: Do you have a performance team??? Do you plan to form one?
I had a small performance team in 1999 called the Mambo Squad. We had just one number that we performed and was strictly a shine routine. I quickly found that having a family and doing dance full time leaves little time for all else. I'm also not one for performances. I get no real thrill from perfoming. There are too many expectations and an extreme amount of hard work. So after about 4-5 months the Mambo Squad disbanded. I do want to form a children's dance group. ItÂ’s wonderful to see kids really get off on salsa. There's this 11 year old boy named Tony who has been coming to my socials for almost a year and now knows about 40 shines and in a choreographed routine. Its so great to see others admire him do his thing. I get a charge out of that! So I want to extend that and will be working towards that end in the near future!

SNY: Have you performed and if so name your favorite on stage performance?
I got my first taste of performing when the Mambo Society closed its doors in the late 80's. Nydia Ocasio started the Latin Sensations in 1990 where I was a backup dancer. In fact the first performance we did was at Brooklyn Tech. I got to perform that night because Angel and Addie Rodriguez had pulled out (they were just starting Razz M'Tazz). The only routine I remember doing was Cayuco. But I have to say that the routine done here in L.A., where only shines are done to the tune of Oscar D'Leon's version of Que Bueno Baila Usted, is my favorite. The last time this was performed was as a scaled down group called the Mambo Men at the 1st Annual West Coast Salsa Congress.

SNY: What is it like to learn a choreographed routine?
Learning one is great! You don't really have to create anything. You just have to put all the pieces presented together and then just let yourself go! But practice is very important. If I remember correctly, we rehearsed twice a week for three hours at a stretch. Every detail has to be explicit and done precisely on time. I had a great time back in the early 90's because I was dancing every day and felt like I needed to get my mambo fix constantly. Creating one is another story! There are several ways to go about that. In the beginning of the Mambo Squad I put together roughly 30 shines in a logical sequence, presented them to the group and collectively we honed it down to a piece that happened to fit the number. Because the members had to learn new footwork it was a long process in not just the accomplishment of the pattern but to execute them stylistically in the same manner. This, frankly, was just a cookie cutter routine and all we could afford to do at the time. Approximately 200 hours later we had a number that was workable and presentable. At the time it was a good routine because no one in L.A. was doing shines.

SNY: What did you feel when you first performed live on stage?
I remember being extremely nervous and having cotton mouth. But, after the first 10 to 20 seconds I felt good and only slightly nervous. In fact, I recall making a mistake, laughing it off, keeping a smile on my face and just going for it.

SNY: What advice would you give those just getting into mambo? How can they work at getting better at dancing?
Be open minded, relaxed and don't give up! Repetition is the mother of memory so be sure to practice as often as you can. This doesn't mean boring yourself with basic stuff all the time yet you cannot give up on the fundamentals. Don't get discouraged if you can't get the hang of that one move or step. Keep at it! Do each part separately and then together. Dancing mambo is not as simple as it seems. There are a lot of nuances and intricacies in every aspect of salsa music and dancing. One thing to remember, though, is that it is all attainable!

SNY: How best could you describe your way of dancing? of teaching? and of performing?
My way of dancing is always trying to maintain a flow during the dance and using the energy of my partner to help her look good! Because if she looks good, then I look good. I try to maintain a fluid approach to dancing mambo. I feel a tremendous responsibility to those who come to me for instruction. This translates into giving as much information as the student can bear without overload. Always be prepared to give the same information in a different way because not everyone learns the same way. At times I break things down to minutiae. These very specific details, I feel and see, help the dancer reach a higher level quicker and better. I feel that, when performing, I am looking as comfortable as possible by smiling at all times, looking at my audience and executing the moves and steps as effortlessly as possible while having fun.

SNY: Do you still like to go to clubs and dance socially?
Sure! I go out dancing at least twice a week. This is also partly becuase I'm promoting myself when I'm at a club but I'm having a blast! I also like to watch people dance and have a good time dancing. Because dancing on 2 is my focus and priority, I get a kick out of watching those dancers that can dance on 2. A couple of years ago that was very few and far between but now there a lot more dancing on 2 and I'm just real happy to watch!

SNY: How is Mambo dancing where you live different from mambo dancing in other parts of the world?
Los Angeles has a very aggressive style of dancing with wider dance floor space being used as well as longer steps being accomplished. This is slowly changing largely in part to the exposure to NY style dancers performing and social dancing at Salsa Congresses as well as to several on2 dancers based here. I think that every region, though, has thier own unique approach based on what their background is in salsa/mambo. I find, too, that when given the right opportunity and circumstances, many dancers, novice to advanced, are thirsty for mambo knowledge.

SNY: What would you like to see happen to mambo within the next few years?, next decade? Within your lifetime?
Personally, I would love for everyone that is serious about dancing mambo, whether it is on 1 or 2 or whatever, to be versed enough in clave to understand the relationship of the rhythms in salsa music in order to be in sync with the music and free in in the dance. I'd also like to see no division amongst dancers, whether they be individuals or groups.

SNY: Where did you learn to Dance NY style On2??? (Where did you learn to Dance On2)????
I got my styling when I was attending Borough of Manhattan Community College back in the 70's but I started to dance on 2 and understand the clave during the heyday of the Mambo Society in 1989 with folks like Paula Cournier, David Melendez, Paul Calderon, Mimi Melendez, Evelyn Negron, Angel & Addie Rodriguez, and many more.

SNY: Where did you originally learn how to dance mambo and who was (were) your mentors?
There was a fellow I went to college with by the name of George. We hung out a lot together and I always admired the way he danced. Once he came over to the house and showed me how to dance in the style that he used. He even played the follower and now my styling is a direct reflection of that time.

SNY: What is it like to teach On2 Mambo where you're at?
Teaching mambo here in L.A. is a lot of fun because those in my classes seem very hungry to learn.

SNY: What do you like most about teaching?
I love the fact that people begin to execute what I'm relaying to them. Its a great sense of accomplishment when you someone getting comfortable and relaxed in what was, in the beginning, something that was hard to do.

SNY: Why do you think people come to learn from you?
I think mainly because of the confidence and knowledge I have in the subject and also the style of dance. Sometimes people just come to the classes because they may have seen an ad or an email announcement or a flyer. They check out the class and then decide to stay because of my fun approach with detail to specifics in fundamentals.

SNY: What is the hardest thing you find about teaching?
Stopping. When it comes to the music and dance i can talk about it for days so I have to put a check on what i teach sometimes. But, also the challenge of the small percentage of people that have a harder time than most to get the material. It's semi-difficult for me. Not because I can't find the material to help but because I may not be able to find, right away, that thing that will make it all click. For example, I have a lady that takes my classes and her timing is noticeably off. She can count with me but her feet would not be timed to the numbers. Well, in a rotation, once, she was dancing with me and instead of counting I just happened to vocalize the tumbao and she danced exactly on time. I realized then that she needed to focus on the rhyhtm and forget the numbers. I tested that theory out with her several times and each time the numbers put her off but the tumbao kept her on. So, its difficult for me when I have to try to discover what is the key to their trouble.

SNY: What is the best way for someone interested in learning mambo can get in contact with you?
They can email me at mikebello@mambofello.com or call me at 818-343-1322.

































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