Meet and Mambo

She came, she saw, she mamboed. In the middle of the Dezerland's near-vacant lounge, two women stand tentatively behind professional dancer and instructor Jami Josephson. A few hotel guests banter at the bar. Sheathed in matching gun-metal- gray velour top and pants, with nails as dark and glossy as a ballroom floor, the petite Josephson, despite a wicked cold, begins the mambo lesson. The clave is your friend, ignore the four, 1-2-3-pause-5-6-7. Josephson peers back over her shoulder to see if her charges are keeping up. A few more students (also female) arrive, and Josephson pushes ahead, all the while ably demonstrating. Don't put your heel down, move your arms, stick your butt out. This is a precious hour's worth of insurance for what is soon to come: the mambo social. Entrancing your dance partner is hard enough without trying to remember which way to move your butt (well, it is for some people).

The Dezerland Beach Resort harks back to the Fifties, complete with vintage convertibles in the lobby, black-and-white checkerboard floors, a jukebox in the lounge, and nonstop nostalgia TV playing on monitors behind the checkout desk. The perfect spot to revive this swivelly dance craze. Back in mambo's heyday, hotels on Miami Beach abounded with jet setters who flocked to the Fontainebleau's Boom Boom Room to dig the music that was giving Elvis's hips a run for their money. The sound had its own Latin kings: Perez Prado, Tito Puente. But the Dezerland harbors no illusions of resurrecting the grandeur of mambo past. Josephson says management would be satisfied if the event, which she initiated in October, simply livened up a sluggish bar night now and then.

And liven it up it does -- largely because of Josephson, a successful competitive dancer from New York. Although she's decided to move back to the Big Apple's bigger dance pond, her brief splash in our backwater will leave ripples. "Believe me, it wasn't easy when I came down here," explains Josephson, a Jewish Anglo who doesn't speak Spanish. "No one even heard of me. They didn't give me the time of day." But nobody puts the 1997 winner of the Ohio Star Ball's mambo competition in a corner. In her three years in South Florida, she has steadfastly persisted in building solidarity among fellow hoofers in what she found to be a somewhat fragmented Latin-dance community, helping organize Salsa Dance Fest, an annual contest inaugurated last year. "It's better to be united than divided," she concludes.

Dancers Anthony Flores and Araceli Marquez will continue hosting the Dezerland party, tossing more salsa into the mix. While the affair's trappings may not compare to the glamour of the Fifties -- the dress is more comfortable, and Elvis (or Tito) definitely left the building when the DJ played a mambofied version of the Kenny Rogers tune "Lady" -- what's more important, offers Josephson, is that the movement is from the heart -- and the hips. And if the mambo is anything like the pachanga, you just might have the time of your life.

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Robin Shear