The Mamboniks

In the 1930s and '40s, Americans traveling to Cuba became intoxicated with a steamy new dance step. They brought their new-found passion back to the dance floors of New York City where it became a sensation.

At the Palladium Ballroom, “Home of the Mambo!” dancers were dazzled by the Latin big bands of Tito Puente, Machito and Tito Rodriguez.   The hot-blooded music quickly swept the nation, and  mambo dancing became a pervasive aspect of post-World War II social life.

Surprisingly, many of its biggest fanatics were Jewish. They were a diverse, offbeat group of devotees whose zeal for mambo dancing earned them the hipster nickname: “Mambonik.”

The Mamboniks film captures their wild ride: from the Tropicana Night Club in Havana, Cuba where the music was discovered, to the Art Deco hotels of Miami Beach where it took an early toehold.  From New York City dance halls and Jewish resorts in the Catskill Mountains, to Miami's Gold Coast Ballroom where they still dance today, this feature film charts the rise and fall of the mambo as seen through the tender lives of the Mamboniks who lived through the craze and who still feel the urge to dance - all set to an infectious Latin soundtrack, supercharged dance scenes and nostalgic mid-century b-roll footage. 

Musicians, club owners, disc jockeys, record company moguls and especially dancers, now in their 70's, 80's and 90's (and still dancing!), reunite to tell this unlikely and little-known tale. They reveal personal thoughts about the allure of the music, but also on love, friendship, adventure, coming-of-age, Jewish culture and, now in their autumn years, the meaning of a life well-lived.

Rhea Anides, an unabashed and aging Mambonik explains, "It was something that appealed to the Jewish soul."  She, like the rest, was swept away by mambo madness, the intoxicating beat, the romance that perfumed the night club air and the sensual feeling of swirling across a dance floor.  

“Back then,” recalls Cuban bandleader Jose Curbelo, “Ninety percent of my audience was Jewish. They supported Cuban music because they loved it.”

Paulson Productions is Executive Producer and Creative Consultant.