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The Story Behind Latin Madness
-by Manny Siverio

Entire Cast of Latin Madness, with Side Streets owner Artie Ramos

Its no secret that every professional dancer in the NY Mambo community at one time or another has wanted to dance on Broadway, especially after seeing such plays like SWING, RIVERDANCE and FOREVER TANGO. Well early in the year 2000, NY mambo instructors Nelson Flores and Carlos Mendoza seriously started to entertain the idea of producing their own "Off-Broadway Mambo Play". If no one else would do it, then they might as well do it themselves. The two men slowly began to talk with other local dancers to see if they too would be interested in being a part of this "Mambo Experiment".

The Seeds to Latin Madness:
It was at this point that their research began. During the summer of the year 2000, Carlos Mendoza converted his SIDE STREET KIDS student summer recital into a play and it was well received. Later on, Nelson Flores traveled to London with his dance team (Descarga Latina) and The Santo Rico Dance Company and produced a mambo show that flowed smoothly from number to number. These two successes were the seeds that helped fuel the creation of "LATIN MADNESS".

The Concept to Latin Madness:
Nelson and Carlos began finalizing work on the concept behind Latin Madness when Nelson returned from London. The two of them decided on making
"Latin Madness" into a mambo musical that would take audiences through the last 25 years of the ever-changing NY Latin dance scene covering the rhythms of disco in the '70's, the re-birth of mambo in the '80's and finally visit Side Street, the Bronx’s haven for mambo dancing throughout the 90's.

Picking the Cast:
Once the concept for Latin Madness was set down on paper, talent for the show needed to be chosen. This proved to be a double edge sword for the promoters. You see New York is filled with many excellent mambo dancers. But who to choose from??? Think of it, we’re the hometown to Eddie Torres the Mambo King and other well known dancers like Delille Thomas, Jimmy Anton, David Melendez and Mario Diaz. The promoters finally opted to use dance companies with choreographed material that fit into the show’s overall storyline. It was a hard decision and they hope that no one felt insulted, ignored or overlooked in the process. This is how Descarga Latina, Addie-Tude Dance Co., The Abakua Dancers, Santo Rico Dance Co., The Mambo Mamas and Jai & Candy were chosen to be a part of the show.

The First Meeting:
Roughly 7 weeks before the show, Nelson called a general meeting with all the dancers/dance companies that would make up the cast of Latin Madness. They met on a Sunday night over at the Boys Harbor Community Center in Spanish Harlem. This was where they all met, said their hellos, shook hands and got an idea of what Nelson and Carlos expected from them as a team. The cast was given rehearsal dates, ticket buying information and theater location. The next time they saw each other it would during rehearsals.

The Side Street Kids Academy Rehearsals:
Carlos Mendoza kindly allowed the cast of Latin Madness to rehearse over at the Side Street Kids Academy. The cast met ever Friday and Saturday night in April prior to the performance. This was where the actual performing sequence was going to be decided. At this point enter Maria Tirado. Maria is a founding member of Descarga Latina and one of Nelson Flores’ right-hand dancers. She had sat down and visited most of the teams performing to study and evaluate the material they had to offer for the show. It was Maria (along with Nelson & Carlos) who decided the sequence in which the material (performances) would presented. During the first weekend worth of rehearsals, a rough sequence for the numbers were established. This was where many of the cast members saw for the first time the new choreography by Descarga, Addie-tude and Abakua. The Mambo Mamas, Santo Rico and Jai & Candy would join the cast rehearsals on the following weekend. Since each dance company was expected to know their own choreography, most of the remaining time was spent on learning new material (the floor work for the Opening NY Mambo Class Scene, The Big Spender number, Love For Sale drag number, The Shining Knight Cha-Cha number, The second Act Side Street Club Opener scene and The Soneros cast finale).

Working Together As A Team:
I already mentioned that each dance company was expected to know their own material, so even though they were all working together as the cast of "Latin Madness", many still seem to be clinging onto their group individuality. It was only when they began to mix dance teams together that the transformation from "US to "WE" started to happen. For example during the "Big Spender" number there were members of the Mambo Mamas, Abakua and Descarga working together (choreographed by Maria Tirado). During the "Love For Sale" drag number there were members of Descarga, Abakua and Santo Rico working together (choreography by Addie Diaz) and during the "Shining Knight" Cha-Cha number there were members of Addie-Tude, Descarga and Jai & Candy working together (choreography by Addie Diaz). But it was the "Soneros" grand finale that put the entire cast together for a true show of professionalism and comradery (choreographed by Wilton Beltre, staged by Nelson Flores & Maria Tirado). Then there was the opening Mambo Class scene in Act I (staged by Nelson Flores, Herbie Quinones) and the Side Street Club opening scene for Act II. Not only did

Tying It All Together:
The trick was finding a way to tie all the dancing together. The producer’s solution: comedy. To keep the show flowing from segment to segment, Nelson and Carlos decided to use a comedian as the M.C. (Master of Ceremony) for the entire play. His job was to introduce the acts, educate the audience on the history behind the development of mambo in NY and of course to make them laugh. At this point, enter Herbie Quinones. Herbie was the man of the hour. He did an excellent job of making of introducing the numbers while providing a sense of continuity to audience members. He basically helped make the show into something more than simply dance performances. With him at the helm he transformed Latin Madness into a the big musical-dramatic-comedy Off-Broadway production it was billed to be.

The Theater Rehearsal:
The week before the show was when the cast members first step foot into the Heckscher Theater (at Boy’s Harbor/Museo Del Barrio in Spanish Harlem). This was where they began to try to iron out any kinks in the show. Dancers worked on hitting their marks, on smoothing out their entrances and exists, on figuring out wardrobe changes, lighting & curtain cues. Being there felt right to many dancers who were finally seeing their dream come true. Mambo was going to be showcased theatrically and they were going to be the first ones to do it. True that everyone from producer to dancer was trying to figure out how to pull this off. No one had been a part of a play of this magnitude before and they were winging it to some extent. Everyone hit obstacles, but managed to quickly find solutions and overcome them. It was not a high budget production (cast members and the producers even had to help put down their own dance floor on stage), but that wasn’t going to stop them from giving a high budget performance. They did all they could with the time that the producers could afford to rent out the theater for. They even ran a dry rehearsal early on the same day of their first show. Ready or not it come; D-day for Latin Madness’s first show was finally here.

Show Time:
The night of the first show was filled with excitement and energy. Something that everyone back stage would feel from opening curtain to the last pose. The show was going to have it all: mambo, hustle, cha-cha, merengue, comedy and even history. People from Washington DC, Connecticut and as far as London & Japan had come into town to see the show. The first two performances had sold out within weeks and due to popular demand tickets for a third show had gone on sale. It was really an incredible feat when you think that it was done by just word of mouth and Internet promotion.

A little known fact among audience members and a testament to the true level of talent and professionalism among cast members was that the first show was in reality the Latin Madness dress rehearsal. The cast never had the time to actually do one, so in essence the first show was it for them. Cast members used their prior experience as performers to figure out the most efficient way of getting in and out of costume. It was also during show time that the cast began to feel & act as one team. People were helping each other out, wishing each other good luck, cheering each other on before going on stage and congratulating them as they got off stage. It was a wonderful feeling that had spread among the performers and the audience loved it. Everyone did their job; the dancers danced, Herbie did his comedy thing and the audience rewarded them with a standing ovation. Mambo had finally moved up a step and into the limelight and it had a name: Latin Madness.

Special Moments to Remember:
The show had many memorable moments. Here are some that stand out:

  • Laying Down the Floor
    The first day the cast began to rehearse on stage at the theater, the men present from the various dance companies went straight to work on laying down a dance surface on the stage. The current stage surface was not ideal for mambo dancing purposes. No one was giving orders or taking charge. It was another moment of true team work. Looking back on that moment, it gives a whole new meaning to the term "floor work".
  • Pre-Show Group Prayer
    Before every show, the entire cast would gather downstairs (under the stage) to hold hands and pray. The first night Addie Diaz and Thomas Guerrero led the pre-performance prayer session. It was a very inspirational moment among cast members and the beginning of the roller coaster rush of feelings that would stay with the performers till the end of the show. The first prayer session was also (in my opinion) the defining moment when the feeling of "One Cast" and "One Dance Company" was clearly felt among all the performers.
  • Group Hug
    A another great moment to remember was the very end of the first show after the final curtain went down. The performers were still hearing the audience applause as they began to cheer, shake hands, hug one another, give each other the high-five, yell out for joy ("We did it") and let out some emotional tears. The cast was overjoyed with an emotional high as they gathered on stage, gave each other a huge cast group hug, bounced up and down while chanting "Latin Madness" and "On2".
  • Cast Photo
    Another memorable moment was at the end of the third performance. It was the last show and Nelson wanted everyone to take a photo of the original Latin Madness cast. They were joined by Artie Ramos (Owner of Side Street and the man responsible for providing a dance haven to so many different dancers in the Bronx during the 80's & 90's). All that could be heard was the buzz (among cast members) of when would there be another show. The cast was excited and never wanted it to end. It was a real joy and honor for many of them to be a part of such a historic NY Mambo event and the moment was forever frozen during the cast photo.
  • China Club "Soneros"
    During night of the last show, the cast of Latin Madness got together for a not-official cast After Party at the China Club. People were still feeling the high of the last three days and were happy for an excuse to get together for one more time. But the most interesting moment of the night was when the China Club DJ had accidentally put on the Soneros number that was the grand cast finale of the Latin Madness show. Until then people had been social dancing. Then a strange thing started to happen. Cast members started to do their part of the finale on the China Club dance floor. Before you knew it, cast members were scrambling to get into position to do their part of the number complete with entrances and exists. The next thing the China Club management knew was that the Latin Madness crew had taken over the dance floor and repeated their finale performance. The cast came, they saw, they danced, they conquered. Latin Madness was here to stay.
  • Ticket Sales The Day After
    It interesting to note that the very next day after the performance, Nelson Flores received some 42 requests for an additional show. I think that this will always prove to me that there is a demand for a show like "Latin Madness".

Summing It Up:
No story on Latin Madness could be complete without giving credit to the people who help make this a reality.

  • To the Producers:
    Nelson Flores & Carlos Mendoza, these two men did what no one else in NY had been able to do; which was to get various mambo dance companies together under one roof and get them to work together as a team. They took the mambo dancer and put them onto center stage, in essence making them the star of the play. They proved that there was a market for a mambo dancing play and that people would be willing to pay to see it.
  • The M.C. (Master of Ceremony)
    Herbie Quinones, the man of the hour who had the tremendous task of keeping the audience entertained while making the show flow from number to number in an effortless manner. We tip our hat to you.
  • The Special Guest Singer
    Ray Sepulveda
    , who originally was going to be paid for his services, but decided to donate his time and work to the play even though the original sponsors decided to back out of the play. He truly believe in the project and was sincerely excited that the dancers were finally being given the respect that they would due. The Cast of Latin Madness will always be in your debt. Thank You.
  • The Cast
    To the entire Cast of Latin Madness, these fine group of performers not only proved that they were able to rise to the occasion of performing at a Broadway level, but they had fun while doing it (and the audience was in on their little secret).
  • The Volunteer Support Crew
    To everyone that worked in the background from box office to ushers. These volunteers (from the Side Street Kids to our visiting friends from London) were just as important to the production of Latin Madness as those who were actually working on stage. They were the grunts that made it happen from the service end of the business. - Thanks.

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