Salsa on 2 is one of the most popular dance styles in the Big Apple. And one cannot learn this dance style without knowing about the “Mambo King” himself, Eddie Torres.
The Mambo King: Who is Eddie Torres?
Eddie Torres, Puerto Rican dancer, performer, and master choreographer is the undisputed King of Mambo Dance. Born in the Spanish Harlem in 1950s New York, Eddie Torres is a pioneer of Salsa “On 2”. His illustrious career in Latin dance spans over 4 decades, training thousands of professional dancers in NYC. Some of his former students include legendary personalities in the Latin dance scene.
Catching the Dancing Bug
Eddie was just 12 years old when he started getting into dancing. According to some accounts, a childhood crush got him to dance to Eddie Palmieri’s Azucar Pa‘ Ti. With no clue about coordination, stylistics, or timing, young Eddie danced to the music only to be turned down by his crush. This, in turn, fired up Eddie’s obsession for Latin dance. His obsession with Latin dance would become a lifelong passion.
By 15 years old, Eddie was regularly hitting clubs that allowed teenagers. In the 60s, there were no dance studios or trainers that would teach people how to dance. The nightclub scene was the only place to learn Latin dance and not all dancers are willing to get an apprentice. As a teen, he was known to frequent Hunts Point Palace, a local dance club that featured some of the most popular Latin bands back-to-back on two stages.
Eddie turned the Hunts Point Palace into his own training ground, practicing as soon as the club opened and then going home only when it closes. He also has a knack for picking up steps from other dancers quickly, adding the dance moves in his own routine. 8 years later, Eddie was already competing in dance contests and teaching Latin dance. At this point in his life, he was building a reputation as one of the best Latin dancers in the city.
When the Palladium closed down in 1965, Eddie began frequenting the Corso nightclub on East 86th, dancing to Tito Puente's music. At this point in his career, he was winning awards left and right. After meeting Tito Puente in person, the maestro encouraged Eddie to go beyond social dancing and develop his own act. At first, Eddie wanted to collaborate with Tito Puente but the maestro said he'd like to see more of his work first before putting an act together.
Eddie and Maria: The Tito Puente Dancers
After meeting Tito Puentes at the Corso, Eddie met Maria, his future wife and lifelong dance partner. Maria, a gymnastics teacher, was one of Eddie's best students. Eddie saw the possibilities in Maria as a dance partner so he choreographed two numbers - El Cayuco and Palladium Days, both by Tito Puente - then trained Maria.
The two acts were performed as a part of a major Latin Expo at the New York Coliseum, leaving the audience - including Tito himself - captivated. By then, Tito began integrating Eddie and Maria into his performance until the group became known as the “Tito Puente Dancers. Tito, being a dancer himself, was a huge supporter of the mambo and through Eddie and Maria’s effervescent performances, the dance style was kept alive during the height of the Hustle era.
As the lead dancer of Tito Puentes Dancers, Eddie choreographed and performed a host of snazzy routines, presenting only the best performers in New York's Latin community. His group performed in various venues, including the Madison Square Garden, the Apollo Theater, the Carnegie Hall and Town Hall.
Salsa on 2
Eddie Torres is best known for his unique dancing style and way of teaching mambo. His dance partner always moving "on 2" timing. It was his mentor, the great June LaBerta, who encouraged Eddie to name his steps and develop the "on 2" counting of music and dance theory. This was during the late 80s when the interest for salsa has waned significantly.
June and Eddie would perform intricate jazzy salsa dance routines with Eddie back in Corso, leaving the audience in awe as June spins on the dancefloor like a top. In private, June encouraged Eddie to pursue a career in teaching mambo, mentoring the Mambo king throughout her long career in the business.
Thanks to June, all of Eddie's signature dance moves have names. The repertoire of dance steps made it easier for his students to keep up with the intricate routines. As he began offering dance classes, his class syllabus contains three hundred dance steps.
The Mambo Revival
By the 80s, the Mambo was on the verge of dying out. The interest in mambo has waned because most Palladium dancers have retired. The few who are still performing the mambo are no longer taking in students. And if some do, they no longer teach the mambo but a hybrid dance style called the Latin hustle - a combination of salsa and hustle.
The Mambo revival began in the late 80s after Eddie Torres and Tito Puente’s televised performance at the Apollo theater. The performance was a tribute to Machito and it features extremely intricate dance moves that took four months to perfect. The efforts of everyone in the dance group paid off because the performance renewed the interest in mambo.
During this time, Eddie Torres, along with Angel Rodriguez, developed two distinct ways of teaching and dancing the On 2 mambo, paving the new generation of "on 2" dancers in the 90s.
By the 90s, On 2 became a dancing style in its own right. It also coincided with the rise of "social dancing," a dancing activity that's arranged in groups for fun and enjoyment.
During this era, Eddie has been teaching and training salsa dancers through his NYC dance school, Eddie Torres Latin Dance Studio. His students rose to prominence, particularly Delille Thomas (Mambo D), Wilton Beltre, Adolfo Indacochea, Franklin Diaz, Frankie Martinez, and Seaon Bristol. Today, Eddie Torres remains one of the most influential personalities in Latin dance. He’s still leaving the audience breathless with his dance performances, still an icon.